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Newsline - January 13, 1998




START-2 RATIFICATION AT LEAST SIX MONTHS AWAY

State Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov announced on 11 January that the Duma will not ratify the START-2 arms control treaty during the next six months, ITAR-TASS reported. Ryzhkov, a member of the Our Home Is Russia faction, said the lower house of the parliament has not scheduled debate on START-2 for its spring session, primarily because "there have not been clear answers so far to the very many questions members of parliament are asking." Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov both support ratification of START-2, but there is substantial opposition to the treaty in the lower house. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev recently accused U.S. President Bill Clinton of trying to "pressure" the Duma on START-2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 1997). LB

DEFENSE BUDGET NOT FULFILLED IN 1997...

According to Defense Ministry experts, military spending in 1997 amounted to just 55.6 percent of 1997 budget targets, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. Funding in many areas fell below that level. For instance, expenditures on medical services for military personnel totaled just 41 percent of planned levels and spending on clothing and equipment 23 percent. Similarly, only 50 percent of funds budgeted to buy food for soldiers were allocated. (It is not clear whether those figures refer to original 1997 budget targets or planned spending after the government enacted a "sequester," or spending cuts.) Military experts say underfunding is to blame for the Defense Ministry's debts to officers, since the armed forces have used money earmarked for soldiers' wages and other payments to pay for other necessities such as food. Other government officials have blamed mismanagement by top generals for the debts. LB

...WHILE SPENDING TO REMAIN LOW IN 1998

Pending the adoption of the 1998 budget, monthly federal spending this year has been set at one-twelfth of total 1997 spending (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1997). Consequently, various government agencies and ministries, including the Defense Ministry, will receive less money in the first quarter of 1998 than the level foreseen by the draft 1998 budget. (First Deputy Duma Speaker Ryzhkov has predicted that the budget will go into effect in March at the earliest.) Furthermore, military experts believe the planned 1998 Defense Ministry budget of 81.7 billion new rubles ($13.6 billion) would be insufficient even if it were paid out in full. According to the 10 January edition of "Segodnya," Defense Minister Igor Sergeev recently sent a letter to the government warning that the 1998 defense budget does not provide enough funding to meet the army's basic needs or pay for planned military reforms. LB

RUSSIAN COMPANIES BUY MORE IRAQI OIL

Seven Russian oil companies, including Alfa Eko, Zarubezhneftegazstroy and Rosneft, signed contracts last week with the Iraqi state oil company for further purchases of oil under the UN-sanctioned oil-for- food program, Interfax reported on 12 January. The total volume of oil purchased is approximately 28.84 million barrels. LUKoil, Sidanko, Onako, and Tatneft are expected to sign similar agreements in the near future. LF

DELAY IN ANNOUNCING NEW CHECHEN CABINET

ITAR-TASS on 12 January reported that Chechen acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev has asked President Aslan Maskhadov for another three days in which to complete drawing up his new cabinet, but First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov has said the line-up may be announced on 13 January. Also on 12 January, Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov told journalists in Moscow that regardless of Basaev's political status in Chechnya, the criminal investigation into his role in the Budennovsk hostage-taking in June 1995 will continue. LF

ABDULATIPOV ON CHECHNYA, DAGESTAN

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov briefed journalists in Moscow on 12 January on his talks with Chechen leaders in Grozny two days earlier, Interfax reported. Abdulatipov said cooperation with the new Chechen cabinet is essential but also argued that President Yeltsin's planned visit to Chechnya should be postponed until "concrete results" have been reached in the ongoing Russian-Chechen talks. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 12 January also argued that a visit by Yeltsin to Chechnya is "inexpedient" at present, according to ITAR-TASS. Abdulatipov said the situation in his native Dagestan is "extremely complicated" and claimed that Dagestan's influence on the North Caucasus is greater than that of Chechnya. LF

CAR BOMB DEFUSED IN MAKHACHKALA

Police cordoned off the center of the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, on the evening of 12 December following the discovery of a car loaded with 60 kilograms of explosives. The car had been parked close to the government building. Police succeeded in defusing the bomb, Russian media reported. LF

OFFICIAL SAYS REDENOMINATION HAS NOT INCREASED MONEY SUPPLY

Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Arnold Voilukov told journalists on 12 January that the redenomination of the ruble has not led to an increase in the total amount of Russian money in circulation, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 12 January. Some commentators have warned that the currency reform will spark inflation as old and new banknotes circulate simultaneously. However, Voilukov claimed that since the begining of the year, 5.8 billion new rubles ($970,000) have gone into circulation, while old banknotes worth 7.5 billion rubles have been withdrawn. The total money circulating in Russia as of 1 January was 137 billion rubles, Voikulov said. LB

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL VOWS TO COMPLETE HIGH-PROFILE INVESTIGATIONS...

Yurii Skuratov told journalists on 12 January that his office will complete investigations into several high-profile criminal cases, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In particular, he cited the book scandal involving First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais and several of his associates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 November 1997). Skuratov also mentioned the alleged embezzlement of more than $180 million in state funds through a fraudulent contract with the State Committee on Precious Metals (Roskomdragmet). He said Russia has asked Greece to extradite Andrei Kozlenok, a prime suspect in the case, who was recently arrested. According to the 13 January edition of "Izvestiya," several prominent political figures may be implicated in the Roskomdragmet case, including former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, former top presidential adviser Viktor Ilyushin, and former First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko. LB

...COMMENTS ON SOBCHAK, STANKEVICH CASES

At the same 12 January press conference, Skuratov urged former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak to return to Russia, when his health permits, to answer questions concerning corruption allegations against his former associates, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 January. Sobchak sought medical treatment in France in November and remains abroad. No criminal charges have been filed against him. Skuratov also argued that the refusal of Polish authorities to extradite former presidential adviser Sergei Stankevich is "not based on the law," "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 13 January. He expressed the hope that Warsaw will soon make the "correct decision" to allow Stankevich to stand trial in Russia. Stankevich was arrested in Poland in April on charges of taking a $10,000 bribe in Moscow in 1992. LB

SELEZNEV WANTS FIRST DEPUTY PRIME MINISTERS TO GO

Duma Speaker Seleznev on 12 January called for the cabinet's composition to be brought in line with the law on the government, which does not foresee the post of first deputy prime minister, Interfax reported. Yeltsin signed that law in December. The government's two current first deputy prime ministers, Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, have not held any other cabinet portfolios since November, when Yeltsin took away the Finance Ministry from Chubais and the Fuel and Energy Ministry from Nemtsov. "Izvestiya" speculated on 6 January that when the law on the government is implemented, Nemtsov will agree to stay in the cabinet at the rank of deputy prime minister, but Chubais will resign rather than be demoted. Speculation is still rife in the Russian media that Yeltsin will replace Chubais in the coming weeks. LB

MOSCOW TO IMPLEMENT MORTGAGE SYSTEM

The Moscow city government and Harvard University have signed an agreement on developing a system to allow Moscow residents to acquire housing using mortgages, an RFE/RL correspondent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported on 12 January. Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed the deal on behalf of Moscow at a Russian-U.S. investment symposium at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Until now, Muscovites wishing to buy new housing have been forced to pay in lump sums that few can afford. Officials say the new system will give citizens access to low-interest, long-term loans. Corporations including Fannie Mae, the International Financial Corp., and Bank Boston will help Harvard experts draft laws and regulations related to the mortgage system within the next three months. LB

WATCHDOG SAYS MEDIA SUFFERED "RETREAT" IN 1997

Aleksei Simonov, the president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, told ITAR-TASS on 12 January that 1997 was marked by the "retreat of the Russian press" from hard-won gains of recent years. He said new means of restraining the press were found by authorities at various levels. For instance, in the Russian regions, city and district newspapers are returning to control by municipal governments, Simonov said. He also warned that the Duma is drafting several laws that would curtail media freedom. Also on 12 January, Oleg Panfilov of the Glasnost Defense Foundation announced that 15 Russian journalists were killed in 1997, up from 14 the previous year. Panfilov said 21 Russian journalists were kidnapped in 1997, according to dpa. LB

PRESIDENT TO CONSIDER ALL DEATH SENTENCES...

Yeltsin has signed amendments to the criminal-procedural code giving the president the right to review all death sentences, even if a prisoner on death row has not asked for a presidential pardon, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 January. No execution may be carried out without presidential approval. Abolishing capital punishment is a condition of membership in the Council of Europe, which Russia joined in February 1996. Yeltsin ordered a moratorium on executions in August of that year, but Russian courts continue to issue death sentences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1997). LB

...BUT RUSSIA NOT TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY

Anatolii Pristavkin, who heads the presidential commission on pardons, told ITAR-TASS on 11 January that Russia is obliged to adopt a legislative ban on capital punishment by February 1998, two years after it joined the Council of Europe. However, Duma First Deputy Speaker Ryzhkov announced the next day that Russia will not meet that deadline, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that no bill on abolishing the death penalty has been scheduled for consideration during the Duma's spring session. The Duma rejected such a law in March 1997, and Ryzhkov commented that it is "obvious that the Duma's mood [on capital punishment] has not changed." At the same time, he emphasized that the moratorium on executions in Russia will remain in effect and expressed the hope that the Council of Europe will "understand the situation." LB

COURT REJECTS REGIONS' APPEAL ON FOREST RESOURCES

The Constitutional Court on 9 January upheld the legality of the Federal Forestry Code, which outlines the authority of the federal government and Russian regions in managing timber resources, ITAR-TASS reported. The Republic of Karelia and Khabarovsk Krai challenged the code on the grounds that the 1992 Federation Treaty, signed by federal and regional governments, stipulates that natural resources belong to the people who live on the territory where those resources are found. However, Article 72 of the 1993 Russian Constitution says that both federal and regional governments have jurisdiction over matters relating to the management and usage of natural resources. The court found that the constitution takes precedence over the 1992 treaty. LB




GEORGIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN DISCUSSES "BOSNIA OPTION" FOR ABKHAZIA...

In his traditional weekly radio address, Eduard Shevardnadze on 12 January again argued that a "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia similar to that carried out by the international community in Bosnia would not violate UN statutes, Caucasus Press reported. He condemned the Abkhaz leadership's policy as "a cynical challenge to the world community" but added that "peace enforcement" should be considered only if negotiations fail to produce a political settlement. Shevardnadze also stressed that the "Bosnia option" does not imply the division of Abkhazia into ethnic enclaves. Before the mass exodus during the 1992-1993 fighting, ethnic Georgians constituted a majority in the southern raions of Abkhazia. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba warned on 8 January that any attempt at peace enforcement would inevitably lead to renewed hostilities in Abkhazia and involve a broader circle of participants, Interfax reported. LF

...ASSESSES RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA...

Shevardnadze affirmed his commitment to resolving all outstanding problems in bilateral relations with Russia by means of negotiations, Interfax reported. But he conceded that "a lot of problems" surfaced during the 5-8 January talks in Tbilisi between Russian and Georgian Defense Ministry officials, noting it will probably take several years to resolve those problems. Colonel- General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Russian delegation, had rejected the Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze's demand that Russia pay compensation for military equipment and arms worth several billion dollars that were removed from Georgia in 1992-1993. The Russian and Georgian officials agreed, however, to draw up regulations for the transfer to Georgia of 10 sites belonging to the Russian Defense Ministry, according to "Izvestiya" of 10 January. LF

...RULES OUT REPATRIATION OF MESKHETIANS

Shevardnadze also affirmed during his 12 January radio address that under present economic conditions, it is not feasible to resume the repatriation to Georgia of the Meskhetians deported en masse by Stalin to Central Asia in 1944, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze signed a presidential decree in December 1996, giving the green light for the return to Georgia of the Meskhetians (predominantly ethnic Georgians who converted to Islam). Shevardnadze added, however, that he considers it was "a mistake" to halt the small-scale repatriation of the Meskhetians begun in the mid-1980s (at which time Shevardnadze was first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party). Thousands of Meskhetians fled Uzbekistan during ethnic clashes in 1989. In October 1997, Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev charged that Meskhetians are subject to blatant discrimination in Krasnodar Krai. LF

GEORGIAN REFUGEE SPOKESMAN IN BOMB SCARE

Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament-in-exile (which is composed of ethnic Georgian deputies in the Abkhaz parliament) told a news conference in Tbilisi on 12 January that an attempt to kill him and his family had been thwarted two days earlier, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian National Security Ministry has denied, however, that any such attempt took place. Nadareishvili claimed that unnamed Russian political circles wanted to eliminate "the legitimate Abkhaz authorities", because the latter had attempted to prevent the transportation of valuable property from Abkhazia to Russia during the 1992- 1993 war. Nadareishvili ruled out any involvement in the alleged attempt to kill him by a rival organization representing the interests of ethnic Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia. Nadareishvili further claimed that only a face-to-face meeting between himself and Ardzinba could yield a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. LF

AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST CAUTIONED

Eldar Zeinalov, the director of the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, was summoned on 12 January by Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov. Hasanov warned Zeynalov that an article on political prisoners published in the opposition newspaper "Azadlyg," to which Zeynalov had contributed information, constituted a violation of the Azerbaijani media law since "there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan." LF

RASUL GULIEV DEFENSE COMMITTEES UNDER PRESSURE

Regional branches of the committee created to defend former Azerbaijani parliament speaker Rasul Guliev have complained that the Azerbaijani authorities are trying to prevent the collection of signatures in Guliev's support, Turan reported on 12 January. Some 8,000 signatures have been collected to date. Guliev was forced to resign as parliamentary speaker in September 1996 and has lived abroad since then. Following the Azerbaijani parliament's 16 December decision to strip him of his deputy's mandate, Guliev announced he plans to return to Baku to run in the 1998 presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 December 1997). LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION UNHAPPY ABOUT DELAYS

A spokesman for Said Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), said on 12 January that the UTO is prepared to quit the National Reconciliation Commission, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Nuri, who is also chairman of the commission, claims the Tajik government has waited too long to anounce which cabinet posts will be given to the opposition under last June's peace agreement. Nuri said he may appeal to the UN secretary-general. The opposition expects a response from the government "in the next few days." BP

INDONESIAN FIRM WINS KAZAKH CONTRACT

Indonesia's Central Asia Petroleum Ltd. has signed a contract with Kazakhstan to explore and develop 15 hydrocarbon sites in the Mangistausky region, Interfax reported on 12 January. Sagyn Krymkulov, the president of the Indonesian-Kazakh joint venture Mangistaumunaigaz, told journalists that production over 25 years is expected to total 106 million tons of oil and 10.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Investment over a 20-year period will be at least $4.1 billion, with $2 billion being invested in the first five years. The contract is valid for 31 years. BP




RUSSIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ON RELATIONS WITH BELARUS

Sergei Stepashin said before leaving for Belarus that although relations between Moscow and Minsk are improving, problems remain owing to the countries' different approaches toward Russian-Belarusian unity, RIA reported on 13 January. Stepashin will meet with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and other officials during his two-day visit to Minsk. The two sides are expected to seek ways to unify legislation. PB

OSCE MISSION HEAD IN MINSK FOR TALKS

German diplomat Hans-Georg Wieck arrived in the Belarusian capital for talks about the opening of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk office, RFE/RL reported on 12 January. Last month, Wieck was named head of the Minsk mission, which is expected to open in February. OSCE and Belarusian officials had lengthy arguments in 1997 about the purpose of the mission, which the OSCE says is to assist with building democracy in Belarus. Wieck, who was previously German ambassador in Moscow, is expected to meet with opposition figures during his three-day stay. PB

LATVIA'S ULMANIS WRITES TO YELTSIN ON RELATIONS

Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis has sent a letter on cooperation to his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, BNS reported on 12 January. Ulmanis told the news agency that in the letter, he shared his views on "how we should view historical processes, how we see the further development of our region, and what our further cooperation should be." He gave no other details about the letter's contents. Later that day, Ulmanis left for the U.S., where he and his Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts are due to sign the Baltic-U.S. charter on 16 January. JC

REPORT SAYS U.S. TO BACK BALTIC MEMBERSHIP IN NATO

"The New York Times" on 12 January reported that Washington will formally pledge to support NATO membership for the Baltic States but has told those countries they cannot expect to be admitted to the alliance any time soon. The Baltic-U.S. charter declares a political commitment to maintaining the Baltics' sovereignty and national borders without pledging U.S. military power in defense of those principles. The daily quotes an unidentified senior U.S. official as saying the charter seeks to give the three countries a sense that they can become part of the EU and NATO. JC

STOCKS SINK 10 PERCENT IN TALLINN

The TALSE index fell by 10.47 percent on 12 January, ETA reported. Banks were hardest hit, with Tallinna Pank shares falling by 16.4 percent. Brokers said the Tallinn exchange was influenced by instability on the Asian and European markets. There were also fears that recent increases on the exchange were unjustified and that foreign investors consider prices too high. JC

LITHUANIAN RULING PARTY, OPPOSITION RESPECT COURT DECISION

Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Andrius Kubilius of the Conservative Party says the Constitutional Court's decision on the transfer of power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998) is legally binding and thus the president-elect has no right to choose a new head of government, BNS reported on 12 January. Kubilius added that the decision should put an end to speculation on the topic. Ceslovas Jursenas, the leader of the opposition Democratic Labor Party, similarly acknowledged that the ruling is binding. But he once again urged Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius to replace several members of his cabinet, including Interior Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis. JC

POLAND'S FORMER PRISONERS WANT COMPENSATION FOR GULAG LABOR

An organization representing some 90,000 Polish veterans of the Soviet Gulag have called on the government to demand compensation from Russia for the slave labor they performed while imprisoned, RFE/RL reported on 12 January. Ryszard Reiff, the head of the Polish Association of Siberians, said the group seeks "remembrance of those who died and reconciliation of those who survived." Reiff claims that some 1.6 million Poles were deported to labor camps during the Second World War and that approximately half of them perished. PB

POLISH YOUTHS, POLICE CONTINUE TO CLASH

Some 300 youths beat policemen and rioted in the northern city of Slupsk for a third straight night, Reuters reported on 12 January. The violence began after the alleged beating to death of a teenager following a basketball game. The city prosecutor first claimed the boy died after running into a barrier while attempting to evade police. However, an officer suspected of beating the boy repeatedly with a baton has since been detained. PB

CZECH GOVERNMENT PLANS JUNE ELECTIONS

Government spokesman Vladimir Mlynar on 12 January said the government is drawing up plans for early parliamentary elections in June, CTK reported. Mlynar said the Chamber of Deputies would be dissolved on 20 April, which in accordance with the election law, would allow a 60-day period to elapse before elections are held on 19 June. AFP quoted Mlynar as saying that under the plan, the government will present to the parliament a bill on the sale of state-owned banks, which has already been rejected by the chamber, and will make its passage a "matter of confidence" in the government. Under the constitution, rejection of the bill would allow the parliament to be dissolved on 20 April. MS

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA DISCUSS HYDROPOWER DAM PROPOSALS

Slovakia has rejected Hungarian proposals to replace the unfinished hydro-electric dam at Nagymaros but agreed that the water level of the River Danube should be maintained by building a plant identical or similar to the one originally planned. Hungarian delegation head Janos Nemcsok told Hungarian media after talks in Bratislava on 12 January that Slovakia is ready to drop its insistence that a dam be built at Nagymaros and has accepted as a partial solution Hungary's proposal to make the reservoir at Dunakiliti operational. The two sides released a joint statement expressing the need to honor the 1977 agreement as much as possible but noted that the document cannot be fully honored . The next round of talks is scheduled for 26 January in Budapest. MSZ




MONTENEGRIN HARD-LINERS KEEP UP PROTESTS

Some 15,000 supporters of outgoing President Momir Bulatovic, who is an ally of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, demonstrated late into the night of 12-13 January in Podgorica, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. Police loyal to incoming reformist President Milo Djukanovic confiscated guns and explosives from the demonstrators, who called for new presidential and legislative elections. Bulatovic urged his backers to keep up the protests and denied remarks made by visiting U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard that Bulatovic has accepted Djukanovic's victory. PM

U.S. PLEDGES AID TO MONTENEGRO

Gelbard said after meeting with Bulatovic and Djukanovic in Podgorica on 12 January that Washington welcomes Djukanovic's election and pledges $2 million to help him launch political and economic reforms. Gelbard warned Bulatovic's supporters that it would be a "serious error to oppose in any way the will of the people expressed in that election." PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY GIVES PRIORITY TO KOSOVO

Chief-of-Staff General Momcilo Perisic and other Yugoslav military leaders consider the danger of ethnic unrest in Kosovo very real and have made dealing with it their top priority, "Nasa Borba" reported on 13 January, citing sources close to Perisic. The military are determined to avoid having to fight opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic on two fronts and consequently do not want to be involved in the political dispute in Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998). PM

MORE INCIDENTS IN KOSOVO

Unidentified gunmen killed an ethnic Albanian regarded as a supporter of the Belgrade authorities in the Glogovac area on 12 January. In Stimlje in southwestern Kosovo, gunmen sprayed a Serbian police station with bullets. Both incidents bear the hallmarks of the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK, see also "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 1998). An RFE/RL correspondent in Pristina said, however, that Serbs are suspected in the death of a prominent ethnic Albanian diver, who may have been a UCK sympathizer. PM

BELGRADE TRANSPORT WORKERS STRIKE

Some 8,500 transport personnel stopped work in the Serbian capital on 12 January. They demand back pay, better working conditions provided, and the payment by the Serbian government of $70 million that it owes their company, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. PM

STILL NO PRIME MINISTER FOR BOSNIAN SERBS

Bosnian Serb legislators meeting in Bijeljina on 12 January re-elected Dragan Kalinic of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) as speaker. Kalinic's deputies are Nikola Poplasen of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party and Jovan Mitrovic of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic's Serbian People's League. The Socialist Momir Malic was elected parliamentary secretary. Legislators did not vote on a prime minister, despite previous demands by Carlos Westendorp, the international community's representative in Bosnia, that they elect Mladen Ivanic, who is Plavsic's nominee. Also on 12 January, the SDS rejected Ivanic's request to address the parliament and turned down his offer of six seats in his proposed cabinet, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Bijeljina. Ivanic said he will ask Plavsic to nominate someone else as prime minister if the hard-liners continue to oppose him. PM

WESTENDORP ACTS ON BOSNIAN FLAG

Spokesmen for Westendorp said in Sarajevo on 12 January that he has appointed a committee of seven well-known intellectuals to make recommendations to him by 15 February for a new Bosnian flag. The Serbian, Croatian and Muslim authorities failed to meet a 31 December deadline set by the international community to agree on a joint flag. PM

MACEDONIA, GREECE TIGHTEN VISA RULES

Macedonian authorities announced in Skopje on 12 January that Greek citizens wanting to cross into Macedonia can no longer receive a visa at the border but must apply in Athens for one instead. The move follows a Greek decision in November to stop granting Macedonians visas at the border and requiring Macedonians to apply for visas in Skopje. PM

NATO HAS NO STAND ON CROATIAN ROLE

NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark told Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak in Zagreb on 12 January that the Atlantic alliance has "no position" on Croatia's request to join the Partnership for Peace program. Clark, who is on his first visit to Croatia, stressed that Zagreb "must fulfill all of its responsibilities that it signed for in Dayton" before NATO can consider a closer relationship with it. President Franjo Tudjman is anxious to join European and Atlantic institutions and sees Croatia as a key strategic ally of the U.S. in the region. PM

CROATIA TO DEFEND SOVEREIGNTY

Spokesmen for the Croatian Foreign Ministry said on 12 January that Croatia is determined to assert its sovereignty throughout its territory, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. The spokesmen mentioned specifically not only eastern Slavonia, which will return to full Croatian control on 15 January, but also Prevlaka peninsula, Ploce, and the Gulf of Piran. Belgrade would like to acquire Prevlaka, which controls access to Yugoslavia's only deep-water naval base. Zagreb suspects Sarajevo of seeking to annex Ploce, which is Bosnia's natural outlet to the sea. Croatia and Slovenia differ over their maritime border in the Gulf of Piran, which Slovenia would like redrawn so as to give Slovenia access to the Adriatic. PM

COMMISSION SAYS BERISHA WANTED TO BOMBARD SOUTHERN ALBANIA

The parliamentary commission investigating the unrest in southern Albania in March 1997 has found Defense Ministry documents, signed by former President Sali Berisha, ordering the bombarding of Tepelena, "Republika" reported on 13 January. The newspaper also claims that other documents signed by Berisha ordered preparations for the use of chemical weapons and for the movement of forces from the northern border to the south. The parliamentary commission will present its findings to the parliament later this month. Berisha's main electorate was in the north of the country. FS

ALBANIAN, ITALIAN POLICE SEIZE 30 TONS OF CIGARETTES

Albanian and Italian customs police stopped a ship carrying 30 tons of cigarettes worth $1.25 million in southern Albania's Bay of Karavasta. Five Albanians were arrested. It was the second large-scale seizure of tobacco this year. In early January, police stopped another ship carrying cigarettes with a market value of some $1 million. FS

ROMANIA'S PEASANT PARTY ON COALITION CRISIS

At a press conference on 12 January, National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) leader Ion Diaconescu stressed that his party backs Premier Victor Ciorbea. He said the present cabinet was "the best Romania can get" and that the coalition must continue, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PNTCD wants to let its coalition partners know that it wants "not merely peace for the moment" but also " assurances that the [crisis situation] will not be repeated." Diaconescu added that the PNTCD does not "accept the idea of a minority government and even less so that of early elections." Ciorbea, meanwhile, has said he will not respond to Democratic Party attacks on himself, adding that reform "cannot be carried out by the PNTCD without the [Democrats], but neither can it be carried out by the Democrats without the PNTCD." MS

DEMOCRATS RESPOND TO PEASANT PARTY PROPOSALS

Radu Berceanu, a deputy chairman of the Democrats, said in reaction to the government's program for 1998, presented at the 12 January press conference, that what is important is not the program but making sure that it is carried out in practice. Berceanu said that last year's program was also good but remained on paper only. A term should be set for each of the objectives the program specifies, he commented. Berceanu also rejected the PNTCD's proposal that the coalition partners sign a new protocol on cooperation. Adrian Severin, who is also a deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, said that at a party meeting scheduled for 13 January, the National Council will "carefully analyze" the PNTCD's statements. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN NORWAY

Andrei Plesu, on his first official visit abroad, met with Norwegian Prime Minister Kjel Magne Bondevik and Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek in Oslo on 12 January. The talks concentrated on bilateral relations and Romania's quest to join NATO. A spokesman for the Romanian Foreign Ministry said Plesu received assurances that Norway will back Romania's NATO membership bid and its candidacy for the chairmanship of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe beginning 2001. MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST LEADER LAUNCHES ELECTION CAMPAIGN...

Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the Party of Moldova's Communists (PCM), on 12 January presented his party's election program at a press conference in Chisinau, RFE/RL's bureau reported. He said the PCM wants to replace the transition to a market economy with a "pluralist economy" based on the strengthened role of the state. Voronin said the PCM is not against private property but wants it "to serve the interests of the state." It also does not oppose private ownership of land but is against the sale of land to foreigners. The party further argues that the present crisis can be ended only by "the gradual restoration of socialist relations in the economy" and "full political and economic integration with CIS members." MS

...REFUSES TO COMMENT ON PROPOSED MILITARY INTEGRATION INTO CIS

Voronin refused to comment on the draft law recently submitted by 22 PCM deputies providing for Moldova's integration into the CIS's military and political structures. He said the PCM's election program "says nothing" about military integration, adding that the deputies are "entitled to their own opinions." Fiodor Angheli, the deputy chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Commission, said the initiative was "populist" and contravened the constitution, which provides for Moldova's neutrality, BASA-press reported. MS

BULGARIAN INFLATION NOW UNDER CONTROL

Data released by the National Statistics Institute on 10 January show that Bulgarian inflation is under control after having soared in early 1997. The monthly inflation rate in December 1997 was 1.5 percent but the figure for the entire year was 578.6 percent, largely owing to the tumbling of the lev in January-February 1997, under the rule of the Socialist Party. In other news, deputy chairman of the State Energy Committee Kiril Guegov told journalists after returning from Moscow on 11 January that he has been unable to reach an agreement on gas deliveries but that Russia will continue to supply gas under the terms of the accord that expired in August 1997. MS

BULGARIA RETURNS MANUSCRIPT TO GREECE

Bulgaria on 12 January returned to Greece an 18th century manuscript stolen from monastery on Mount Athos in 1985. The manuscript, titled the "The History of the Slavs and the Bulgarians," emerged in 1996 in Sofia, when it was handed over to an official at the national museum, AFP reported. It was later on display there and attracted some 700,000 visitors. The museum's curator vehemently opposed returning the document, but President Petar Stoyanov insisted it must be given to its rightful owners. MS




SLOVAKIA PREPARES FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS


by Jolyon Naegele

Ivan Gasparovic, speaker of the Slovakia parliament, announced last week that lawmakers will convene on 23 January to hold the first round of elections for president. He also called on deputies to submit presidential nominations in writing by 12 January.

But opposition leaders warn that it is quite likely that the parliament will be unable to agree on a new president in the first round, or in the second round 14 days later, or even in the third round 30 days after that.

Two candidates backed by the opposition and one independent are in the running. The Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) is sponsoring academician-agronomist Juraj Hrasko, who until 1989 was a member of the Slovak Communist Party (KSS) and served briefly in 1993 as environment minister. The centrist Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) is backing Stefan Markus, who does not belong to any party, is a science secretary of the Academy of Sciences, and chairs the Slovak Helsinki Committee. Augustin Kurek, an independent, was proposed by a single deputy who has split from a junior partner in Vladimir Meciar's coalition.

No candidate appears to have a chance of being elected. The opposition has only 63 of the 150 seats in the parliament, and in order to win, a candidate must have the support of at least 90 deputies. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has 61 seats in the assembly and can block any candidate not to its liking. Meciar is already on record as saying no one will be elected in the first round and has branded Hrasko and Markus as "unacceptable" candidates.

Neither the HZDS nor its two coalition partners intend to nominate anyone in the first round.

The leftist SDL considered several compromise candidates, including Constitutional Court Chief Justice Milan Cic and populist mayor of Kosice Rudolf Schuster, a member of Slovakia's small Carpathian-German minority. Schuster was viewed as a rising star on the political scene during the final years of communist rule, having served as speaker of the Slovak Parliament during and immediately after the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Meciar, however, labeled Schuster as unacceptable owing to alleged "character faults."

The most likely scenario appears to be that once President Michal Kovac's five- year term expires on 2 March, the country will be without a head of state until after parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place in the fall. Meanwhile, some of the president's functions, including the role of commander and chief, will be assumed by Meciar himself.

The timing of the first round does not appear to be arbitrary. President Kovac is due to be out of town that day, hosting a summit of 11 Central European presidents in Levoca, eastern Slovakia. The presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, and Ukraine are due to meet in Levoca on 23-24 January. Kovac has proposed that the gathering discuss the emergence and maintenance of civic society.

Kovac, whose resignation has been demanded for several years by Meciar's HZDS, is not running for re-election. Former Prime Minister Jan Carnogursky has ruled out supporting Meciar as a compromise presidential candidate, saying electing him "would not be a good signal at home or abroad." But Carnogursky added that who is elected is less than important than ensuring regular elections. To prevent any attempts at election fraud, he argues, foreign observers should be invited. Meciar, however, has already rejected that proposal on the grounds that "Slovakia is not Albania."

Both Carnogursky and SDL leader Jozef Migas say it is unlikely that a president will be elected before the fall parliamentary elections. Carnogursky says he still supports a change in the constitution that would enable the voting public to elect the president.

A referendum question on enabling the president to be elected directly was retracted last May by Meciar's Interior Minister Gustav Krajci just hours before voters were to go to the polls. That happened, despite half a million petition signatures calling for the president to be elected directly.

For its part, Meciar's HZDS claims it wants a president elected soon. HZDS deputy chairman Arpad Matejka warns that if no one is elected president., the legislative process will be paralyzed since the constitution allows only the president to sign bills into law.

But SDL chief Migas suspects various factors may be involved in the HZDS's refusal to nominate a candidate for the first two rounds. He told the Bratislava daily "Sme" that the HZDS may be holding back their candidate on tactical grounds until a later round. He added that "it cannot be excluded that the HZDS is not interested in a head of state being elected."

Meanwhile, "Sme" reported last week that the rooftop digital clock that faces the presidential palace in Bratislava and counts the time Kovac has left in office has been switched off. A small group of anonymous citizens wanting to express their dissatisfaction with the current situation were allegedly behind that move.


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