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PARTIES AGREE TO REJOIN RUSSIAN DUMA

The three opposition parties boycotting Russia's parliament said Thursday they will return Feb. 9, three weeks after they walked out of the newly elected body's first session.

The three centrist and reformist parties began their boycott Jan. 18 to protest a deal between the Communists and the pro-Kremlin Unity faction, the two largest groups in the State Duma. The deal divided control of most of the Duma's key posts between the two groups and led to Communist Gennady Seleznyov's election as speaker.

The deal raised questions about the commitment of acting President Vladimir Putin, who backs Unity, to democratic reforms.

Putin initially tried to distance himself from the boycott, but this week he met with leaders of two of the protesting parties, Sergei Kiriyenko of the Union of Right Forces and Yevgeny Primakov of Fatherland-All Russia.

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