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Newsline - March 15, 1995

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has rejected the candidacy of Oleg Gaidanov for the post of Moscow city prosecutor. Prosecutor General Alexei Ilyushenko had nominated Gaidanov to replace Gennady Ponomarev, who was sacked following the murder of TV journalist Vladislav Listev. Luzhkov is appealing the dismissals of Ponomarev and Moscow police chief Vladimir Pankratov to the Constitutional Court, on the grounds that the federal government must first consult Moscow authorities before firing city officials. Luzhkov told Moscow TV on 14 March that the "powerful political attack" on the city's authorities resembled "theater of the absurd," for which Listev's murder was only a "pretext." Luzhkov also said the Russian government had refused to release funds allocated to Moscow, which is tantamount to an "economic blockade" of the city. Luzhkov denied having presidential aspirations and described his relations with Yeltsin as "excellent," Interfax reported. He blamed Yeltsin's security service, led by Alexander Korzhakov, for causing the confrontation, NTV reported. * Laura Belin

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has given his written approval to a five-stage peace plan for Chechnya, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai informed the conference "Peace Initiative in Chechnya" in Moscow on 14 March, Interfax and AFP reported. The plan envisages a cessation of military operations; humanitarian actions; talks on a cease-fire conducted by a Russian-Chechen military commission that will also include Russian Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev and Ingush President Ruslan Aushev; a formal peace settlement on the basis of talks at the republican and local levels; elections to a new Chechen parliament; and the conclusion of a power-sharing treaty between Russia and Chechnya "similar to that signed between Russia and Tatarstan." Shakhrai also stated that Yeltsin is about to announce a new Chechen peace initiative, according to AFP. * Liz Fuller

The Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions proposed on 13 March that its members consider staging a nationwide day of protest against falling living standards, Interfax reported the following day. Alexei Surikov, federation deputy chairman, said the protest, provisionally called for 12 April, could vary in form from region to region and industry to industry. He also said the federation, through its electoral association, Unions of Russia, intends to nominate candidates for the upcoming legislative elections independently and enter into alliances with political parties and movements, such as the Communists, Agrarians, and the Socialist Workers' Party. Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy reported on 13 March that trade unions in Primorsky Krai plan to hold rallies on 27 April to protest against the "critical" economic situation in the region. They will call for the resignation of the government and early presidential elections. * Penny Morvant
President Yeltsin appointed television journalist Sergei Medvedev, 37, as his new press secretary, replacing Vyacheslav Kostikov who will now become Moscow's ambassador to the Vatican, Reuters and Interfax reported on 14 March. Medvedev said his most pressing tasks will be to keep Yeltsin in touch with the outside world and establish better relations between the president's team and the media. Medvedev was the first television reporter to publicize Yeltsin's resistance to the August 1991 coup and was instrumental in summoning people to the White House to counter a hard-line takeover. More recently, he has been the host of the political news program "News Plus" on Ostankino. His appointment is a clear attempt to bolster Yeltsin's image before the June 1996 presidential election. Kostikov, who held the job since 1992, is famous for his savage attacks on Yeltsin's political opponents during the president's confrontation with parliament in 1993. * Robert Orttung

First Deputy Economics Minister Yakov Urinson told a cabinet meeting that Russia intends to export about 2 million tons of aluminum in 1995, Interfax reported on 14 March. Urinson said rising prices and Russia's position as a leading producer of aluminum should make 1995 a favorable year for exporting the metal. * Thomas Sigel

Initial demand for currency at MICEX trading on 14 March was $192.71 million, up $110.82 million or almost $150% from 13 March trading, the Financial Information Agency reported. Supply was at $168.87 million. The ruble fell 28 points against the dollar to 4,723 rubles. According to the dealers, when the rate reached 4,722 rubles to $1 the Central Bank sold $1 million. When the ruble fell to 4,723 rubles to $1, the bank continued selling, first $1 million, then $15 million, and finally $6.83 million which brought its total intervention to $23.83 million, $9.83 million more than in 13 March trading. Commercial banks were not very active and withdrew $10,000 from sale. Dealers told the news agencies that the dollar's slowdown on the inter-bank market is related to the accumulation of rubles for the upcoming auction of treasury bonds. * Thomas Sigel

State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin said in a 14 March interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta that lifting the flank limits in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty would facilitate an agreement with NATO on eastward expansion. He said if "Russia is allowed to deploy its armed forces as it wishes, then NATO approaching our borders will not be so dangerous." He also questioned the value of the START-2 treaty given the "very bad geopolitical situation" in which Russia finds itself. He said Russia should form alliances with its immediate neighbors and that progress in that regard has already been made with Belarus. He added that he thought "Ukraine will soon find itself in a precarious situation. We should explain to our Ukrainian friends that all talk about Western aid is a trifle compared to the consequences they will have to face when they find themselves outside a collective security system." * Michael Mihalka

The governor of Voronezh Oblast has sent a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin stating that if the Buturlin air force testing range is not closed, the local public are likely to stage protests, Izvestiya reported on 15 March. A missile launched during a training flight over the range on 10 March went out of control and exploded close to a village and the Novovoronezh nuclear power station. A special commission is investigating the accident, and residents have been assured that no further flights will take place until the government determines the fate of the range. Noting that the authorities made no statement about the accident until 13 March, three days after it took place, Izvestiya drew parallels with the official reaction to the Chornobyl disaster in 1986. * Penny Morvant

Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev announced there would be "no fundamental changes" in Russian foreign policy after a meeting of senior ministry officials with President Yeltsin, Ostankino TV reported. The meeting had been put off several times for "technical reasons." Kozyrev added that the Russian leadership was "unanimous" in objecting to "any hasty and reckless expansion of NATO," which is the "main obstacle" obstructing Russia's partnership with the alliance. RIA reported that Yeltsin wants the ministry to conduct better strategic analysis which should improve its coordination with other federal offices. He also said it should pay more attention to the needs of ethnic Russians living abroad. * Michael Mihalka

Nobel prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn charged that Russia is letting itself become an "ideological colony" of the West, during a 13 March interview with Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin on Russian TV. Solzhenitsyn claimed that Russia has pursued a foreign policy of "infantilism" in recent years and singled out Radio Liberty, an "ambiguous organization," for conducting "direct interference in our affairs." While admitting that RL "was once irreplaceable," he said Russians no longer need the service and claimed the U.S. Congress now uses it to promote Siberian separatism. Solzhenitsyn said Russia also needs to boost its "ideological defense" against scientific and cultural grants from the Soros Foundation, as well as American trade unions, U.S. government-funded organizations to promote democracy, and various Western charities that use the Russian media to undermine Orthodoxy. * Laura Belin

Azerbaijani government troops surrounded the headquarters of the OMON special police near Baku, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 15 March. Fighting between government troops and OMON forces is reported elsewhere in the country. Deputy Interior Minister Rovshan Dzhavadov has reportedly called for the resignation of President Heidar Aliyev and the Azerbaijani government, charging that they have brought the country to the verge of ruin. Aliev's whereabouts are unknown. Aliyev had cancelled a scheduled visit to Pakistan to attend the ECO heads of state meeting after an incident on 13 March when OMON forces occupied two towers in northern Azerbaijan. * Liz Fuller

Sa'id Abdullo Nuri, leader of the Islamic Revival Movement based in Tajikistan, has indicated he is ready to hold talks with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmanov "at any time and at any place," Interfax reported on 14 March. Nuri, who was speaking to General Hassan Abasa, head of the UN military observers in Tajikistan, added that the opposition "will not initiate any combat operations on the Tajik-Afghan border this Spring." However, talk of peace did not prevent six masked gunmen from kidnapping and executing Zainiddin Mukhiddinov, a newly-elected member of the Tajik parliament. Meanwhile, three Tajiks, described by the chief of the Tajik Foreign Ministry section Zafar Saidov as militants, were fired upon as they tried to cross into Tajikistan from Afghanistan. Saidov told Interfax that one of them was killed and the other two fled back to Afghanistan. * Bruce Pannier

On 14 March, 130 of the former Kazakh parliament's 177 deputies met and decided to continue working, Interfax reported. They requested that the UN and other international organizations send independent experts to assess the legality of recent events. President Nursultan Nazarbaev dissolved parliament on 11 March after a Constitutional Court verdict. The deputies are disputing the verdict, claiming that it refers to only one electoral district and that the court ruling has not taken effect because it has not been published or sent to any government institution. * Bruce Pannier

The heads of the CIS secret services are scheduled to meet in Moscow on 15 March to discuss ways of cooperating in their fight against crime, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported. Federal Counterintelligence Service department head Yuri Demin said the aim of the conference is to develop an alliance among the secret services which have so far only cooperated on a bilateral basis. He suggested that Interpol is a good model for multilateral cooperation that would save money and increase effectiveness. Demin dismissed the notion that such an arrangement would lead to the resurrection of the KGB, insisting that cooperation will focus only on those crimes which threaten national security including terrorism, money laundering, corruption, smuggling, and sabotage of strategic installations. Each service will retain its independence. * Michael Mihalka

Leonid Kuchma issued a decree on 13 March aimed at preventing tax evasion and the illegal flight of hard currency earnings to foreign countries, Interfax-Ukraine reported the next day. The Ukrainian leader also reprimanded Deputy Prime Minister Ihor Mityukov for failing to carry out a similar order on the repatriation of hard currency accumulated in Ukraine and deposited in foreign banks. It has been estimated that billions of U.S. dollars, often illegally made by Ukrainian businesses and officials, are held in foreign accounts, depriving Ukraine of badly-needed tax revenues. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Kuchma visited the Chornobyl nuclear power plant on 14 March in an effort to determine the fate of the two reactors still operating , Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. Accompanied by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko and other officials, Kuchma told plant personnel that a final decision on the future of Chornobyl would be taken by the Ukrainian government during a special meeting on the matter in the near future. Despite pressure from the West to shut down the plant as an environmental hazard, Kuchma opposes its closure because it provides 7% of the country's energy at a time when Ukraine is experiencing a deep energy crisis. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Interfax on 14 March reported that Volodymyr Yelchenko, deputy head of the international organizations department in the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, has said Ukraine will press for the easing of UN sanctions against Belgrade. According to Yelchenko, Ukraine's losses due to sanctions amounted to $4 billion by the end of 1994. The heaviest losses were sustained by Ukraine's inland water transportation enterprises, especially the Danube Steamship Line, which has lost all its clients. Losses were also sustained by smelting plants oriented toward exporting their products to Austria. Yelchenko said that Kiev is aware that no one will compensate Ukraine for all its losses but it wants to see Ukraine's position taken into account. He added that Ukraine will at least press for an easing of the navigation regime on the Danube. * Ustina Markus

Vice Admiral Volodymyr Bezkorovainy, commander of the Ukrainian Navy, submitted his resignation on 14 March, AFP reported. The official reason for his resignation was reported to be poor health, but the navy press center said that in the past 18 months, Bezkorovainy had not been sick once. According to AFP, Bezkorovainy was at odds with Defense Minister Valerii Shmarov over the Black Sea Fleet and had a poor working relationship with the fleet's commander, Admiral Eduard Baltin. Deputy Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk was reported to have said that Bezkorovainy's resignation was unexpected and regrettable. * Ustina Markus

Aleh Trusau, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada, has said he hopes the parliament will have "the common sense" not to ratify the Russian-Belarusian agreements on setting up a customs union and leasing military installations in Belarus to Russia, Interfax reported on 14 March. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov recently announced that if Belarus does not ratify the agreement, Russia will reimpose customs duties on Belarus. Trusau dismissed the remark as a political bluff, saying that Belarus was a highway for some 60% of Russia's exports to the West. He calculated that if customs duties were imposed, Russia stood to earn less than $300 million, while Belarus would earn twice that amount. * Ustina Markus

The trial of former Estonian Prime Minister Indrek Toome began at the Tallinn City Court on 14 March, Reuters reported. Toome, who was premier from 1988 to 1990, is charged with offering a bribe worth 30,000 kroons ($2,700) to a police officer for the return of three confiscated passports. Although Toome could be sentenced for up to two years in prison, state prosecutor Andres Ulviste asked only for a fine to be imposed. Toome's defense did not deny the bribery charges. but accused the police of setting a trap. The court is expected to pass judgment on 16 March. * Saulius Girnius

The Constitutional Tribunal ruled against President Lech Walesa on 14 March in declaring wage legislation adopted last December as constitutional, Rzeczpospolita reported. The law governs wage levels for employees who are paid from the state budget, such as teachers and doctors. It was designed to ease pressure on the budget by abolishing a 1989 provision that set budgetary wages at 106% of those in the industrial sector. The provision was always a dead letter; and successive governments struggled to obtain Sejm approval to suspend its implementation. The new law states that wages will be set through annual negotiations between unions, employers, and the government. The president had argued that the new legislation violated "the principle of social justice." In other economic news, Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy has lowered the government's sights on inflation, arguing that a December-on-December rate of 20-21% (rather than the official 17% goal) would be a success. * Louisa Vinton

The concordat with the Vatican signed on 28 July 1993 does not violate the current constitution, according to a resolution approved unexpectedly by a special Sejm commission on 14 March. Following emotional debate, the commission rejected a subcommittee proposal to declare that the concordat violated the separation of Church and state and discriminated against non-Catholic denominations. The commission noted (as had the Suchocka government, which negotiated the treaty) that ratification would require amending existing legislation to ensure equal rights for all religions. The vote was carried by deputies from the Polish Peasant Party and the opposition Freedom Union, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. All Democratic Left Alliance deputies (except commission chairman Zbigniew Siemiatkowski) were opposed. Sejm debate on the commission's report is expected in April. * Louisa Vinton

President Vaclav Havel on 14 March called again on the Czech parliament to fill the "holes" in the country's constitution before they become an issue in the 1996 election campaign. Havel said that the creation of a second parliament chamber, the Senate, and the redrawing of the Czech Republic's administrative districts were vital provisions in the constitution that had never been implemented. Following several political scandals in recent months, Havel also called on deputies to show a greater sense of public responsibility, and he opposed government policy on several points, including financing pension insurance from the state budget. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus refused to comment publicly on Havel's speech but told some cabinet members it was aimed against his Civic Democratic Party, the main partner in the governing coalition, Lidove noviny reported. * Steve Kettle

Czech Interior Minister Jan Ruml on 14 March confirmed that three international organizations with close links to the former communist regime will no longer be allowed to have their headquarters in Prague, Czech Television and other media reported. The International Organization of Journalists, based in Prague since 1947, the International Students' Union, and the World Trades Union Federation were ordered by the federal Interior Ministry to leave Czechoslovakia in 1992. After a two-year appeal process, Ruml confirmed that they must remove their secretariats from Prague. But he added that the organizations will still be allowed to conduct activities in the Czech Republic. * Steve Kettle

The Slovak government has reacted angrily to an initiative by a number of Slovak newspapers to protest plans to raise value-added tax on commercial publications with more than 30% foreign investment, Narodna obroda reported. A number of Slovak dailies on 6 March printed a blank front page containing only a warning about the higher tax. The government said that cabinet members would not participate in a press conference "in protest against the deception of the public, the damaging of the interests of the Slovak Republic at home and abroad, the disruption of freedom of speech [as well as] intolerance, arrogance and lack of culture." Chairman of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists, Julius Gembicky, said the blank pages were printed as a preventative measure addressed not to the government but to members of the parliament. * Sharon Fisher

Kamil Vajnorsky, chairman of the education and science trade union, warned on 14 March that social tension is growing among teachers and scientists. Vajnorsky stressed that low salaries mean that the number of unqualified teachers in schools will continue to grow, while university professors and scientists will continue to seek employment elsewhere. Demands for a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar to find a solution to these problems were rejected because the premier has no time to discuss such questions, Narodna obroda reported. Meciar pledged in his election campaign that the salaries of university teachers and scientists would double by 1995, but he reneged on such promises after signing the general agreement with the trade unions and employer associations in February. Association of Slovak Workers Chairman Jan Luptak criticized a proposal during the parliament's recent discussion on the 1995 state budget to raise teachers' salaries, stressing that workers' salaries are also low. * Sharon Fisher

Nearly 10,000 people marched through Budapest on 14 March to protest an austerity package that will trim government benefits to families, MTI and Western news agencies reported. Protesters joined Jozsef Torgyan, chairman of the Independent Smallholders' Party, in calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Gyula Horn and his government. Torgyan, whose party holds 26 of the 386 seats in the parliament, accused Horn of "giving up our country's basic social achievements." The Horn government's austerity package, announced on 12 March, was also criticized by trade unions and other opposition parties. Two ministers and a deputy state secretary have tendered their resignations to protest the austerity measures, which include drastically cutting allowances for child care and imposing fees for university tuition. * Edith Oltay

Vecernji list and Nasa Borba on 15 March reported that the name of UN troops replacing UNPROFOR under a new mandate will be United Nations Forces in Croatia, or UNFIC. The Zagreb and Belgrade dailies also discuss the cacophony of opinions throughout Croatia and elsewhere on President Franjo Tudjman's new deal with the U.S. Nasa Borba quotes leaders of Croatia's Liberals and Independent Democrats as criticizing Tudjman, while Zagreb's top Serbian politician, Milorad Pupovac, welcomed the decision. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung suggests that the Serbs of Knin may accept it as well, since UN troops will remain to keep Croatian forces out of Serbian-held areas. International media also comment that the 500 UNFIC troops on Croatia's external borders pose no real threat to the Serbs, since UNFIC will not be able to completely monitor, let alone seal, a frontier more than 1,000 kilometers long. * Patrick Moore

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 15 March also reported, however, that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has slammed the idea of UN forces being stationed on that part of the Croatian border separating his forces from those of the Krajina Serbs. He threatened to take action against UNPROFOR in Bosnia if UNFIC indeed takes up such positions. UN mediator Yasushi Akashi accordingly came back from his latest talks with Karadzic depressed about the possibility of a new war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hina reported on 14 March on a series of Serbian attacks in the Gradacac, Stolac, Orasje, and Mostar areas, while the same news agency and Slobodna Dalmacija on 15 March discuss continued tensions between Croats and Muslims. * Patrick Moore

The Croatian agency Hina on 13 March reported on reactions by Serbian opposition leaders to the proposal for a new UN mandate in Croatia. Vojislav Seselj, controversial leader of the Serbian Radical Party, observed that "Serbia must not allow a change in the name, mandate, or role of the peace forces." Democratic Party of Serbia leader Vojislav Kostunica called the decision "dangerous." Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, expressed the hope for regional peace, observing that "the forces of peace will win the battle with the forces of war." * Stan Markotich

An ethnic Albanian man has been shot and killed by police in the Serbian province of Kosovo, international agencies reported on 14 March. The Democratic League of Kosovo, the leading Kosovar shadow-state party, quoted an eyewitness as saying that police shot and kicked the 26-year-old Ejup Kasumi even after he had fallen to the ground. The shooting reportedly followed police raids for weapons in Urosevac. The Serbian military and police have launched a campaign to forcefully induct ethnic Albanians into the Yugoslav army. At least 20 Albanian youngsters have been arrested on charges of desertion or draft dodging after authorities sent some 200 draft notes to ethnic Albanians, Rilindja reported on 10 March. * Fabian Schmidt

The Executive Committee and the Council of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) on 14 March said they regarded the Liberal Party '93 (PL) and the Party of Civic Alliance (PAC) as having withdrawn from the convention, Radio Bucharest reported. The two parties recently decided not to sign the CDR's revised protocols of 17 February. The leading bodies of the CDR also announced that some members of the PL and the PAC have opted to set up a new liberal party within the convention. The CDR includes two other liberal parties, the National Liberal Party and the National Liberal Party--Democratic Convention. The liberal formations in the CDR were given until 31 May to unify. Meanwhile, the Civic Alliance movement criticized the PAC's decision to leave the CDR and said it was withdrawing its moral and political support for that party. * Dan Ionescu

Stefan Hadzhitodorov, a member of the Bulgarian Privatization Agency's supervisory board, on 14 March accused the government of obstructing the privatization process, Standart reported the following day. He claims that ministers have forbidden their ministries to close deals on their own. Bozhidar Kabakchiev, interim head of the Privatization Agency, said Deputy Prime Minister Rumen Gechev asked him to refrain from privatization sales. Gechev's deputy wants to check all deals concluded by the agency, Kabakchiev said. * Stefan Krause

A delegation from the International Monetary Fund is in Sofia to examine Bulgaria's state budget and balance of payments, Otechestven Front reported on 15 March. If the IMF approves the government's fiscal policies, a $300 million loan agreement will be signed. The IMF delegation has held talks with officials from the Bulgarian National Bank and will also meet with cabinet members. The Bulgarian government wants to cut the budget deficit to 4.5% of GDP and inflation to 50% in order to meet IMF requirements. Deputy Prime Minister Rumen Gechev was quoted as saying that a $150 million loan would cover Bulgaria's needs for 1995, but in the next few years, it would need larger sums to pay its foreign debts. Bulgaria has to pay $1 billion by the end of 1995, of which $280 million is owed to the IMF. National Bank Governor Todor Valchev was reported as saying that Bulgaria "will look for new creditors" if an agreement with international lending organizations cannot be reached. * Stefan Krause

Greece and Albania have agreed to develop a friendship treaty, Reuters reported on 14 March. Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias, who was on a two-day visit to Albania, met with Albanian President Sali Berisha on 14 March to discuss the status of the ethnic Greek minority in Albania and the possible legalization of the status of Albanians working in Greece. Berisha said the treaty could be signed this year, while Papoulias expressed the political will to solve a number of grievances between the two neighbors, adding that the prospects for practical results were excellent. Meanwhile, textile workers in Berat ended their hunger strike after the government promised to maintain production at their factory, Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service reported on 14 March. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave