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Pudding a hit as U.S. aid reaches Russians

Lunch at the Lyublinskaya soup kitchen was clearly different Tuesday. There was Campbell's cream of chicken soup instead of borscht, pork chops replaced porridge, and plenty of dental floss for the toothless crowd of pensioners.

The cafeteria, which has been operating as a soup kitchen since Jan. 1, served up the first of 100,000 meals flown to Moscow on Monday as part of a $78-million airlift of humanitarian aid from the United States.

In addition to the free three-course meal, Salvation Army volunteers passed out gift packages containing eyedrops, deodorant and dental floss.

"Everything is wonderful here. It's nice that people are worrying about us," said 78-year-old Anna Kudinova as she eagerly inspected her disposable plastic plate and the gift package. "I don't want to die, because it's wonderful to live when people are taking care of you."

Several dozen needy people _ predominantly poor and elderly _ ate at the soup kitchen Tuesday as at least twice as many journalists crowded around to record the U.S. aid effort.

The meals, mostly military rations left over from the gulf war, are being distributed to 35 institutions throughout the Russian capital. Included are pork chops, fish sticks, beef with gravy, canned lasagna, fruit-flavored candy, fruit juice, pudding and apple pie filling.

Maria Shenarenko, 69, said she found the pudding particularly tasty. "It's difficult to express exactly what this tastes like," she admitted. "It's like some type of gelatin that's very sweet and very aromatic."

U.S., Turkey to help republics: The United States and Turkey pledged on Tuesday to help the former Soviet Central Asian and Transcaucasian republics embrace democracy, a move officials said was partly aimed at limiting Iranian influence in the region.

After a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel in Washington, President Bush said they would cooperate to aid the former Soviet republics and to present Turkey as a model of a democratic, secular state.

David Gompert, the National Security Council's senior director for European and Eurasian affairs, said the republics included are Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.