Accessibility links

Newsline - December 9, 1997




'COUNCIL OF FOUR' MEET IN KREMLIN

President Boris Yeltsin again urged parliament to pass the 1998 budget during a 9 December meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin's chief of staff Valentin Yumashev also attended the meeting of the "council of four," who discussed preparations for roundtable talks on the land code, scheduled for 11 December. Presidential, government, and parliamentary representatives will take part in the roundtable talks. Personnel changes in the government were reportedly not discussed at the "Council of Four" meeting. However, ITAR- TASS quoted Seleznev as saying that Yeltsin agreed to consider a proposal, to be prepared by Seleznev and Stroev, on procedures for forming a government that would have the support of a majority in parliament. LB

GOVERNMENT REPORT TO YELTSIN POSTPONED AGAIN

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 8 December that the government's report to Yeltsin has been postponed until January 1998 at the earliest, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The report was originally scheduled for 1 December, then postponed for a week to 10 days. Yastrzhembskii said a second delay was imposed because Yeltsin wants to hear the government assess its work for all of 1997. The president is expected to reshuffle the cabinet after hearing the government report, particularly if, as appears likely, the government fails to pay all wage arrears to state employees by the end of the year. LB

SPOKESMAN CLARIFIES YELTSIN'S INTENTIONS ON LAW ON GOVERNMENT

Yastrzhembskii also announced on 8 December that Yeltsin intends to sign the law on the government, but only after parliament has approved a package of amendments to that law, Russian news agencies reported. While addressing Duma deputies on 5 December, Yeltsin said he would sign the law on the government. At that time, he appeared to be consenting to sign the version of the law that has been passed twice by the parliament. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 December, the amendments demanded by the Kremlin would remove, among other things, a provision granting the Duma the right to confirm deputy prime ministers. (Currently the lower house of the parliament has the right to confirm only the prime minister.) Yeltsin's public statements are frequently modified by spokesmen or other top officials. LB

ZYUGANOV ALLY DEFENDS COMMUNISTS ON BUDGET VOTE

Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin defended the Communist Party stance regarding the recent budget vote in an interview with ITAR-TASS on 8 December. Podberezkin, an adviser to Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, was one of 29 members of the Communist Duma faction who voted to approve the budget in the first reading on 5 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). Contrary to those who depict the vote as evidence of a "schism" or "retreat" within the Communist Party, Podberezkin argued that the budget vote reflected the "democratic" practice of the Communist faction, which, he said, is willing to take minority views into account. Podberezkin argued that Yeltsin's visit to the Duma shortly before the vote influenced the position of several Communist deputies who might otherwise have voted against the budget. LB

CAUSE OF PLANE CRASH STILL UNKNOWN

Fuel samples and black boxes from the military cargo plane that crashed in Irkutsk on 6 December have been sent to Moscow for analysis, RFE/RL's correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 8 December. Investigators are concentrating on four scenarios that could explain why at least two, and possibly all four, of the plane's engines malfunctioned. Pending the results of the investigation, the Defense Ministry has banned all flights of the An-124 military cargo planes, although the ban does not apply to civilian An-124 aircraft, Russian news agencies reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 December, the plane that crashed in Irkutsk was scheduled to have an overhaul earlier this year, but the overhaul was never carried out. Meanwhile, families whose apartments were destroyed in the crash are to receive 50 million rubles ($8,400) from the Irkutsk Oblast budget, along with housing vouchers from the Finance Ministry. LB

NEXT CLINTON-YELTSIN SUMMIT TO BE HELD AFTER START-2 RATIFICATION

Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said on 8 December that the next summit between Russian President Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton, to be held in Russia sometime in 1998, should take place only after the Russian parliament ratifies the START-2 arms control treaty, Russian news agencies reported. The U.S. Congress has ratified START-2, which was signed in 1993, but there is considerable opposition to ratification in the Russian State Duma. Yeltsin and Clinton are to discuss negotiations on the START-3 treaty during their next summit. LB

FSB QUESTIONS U.S. BUSINESSMAN CHARGED WITH SPYING

Investigators from the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 8 December questioned U.S. businessman Richard Bliss, who was charged with espionage on 5 December, Interfax reported. No details about the interrogation were released. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists that the Kremlin does not plan to get involved in the FSB's investigation of Bliss, Reuters reported. Yastzhembskii also discounted suggestions that the case against Bliss, who works for the telecommunications firm Qualcomm, could deter foreign investment in Russia. Earlier in the day, U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley called on Russian authorities to drop charges against Bliss, warning that the case could have a "chilling effect" on U.S. investment. Some 28 U.S. Senators signed a letter to Yeltsin saying the charges against Bliss pose "a major threat to the future of U.S.-Russian relations," AFP reported. LB

GOVERNMENT PROPOSES SALES TAX

The government has submitted to the Duma a law that would establish a sales tax of 5 percent on retail purchases of alcohol and tobacco products and 3 percent on other goods and paid services, "Segodnya" reported on 9 December. Food, medicine, and children's products would be exempt from the new sales tax, as would payments for rent, medical services and utilities. The proposed sales tax would not replace or affect the value-added tax of 20 percent already levied on most Russian goods. The Duma is expected to consider the law on the sales tax on 17 December, the same day deputies are scheduled to vote on other government-backed tax laws. LB

NEW PRIMORE LEGISLATURE TO BE LESS LOYAL TO GOVERNOR

Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko has enjoyed the firm support of the Primore legislature in recent years, but the situation will change dramatically following 7 December legislative elections in the krai. Candidates backed by the Communist Party won 14 out of the 39 seats in the legislature, and supporters of Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov--Nazdratenko's bitter rival--won 8 seats (all in Vladivostok districts). Figures loyal to Nazdratenko will now hold only a minority of seats in the legislature. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Aleksandra Zolotova, a sociologist in Primore, said Cherepkov's allies did surprisingly well, particularly in light of the fact that recent opinion polls in Vladivostok have put Cherepkov's approval rating in the 12-15 percent range. LB

HALF OF SEATS IN KRASNOYARSK LEGISLATURE UNFILLED

In Krasnoyarsk Krai, which has a mixed electoral system, a winner could be declared in only one out of 21 single-member districts following 7 December elections, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Izvestiya" reported on 9 December. The winner was Anatolii Bykov, the controversial chairman of the board of directors of the Krasnoyarsk aluminum factory. Runoff elections will be held in the other 20 single-member districts. Meanwhile, 20 seats in the Krasnoyarsk legislature were allocated using a proportional representation system. Those seats were divided only among parties that gained more than five percent of the party-list vote: eight for a Communist- led alliance (24 percent of the vote), five for Aleksandr Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement (14 percent), four for a bloc representing the oblast authorities (13.5 percent), and three for Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko movement (7.5 percent), "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported. LB

INDEPENDENTS DO WELL IN SAMARA...

In the 7 December elections in Samara Oblast, candidates representing the Communist Party or allied groups won four out of 25 seats in the legislature, while candidates running as independents won the other 21 seats, Russian news agencies reported. The independents included eight officials in the regional or local governments, seven directors of factories or companies and four businessmen. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov was reportedly concerned that the new legislature would be less willing to support his initiatives. As a result, he sought to hurry approval of the oblast's 1998 budget. The budget was passed by the Samara legislature on 5 December, during the final session prior to the election, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 December. LB

...AND IN OTHER REGIONS

Although 24 out of 25 seats in the Murmansk Oblast legislature were filled in 7 December elections, just four seats were won by candidates representing political parties, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 December. Of those, the Communist Party gained two seats, and Our Home Is Russia and Yabloko each gained one. The majority of the winners were entrepreneurs. In Khabarovsk Krai, winners were determined in 23 out of the 25 seats in the legislature, and 14 seats were won by prominent businessmen or by regional and local officials, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 December. Communist-backed candidates gained eight seats in Khabarovsk. LB

COMMUNISTS DO WELL IN PENZA

The Communist Party gained a working majority in the Penza Oblast legislature following 7 December elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. Communist-backed candidates won more than a third of the 45 seats, and some 10 other successful candidates are considered likely to cooperate with the Communists in the legislature. LB

LDPR COMES UP SHORT IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia was wiped out in the regional elections held on 7 December, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. Zhirinovsky's party did not win a single seat in the legislatures of Khabarovsk and Krasnoyarsk Krais, or in Samara and Murmansk Oblasts, despite fielding numerous candidates in all of those regions. The result is consistent with the party's electoral history. The LDPR fielded 184 candidates in single-member districts during the 1995 elections to the State Duma-- more than any other party. However, only one LDPR candidate won a seat in a single-member district. Similarly, the LDPR has contested many gubernatorial races but met with success only once, in Pskov Oblast in November 1996. LB

NEMTSOV PROPOSES CREATING ALTERNATIVE "OPEC."

Following a meeting with Mexican government officials in Mexico City on 8 December, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told journalists that he favors creating an organization to protect the interests of oil- producing countries that are not members of OPEC, Reuters reported. Mexican Energy Minister Luis Tellez commented that Nemtsov's proposal "merits study." Russia, a non- member of OPEC, is the world's third largest oil producer. In January 1995, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev had suggested that Russia and Kazakhstan might form the nucleus of an alternative organization of oil- producing countries. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin similarly advocated in May 1996 that the CIS create its own OPEC-style organization. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DELEGATES SOME POWERS

Aslan Maskhadov, who under the Chechen Constitution also serves as Prime Minister, announced on 8 December that he has delegated to acting First Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basaev responsibility for chairing cabinet sessions, reviewing correspondence and management of the economy, according to Interfax. In February 1997, Maskhadov offered Basaev, whom he had defeated in the presidential elections, the post of first deputy prime minister. Basaev resigned from that post in July but was again designated acting First Deputy Prime Minister in November during Maskhadov's trips to Turkey and the U.S. Maskhadov has repeatedly denied rumors of tensions between himself and Basaev, and conceded that he "cannot work without him." LF

TATAR PRESIDENT SUPPORTS RIGHT TO SELL, BUY LAND

Mintimer Shaimiev stated on 8 December that the lack of the right to the free sale and purchase of land is one of the weakest points of the Russian agrarian legislation, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Addressing an inter- regional conference on land legislation in Kazan, Shaimiev argued that the Land Code adopted by the Russian State Duma contradicts both the Constitution and the Civil Code of the Russian Federation. He added that Tatarstan will adopt legislation permitting the private ownership of land no later than January 1998. Saratov Oblast has already enacted such a law. Conference participants called on the federal authorities to adopt a framework for land legislation that would permit individual federation subjects to adopt their own specific land laws, rather than endorse the code adopted by the Duma, according to "Segodnya" on 9 December. LF



GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN LEADERS MEET

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met on 8 December with visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, Russian agencies reported. The two men discussed bilateral relations, including the tensions that have arisen as a result of the moving of a Russian frontier post into Georgian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). Serov handed Shevardnadze a response from Russian President Yeltsin to Shevardnadze's letter of 5 December protesting that move. Serov subsequently told journalists that the situation on the Russian-Georgian frontier "is not a conflict but a misunderstanding that must be cleared up," according to ITAR-TASS. In his traditional Monday radio address, Shevardnadze said on 8 December that the moving of the border post may have been undertaken by unspecified Russian circles interested in exacerbating relations between Georgia and the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia, Interfax reported. LF

NEW RUSSIAN PLOT TO KILL SHEVARDNADZE?

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 8 December, Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliament commission for defense and security, claimed that the confrontation on the Russian-Georgian frontier was masterminded by Russian security services in order to destabilize the internal situation in Georgia. He said that unnamed Russian forces are plotting to assassinate Shevardnadze in order to expedite the return to power in Georgia of pro-communist forces, and are trying to discredit other leading Georgian political figures, including parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania. Adamia added that the latest demands by the Meskhetians to be allowed to return to Georgia, whence they were deported by Stalin in November 1944, is part of this campaign. Also on 8 December, parliament deputy Eldar Shengelaya said the Georgian parliament will not ratify the September 1995, bilateral treaty permitting Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia, Interfax reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES LUSTRATION

Former Georgian Interior Minister Eduard Shevardnadze categorically opposes opening KGB archives dating from the Stalinist period and lists of KGB agents, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 December. Shevardnadze argued that during 70 years of Communist rule "tens of thousands" of people were constrained to collaborate with the KGB. He said that opening archives "at this juncture" would inevitably give rise to "a new wave of resistance, mistrust and hatred" and would "reopen old wounds." LF

FORMER SOUTH OSSETIAN PRIME MINISTER ARRESTED

Oleg Teziev, who served from 1991-3 as Prime Minister of the secessionist Republic of South Ossetia in northern Georgia, was arrested on 5 December in Vladikavkaz for illegal possession of a firearm, RFE/RL's correspondent in the North Ossetian capital reported on 8 December. Teziev, now a businessman living in Poland, was detained by the Russian Prosecutor's office in connection with a June 1992 attack on a military store in Vladikavkaz. Several people were killed in the attack. Teziev was subsequently released. He is also implicated, together with former South Ossetian Supreme Soviet deputy Chairman Alan Chochiev, in large-scale embezzlement from the region's budget. Moreover, he supports one of 11 candidates challenging incumbent Akhsarbek Galazov in the presidential elections scheduled for 18 January, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 December. LF

ARMENIAN INFORMATION DEPARTMENT HEAD DISMISSED

Garegin Chukazizian, the chief of the government's Department of Information and Book Publishing, was fired on 6 December following the 4 December one-day strike by most of Armenia's print and electronic media. Chukazizian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 8 December that the strike means that the media have lost their confidence in him, and that it was organized by unspecified forces that sought his dismissal. Also on 8 December, the Council of Mass Media Organizations of Armenia issued a statement expressing concern that Chukazizian's dismissal will delay still further a solution to the media's problems, and denying that the strike was in any way directed against him personally, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

OIC FOREIGN MINISTERS ADOPT RESOLUTION ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Meeting in Tehran on 6-7 December prior to the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, foreign and deputy foreign ministers of 49 OIC member states on 7 December adopted a resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported from the Iranian capital on 8 December. No details of the resolution were divulged. Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev told journalists in Baku on 8 December prior to his departure to attend the summit that the OIC has condemned "Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan" several times in the past, and expressed the hope that the summit would again affirm its support for Azerbaijan, Interfax reported. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VETOES MEDIA LAW

Askar Akayev has vetoed the Media Law passed by the parliament on 11 November and asked parliament to make several amendments to it, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service reported on 8 December. Presidential spokesman Kanybek Imanaliyev told journalists in Bishkek that Akayev had said that the law "considerably curtails media rights and freedoms." The Kyrgyz president specifically objected to the article of the law that forbids journalists to publish information on ongoing legal proceedings until a verdict has been handed down. The law also limits the permitted volume of advertising media outlets may contain and pegs the rate of tax newspapers are required to pay to the size of their print runs, regardless of how many copies are actually sold. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION TO GET 14 GOVERNMENT POSTS

The Tajik leadership and United Tajik Opposition representatives have reached agreement on which government ministries the opposition will head in a new government, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 December. They include the posts of first deputy prime minister and deputy prime minister, ministers of defense, agriculture, and foreign economic relations, plus the heads of the Customs Committee, the Committee for the Oil and Gas Industry, the Committee for the Meat and Dairy Industry and the Committee for Industrial Affairs. The Democratic Party of Tajikistan will head the Ministries of Labor and of Land Reclamation and Water Resources, plus the Committee for Precious Metals and the State Technical Oversight Committee. The Islamic Renaissance Party will receive two government posts. LF




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT UNLIKELY TO BAN DEATH PENALTY

Even though Ukraine has pledged to end capital punishment and President Leonid Kuchma has used his clemency powers to prevent any executions since March 1997, the Verkhovna Rada is unlikely to vote to abolish the death penalty prior to the March 1998 elections, parliament chairman Oleksandr Moroz told representatives of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on 8 December, Interfax reported. According to Moroz, the death penalty is simply too popular with voters for parliamentarians to be able to vote against it. PG

PLANS FOR BALTIC DEFENSE COLLEGE TAKE SHAPE

An international working group has developed plans to open a common Baltic Defense College in the Estonian city of Tartu in 1999, BNS reported on 8 December. The new college, which may be headed by a Danish colonel, will train eight officers from each of the three Baltic states each year. PG

ESTONIA SEEKS INTEGRATION, NOT ASSIMILATION OF RUSSIAN SPEAKERS

Prime Minister Mart Siimann said on 8 December that his government was not putting any pressure on Russian speakers to join Estonian society, BNS reported. "That's why we call the inclusion of non-ethnic Estonians into the life of the society here integration and not assimilation." Siimann made his remarks on Estonian state radio's Russian-language channel Radio-4. He also noted that his cabinet planned to discuss amendments to the country's citizenship law that would among other things automatically give Estonian citizenship to all children born in Estonia as well as to their parents if the latter have lived in Estonia for at least five years. PG

ESTONIA MUST CUT AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES TO JOIN WTO

World Trade Organization officials have suggested that Estonia must cut its subsidies to agricultural producers in order to join that body, BNS reported on 8 December. WTO standards call for no more than five percent of direct subsidies; the Estonian government has offered to cut its subsidies to eight percent. But despite continuing disagreement on this point, Estonia and the WTO have reached agreement on many other issues during their three years of talks. PG

LATVIA EXTENDS OSCE MISSION'S MANDATE

The Latvian government has extended the mandate to July 1998 for the mission in Latvia of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Latvian foreign ministry told BNS on 8 December. Neither the Latvian authorities nor the OSCE see any crisis that the mission must monitor; instead, both see this mission as a confidence building measure. PG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES LANDSBERGIS BOOK.

In an open letter published in "Lietuvos Rytas" on 6 December, President Algirdas Brazauskas sharply criticized a book by parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis for overstating the latter's contributions and minimizing those of others, BNS reported 8 December. "Perhaps numerous authors of memoirs forget that many people participated in those events, working side by side and together," Brazauskas said of Landsbergis's volume, "Breakthrough on the Baltic." PG

EU MINISTERS ADOPT EXPANSION COMPROMISE

The European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels on 8 December and reached a compromise on extending the union into CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. They agreed to hold a meeting on 31 March 1998 to launch the expansion process. The meeting would be attended by Cyprus and 10 prospective members from CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. Detailed negotiations would then follow with the six most developed countries-the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Cyprus. The ministers met ahead of the EU summit on 12 December in Luxembourg. The summit will officially adopt the decision on the union's expansion policy. MS

POLAND SETS UP CLAIM SYSTEM FOR NAZI VICTIMS

Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz issued on 8 December procedures for the owners and their heirs of more than $330,000 held in Swiss banks in accounts established by Polish citizens killed in the Holocaust and World War II, PAP reported. Claimants will have to provide documents validated by the courts to claim these funds. Switzerland had transferred the funds to Poland in 1960 and 1975, but the communist government had not refunded it at that time. PG

EUROPEAN UNION INSPECTS POLAND'S MEAT INDUSTRY

EU representatives launched an inspection of Poland's meat industry to determine whether it conforms to EU standards, the agricultural ministry told PAP on 8 December. This inspection began only a week after the EU had banned the importation of Polish dairy products. Polish officials acknowledged that a similar threat may hang over the country's meat exports. PG

HAVEL OFFICIALLY DESIGNATES LUX TO FORM NEW GOVERNMENT ...

President Vaclav Havel on 8 December officially named Christian Democratic Party leader Josef Lux to lead the talks on forming a new government coalition, Reuters reported (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). After meeting Lux, Havel told a news conference at the Prague Castle that he hoped a new government would be formed as early as next week, and could face a vote of confidence in parliament in January. Havel also said he hoped a new premier would be named soon after the extraordinary congress of the Civic Democratic Party scheduled for 13-14 December. MS

... AS KLAUS EXPRESSES SKEPTICISM

But outgoing premier Vaclav Klaus said that "under the present circumstances" Lux "would have a real difficult task" to build a coalition capable of winning a confidence vote in parliament. He said such a government had few chances of surviving in power until the elections scheduled for 2000 on the mere promise of the opposition Social Democratic Party to refrain from voting no confidence. He told CTK this was "an attempt at squaring the circle-- some sort of a hybrid cat-dog which in our country cannot exist." MS




MAJOR BOSNIA CONFERENCE OPENS IN BONN

Representatives of 51 states and 21 international organizations began a review of the implementation of the Dayton agreement in Bonn on 9 December. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel warned that the international community will help those who observe their obligations under Dayton and punish those who do not. He also called for broader powers for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia. Kinkel said that Westendorp needs a stronger mandate to make decisions that the leaderships of the three ethnic groups have been unwilling or unable to take. Very few of the provisions of the Dayton agreement regarding civilian affairs have been put into practice. PM

CROATS, SERBS DO NOT WANT STRONGER MANDATE FOR WESTENDORP

Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency, told a RFE/RL correspondent by telephone on 8 December that the Croats fear that any change in Westendorp's mandate would constitute an inadmissible revision of the Dayton agreement. Zubak added, moreover, that the Croats cannot accept any measures aimed at making Bosnia a unitary state. In Pale, Bosnian Serb hard-liners rejected any new powers for Westendorp. And on a related theme, Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said that Bosnia will never be a multi-ethnic country again, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 9 December. PM

SILAJDZIC WARNS AGAINST DIVISION OF BOSNIA

Muslim Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic said in Berlin on 8 December that the international community's policies are helping to divide Bosnia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. Silajdzic argued that Dayton has given too many powers to the Republika Srpska and to the mainly Muslim and Croat Federation. He charged that these two governments will use their powers in areas such as privatization or refugee return to help cement the country's division into two irreconcilable halves. PM

KARADZIC PARTY REJECTS BOSNIAN ELECTION RESULTS

Momcilo Krajisnik, the leading spokesman for hard-line leader Radovan Karadzic, said in Pale on 8 December that he is "shocked" at the official results of the parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). Krajisnik charged that the returns are based on fraud and demanded that they be declared invalid. The results showed that his party and its allies have lost their absolute majority in parliament. PM

U.S. PRAISES BOSNIAN SERB "PLURALISM."

A State Department spokesman said in Washington on 8 December that the parliamentary election returns indicate a trend toward greater pluralism in Bosnian Serb politics. He urged the parties to form a broadly based government and work together constructively so that all institutions in the Republika Srpska can function effectively. The spokesman stressed that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic can and should play an active role in promoting political moderation and encouraging the implementation of the Dayton agreements. PM

SECOND ROUND FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

Election authorities in Belgrade said on 8 December that the previous day's presidential election had a sufficiently large turnout to be valid but that no candidate won an absolute majority. The two leading candidates, the Socialist Milan Milutinovic and the Radical Vojislav Seselj, will face each other in a runoff on 21 December (see "End Note"). Milutinovic has about 42 percent of the total number of votes counted so far, while Seselj has 33 percent. The Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic, whom the Vienna daily "Die Presse" of 9 December calls "the professional loser of Serbian politics," took only 17 percent. Draskovic called on his backers to boycott the runoff, BETA news agency reported from Belgrade. PM

U.S. KEEPS SANCTIONS ON BELGRADE

The U.S. embassy announced in the Yugoslav capital on 8 December that President Bill Clinton will recommend to Congress that economic sanctions against Yugoslavia remain in force for another year, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. U.S. authorities say that the sanctions will remain in place until Milosevic cooperates with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, respects human rights in Kosovo, and negotiates seriously about dividing up the former Yugoslavia's debts and assets among all successor states. Milosevic maintains that his rump Yugoslavia alone is heir to the rights and property of Tito's state. PM

PILOT ERROR CAUSED SERBIAN PLANE CRASH

A government investigator said in Belgrade on 8 December that pilot error caused the crash of a JAT Yugoslav Airlines trainer at Pristina airport on 26 November. He ruled out any other possibility, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported. The clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army claimed that it shot down the Cesna 310 aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 1997). PM

DRUGS EASY TO GET IN BELGRADE SCHOOLS

The independent daily "Nasa Borba" wrote on 9 December in its series on Serbian youth and drug use that drugs can be had in all the capital's high schools. The paper's survey showed that 63 percent of students recently polled said they knew how to obtain drugs. Only 12 percent of the respondents claimed to have actually taken illegal substances, but psychologist Zorica Panic said that she believes that the actual figure is much higher because many students would not admit drug use even in a poll. Marijuana, hashish, and to a lesser extent hard drugs have a long history in the former Yugoslavia, but drug use has skyrocketed amid the turmoil and dislocation of recent years. PM

CROATIA SENTENCES SERB TO 20 YEARS

A court in Osijek sentenced Ivica Vuletic on 8 December to 20 years in prison for war crimes he committed in the Vukovar area in 1991, "Vecernji list" reported. Vuletic, who is from Pancevo in Serbia, carried out atrocities against prisoners of war, hospital patients, and various civilians. PM

FASCISTS TAKING OVER ROMANIAN ANTI-COMMUNIST MEMORIAL ORGANIZATION?

A meeting of the newly founded "Foundation of Anti-Communist Armed Resistance" in Bucharest on 6 December witnessed an attempt by Iron Guardists (the interwar Romanian fascist organization) and their young followers to take over the foundation, the daily "Romania libera" reported on 8 December. President Emil Constantinescu attended the meeting and addressed a message to the participants, but was not present when turmoil broke out as Iron Guardists, stressing that their members had made up "90 percent of the anti-communist resistance fighters," booed proposals to elect as honorary members several anti-communist dissidents, whom they described as "anti-Romanian." The daily reported that a portrait of Iron Guard leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu was displayed in the hall and Iron Guard literature was sold on the premises. Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu was among those present and accepted honorary membership in the foundation. MS

ROMANIAN COALITION PARTNER WANTS TO CHANGE CONSTITUTION

Prominent leaders of the National Liberal Party (PNL), a member of the ruling coalition, on 8 December said the constitution should be changed. PNL leader Mircea Ionescu-Quintus said the country should move to a parliamentary system from the present semi- presidential one. PNL Senator Emil Tocaci proposed that the bi-cameral system be dropped in favor of a uni- cameral one, in order to speed up the legislation process, Mediafax reported. They spoke on Romania's Constitution Day. In other news, in a first manifestation of political regionalism, the mayor of Iasi, Constantin Simirad, on 8 December resigned as vice-chairman of the Party of Civic Alliance, announcing he intends to set up a political party representing the Moldavians, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

IMF CHIEF NEGOTIATOR IN ROMANIA

Poul Thomsen on 8 December met with the new Romanian Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mircea Ciumara, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They discussed the further restructuring of the economy. Thomsen is also scheduled to meet Premier Victor Ciorbea and the new Finance Minister Daniel Daianu. In other news, the National Commission for Statistics on 8 December announced that the inflation rate in November was 4.3 percent. MS

BULGARIA TO BAN EX-COMMUNISTS FROM CIVIL SERVICE

Deputy premier Vesselin Metodiev on 8 December told journalists that Bulgaria will ban former senior communist officials and informers of the secret police from holding top government and civil service positions for five years under a draft law approved on the same day by the government, Reuters reported. The draft is to be approved by the parliament. In other news, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported that Vice President Todor Kavaldzhiev said his statement on replacing monuments to the Red Army with monuments to the victims of communism has been "misinterpreted." (See "RFE/RL Newsline,," 2 December 1997). Kavaldzhiev, who spoke ahead of a visit to Moscow of President Petar Stoyanov scheduled for 18-20 December, said he was suggesting that monuments commemorating the victims of communism be erected alongside monuments to the Red Army. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER ON NEW FINANCIAL POLICE

Ivan Kostov on 8 December said the new "financial police unit" will be operational no later than mid-1998 (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1997). He said fighting corruption is the top priority of his government, together with an administrative reform of state agencies. Kostov said that "only after these priorities show success, will I turn my personal attention to the privatization process as the next strategic goal," an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. The opposition Socialist Party strongly opposes the idea of setting up the financial police, calling it an effort to "revive the police state." It uses the same argument to oppose the government's plan to give permanent status to a parliamentary anti-crime commission, widely referred to as the "Anti-Mafia Commission." MS

IMF, WORLD BANK ON NEW BULGARIAN BANK LICENSES

Bulgarian National Bank governor Svetoslav Gavriiski on 8 December said the IMF and the World Bank recommend that no new bank licenses be issued in Bulgaria for one year, the RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. He said the two international financing bodies say resources from the state-owned banks that Bulgaria plans to sell next year should not be diverted away. Gavriiski said that despite the recommendation, the National Bank might still consider issuing licenses. MS




MILOSEVIC STILL SHAKY AFTER SERBIAN VOTE


by Patrick Moore

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's candidate Milan Milutinovic holds a comfortable lead in initial returns in the Serbian presidential elections held on December 7. Problems are far from over, however, for the wily Yugoslav leader.

Serbian voters went to the polls to elect a president for the third time in as many months. The first round held on September 21 failed to yield a clear winner, while the subsequent runoff on October 5 was invalid because less than 50 percent of the electorate turned out.

The entire campaign was, moreover, characterized by two trends. The first was voter apathy, which drew on the popular feeling that no change of government could quickly rescue Serbia from crime, poverty, and corruption.

The second development was that some ethnic minorities -- most notably the Kosovar Albanians -- and most opposition parties boycotted the electoral process. The Albanians charged that none of the candidates took a stand on Kosovo that the Albanians could support. The opposition, led by Zoran Djindjic and Vesna Pesic, argued that conditions for a free and fair vote were not present.

The result was that the sole major opposition candidate, the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic, finished third in the September and December ballots. The main issue, however, was whether Milosevic's candidate -- Zoran Lilic in the first two rounds, Milutinovic in the third -- would defeat the ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party.

Seselj led paramilitary groups in the Croatian and Bosnian conflicts. He supports "ethnic cleansing" and rejects the Dayton peace treaty. Former U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman calls Seselj "a fascist" in his memoirs, and many human rights activists have demanded that Seselj be indicted for war crimes.

Seselj nonetheless led Lilic in the October vote. Fearful that Seselj might defeat Milutinovic and win the presidency outright on December 7, Milosevic cranked up his powerful propaganda machine to discredit Seselj. Milutinovic's campaign, for its part, stressed his experience as Yugoslav foreign minister, even if he has few successes to show.

The contest, however, has not been decided. Latest figures give Milutinovic about 1.6 million votes to Seselj's 1.2 million. But Milutinovic failed to win an absolute majority of votes cast, and a runoff will be held between him and Seselj on December 21. There is thus still a chance that Seselj could emerge as Serbia's next president.

That, however, may not be likely. Seselj has frequently charged that he has been the victim of electoral fraud. It should also be recalled that Milosevic and Seselj are both skilled politicians who have made use of each other in the past. It is not to be excluded that they might make yet another deal if electoral deadlock continues.

Meanwhile, Milosevic can continue to dominate the Belgrade power scene. He has, however, at least an additional three problems that could try even his well- honed political skills.

The first is the power struggle among the Bosnian Serbs. This confrontation pits hard-liner Radovan Karadzic against Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who pays at least lip-service to the Dayton agreements. Milosevic signed Dayton on behalf of the Serbs and, like Plavsic, hopes to use his formal acceptance of the treaty in order to end his international isolation. But Milosevic and Plavsic have been openly declared enemies for years. And the mafia-like networks that underlie the Milosevic power structure, moreover, are closely interlocked with those supporting Karadzic. So far, it is not clear which side Milosevic's allies will support in the newly elected Bosnian Serb legislature.

The second issue is Montenegro and its relationship with Belgrade and the Yugoslav federation. This year has seen the rise to power in the mountainous republic of a reform-minded leadership under President-elect Milo Djukanovic, who wants home rule. Djukanovic and the reformers argue that Milosevic's continuing international isolation is crippling the Montenegrin economy, which traditionally relies on tourism and shipping to earn hard currency. Djukanovic handily defeated Milosevic's ally Momir Bulatovic in the 19 October presidential vote.

Last but not least is Milosevic's hardy perennial, Kosovo. He has kept the restive mainly ethnic Albanian province under tight police control since he abolished its autonomy in 1989. The moderate Albanian leadership under shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, meanwhile, continues to advocate non-violence and seeks to attract foreign support. Adem Demaci of the Parliamentary Party and some other politicians, however, argue that Rugova's tactics have gotten nowhere. They recently set up the Democratic Forum to explore alternative solutions.

Meanwhile, the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) continues to direct violence against Serbian officials, police, and ethnic Albanians it considers collaborators. The UCK has become increasingly bold in its tactics, and some of its members recently appeared for the first time in public. In the last analysis, it is possible that the Bosnian Serbs, the Montenegrins, or the Kosovars could present Milosevic with a far stiffer challenge than Seselj ever could.


XS
SM
MD
LG