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Russia: Yeltsin Sacks Justice Minister, Names Replacement

Moscow, 2 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today fired Justice Minister Valentin Kovalyov, caught in a scandal over a controversial video.

Yeltsin replaced Kovalyov with Sergei Stepashin, a former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Stepashin was removed as FSB head following the botched hostage crisis in Budennovsk in 1995.

Yeltsin had previously suspended Kovalyov pending official investigation into the video film, allegedly showing Kovalyov in a gangland sauna with nude women. Photos said to be taken out of the film were published last month by the "Sovershenno Sekretno" (Top Secret) newspaper.

Itar-tass said the decision to sack Kovalyov was taken at a meeting today between Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Interfax news agency said the two men discussed also the government's work in the first half of the year and tactics for the next six months.

Yeltsin said that the level of tax collection needed to be improved. Chernomyrdin praised the work of Russian customs officers for bringing about eight trillion roubles ($1.4 billion) into the state budget in late May and June.

Yeltsin today gave Chernomyrdin three months to solve the country's persistent problem with wage arrears.

A statement from the presidential press service said Yeltsin had set two priorities: to pay back wages to the military in two months and to make good on the debt to teachers, doctors and other states sector employees in three months.

The focus on wage arrears follows an announcement by Yeltsin last week that the government had allocated money to pay pensioners.