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Newsline - December 4, 1996

President Boris Yeltsin and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev met on 3 December to discuss ways to pass the 1997 budget. Yeltsin expressed his displeasure with the Duma's recent actions, warning that they were not helping to stabilize society, Russian TV reported. Seleznev distanced himself from Deputy Duma Speaker Sergei Baburin's attempts to place a no-confidence vote on the Duma's agenda, NTV reported. The meeting was the second between Yeltsin and Seleznev; the first was on 21 October. The president has yet to participate in a meeting of the "permanent four" Consultative Council, and, for the time being, is happy to meet with its members one by one, Kommersant-Daily reported on 4 December. Seleznev said that Yeltsin would return to work full-time at the end of December. -- Robert Orttung

As the scandal surrounding Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's attempt to dismiss Army Gen. Vladimir Semenov as Ground Forces commander intensified, the Defense Ministry announced that Rodionov had postponed his scheduled 5 December visit to the U.S., Russian and Western media reported on 3 December. Russian commentators linked the decision, for which no official explanation was offered, to the imbroglio over Semenov's ouster. Further distancing Yeltsin from the move to dismiss Semenov on misconduct charges, presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 3 December that while Yeltsin had approved the sacking "in principle," he had left the justification for the dismissal in Rodionov's hands. He added that Semenov is temporarily suspended from his post pending a final decision by the president. Meanwhile, Semenov protested his dismissal in a letter to Yeltsin, vowing to fight the misconduct allegations "until the end." -- Scott Parrish

Chechen interim Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 3 December that he will definitely contest the presidential election scheduled for 27 January 1997, Russian and Western agencies reported. Acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev had told ITAR-TASS on 2 December that he favored a single candidate representing the Chechen opposition forces; this approach has been rejected both by Maskhadov and by field commander Vakha Arsanov, who was nominated as a presidential candidate by the Party of National Independence of Chechnya on 2 December. Also on 3 December, a spokesman for the European Commission announced that it has allocated an additional $2.8 million in humanitarian aid for Chechnya, according to AFP. -- Liz Fuller

Tens of thousands of miners are striking for a second day in Kemerovo Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 December. According to the Russian Coal-Industry Workers' Union (Rosugleprofsoyuz), workers at 161 of the country's 189 mines and 27 of 69 open pits stopped work on 3 December to protest wage arrears. The coal company Rosugol said work stopped at about 100 mines and 23 open pits. According to Rosugleprofsoyuz Chairman Vitalii Budko, miners are owed 2.6 trillion rubles ($470 million) in back wages and 1.5 trillion in subsidies; another 8 trillion rubles are owed by coal customers. Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said all federal budget allocations have been paid out. The miners are also seeking the resignation of the government. The stoppage is opposed by the Independent Miners' Union, NTV reported. -- Penny Morvant

About 80 pensioners blocked a railway line near Tver for four-and-a-half hours on 3 December to demand the payment of their pensions on time, ITAR-TASS reported. The protest delayed one service between Moscow and St. Petersburg and several trains between Moscow and Tver. A spokeswoman for the Russian Pension Fund said on 3 December that the fund owed pensioners 17.5 trillion rubles ($3.2 billion) at the beginning of December. The worst situation is in Kemerovo Oblast, where pensioners have still not received August payments. -- Penny Morvant

Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has set up a regional security council, the first such body in an oblast, Radio Mayak reported on 3 December. It will handle questions concerning the vital interests of the oblast and individual rights, state, economic and ecological security, and try to predict emergency situations and deal with their consequences. Ayatskov named police Col. Aleksandr Kosygin as the council's secretary. Three years ago he was the director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' Saratov branch. Like its federal counterpart, the Saratov Security Council will try to coordinate the actions of the existing branches of the oblast government. -- Robert Orttung

The fourth all-Russian Congress of Judges opened in Mosow on 3 December to discuss the crisis in the judical system, Russian media reported. The state owes the courts 540 billion rubles ($100 million) from this year's budget. Wages are low and paid late, courts are understaffed--there are more than 1,200 vacancies for judges--and trials are delayed. Nine district courts in Kaluga Oblast recently stopped work due to lack of funds. Before the congress opened, President Yeltsin signed a decree on stabilizing the judicial system. It promises to pay wage arrears to judges and other court workers by the end of this year and orders the Interior Ministry to take steps to provide judges with weapons in 1997. A Moscow judge was killed in her office earlier this year by a defendant. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski and Penny Morvant

Russia's proposal that the OSCE, not NATO, play the leading coordinating role in a new European security architecture was effectively rebuffed as the OSCE summit in Lisbon ended on 3 December, Izvestiya reported on 4 December. The most Moscow could accomplish was the omission of any mention of the disputed issue of NATO expansion in the final summit communique, which tried to please everyone by declaring that no new dividing lines should be created in Europe, while also stating that each country has the right to choose its own means of assuring its security, NTV reported. Russia also found itself in the minority on other issues, RFE/RL reported, pressing for the omission of criticism of Serbia from the final communique, and also defending Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka against charges that he has violated democratic norms and principles. -- Scott Parrish

Responding to a 2 December report in The San Francisco Examiner that the U.S. Energy Department is planning a series of test explosions involving small amounts of fissile uranium and plutonium, Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy spokesman Georgii Kaurov said any nuclear explosion would be a violation of the recently-signed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. Kaurov said the treaty contained no minimum threshold for nuclear explosions, and argued that "if an explosion sets off a chain reaction, the treaty will be violated ... no matter what amount of fissionable material is used." U.S. officials insist the planned tests will not trigger a chain reaction and are hence permissible under the CTBT, although American critics claim they will undermine the treaty by violating its spirit. -- Scott Parrish

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on 3 December opened its third exhibition of art transferred from Germany to the Soviet Union in 1945, Nevskoe Vremya reported. The museum put on display 89 drawings of 13 European artists of the late 18th-early 20th centuries, including works by Goya and Van Gogh. All were taken from private collections and kept hidden for half a century. The first exhibition of the trophy masterpieces opened in the Hermitage in the spring of 1995 and sparked a dispute between Germany and Russia over ownership rights. Considering the booty art as part of compensation for enormous losses in World War II, Russia is reluctant to return it to the former owners, despite the Germans' strong legal claims on the art. "We need to get ready for long and serious negotiations with the German side to decide the fate of the transferred art," Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovskii said. -- Elena Zotova in St. Petersburg

The OECD has issued a report analyzing the work of the Financial Action Task Force, which was set up by a G-7 summit in 1989 to combat money laundering, RFE/RL reported on 3 December. The report concludes that Russian and East European gangs are very active in laundering money from drug-running, prostitution, car theft, extortion, and corrupt privatization deals. They have established a broad network of legitimate businesses to convert the illicit receipts into legal assets. Favorite channels include the purchase of real estate, art works, and the tourism business. -- Peter Rutland

The government and the management of AvtoVaz have agreed to a plan to avert the auto manufacturer's bankruptcy, issuing additional shares worth 50% of its authorized capital over the next two months, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. The government had threatened to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against AvtoVaz, which owed 2.8 trillion rubles ($508 million) in federal taxes (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 November 1996). First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin noted that it is best for AvtoVaz to find a strategic investor, such as BMW, Ford or Opel. Initially, government officials favored Fiat, which founded AvtoVaz, but the Italian company said that it had no interest in taking over the company. -- Ritsuko Sasaki

A last-minute compromise wording proposed by the U.S. prevented Armenia and Azerbaijan from vetoing the final communique by the OSCE summit in Lisbon, international media reported on 3 December. Armenia had objected to an article of the draft communique which upheld Azerbaijan's territorial integrity as a guiding principle for settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The provision was included following vigorous efforts by Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev, who said he would block the entire document unless it formally recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky told RFE/RL that Flavio Cotti, the Swiss chairman of the OSCE, might condemn Azerbaijan's tactic. Yet, according to CNN, Aliev's position was strongly backed by the European Union. As a result of the compromise, the contentious language was removed from the final communique and adopted as a separate document. -- Emil Danielyan

Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze and his Russian counterpart Igor Rodionov met on 3 December in Moscow to discuss "issues of mutual interest," no details of which were subsequently disclosed, ITAR-TASS reported. On the same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreev told journalists that at last week's round of inter-governmental Russian-Georgian talks in Tbilisi, the Georgian side "raised or repeated some problems that do not promote Russian-Georgian relations." Specifically, Georgia refused to endorse a Russian draft agreement on developing military cooperation. Agreement has also not been reached on payment in Georgian laris to finance the presence of Russian troops in Georgia. -- Liz Fuller

President Askar Akayev signed a number of decrees on 2 December, reducing the number of ministries in the Kyrgyz government from 22 to 15 and cutting the government staff by 3,000 people, RFE/RL reported. Among the changes, former Finance Minister Kemelbek Nanayev was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister and is replaced by Taalaibek Koichumanov, the former economics minister. The economics ministry ceases to exist. The ministries of education, culture, and agriculture and water were combined. Akayev's decree on cutting personnel will effect 30% of the presidential and parliamentary staffs, 20% of government and ministerial officials and at least 10% of local government staffs. On 25 November Akayev signed a decree allowing private ownership of land, effective on 1 January. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

The Pensioner's Fund of Kazakstan has appealed to local government officials to take action in paying arrears to pensioners, who in some cases have not been paid for several months, according to a 3 December ITAR-TASS report. Unpaid pensions total 40 million tenge (about $545,000) despite government efforts to free money for payments. Inspectors have found many cases of pension money being loaned by state officials to commercial enterprises or as short-term loans for quick profits, some funds being simply embezzled or misappropriated. The ITAR-TASS report claims some pensioners have given up on using official channels and are engaging in actions such as blocking roads and rail lines to bring attention to their plight. -- Bruce Pannier

Turkmenistan's Ministry of Construction and Architecture was abolished by presidential decree on 3 December, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In an address to ministry personnel, President Saparmurat Niyazov charged that the ministry's enterprises have been unprofitable, operate at 50% of their capacity and construct facilities which are substandard. The industry is to be de-centralized with existing enterprises shared out between regional administrations, the republic's ministries of building materials, power-engineering, and Turkmenneftgaz. -- Lowell Bezanis

Three justices from the Constitutional Court have resigned to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's new constitution, international agencies reported on 3 December. One of the justices, Mikhail Pastukhau, said the existence of a Constitutional Court was meaningless under the new basic law, which allows the president to appoint the majority of the court's members, including the chief justice. Under the old constitution, Lukashenka repeatedly ignored the court's rulings, including its decision that the 24 November referendum be non-binding. AFP reported there may be some complications with the resignations since they must be approved by the parliament. The three justices, however, sent them to Syamyon Sharetsky, speaker of the old parliament, which no longer exists. Pastukhau said a two-thirds majority (133 votes) was needed to dissolve the old legislature. He added that since the new lower house passed the law with a simple majority of 103 votes, the legislation has no legal force. -- Ustina Markus

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has had to withstand further criticism from member countries attending the OSCE summit in Lisbon, AFP reported on 3 December. OSCE Chairman Flavio Cotti told Lukashenka that the 24 November referendum was illegal and should be declared null and void. The OSCE leadership urged the Belarusian government to show restraint toward and start up a dialogue with the opposition. It also pressed for freedom of the media in Belarus as well as full respect for internationally accepted democratic and constitutional principles and practices. Meanwhile, RFE/RL reported on 3 December that the constitutional crisis in Belarus is not mentioned in the summit's final declaration, since Belarus, Russia, and some other countries imposed a veto. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Several dozen Chornobyl victims, Afghan war veterans, and Ukrainian pensioners picketed the parliament to protest proposed cuts in benefits next year, Ukrainian and Western agencies reported on 3 December. The Chornobyl Union and the Veterans of Afghanistan organization have appealed to President Leonid Kuchma and Speaker Oleksander Moroz to prevent lawmakers from approving large social spending cuts in the draft 1997 budget. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko insisted the cuts were necessary because they would provide the government with 2.9 billion hryvnyas ($1.5 billion) to pay off all wage and pension arrears early next year. The planned cuts would eliminate subsidies on public transport for working people and benefits for several categories of Chornobyl victims. The draft budget would also raise the retirement age in Ukraine and place limits on pensions for working retirees. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, head of the Latvian delegation on border talks with Lithuania, held informal talks in Vilnius on 3 December with Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis and future Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas, BNS reported. It is unclear why Riekstins made the trip since his Lithuanian counterpart, Rimantas Sidlauskas, was busy hosting a Russian border talk delegation. Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele has said Latvia should have control over possible oil deposits in a disputed area since foreign companies would not begin exploration work until the Lithuanian-Russian sea border had been determined. Previously, he offered to share oil revenues evenly if Lithuania gave up its claim to the area. Lithuania maintains that the border must be determined before dividing revenues can be discussed. -- Saulius Girnius

Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, meeting during the OSCE summit in Lisbon on 3 December, discussed the bilateral declaration soon to be adopted by their two countries, Czech media reported. The document is to address past mutual grievances, such as the expulsion of some 3 million Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II. Negotiations have been continuing for the past two years. "We are both convinced that the negotiations can be completed by the end of the year," Kohl told a news conference. Klaus noted that "talks are practically finished," adding that the declaration is to be initialed by the countries' foreign ministers before being ratified by the parliaments and then signed by himself and Kohl. -- Jiri Pehe

The government on 3 December approved a modified version of the amendment on the protection of the republic, TASR reported. Previous versions of the legislation, which is aimed at preventing economic crime and protecting Slovakia's territorial integrity, have attracted strong criticism from domestic and international observers. The parliament plans to discuss the legislation at its session beginning today. The cabinet also approved a controversial bill on the nationalist cultural organization Matica slovenska. Meanwhile, representatives of all opposition parties--excluding the Party of the Democratic Left--met on 3 December to discuss a common strategy for the parliament session. -- Sharon Fisher

Jozef Sestak on 3 December denied the validity of a letter broadcast the previous day by RFE/RL's Slovak Service and expressed his full support for Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and the government, CTK reported. The "strictly confidential" letter was addressed to opposition representatives in February 1994, shortly before the fall of Meciar's government at the time. "It is clear to all of you that it is impossible to cooperate with a government headed by Meciar," Sestak had written in the letter. He added that each day Meciar remains in office means that "not only the internal political, economic, social, and moral situation of the country gets worse but also the position of our young republic internationally." Sestak also proposed that opposition leaders establish "a coalition of democratic forces." Democratic Union deputy Milan Knazko told CTK that the letter is authentic. -- Sharon Fisher

Gabor Kuncze, commenting on his decision last week to dismiss the four top police officials for their failure to halt gang-land bombings and shootings in the capital, said he has tried many times to restructure the police force in order to break the National Police Headquarters' centralization of power, Hungarian dailies reported on 3 December. He also commented that the firings were necessary because inefficient management practices and differences among top police officials have undermined the authority of law-enforcement executives. Some opposition figures have demanded Kuncze's dismissal as well, pointing to the spread of corruption in the police force, the failure to tackle organized crime, and the increase in crime in general. Several ministers have recently been replaced for failing to resolve the crises in their sectors. Premier Gyula Horn's camouflaged cabinet reshuffle is believed to be aimed at improving the chances of the government parties in the 1998 elections. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

In another effort to muzzle the independent media and thwart the ongoing peaceful protests in Serbia, the Belgrade authorities have taken Radio B 92 off the air. The radio station has been giving extensive coverage to the protests. B 92 Editor Veran Matic told reporters that the station received a letter from the federal Ministry of Transport and Communications saying that B-92 does not have the necessary authorization to broadcast. The student-run Radio Index has also been taken off the air. VOA reported today that B 92 is continuing to broadcast on VOA's Serbian-language frequencies. -- Stan Markotich

For the 15th consecutive day, mass demonstrations took place throughout Serbia to protest the authorities' decision to nullify the results of last month's run-off municipal elections, Nasa Borba reported on 4 December. An estimated 100,000 people again gathered in Belgrade. Demonstration organizers have vowed to continue with the protest action until all second-round municipal election returns are "honored." Meanwhile, Belgrade's electoral commission has questioned the legality of the nullification of the election results, which showed the opposition Zajedno coalition winning in the 12 largest municipalities. AFP on 3 December reported that the commission has sent a letter to authorities outlining its position. CNN on 4 December reported that the regime is stepping up the police presence at demonstrations. -- Stan Markotich

U.S. press spokesman Michael McCurry said on 3 December that Washington could retaliate against Belgrade in the wake of the clampdown on two independent radio stations. He noted that the U.S. still maintains its own "outer wall" of sanctions against federal Yugoslavia and could block that country's return to international organizations, AFP reported. Washington is also working to prevent EU countries from extending trade benefits to Belgrade at a meeting slated for 6 December, the BBC reported on 4 December. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said that "the Serbian government has painted
itself into a corner," the VOA noted. Numerous international journalists' organizations and other NGOs have joined in the protest. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia rejected the complaints, arguing that "elections in a country are above all a domestic matter," AFP reported. -- Patrick Moore

The International Crisis Group--an NGO consisting of prominent people and headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell--has called for tough measures against war criminals. Noting that the big fish are still on the loose, it wants IFOR to receive a mandate to arrest indicted individuals, the VOA reported on 3 December. The ICG urges donors to withhold aid from any country or locality that harbors war criminals and to give the money instead to the underfunded Hague-based war crimes tribunal instead. -- Patrick Moore

The UN reported that over 30 Muslims have been driven from their homes in the Bosanska Gradiska area of northern Bosnia over the past ten weeks, Oslobodjenje noted on 4 December. Their property is being taken by Serbs whose former homes in Donji Vakuf are now under federal control. A report by Human Rights Watch says that Serbian paramilitaries were involved in the expulsions and that the local authorities did nothing to stop them. Meanwhile, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights noted in its latest newsletter that the campaign to force Serbs to leave Ilidza is continuing. One man noted that "after every quarrel or beating, four or five Serb houses are sold cheap." -- Patrick Moore

For the first time since 1991, Franjo Tudjman has visited the last Serb-held territory in Croatia, international and local media reported on 3 December. Speaking in the region's main town of Vukovar, the Croatian symbol of war-time suffering, Tudjman said his visit as president of Croatia is a sign that peaceful reintegration is on the right track, Vecernji List reported. He added that his visit is a signal for Croatian refugees that they should return to their homes and for local Serbs that they should opt for the Croatian state. Tudjman met with UN administrator for eastern Slavonia Jacques Klein and with a group of local Serbian officials. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The railroad union has shut down the country's railroad network, accusing the state railroads management of blacklisting and firing workers who took part in a general strike six days ago (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 December 1996), Novi List reported on 4 December. Union President Zlatko Pavletic said only army trains will continue to run if needed. He added that all other traffic will be suspended until the rail worker who was sacked on 2 December for continuing to strike is reinstated. The railroads management has denied threatening or sacking workers who refused to sign written statements criticizing the strike. Meanwhile, Hungarian Television (MTV) said some 600 freight cars have been held up on the Croatian-Hungarian border owing to the strike, Reuters reported on 3 December. MTV added that rail traffic between the two countries has virtually ground to a halt. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Preliminary results show that 114 of the country's 123 mayors have so far been elected following last week's local ballot, MILS reported on 3 December. The governing Social Democratic Alliance won 52 mayoralties, the right-wing opposition coalition 28, and the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity 12, plus one in coalition with the Democratic People's Party (PDP). The Party of Democratic Prosperity of the Albanians won only four mayoral mandates plus three in coalition with the PDP. The Socialists won three, the Turkish Democratic Party two, and the Serbian Democratic Party and the Party for Full Emancipation of the Roma one each. Returns have still to come in from Valandovo, Ohrid, Prilep, and Probishtip. -- Fabian Schmidt

Emil Constantinescu and Gyula Horn, meeting in Lisbon on 3 December during the OSCE summit, agreed that Romania's new foreign minister will visit Hungary soon, Romanian media reported the same day. Horn said that the Hungarian parliament will ratify the friendship treaty next week. That document was signed in September and ratified by Romania in October. The previous day, Horn had noted that Hungary backs Romania's efforts to achieve EU and NATO integration, and he had offered to "do [his] utmost to fulfill [that] goal." Constantinescu said Romania has the "historic chance" to become a stabilizing factor in the region. He added that all neighbors are "viewed as partners and not competitors" on the road toward integration. -- Zsolt Mato

The parliament on 3 December unanimously accepted the resignation of Andrei Sangheli's government, BASA-press and Infotag reported the same day. It also asked the government to continue carrying out its duties until a new cabinet has been formed. Before the 1 December presidential run-off, Sangheli had said his government would resign immediately after the run-off results had been released in order "to allow the new president to form a cabinet with which he can cooperate in a more efficient way." Meanwhile, President-elect Petru Lucinschi described the cabinet's decision to step back as "just," arguing that Sangheli had not been "frank" about his ministers' mistakes. -- Dan Ionescu

Mircea Snegur, addressing the OSCE summit in Lisbon on 3 December, urged Russia to withdraw its troops from eastern Moldova, BASA-press reported. He complained that Moscow has not "honored the commitments" laid down in an October 1994 bilateral agreement. The troops withdrawal was a key factor to finding a peaceful settlement to the Dniester conflict, he added. Snegur also appealed to the summit to issue a "political declaration" on "the current state of affairs" in Moldova. The 1994 Russian-Moldovan accord has not yet been ratified by the Russian State Duma. -- Dan Ionescu

The Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (KNSB) has called a 24-hour national strike for 4 December, Reuters and local media reported. Some 1 million people--mostly miners, teachers, and light industry workers--are expected to support the strike. KNSB spokesman Snezhana Lyubenova said the action is to protest "incompetence and corruption within [Premier] Zhan Videnov's Socialist cabinet." The KNSB believes that the strike will help force early parliamentary elections. Another large trade union confederation, Podkrepa, has urged its members to join the strike if they wish, but it has not given its official backing. Some opposition parties have also expressed their "moral support," Kontinent noted. -- Maria Koinova

A Tirana court has sentenced communist-era Interior Minister Vladimir Hysi to 18 months in prison, Zeri i Popullit reported on 4 December. Irakli Kocollari, former chief of the communist secret service, was given a six-year sentence. The two men were charged with abuse of office for ordering the destruction of secret service files. They argued that the files had been put away for a limited period only and that the deadline for keeping them in storage had expired. Kocollari is still facing charges for human rights abuses committed when he was working for the secret services in Korca.
-- Fabian Schmidt

Albanian authorities have criticized Montenegro for refusing to unblock the Shkoder-Podgorica railroad line, international agencies reported on 3 December. The link has been closed for more than three years owing to international sanctions imposed against the federal Yugoslavia. The Albanian railroads have repaired their part of the line and are ready to reopen it. The line was scheduled to have opened at the beginning of this year. Local traders and the Albanian economy have suffered considerable losses as a result of the closure. Completed in August 1986, the Shkoder-Podgorica line is Albania's only connection with the international railroad system. -- Fabian Schmidt