|A thing well said will be writ in all languages. - John Dryden 1631-1700|
No. 249, 30 December 1993
RUSSIA \GRACHEV: MILITARY REDUCTIONS RECONSIDERED. At a press conference on 29 December, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev announced that the Russian military would be reduced to a force size of 2.1 million by the end of 1994 and that no further reductions would be made. According to Grachev the present force size is 2.3 million, a surprisingly high figure given the continuing reports of widespread draft shortfalls. The decision directly contravenes provisions of the Law on Defense passed by the Russian par liament in 1992, which specifies that by 1995 the size of the military may not exceed 1% of the country's total population. As a result, Russian military reform plans had called for a cut to 1.5 million troops by 1995. In early December, however, when the new military doctrine was issued, Grachev suggested the latter figure too low for such a large country. The larger force size will require an amendment to the Law on Defense, but given the conservative cast of the new parliament such an amendment should have no difficulty passing. Where the personnel will be found to staff the military remains uncertain: it is likely that tougher conscription laws with reduced draft exemptions will also be required. The press conference was reported by ITAR-TASS and West ern press agencies. John Lepingwell, RFE/RL, Inc. GRACHEV ON ELECTIONS. At the same press conference, Grachev noted that the military's participation in the October crisis had prevented civil war and the disintegration of the country. He also criticized those touting figures on how the military voted in the December elections, noting that the Central Electoral Commission had not released any figures on military voting, and reiterating that most military personnel voted together with civilians, even in voting stations located in military bases in the "nea r abroad." Grachev also warned against attempts by politicians to split the military or to draw it into political struggles. In a move that may nevertheless be in response to support for Zhirinovsky within the military, Grachev stated that a reform of mil itary bodies responsible for morale and personnel issues is being planned. John Lepingwell, RFE/RL, Inc. KOZYREV, GRACHEV WARN AGAINST NATO MEMBERSHIP. Reiterating Russia's already clear opposition to the rapid incorporation of former Warsaw Pact states into NATO, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has stated that such a move would play into the hands o f ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Kozyrev was quoted in The New York Times on 29 December as saying that the East European states "must strengthen the hand of Russian democrats and weaken the ground for Zhirinovsky." Kozyrev's remarks were likely intended to clarify Russia's stance in the period before the NATO summit scheduled for 10-11 January. Kozyrev was also evidently attempting to place part of the responsibility for Russia's opposition to NATO expansion on the shoulders of Russian ul tranationalists rather than on Russia's democrats. Speaking at his press conference on 29 December, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev also warned that the East European and Baltic States should not "speculate on a mythical threat from Russia" in order to gai n membership in NATO, and reiterated Russia's interest in closer ties with NATO. Suzanne Crow, RFE/RL, Inc. SHUMEIKO SAYS NUMBER OF MINISTRIES TO RISE. First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko was quoted by ITAR-TASS on 29 December as saying that, as the result of a planned governmental reorganization, the number of government ministries would increase fro m twenty-two to thirty. Shumeiko said eleven state committees would be transformed into ministries and the role of the federal ministries would be "substantially enhanced." A draft of the proposed reorganization is to be submitted to Yeltsin by 6 January. Shumeiko also said that the government has drafted new tax regulations that will raise tax rates for the rich. Elizabeth Teague, RFE/RL, Inc. COUP TRIAL AGAIN SUSPENDED. The ongoing trial of those accused of treason for their part in the failed August 1991 coup has been adjourned until 5 January because of the illness of three of the defendants, an RFE/RL Moscow correspondent reported. At the 2 9 December hearing the lawyers for Anatolii Lukyanov, former USSR Supreme Soviet chairman, and former Soviet Farmers' Union Chairman, Vasilii Starodubtsev, requested that the charges against their clients be dropped. The two are claiming parliamentary imm unity since their election to the new Russian legislature earlier in the month. The presiding judge, Anatolii Ukolov, is to consider the request. Wendy Slater, RFE/RL, Inc. NO IMPROVEMENT IN ENVIRONMENT BEFORE 1995. Russia's environment minister says about 15% of the territory of the Russian Federation is "an environmental disaster area." Viktor Danilov-Danilyan was quoted by ITAR-TASS and Western agencies on 27 December as saying that around 100,000 members of the Russian population live in regions where radiation levels are dangerously high. He also said that half of Russia's arable land is unsuitable for cultivation, only one-fifth of the country's industrial waste is ade quately treated, and no improvement in the situation can be expected before 1995. Elizabeth Teague, RFE/RL, Inc. LARGE INCREASE IN SOCIAL WELFARE SPENDING SOUGHT. Yurii Yarov, the deputy prime minister for social affairs, told Interfax on 29 December that the government will ask for a substantial increase in expenditure on social welfare in 1994. In its proposals to be presented to the new parliament on 11 January, the government will seek to raise the share of GNP spent on social welfare from 9% to 13%. In prices of the last quarter of 1993, with a GNP of around 180 trillion rubles, this would suggest an increase o f about 7.2 trillion rubles, or $6 billion at the current rate of exchange. Since a budget deficit of around 6 trillion rubles will be carried over from 1993, and in the absence of plans for sharply increased revenues, it looks as if the projected budget deficit for 1994 will be way beyond IMF guidelines. Keith Bush, RFE/RL, Inc. NONPAYMENT CRISIS PLAGUING ENERGY SECTOR. Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Vladimir Kostyunin confirmed that overdue payments in the energy sector continue to be a major factor in the decrease in production of energy carriers this year, according to ITAR-T ASS on 29 December. Russian oil production from January to November of this year was down 13.6% compared to the same period last year. Two trillion rubles is owed Russian oil suppliers by domestic firms, another 366 billion by states of the former Soviet Union. Natural gas production is anticipated to have dropped 3.6% from last year's level. Interfax reports that 1.5 trillion rubles (presumably by both domestic and foreign customers) are owed Gazprom, Russia's dominant natural gas producer and distributo r. The Ministry said that the volume of nonpayments to the sector increased significantly in November, a period of unprecedentedly cold temperatures. Erik Whitlock, RFE/RL, Inc. UDMURTIA DECIDES ON TWO-CHAMBER PARLIAMENT. After lengthy debates, the Udmurt Supreme Soviet decided to set up a new two-chamber parliament, Russian television reported on 28 December. The upper chamber, the Council of Representatives, will have fifty dep uties, and the lower, legislative, chamber will have thirty-five working on a permanent basis. A proposal that there should be guaranteed representation for the Udmurts (30.9% of the population in 1989 against the Russians' 58.9%) and other numerically-sm all peoples was rejected. Ann Sheehy, RFE/RL, Inc. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA DIPHTHERIA EPIDEMIC. The Russian State Epidemiological Committee has announced that 12,500 cases of diphtheria were registered during the first eleven months of 1993, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 December. Nearly 350 people died from the disease. The incidenc e of diphtheria in 1993 was said to be 150% higher than in 1992 and the outbreak has been called the worst in the developed world since the 1960s.(Much lower figures for the first ten months of 1993 were given by Interfax on 29 December, citing the Depart ment of Labor, Health, and Social Security. The discrepancies may be attributed either to a sharp deterioration in November or to differing criteria.) A vaccination campaign has been hampered by a shortage of vaccine and by a widespread fear of catching t he HIV virus from reused needles. Keith Bush, RFE/RL, Inc. TURKMENISTAN TO GAIN A SECOND PARTY. Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov told a gathering of intellectuals and Democratic Party officials on 27 December that the country will eventually develop into a multi-party state, an RFE/RL correspondent reported o n 28 December. As a start, Niyazov announced that he would permit the registration of a Peasants' Party, though the group has less than the 1,000 members required to register. Previously the only legal party in Turkmenistan was Niyazov's own Democratic Pa rty--the new name adopted by the Communists in 1991. Bess Brown, RFE/RL, Inc. TAJIK OPPOSITION WRITER FREED. Bozor Sobir, one of the most outstanding poets writing in the Tajik language, was found guilty by Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 29 December and immediately freed, ITAR-TASS reported. Sobir, a member of the now-banned opposit ion Democratic Party of Tajikistan, was arrested in March for "crimes against the state" including having incited interethnic tension. The charges were typical of those being applied by Tajikistan's present government against the opposition. The governmen t case against Bozor Sobir has drawn severe criticism from foreign human rights organizations. The court cited the poet's literary contributions in justifying its sentence; head of state Imomali Rakhmonov had written to the court in November asking that B ozor Sobir be treated leniently. Bess Brown, RFE/RL, Inc. ARMENIAN FORCES RETREAT. Karabakh Armenian forces were forced to retreat on 28 December from mountain positions surrounding Agdam, east of Nagorno-Karabakh, following fierce fighting that resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, according to a Karabakh Armenian spokesman quoted by AFP. The spokesman attributed the Azerbaijani success to the presence of Afghan mujahidin and to orders that Azerbaijani deserters from the front line be shot on the spot. Fighting is also continuing in Mardakert raion. Liz F uller, RFE/RL, Inc. CIS TARASYUK ON SS-24 DEACTIVATION. In an interview broadcast on Radio Ukraine on 29 December Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk confirmed that twenty SS-24 and twenty SS-19 missiles will be deactivated. Tarasyuk did not provide any information on the sch edule for the deactivation of the SS-24s, however. John Lepingwell, RFE/RL, Inc. CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE UKRAINE, RUSSIA DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION. Ukrainian and Russian military delegations met in Moscow on 28-29 December to discuss military cooperation, according to Interfax and ITAR-TASS reports. Agreement was reportedly reached on drafting an agreemen t governing military cooperation, and the two sides emphasized the need to ensure fulfillment of the many agreements already signed between the two states. They also agreed to continue negotiations on the transfer of nuclear weapons from Ukraine to Russia . A follow-up meeting is to be held in Kiev on 5-6 January, at which time the draft cooperation agreement might be ready for signing. Reports of the meeting suggest that despite Ukrainian denials of a change in policy, Ukrainian-Russian military relations have taken on a new tone and direction. John Lepingwell, RFE/RL, Inc. SERBIA: POLITICAL, ECONOMIC CRISES INTO THE NEW YEAR. On 29 and 30 December the Serbian media focused on rump Yugoslavia's economic problems and the difficulties the Serbian republic faces in forming a parliamentary government after the 19 December electi ons. On 30 December Politika reported that rump Yugoslavia's national bank, facing an inflation rate conservatively estimated at 30,000% per month in December, devalued the dinar by nine zeroes. The bank has issued new 10, 1,000, and 5,000 dinar notes in addition to a new one dinar coin. Experts are skeptical that the move will stabilize the currency or curb inflation. The national bank's treasury director, Vojislav Tomic, was quoted by Reuters as saying: "We will never get out of the (money printing) rhy thm unless the government adopts sharper measures to stem inflation." On 29 December Tanjug announced power cuts throughout Serbia as of 30 December as a result of a coal miners' strike. The Belgrade press reports that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic 's Socialist Party of Serbia, which holds 123 seats in the 250-seat legislature, is no closer to forming a coalition. In a 30 December Borba report, Andras Agoston, leader of an ethnic Hungarian party holding only five seats, repeated his commitment not t o join a coalition with the SPS, since doing so might compromise his party's ability to press for ethnic Hungarian autonomy in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. Meanwhile, on 29 December, government officials in the rump Yugoslav republic of Montenegro a nnounced that the republic's capital has been relocated to Cetinje. Stan Markotich, RFE/RL, Inc. CROATIAN MINISTER THREATENS BOSNIAN INTERVENTION. On 28 December Croatian defense minister Gojko Susak announced in a state TV broadcast that Croatian troops are prepared to invade Bosnia if Bosnian Muslim forces continue to threaten Croat civilians. Susa k stressed that Croat troops would move in only to protect Bosnian Croats from alleged genocide campaigns at the hands of Muslim forces. A similar threat was made on 16 November by President Franjo Tudjman. On 29 December Reuters reported that presidentia l elections in the Serb-controlled breakaway republic of Krajina are slated for 23 January. Elections held on 12 December gave neither of the two major candidates, Milan Babic and Milan Martic, a clear majority necessitating a runoff. Reuters reports that Babic fell just 0.6% percent short of winning an absolute majority, while Martic garnered 25.92% of the votes. Zagreb contends that the elections are invalid and illegal. Stan Markotich, RFE/RL, Inc. PAWLAK RELUCTANTLY ENDORSES CONTINUITY. In an address to the Sejm on 29 December, Polish Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak acknowledged that his government will continue the economic policies pursued by its predecessors, despite election campaign pledges to reverse them. Pawlak compared the state of economy to that of a "car speeding toward the abyss," but he ruled out slamming on the brakes or turning sharply left or right as too dangerous a maneuver. He admitted GDP was up 4% in 1993 but argued that the fo undations for growth remain unsteady. Poland's foreign trade deficit stands at $2.5 billion, he warned; public finances are in dire straits, with 16% of the 1994 budget allocated to debt servicing. In this situation, Pawlak said, the best his government c an offer for 1994 is to "put a halt to most of the negative processes." Pawlak also criticized "doctrinaire" faith in private ownership, suggested that the economy is collapsing because the stock market is thriving, and asserted that labor is more importa nt than capital. Rzeczpospolita on 30 December chided Pawlak for reverting to the "cult of production" of the 1960s and dusting off other socialist misconceptions. In party statements that followed Pawlak's address, the Democratic Union hailed Pawlak's su rrender to continuity but criticized his assertion that economic growth is illusory, while the socialist Union of Labor condemned the coalition's unwillingness to attempt dramatic policy changes. Speaking for the BBWR, former central planning minister Jer zy Eysymontt commented that the prime minister's message boils down to the admission that "there is no money and there will be no money." The debate on the 1994 budget, formally submitted to the Sejm on 29 December, begins on 5 January. Louisa Vinton, RFE /RL, Inc. WALESA DEMANDS INCREASED DEFENSE SPENDING. President Lech Walesa paid a visit to the warship Warszawa in Gdynia on 29 December, PAP reports. Accompanied by Defense Minister Piotr Kolodziejczyk, Walesa thanked honorary representatives of the armed forces f or their loyalty, noting that during his term of office the military had been the source of the fewest troubles. The president stressed the military's apolitical nature and vowed not to interfere in defense matters. At the same time, he expressed his full confidence in the defense minister. He restated his opposition to the appointment of "political" deputy defense ministers by parties in the government coalition. Walesa told reporters that increased spending on defense is now necessary in view of new thr eats to Poland's security. "If we do not respect our own army," Walesa said, "we may be forced to respect someone else's." The president added that he does not fear military aggression from Russia, because Poland is "too small a morsel," but nonetheless c alled on the West to recognize that the expansion of NATO is in its own best interest. Louisa Vinton, RFE/RL, Inc. NEW TAX ON POLISH ENTREPRENEURS. Finance Minister Marek Borowski told reporters on 29 December that the government had chosen to bolster the budget in 1994 by raising new revenues, rather than cutting spending or increasing the deficit. In addition to hig her taxes on personal income, the new revenue-generating measures include a tax on small businesses that is also intended to reduce Poland's "gray sphere" of semilegal economic activity. An estimated 500,000 businesses with yearly receipts of less than 1. 2 billion zloty ($57,000) will be required to pay a flat-rate tax on revenues, regardless of whether they show a profit or not. The fixed rate will be 2.5% for firms involved in retail trade; 5% for manufacturing, construction, and transport; and 7.5% for all other services. The government expects to earn 7.5 trillion zloty ($357 million) from this new tax. Finance ministry officials acknowledged that the tax is meant in part to convince small firms to cease concealing their proceeds and declare incomes a bove 1.2 billion; they would then have to fulfill VAT requirements but would avoid the flat-rate income tax. Louisa Vinton, RFE/RL, Inc. RFE CONTROVERSY FALLOUT. International media report that Slovak opposition parties will push for a vote of no confidence in Transportation and Communications Minister Roman Hofbauer whose ministry recently announced that it will terminate Radio Free Europ e's medium-wave broadcasting in Slovakia. In a statement on 29 December, Jan Carnogursky, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party and former Slovak Premier, said that his party would seek to oust Hofbauer at the next session of parliament. The statemen t cites "Hofbauer's bad performance culminating in his ministry's decision to terminate RFE's medium-wave broadcasting in Slovakia." Reuters reports CDM leaders as saying they have found enough support for Hofbauer's ouster among other parliamentary oppos ition parties. Hofbauer first became the center of controversy in Summer 1993 when he ordered the removal of bilingual language signs in Slovakia, angering the 600,000-strong Hungarian ethnic minority. The US Embassy in Bratislava, in a statement issued o n 29 December, welcomed the readiness of the Slovak government to settle the dispute with RFE. Jiri Pehe, RFE/RL, Inc. CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER ON PURGES IN THE ARMY. Czech Defense Minister Antonin Baudys revealed at a press conference that some 21,000 officers and generals of the Czech army have undergone screening this year, CTK reported on 29 December. He said that 2,232 officers were dismissed in the first half of the year and not even screened because they obviously failed to meet the required standards. Of those screened, fifty-one officers were dismissed and 217 either demoted or offered positions that corresponded t o their qualifications. Baudys also said that some 600 officers of retirement age will gradually be removed from active service. The defense minister announced that military educational facilities will be downsized and their number reduced. Jan Obrman, RF E/RL, Inc. INCREASED TRADE ON HUNGARIAN STOCK MARKET. MTI reported that in the first eleven months of the year the Budapest Stock Exchange (BST) registered five times as much trade as in the same period in 1992. Total turnover from January to November 1993 amounted to 155 billion forint ($1.5 billion) in 19,000 transactions, but only about one-third of stock and bond trading in Hungary actually took place on the BST. In November 1993 the total value of stocks and bonds traded on the BST amounted to 454 billion forin t ($4.5 billion). Government bonds took 39% of trade in November, but the share of compensation bonds and corporate stock were growing. Karoly Okolicsanyi, RFE/RL, Inc. ZHELEV CALLS ZHIRINOVSKY "FASCIST..." At a press conference directly after Bulgaria's expulsion of Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on 29 December, President Zhelyu Zhelev said that, "although he denies it, I think Zhirinovsky is a fascist both in his way of thinking and behavior." Zhelev, who was forced into internal exile in the late 1960s after writing a book implying parallels between 20th century fascism and communism, compared Zhirinovsky's imperial ambitions with those of Hitler and Mussolini. He said it was typical for fascists "to use demagogy to reach power, but afterwards to replace demagogy with dictatorship." Among the motives for Zhirinovsky's expulsion, Zhelev mentioned his disparaging remarks about Bulgaria's neighbors. Give n Zhirinovsky's extremist statements and the war in the immediate vicinity, Bulgaria's silence, Zhelev said, would not only have been undignified but could have endangered relations with other Balkan states at a critical time. Kjell Engelbrekt, RFE/RL, In c. ...BUT REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR RUSSIAN DEMOCRATS. Zhelev came to the press conference directly after a meeting with Russia's ambassador to Sofia, Alexander Avdeev. According to BTA, he asked the ambassador to convey a message to President Boris Yeltsin in w hich he reiterated Bulgaria's "categorical support for the democratic forces and transformations in Russia." He reportedly also said that, while seeking guarantees for its foreign and security policy within the framework of "the NATO system," Bulgaria wou ld not stand against Russia but take into account its interests and security. Avdeev, for his part, expressed regret over Zhirinovsky's behavior during the visit, saying that it corresponded neither to the ethics nor the civility demanded of politicians." Kjell Engelbrekt, RFE/RL, Inc. ROMANIAN REACTION TO ZHIRINOVSKY. The Romanian government issued on 29 December a declaration castigating the statements on the Romanian people and state made by Zhirinovsky in Sofia on 28 December. The declaration, carried by Radio Bucharest, defined the statements as "aberrant and insulting." It said that, although they apparently reflect "a pathological, rather than a political" position, the statements cannot be ignored because they could be transformed into "departure points for developments with nef arious consequences" for Europe and mankind. The government "rejects and condemns" such opinions, which are being "resurrected from a propaganda arsenal that had soaked the entire planet in blood fifty years ago" and views the declarations as an attack on Romania's "national security." On 29 December Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu summoned the Russian ambassador to Bucharest, Evgenii Ostrovenko, to protest Zhirinovsky's statements. The ambassador distanced himself from the statements, "which in no way reflect his country's position vis-a-vis Romania." Michael Shafir., RFE/RL, Inc. ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES RULE BY DECREE. The Chamber of Deputies approved on 29 December a law allowing the government to rule by decree during January's parliamentary recess, Radio Bucharest announced on the same day. The vote was 159-1, with the opp osition refusing to vote. Reuters quoted Ion Diaconescu, a leader of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, as saying the law was a violation of the constitution, and Petre Roman, the leader of the Democratic Party-National Salvation Front as vi ewing the law as "a potential danger of Romania's turning back to totalitarianism." Michael Shafir., RFE/RL, Inc. ROMANIAN FOREIGN DEBT RISES. Romania's foreign debt has grown to the equivalent of over $3 billion. The official news agency Rompres reported on 29 December that the foreign debt rose by 26% in the first nine months of 1993. Michael Shafir, RFE/RL, Inc. RUSSIAN TROOPS OUT OF ESTONIA, LATVIA, GERMANY IN 1994? RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER PAVEL GRACHEV TOLD THE PRESS ON 29 DECEMBER IN MOSCOW THAT HIS COUNTRY INTENDS TO WITHDRAW ALL ITS TROOPS FROM GERMANY, LATVIA, AND ESTONIA IN 1994. He added that the desire of the East European countries to join NATO was "each state's internal affair" and expressed regret that the Baltic States were motivated to join NATO by the desire "to secure themselves against a Russian military threat," Baltic and Russian media reporte d. There are still about 2,400 Russian servicemen in Estonia, of whom about 1,000 are believed to be assault troops; most of the soldiers are stationed in the Tallinn and Harju districts. In Latvia there are about 12,000 Russian troops. Estonian Foreign M inister Trivimi Velliste said that if the Russian withdrawal process is more dynamic, then his country can accept Russia's proposed deadline of 31 August 1994 for the completion of the withdrawal. Dzintra Bungs, RFE/RL, Inc. PRIVATIZATION IN ESTONIA. A report on Estonia's economy for 1993-1994 by the Ministry of Economics said that the Privatization Agency was unable to carry out privatization in due time and with sufficient expertise, as a result of staff shortages, BNS repo rted on 29 December. The report called for decentralization of the privatization process. In October, 54% of stores were in private hands, 30% were owned by cooperatives; only 8% were still state-owned. In the first eleven months of 1993 state companies v alued at over 350 million kroons were privatized. 125 million of these kroons came from the sale of 240 companies and facilities under the so-called small privatization scheme. The total value of privatized companies in 1991 and 1992 was about 36.5 millio n kroons ($2.7 million). Saulius Girnius, RFE/RL, Inc. UKRAINIAN ECONOMIC NEWS. Agriculture Minister Yurii Karasyk said on 29 December that Ukraine plans to free prices for most agricultural products in 1994, PAP reported from Kiev. Reform of the contracting system is also planned; in future state contracting would be restricted to 30% of grain and a significant proportion of sugar beet, sunflower seeds and dairy produce. In other news, AFP, citing Radio Ukraine, reported that same day that President Leonid Kravchuk issued a decree on the privatization of gas stations. Both domestic and foreign companies will be entitled to join the bidding. Anna Sabbat-Swidlicka, RFE/RL, Inc. BELARUS TO ISSUE BONDS. The Belarusian government plans to issue short-term bonds at the beginning of 1994 to cover a part of the budget deficit, PAP reported from Minsk on 29 December. Each bond will have a nominal value of 100,000 rubles, and the total issue is valued at 2 billion rubles. Investors selected by the Belarus National Bank will take part in a closed auction. The government will recall the bonds after ninety days. The decision was made in connection with plans to increase expenditure from th e budget to cover increases in the minimum wage, unemployment and disability benefits, and pensions. The total cost to the budget was not revealed. Anna Sabbat-Swidlicka, RFE/RL, Inc. [as of 1200 CET] Compiled by Anna Swidlicka & John LepingwellRFE/RL Daily Report
write to us
with your comments and suggestions.