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RUSSIA: One-and-a-half million school-age children in Russia - 7 per cent of pupils - are permanently absent from school, Yeygeny Tkachenko, education minister, has reported.

The truants prefer to earn money than get educated, he said. The problem is particularly prevalent with "ethnic" Russians and returnees from trouble spots in the Caucasus and Tajikistan.

Although Russian politicians constantly proclaim equal rights to the 25 million living in the other republics, when they return to their homeland they often encounter difficulty finding work and homes; this is thought to contribute to the truancy rate.

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