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Putin drops 2nd term hint

Edinburgh, June 25 (Reuters): Russian President Vladimir Putin dropped a strong hint today he would stand for re-election for a second term in office next March.

Speaking to a group of Scottish business figures and academics in Edinburgh, he said: “I can say that there will be no third term for President Putin. That I can guarantee for sure.”

A third term is in any case excluded under Russia’s constitution, but Putin’s words appeared to confirm he had decided to run for a second four-year term from March 2004.

Popular at home atop a high-growth economy and without any real opposition, Putin, a former KGB spy handpicked by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, seems certain to be re-elected if he stands again.

But by indicating he is not considering a change to the constitution that would allow him a third term in office, Putin has set himself apart from many of his allies within the Commonwealth of Independent States.

At the weekend, former Soviet Tajikistan voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to alter its constitution and hand its veteran President Imomali Rakhmonov, who has ruled there since 1992, up to 14 more years in power.

And the leaders of other Central Asian states — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan — have all extended their presidencies through similar votes.

Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko, first elected in 1994, was reelected for a second five-year term in 2001, his first mandate having been extended after a new constitution was adopted in 1996.

Earlier in London, Putin, on the first Russian state visit to Britain in 130 years, has signalled he wants to bury past differences on Iraq and focus on luring foreign investment into the Russian economy.

Putin moved to dispel suspicion that he still sought to score political points out of the Iraq issue at a Buckingham Palace state banquet last night after arriving on a four-day visit to a sumptuous royal welcome.

Startling his audience by speaking in English, he extended to Queen Elizabeth II his sympathies for the deaths of six British soldiers killed in Iraq earlier in the day.

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