UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT STARTS DEBATING AMENDED BUDGET. The Ukrainian Supreme Council on 2 December began debating the amended 1999 draft budget amid government warnings that most fiscal targets set by lawmakers will be impossible to meet, AP reported. The draft provides for a zero deficit and increases revenues to 35.1 billion hryvni ($10.2 billion) from the 23.1 billion forecast by the government. "Ukraine can produce a financial sensation by approving a deficit-free budget," Budget Committee Chairwoman Yuliya Tymoshenko commented. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov said the proposed budget revenues and expenditures are unrealistic. Meanwhile, the government appealed to the parliament to reconsider its decision raising the monthly minimum wage from 55 to 148 hryvni, saying such an increase would be destructive for the economy. JM

UKRAINIAN MINERS ON STRIKE AGAIN. Hundreds of miners demonstrated outside the parliament building in Kyiv on 2 December, demanding increased state support for the mining sector and the payment of back wages, AP reported. According to Mykhaylo Volynets of the Independent Miners' Union, some 40,000 miners in 20 mines launched an indefinite strike in support of the demonstrators' demands. The miners want the parliament to increase budget allocations for their industry to 5.5 billion hryvni ($1.6 billion) from the projected 3.1 billion hryvni. Wage arrears to the mining sector, according to governmental data, amount to 2.4 billion hryvni. JM

KUCHMA EXEMPTS FARMERS FROM VAT. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has issued an edict exempting farmers from value-added tax for five years, Ukrainian Television reported on 2 December. The exemption extends to those who sell homemade goods, excluding those liable to excise tax. The only condition is that earnings from homemade products must exceed 50 percent of a farm's gross income. Money saved by not paying VAT is to be spent on improving equipment and production methods, otherwise the funds will be confiscated. JM

KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN DECLARE AMNESTIES. The Uzbek and Kyrgyz presidents on 2 December declared an amnesty for some prisoners in their countries, Russian media sources reported. In Uzbekistan, veterans of World War Two, emergency workers at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant after the disaster in 1986, women over 60, minors, and the handicapped will be released over a four-month period beginning on 8 December, the sixth anniversary of the Uzbek Constitution. Other prisoners may have their sentences reduced. In Kyrgyzstan, 2,000 prisoners will be released on 10 December in honor of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. Those to be released are mainly minors and women, although some jailed for economic crimes may be set free if they can pay three times the amount of money they were charged with misappropriating. BP