YELTSIN SAYS HE'LL LEAVE HOSPITAL SOON...
President Boris Yeltsin on 18 December told journalists that he is leaving the Barvikha clinic and will go back to work on 19 December, Russian news agencies reported. Speaking before a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin denied his illness is related to past heart problems, saying that he "had a cold and there was a danger of complications." On 17 December, Yeltsin met with his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, and spoke by telephone with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii confirmed that the president still plans to visit Chechnya and India in January. Also on 17 December, Naina Yeltsin said her husband is feeling better but added that "he should work less because he never finishes his treatment," ITAR-TASS reported. LB
...SIGNS LAW ON GOVERNMENT
Yeltsin on 18 December signed the law on the government, which would strengthen parliamentary oversight of the cabinet, Russian news agencies reported. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said the executive and legislative authorities have already agreed on a set of amendments to that law. Among other things, the amendments would confirm that the "power ministries" remain subordinated directly to the president. Yastrzhembskii described Yeltsin's action as "unusual," since the parliament has not yet approved the amendments. But he said State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has promised Yeltsin that the amendments will be adopted shortly. Yeltsin's earlier refusal to sign the law prompted parliamentary deputies to appeal to the Constitutional Court. The law on the government is a federal constitutional law, and Article 108 of the constitution requires the president to sign such laws within 14 days of their approval by two-thirds of Duma deputies and a three-quarters majority in the Federation Council. LB
PRIMAKOV DISCUSSES RUSSIA-NATO COOPERATION...
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met in Brussels on 17 December with NATO foreign ministers and Secretary-General Javier Solana to discuss the 1998 work program for the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. Primakov advocated transforming NATO into an organization "aimed mainly at peacekeeping and at the strengthening of stability and security by political means," Interfax reported. An unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry source also told Interfax that Primakov proposed that "the combined level of armaments of an enlarged NATO would not exceed the ceiling set for the Alliance for its present composition by the [Conventional Forces in Europe] Treaty." A NATO spokesman denied Interfax's claim that NATO has agreed to Russia's request to hold talks in 1998 on the modernization of military facilities in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, which are scheduled to become NATO members in 1999. LF
...EXPRESSES OPTIMISM ON START-2 RATIFICATION
Meeting on the sidelines of the NATO talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Primakov said he is hopeful that the State Duma will ratify the Start-2 treaty in 1998. The U.S. Senate has already ratified that treaty, which limits Russia and the U.S. to a maximum of 3,500 warheads each. Also on 17 December, Colonel-General Vladimir Yakovlev, the commander of Russia's strategic rocket forces, told journalists in Moscow that Russia is fully complying with the START-1 treaty. He added that its ratification could be expedited if the economic benefits of START-2 were explained to Duma deputies. Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev failed in September to overcome opposition within the Duma to ratification of START-2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1997). LF
COMMISSION GIVES COMPANIES ONE WEEK TO PAY TAX DEBTS...
At a 17 December meeting chaired by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, the government's emergency commission on tax and budgetary discipline ordered the Omsk Oil Refinery and the Angara Petrochemical Company to pay their debts to the federal budget in full by 25 December, Russian news agencies reported. The Omsk refinery's debts are estimated at 470 billion rubles ($79 million), while the Angara company owes at least 700 billion rubles. If they fail to meet that deadline, steps including the possible seizure of property of those companies will be taken, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson said. An 8 December meeting of the government commission, which was chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, called for the seizure of property of Angara and the Omsk refinery. But government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov said Chernomyrdin considered that decision "hasty." LB
...OR PARENT COMPANIES WILL BE HELD RESPONSIBLE
Urinson told journalists on 17 December that the companies that own the Omsk Oil Refinery and Angara Petrochemical Company will be held responsible if those companies do not pay their tax debts by 25 December, Russian news agencies reported. The Sibneft oil company, part of Boris Berezovskii's business empire, owns the Omsk refinery. The Sidanko oil company, part of Vladimir Potanin's Oneksimbank empire, owns the Angara company. Urinson also said the government commission on tax and budgetary discipline has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to examine whether "individuals who are to blame for the nonpayment of taxes to the federal treasury" may be liable. In addition, the commission ordered the majority state-owned electricity utility Unified Energy Systems to pay its debts to the federal budget by 31 December. LB
DECISION COULD AFFECT ROSNEFT AUCTION
The commission's decision comes as Berezovskii and Potanin are gearing up to bid for a stake in the oil company Rosneft in early 1998. Mikhail Khodorkovskii has announced that his Rosprom-Yukos group and Sibneft have formed an alliance for the Rosneft auction, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 December. Khodorkovskii recently visited New York and Houston, reportedly to look for a foreign partner to join his and Berezovskii's consortium. Oneksimbank and British Petroleum announced in November that they have formed a consortium to bid for Rosneft shares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). Being forced to pay substantial tax arrears could put Sibneft and Oneksimbank at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the third major consortium that intends to bid for Rosneft: an alliance between the gas monopoly Gazprom and the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell. LB
'NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA' BLAMES FOREIGN PRESSURE FOR DECISION
"Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, on 18 December slammed the decision of the government commission under the headline "Why does Russia need its own government?" The article alleged that Chernomyrdin recently received letters with "ultimatums" from IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus and World Bank President James Wolfensohn. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Camdessus listed "preconditions" for the issue of a $700 million loan tranche from the IMF in January and noted that he "attaches enormous significance" to the government commission's 8 December decision on tax debtors. The newspaper said Wolfensohn informed Chernomyrdin that in order to secure the approval of two World Bank loans worth a total of $1.6 billion, Russia must confirm that commission's 8 December decision. LB
GAZPROM ANNULS AGREEMENT WITH EX-IM BANK
Gazprom has annulled a memorandum signed with the U.S. Ex-Im Bank in November 1994 whereby the U.S. bank was to provide Gazprom with a $750 million credit for purchases of equipment, Russian agencies reported on 17 December. Interfax quoted an unnamed Gazprom representative as saying Gazprom has decided to annul the contract rather than risk that Ex-Im Bank will renege on the agreement as a way of pressuring Gazprom. The Russian gas monopoly may face sanctions from the U.S. government in retaliation for the $2 billion contract it signed in September with Iran. Under that contract, Gazprom, France's Total, and Malaysia's Petronas will jointly develop Iran's South Pars Caspian gas deposit. LF
CHUBAIS IN INDIA
First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais attended the fourth session of the Indian-Russian commission on trade, economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation in Delhi on 17 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais and Indian Finance Minister Palaniappin Chidambaram held talks on ways to improve trade between the two countries. They noted bilateral trade this year will reach $1.2 billion but that possibilities exist to increase that figure to $5 billion "in the near future." Chubais is also laying the groundwork for Yeltsin's visit to India in late January. BP
DUMA PROPOSES FEDERAL AGENCY FOR RELIGION...
The Duma on 17 December asked Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to form a federal agency for religion, Russian news agencies reported. The proposed agency would oversee the implementation of Russia's law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, which was adopted in September. It would draw up rules for the registration of religious groups and monitor those groups' compliance with the law. The Duma's request argued that the registration rules should not contain loopholes for "destructive sects and pseudo-religious organizations." Russian officials and leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church have argued that the religion law is mainly directed against cults, but human rights defenders have warned that the law sanctions official persecution of some minority religious groups. LB
...ASKS GOVERNMENT ABOUT MOSTOVOI APPOINTMENT
Also on 17 December, the Duma voted to ask the government about the recent appointment of Petr Mostovoi as first vice president of the state-controlled diamond monopoly Almazy Rossiya-Sakha, Russian news agencies reported. Mostovoi, former head of the Federal Bankruptcy Administration, was among several officials sacked in November over a book fees scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1997). LB
ANOTHER REGION GAINS PERMISSION TO ISSUE EUROBONDS
Yeltsin on 17 December granted Chelyabinsk Oblast permission to issue Eurobonds, ITAR-TASS reported. Chelyabinsk becomes the 11th Russian region to receive such permission from the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). Meanwhile, Leningrad Oblast Governor Vadim Gustov told Interfax on 16 December that his oblast, which is among those allowed to issue Eurobonds, has postponed its foreign borrowing plans until the situation on the world financial markets stabilizes. LB
ZHIRINOVSKY ALLEGES CAMPAIGN VIOLATIONS IN REGIONS...
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky announced on 17 December that deputies representing his party will not participate in State Duma proceedings for three days in protest of what he described as official attempts to hinder his party's candidates in regional elections, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He claimed LDPR candidates are being blocked from campaigning for legislative elections in Novosibirsk Oblast and a presidential election in the Republic of Chuvashia. Both elections are scheduled for later this month. The LDPR has generally done poorly in regional elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1997), but the party has a strong organization in Novosibirsk. The LDPR gained more seats than any other party on the Novosibirsk city council in December 1996 elections. LB
...FAILS TO TURN UP IN COURT FOR SLANDER SUIT
Also on 17 December, a slander suit filed against Zhirinovsky by the private network NTV and one of its journalists, Yelena Masyuk, was postponed for the second time after neither the LDPR leader nor his lawyer turned up for court hearings, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Masyuk became famous for her reports on the Chechen war and conducted interviews with several prominent Chechen field commanders. In December 1995, Zhirinovsky accused Masyuk of taking bribes from Chechens to broadcast favorable reports about them. LB
CHECHNYA REPEATS TERRITORIAL CLAIMS ON DAGESTAN
A 17 December congress of First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov's Islamic Nation party has repeated calls for Chechnya to annex territories in neighboring Dagestan populated by some 70,000 Akkin Chechens, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. The party wants to create an independent state in the North Caucasus. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said Chechnya intends to "liberate" Dagestan from its present "unworthy" status as a Russian colony. Nadirshah Khachilaev, the chairman of the Union of Muslims of Russia, expressed his support for the concept of an independent Dagestan. But Dagestani Security Council secretary Magomed Tolboev said that Chechen attempts to "export its ideology" are "impermissible." He added that he would like Russia to give Dagestan greater autonomy in acknowledgment of its loyalty to Moscow. LF
DAGESTAN DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY
Following the interruption of natural gas supplies from Turkmenistan, the Dagestani government on 17 December declared a state of emergency and issued an appeal for assistance to Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Gazprom chairman Rem Vyakhirev, Interfax reported. Gazprom promised to supply additional gas, but Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Batyr Sardzhaev denied responsibility for the shortage, claiming Turkmenistan has never exported gas to Dagestan. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION, PRESIDENT COMMEMORATE 1986 UNREST
The Azat movement and the Union of Participants in the December 1986 Uprising held a demonstration in Almaty on 17 December to mark the 11th anniversary of the spontaneous uprising against the election of ethnic Russian Gennadii Kolbin as first secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party's Central Committee, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Dozens of people were killed when police used violence to dispel the 1986 unrest. President Nursultan Nazarbaev unexpectedly joined the commemorative meeting to participate in prayers for those killed. He then told the demonstrators that he is realizing the political aspirations of those Kazakhs killed in 1986 and during the Stalin era. Some demonstrators responded by criticizing the president's economic policies, prompting Nazarbaev to make a hasty departure. LF
POLICEMEN MURDERED IN EASTERN UZBEKISTAN
RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent report that three policemen were killed in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan on 16 December. These latest murders follow the killing in late November of a senior police official in the area. And on 12 December, a couple were murdered in a village outside Namangan. Police have questioned a number of people in connection with those crimes but have not yet arrested or charged anyone. BP
UZBEK, RUSSIAN AIRLINES SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
The managing director of Uzbekistan's national airlines on 17 December, signed a cooperation agreement with the managing director of Russia's Transaero, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, entitled the "CIS Alliance," aims to increase contacts between the national airlines of former Soviet republics in order to compete against foreign carriers. The two directors emphasized they hoped other newly independent states would join the alliance. BP
BOMB EXPLODES IN ABKHAZIA, TALKS DELAYED
Three people were injured on 17 December when a bomb exploded in a passenger train in Abkhazia's Ochamchire Raion, Russian agencies reported. Abkhaz Security Minister Astamur Tarba blamed "Georgian sabotage groups" for the incident. The same day, adverse weather conditions prevented the Georgian delegation from flying to Sukhumi for talks with Russian, Abkhaz, U.S., and European representatives on implementing the decisions of the November UN-sponsored talks on establishing working groups on security issues in the border region and on repatriating Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 hostilities, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said in Tbilisi on 16 December that he has received a letter from U.S. President Clinton expressing the U.S.'s readiness to play a more active role in mediating a political settlement of the Abkhaz conflict, according to ITAR-TASS. LF
FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENCY
In an interview with Turan on 17 December, former Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev announced his candidacy for the 1998 presidential elections. Guliev said he is not intimidated by the parliament's 16 December decision to strip him of his deputy's mandate. He charged that violations of the constitution "have become the norm rather than the exception." Guliev did not say when he plans to return to Azerbaijan from the U.S., where he currently lives. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE MAY SUSPEND UKRAINE OVER EXECUTIONS
A Council of Europe statement on 17 December said that Ukrainian membership in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly would be suspended next month unless Kyiv officially declares a moratorium on executions, Ukrainian media reported. The assembly's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights said in a report that the Ukrainian authorities can "no longer be trusted" over the issue of executions, RFE/RL reported. It urges that an earlier assembly resolution threatening suspension if a moratorium is not imposed be carried out. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has not yet declared a moratorium, and the national parliament has refused to approve such a repeal. PG
UKRAINIAN PLANE CRASHES IN GREECE
An Aeroswift Yak-42 with 71 people abroad crashed near Salonika, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 December, citing Greek television. The plane had come from Kyiv via Odessa. Greek search crews have not yet located any wreckage. PG
COMMUNISTS STAGE PROTESTS IN UKRAINIAN CITIES
Several thousand most elderly hardliners marched in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities on 17 December to protest Kyiv's austerity program and to demand the ouster of the government, Ukrainian television and Interfax reported. The communist organizers of the protests said that extreme cold weather limited the number of participants. In Kharkiv, the organizers canceled the demonstration owing to the cold. PG
BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT TIGHTENS PRESS LAW
Of the 69 deputies present in the lower house of the Belarus national assembly on 17 December, 64 ratified amendments tightening the country's already repressive press law, RFE/RL's Belarusian service reported. The same day, a judge postponed the trial of Pavel Sheremet, the Russian Public Television journalist charged with entering the country illegally in July 1997, and his cameraman Dmitry Zavadskiy. The journalists' lawyers said the accused have not been given an opportunity to read the charges against them. The trial will be resumed on 23 December. PG
MOSCOW WANTS MILITARY AGREEMENT WITH BELARUS
Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 17 December dispatched his defense minister, Igor Sergeev, to Minsk to prepare an agreement on military cooperation between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin "has approved the idea of signing" such an accord. Meanwhile, in another indication of warming relations between Moscow and Minsk, Yastrzhembskii announced that Yeltsin has invited Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to visit Russia's Yaroslavl Oblast following a request by the oblast governor. In October, Yeltsin had blocked a visit there by Lukashenka in the wake of the arrest of ORT journalist Sheremet. PG
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 1998 BUDGET...
Following three months of wrangling between the opposition and coalition, the parliament has finally passed next year's budget, ETA reported on 17 December. The budget now stands at 14.97 billion kroons (roughly $1 billion), its initial volume having been increased by 500 million kroons during the budget debates. Some 54 million kroons will be channeled into an economic stabilization fund, in keeping with IMF recommendations; together with this year's surplus revenues and privatization income, that fund will total 1.2 billion kroons, according to BNS. Some 133 million kroons are earmarked for a teachers' wage hike under amendments pushed through by the opposition. Economic growth is predicted at 5.5 percent. JC
...REJECTS AMENDMENTS TO CUSTOMS TARIFFS LAW
Also on 17 December, lawmakers rejected amendments to the custom tariffs law that were recently proposed by Chancellor of Justice Juhan Truuvali, ETA reported. Truuvali argued that the law violates the constitution since it empowers the government, rather than the parliament, to impose protective tariffs. The law was adopted by the parliament in October and promulgated by the president in early November following a year-long dispute between the opposition and the coalition. Truuvali can now appeal to the Supreme Court. JC
LATVIA'S KRASTS WANTS MINISTERS TO RENOUNCE DEPUTY MANDATES
Prime Minister Guntars Krasts has submitted a proposal to the government Cooperation Council that cabinet members renounce their mandates as parliamentary deputies, BNS reported on 17 December. Krasts has also proposed that ministers be obliged to back the government's position once the executive has made a decision on a given issue. If a minister disagreed with a government decision, he would be entitled to request that the council debate the issue, Krasts said. The premier's move comes shortly after government ministers from the Democratic Party Saimnieks pushed through an amendment to the state budget in violation of the coalition agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). JC
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT WANTS YOUTHFUL SUCCESSOR
Algirdas Brazauskas says he is backing Arturas Paulauskas, who, at 44, is the youngest of the seven candidates in the 21 December presidential elections. Speaking on national television on 17 December, Brazauskas indicated that both Paulauskas's age and his political independence influenced that decision. According to BNS, opinion polls suggest that Paulauskas will win the first round of the elections but that Valdas Adamkus, a retired U.S. environmentalist of Lithuanian origin, is likely to beat him in a run-off. Parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis is trailing in third place. Brazauskas, a former secretary-general of the Lithuanian communist party, said in October he was standing down after one term in favor of someone younger "with a clean past." JC
POLISH PARLIAMENT SUPPORTS TOUGH ANTI-ABORTION LAW
The lower house of the parliament voted on 17 December to rescind legislation passed by the previous left-of-center government allowing abortions in cases of social and economic hardship, PAP reported. Abortion will now be allowed only in a limited number of cases related to the health of the mother and the fetus and when pregnancy is the result of a crime. The parliament's action restores the 1993 law backed by Pope John Paul II and the Roman Catholic Church in Poland. PG
POLISH FINANCE MINISTER CHALLENGED OVER PRICE INCREASES
The leader of the opposition OPZZ trade union said on 17 December that Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz has violated the law by failing to give adequate time for consultation with trade unions as required by law, PAP reported. Stanislaw Wisniewski said his organization has reported this to prosecutors. Balcerowicz's spokesman dismissed the charges and suggested that the OPZZ was attempting "to mislead public opinion." PG
CZECH PREMIER-DESIGNATE ON FUTURE GOVERNMENT
Josef Tosovsky on 17 December said he is not expecting his predecessor to serve in the new government. Shortly after his formal designation as premier by President Vaclav Havel, Tosovsky told CTK that, given Vaclav Klaus' past declarations on not wanting to serve in the new government, "I consider the question beside the point." He also said the government will not be formed "before New Years' Eve." The economy and membership in NATO and the EU will be his government's priorities, Tosovsky stressed. Klaus told journalists he was prepared to meet with Tosovsky "as soon as possible" to "listen to his ideas" on the future government's program. In a reference to Christian Democratic Party leader Josef Lux, Klaus said the presence of "certain individuals" in the new cabinet might hinder his Civic Democratic Party from participating in it. MS
KLAUS WANTS CHANGE OF ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Havel on 17 December rejected Klaus's proposal earlier that day that the electoral system be changed from proportional representation to a majority system. Havel said although he prefers either a majority system or a mixed one, electoral systems must not be changed "on the spur of the moment in order to help somebody into the parliament or help them out of it." Opposition Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman, said he is not in favor of changing the system but added that "the idea could be discussed if...political instability continues." A change in the electoral system would require the constitution to be amended. Observers say that Klaus' proposal is unlikely to be backed by the required three-fifths majority in the Chamber of Deputies. MS
CZECH MAYOR ON HITLER'S HONORARY CITIZENSHIP
Karlovy Vary Mayor Josef Pavel says the honorary citizenship bestowed on Adolf Hitler in 1938 has been automatically annulled by a 1945 law canceling legal acts during the Nazi occupation, "Mlada Fronta Dnes" reported on 17 December. The previous day, Pavel's deputy, Zdenek Musil, said his town will, after all, annul the honorary citizenship, thus going back on his 10 December declaration that the honorary citizenshi given to Hitler must remain in place as part of the town's history in this century (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 1997). MS
SFOR ARRESTS TWO WAR CRIMINALS
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in a 18 December statement released in Sarajevo that Dutch peacekeepers in Vitez the previous day "detained two Bosnian Croats, Vlatko Kupreskic and Anto Furundzija, who are indicted for war crimes by the [Hague-based] International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia." Kupreskic resisted and was wounded in the ensuing gunfight. SFOR sent both men immediately to The Hague. NATO has rarely arrested indicted war criminals, although its mandate allows it to do so if it comes into contact with them. Critics charge that the peacekeepers willingly turn a blind eye to war criminals in order to avoid violence and possible casualties. Meanwhile in Brussels, Canadian officials said that Ottawa will give an additional $600,000 to the tribunal in addition to the $1.8 million it has already supplied (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1997). PM
CLINTON TO KEEP TROOPS IN BOSNIA
President Bill Clinton has decided to extend the mandate for U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia beyond the current June 1998 expiration date, unnamed government officials said in Washington on 17 December. He is expected to announce his decision before departing for a brief visit to Bosnia on 21 December. NATO will not make a final decision on a new mandate until 1 March, but the peacekeepers are likely to stay if the U.S. is willing to remain part of the mission. In Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said on 17 December that Russia intends to be part of any renewed international peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM
FRESH EFFORTS FOR BOSNIAN REFUGEE RETURN
The European Commission announced in Brussels on 17 December that it has approved a $34 million aid package to provide housing and jobs for returning refugees, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Belgian capital. In Geneva, Sadako Ogata, the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, said she will give priority in 1998 to helping 50,000 refugees return to homes in areas now controlled by an ethnic group other than their own. To date, very few refugees have done so. The UNHCR plans to resettle 220,000 refugees throughout Bosnia annually. Since the Dayton agreement was concluded in November 1995, the UNHCR has helped 194,000 people return to their homes. In Belgrade, UNHCR officials announced on 17 December that Mrkonjic Grad is the first "open city" for refugee return on Bosnian Serb territory. Five cities on Muslim or Croatian territory are "open" to returning refugees. PM
KOSOVAR LEADER WARNS OF WAR
Adem Demaci, who heads both the Parliamentary Party and a new coalition of Kosovar political parties and NGOs, told Belgrade's "Dnevni telegraf" on 17 December that there will be war in Kosovo unless the Serbian authorities end their repressive policies toward the ethnic Albanian majority. Demaci's warning of armed conflict in Kosovo follows similar messages from Albania and Croatia as well as from the Serbian province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 16 December 1997). PM
ITALY'S MIXED MESSAGE FOR CROATIA
Italian President Luigi Scalfaro left Zagreb on 17 December after a two-day visit that included meetings in Pula with representatives of the 21,000-strong Italian minority and talks with top Croatian officials. He told his hosts that Europe counts on Croatia as a factor in promoting regional stability, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. Scalfaro promised to help integrate Croatia into European structures but added that Europe also expects Croatia to meet European norms in all fields of public life. PM
SLOVENIA TO LIMIT DUAL CITIZENSHIP
Slovenian officials said in Ljubljana on 17 December that they have prepared agreements on dual citizenship for consideration by Macedonia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Under those accords, some 180,000 Slovenian citizens with family roots in other former Yugoslav republics would be ineligible for citizenship in those republics, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Ljubljana. PM
ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMAN SENTENCED TO 11 YEARS
A Tirana court on 17 December sentenced Socialist legislator Gafur Mazreku to 11 years in prison for attempted murder, "Koha Jone" reported. Mazreku shot and wounded Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari in the parliament in mid-September (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 September 1997). The prosecutor had demanded a 16-year sentence. Mazreku argued that he fired the shots in an act of revenge after Hajdari verbally assaulted and punched him in the parliament. Hajdari, however, claimed the attack was politically motivated. FS
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER SIGNS OIL AGREEMENT IN BRITAIN
Fatos Nano and representatives of Premier Oil signed an agreement for oil exploration on 18 December in London, Albanian Television reported. Premier Oil expects to invest $270 million in Albania, which will be the country's largest single foreign investment. The company received drilling licenses in the southern areas of Patos and Marinza. During Nano's talks with members of the British government, London offered to sponsor a roundtable on Balkan cooperation after it takes over the EU presidency in January 1998. FS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON EURO-ATLANTIC SCHEDULE
Emil Constantinescu on 17 December said he expects his country to become a NATO member by 2001 and to join the EU by 2005. Constantinescu said Romania will "without any doubt" begin negotiations on joining NATO in 1999. He spoke in Bonn during his official visit to Germany, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. In an interview with RFE/RL the same day, Foreign Minister Adrian Severin said Romania considers the recent meeting of NATO foreign ministers to be of "utmost importance" because the forum has repeated the intention to continue NATO expansion. MS
ROMANIA'S ILIESCU SPEAKS OUT
In an open letter to Constantinescu, former President Ion Iliescu demands that his successor "make public" the understandings reached between the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and other coalition members in the 3 December protocol that preceded the government reshuffle. And in open letters to Ion Diaconescu, the chairman of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic and to UDMR leader Bela Marko, Iliescu refers to "occult understandings" reached behind closed doors on amending the education law by government regulation. Iliescu also protested the intention to "violate the will of the parliament" and interfere with its work. Meanwhile, the Party of Romanian National Unity announced on 17 December that it "does not recognize" the amendments by government regulation of the education and local government laws, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
ROMANIAN PRESS ON "CEAUSESCU-CARLOS" CONNECTION
Citing Romanian media on 17 December, AFP reported that Romania's late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu hired international terrorist "Carlos the Jackal" to kill General Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former Securitate general, who defected to the West in 1978. MS
TENSIONS RESURFACE OVER RUSSIAN GAS DELIVERIES TO BULGARIA
Tensions have resurfaced over the delivery of Russian gas supplies to Bulgaria, despite earlier reports that the dispute has been resolved (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 21 November 1997). An RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported on 17 December that the Multigroup conglomerate, which owns 50 percent of the Topenergy company, is refusing to sell its shares to the state-owned Bulgargaz. The other half of the shares is owned by Gazprom. Bulgarian negotiator Antoine Nikolov accused Topenergy's Russian executive manager, Sergei Pashin, of deliberately stalling the restructuring of Topenergy in order to benefit unnamed private interests. Nikolov said Bulgaria will now deal directly with Gazprom rather than with Topenergy officials. He also said Bulgaria will try to form a new joint venture with Gazprom that involves neither Topenergy nor Multigroup. MS
BULGARIAN JOURNALIST REQUESTS CANADIAN ASYLUM
Eleonora Gountcheva, a journalist working for a Sofia sports weekly, on 17 December requested asylum in Canada, dpa reported. She asked to be granted the status of a political refugee because of threats made on her life and bomb threats at her place of work after she published investigative articles on corruption and fraud in Bulgarian sports. MS
CZECH BANKER STEPS INTO POLITICAL ROUGH AND TUMBLE
by Breffni O'Rourke
Czech prime minister-designate Josef Tosovsky has the reputation of being a strong and determined man, just like his predecessor, Vaclav Klaus. But the two are dissimilar in that Tosovsky shuns publicity and lacks the headstrong arrogance that many felt marked Klaus in office.
President Vaclav Havel asked Tosovsky to take the premiership on 16 December, and his formal appointment came one day later. Havel noted that, as a non-partisan figure to lead what will likely be an interim government, Tosovsky has the support of the main parties of the center, right, and left in the parliament.
As governor of the National Bank since 1989, Tosovsky has had a powerful role in shaping what was initially seen as the Czech economic miracle. Later, when that miracle began to fade, Klaus the politician was blamed for errors in political and economic policy, while Tosovsky, the independent central banker, suffered no damage to his reputation.
Havel's appointment of Tosovsky can be seen as a move to calm the country's frayed nerves following the recent collapse of Klaus's three-party governing coalition. Prague-based economic analyst Radomir Jac, of Woods investment brokers, says Tosovsky's appointment sends a positive signal of steadiness and continuity to both international and domestic investors. But he questions whether the move brings any real change for the better to the Czech political scene. Even if Tosovsky manages to put together a government in the next few weeks, no one expects it to last beyond six months. The next scheduled elections are in 2000, but the main Social Democrat opposition says it will not throw support behind Tosovsky unless early elections are held in 1998.
Certainly, the country is in the doldrums economically, and until a strong government takes office, the situation can hardly improve. In the third quarter of this year, economic growth slowed to a meager 0.8 percent, giving just over 1 percent growth for the year overall. This is the worst growth rate in Central Europe. In addition, key areas like privatization, already in disarray, will be stalled in the short term. And although foreign investors may view Tosovsky's appointment benignly, they will not be tempted back in large numbers until real political stability is in sight.
A major question mark hangs over the intentions of Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the main partner in the outgoing coalition. Klaus has said he prefers the ODS to go into opposition, presumably to bide its time until the elections, which might open the road for him to return to power.
Klaus won re-election as party chairman by a wide margin at the 13-14 December congress, beating off a challenge by party members disenchanted with his autocratic style and with the thickening allegations of irregularities in party funding. Immediately after his re-election, Klaus said he considered the controversy over funding to be closed. He thereby sidestepped allegations about slush funds and a secret party bank account in Switzerland.
Despite his solid win inside the party, a split in ODS ranks remains a possibility, as members of the anti-Klaus faction see their career opportunities in the party evaporate.
Klaus has not been driven from the Czech political stage, despite the rising tide of opposition to him inside and outside his party. He has proved a political survivor, but most people feel his star is waning, at least as a future national leader.
For his part, Tosovsky is about to leave the world of professional banking for the rougher and messier life of politics. If he can lead the country though the coming period without major upsets, he will have achieved at least something.
The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent.