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Russia: Government Discusses Budget, Crime Measures

Moscow, 27 November 1998 (RFE/RL) - The Russian government met today for discussions on tax reforms which are at the center of an effort to draw up a 1999 draft budget. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov announced that ministers had agreed to cut the value-added tax to 14 percent from the current 20 percent and the profit tax to 30 percent from 35. The announced cuts hint at a compromise between government ministers who had reportedly been deeply divided over the tax cuts. No further details of discussions on the tax issue are immediately available. The government has promised to present a 1999 draft budget to parliament early next month.

Ministers also approved a package of bills aimed at stepping up anti-crime efforts.

The measures -- proposed by Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov -- still face debate in parliament. The measures include raising penalties for illegal possession of arms and stronger control by state law-enforcement bodies over private security agencies.

They also include a bill aimed at barring people with criminal links from standing for parliament. Under the proposal, candidates would have to provide information on their income and property -- as well as medical and police records -- before they could be registered. Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov has already warned ministers to prevent the draft law from being used for political ends.

Also today, leaders of Russian pro-reform groups announced their intention to form a coalition.

The movement (which does not yet have a name, leader, or platform) includes former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, one-time acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, and former Deputy Prime Ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. The leader of the Yabloko movement, Grigory Yavlinsky, has refused to join the coalition.

The group said in a statement that the movement was formed "in response to insolent interference of criminals in the political life of the country, and in response to attempts to turn the country back to a dictatorship."

Oleg Sysuyev -- first deputy head of Yeltsin's staff and a coalition supporter -- said the Kremlin wants to avoid a repeat of the fragmentation that saw more than 40 parties contest the last parliamentary election. He said if the situation of 1995 is repeated, Russia's next parliament will "not be any better" than the present one. The State Duma is currently dominated by the Communists and their allies on the left. Parliamentary elections are due late next year. Calls for unity among Russia's pro-reform forces have intensified following the shooting death last week of Galina Starovoitova, a prominent Russian lawmaker and democracy advocate.