President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed into law a bill ending the election of independent lawmakers to Russia's lower house, part of widely criticized electoral reforms he initiated after a wave of terrorist attacks last year.
Beginning with the next elections in late 2007, all 450 members of the State Duma will be elected from candidate lists published by political parties.
Critics of the reform, which Putin asserted would help bolster Russia's political parties and strengthen the country in the face of terrorism, say it will decrease dissenting voices in the already Kremlin-controlled parliament.
On the eve of the signature, Putin promised more political pluralism. In an apparent effort to counter criticism of the controversial reform package, Putin said he would ensure that state media offered access to all political forces.
At a meeting with leaders of both houses of parliament and the main political parties including the opposition Communists and nationalist Rodina, Putin also said he would allow parties that win regional elections to put forward suggestions on who should be appointed as regional governors.
Putin's initiative to eliminate elections for governors, another plank in the reform package, was widely criticized abroad as a sign of increasingly authoritarian rule.
Forest fires in Siberia have been raging for three months already. They have become a disaster not only of Russian, but of global scale. The fires have already scorched 12 million hectares of land