Putin Lauds Russia's Vaccine Work 04/21 06:13

Putin Lauds Russia's Vaccine Work      04/21 06:13

   

   MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address 
to the nation Wednesday amid a sweeping Kremlin crackdown on opposition 
protests and soaring tensions with the West.

   Putin began his state-of-the-nation speech by hailing the nation's response 
to the coronavirus pandemic. He said the quick development of three coronavirus 
vaccines underlined Russia's technological and industrial potential.

   The Russian leader has urged authorities to quicken the pace of the 
country's vaccination program, which has been slow compared to the West.

   He promised new measures to encourage births and to increase average life 
expectancy, acknowledged that the pandemic has exacerbated demographic trends 
in Russia.

   Putin proposed new incentives to help the economy overcome the blow from the 
pandemic and new social payments to the population.

   Allies of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for nationwide 
protests across Russia on Wednesday to support him. Navalny started a prison 
hunger strike three weeks ago to protest what he says is inadequate medical 
treatment for his back pains and officials' refusal to allow a visit by his 
doctor. His deteriorating condition has caused international outrage.

   Navalny's imprisonment and his health condition have fueled tensions with 
the West, already strained over Moscow's interference with elections, hacking 
attacks and, most recently, a massive Russian military buildup near the border 
with Ukraine.

   The Kremlin has rejected Western concerns about the troop concentration, 
saying it's free to deploy the military wherever it's deemed necessary on the 
Russian territory.

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