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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.