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Newsline - October 13, 1997




YELTSIN VOWS TO FOLLOW ALL COUNCIL OF EUROPE RECOMMENDATIONS...

President Boris Yeltsin pledged on 10 October that Russia will adhere to all Council of Europe recommendations, including a ban on capital punishment. Addressing the Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg, Yeltsin said Russia has not carried out any executions in more than a year. With regard to the recent public executions in Chechnya, Yeltsin said the Russian leadership is taking "all necessary measures for localizing such manifestations of medieval barbarianism," Interfax reported. Russian courts still occasionally hand down the death sentence, and the State Duma voted down a law on banning capital punishment earlier this year. But according to Council of Europe Secretary-General Daniel Tarschys, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has promised that the lower house will ratify the European Human Rights Convention and honor other obligations Russia undertook when it joined the Council of Europe in February 1996, ITAR-TASS reported.

...AGREES TO REGULAR SUMMITS WITH KOHL, CHIRAC

While in Strasbourg, Yeltsin, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac agreed to hold annual three-way summits. The Russian president accepted Chirac's suggestion that the first such summit be held in Yekaterinburg, the capital of Yeltsin's native Sverdlovsk Oblast. In several recent interviews and public appearances, Yeltsin has said Russia seeks more cooperation with Europe and has spoken out against U.S. influence on the continent. Shortly before departing for the Council of Europe summit, he argued that Europe does not need any "overseas uncle," an RFE/RL correspondent in Strasbourg reported on 9 October.

RUSSIA SUPPORTS LAND MINE BAN

Yeltsin also announced on 10 October that Russia supports a ban on anti-personnel land mines and will sign a convention to that effect. That statement caused some confusion, since Russia is a major manufacturer of land mines and was only an observer at the recent negotiations in Oslo on banning land mines. The next day, Yeltsin's press service clarified the statement, saying Russia supports the goal of banning land mines and will sign the convention "when the necessary conditions are created," Russian news agencies reported. While in Strasbourg, Yeltsin did not discuss any concrete dates for signing the Oslo accord, the press service added. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman recently said a ban on anti-personnel mines should not be implemented "hastily" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997).

CHERNOMYRDIN ON BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS

In an interview with Russian Public Television (ORT) on 11 October, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomrydin said that in upcoming negotiations with the parliament, the government will not compromise on the "key parameters" of the draft budget for 1998, including the projected inflation rate of 5 percent. However, he said, the government may consider raising expenditures--currently planned at 472 billion new rubles ($80 billion)--by 0.5 percent. Chernomyrdin also remarked that the government's decision to cut subsidies to Moscow may have been hasty. A trilateral commission on the 1998 budget, comprised of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives, is expected to hold its first meeting on 13 October. Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksander Zhukov of Our Home Is Russia has said that the trilateral commission may agree to increase projected revenues and expenditures by 30 to 40 billion new rubles, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 October.

LUZHKOV BLASTS CHUBAIS

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 10 October charged that all of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's policy initiatives have failed, Russian news agencies reported. Luzhkov added that Chubais's recent address to the Duma was "disgraceful and unskilled." Chubais recently argued that Moscow does not need compensation for the costs of maintaining federal facilities in the capital, particularly in light of the recent celebrations of Moscow's 850th anniversary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 1997). Luzhkov countered that Moscow had earned substantial revenues from those celebrations. For his part, Chubais on 10 October accused Luzhkov of turning policy disputes into personal attacks and argued that Moscow "can provide for itself and for other [Russian] regions," although to do that the Moscow authorities "would have to build one less monument." Meanwhile, speaking to journalists in Berlin on 11 October, Luzhkov again denied that he plans to run for president.

GATES FIGHTS SOFTWARE PIRACY DURING MOSCOW VISIT

During a visit to Moscow, Bill Gates, the president of the U.S. software giant Microsoft, encouraged top Russian politicians to crack down on unlicensed sales of computer products. More than 90 percent of software sold in Russia is believed to be pirated. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 11 October promised Gates that the Russian government will take steps to solve the problem. The previous day, Gates discussed the issue with First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais and signed a deal with Sberbank Chairman Andrei Kazmin whereby the bank will pay Microsoft $1.65 million in order to legalize the company's software already in use at the bank. Gates also discussed the use of Microsoft products at the Central Bank and the oil company LUKoil with Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov.

DUMA APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

The Duma on 10 October appealed to the Constitutional Court against Yeltsin's failure to sign the law on the government, ITAR-TASS reported. That law would require the entire cabinet to resign if the prime minister quit or was dismissed. Both houses of the parliament overrode a presidential veto of the law earlier this year, but Yeltsin charged that unconstitutional voting procedures were used (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 7 July 1997). On similar grounds, the president refused to sign a law that would ban the removal of "trophy art" from Russia. The Duma's appeal, which does not cover the trophy art law, argues that the president does not have the right to refuse to sign "federal constitutional laws," a special category that includes the law on the government. Such legislation must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Duma and a three-quarters majority in the Federation Council.

CONTROVERSY OVER PRESIDENTIAL FOREIGN POLICY DEPARTMENT

Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 October, Karen Khachaturov accused the Department for Foreign Policy within the presidential administration of seeking to usurp the functions of the Foreign Ministry. The department, created under a September decree issued by Yeltsin, replaced the Presidential Council on Foreign Policy and has more extensive powers than its predecessors. Khachaturov described the department as a "bureaucratic monster" that ignores the executive branch and is unconstitutional. He pointed out that its creation has fueled rumors of the imminent dismissal of Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. In September, Primakov was named as chairman of a commission on international security that is subordinate to the Russian Security Council. Khachaturov described the commission as "purely decorative."

RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS OVERCOME TENSIONS TEMPORARILY...

Meeting in Dagomys on 9 October, Russian and Chechen representatives agreed that Moscow's representation in Chechnya may return to Grozny once that city's airport is granted international status, Russian media reported, quoting Chechen Deputy Premier Akhmed Zakaev. Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii said on10 October that the two sides also agreed that Chechnya will submit to the Russian State Duma two separate drafts of an accord specifying Chechnya's political status. Berezovskii said fundamental disagreement on that issue persists but noted both sides are committed to resolving their differences by "legitimate, peaceful means." Meanwhile, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said after meeting with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Grozny on 11 October that the recent crisis in bilateral relations is over and that both he and Maskhadov pledged their readiness to continue talks.

...BUT NEW STANDOFF LOOMS

However, at a session of Chechen negotiating team convened by Maskhadov later on 11 October, it was agreed that Grozny will not send representatives to the 14 October Russian Duma session at which the two draft documents on Chechnya's future political status are to be discussed, Interfax reported, quoting presidential press spokesman Kazbek Khadzhiev. Duma deputies are "unwilling" to approach the issue of Chechnya's status "constructively," Khadzhiev said. He added that "Chechnya is ready to discuss with Moscow the need to establish full-scale diplomatic relations of a friendly nature." Also on 12 October, Chechen parliamentary speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiev warned that the Chechen parliament will not ratify a bilateral accord that makes Chechnya dependent on Russia.

DUMA TO MONITOR GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION IN OREL

The Duma on 10 October voted to send a commission to Orel Oblast to monitor the 19 October gubernatorial election following accusations that two candidates were unfairly denied registration, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Incumbent Yegor Stroev, who is also speaker of the Federation Council, is expected to win the election easily. But in a speech to the Duma, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky accused Stroev of trying to stage a sham election. Only one other candidate, a little-known head of a collective farm, was registered for the race. The Orel Electoral Commission denied registration to two candidates, including the head of the LDPR's Orel branch. After the Duma rejected his call that the lower house demand Stroev's removal as Federation Council speaker, Zhirinovsky told RFE/RL that LDPR deputies will stage a protest at the Council's upcoming session.

BEREZOVSKII, NTV ON U.S. BANKER'S VISA

Security Council Deputy Secretary Berezovskii said on 10 October that U.S. banker Boris Jordan was recently deprived of his multiple entry visa because he had gained access to classified military and financial information that could "harm the Russian state," ITAR-TASS reported. An ORT commentary the next day endorsed Berezovskii's version of events and criticized First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov for defending Jordan. Jordan heads the MFK investment bank, which is part of the Oneksimbank empire. Berezovskii, an influential figure at ORT, is considered a leading business rival of Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin. Meanwhile, a 12 October commentary on NTV's influential weekly program "Itogi" was largely sympathetic to Jordan. The network linked Jordan's visa problems to a battle for management control over a large steel mill. NTV is owned by the Media-Most company of Vladimir Gusinskii.

YEKATERINBURG MAYOR BLAMES DEATHS ON STRIKING AMBULANCE DRIVERS

Arkadii Chernetskii has charged that a strike by Yekaterinburg ambulance drivers cost 13 lives because of delays in emergency aid for patients, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 October. The drivers went on strike on 6 October to protest inadequately equipped ambulances and wage arrears. Chernetskii on 9 October vowed to fire the strikers and file criminal charges against them. ITAR-TASS quoted him as calling the protest "blackmail verging on terrorism." City prosecutors, for their part, said the strike was illegal. The drivers ended the strike on 9 October, after one of their key demands--the dismissal of the director of the Yekaterinburg ambulance service--had been met. The city's ambulance drivers staged a similar protest in January.



KORZHAKOV IMPLICATED IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Georgian businessman Temur Maskhulia claims that Yeltsin's former bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov and former Russian Federal Security Service chief Mikhail Barsukov were involved in the August 1995 failed attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, according to Interfax. Maskhulia made the allegations during a conversation with Georgian intelligence service head Avtandil Ioseliani, a videotape of which was shown at a news conference in Tbilisi on 10 October. Maskhulia said he had been informed of Korzhakov's and Barsukov's role by Yevgenii Marusin, the former intelligence chief of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus. Maskhulia also claimed that while under arrest earlier this year, he was pressured by Ioseliani to give false testimony implicating leading Georgian political figures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 1997). Speaking at the 10 October news conference, Ioseliani denied having pressured Maskhulia.

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET

Levon Ter-Petrossyan and Heidar Aliev, meeting in Strasbourg on 10 October on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit and in their respective addresses to the meeting, reaffirmed their shared commitment to resolving the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means, Reuters reported. In a joint statement, they said they consider it necessary to facilitate talks between all three parties to the conflict within the framework of the Minsk Group. The previous day, Russian President Boris Yeltsin had proposed inviting Ter-Petrossyan and Aliyev to Moscow for talks with himself and French President Jacques Chirac on resolving the conflict. Yeltsin, however, had not included, Arkadii Ghukasyan, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in the invitation to the proposed Moscow talks.

NAGORNO-KARABAKH PROPOSES IRAN AS CO-GUARANTOR OF ITS SECURITY

Naira Melkumyan, the permanent representative in Yerevan of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told RFE/RL on 11 October that Karabakh has formally rejected the most recent peace plan proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. Melkumyan said the "step-by-step" approach advocated by the Minsk Group is unacceptable because it fails to address the Karabakh Armenians' security concerns. She said Karabakh will continue to push for a "package" solution that would resolve all contentious issues within one framework document. She added that Karabakh is prepared to withdraw from six occupied districts of Azerbaijan in return for international guarantees of its security. Melkumyan also suggested that Armenia and other countries, including Iran, could act as guarantors.

NEW PRO-GOVERNMENT BLOC IN AZERBAIJAN

Eight pro-government political parties on 8 October aligned themselves with the New Azerbaijan party, which holds an overwhelming majority of seats in the parliament, Turan reported two days later. New Azerbaijan was founded in 1992 by President Aliev, who at that time was chairman of the Nakhichevan Supreme Soviet. The members of the new bloc, which is named Democratic Azerbaijan, agreed to propose joint candidates for the upcoming municipal elections.

KAZAKH PRESIDENT ON ECONOMY

Addressing the parliament on 10 October, Nursultan Nazarbaev outlined his concept for the country's development between now and 2030, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Nazarbaev proposed that Kazakhstan aim for intensive, rather than extensive, economic development and that it take as its model the "little tigers" of southeastern Asia with the aim of becoming "Central Asia's mountain lion." He said the number of ministers in Nurlan Balgimbaev's government will be reduced to 15 and that the cabinet will focus on implementation of the president's new economic strategy. Nazarbaev also announced that referenda will be held in the next few months on banning abortion and introducing the death penalty for drug-trafficking. He denied that the next presidential elections, due in 2000, will be held earlier.

CHERNOMYRDIN IN BISHKEK

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, CIS Affairs Minister Anatolii Adamishin, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev held talks with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Prime Minister Apas Djamagulov in Bishkek on 9-10 October, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Four agreements were signed: on cooperation in fighting drug-smuggling, on Moscow's leasing military facilities in Kyrgyzstan, on scientific-technical cooperation, and on creating a bilateral commission on trade and economic cooperation. Akaev told journalists on 9 October that bilateral relations are "strategic" and "developing well," according to Interfax. Chernomyrdin on 10 October said the two countries continue to seek "new forms of higher integration" but do not plan "in the near future" to conclude a union comparable to that of Russia with Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported.




DEMONSTRATORS DENOUNCE BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT...

Some 3,500 people marched in Minsk on 12 October to protest the policies of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belarusian media reported. Twenty of the demonstrators were arrested. The march was organized by the Belarusian Popular Front, the independent trade unions, and other anti-Lukashenka groups. One of the speakers, Tatyana Sharetsky, told the demonstrators that they must continue to march "if we don't want our state to be on the outskirts of civilization, if we don't want a new Gulag."

...BUT LUKASHENKA REMAINS UNREPENTANT

Speaking to a joint session of the parliament on 10 October, President Lukashenka said there is no danger that Belarus will be isolated from the rest of the world. "Seventy percent of resources from Russia move across Belarusian territory," he noted. He promised not to dissolve the current parliament, as demanded by international organizations. He also rejected calls for privatization, pointing out that the economy grew by more than 10 percent over the last year. Lukashenka went on to say that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has personally invited him to a meeting in Moscow on 22 October, according to Interfax.

UKRAINIAN BUDGET REJECTED, ELECTION CAMPAIGN DELAYED

The parliament on 10 October refused to approve President Leonid Kuchma's state budget, ITAR-TASS reported. Many Ukrainian commentators suggested that lawmakers had withheld their approval to pressure Kuchma into signing the recently passed election law. As a result of Kuchma's refusal to sign that legislation, the campaign for the parliamentary elections, which was scheduled to begin on 11 October, has been delayed. (According to the bill awaiting Kuchma's signature, the campaign can begin only 170 days before the vote.) The Communists, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Reform and Order Party, and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists nevertheless went ahead with their campaign meetings on 11-12 October.

ESTONIAN DEFENSE MINSTER WITHDRAWS RESIGNATION

Andrus Oovel on 10 October announced he is withdrawing his resignation letter, submitted to Prime Minister Mart Siimann following the September military training accident, ETA reported. Oovel's announcement followed a decision by the Coalition Party board that since President Lennart Meri has refused to accept the resignation of commander-in-chief of the defense forces Johannes Kert, Oovel cannot be held solely responsible for the tragedy. Meanwhile, the parliamentary State Defense Committee has demanded that Siimann release Oovel from his duties, BNS and ETA reported on 13 October. The committee has frequently criticized the Defense Ministry for its poor record in drawing legislation.

PRIMAKOV AGAIN WARNS TALLINN AGAINST INVOKING TARTU TREATY

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov has again warned Tallinn against mentioning the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty in connection with a border agreement between Russia and Estonia, BNS reported on 10 October. Primakov made the remarks to the news agency while attending the Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg. He said Estonia must guarantee that its parliament will no make mention of the Tartu treaty in the ratification or other related documents. He also stressed that Russia is interested in developing relations with Estonia.

IMF APPROVES STAND-BY LOAN FOR LATVIA

The IMF on 10 October approved a $45 million loan agreement with Latvia, Reuters reported The fund said that the18-month stand-by credit would be used to support the government's 1997-1999 economic program, which calls for trade liberalization and tariff reductions. It also praised Latvia's efforts to stabilize economic conditions and promote economic growth. Latvian officials have said they do not intend to draw on the new loan, which replaces a credit that recently expired.

LITHUANIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS MEET

Algirdas Brazauskas and Boris Yeltsin met briefly in Strasbourg on 10 October on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit, BNS reported. The two leaders agreed that it is "necessary" to finalize and sign several important agreements, including a border treaty, during Brazauskas's visit to Moscow from 23-25 October. Also on 10 October, the Vilnius Regional Court ruled that Valdas Adamkus can register for the December presidential elections, according to BNS. Adamkus, a U.S. citizen of Lithuanian origin, had appealed a Supreme Electoral Commission decision that barred him from running in the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997).

CZECHS, HUNGARIANS, POLES TO COOPERATE ON JOINING NATO

Meeting in the Czech city of Komormi Hradek on 11 October, Czech Defense Minister Miloslav Vyborny, Hungarian Defense Minister Gyorgy Keliki, and Polish First Deputy Prime Minister Andrzej Karkoszka agreed to coordinate military policies and purchases in their bid to join the Western alliance, PAP reported. The three said they are not yet ready to make joint purchases but will explore that option in the future. In other news, France, Germany, and Poland have agreed to upgrade their annual meetings from the ministerial to the presidential level, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 October.

HAVEL SAYS GERMAN-CZECH FUND SHOULD PAY NAZI VICTIMS

In his weekly radio address on 12 October, Czech President Vaclav Havel said that part of the German-Czech Fund should be used to pay victims of Nazi atrocities, Czech media reported. He suggested that there are "very complex legal reasons" why those victims should not be paid directly by the German government.

CZECHS, SLOVAKS AGREE ON DEBT SETTLEMENT

Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and his Slovak counterpart, Vladimir Meciar, met in the Slovak city of Piestany on 10 October and agreed to an exchange of bank shares as part of a plan to settle bilateral debts, TASR reported. A Prague bank holds gold that Slovakia claims, and Slovakia owes some $7.3 million to the Czech Republic. The two sides will continue talks on the issue in Prague in December.

MOSCOW TO PAY OFF DEBT TO SLOVAKIA WITH ARMS

Following meetings with a visiting Slovak delegation on 9-10 October, the Russian government agreed to supply Slovakia with an S-300 PMU anti-aircraft system and other military equipment to pay off more of its $1.7 billion debt to Bratislava, Interfax and TASR reported on 11 October. The two sides also agreed to enter into longer term arrangements of this type through the year 2003. But Slovak Deputy Defense Minister Jan Gajdos, who headed the delegation to Moscow, stressed to TASR that no one should regard those arrangements as meaning "we are returning to the East." Over the past two years, Moscow has provided some $560 million in goods to reduce its debt.

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST NATIONALISM

Gyula Horn on 10 October told the Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg that the countries of East Central Europe must "turn their back on destructive nationalism," Hungarian media reported. Horn stressed that democracy and welfare go hand in hand and that the latter cannot be achieved without the former. Meeting with Horn in Strasbourg on 11 October, Romanian President Emil Constantinescu said some Hungarian opposition parties at times use rhetoric that serves to encourage nationalist forces in Romania.

HUNGARIAN ROW OVER SALE OF LAND TO FOREIGNERS

Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, the chairman of the Free Democrats' parliamentary faction, has called on Alliance of Young Democrats head Viktor Orban to apologize for his 9 October statement saying the Young Democrats have worked out an "emergency scenario" for the situation created by the decision to hold the referenda on NATO and land sale to foreign companies. Orban had also argued that such a situation was not covered by the constitution. Szent-Ivanyi said there is no constitutional crisis in Hungary and accused Orban of seeking to cause "chaos and anarchy."




BOSNIAN SERBS REFUSE TO SACK MEDIA CHIEFS

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic said in Pale on 11 October that his government rejects the "unreasonable demands" of the international community to fire the directors of hard-line Pale Radio and Television. Klickovic added that he hopes a negotiated solution can be found soon. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, says that Pale's media chiefs must go as a precondition for the return to Pale's control of four television transmitters under NATO control since 1 October. NATO took over the transmitters after Pale TV ignored repeated warnings not to air programs that depict the peacekeepers as an occupation force or the Hague-based war crimes tribunal as anti-Serbian.

GERMANY WANTS NEW BOSNIA PEACEKEEPING FORCE

Defense Minister Volker Ruhe told the latest issue of "Der Spiegel" that SFOR should be replaced by a smaller deterrence force, or DFOR, when SFOR's mandate runs out in June 1998. Ruhe added that "we have to be sure that there's no falling back to war and massacres," which, he continued, might occur if there were no peacekeepers present. Ruhe also said it is just a matter of time before Radovan Karadzic and other indicted war criminals are caught. Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told "Bild am Sonntag" on 12 October that peacekeepers remaining in Bosnia after June 1998 must have a clear mandate to catch war criminals.

EXPLOSION AT ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOOL IN SARAJEVO

Bosnian police on 12 October said that a land mine caused an explosion the previous day at a Catholic school in the capital. The school and nearby flats were damaged, but there were no casualties. The police added that the device was most likely set by the same professionals who planted mines in other incidents earlier this year, including during Pope John Paul II's visit in May. Muslim, Croatian, and Sarajevo-based Serbian political leaders condemned the latest bombing, "Oslobodjenje" reported. Observers said that Muslim extremists most likely planted the mine.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE GIVES CROATIA MIXED REVIEW

Representatives of the Council of Europe told President Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb on 12 October that the council is pleased with developments in eastern Slavonia, which Croatia is reintegrating peacefully after six years of Serbian control. The representatives added, however, that the council is concerned about the extent of Croatian government control over radio and television throughout the country, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. On 11 October, Tudjman told the council's summit meeting in Strasbourg that Croatia has an excellent record of implementing the Dayton agreements and that it is "the only [Dayton signatory] that is actively cooperating with the Hague tribunal." He blasted what he called bias against his country in some unnamed foreign media. Tudjman stressed that Croatia has played an important role for centuries in Central European history and culture.

CROATIA RECEIVES $80 MILLION LOAN TRANCHE FROM IMF

IMF representatives said in Washington on 10 October that the fund has released $80 million of a $486 million three-year loan. The move came after the U.S. expressed approval of Croatia's recent decision to send 10 indicted war criminals to The Hague. Meanwhile in Zagreb, "Vecernji list," which is close to the government, reported on 13 October that the U.S. has proposed that Croatia lease part of the Adriatic port of Ploce to Bosnia for 30 years. Ploce is Bosnia's natural outlet to the sea, but Sarajevo and Zagreb have been unable to reach an agreement on the port's future despite years of talks. Many Croats fear that any agreement on shared use of the port might lead to Bosnia's annexation of Ploce.

KOSOVO TALKS COLLAPSE

Talks in Pristina and Belgrade between ethnic Albanian leaders and Serbian officials ended in deadlock on 10 October. The negotiators sought to end the year-long impasse in implementing an agreement on restoring Albanian-language education in Kosovo. Observers in Pristina said that ethnic Albanian students are now likely to go ahead with a protest planned for 15 October to demand use of Pristina University buildings for classes run independently of the Serbian authorities. Serbian police broke up a student protest in Pristina on 1 October, in which at least 50 students were injured.

GRENADE FOUND NEAR TIRANA CITY HALL

Police on 10 October removed a grenade that a passer-by had discovered outside Tirana's municipal building, Albanian Television reported. It is unclear who planted the grenade, but the Democratic Party issued a statement calling the incident "an attempt to murder" Mayor Albert Brojka, who is a member of the Democrats. The party also accused the Socialist-led government of planning to "physically eliminate [its] political opponents." In other news, "Koha Jone" on 12 October quoted Tirana police chief Pashk Tusha as saying police have evidence that Leka Zogu, the claimant to the throne, planned to stage a coup following a mass rally in early July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 July 1997). Tusha added that Zogu had set up a shadow cabinet and had planned to march to the presidential palace to proclaim a monarchy.

ITALY BACKS ALBANIA DESPITE GOVERNMENT CRISIS

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told his Albanian counterpart, Fatos Nano, by telephone on 11 October that Rome will continue its support for Tirana despite Italy's current government crisis. Prodi resigned on 9 October but is staying on in a caretaker capacity. Rome is expected to host a meeting of European foreign ministers later in October to discuss the situation in Albania.

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT, UNIONS AGREE ON NO STRIKES

Party leaders of the ruling coalition and representatives of the country's two largest trade unions agreed in Tirana on 11 October to ban strikes until January 1998. The unions had threatened to strike following the recent decision to increase value-added tax to 20 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1997). To offset the hike, the government promised to raise monthly welfare payments to $4.20 and to increase pensions. The World Bank will support the move with $25 million. One union leader also stated that the government will create 55,000 new jobs in public works.

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER STRESSES INTENTION TO JOIN NATO

Addressing the North Atlantic Assembly in Bucharest on 10 October, Defense Minister Victor Babiuc said his country is "not even considering the possibility" that it will not be admitted to NATO either before or by 1999, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. U.S. Senator William Roth, the chairman of the assembly's permanent commission, told President Emil Constantinescu on 12 October that the assembly "will not rest" until Romania is admitted into an expanded NATO, Radio Bucharest reported. In other news, Vasile Stan, a deputy from the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, told a press conference in Bucharest on 10 October that he had been an informer for the Securitate. He said he had been forced to inform but had "never incriminated anybody."

ROMANIAN HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE

Some 10,000 high school students demonstrated in Bucharest on 10 October against new regulations on matriculation examinations. Similar demonstrations were reported in many other towns to protest the decision to have exams in seven subjects--instead of four, as was the case until now. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea told demonstrators in Arad that the government is examining the possibility of having the 1997 matriculation exams in four subjects only, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The students are also protesting against the new regulation providing for all oral examinations to be held on one day.

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN STRASBOURG

Addressing the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 10 October, Petru Lucinschi asked the council to help find a solution to the Transdniestrian conflict, Radio Bucharest and Infotag reported. He expressed the hope that the CIS summit in Chisinau on 23-24 October will give "new impetus" to the search for a solution. According to RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau, it is possible that the summit will endorse a document that the two sides agreed to in Moscow on 9 October. Reports on the provisions of that document are contradictory. The private station Romanian Pro-TV reported on 10 October that the document provides for the "de facto federalization" of Moldova. According to Infotag, the separatist region will have its own constitution, state symbols, budget, and broad economic prerogatives.

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS REFERENDUM PROPOSAL

The parliament on 10 October voted to reject the referenda proposed by the Socialist Unity-Edinstvo and the Communist faction on the sale and purchase of land and on raising the retirement age (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 1997). Communist leader Vladimir Voronin accused the legislature of "betraying the interests of the people." He also rejected allegations that his party had been able to collect the 250,000 signatures in support of the referendum by linking the two issues.

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ON FORMER COLLABORATORS

Bogomil Bonev told a press conference in Sofia on 11 October that investigations have revealed that 25 high-ranking officials were former secret police informers. Bonev said names will be made public within two weeks if the officials do not resign before then, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. He added that some of the 25 whose names appeared on the list have tried to justify their past, claiming that they had no other choice. Bonev also said that President Petar Stoyanov and Vice President Todor Kavaldzhiev insisted that they themselves be screened, although such action is not required by the law. The investigation showed they had no links with the former secret services, the interior minister said.

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO SOFIA AGAIN REJECTS SPY ACCUSATIONS

At a press conference on 10 October, Leonid Kerestedzhiyants again rejected allegations that he is involved in attempts to set up a spy network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997), according to RFE/RL's Sofia bureau. Responding to media reports on his meetings with pro-Russian politicians and businessmen, Kerestedzhiyants said they are just "old friends" with whom he shares an "interest in the arts." He added that the "anti-Russia campaign" now under way in Bulgaria is reminiscent of "McCarthyism." Also on 10 October, ITAR-TASS reported that the Russian State Duma has instructed a number of its committees to prepare debates on Russian-Bulgarian relations. The directives were issued at the suggestion of Vladimir Gusev, chairman of the Committee on Industry, Construction, Transport, and Energy.




YABLOKO SEEN AS YELTSIN'S TOUGHEST OPPONENT


by Floriana Fossato

The State Duma's recent debate on the 1998 budget shows that the reformist bloc Yabloko, rather than the Communists or the nationalists, is the most uncompromising opponent of the Russian government's spending plan.

On 9 October, the Duma voted against the draft budget in the first reading and pledged to soon hold a no confidence vote in the government. Communist Party legislators joined pro-government deputies to vote 326 to 13 to reject the draft but agreed to create a trilateral commission, composed of members of the cabinet and of both chambers of the parliament, to revise the budget proposal. Political analysts in Moscow say that in the budget debate, the Communists used tough rhetoric but backed off from some of their demands.

Analysts also say that the Yabloko faction, led by economist Grigorii Yavlinskii, is the only group to put up uncompromising opposition to President Boris Yeltsin and his government. Foreseeing the outcome of the budget debate, Yavlinskii on 8 October had questioned the logic of the Communists' strategy, which he called "absurd." Yavlinskii told RFE/RL that his faction opposes the 1998 budget because it is linked to the approval of a new tax code, which, he said, will not decrease the tax burden and therefore will not help collect revenues.

Yevgenii Yasin, an influential economist and a minister without portfolio, told RFE/RL that much of Yavlinskii's criticism of the government is fair, adding that "it is impossible to change the course of economic reform now." He said "if Yavlinskii had accepted to be part of the government, he would have realized this is the case."

Before the 9 October vote, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov also had tough words to describe his faction's stance on both the draft budget and the tax code. He said the Communists have no confidence in the "socio-economic course" taken by Yeltsin and his government, as it is "doomed to failure." He also said he does not fear Yeltsin's recent veiled threats to dissolve the uncooperative Duma and call new parliamentary elections. The previous day, the Duma had approved a non-binding resolution declaring the government's performance during the first nine months of this year unsatisfactory.

Also on 8 October, Communist legislators gave the first sign that they were ready to cooperate with the government by voting against a Yabloko motion to include a no confidence vote on the session's agenda. The move came before Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin addressed the Duma on the government's performance and pledged the cabinet is ready to compromise with deputies in order to avoid the draft budget's rejection and a no confidence vote.

First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said after the vote on the budget draft that since the government and the parliament would now be working together on the budget, a no confidence vote is "unlikely." If approved, a no confidence vote would still be non-binding. But if the Duma voted no confidence twice within three months, Yeltsin would have to decide whether to dismiss his cabinet or the Duma. New parliamentary elections would follow if he disbanded the lower house.

Zyuganov stressed on 9 October that the decision on a no confidence vote had not been dropped altogether but simply postponed until the following week. In the past, the Communist faction has backed down from threats of a no confidence vote. Many commentators believe that behind-the-scenes compromises will lead to the same outcome this year.

Yeltsin and his government seemed triumphant after the vote. Speaking to journalists upon his arrival in Strasbourg for the Council of Europe summit, the president predicted that "now everything will be in order with the budget." Chubais called the outcome of the vote a "great victory for common sense and a defeat for extremism."

Rory McFarquhar, an analyst with the Russian-European center for Economic Policy, told RFE/RL that "everyone knows the Communists oppose Yeltsin and his government." He added that the Communists use threats of no confidence votes "to gain as much as they can" from the budget debate, out of the political necessity to stay afloat. But he also said Yabloko's position that slashing taxes will boost revenues is unrealistic at the moment. Such a move could raise inflation, McFarquhar commented.

Michael McFaul, a senior associate at the Moscow Carnegie Center, wrote recently that the Communist Party looks increasingly marginalized since last year's presidential election. He notes that, with its established network of grassroots regional organizations and its strong identification with democratic principles, Yabloko could benefit from the "end of polarized politics" and emerge as a powerful parliamentary opposition in the next elections. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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