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Newsline - June 16, 1997




YELTSIN ISSUES DECREE ON PENSIONS

President Boris Yeltsin has issued a decree, effective 1 January 1998, stipulating that the minimum pension be at least 80% of the subsistence level for pensioners, Russian news agencies reported on 14 June. Yeltsin has vetoed several attempts by the State Duma to raise the subsistence level. In a 15 June interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff and former Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits again said that all debts to pensioners will be paid off by 1 July. Government officials estimated in May that pension arrears total 10.5 trillion rubles ($1.8 billion).

DUMA APPROVES TAX ON FOREIGN-CURRENCY PURCHASES

The Duma has approved an amendment to the law on fundamental principles of the Russian tax system that would impose a 0.5% tax on foreign-currency purchases by individuals and companies, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. Withdrawals of cash from foreign-currency bank deposits would not be taxed, nor would foreign-currency purchases from the Central Bank by commercial banks. Revenues from the tax would be divided 60:40 between federal and regional budgets. Also on 13 June, the Duma failed to overturn a presidential veto of another amendment to the law on principles of the tax system, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. That amendment would have exempted enterprises from fines for not paying taxes if they lacked the funds to pay workers' wages.

DUMA PASSES BUDGET CODE IN FIRST READING

The Duma on 13 June unanimously approved in its first reading the draft budget code, which defines the procedure for drafting, adopting, and revising the budget, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Yabloko member Oksana Dmitrieva, who chairs the Duma's subcommittee on the budget system, the new code would prohibit a sequester of more than 10% of budget spending, regardless of the size of revenue shortfalls. The code will not be applied to the 1997 budget and will be considered in the second reading in late September at the earliest. The government has proposed cuts in 1997 budget expenditures amounting to some 20% of planned spending.

DUMA DEMANDS YELTSIN SIGN LAWS ON TROPHY ART, GOVERNMENT

The Duma has approved an appeal to Yeltsin demanding that he sign the trophy art law and the law on the government, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. The appeal passed by a vote of 351 to one with one abstention. Both the Duma and the Federation Council overturned presidential vetoes on the laws. But Yeltsin returned the laws to parliament a second time, charging they were passed with procedural violations. The Federation Council recently voted to send both bills back to Yeltsin for signing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 1997). The Duma's appeal says Yeltsin exceeded his constitutional authority by not signing the laws. It also defends the use of mailed ballots in the Federation Council and the practice of proxy voting in the Duma.

DUMA SEEKS CLOSER COOPERATION WITH LIBYA

The Duma on 13 June passed by a vote of 266 to six with one abstention a draft law on cooperation with Libya, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The law was proposed by Duma Geopolitics Committee Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Under the law, Russian companies would be allowed sell any products to Libya other than weapons. Libyans would be entitled to have accounts in Russian banks. In addition, the Russian government would be prohibited from spending state funds on maintaining international economic sanctions against Libya. On 4 June, the Duma passed a similar draft law calling for closer ties with Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 1997). Yeltsin is almost certain to veto both laws if they are approved by the Federation Council.

CONSULAR AGREEMENTS WITH TURKMENISTAN, AZERBAIJAN RATIFIED

The Duma on 13 June ratified separate consular conventions with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the agreements, diplomats and their families will have full diplomatic immunity and persons wanted on criminal charges will be extradited immediately. According to ITAR-TASS, the agreements are broader in scope than the provisions of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

UPDATE ON RUSSIAN-CHECHEN AGREEMENTS

The 13 June Russian-Chechen memorandum stipulates the conclusion of an agreement between the Russian Fuel and Energy Ministry, the Chechen State Oil Company Yunko, and the Azerbaijan International Operating Committee on the transit from Baku to Novorossiisk via Grozny of oil from three offshore Caspian deposits, Russian and Western agencies reported. The memorandum was signed by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Sochi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). Yunko President Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov warned on 15 June that Chechnya will continue to insist on being an equal partner in oil transportation, according to Interfax. Following talks the previous day with Chernomyrdin and head of the Russian Customs Service Anatolii Kruglov, Maskhadov signed an agreement on customs cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. That accord confers international status on Grozny's Sheikh Mansour airport.

BEREZOVSKII ASSESSES CHECHEN SITUATION

Speaking at a press conference at Interfax headquarters on 14 June, Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii reiterated that Chechnya is an "unalienable part of the Russian Federation" and that a final settlement of the conflict could take more than "one generation." Berezovskii excluded a resumption of hostilities while Yeltsin remains president but said this could not be ruled out if "brainless people" come to power in Russia. He expressed support for Chechen President Maskhadov, implicitly corroborating speculation in the Russian press that Maskhadov is under pressure from rival political groups in Chechnya. Berezovskii also criticized Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov for blocking implementation of an agreed exchange of Russian and Chechen prisoners, according to Reuters.

KULIKOV ON ORGANIZED CRIME...

Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has warned that Russia has at least 9,000 criminal groups with an estimated 100,000 members, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. Kulikov briefed journalists after a cabinet meeting to discuss anti-crime measures. The number of registered crimes by organized groups rose by almost 95% during the last five years, Kulikov said. He argued that law-enforcement agencies are solving more crimes than in the past but acknowledged that at least 3,700 murders committed so far in 1997 remain unsolved. Also on 13 June, the U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris announced that it has flown two of its executives and their families out of Russia after receiving threats. On 15 June, assailants gunned down Larisa Nechaeva, the commercial director of the Spartak Moscow soccer club, in an apparent contract killing.

...AND CURBING ILLEGAL ALCOHOL TRADE

Kulikov announced that in the future, only the federal government will issue licenses to produce alcoholic beverages, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. The move is intended to curb the illegal trade in low-quality or fake alcohol. Kulikov said that in 1996, law-enforcement agencies inspected some 6,000 alcohol-producing enterprises and seized about 10 million liters of alcohol worth an estimated 15 billion rubles ($2.6 million). Kulikov added that law-enforcement agencies have shut down about 700 unlicensed alcohol producers and revoked the sales licenses of about 2,000 enterprises. Meanwhile, fake vodka containing methyl alcohol killed nine people and caused another 10 to be hospitalized in Kurgan, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June. A similar incident recently killed 22 people in Krasnoyarsk.

FORMER ST. PETERSBURG MAYOR UNDER INVESTIGATION?

Kulikov also told reporters that former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak is among the prominent figures currently being investigated for corruption, Interfax reported on 13 June. Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, a co-leader of the Democratic Russia movement, has charged that trumped-up corruption charges are being used to attack prominent "democratic" politicians in Russia, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported the same day. Sobchak has so far denied that he is under investigation.

POLISH JUSTICE MINISTER SEES "PROBLEMS" WITH STANKEVICH EXTRADITION

Leszek Kubicki says there are "problems" with the extradition of former Yeltsin adviser Sergei Stankevich, RFE/RL's correspondent in Warsaw reported on 13 June. Kubicki will have the final say on whether Stankevich is extradited to Russia, where he is accused of taking a $10,000 bribe in 1992. Kubicki argued that a person should be extradited only if the crime with which he is charged is prohibited in Poland as well as in the country requesting extradition. It is unclear whether a bribe taken in Russia can be considered a crime under Polish law, Kubicki added. He also said no efforts through "diplomatic channels" could influence the decision on the Stankevich case. Some Russian officials have charged that Poland is unnecessarily delaying Stankevich's extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 11 June 1997).

YELTSIN AIDE SAYS PRESIDENT CAN FIRE ELECTED GOVERNORS

Mikhail Krasnov, Yeltsin's legal affairs adviser, says the president has the authority to sack governors or presidents of Russian republics if the regional leaders break federal laws or ignore presidential decrees, Interfax reported on 13 June. Krasnov argued that under Article 77 of the constitution, Russia has a "single system" of executive power. He also pointed out that Article 80 names the president as the guarantor of the constitution. In recent weeks, speculation has increased that Yeltsin plans to fire Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. Such a move would be strongly opposed by other regional leaders.

RESIDENTS SEEK TO BLOCK NUCLEAR PROCESSING PLANT IN PRIMORE

Local residents are seeking to prevent a floating nuclear waste processing plant from being docked near the coastal town of Bolshoi Kamen (Primorskii Krai), Reuters reported on 13 June. City officials said 94% of those who took part in a recent non-binding poll voted against allowing the plant to be docked nearby. Turnout for the poll was about 44%. The plant processes nuclear waste taken from Russian submarines. According to Reuters, Primore governor Nazdratenko has said the waste might be dumped in the Sea of Japan if no other way of processing it can be found. Efforts to hold a referendum to halt further construction of a nuclear processing plant in Krasnoyarsk-26 have so far been rejected by the Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1997).

CENTRAL BANK LOWERS REFINANCING RATE

The Central Bank has lowered the rate at which it lends to banks from 36% to 24% beginning 16 June, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. It is the third such reduction this year. The rate was lowered from 48% to 42% in February and cut to 36% in April.




MINSK GROUP'S KARABAKH PEACE PROPOSALS REVIEWED

The U.S., French, and Russian co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group visited Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Baku from 12-14 June, Russian and Western agencies reported. Leaders in all three cities informed the co-chairmen of their responses to the new Karabakh peace plan proposed two weeks earlier, but there are no details either of the proposals or of the involved parties' responses. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 June quoted the Russian and French ambassadors in Yerevan as stressing the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of the negotiating process. Commenting on information leaked to Interfax by Azerbaijani sources, Russian ambassador Andrei Urnov said that the composition of a proposed Karabakh peacekeeping force is not being discussed at present.

DEMONSTRATIONS IN YEREVAN

Some15,000 people took part in a demonstration on 13 June in Yerevan to demand new presidential, parliamentary, and local elections and the adoption of a new constitution, Western agencies reported. Thousands more demonstrators attended similar protests in 16 other towns. Meanwhile, Babken Ararktsyan has canceled all official meetings following his resignation as parliamentary speaker on 11 June, according to Interfax.

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ENDORSES PROPOSED ABKHAZIA CONFERENCE

Eduard Shevardnadze has approved the proposal by his Ingush counterpart, Ruslan Aushev, to convene a UN-sponsored conference on Abkhazia chaired by Russian President Yeltsin, according to Interfax on 13 June. Presidential press spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze said Shevardnadze is ready to discuss this idea personally with Aushev, who advocated the participation at the peace conference of other North Caucasus leaders. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on14 June that his recent talks in Moscow with Russian leaders focused on the text of a Georgian-Abkhaz protocol on restoring official relations, but not on Abkhazia's future status. Ardzinba greeted the proposed creation of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Caucasus and expressed the hope that the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia will be extended beyond 31 July.

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES VOTE THEMSELVES RIGHT TO CARRY WEAPONS

The Georgian parliament on 13 June passed a law giving deputies the life-long right to carry handguns, Western agencies reported. Shevardnadze criticized the law, saying that as president he should therefore be entitled to carry a more substantial weapon, such as a grenade-launcher.

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTER ON AFGHANISTAN

Boris Shikhmuradov said on returning from talks in Iran with his counterpart, Ali Akbar Velayati, that the countries share many views on Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June. Shikhmuradov said the two governments would help the Afghan people form a coalition government there. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is scheduled to visit Tehran on 16 June to join Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk and Iranian officials for talks on the Afghan situation.

KYRGYZ WATER NO LONGER TO BE FREE FOR NEIGHBORS

The Kyrgyz parliament on 13 June formed a special commission to draw up legislation on charging neighboring Kazakstan and Uzbekistan for water from Kyrgyz reservoirs, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service reported. Kyrgyzstan has informed those states of the forthcoming change in policy, and an agreement signed by the three states in February 1992 will be amended. Kyrgyzstan spends some $4 million annually for maintenance of the reservoirs.

HIGH-LEVEL CAR THEFTS IN KAZAKSTAN

Militia are currently engaged in a special operation against car thieves, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 June. The operation was launched following the theft of a jeep belonging to Procurator-General Stepan Shutkin. The search for the jeep was unsuccessful, but the militia found instead vehicles belonging to the interior minister and the prime minister. Authorities say the operation will continue and that 11 known criminal groups are being targeted.




BELARUSIAN ROUNDUP

The Russian-Belarusian Parliamentary Assembly on 14 June decided to use the music of the former Soviet anthem for the national hymn of the new Russia-Belarus Union, Interfax reported. Gennadii Seleznev, speaker of both the Russian Duma and the assembly, signed the resolution at a ceremony in the Belarusian town of Viskuli, near Brest, in the same hall where the accords on disbanding the Soviet Union were signed in 1991. Seleznev had proposed that the Russia-Belarus union adopt the music of the former Soviet anthem and combine it with new lyrics. Meanwhile, a Vitebsk court on 14 June convicted the poet Slavomir Adamovich of writing and distributing a poem called "Kill the President," Belapan reported Adamovich was sentenced to the time he had already spent in prison and was thus freed after sentencing.

UKRAINIAN PREMIER PREDICTS GROWTH

Pavlo Lazarenko, who is currently on an official visit to Canada, has predicted slight growth in Ukraine's gross domestic product and lower inflation in1997. Lazarenko told journalists in Ottawa on 13 June that he expected Ukraine's inflation not to exceed 11-12% this year. He said GDP growth for the year should be about 1%, compared with a 10% drop in 1996. RFE/RL's correspondent in Ottawa reported that a large part of Lazarenko's trip is aimed at "damage control." The premier is anxious to reassure potential investors that Ukraine is determined to implement economic reforms and to deal with corruption in government. Foreign investors in Ukraine have complained about corruption and bureaucratic interference in their business dealings.

ESTONIA TO EXPEL EIGHT RUSSIAN RESERVE OFFICERS?

According to Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrick Ilves, the committee that deals with issuing residence permits to Russian reserve officers has advised the government to refuse permits to eight officers, ETA and BNS reported on 15 June, citing the daily "Eesti Paevaleht." Ilves, who heads the committee, said the men pose a "danger for the security of Estonia...because they are young." Most of them are in their 30s and are married to Estonian citizens. Ilves also commented that he did not believe the decision to expel the officers would create "foreign-policy problems" for Estonia. Under a 1994 Russian-Estonian treaty, which regulated the withdrawal of Russian soldiers from Estonia, Tallinn has the right to deny residence to reserve officers. The government recently allowed Russian reserve officer Yevgenni Zobnin, who was expelled because he had no residence permit, to return to Estonia on a 30-day visa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 1997).

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH ALBRIGHT

Valdis Birkavs met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington on 13 June, one day after the U.S. announced that its supports the inclusion of only the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in the first wave of NATO expansion. According to State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns, Albright assured Birkavs that the door will remain open for Latvian membership in NATO after the July summit in Madrid. Birkavs, for his part, said Latvia "fully supports" the U.S.'s decision in a "process that has to remain, and we are sure will remain, inclusive." He added that Riga "firmly believes that NATO enlargement will not be complete until the Baltic states...are members of the alliance." Birkavs was in the U.S. capital on a three-day visit to push for NATO membership for all three Baltic States.

LITHUANIAN ROUNDUP

The parliament has approved the establishment of an assembly composed of Lithuanian and Polish parliamentary deputies, which will discuss bilateral questions and international issues, BNS reported on 13 June. The Polish legislature is due to vote on the assembly soon. Meanwhile, parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis met with a visiting Chechen parliamentary delegation in Vilnius on 13 June. The Lithuanian leader was quoted as saying that "Lithuania automatically recognizes Chechnya, as Russia has 'de facto' already done by signing a peace treaty" with the Chechens. According to the Lithuanian parliamentary press service, the meeting focused on inter-parliamentary relations.

POLAND DETAINS A RECORD NUMBER OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Polish border guards on 13 June detained 46 Sri Lankan nationals trying to enter Poland illegally from Ukraine. The PAP news agency quoted a border guard official as saying the illegal immigrants were found huddled in a Ukrainian truck in a secret compartment covered with bags of corn. The official said a growing number of mostly Asian illegal immigrants traveling westward have been detained in Poland over the past few months. Meanwhile, Hungarian Defense Minister Gyoergy Kaleti is due to begin a three-day official visit to Poland on 16 June.

CZECH FINANCE MINISTER WILL BREAK LAW TO PAY STATE-SECTOR WAGES

Ivan Pilip said on Czech TV on 15 June that he is prepared to break the law in order to pay wages to state employees. The payment of wages has been delayed by several days because the government has already exhausted the amount of money it can borrow from the Central Bank each month. Under the current law, the monthly limit is 16 billion crowns ($500 million). Pilip proposed that the government ask the parliament to act quickly to change the limit, which was set several years ago, when the Czech budget was much smaller than now.

SLOVAK, RUSSIAN JUSTICE MINISTERS SIGN AGREEMENT

Slovak Justice Minister Jozef Liscak and his Russian counterpart, Valentin Kovalyov, signed a cooperation agreement between their ministries in Bratislava on 13 June, TASR reported. The accord is intended to develop and strengthen ties in the legal sphere, facilitate an exchange of experts and delegations, and promote other bilateral activities. Slovakia and Russia have signed some 130 bilateral agreements to date, including 16 accords during a visit by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to Bratislava in late April.

SLOVAK CULTURE MINISTRY WARNS AGAINST NEW PRESS AGENCY

The Culture Ministry on 13 June ordered state institutions not to use the services of the newly established Slovak Information and News Agency (SITA). The ministry described the agency as "oppositionist." Dusan Kleiman, the director-general of the state-run agency TASR, said he supported the ministry's order. He noted its decision was fully in keeping with the law on TASR, whereby the agency is obligated to report on behalf of the state, for which it receives funds from the state budget. The SITA offices were burglarized on 7 June and most of its electronic equipment stolen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1997).

SLOVAK PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON NATO, EARLY ELECTIONS

Michal Kovac says he believes the U.S.'s 12 June decision to support the candidacy of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland for NATO expansion could put greater pressure on the Slovak government to persuade the West that it, too, belongs to the first group. He was speaking at a 14 June press conference in Budapest, where he delivered a speech in honor of Frantisek Cardinal Tomasek, a Czech catholic primate, who posthumously was awarded St. Adalbert Award. The previous day, Kovac told journalists in Bratislava he was ready to conduct talks with Premier Vladimir Meciar. The premier proposed meeting with Kovac after the opposition snubbed his invitation to attend a round-table discussion on current problems facing Slovakia. Kovac also said early elections should be called to resolve the present deadlock in the country.

FURTHER HUNGARIAN REACTIONS TO U.S. DECISION ON NATO ENLARGEMENT

Prime Minister Gyula Horn told a public gathering in Nyirbator, east Hungary, on 13 June that his country's possible admission to NATO in the first wave of enlargement is "a kind of recompense" for Hungary's "sufferings and achievements during the transition period," Hungarian media reported . Also on 13 June, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told AFP during a visit to Germany that he did not consider the U.S. decision not to invite Romania and Slovenia to join NATO in the first wave as final. He said there was no reason why tensions with Romania should surface again if Bucharest fails in its bid to be admitted now, because both Budapest and representatives of the Hungarian minority who visited Washington have done "their utmost" to advocate Romania's inclusion in the first wave.

JEWISH CEMETERY DESECRATED IN HUNGARY

Hungarian police reported on 13 June that a Jewish cemetery in the northern town Balassagyarmat was desecrated ahead of a commemoration of Holocaust victims scheduled for the next day. Vandals smashed one tombstone and uprooted several others. They also smeared swastikas and Nazi slogans over the tombstones and surrounding fence, AFP reported. A statement release by the Federation of Jewish Communities expressed "shock" and said the incident was the result of the authorities' past failure to make full use of the law against "anti-Semites and racists."




ALBANIAN PARTY LEADERS TRADE CHARGES

President Sali Berisha on 15 June blamed the Socialists for the armed rebellion that has reduced much of Albania to anarchy. He told several thousand people in Vlora that pledges by the Socialists to reimburse people for their losses in failed pyramid schemes are "fraudulent, cynical, and dishonest." Socialist leader Fatos Nano recently made such offers but then denied that he ever promised anything more than to try to find the lost money and give back as much of it as possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 1997). Meanwhile in Kucova on 15 June, Nano and Prime Minister Bashkim Fino pledged to bring prosperity to Albania. Earlier the same day in Athens, Nano said the Kosovo question can be solved only by the "Europeanization" of the Balkans and by the democratization of Serbia.

VIOLENCE RAGES ACROSS ALBANIA

At least eight people died and many more were injured in continued violence on 13-14 June. In Vlora, gunmen attacked local Democratic Party leader Argent Grabova on 14 June and killed one of his relatives. Grabova had appeared with Berisha at a rally in Fier the previous day. "Rilindja Demokratike" blamed the Socialists for the incident. On 13 June near Shkoder, unidentified assailants killed Betim Muja, a high-ranking official of the Interior Ministry, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Muja was police chief in Shkoder from1992-1994. Journalists attributed some of the other recent violence in Kruja, Burrel, and Lezha to traditional vendettas. And in Tirana, some 300 women held a demonstration against violence on 15 June in central Skanderbeg Square, an RFE/RL correspondent reported.

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT NAMES DEPUTY CHIEF OF SECRET POLICE

Berisha on 14 June appointed Dashamir Kadena to the number two slot in the secret police (SHIK). Kadena is a native of Vlora and has been a judge in Tirana since 1990, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. He does not belong to any political party, but it is unclear whether the Socialists or others in the opposition will object to his appointment on political grounds. Meanwhile, "Indipendent" reported on 15 June that the authorities have sent former SHIK chief Bashkim Gazidede and his family to the Albanian embassy in Ankara to protect him from possible revenge attacks. And in Tirana on 13 June, the lustration committee said it has disqualified 31 legislative candidates because of their previous links to the communist-era secret police (Sigurimi). Most of the candidates came from the smaller parties, including seven members of the monarchist party.

CROATIA'S TUDJMAN WINS THIRD TERM...

President Franjo Tudjman appears to have taken some 60% of the 15 June vote as returns continue to come in. This preliminary result indicates he has won a third term and will not have to face a run-off. Social Democrat Zdravko Tomac currently has 22% of the vote and Liberal Vlado Gotovac is in third place with 18%. Returns are still due from Bosnia and abroad, where Tudjman is expected to do well. Meanwhile in eastern Slavonia, journalists quoted Western diplomats as saying that many Serbs have been inexplicably dropped from the voting lists since the local elections in April.

...AS CONTROVERSY CENTERS ON WHY PEOPLE DON'T VOTE

Turnout for the 15 June elections is estimated at 57%, down from 75% in the 1992 presidential vote. A spokesman for Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community said that the drop in voter turnout reflects trends in most Western democratic countries. Opposition spokesmen, however, said many people stayed home because they were bored by the campaign. They also noted that the opposition will have to try harder to get across its message in the future. Some journalists suggested that voter interest is likely to remain sluggish as long as the present generation of older politicians remains on the scene and until the parties rejuvenate both their leaderships and their programs (see also "End Note" below).

ARKAN SUES CNN FOR SLANDER

Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan, said in Belgrade on 14 June that he has filed a slander suit against CNN in a Belgrade court. Arkan claims that CNN "doctored" footage to make him appear to be a war criminal, and he stresses that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has not indicted him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 1997). Bosnia and Croatia have nonetheless asked the court to indict him, and Interpol has issued several warrants for his arrest on criminal charges. The CNN documentary argued that there is ample evidence to indict Arkan for war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and that Arkan is close to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

NEWS FROM BELGRADE

The Student Movement of Serbia held its inaugural meeting in Belgrade on 15 June, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. Its agenda includes defense of university autonomy and reversing cuts in government spending on education and scholarships. Representatives of the political opposition attended the meeting, which attracted student representatives from across Serbia. Also in Belgrade, the health workers' union called on clinics to halt all but emergency services starting 16 June. The new tactics also include staging more street protests and disrupting traffic near clinics. The strikes have now entered their sixth week. Meanwhile, the independent daily Nasa Borba said on 16 June that the authorities are stepping up measures to harass that paper by claiming back taxes and other payments.

UPDATE FROM FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

A Sarajevo court on 14 June refused to reopen the case of the Bosnian Serb soldier Srecko Damjanovic, who is serving a prison sentence on several counts of murder. Damjanovic's lawyers said that the testimony against him should be reexamined completely following the discovery that two of his alleged victims are alive and well on Muslim-held territory. In Pristina, an RFE/RL correspondent reported that a conference of ethnic Albanians concluded that 700,000 Kosovars lack health care, 75% of the employable population lacks jobs, and 90% of the population lives near the poverty line.

MINERS UNREST CONTINUES IN ROMANIA

Miners in the Jiu valley resumed their strike on 16 June after having picketed company headquarters in Petrosani the previous two days, Radio Bucharest reported. Talks with a government team headed by Vlad Rosca, who is in charge of relations with trade unions, broke down in Deva on 13 June. The strikers had demanded that wages be increased by 45% and that the government dispatch a new negotiations team to Petrosani. The next day, the government approved subsidies to state-owned companies worth 1,053 billion lei, of which 24 billion lei ($3.5 million) is earmarked for mining companies in the Jiu valley. Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara said it was "mere coincidence" that the subsidies were approved after the miners went on strike.

LIBERAL PARTIES MERGE IN ROMANIA

Two center-right formations--the National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention (PNL-CD) and the Liberal Party '93--merged at a congress in Bucharest on 14 June. PNL-CD leader Nicolae Cerveni was elected chairman and Liberal Party '93 leader Dinu Patriciu executive chairman of the new grouping , which plans to call itself the Liberal Party once a tribunal has ruled on the ongoing dispute within the PNL-CD. A rival PNL-CD group, headed by Senator Alexandru Popovici, does not recognize the merger, while the National Liberal Party-Campeanu Wing has decided not to join the new grouping until the dispute is clarified. Cerveni said the new party will continue to be a member of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR). But Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, whose National Liberal Party is the largest liberal formation within the CDR, says the new party's membership must be approved by the CDR joint leadership.

FLOODS KILL THIRTEEN IN ROMANIA

Thirteen people drowned and ten were missing in floods that swept through several villages in Bihor County, in western Romania, on 15 June. A team of government experts has been dispatched to coordinate rescue operations.

CONGRESS OF MOLDOVA'S AGRARIAN PARTY

At its fourth congress in Chisinau on 14 June, the Agrarian Democratic Party of Moldova (PDAM) reelected Dumitru Motpan as party leader. Motpan told the gathering that the PDAM, which has a majority in the legislature, does not accept "full responsibility" for the policies pursued by Ion Ciubuc's cabinet. He also noted that the PDAM had backed President Petru Lucinschi in the second round of the 1996 presidential elections but added that the economic reform program pursued since then by Lucinschi and the government is "simplistic" and "needs to be corrected," an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. Motpan also attacked parliamentary deputy chairman Dumitru Diacov, who set up the pro-presidential Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova. He commented that Diacov had failed in his bid to bring about the PDAM's disintegration.

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO EXPANSION

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova has said that while Bulgaria "respects" the U.S. decision on admitting only three new members in the first wave of NATO expansion, it "regrets" that "Bulgaria will probably be left out" of this initial group. In a statement carried by BTA on 13 June, Mihailova said her country "still believes it meets all criteria for NATO membership and can contribute to stability in the organization." She expressed hope that Bulgaria will be included among the countries to which NATO will provide assistance in the process of preparation for joining later. Mihailova also said it was important to keep in mind the "need for establishing a geographic and military-political balance in southeastern Europe."

GEORGE SOROS DECORATED IN BULGARIA

President Petar Stoyanov on 13 June decorated the U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros with Bulgaria's highest award, the Order of the Balkan Mountain Range, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Soros said after the ceremony that he had made an exception in accepting the award because it marked a turnaround from the suspicion displayed by the former Socialist government toward his Open Society Fund, which promotes democratic values.




CROATIA REELECTS PRESIDENT TUDJMAN


by Patrick Moore

Early returns from the 15 June elections show that Croats have reelected President Franjo Tudjman to a third term. The opposition put up a good fight but failed to overcome some barriers of its own making and others that Tudjman's party had put in its path.

Tudjman's new mandate will run until 2002. He is widely believed to be suffering from cancer and may not be able to complete his five-year term. But neither his health, his authoritarian style of rule, nor the widely-perceived corruption within his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) deterred voters from reelecting the charismatic president.

One major reason was popular disgust with the opposition. This attitude was already evident in the local elections in April, when voters handed the HDZ a clear victory in most of the country, including in the bitterly contested race for the Zagreb city council. The opposition did well only in some other cities and in Istria.

The opposition itself was largely responsible for this state of affairs. It has yet to produce a leader who could pose a credible alternative to Tudjman. Furthermore, with the possible exception of the ex-communist Social Democrats, no nationwide opposition party has developed a political program that sets it apart from the center-right HDZ. The opposition parties frequently fight among themselves and thereby sap their own strength.

This was evident in the runup to the presidential campaign. At least eight parties finally agreed to back the Liberals' Vlado Gotovac as a joint candidate. Some tiny right-wing parties, moreover, failed to get enough signatures to place their candidates on the ballot. But the Social Democrats insisted on running their own Zdravko Tomac rather than help present a united front of all opposition parties. Perhaps the Social Democratic Party felt that the time was now ripe, since it had made a strong showing in April after years on the margins of politics. The most likely reason for its gains in the spring was that it was the only party that presented itself as a clear social alternative to the HDZ in a country where most people have trouble making ends meet.

But there was no popular ground swell for Tomac. Both the Social Democrats and the coalition supporting Gotovac alike had to fight an up-hill battle in the presidential race, and they still were unable to attain even their minimal goal, which was to force Tudjman into a second round. They complained bitterly that the HDZ made full use of its prerogatives as the governing party to create an unfair environment for the elections.

First, they noted that Tudjman had recently staged--at the taxpayers' expense--several public functions that smacked of campaigning. Just one week before the vote, he took 2,000 politicians, officers, entertainers, and other guests on a train trip to Vukovar. That eastern Slavonian town has been of great symbolic importance to Croatia since the 1991 war and is slated to pass to full Croatian sovereignty in mid-July.

Second, the Vukovar trip, together with Tudjman's recent birthday gala at the National Theater and other major events, received extensive coverage in the state-run media, particularly on television, which is a HDZ monopoly. The opposition charged that its candidates were given little coverage and that most of what they received was unfavorable.

A third point of contention was the HDZ-controlled state election commission. The opposition noted that opposition monitors were not present to check voting by 300,000 ethnic Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina or by thousands more in Germany and elsewhere abroad. Tomac had told a press conference in Zagreb on 12 June that polling stations outside Croatia would provide the HDZ with a golden opportunity to manipulate the results.

A final issue was that of "dirty tricks," the last prime example of which was a decision by the Zagreb city authorities not to allow Tomac to hold a rally on central Jelacic Square on 13 June. Gotovac had spoken there two days earlier, and Tudjman the day after Gotovac. Tomac said the decision showed that he was "not an equal candidate. It's apparently thought in this country that everything begins and ends with Tudjman." This was an apparent allusion to Tudjman's address in Jelacic Square, which marked the end of the campaign for all candidates.

More serious, however, were acts of violence against the opposition. Tomac noted at his last press conference before the vote that uniformed men had stoned his van during one point in the campaign. But the most dramatic incident was in Pula on 5 June, when a uniformed army captain hit Gotovac on the head and left him with a concussion. The state-run media said the attacker was drunk and that he was immediately arrested and suspended from duty. The Liberals, however, asked why Tudjman and the HDZ did not condemn the incident. Some opposition journalists also charged that the captain was a known agent-provocateur for the regime.

Whatever the case, Gotovac did not recover fully from his injuries in time for the 15 June vote. Aware that this would be the case, he had asked the election commission to postpone the ballot by two weeks. The commission turned him down, however, saying there is no legal provision for delaying an election.


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