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TATARSTAN LEADER URGES REGION'S INDEPENDENCE

The president of Tatarstan urged voters Friday to approve this weekend's independence referendum but said the region had no intention of seceding from the Russian republic.

"We cannot say `no' at the referendum," President Mintimer Shaimyev said in an address on Tatarstan Radio, the Russian Information Agency reported.Tatarstan votes Saturday on whether the oil-rich Volga River region should be independent, a step that could threaten the unity of Russia, the largest of the former Soviet republics.

Tatarstan's leaders say the vote is intended to strengthen the powers of their government.