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MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Russia launched its first Cyrillic Web addresses on Tuesday as part of a global move by the Internet's administrators to boost access for users of non-Latin scripts.
The move has long been demanded by the Kremlin which hopes to boost the use of Russian, once the main language throughout the Soviet Union but now losing ground to local languages and to the creeping influence of English.
The body that allocates Web addresses, ICANN, last year approved the gradual introduction of non-Latin domain names for the first time, with Russia's Cyrillic script and Arabic the first to get the green light.
Instead of transliterating Russian Web site names into Latin script in the .ru domain, Web site owners will be able to register their sites in Russian, ending with the Cyrillic letters ".rf," short for Russian Federation.
"At midday the files for the .rf domain were put in place... the domain has begun to operate," the Coordinating Center of the Russian Internet said in a statement.
Around 300 Cyrillic Web sites have been registered, compared to the almost 3 million Latin .ru Web site addresses, the statement said.
President Dmitry Medvedev called for Cyrillic Web addresses soon after he was elected in 2008, saying 300 million people worldwide used Russian media and that a Cyrillic domain name would be a key part of raising the importance of Russian.
Medvedev has been keen to portray himself as an Internet-savvy head of state: he is an avid blogger and says he surfs online every morning for news.
Arabic-language sites from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia became the first non-Latin sites to operate when they went live on May 5. ICANN says it is currently registering domain names in nine other languages.
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Paul Casciato