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PUTIN CHALLENGED TO TV DEBATE

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, one of acting Russian President Vladimir Putin's competitors in the presidential race, challenged Putin Friday to a televised debate.

There was no immediate response from Putin. During the 1996 presidential campaign, Zyuganov repeatedly challenged President Boris Yeltsin to debate, but Yeltsin ignored him.

With less than two months to go until the March 26 balloting, Putin far outpaces his challengers in opinion polls. Recent surveys show him with the support of up to 60 percent of the electorate, while Zyuganov, his nearest challenger, registers around 20 percent.

Despite Putin's apparent strength, Zyuganov said he believes his campaign's "strong team, program and package of legislative initiatives" would lead him to victory.

"The government has no economic policy today," he said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

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