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The governor of a central Russian province urged couples to skip work on Wednesday and make love instead to help boost Russia's low birth-rate.

And if a woman gives birth in exactly nine months time -- on Russia's national day on June 12 -- she will qualify for a prize, perhaps even winning a new home.

"It's normally something for the home -- a fridge or a television set," Yelena Yakovleva at the Ulyanovsk regional administration press office, said.

"It doesn't matter if it's a girl or a boy."

Newly-weds Karina and Anton Bukhanovsky walked hand in hand down the main street of the regional capital of Ulyanovsk. They live in St Petersburg but travelled to Ulyanovsk to soak up the atmosphere on Wednesday.

"I used to live here," said Karina, aged 19.

"We plan to come back on the same day next year and try for a baby and the prize nine months later," she said.

Anton, aged 21, kissed her gently on the cheek and they strolled off arm in arm.

Regional governor Sergei Morozov told employers to contribute to a Kremlin campaign to boost the birth rate by giving couples Wednesday off to have sex.

Russia wants to reverse a trend in which the population is shrinking by about 700,000 people a year as births fail to outpace a high death rate boosted by AIDS, alcoholism and suicide.

This is the third year Ulyanovsk region, famous as the birthplace of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin, has dedicated a day to encouraging couples to produce more babies.

Prizes will extend equally to unwed women who produce children on the right day, though the biggest prizes will go to married couples.

On Russia Day this year, a family won a jeep after their fourth baby was born on the holiday.

Next year, the top prizes will include an apartment, Morozov told Reuters. "We need more people," he said.

This year a record 78 babies were born on June 12 at the main hospital in the regional capital of Ulyanovsk, beating the 2006 total of 26, said chief doctor Andrei Malykh.

"The scheme is working. People want the prizes," he said.

A mass wedding and special lessons for children at school on how to deal with having a brother or sister are also planned in Ulyanovsk city, which is about 900 km (560 miles) from Moscow.

At the town's central post office, a sign urges locals to write love letters for free to anywhere in Russia, with postage pre-paid.

This week First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin, said he wanted to stabilise the population at about 142 million by 2015 and boost it back to 145 million by 2025.

By James Kilner

http://news.scotsman.com





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