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Putin promises Russians better living conditions 'within this year'

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The Russian leader announced several policies that he said would boost living standards, while addressing the country's declining birth rate.

AFP, Moscow  :
President Vladimir Putin promised Russians rapid improvements in their living conditions as he delivered his annual state of the nation address Wednesday under pressure from falling approval ratings.
Putin, who was elected to a fourth term last year with more than 76 percent of the vote, laid out a series of new measures in his speech to Russia's two houses of parliament. His promises seemed aimed at addressing growing discontent over the dismal living conditions, especially outside Moscow, that many Russians still face nearly 20 years after Putin came to power.
"We cannot wait, the situation must change for the better now," Putin told assembled lawmakers from the lower house State Duma and upper house Federation Council.
"Within this year (Russians) should feel changes," he said, promising a wide range of steps including new child benefits and lower taxes for larger families.
"We did and will do everything for the strengthening of family values," he said. "The incomes of Russian families should of course rise".
Putin, 66, appeared calm and confident as usual during the speech, but the Kremlin is reportedly deeply concerned by the fall in his personal approval ratings in recent months. A survey by Russia's independent Levada Center released in January found his approval rating at 64 percent-a figure many Western leaders could only dream of, but Putin's lowest in five years.
Russians appear increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of economic growth and the concentration of the country's wealth in a few hands in Moscow. Moves by the government to implement economic reforms, including an increase in the retirement age and a rise in the value-added tax from January 1, have prompted widespread opposition including rare street protests.

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