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DATE=8/23/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA SUB / PUTIN (L) NUMBER=2-65792 BYLINE=LAURIE KASSMAN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's soul-searching over the Kursk nuclear-submarine disaster is continuing. President Vladimir Putin says his defense minister and two senior naval officials are offering to step down to atone for the loss of the submarine. But correspondent Laurie Kassman reports from Moscow he is refusing their resignations -- for now.. TEXT: President Putin says the three men offered letters of resignation, but he will not accept them. First, he says, the cause and conditions of the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster must be clarified. In an interview with state television late Wednesday, Mr. Putin warns against blaming anyone in the emotion of the moment. He promises to punish those who are found guilty, but only after a thorough investigation. Mr. Putin insists the Kursk crisis should unite, not divide, Russian society. Ironically, analysts say the crisis has widened the gap in Russia between leaders who prefer Soviet-style secrecy and control and the Russian public and media seeking a more open leadership. Speaking slowly and with emotion, President Putin told his interviewer he feels responsible and guilty for the Kursk tragedy. But, he warns, politicians should not exploit the tragedy for personal gain. /// OPT /// Russia, he says, has survived disasters in the past, and will survive this one. /// END OPT /// Some opposition politicians in Russia's parliament are demanding an investigation into the accident. Newspapers continue to criticize President Putin and other senior officials for their handling of the crisis and its aftermath. The Russian leader has been sharply criticized for his own silence in the first days after the accident was made public. Mr. Putin's comments Wednesday came at the end of a national day of mourning for the 118 sailors who died aboard the submarine, which crashed to the bottom of the Barents Sea on August 12th. Flags were lowered on government buildings and church services were held across the country to pay tribute to the Kursk crewmen. T-V and radio programs were altered to reflect the somber mood of the day. /// REST OPT /// Relatives of the Kursk crewmen have urged Mr. Putin to postpone an official memorial ceremony until all of the sailors' bodies are recovered. (Signed) NEB/LMK/WTW/FC 23-Aug-2000 14:36 PM EDT (23-Aug-2000 1836 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .