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Newsline - June 23, 1997


After delivering the opening speech at the Summit of the Eight in Denver, Colorado, on 20 June, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took part in all but one of the sessions involving the G-7 leaders. He also had separate meetings with several leaders. Yeltsin told Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto during their meeting that Russian nuclear missiles will no longer be targeted at Japan, and he called for a "hot line" to be established between Moscow and Tokyo. Some Japanese officials expressed surprise at his statement on missiles, saying they were not aware Moscow had been targeting Japan. Yeltsin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Russia will support Japan's and Germany's bid for entry as permanent members on the UN Security Council. The issue of the disputed Kuril Islands was not discussed, however. Prime Minister Hashimoto said the island chain will be a topic for future meetings.


After separate talks with French President Jacques Chirac, Yeltsin announced that Russia will side with Europe in "future disputes" with the U.S. Together with Chirac and U.S. President Bill Clinton, Yeltsin issued a statement calling for a settlement to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (the three countries co-chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Conference). The Russian president also met with his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, to discuss bilateral trade and Prodi's upcoming visit to Russia. At the closing session of the summit, Yeltsin spoke on human rights, particularly those of minorities. He singled out ethnic Russians living in Latvia and Estonia, saying discrimination against them must be addressed.


Russian Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Paris Club chairman Christian Noyer finalized a deal in Denver to grant Russia admission to the Paris Club of government creditors, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 20 June. U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers described the move as the "financial end of the Cold War." Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said Russia will now be able to collect at least part of the $140 billion it is owed by countries that received loans from the Soviet Union. (Other Paris Club members will not be able to lend to countries that are debtors to Russia.) In June 1996, Russia signed a deal rescheduling its own $38.7 billion debt to Paris Club members.


While the G-7 leaders met to discuss financial and macro-economic issues, Yeltsin held talks with representatives of North American companies, whom he assured that Russia has a favorable investment climate. "There should be no concern that Russia would be able to deliver," Yeltsin said. Yeltsin and Lockheed Martin Chairman Norman Augustine pointed to the Lockheed Martin Intersputnik joint venture as evidence of the potential for cooperation with Russia. Lockheed has a contract to purchase rocket engines worth $1 billion from Russia.


The State Duma on 20 June again postponed debate on proposed cuts in 1997 budget spending, Russian news agencies reported. Deputies are now scheduled to consider spending reductions on 23 June. Government and parliamentary representatives have been unable to reach a compromise on the size of the cuts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 20 June 1997).


The Duma on 20 June passed a new version of a law on managing the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES), which would require the government to retain a 51% stake in EES, Russian news agencies reported. Russian regions would manage a total of one-third of the government stake in the monopoly. Foreign governments, individuals, or legal entities would be restricted to holding a combined total of 25% of EES shares. According to Interfax, the Russian government currently holds 52.3% of EES shares, and foreign investors are believed to own 25% to 27%. Also on 20 June, the Duma passed a law that would allow local governments to issue municipal bonds to cover at most 15% of local budget spending. Funds raised from municipal bonds could be spent only on local development projects. Deputies also approved a law that charges the president with determining Russian policy on Cossacks.


The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) on 21 June issued an appeal calling on citizens to prepare for a nationwide strike at an unspecified time, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The appeal said the opposition will demand Yeltsin's resignation, a change in current political and economic policies, and the formation of a "government of national trust." KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov told journalists that although his party backed passage of the draft tax code in the first reading on 19 June, Communist Duma deputies will demand some amendments to the code in exchange for their support in later readings. Most Communists voted for the 1997 budget even though the government ignored the conditions set by the KPRF after the budget was passed in the first reading (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 16 and 20 December 1996).


The KPRF Central Committee also issued a statement on 21 June denouncing proposals to remove Vladimir Lenin from the mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square as "immoral and sacrilegious," Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin recently advocated holding a referendum on whether Lenin should be buried in St. Petersburg. The KPRF statement said such suggestions were a "mockery of the people's memory of Lenin."


The latest nationwide poll by the Public Opinion Foundation indicates that the Communist Party would gain more support than other parties if early Duma elections were held, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 June. Of the 1,500 respondents who were asked which party they would like to see have greater representation in the Duma, 29% named the KPRF, 23% Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko, 21% Aleksandr Lebed's Russian People's Republican Party, 12% the pro-government Our Home Is Russia, 11% the Agrarian Party, 7% Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and 6% Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Democratic Choice.


Valentin Kovalev has asked Yeltsin to suspend him temporarily from the cabinet, Russian media reported on 21 June. The tabloid "Sovershenno sekretno" recently published frames from a September 1995 videotape allegedly showing Kovalev in a sauna with nude women at a club frequented by organized crime figures. Kovalev has claimed the frames were fabricated and has vowed to clear his name in court. "Sovershenno sekretno" reporter Larisa Kislinskaya has said she got the video from sources in the Interior Ministry. Although ministry officials have denied leaking the tape, NTV suggested on 22 June that the Interior Ministry may have retaliated after Kovalev publicly defended Arkadii Angelevich, the head of Montazhspetsbank. Angelevich was arrested in April on suspicion of stealing $7 million. He had reportedly been a close associate of Kovalev.


Four Audis and one Saab formerly used by government officials were auctioned on 20 June, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who has led the drive to force state officials to use Russian-made cars, attended the auction and told journalists that 177 foreign cars are to be sold this year. Three of the Audis and the Saab were sold for about $20,000 each, while one Audi, badly damaged in an accident, sold for $10,000. There were no takers for a fifth Audi or a Chevrolet also put up for auction. Nemtsov has said the proceeds from the sales will be used to buy Volga sedans, which he says will cost the government no more than $10,000 each. The remaining funds will go to the state budget.


Financial documents and equipment worth an estimated 48 million rubles ($8,300), including two computers, were stolen from the campaign headquarters of television journalist Nina Zvereva on the evening of 19-20 June, an RFE/RL correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported on 20 June. Zvereva, who is contesting the 29 June gubernatorial election in Nizhnii Novgorod, claimed the burglary was politically motivated, but she stopped short of blaming any of her opponents directly. Recent opinion polls have shown her running third behind Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov and Communist State Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev. Meanwhile, some 850 million rubles were stolen from the Moscow headquarters of Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia on 19 June, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 June. A cashier working for the party is suspected of stealing the funds.


Economics Minister Yakov Urinson says a government commission on financing the military has voted to increase 1998 defense spending to 94 trillion rubles ($16.3 billion), compared to 83 trillion rubles ($14.4 billion) in 1997, Interfax reported on June 20. The commission is chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais. Urinson said the "significant increase" in spending will allow Russia to finance military reforms. The 1997 budget originally called for spending some 104 trillion rubles on defense, but the government later reduced that figure to 83 trillion, citing severe revenue shortfalls.


Col.-Gen. Stanislav Petrov, the head of Russia's chemical and biological defense forces, says it will cost more than 31 trillion rubles ($5.4 billion) to destroy Russia's 40,000 tons of chemical weapons, Interfax reported on 20 June. Petrov said Russia has the technology to liquidate the stockpile by the year 2007 but that the government only allocated 1% of the funds necessary for the operation in 1996. Russia is a signatory to the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons. The convention came into force in April, but the State Duma has not ratified it, saying Russia lacks the funds for implementation.


Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister and former radical field commander Shamil Basaev has denied press reports that he was dismissed over the differences with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, RFE/RL and Russian agencies reported on 22 June. Basaev, who is responsible for the reconstruction of Chechnya's war-damaged infrastructure, said his absence from the office for the past week was due to illness. "The time is not suitable for resignation, and we are to solve many problems facing the victims of the war before the winter," Interfax quoted him as saying. Basaev did not comment on his allegedly strained relations with Maskhadov, who recently sharply criticized Basaev's close ally, Aslanbek Adbulkhadziev, over Adbulkhadziev's bid to gain entry to the Chechen parliament.


Physicist Aleksandr Zakharov died on 20 June from a high dose of radiation he received three days earlier at the Arzamas-16 Nuclear Research Center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1997), Russian news agencies reported. Doctors said it was the first death from an accident at a Russian nuclear facility since the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.


At the end of two-weeks of discussions between Georgia and Abkhazia, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba said on 20 June in Moscow that the two sides agreed on a "possible formula" for settling the conflict, Interfax reported. Ardzinba added that a legal document might be signed "in the near future" to underpin that formula. According to Ardzinba, the Abkhaz side made a "maximum of concessions" and it was up to Georgia to respond. Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Vazha Lordkipanidze acknowledged that the prospects for peace were "far greater" as a result of the talks. An unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official told Interfax that the agreements reached in Moscow would uphold Georgia's territorial integrity. But he added that another unspecified clause would act as a counterweight to that provision.


Former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey said he will return to Baku "in two or three months," Reuters reported on 22 June. Elchibey told the agency's correspondent in the autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan that he will take part in the 1998 presidential elections "if conditions are democratic." Elchibey was overthrown in May 1993 as the result of a military coup that brought to power incumbent President Heidar Aliev. Elchibey, who still considers himself the country's legitimate leader, claimed that his return to politics would not be aimed at destabilizing the situation in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov warned that Elchibey's activities violated "not only ethical but also the criminal and civil norms of the country" since he is falsely representing himself as president.


On the occasion on the fifth anniversary of his election as president, Saparmurat Niyazov pardoned more than 2,000 prisoners, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 20 June. Niyazov said the death sentences of another 222 prisoners will be commuted to 10-20 years' imprisonment. Niyazov won the 1992 election with 99.5% of the vote. Two years later, he easily won a referendum extending his term in office until the year 2002.


The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) threatened on 20 June not to sign the Peace and National Accord agreement in Moscow on 27 June because, it says, the government has not fulfilled its part of the accord, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, who headed the UTO delegation at the peace negotiations, said that the exchange of prisoners has not yet taken place and that it is still unclear which positions in the Tajik government will be given to UTO representatives following the signing. Three days later, however, the UTO released another statement saying that in view of all the foreign representatives scheduled to be at the signing, the UTO's representatives would go to Moscow but would not sign until the two issues were resolved.


The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) held its fifth congress in Minsk on 21-22 June. Zianon Paznyak, who fled Belarus in 1996 and now lives in the U.S., was re-elected leader of the movement. Lyavon Borshchevsky, who was arrested several days before the congress for his role in opposition protests earlier this year, was re-elected deputy leader. Borshchevsky was briefly released from custody to attend the congress and returned to jail on 22 June to serve the remainder of his five-day sentence. The BNF passed a declaration calling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a "dictator" and denouncing his pro-Russian policies. In a videotaped address, Paznyak referred to Lukashenka's government as the "occupation regime" and criticized the president's efforts at reunification with Russia.


A spokesman for Pavlo Lazarenko on 20 June denied reports that the prime minister will resign. He said that Lazarenko has been diagnosed with "physical exhaustion." The previous day, President Leonid Kuchma announced he was temporarily stripping Lazarenko of his duties and passing them on to Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Durdinets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 1997). Many observers saw that move as permanent and predicted Lazarenko's resignation would soon follow. Lazarenko is considered responsible for Ukraine's continuing economic troubles and for not stopping corruption. Several parliamentary factions have called for his resignation.


At the Denver summit from 21-22 June, the Group of Seven leading industrial nations promised to grant Ukraine $300 million to help rebuild the concrete shell around the Chornobyl nuclear reactor, Reuters reported. A G-7 statement said the Chornobyl reactor, scene of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986, should be closed completely by the year 2000. The G-7 has been urging Ukraine for years to close the station. Ukraine says it can do so only when new reactors have been built at other plants. It wants $780 million to help build a new sarcophagus. G-7 ministers also expressed concern about the slow pace of economic reform in Ukraine. It urged Ukraine to step up the pace of reform and encourage foreign investors.


Kuchma met with Igor Smirnov on 20 June in Kyiv and discussed the deployment of Ukrainian peace-keeping troops in the security zone of the breakaway region, ITAR-TASS reported. They also discussed economic cooperation. Under the terms of the 8 May memorandum signed by Chisinau and Tiraspol, the Transdniester can develop independent economic ties. Ukraine is one of the guarantors of the memorandum, alongside Russia and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe.


Prime Minister Andris Skele on 20 June demanded the resignation of State Health Minister Juris Vinkelis, after the Prosecutor's Office found Vinkelis violated the anti-corruption law, BNS reported. Vinkelis denied any wrong-doing, saying the companies in which he reportedly holds posts have never really begun business operations. The office also announced Deputy Prime Minister Juris Kaksitis violated the law by failing to state he held a post in a company when filling out an income declaration. But since that company is non-profit, the violation is not considered serious, according to BNS. Meanwhile, the office said Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs has not breached the law since he withdrew from all posts outside the government before the 1 August 1996 deadline. At the request of Skele, the Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into all government members following reports that many have broken the anti-corruption law.


At a joint congress in Riga on 21 June, the Fatherland and Freedom party and the Latvian National Independence Movement (LNNK) voted to establish a new political formation, to be called Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, BNS reported. Fatherland and Freedom leader Maris Grinblats said the new party's program will be based on national values, the inviolability of the fundamental principles of the constitution, passage of a tough citizenship law, the promotion of the repatriation of aliens, and the preservation of the "purity of the Latvian language." The new party will have 17 parliamentary seats and will thus be the second-largest formation in the legislature.


The Conservatives have drafted a bill aimed at preventing state officials from making personal profit from the office they hold, BNS reported on 20 June. First Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Andrius Kubilius told a news conference that prevention of corruption has not received any attention so far in Lithuania. He added that the anti-corruption law would allow the public eye to "X-ray the corridors of the governing bodies." Also on 20 June, two-day talks on the Russian-Lithuanian border concluded in Vilnuis, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency quoted Rimantas Sidlaumkas, the head of the Lithuanian delegation, as saying that "certain progress" was made. Sidlaumkas also noted that the talks, which began several years ago, are "nearing an end."


Czech President Vaclav Havel opened a NATO security forum in Prague on 21 June by calling on NATO leaders to give a clear timetable for expansion after the first wave of former communist countries are invited to join at the alliance's Madrid summit next month, Czech TV reported. The four-day Prague forum, is attended by top NATO officials and leaders of countries aspiring to gain membership in the alliance. Slovenian Foreign Minister Zoran Thaler told the forum on 22 June that his country's admission to NATO will boost security in southeastern Europe. Both Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova urged NATO to remain open for those nations left out of the first wave.


The European Democratic Union says it is concerned about steps taken by the Slovak government that the EDU considers a serious breach of the rule of law and democratic principles, CTK reported on 21 June, citing Jan Figel, deputy chairman of the opposition Christian Democrats (KDH). Figel, who took part in a meeting of the EDU steering committee in London, said there are no longer any doubts that Slovakia has dropped out from the main integration stream and is heading neither for NATO nor for the EU. The EDU brings together about 40 conservative and Christian Democratic parties from Europe.


Jane Dinsdale, the deputy director of the Council of Europe's Human Rights Department, told journalists in Bratislava on 20 June that the council will continue to watch the situation of ethnic minorities in Slovakia and will largely focus on their language rights and relevant legislation. Dinsdale made the comment after the fourth meeting of EU representatives and government officials responsible for ethnic minority issues in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. Meanwhile, Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, in an interview with TASR on 20 June, commented on the results of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of the EU and Slovak parliaments, which gave Slovakia till the end of November to implement democratic reforms or face the prospect of not being included in EU expansion talks. Meciar said nobody can give ultimatums to the Slovak Republic, which, he stressed, is a sovereign state.


Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 20 June signed an agreement on property restitution to, and financing the activities of, the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. According to the pact, the state will return to the Church, or pay it compensation for, buildings and property seized under communism. Sodano said the signing of the agreement "may serve as an example to other post-communist countries," Hungarian media reported. Hungary's junior coalition party, the Free Democrats, criticized the agreement for singling out one religion for support and for giving Roman Catholic schools the same status as state institutions. The Vatican denied that the pact gives a privileged status to the Catholic Church over Hungary's non-Catholic believers, who are mostly Protestants and Jews.


The national council of the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) on 21 June re-elected incumbent Gyoergy Giczy as party chairman, Hungarian media reported. Giczy received 133 votes, while Zsolt Semjen garnered 102. Giczy's re-election ends a heated debate within the KDNP that began in May following a Supreme Court decision to annul the results of the KDNP's December 1996 contest for leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1997). Giczy called for an end to factions within the party and urged the KDNP to bring about a "genuine change of regime." Semjen remarked that the 43% of the vote he gained indicates that his moderate policy has considerable support in the party.


Six party leaders from the three largest election coalitions left for Rome on 22 June to reconcile their positions before the elections slated for 29 June. The sponsor is the Roman Catholic organization Sant Egidio, which specializes in non-violent conflict resolution, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 22 June. The key players are Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano, whose party leads a left-of-center coalition, and the Democrats' Tritan Shehu, whose party has also formed a coalition with smaller partners. A third coalition consists of small conservative parties. The aim of the meeting is to produce an agreement not to interfere in the electoral process and to respect the results of the ballot. Contested issues remain the closing time of the polling stations and how to assign seats on the basis of proportional representation.


In the country's southern-most electoral district, which is near the town of Saranda, gunmen surrounded and harassed Democratic Party Foreign Relations Secretary Leonard Demi, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 22 June. The Democratic Party said that "armed gangs of [Socialist Party leader] Gramoz Ruci" attacked Demi, who has participated in a number of party rallies in southern Albania. President Sali Berisha has not spoken at any rallies in the rebel-controlled south out of concern for his safety. Meanwhile, a bomb injured four people in the night from 20-21 June in Tirana's Student City, "Dita Informacion" reported. The dormitory area has received a number of bomb threats in the last two weeks.


The last candidates' lists reached the Central Election Commission on 21 June, nine days after the deadline, "Koha Jone" reported. The lustration committee has also finished its work. "Koha Jone" journalist Frrok Cupi succeeded on 21 June in getting the commission's earlier ban on his candidacy in Vlora overturned, "Dita Informacion" reported. The ballot papers can now be printed, and the OSCE estimates they will be ready by 26 June. This leaves the commission two days to distribute the material throughout the country. Confusion nonetheless remains over the exact role the OSCE and the multinational force will play in distributing ballot boxes and other high security materials. According to OSCE policy, the Albanian government must distribute the materials itself and the OSCE will only monitor the delivery.


The leaders of the G-7 countries plus Russia announced in Denver on 21 June that development aid for Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina will depend on those parties' compliance with the Dayton agreement. The world leaders also said they expect Croatia and federal Yugoslavia to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and to observe international norms regarding human rights. The warnings reflect a growing view in major capitals that Bosnia is likely to split into three ethnically based parts unless the international community brings fresh pressure to bear on the treaty's signatories. But Momcilo Krajisnik, the Bosnian Serb member of the joint presidency, said in Pale on 22 June that the Bosnian Serbs will not give into "blackmail" in order to get reconstruction aid. He said his people would prefer aid from Serbia instead.


Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 22 June that Montenegrins uniformly oppose Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's plans to change the federal Yugoslav Constitution to Montenegro's disadvantage. The previous day, he met with Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic in Tivat. They stressed the need for federal Yugoslavia to be allowed to resume membership in international organizations and for political and economic reforms at home. Djindjic and Djukanovic also discussed possible cooperation between their two parties, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. Djukanovic's Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) has backed Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) in the past, but Djukanovic led a revolt in his party against that alliance. In Belgrade on 20 June, SPS Vice President Milorad Vucelic warned that fighting within the DPS could "weaken the [Yugoslav] federation" as a whole.


Representatives of the health workers' union have announced in Belgrade that their six-week strike will end on 23 June. Serbian Health Minister Leposava Milicevic and union leader Stevan Djordjevic signed an agreement on 21 June that provides for the payment of back wages by the end of the month, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. Also in Belgrade, Milos Vasic, the editor of the weekly "Vreme," was elected president of the Independent Society of Journalists of Serbia. Later that night, unidentified persons broke into the organization's offices and stole two fax machines and two telephones.


The national organization of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) said in Zagreb on 21 June that the recent agreement between the HSLS representatives on the Zagreb city council and those of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is "void." As a result of that pact, HSLS council member Dorica Nikolic was elected as deputy mayor and the national leadership decided to suspend the Zagreb group from the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 1997). Nikolic said that, as deputy mayor, she could promote citizens' interests, but the HSLS leadership charged that she was motivated by personal ambition, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. Some observers suggest that events in Zagreb could force a formal split in the HSLS, whose members have long been divided over the question of cooperation with the HDZ.


According to Croatian Development Minister Jure Radic, demands that Croatia extend equal rights to all its citizens, including to Serbian refugees who want to go home, are "unacceptable." Radic told the Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" of 21 June that such demands fail to differentiate "between those [Serbs] who took part in aggression and those [Croats] who defended themselves." Meanwhile, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek sent a telegram to President Bill Clinton on 22 June, asking him to reconsider his position on Slovenia's membership in NATO. And in Skopje, President Kiro Gligorov returned from a visit to the U.S.. He said Clinton agreed to help Macedonia combat poverty and that the two men agreed on issues related to Balkan security.


Victor Ciorbea met with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and IMF President Michael Camdessus in Washington on 20 June. Cohen told reporters that the U.S. did not "say 'no' to Romania's bid to join NATO, but only 'not yet.'" Meanwhile, at the Summit of the Eight in Denver on 21 June, French President Jacques Chirac reiterated to U.S. President Bill Clinton that France wants Romania to be in the first group admitted to NATO. Clinton's National Security adviser Samuel Berger said after the meeting that the U.S. has not changed its mind.


Former Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu and former Deputy Prime Minister Mircea Cosea on 21 June resigned from the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). They told a press conference in Bucharest they had failed to convince party chairman Ion Iliescu to agree to a compromise solution whereby neither the party's reformist group (headed by Melescanu) nor its conservative group (headed by Adrian Nastase) would be represented in the leadership team elected at the party's 20-21 June National Conference. Two other members of the reformist group, Iosif Boda and Viorel Salagean, were expelled from the PDSR by their respective Bucharest branches on 20 June, and a fifth member, deputy Marian Enache, resigned from the party one day earlier. Iliescu was re-elected PDSR chairman by an overwhelming majority, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.


The miners in the Jiu valley on 20 June ended a ten-day strike after reaching an agreement with the state mining company. The agreement provides for a 23.3 % wage hike beginning 1 July and a further 7% raise as of 1 August, an RFE/RL correspondent in Petrosani reported. Also on 20 June, Marin Condeescu said his National Confederation of Mining Unions (which does not represent the Jiu valley miners) is demanding a 25% reduction in taxes on wages beginning 1 July. Condeescu said restructuring in the mining industry should proceed only after alternatives have been found for miners who stood to lose their jobs as a result of the reorganization.


James Parks, the permanent representative of the World Bank in Chisinau, told the Moldovan government on 20 June that the privatization program currently debated by the parliament is not comprehensive enough, BASA-Press reported. The same day, the parliament ended a debate on privatization, after excluding several major enterprises from the process. The privatization program was not voted on because of the lack of a quorum. Also on 20 June, Infotag reported that the IMF has postponed granting a $25 million to Moldova because the conditions for the loan have not been met. Meanwhile, Petru Lucinschi, on a three-day visit to Israel, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister David Levy in Jerusalem on 22 June. Agreements on cooperation in education, civil aviation, science, culture and tourism were signed by members of the two delegations, AFP reported.


President Petar Stoyanov has asked Turkey to back his country's bid for NATO membership, the President's Office reported on 21 June. Stoyanov, who has postponed a scheduled visit to Turkey from 23-25 June until the formation of the new government in Ankara, made the request in a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Suleyman Demirel. Demirel assured him that Turkey supports both Bulgaria's and Romania's NATO efforts as a "natural step for strengthening NATO's southern flank." In other news, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 20 June presented in the parliament an austerity budget, in accordance with the law that also establishes the National Currency Board beginning 1 July.


Penko Dimitrov, the deputy executive director of the Bulgargas state monopoly, was freed on 20 June by police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 1997). Premier Kostov told a press conference in Sofia that Dimitrov was abducted by the Elos private security firm on the orders of Vesselin Todorov, the head of a firm whose interests "were badly hurt by the principled positions of the Bulgargas management," according to Reuters. He was freed by police after being held for 22 hours, Minister of Interior Bogumil Bonev told the same press conference.

Is Armenia's Ruling Party About to Split?

by Emil Danielyan

Armenian parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan tendered his resignation on 11 June, following the legislature's decision to abolish deferment of compulsory military service for higher education students. Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan's bill obliges all 18-year-old male citizens to serve in the military. According to Ararktsyan, the new legislation will harm the education system rather than substantially increase the number of servicemen and will also prompt many capable young people to emigrate. An alternative bill proposed by the speaker was overwhelmingly rejected.

President Levon Ter-Petrossyan and several leaders of his ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) urged the speaker not to resign. After lengthy discussions with the president, Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, and Defense Minister Sarkisyan, Ararktsyan withdrew his resignation and returned to work on 16 June. Under a compromise solution reportedly proposed by the president, the defense minister's bill, if adopted in full, will go into effect in 1998. In the meantime, the parliament will try to iron out differences between the two bills in the fall.

But the temporary parliamentary crisis has raised several questions. The clash between Ararktsyan and Sarkisyan, both of whom are close allies of Ter-Petrossyan and prominent HHSh members, may signal yet another rift within the ruling party following the September 1996 presidential election (which the opposition claims was rigged). Two rival factions emerged within the HHSh after the ballot, and each blamed the other for Ter-Petrossyan's performance, who was only narrowly re-elected.

The so-called reformist faction of the HHSh--which has been in power since 1990--is led by Eduard Yegoryan, one of the authors of Armenia's present constitution. It claims the government has long been out of touch with the people and is not accountable to the HHSh. The group singles out law-enforcement agencies, which, it says, are outside the executive's control. Favoring early elections, they are drafting election legislation intended to provide for a free and fair vote. A number of local HHSh branches have already pledged their support for Yegoryan.

The second faction includes such hard-liners as Sarkisyan and former interior minister and current Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghyan. Both men played a key role in the post-election crackdown on the opposition, when dozens of its activists were arrested and troops were deployed in the capital. In a video privately distributed in Armenia, they were shown at a private party blaming the policies of then Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan and the HHSh for the election results.

The struggle between the two rival factions is expected to reach its climax at the HHSh congress in July, when Yegoryan and Siradeghyan will contend the party leadership. While observers believe them to have nearly equal chances, the parliamentary crisis earlier this month may have changed the odds somewhat. Ararktsyan, who was in effect humiliated by the defense minister, is unlikely to endorse Siradeghyan, who is Sarkisyan's ally. By the same token, the HHSh's leading body, which supported the speaker during the row, will likely also withhold its support for the Yerevan mayor.

But Sigadeghyan does reportedly have the backing of President Ter-Petrossyan, who took the defense minister's side during the debate on deferment of military service. It therefore seems doubtful that the president will support the reformers, who have repeatedly demanded that Sarkisyan and Siradeghyan step down. On the other hand, if Siradeghyan were elected HHSh leader and the reformers broke away to form their own party, Ter-Petrossyan's support base would be limited to two powerful but unpopular men. The opposition, joined by the president's former allies, would also become stronger.

But there is another major actor to be taken into account. Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, the former Nagorno-Karabakh leader who is close ally of the president, is rumored to be at odds with Siradeghyan. He has allegedly cracked down on tax evasion by businessmen close to the mayor. Of late, the HHSh has increasingly criticized Kocharyan for what it regards as his attempts to deprive it of ruling party status. If Ter-Petrossyan were to respond to that criticism by sacking Kacharyan, his legitimacy would be further undermined since Kocharyan's appointment as prime minister was aimed at easing popular dissatisfaction with the HHSh.

In another important development, a large number of parliament deputies, mainly from the HHSh, appealed to the Constitutional Court on 19 June to overrule Ter-Petrossyan decrees sacking two key ministers. The lawmakers charge that the move was unconstitutional as the president did not consult with the parliament beforehand. For the first time, Ter-Petrossyan is facing a challenge from within his party.