© St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 2002
LIMA, Peru -- Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the German who explored Peru's Pacific coast 200 years ago, quipped that "Lima is more detached from Peru than London."
Today, Peruvians will vote in an attempt to bridge the gap and hand power to the provinces as President Alejandro Toledo takes a high-risk gamble to make good on an election pledge.
This capital of nearly 8-million people has long drawn poor Peruvians from the Amazon jungle, the Andean highlands and the thin Pacific coast in search of a better life.
And for decades those left behind have been clamoring to shift money and power out of Lima, which has swollen to hold one-third of Peru's 25-million people and more than half of its economic output.
The idea is to make Peru's departments more than just divisions on a map by creating 25 new electoral regions with American-style state governments. Proponents see "regionalizacion" as a way for the states to cut loose and prosper. Others see it as a recipe for another Argentina, where free-spending provinces accelerated the country's debt and financial collapse.
This country almost the size of Alaska has long been a largely one-city nation based in the capital that Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro founded 500 years ago.
Peru's second city, Arequipa, 465 miles southeast of Lima and over a mile high in the Andes, claims barely 1-million people and 6 percent of gross domestic product.
Most Peruvians would agree that concentrating power and money in Lima has left most of the countryside to idle in poverty, but some think grass-roots democracy may make it harder for Toledo to govern.
Polls show Toledo's party might not even win one of the new regions, a reflection of the president's 20 percent approval rating.
"It's a problem that could affect its ability to govern, given the potential for conflict," said Santiago Pedraglio, a political analyst.
Compounding the uncertainty, the law on how the regions will operate was hastened through Congress only nine days ago and critics say it's flawed.
Decentralization seeks to end problems such as the violent demonstrations in Arequipa in June that derailed the central government's privatization program. The regional governments are promised 17 percent of the national budget and the right to raise their own taxes and auction state assets, but details have yet to be made public.
Polls and analysts predict most of the presidencies will be won by independents, but about one-third are expected to go to the populist Apristas led by former President Alan Garcia. Garcia plans another presidential bid in 2006, making the party's cooperation with the government doubtful.
ANKARA, Turkey -- A moderate politician from a party with Muslim roots was named prime minister on Saturday, and he proclaimed that his administration would show the world that Islam and democracy could work together.
Abdullah Gul, a former economics professor, became a leading candidate for prime minister after the overwhelming election victory of the Justice and Development Party, which swept aside much of Turkey's governing class in elections earlier this month. With his party firmly in control, Gul seemed certain to be affirmed in the post when the new parliament gathers this week.
"We want to prove that a Muslim identity can be democratic, transparent and compatible with the modern world," Gul said in an interview. "We will prove this. Turkey will be an example for the world."
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Lawmakers in Pakistan's first democratically elected legislature in three years were sworn in Saturday and said the makeup of the government would be known in a few days.
The new government will test President Pervez Musharraf's pledge to return Pakistan to democracy and his ability to maintain his country's position as a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Musharraf remains Pakistan's most powerful figure because of changes to the constitution made during his rule that give him authority to fire the legislature if it steps out of line. Musharraf was sworn in for five more years at a separate ceremony Saturday.
No single party won a clear majority at the elections. The largest bloc is the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League, which controls 103 seats in the 342-seat lower house. Exiled prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's party has the next largest number of seats with 80.
KIEV, Ukraine -- President Leonid Kuchma on Saturday fired the government of Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh, a presidential spokeswoman said.
The cabinet of ministers remains in office until the parliament approves the dismissal order, said spokeswoman Yevgenya Zhoravlova, and a date for that vote has not been set.
Kuchma has been embattled both by wide public protests calling for his resignation on the grounds of incompetence and corruption and by allegations that he approved the sale of a radar system to Iraq in violation of United Nations sanctions.
Kuchma's candidate to replace Kinakh is Viktor Yanukovych, regional governor in the eastern industrial province of Donetsk.
Yanukovych rose to the top of the list of four on Friday after Kuchma met with faction leaders from the 450-member upper house of parliament.
A razor-thin, largely pro-presidential majority coalition of lawmakers have lobbied for weeks to replace Kinakh amid criticism that his government caused a budget crisis.