MOSCOW // Prime minister Vladimir Putin today urged "very tough" measures against terrorism, as he sought to assure Russians shocked by a deadly train bombing that killed dozens of people. "It is necessary to act in a very tough way against criminals who carry out these kinds of terrorist attacks," Mr Putin said in a televised phone-in show on national television where he took questions from ordinary Russians.
He insisted that Russia had "enough firmness and decisiveness" to prevent attacks like last Friday's bombing, which killed 26 and injured around 100 more passengers aboard a train heading from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. "We need all of society every one of us to be aware of this threat which has been with us all these years," said Mr Putin, who earned a reputation for toughness by cracking down on Chechen rebels during his rise to power a decade ago.
He admitted it would be "very difficult and complex" to prevent attacks on infrastructure targets across Russia's sprawling territory, but insisted it would be possible if citizens co-operated with the state. "We need to act pre-emptively. The law-enforcement agencies understand perfectly well what I mean," Mr Putin said, without elaborating. The comments came during a nationally broadcast phone-in show which continued a tradition from Mr Putin's presidency.
Mr Putin, who served as president in 2000-2008, is still seen by many Russians and political experts as the country's true leader, holding more power than his hand-picked successor in the Kremlin, President Dmitry Medvedev. There has been speculation that Mr Putin may seek to return to the presidency in 2012 when Mr Medvedev's term expires. Other questions in the phone-in show titled A Conversation with Vladimir Putin focused on economic issues such as pensions and unemployment.
People posed questions to Mr Putin by video link from locations including the northern town of Pikalyovo, which this summer was the site of a high-profile labour dispute as a local factory faced closure due to the economic crisis. More than a million questions also were sent in beforehand by telephone, SMS and e-mail. Russians had made 950,000 calls to the programme's hotline, the government press service told news agencies before it was set to begin. They also sent questions in 439,000 text messages and 70,000 e-mails.
During Mr Putin's presidency, the phone-in became a national tradition where he would answer dozens of questions on everything from tensions with the West to the most local issues. Thursday's phone-in was the eighth such talk with ordinary Russians that Mr Putin has conducted, and his second since stepping down as president and becoming prime minister last year. * AFP