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Putin airs proposal to amplify his power

Just 10 days after being inaugurated as Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping changes to the country's system of government Wednesday that appeared designed to enhance his power, especially over unruly provinces.

Putin made the proposals in a surprise television address just hours after parliament approved his nominee, Mikhail Kasyanov, as prime minister _ the lawmakers' last chance to influence the lineup of the new government.

Putin said the changes, which would rein in powerful provincial governors and limit their influence in Moscow, are needed to remove "obvious contradictions in the organization of power in Russia" and "strengthen and cement Russian statehood."

Under Putin's proposals, which require the approval of both houses of parliament, governors would no longer serve as members of the upper house, or Federation Council. Instead, regions would send a permanent representative to the council.

The proposed laws would also allow the president to remove governors and dissolve regional legislatures; for regional legislatures to impeach governors; and for governors to remove lower-ranking officials.

Plant is back to normal,

Chernobyl officials say

KIEV, Ukraine _ Officials at the Chernobyl nuclear plant said Wednesday its only operating reactor was working normally after a malfunction in a turbo generator forced them to halve power. "The reactor is working in a normal regime," said Chernobyl duty officer Andriy Bilyk.

The plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986, reported the malfunction Monday. Chernobyl officials said no radiation was released.

When the incident was reported on Monday, plant officials said a turbo-alternator at the plant's only working reactor failed before dawn and was shut down for repairs until evening.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker gave a similar account, calling the malfunction a leak.

Ukraine has promised to close Chernobyl in 2000.

Opposition leader looks

headed for election win

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic _ Populist opposition leader Hipolito Mejia headed for a first-round victory in Dominican presidential elections _ but partial returns suggested he might be forced into a second round of voting.

Millions turned out Tuesday for balloting to decide the economic direction of this Caribbean nation _ where a free-market government expanded the economy by almost 40 percent in the past four years but failed to lift most people out of poverty.

As the nation anxiously awaited a final count, the Central Elections Council suspended its work for a few hours Wednesday, saying employees needed rest.

Elsewhere

IRANIANS CONVICTED: _ An Iranian court sentenced five men to jail terms of up to 15 years for their part in a March assassination attempt on Saeed Hajjarian, a leading reformist, state-run Tehran television reported Wednesday. "The main suspect, Saeed Asghar, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in Isfahan prison for acting against Iran's national security," it reported, quoting a statement by the Tehran Justice Administration. Three other suspects were acquitted, the report said.

BATTLE INTENSIFIES: Ethiopia's drive into Eritrea intensified on Wednesday, as dozens of tanks and thousands of troops streamed north to join a battle for control of the area around the strategic town of Barentu, Eritrea.

SEA RESCUE: A U.S. Coast Guard cutter rescued 44 illegal Haitian migrants and two U.S. freelance journalists from a sinking sailboat off Haiti, the Coast Guard said Wednesday. The 35-foot sailboat was found slowly sinking Sunday in international waters about 20 miles off Haiti.

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