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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Yeltsin Resignation Comes at Time of Tension with U.S.; Elliot Richardson Dies of Cerebral Hemorrhage

Aired January 1, 2000 - 4:20 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: You are looking at live pictures of Anchorage, Alaska, where just moments ago they welcomed in the new millennium. And the temperatures there, as you might have seen, they were pretty cold, minus 40 degrees if you count in the wind chill. So those are brave, hearty souls out there. And, in fact, officials had asked mothers to bring a backpack full of extra hats, mittens and perhaps something warm to drink for the kids just in case it got really bad.

We turn now to some of the other stories making news now at the start of this new year. Russia begins it with a new president in the Kremlin. Boris Yeltsin resigned Friday as he apologized for not fulfilling the dreams of ordinary Russians for a better life. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will serve as the acting president until elections can be held, expected for the month of March.

CNN's State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel has more now on the reaction from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yeltsin's surprise New Year's Eve resignation ends a relationship with President Clinton at a time of tension between Washington and Moscow over the war in Chechnya. Nevertheless, President Clinton paid tribute to what he called Yeltsin's historic tenure.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under his leadership since 1991, the Russian people have faced the unprecedented challenge of building a new democracy and a new life after decades of corrosive communist rule.

KOPPEL: U.S. officials view what appears to be the beginning of a smooth transition from Yeltsin to his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin, as proof of Yeltsin's commitment to building democracy in Russia. Before being unexpectedly appointed prime minister last August, Putin was Yeltsin's national security adviser and before that head of Russia's intelligence agency.

Now news of his latest promotion has U.S. officials anxiously poring over his most recent public statements to figure out what kind of president he'll make if he's elected to a full term three months from now. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, SECRETARY OF STATE: He gives the impression of somebody who is a very hard worker who understands all the things that need to be done with Russia and a kind of a can do person.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Will he be the Napoleon of the Russian revolution and end democracy or will he be the young liberal reformer that his handlers want us to believe? It's a giant unknown question.

KOPPEL: So far, U.S. officials have been encouraged by Putin's statements pushing the Russian parliament to ratify the START II nuclear missile reduction treaty. But they continue to be disturbed by Putin's uncompromising approach towards winning the war in Chechnya at all costs.

(on camera): Administration officials say Putin also seems to support market led economic reform and they hope he'll show that commitment when he makes his first appearance on the international stage as acting president later this month at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUANITA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: There's been no sign of five hijackers who commandeered an Indian Airlines flight from Nepal, eventually taking it to Afghanistan. Taliban officials say the men have left the country. They were last seen leaving the Kandahar Airport Friday by car with three colleagues. India released the three men from prison in exchange for the hostages on board the plane.

CNN New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra more on the hostages' eight day ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Out of the plane into freedom and the waiting embrace of their families, 155 passengers arrived home New Year's Eve after eight days in captivity. Some couldn't walk. Others were too traumatized to talk. Those who did say they'll bear the scars of India's longest hijacking drama in a decade forever.

NARUN NATHANI, RELEASED HOSTAGE: We were fearing death every day. There was intense pressure on the last day when we really thought they will blow ourselves up. They will kill us.

BINDRA: One Indian, Rachna Katyal, was stabbed to death by the hijackers soon after they commandeered the plane on a routine flight from Nepal to India. Passengers say the hijackers gave them little food and kept many of them blindfolded.

UNIDENTIFIED HOSTAGE: (Unintelligible) No, they don't have (unintelligible). They had time bombs, also. BINDRA: Fearing the hijackers would blow up the plane, India on Friday agreed to release three jailed Muslim rebels in exchange for the prisoners.

DR. SANJIV CHIBBER, FAMILY MEMBER: We feel it's worth it because no three terrorists are worth the lives of 165 passengers.

BINDRA: Soon after releasing the passengers into the care of Indian officials in Kandahar, the hijackers left the airport in a motorcade. India says it'll try to find them and appealed to the international community for help.

ATAL BEHARI VAJPAYEE, INDIAN PRIME MINISTER: The time has come for the world to confront this evil, to work in concert and crush it. The battle against terrorism can be won by all nations hereto together.

BINDRA: At New Delhi's international airport, few were thinking about the hijackers. Passengers said the real hero was the Indian Airlines pilot, Captain Devi Sharan, for keeping calm as the hijackers forced the plane to hopscotch from India to Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and finally to Afghanistan. The passengers and their relatives carried Sharan out of their terminal on their shoulders. For tearful relatives, the release of their loved ones was, they said, the best millennium gift they could ever hope for.

Satinder Bindra, CNN, New Delhi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Two bank employees in Kansas are celebrating their freedom today after being held hostage for eight hours by the bank robber. The standoff in Olathe, Kansas began just before 5:00 P.M. Friday. Eleven people were in the building when a woman in her '20s attempted to rob the bank. Nine people escaped and one was released later in the day. According to local police, the hostages were released when the woman surrendered just after 1:00 A.M. Saturday.

NELSON: The former United States attorney general who had resigned in a showdown with President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal is dead. Elliot Richardson died Friday in Massachusetts of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Now CNN's Bruce Morton reports on a man that many remember for his integrity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We remember people in politics who act on principal, on what they believe in. So we remember Elliot Richardson because in 1973 during the Watergate scandal he was Richard Nixon's attorney general and as such appointed Harvard law professor Archibald Cox to investigate Watergate.

Cox wanted to subpoena tape recorded White House meetings about Watergate. President Nixon refused and ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused, telling Nixon...

ELLIOTT RICHARDSON: I made a clear cut commitment to the independence of the special prosecutor. I committed myself to the United States Senate and to him that I would fire him only for some extraordinary impropriety on his part, so are the words of his charter. And there's nothing that he has done that could possibly be called an impropriety. I cannot fire him.

MORTON: Nixon's reaction?

RICHARDSON: And he said, "Elliott, I'm sorry you choose to put your purely personal commitments ahead of the public interest." Well, I could feel the blood going to my head. It was hard to steady my voice but I said, "Mr. President, it would appear that we have a different perception of the public interest."

MORTON: Richardson resigned. His number two, William Ruckelshaus, also refused to fire Cox and resigned in what became known as the Saturday night massacre.

Robert Bork, number three in the department, did fire Cox but Cox's successor, Leon Jaworski, finally got the tapes released. Nixon's support crumbled and he had to resign the presidency, the first ever to do so.

Bork said of Richardson today, "I was much impressed by him. He navigated difficult situations very well."

RICHARDSON: I've always felt that I got more credit than I deserved. What I did really in the circumstances was a very clear cut act that was equally clearly compelled by the circumstances. I never had to agonize over it.

MORTON: When you act on principal, you often don't have to agonize. Richardson held other jobs later, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1998. But we remember him for the moment in 1973 when he faced down a president and did what he thought was right.

Richardson died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 79.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NELSON: It's not just the explosion of fireworks and the popping of champagne corks heralding in the new year.

PHILLIPS: Hospitals around the world ring with the sound of newborns. We'll be introducing you to some millennium babies when we return.

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