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Newsline - April 11, 1995

Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov said the president's staff is working as if Yeltsin will seek a second term, NTV reported on 10 April. When asked what concrete steps the administration had taken, Filatov said the Kremlin is relying on the creation of strong political parties which "will be able to unite the voters with their ideas." * Robert Orttung

The State Duma has not made a final decision on whether to hold a no-confidence vote in the government, Chairman Ivan Rybkin told Interfax on 10 April. Konstantin Zatulin, the chairman of the Committee for CIS Affairs, demanded that the item remain on the agenda in spite of the fact that Liberal Democratic Party members who signed the initial declaration had apparently withdrawn their support. Zatulin said a verbal statement by LDP leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is not sufficient to delete the signatures and that each deputy had to submit a written statement. However, Rybkin said most Duma factions wanted to remove the item from the agenda. The LDP usually maintains strict party discipline within its faction. * Robert Orttung

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov called the proposed no-confidence vote untimely, Ekho Moskvy reported. Nineteen of the original 102 deputies who signed the proposal were Communists, including Vladimir Semago, Vitaly Sevostyanov, and Yury Sevenard, Interfax reported. Zyuganov was in India when the signatures were collected. He said such an important decision should be made by the party's leaders, not individual faction members or the faction as a whole. * Robert Orttung

The Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Law, Judicial, and Legal Issues recommended that the chamber turn down the electoral law passed by the Duma on 24 March, Interfax reported on 10 April. The committee said the draft law benefits "the Moscow region" rather than "the whole of Russia." The Council favors Yeltsin's proposal to elect 300 Duma deputies from single-member constituencies and only 150 from party lists, but the Duma's version maintains the current ratio of 225 deputies chosen by each method. Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko argued that since Russia's political parties were still "immature," party lists were almost entirely made up of Moscow politicians, Radio Mayak reported on 9 April. He said if the Duma wants elections to take place, it must be willing to compromise with the Council and the president on the electoral law. * Laura Belin

An article in the 11 April edition of Izvestiya accused the executive branch of using the Central Electoral Commission to build a propaganda machine with powers "not seen since the days of the agitprop department of the CPSU Central Committee." A February 1995 presidential decree expanded the commission and authorized it to educate "all participants in the electoral process." Although the project was ostensibly designed to overcome voter apathy by making citizens aware of their constitutional rights, the author expressed skepticism that the commission would pursue purely educational goals. He noted that the State Press Committee, State Film Committee, and the Federal Radio and Television Broadcasting Service have been instructed to participate in the pre-election educational campaign. The author asserted that a "giant brainwashing machine," financed by the federal budget, would thus be controlled by the executive branch during an election year. In addition, he charged that the Russian Center for Training in Electoral Technology was created to prevent "untrained" citizens from working on election committees or counting votes. * Laura Belin

Following the capture of Samashki on 8 April, Russian forces took the villages of Achkoi-Martan and Zakan-Yurt the next day, Western agencies reported on 10 April quoting a Russian military spokesman. An international relief worker has corroborated refugees' reports of systematic human rights violations by Russian forces during the attack on Samashki. Also on 10 April, a Russian military spokesman said approximately 2,000 Russian troops have died in Chechnya over the past four months, Reuters reported. * Liz Fuller
At their 10 April meeting, the EU foreign ministers decided to keep the interim trade accord with Russia on hold, Western agencies reported. The accord had been put on ice to protest Russian actions in Chechnya. The EU's rotating presidency, currently held by France, said the Russian government had failed to honor any of the promises made at a meeting with an EU delegation in March. Those promises included a pledge to negotiate a ceasefire in Chechnya, begin talks to settle the conflict, allow unimpeded humanitarian aid, and accept a permanent OSCE mission in the republic. * Michael Mihalka

The number of contract killings will double every year, unless law-enforcement bodies undergo serious reforms, top crime-fighting officials told reporters in Moscow on 10 April. In 1994, 562 contract killings were recorded, in comparison with only 102 in 1992, according to Russian Television. Crime bosses and businessmen were the most likely to be killed. Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleg Gaidanov blamed inexperienced investigators for the crisis, and lax gun laws. He also asked the Federal Security Service--which was granted new investigative powers last week--for more help. Vladimir Kolesnikov, head of criminal investigations at the Interior Ministry, said Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika had caused turmoil in law enforcement, but he defended the police force, noting that nearly 100 officers had been killed investigating murders in recent years. * Penny Morvant

Aeroflot director-general Vladimir Tikhonov announced on 10 April that his company would take legal action against the Sheremetevo flight crew's union, which tried to organize a strike on 8 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. Tikhonov said that although the action had been called off, the airline had suffered serious financial losses after the union announced a pre-strike situation on 15 March. The company lost $500,000 in the U.S. alone. The union, which wants Aeroflot and the government to privatize the airline and set guidelines for future responsibilities, said it would begin a hunger strike on 14 April if talks with the government failed. * Penny Morvant

Despite a government decision to release extra funds, miners in Primorsky Krai, who went on strike on 6 April, will continue their action until their wages are paid in full, Petr Kiryasov, chairman of the regional union committee, told Interfax on 10 April. The protest began with a hunger strike by 27 miners in the Avangard pit in Partizansk on 29 March; the last of the hunger strikers were hospitalized in serious condition on 7 April. On 10 April, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais announced that the government had sent 50 billion rubles to Primorsky Krai that day to subsidize the coal purchases of energy producers. The failure of the latter to pay their bills is a main reason for the coal industry crisis. Chubais said 250 billion rubles in subsidies would be granted in the second quarter of the year. He also accused regional governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko of deliberately exacerbating tension in the area, NTV reported. Meanwhile, the regional prosecutor's office has opened a case against the coal company Primorskugol, charging it with squandering federal budget funds. The company is reported to have spent 17.8 billion rubles, which were earmarked for boosting production, on commercial deals. * Penny Morvant

On 10 April, Russian border guards were said to be in control of the Tajik-Afghan border, Interfax reported the same day. Earlier, the situation on the Pamir section was critical as reinforcements to border guards surrounded at Dashti-Yazulem were unable to get through from Khorog, the administrative center of Gorno-Badakhshan, which had also been under fire, according to official Russian sources. The commander of CIS peacekeeping forces in Tajikistan went on record as saying that his forces were not involved in rebuffing the attack; he also said the incident "proved" Tajik opposition forces were trying to cut Badakhshan off from central Tajikistan and make it a bridgehead for attacking government forces. The same day, Interfax also reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Albert Chernyshev denounced the latest events, saying they are undermining the inter-Tajik talks. He also condemned the Afghan authorities' connivance with the Tajik opposition in permitting attacks on border units and said events indicate that hard-liners are gaining the upper hand in the opposition. Islamic Renaissance Party leader Kazi Akbar Turadzhonzoda, who is in Paris, blamed the incident on Russian border guards. He said several hundred Tajik mujahadin were trapped by Russian border guards in the Vanch Valley some 40 km from the Tajik-Afghan border. "They coordinated their actions with the headquarters in Afghanistan and began breaking the blockade," he said. All sides registered their desire for the inter-Tajik talks to resume as soon as possible. * Lowell Bezanis

The Uzbek Health Care Ministry said 40% of the republic's children are not vaccinated against poliomyelitis, and as a result, 6 out of 12 provinces in the country witnessed epidemics of the disease in 1994, Interfax reported on 10 April. A mass immunization effort sponsored by WHO, UNICEF, and USAID was undertaken the same day. * Lowell Bezanis

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said negotiations with Ukraine are to continue next week, Interfax reported on 10 April. Soskovets said he disapproved of some Duma deputies' recent actions against Ukraine. He said the issue of dividing the Black Sea Fleet must be settled soon or the poorly maintained fleet will be completely lost within a year or two. He also said Ukraine would have to pay $600 million from its IMF credits to Russia for energy supplies. Ukrainian Defense Minister Valerii Shmarov said the Duma's intention to impose a moratorium on dividing the fleet is unreasonable. Interfax also reported that Ukraine and Russia are drawing up an agreement to deal with their Azov Sea border. Ukraine's Border Guards commander, Viktor Bannykh, said there is no agreement on the international status of the Kerch strait, although contacts between Ukrainian and Russian sea border guards have been good. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is likely to visit Moscow on 9 May, and Ukrainian radio reported that Crimean parliamentary speaker Serhii Tsekov has flown to Moscow on an official visit to the Duma. * Ustina Markus

The CIS countries' fuel debt to Russia has risen 2 trillion rubles in March to 13 trillion rubles, Interfax reported on 10 April. Ukraine's debt has increased to 8.8 trillion rubles from 7.1 trillion rubles. Belarus now owes 2 trillion rubles while the Baltics owe 635 billion rubles. Natural gas supplies comprise the bulk of the debt. Meanwhile, the Petroleum Information Agency reported that Russia will increase its price for oil supplied to the CIS in the second quarter to $112 from $108 per ton. * Michael Mihalka

The EU provided a "rough guide" to membership at its meeting of foreign ministers 10 April, Western agencies reported. The foreign ministers of six East European states--Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia--joined the meeting as the first example of "structured dialogue" agreed to at the EU summit in Essen in December 1994. The EU commissioner for foreign relations, Hans van den Broek, sketched an outline of the EU White Paper on membership requirements set to be unveiled later in April. Although Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski said he and his East European colleagues were glad to see that the EU moving ahead with its plans to expand eastward, he added, "We'd be happier if the plan had time-tables and more specific facts." He also noted that the EU should provide incentives for Eastern Europe to adapt its economies to suit EU policies. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs welcomed the opportunity to meet with his EU counterparts. "Every meeting brings these countries closer to the EU; after every meeting we understand each other a little better," he said. * Michael Mihalka

Speaking after the EU meeting on 10 April, Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec said he was convinced that the Czech Republic can meet all criteria for EU membership within five years. The Central European Free Trade Area (CEFTA) was discussed during the foreign ministers' talks. Zieleniec said that the Czech Republic did not want to establish CEFTA as "a closed institution" that would not be open to new members. On the same day, Zieleniec also participated in the first meeting of the so-called Association Council consisting of the 15 EU foreign ministers and the Czech foreign minister. The council will meet once a year. * Jiri Pehe

US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was in Kiev on 10 March preparing for US President Bill Clinton's upcoming visit to Ukraine in May, Ukrainian radio reported. Talbott met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and other top officials to discuss a number of issues, including the country's domestic and foreign problems and its relationship with Russia. The discussions will serve as the basis for preparing documents to be signed between the US and Ukraine during Clinton's visit. * Ustina Markus

On 10 April UNIAN reported that a special Ukrainian cabinet meeting was held to discuss the preparation of a statement on the continued operation of the Chornobyl nuclear power station. Claiming that Ukraine would incur a loss of $4 billion by closing the station, the draft statement says it cannot be shut down in the immediate future. The government proposes continuing operations for the time being but putting all profits generated from the station into a special fund for the plant's closure. Over the next month the government will draft proposals for the G-7 countries on alternative sources of energy to substitute for Chornobyl's output. The plant was to be closed down at the end of 1993, but parliament voted to keep it running since the country could not afford to replace the lost energy. Chornobyl accounts for some 7% of the country's electricity. * Ustina Markus

On 10 April Radio Mayak reported that Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir admitted that disagreements exist between his government and the IMF over Belarus's economic policies. The IMF recently postponed making any final decisions about releasing the second part of a Systematic Transformation Facility loan worth $100 million because Belarus was not adhering to its economic reform program. Chyhir singled out the government's raising of the minimum wage from 30,000 to 60,000 Belarusian rubles ($3 to $6), but said that the move would not spur inflation as the IMF fears. In April the weekly inflation rate has been around three percent. Chyhir said he believes the IMF will reconsider its position and release the credit. * Ustina Markus

The Second Congress of Latvia's Way on 9 April focused primarily on discussion of the election campaign and the party's platform, BNS reported on 10 April. The draft party program, which is expected to be approved at the party's conference in May, calls Latvia's Way a liberal political party representing the interests of the people. The party's stated goal is to transform Latvia into a highly-developed European state which is a comfortable and safe home to the Latvian people and other residents of the country. Also on 9 April the 6th congress of the Latvian Democratic Labor Party reelected Juris Bojars as chairman for the third consecutive year. * Saulius Girnius

The Latvian Statistics Committee announced that in March the Latvian inflation rate (2.6%) was higher than that in Estonia (2.4%) and Lithuania (1.4%), BNS reported on 8 April. In the first two months of the year inflation in Lithuania was 5.7% and 3.9%, respectively, compared with 1.4% and 2.9% in Estonia and 3.5% and 3.2% in Latvia. In Latvia inflation was driven by higher costs for communication services (by 38.1%), press editions (by 10.3%), public transportation (by 8.2%), and dairy products (5.6%). In Lithuania prices for clothes and footwear grew by 2%, for fuel and culture and education services by 1.6%, while prices for medical services and for transport and communication services declined by 0.7% by 0.4%, respectively, Interfax reported on 9 April. * Saulius Girnius

According to a CBOS poll taken on 30 March-3 April and published on 10 April, Aleksander Kwasniewski, chairman of the post-communist Union of the Democratic Left, remains the favorite to win this year's presidential elections. A total of 18 percent of respondents backed Kwasniewski, one percent less than in March. Support for current President Lech Walesa fell to 7 percent from 13 percent in March, when his popularity rose following successful efforts to remove Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak, who was replaced that month by Jozef Oleksy. Among other candidates, former Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jacek Kuron, who recently gained the support of the Freedom Union (formerly Democratic Union), got 14 percent, while Supreme Court president Adam Strzembosz got 11 percent. * Jakub Karpinski

On 9 April in Toronto Slovak Defense Minister Jan Sitek and his Canadian counterpart David Collenette signed an intergovernmental agreement concerning military relations and a Memorandum of understanding between the two countries' defense ministries, Narodna obroda and Praca report on 11 April. Stressing that the recent signing of the Slovak-Hungarian state treaty shows that Slovakia is able to resolve problems in bilateral relations, Collenette said the treaty also strengthens Slovakia's position among countries interested in NATO membership. According to Collenette, Canada will support Slovakia's entry into NATO. Sitek is currently on a 5-day visit to Canada and the US. Traveling to the US on 10 April, Sitek is expected to meet with US Secretary of Defense William Perry as well as representatives of the National Security Council and the State Department. * Sharon Fisher

A public opinion survey published by Magyar Hirlap on 10 April shows a substantial decrease in support for the government of Prime Minister Gyula Horn. Compared to March, approval for the government's performance in general declined from 40.9 to 34.4 percent. Meanwhile, support for the government's handling of social problems fell 12 percent, and its credibility declined 11 percent. The survey measured the public's reaction to the cabinet's announcement in March that it would implement rigorous economic measures designed to reduce the state budget deficit that involve substantial cuts in social spending. * Edith Oltay

The National Election Committee announced on 10 April that the Independent Smallholders Party headed by Jozsef Torgyan collected enough valid signatures (157 000) to initiate a referendum on whether the president of the republic should be elected by direct popular vote and whether the scope of his authority should be expanded, Magyar Hirlap of 11 April reports. Under the current constitution the president has limited powers and is elected by the parliament, thus receiving his mandate from the legislature and not from the people. The referendum would also ask the population to answer whether the right of young people to a place of employment and to housing should be enshrined in law and whether the pension age of women should be reduced to 55. Some constitutional lawyers and government politicians questioned the legality of holding a referendum on a question that involves changing the constitution. The parliament's constitutional committee plans to ask the Hungarian Constitutional Court to decide the matter. * Edith Oltay

AFP reported on 11 April that NATO aircraft flew in pairs over the Bosnia capital for several hours the previous night. The UN called them in for at least the third time in a week in the face of repeated Serb shelling. The Bosnian government has banned public gatherings, including outdoor cafes and markets, as of 11 April to help prevent further casualties at the hands of Serb gunners and snipers. Elsewhere, Serb and Croat forces on 10 April clashed near Zepce to the north of Sarajevo, while government artillery wounded five civilians in Serb-held Teslic. * Patrick Moore

The 11 April Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that the Russian general in charge of UN forces in Sector East of Serb-held Croatia has been relieved of his command. The paper says this indirectly confirms a Croatian government charge in late March that the general at least covered the movement of 900 Serbian troops and 20 or more tanks from Serbia into Sector East (see OMRI Daily Digest, 30 March). The UN subsequently tried to avoid confirming the report, which Croatia maintained was true and which seemed to fit into a larger pattern of Serbian support for the Krajina rebels. Croatia suspects Russian peacekeepers of sympathizing with and aiding the Serbs, as well as of dealing heavily on the thriving black market. * Patrick Moore

Nasa Borba on 11 April reports that representatives of the international Contact Group are heading to Belgrade for what appears to be another round of attempts to convince Serbian authorities to extend recognition to Bosnia and Croatia in exchange for an easing of sanctions against rump Yugoslavia. This latest diplomatic initiative comes, however, in the wake of Belgrade's reinvigorated resistance to such proposals. On 10 April Tanjug and Reuters quoted rump Yugoslav Foreign Minister Vladislav Jovanovic as saying that "We do not wish to repeat the mistake the European Community and then others in the international community made by prematurely recognizing the former Yugoslav republics. That was not wise." Meanwhile, Tanjug reports of 10 April suggested also that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, following meetings with China's visiting foreign minister, has focused attention on urging Beijing to exert pressure on the international community to have sanctions against Belgrade lifted. * Stan Markotich

In an interview with Macedonian radio on 8 April, President Kiro Gligorov ruled out the possibility of a Yugoslav or Balkan federation or confederation, saying it would "only lead to new divisions and new conflicts in the Balkans," Nasa Borba reported on 10 April. Politika cited Gligorov as saying his country will not consider participating in any federation "based on ideological, religious, ethnic of other foundations." Considering any kind of "organic" ties with neighboring states is possible only if all Balkan states have a democratic and European orientation, Gligorov stated. * Stefan Krause

A joint Romanian-European Union council met for the first time on 10 April in Luxembourg. Radio Bucharest, which defined the council as being the main mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the 1 February 1993 association agreement between Romania and the EU, reported on 11 April that the meeting was attended by Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu. The radio quoted Melescanu as saying that Romania intended to officially apply for full EU membership as soon as the drafting of a national strategy to join the EU was completed. He mentioned June as a possible deadline. Also on 10 April, Melescanu participated in the "15 + 6" foreign ministers' conference in Luxembourg. * Dan Ionescu

Investigators of the 31 March Airbus crash near Bucharest said on 10 April that the accident resulted from an engine's failure to respond to a command to reduce power, Radio Bucharest and Western agencies report. The inquiry commission, which is expected to release a preliminary report soon, formally ruled out an explosion or fire on board. All 60 passengers and crew died in the crash. * Dan Ionescu

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry released on 10 April a statement accusing the Russian State Duma of interference in Moldova's internal affairs, Interfax and Reuters report. The ministry criticized a Duma vote of 7 April on staging a debate over the "inadmissibility" of the Russian 14th army withdrawal from Moldova's breakaway Dniester region. It also denounced the presence of Duma deputies at last month's local elections and referendum in that region. According to the statement, such steps represent an interference in the internal affairs of an independent and sovereign state, and a violation of international law principles. The declaration further accused some Duma deputies of "striving to give open support to separatism" in Moldova. The Duma, which is dominated by conservatives and nationalists, opposes a deal concluded in October 1994 between Moscow and Chisinau providing for the withdrawal of the 14th army within three years. The agreement has not gone into effect thus far. * Dan Ionescu

The Albanian independent trade unions announced a one-hour long general strike, beginning at 11:OO on 11 April. The unions expect 70,000 workers in the education, telecom and hospitals to join the strike, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 11 April. According to the unions, during the strike no telephone lines will be working in Albania and only the emergency departments of the hospitals will be served. The strikers demand a wage increase of about 35% to cover increases in consumer prices. The unions warned that a 24-hour long general strike might follow on 22 April, if the strikers' demands will not be met. The government, however, had announced earlier that the state's current finances do not allow it to meet the demands. * Fabian Schmidt

Turkish Defense Minister Mehmet Golhan began a three-day visit to Albania on 10 April, Reuters reported the same day. Golhan is expected to work out an agreement on bilateral military ties which will be signed during the visit. Golhan, who will also meet with President Sali Berisha and visit military units, said: "The visit will develop our relations more deeply and is another measure in stopping the spillover of the (Yugoslav) conflict down in the south." Meanwhile, Albanian Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi is paying a two-day visit to Croatia, Rilindja Demokratike reported on 11 April. Serreqi is expected to meet with his counterpart Mate Granic and Croatian Prime Minister Nikica Valentic and to sign a cooperation agreement with Croatia. * Fabian Schmidt

Bulgarian government officials and representatives of Air Sofia denied that the weapons on board of an airplane detained in Cap Verde on 9 April (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 April 1995) came from Bulgaria, Bulgarian media reported on 11 April. Ivan Kolev, deputy chairman of the Council for Trade with Military and Special Products, stated that no Bulgarian arms were on board the Antonov AN-124, and that Bulgaria has no part in the arms deal with Ecuador. A Bulgarian company was just the intermediate between the producer and the buyer. Duma said that the plane came from Minsk in Belarus and did not fly over Bulgarian territory. According to Kontinent, the Air Sofia plane was leased by a company in Minsk which has a license to export arms. BTA cited Air Sofia Chairman Evgeniy Neychev as saying that competitors tried to defame his company. Demokratsiya notes, however, that Air Sofia was involved in a failed attempt to transport arms to Sarajevo or Zagreb in 1993. * Stefan Krause

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave