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GOVERNMENT SHUFFLE AIMS TO HELP YELTSIN PUSH REFORMS

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Russian President Boris Yeltsin reshuffled his government on Thursday, bringing two trusted Kremlin aides and a politically inexperienced banker into a cabinet designed to push ahead with reforms.

Yeltsin retained his defense, interior and nationalities ministers under Prime Minister Viktor Cherno-myrdin, despite a humiliating rebel offensive which has killed or wounded hundreds of Russian soldiers in Chechnya in the last nine days.The largely rebel-controlled Chechen capital Grozny was quieter on Thursday, with only sporadic gunfire. Yeltsin's security czar Alexander Lebed flew to the army base outside the city armed with sweeping new powers to try to end the bloodshed.

Chernomyrdin unveiled the cabinet and a new streamlined administration with fewer departments after consultations with Yeltsin. The government resigned under constitutional procedures following Yeltsin's re-election on July 3, but the president and parliament backed Chernomyrdin for a new term last week.

"(This is) a radical restructuring of the system of executive power in Russia which corresponds fully to the new tasks which are before us," Chernomyrdin told a news conference as his new cabinet lined up beside him on the rostrum.

Kremlin chief aide Viktor Ilyushin, 59, became one of three first deputy prime minsters with 35-year-old banker Vladimir Potanin and Alexei Bolshakov, previously a deputy prime minister handling ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Chernomyrdin said Bolshakov, 56, a low-profile minister since November 1994, would be his chief deputy. Ilyushin was widely expected to take charge of social affairs and Potanin would have con-trol of the economy.

Yeltsin's top economic aide, Alexander Livshits, replaced the much-criticised Vladimir Panskov as finance minister. He also has the rank of deputy prime minister, unlike Panskov.

Like Ilyushin, Livshits has been a loyal Yeltsin aide whose role in helping organise the president's re-election was widely praised. But they have no experience in government.

Neither does Potanin, head of the commercial Uneximbank.

"First one can hope that government will become better organized than it was before the elections," political analyst Andrei Kortunov told Reuters Television.