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Newsline - January 30, 1998




YELTSIN RULES OUT THIRD TERM

President Boris Yeltsin announced on 30 January that he has ruled out running for president in 2000, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yeltsin has said before that he does not plan to run for president again, but several officials in the government and presidential administration have cast doubt on those statements. Most recently, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov argued that a third presidential bid by Yeltsin would be a "stabilizing factor" in Russian politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). Yeltsin also announced on 30 January that he has already decided whom he wants to succeed him, but he does not know when he will the announce the name of his chosen heir, Interfax reported. It has been speculated that Yeltsin's favorite to succeed him is either Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin or Nemtsov. LB

RUSSIA CRITICIZES REMARKS BY HEAD OF IRAQ COMMISSION

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin on 29 January criticized "public diplomacy" carried out by Richard Butler, the chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq, Russian news agencies reported. Nesterushkin said Butler's recent speculation about steps the UN Security Council may take to prevent illegal oil exports from Iraq "go beyond the clearly delineated mandate of the special commission." Butler was quoted by "The New York Times" on 27 January as saying that Iraq enough biological material to destroy the population of Tel Aviv, but Nesterushkin said such claims run counter to information Butler's commission has submitted to the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are to meet in Madrid on 30 January to discuss the situation in Iraq. LB

CENTRAL BANK RAISES REFINANCING RATE AGAIN

The Central Bank on 30 January announced that beginning 2 February, it is raising the refinancing rate, at which it lends to banks, from 28 percent to 42 percent, AFP reported. A Central Bank spokesman refused to comment on the reason for the increase. Last November, the bank raised the refinancing rate from 21 percent to 28 percent to stave off a significant ruble devaluation. Foreign investors have been selling Russian stocks and bonds in large quantities in recent months, putting pressure on the ruble. The government's plan of 12 major tasks for 1998, approved on 26 January by Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin, calls for the Central Bank's refinancing rate to be lowered to 16-18 percent by year's end. LB

YELTSIN REJECTS COALITION GOVERNMENT PROPOSAL

Yeltsin on 29 January rejected a Communist-backed proposal on forming a coalition government that would have the support of a majority in the parliament, Russian media reported. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev presented the proposal at a Kremlin meeting of the "big four": the president, prime minister, and speakers of both houses of the parliament. In addition to forming the cabinet in proportion to the balance of forces in parliament, Seleznev's proposal would have given parliamentary factions the right to nominate and recall ministers. Meeting with journalists on 30 January, Yeltsin said Chernomyrdin's government will remain in office until the next elections to the Duma, which are scheduled for 1999, although the president said "one or two" cabinet members may be replaced before then, Interfax reported.

'BIG FOUR' AGREE TO FORM COMMISSION ON TARIFFS...

The participants in the 29 January meeting of the "big four" agreed to create a trilateral commission to discuss policy on fees for electricity and transportation, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the presidential press service. That commission will include representatives of the government and both houses of the parliament. (A similar commission was formed last October to seek a compromise on the 1998 budget.) According to Seleznev, Chernomyrdin said new tariffs on railroad transportation and electricity will be set by 25 February. The government on 29 January approved a conceptual plan for reforming the federal railroad network, which envisages reduced tariffs for cargo transports. But government plans to restructure subsidies for housing and utilities are expected to lead to rising electricity prices for individual consumers. LB

...DEFER DECISION ON STATE SYMBOLS

According to the presidential press service, Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin, Seleznev, and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev also agreed on 29 January to remove the issue of Russia's state symbols from the political agenda since "there are diametrically opposed views on this issue both in society and in the parliament," Russian news agencies reported. The Duma recently rejected two draft constitutional laws on establishing state symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1998). LB

YELTSIN CALLS FOR START-2 RATIFICATION

During the meeting of the "big four" in the Kremlin, Yeltsin said he favors the earliest possible ratification of the START-2 arms control treaty, which, he argued, protects Russia's national interests by "preserving a strategic equilibrium," ITAR- TASS reported on 29 January. Federation Council Speaker Stroev told the news agency later that day that "at last there is a trend toward coming to agreement" on START-2. The Duma is not scheduled to debate the treaty during the first half of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1998). Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin, who supports ratification of the treaty, recently argued that START-2 has slim chances of being approved by the Duma. LB

YELTSIN DENIES HE MET WITH KORZHAKOV

Yeltsin on 29 January denied speculation that he met with his former bodyguard and confidante, Aleksandr Korzhakov, during his recent vacation in Valdai, Russian news agencies reported. "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported in its 28 January edition that Yeltsin may have met with Korzhakov, noting that the former presidential bodyguard, now a State Duma deputy, was scheduled to visit Valdai while the president was vacationing there. But Yeltsin said he "did not lay eyes on" Korzhakov. He added that the newspaper report "offended" him. Korzhakov published a book last summer that contained unflattering portrayals of Yeltsin and some of his closest associates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 August 1997). LB

MOSCOW OBLAST IGNORES COURT RULING ON REFERENDUM

The Moscow Oblast Duma on 28 January affirmed the results of a December referendum and changed the oblast charter to require at least half of Duma deputies to hold jobs outside the regional legislature, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 January. The referendum was held despite a ruling by the Presidium of the Supreme Court, which had declared the planned vote illegal. Critics said the referendum was designed to increase Governor Anatolii Tyazhlov's leverage over the legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November and 16 December 1997). Last fall, the Moscow Oblast Duma had resisted Tyazhlov's efforts to amend the charter, but candidates loyal to the governor won a majority of seats in the legislative election held on the same day in December as the referendum. LB

RUSSIA, CHECHNYA MAY DISCUSS EXTRADITION

Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said in Moscow on 29 January that Russian and Chechen Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Kulikov and Kazbek Makhashev may discuss extradition of two mercenaries who Moscow believes were involved in the massacre of six Red Cross workers in April 1996, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Sergei Osipov, the deputy chairman of the Russian commission for prisoners of war, internees, and missing persons, told the Russian news service the same day that seven Russian servicemen and civilians have been released in Chechnya since 1 January. PG

YELTSIN CREATES CHECHEN COMMISSION

President Yeltsin issued a decree on 29 January creating a provisional interdepartmental commission of the Russian Security Council on the problems of developing the Chechen Republic and normalizing conditions in the North Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. The head of the new commission is to be Ramazan Abdulatipov, a Russian deputy prime minister. Yeltsin also stressed his commitment to visiting Chechnya in the future and to meet with officials from the North Caucasus in Moscow, Interfax reported. PG

RYBKIN, KULIKOV CLASH ON RELATIONS WITH CHECHNYA

Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin on 29 January said Moscow has offered Chechnya "maximum freedom, independence, sovereignty, and associated membership in the Russian Federation," Interfax reported. While ruling out full independence for Chechnya, Rybkin was sharply critical of a suggestion by Russian Interior Minister Kulikov in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" two days earlier that Chechnya be declared "rebel territory in which Russian laws are not observed." Rybkin also suggested that Russia use only economic pressure on Chechnya rather than launch "preventive" military strikes as Kulikov had urged. PG

UNHCR OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN NORTH OSSETIA

A French employee of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was abducted by gunmen in Vladikavkaz in the night of 29-30 January, AFP reported. President-elect Aleksandr Dzasokhov is to be formally sworn in as North Ossetian president on 30 January. A Russian delegation, including Deputy Prime Minister Abdulatipov and Security Council Secretary Rybkin, and a Georgian delegation headed by Parliamentary Speaker Zurab Zhvania are expected in Vladikavkaz for the ceremony. LF

PRESS DISCUSSES YELTSIN'S DECREE ON STATE SECRETS

The domestic press has discussed several aspects of the decree on state secrets that Yeltsin signed on 24 January. The 87-point document requires state agencies to determine the amount of damage that would be caused by a "leakage" of information on their activities. "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 January said the decree affects not only the power ministries but also the Health and Education Ministries as well as state agencies such as the Meteorological Service. The newspaper lists areas that could fall under the state secrets decree, such as the volume of exports and imports with other CIS states, the production of gold and precious metals, Yeltsin's health, the weather, information on natural disasters, and agriculture. BP

YELTSIN SAYS REGIONAL LEADERS TO BLAME FOR KILLINGS IN ARMY

Yeltsin on 29 January said the wave of killings at military installations in Russia are restricted to certain regions, Interfax reported. Yeltsin went on to argue that the leaders of those regions are not supporting their local militaries and that "nothing of this kind happens in other regions." However, a list of murders in the army over the last three years, published in the 28 January edition of "Novye izvestiya," shows that while the majority of the killings have take place in the Far East, Sakhalin Island, and the Caucasus, such incidents have also occurred in central Siberia, Nizhnii Novgorod, Karelia, and near Moscow. BP

OFFICIAL SEEKS TO ALLAY FEARS ON RELIGION LAW

Vladimir Kartashkin, the chairman of the Russian presidential Human Rights Commission, told journalists in Washington on 29 January that the "shortcomings" of Russia's law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations may "be corrected" when the law is implemented, ITAR- TASS reported. The religion law, which was adopted last September, has drawn fire from many religious organizations in Russia and abroad, which have warned that the law imposes unconstitutional restrictions on religious activity. Kartashkin, one of several Russian officials invited to Washington to discuss the law, acknowledged that some of the law's provisions contradict the Russian Constitution. But he argued that any Russian citizen or group may file court appeals to protect their rights. Human rights activists have often objected that the Russian judicial system lacks independence, since courts rarely adopt decisions that run counter to the interests of regional authorities. LB

MYSTERY SHROUDS MINSK VISIT BY MEDIA MOGULS

Russian commentators continue to speculate about why many of Russia's top journalists and media executives met in Minsk on 27 January, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported two days later. The Russian delegation to Minsk included Boris Berezovskii, Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, and top journalists from newspapers and television networks over which Berezovskii and Gusinskii have influence. The visit's stated purpose was to discuss a Russian-Belarusian broadcasting project with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. However, no one from state-owned Russian Television (RTR) was invited to the meeting in Minsk, RTR Chairman Nikolai Svanidze told RFE/RL. RTR is to broadcast the Russian-Belarusian productions. Media under the influence of Berezovskii and Gusinskii have in recent months supported Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, while RTR is considered close to First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. LB

PRESS SEES POLITICS, OIL BEHIND VISIT

Both "Russkii telegraf" and "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 28 January that the Russian media delegation to Minsk was likely linked to political developments in Russia and the upcoming auction for a stake in the Russian-Belarusian oil company Slavneft. Last October, many of the same journalists accompanied Berezovskii and Gusinskii on a visit to Tbilisi, where they reportedly discussed coverage of Russian political events (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 1997). "Kommersant-Daily," which in recent months has provided coverage sympathetic to Berezovskii, noted that Berezovskii met privately with Lukashenka in Belarus last December, allegedly to discuss the Slavneft auction. "Russkii telegraf" is owned by Oneksimbank, whose president, Vladimir Potanin, is a main business rival of Berezovskii and Gusinskii. LB

LEBED CONSIDERING GUBERNATORIAL BID

Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed told journalists in Yaroslavl on 29 January that he is considering running for governor in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Interfax reported. Krasnoyarsk is scheduled to hold a gubernatorial election in April. On 28 January, Lebed's younger brother Aleksei, the leader of the Republic of Khakassia, told Interfax that Aleksandr Lebed would be wise to run for governor rather than parliament, since governors have "concrete power." The younger Lebed also noted that Krasnoyarsk, which covers a massive area in Siberia, is "one of the richest regions" and would be a good base from which to campaign for president in 2000. Candidates supported by Aleksandr Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement won 14 percent of the vote and five seats in legislative elections last month in Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1997). LB




NAGORNO-KARABAKH DENIES PLOTTING ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S OUSTER

The government of the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh issued a statement on 29 January denying an Armenian press report that two of its ministers met with local Armenian officials last week to plot the overthrow of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian daily "Aravot" had claimed the same day that the two ministers had traveled to Armenia at the behest of Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan to discuss with the leadership of the province of Syunik, which borders on Azerbaijan, how to topple Ter-Petrossyan with the assistance of the Armenian opposition. The Karabakh government statement said the report is intended to exacerbate the existing differences between Yerevan and Stepanakert. Aram Abrahamian, the editor of "Aravot," told RFE/RL that his information was obtained from "reliable sources." LF

AZERBAIJAN TO BAN CASINOS, NIGHT CLUBS

Following a 27 January meeting with the Azerbaijani Security Council, President Heidar Aliyev has issued a decree calling for the closure of casinos and night clubs. He also instructed the government to draft a program on fighting immorality, drug abuse, and "publications that violate the national traditions and moral fabric" of Azerbaijani citizens. At the Security Council meeting Aliyev criticized Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov for permitting the Europa Hotel to be transferred to Turkish citizens, who opened a casino and other entertainment facilities on its premises. The hotel was originally intended for use by foreign diplomatic missions LF

AZERBAIJAN CONSULTS WITH NATO ON GUARDING PIPELINES

Speaking to potential investors in Tokyo, Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade disclosed that the Azerbaijani leadership has had informal consultations with NATO on safeguarding oil export pipelines "should the need to do so arise," Turan reported on 29 January. Rasi-Zade said that investment in oil transportation in the Caucasus cannot be considered safe because of the "many military conflicts" in the region in recent years. LF

KAZAKH CITY WITHOUT ELECTRICITY

Local authorities on 28 January informed the residents of Shymkent that electricity will be cut off for four days and gas for as long as month, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Temperatures are below freezing and expected to remain at that level through most of February. Companies providing power to Shymkent and Jambyl regions say consumers have overused their allotment of electricity and gas and have thereby caused shortages in Almaty. BP

PROTESTERS PICKET GOVERNMENT BUILDING IN BISHKEK

Some 200 people demonstrated outside the government building in the Kyrgyz capital on 30 January, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Most of the demonstrators were pensioners desmonstrating against unequal pension scales (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). The group also protested the government's treatment of Lidia Fomova, chairwoman of the pensioners organization. Fomova says that since the demonstration last week against the pension scales, local authorities have harassed her. She added that she cannot stay at her home because she fears arrest for organizing that demonstration. BP




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS JOURNALISTS' SENTENCES TOO LENIENT

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has complained that the sentences given to two Belarusian journalists working for Russian Public Television were "too light" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998), ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka said in Belgrade that the "border violators" should be thankful that they were not given five-year jail terms. Most observers say the light sentences were given to placate Russia. In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin praised Russian journalists on 30 January for enduring repression while working in Belarus. Yeltsin said Lukashenka will "mature, grow some more" and that the two leaders will discuss freedom of the press at every meeting they have in the future. PB

OSCE GRANTED OFFICE SPACE IN MINSK

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on 29 January that its mission in the Belarusian capital should be operating by 7 February, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The OSCE has finally obtained office space, and the head of the mission, Germany's Hans-Georg Wieck, is scheduled to arrive early next month. The establishment of the mission has been long delayed owing to Belarusian objections to the office's objective, which the OSCE says is to promote democracy and political freedom. PB

UKRAINIAN ARMS SALES INCREASE

Ukraine exported nearly 2 billion hryvna ($1 million) worth of weapons in 1997, Reuters reported on 29 January. Andriy Kukin, the head of the state arms exporter Ukrspetsexport, said the company signed 170 contracts last year. Ukraine is now the 20th largest arms exporter in the world, having moved up from 30th place in 1996. The newspaper "Den" said a huge tank purchase by Pakistan has helped boost sales. PB

KYIV PROTESTS PLANE DETENTION IN GREECE

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a formal protest to Greece on 29 January over the detention of a private airliner, Reuters reported. Greek authorities say they impounded the Boeing 737 in order to compensate relatives of some of the Greeks who died in December when a Ukrainian-owned plane crashed on the Greek isle of Salonika, killing 69 people. The Ukrainian protest said the detention of the plane is not in line with international norms. An investigation into the cause of the crash has not yet been completed. PB

ESTONIA'S FOREIGN TRADE DEFICIT UP OVER 60 PERCENT LAST YEAR

The Estonian foreign trade deficit was up almost 66 percent last year, compared with 1996 levels, BNS reported on 29 January. Exports totaled some 41.3 billion kroons and imports 65.3 billion kroons (the corresponding figures for 1996 were 26 billion and 40.5 billion kroons). Estonia's main export partners were Russia (17.8 percent), Finland (16.8 percent), and Sweden (13.4 percent), while most imports came from Finland (30.9 percent), followed by Russia (11.7 percent), Sweden (9.6 percent), and Germany (9.2 percent). Estonian's main exports are machinery, electrical appliances, and textiles. JC

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS POLAND READY FOR EU SOONER

Bronislaw Geremek said in Rome that Poland is ready for the EU and could join the group in 2000, AFP reported on 29 January. Geremek made his comments after talks with Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and Prime Minister Romano Prodi on EU and NATO enlargement. "We are ready and we don't need a transition period," he said. The EU has often said that new members will enter the union some time after 2000. Negotiations on joining the EU begin on 31 March. Geremek also met with Pope John Paul II during his visit. PB

POLISH POLICE CHIEF REPLACED

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek named Jan Michna as national police chief on 29 January, Reuters reported. Michna replaces Marek Papala, who resigned the previous day. Michna was the head of police in the southern province of Katowice. Papala was blamed for inadequate security during recent sports events that resulted in the death of a youth as well as dozens of injuries and arrests. He was also criticized for failing to successfully fight organized crime. PB

CZECH PREMIER WILL QUIT POLITICS AFTER ELECTIONS

Josef Tosovsky on 29 January said he will quit politics as soon as possible after the early elections are held later this year, CTK and Reuters reported. Tosovsky told journalists that he does not know whether he will return to his former position as head of the Czech National Bank or will take up a position in the private sector. He said he has accepted to head the government knowing that this was going to be a transition cabinet and has no intention to stay in political life. A recent poll showed that Tosovsky is highly popular, enjoying the backing of no less than 84 percent of Czechs. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ELECT PRESIDENT

As expected, the Slovak parliament of 29 January failed to elect a president, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Another ballot is scheduled for 6 February. Stefan Markus, who is backed by the Slovak Democratic Coalition and who received 34 out of the 150 votes in the 29 January vote, will face Juraj Hrasko, the candidate of the Party of the Democratic Left, who received 22 votes. Independent candidate Augustin Kurek received 14 votes and is thus not eligible for the second round. Most members of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia stayed away from the ballot, and observers say it is unlikely that either Markus or Hrasko will garner the three-fifths majority required to elect a president. MS

SLOVAKIA NOTES CHANGE IN CZECH POSITION

Foreign Ministry spokesman Milan Tokar on 29 January said Bratislava has "taken note" of the fact that the policy statement read in the parliament by Czech Premier Tosovsky says the Czech Republic is interested in "good relations" with Slovakia. The previous government, he added, had aspired to "above- average" relations with its southern neighbor. Asked by a CTK correspondent whether Tosovsky's cabinet is a credible partner for Slovakia, the spokesman said he is unable to speak for the government but drew attention to Premier Vladimir Meciar's remark that he would not negotiate with the new government in Prague. MS

HUNGARIAN CABINET DISCUSSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

The government on 29 January decided to submit to the parliament a bill on the parliamentary representation of ethnic minorities, Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1998). The bill proposes that minority representatives be elected in October 1998, at the same time as local elections are held. Cabinet spokesman Elemer Kiss criticized Socialist deputy Mihaly Bihari for his recent proposal that minority elections be postponed until 2002. The government also proposed amending the law on the Constitutional Court to extend judges' terms from nine to 12 years. The junior coalition party, the Free Democrats, are opposed to both amendments, which would require changing the constitution. MSZ




LARGE CROWDS ATTEND FUNERAL OF KOSOVO ALBANIAN

Some 15,000 persons attended the funeral in Kamenica on 29 January of an Albanian teenager shot at point-blank range by a Serbian policeman in Kosovska Mitrovica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998), an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. The Serbian authorities issued a statement to the state news agency Tanjug on 29 January claiming that the killing was "involuntary." Police stayed away from Kamenica during the funeral, at which a local ethnic Albanian politician said the young man's death "will make [the Kosovars] stronger and even more determined to achieve our national aim--an independent Kosovo." PM

MILUTINOVIC HAS NO TIME FOR KOSOVO SERBS

Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in Belgrade on 29 January that he was "too busy" to receive a delegation of Kosovo Serbs who wanted to ask him to protect the Serbs from what they called "Albanian terrorism and separatism." Kosovo Serb politician Momcilo Trajkovic and Serbian Orthodox leader Vladika Artemije, who are heading the delegation, said they demand that Milutinovic receive them by 3 February. Trajkovic added he feels that Serbs and Albanians can reach a settlement in Kosovo on the principle that Kosovo remains in Serbia and that the Kosovo Albanians receive what he called "all rights," "Nasa Borba" reported. Vladika Artemije said it is necessary that Serbs feel safe in Kosovo and want to remain there because, he said, it is pointless to speak of Serbian Kosovo if no Serbs are willing to live there. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY CALLS FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTION IN KOSOVO

An army spokesman said in Belgrade on 29 January that he sees no reason for the military to "become involved" in Kosovo at present. He added that the army will not undertake any "provocative actions" in the province but warned that it will not tolerate any attacks on its personnel or property. Meanwhile in Pristina, Tanjug reported that unknown persons threw a hand grenade at the house of a Serb in Obilic near Pristina the previous night. PM

MONTENEGRO DEMANDS SUPPORT FOR YUGOSLAV DINAR

The Montenegrin government on 29 January demanded in a statement that the Yugoslav government and the central bank take steps to stop the fall of the dinar, which has lost one-third of its value against the German mark on the black market since 1 January. The Montenegrin statement added that the weakness of the dinar is the result of Belgrade's policies. It demanded that the federal authorities take steps to end Yugoslavia's international isolation. PM

DEVALUATION IN OFFING?

Former central bank chief Dragoslav Avramovic said in Belgrade that the dinar will have to be devalued at some point to bring its official value more in line with that on the black market, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic, for his part, said the dinar will not be devalued. Nonetheless, in anticipation of a devaluation, prices rose in Belgrade by up to 50 percent and people have bought up supplies of basic foodstuffs, the correspondent added. PM

BOSNIAN SERB DEFENSE MINISTER TAKES OFFICE

General Manojlo Milovanovic, who is a supporter of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, took office as defense minister in Banja Luka on 29 January. He is expected to sack Chief-of-Staff General Pero Colic, who tried to steer a middle course between Plavsic and her rivals in Pale, the BETA news agency reported. In other news, the Republika Srpska Statistical Office announced that prices rose 12.8 percent in 1997 and that the average monthly wage is $50. PM

MARCH AGAINST POVERTY IN ZAGREB

Between 3,000 and 5,000 workers and retired people staged a peaceful demonstration in central Zagreb on 29 January to protest deteriorating living conditions and the government's social policies. Unofficial estimates put the unemployment rate at 300,000, including 46,000 veterans of the 1991-1995 war. The average monthly income is $400 in a country where the price of many basic goods is similar to that in Germany. PM

OSCE MEDIATES IN ALBANIAN HUNGER STRIKE

Daan Everts, a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has met with three of the judges currently on hunger strike in Tirana, "Republika" reported on 29 January. Everts said the OSCE will try to mediate between the Justice Ministry and the judges, who are protesting alleged government plans to sack up to 400 of their colleagues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). The meeting was also attended by a Council of Europe official. The same day, Democratic Party deputies Azem Hajdari and Ferdinant Xhaferri participated in a meeting between the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee and a NATO delegation. Their participation marked the end of the Democrats' two-month boycott of the legislature's activities. FS

ANTI-MAFIA PROSECUTORS APPOINTED IN ALBANIA

A spokesman for Prosecutor General Arben Rakipi on 29 January announced the setting up of a special department of anti-Mafia investigators. The team will consist of five Tirana-based police experts as well as local representatives in police stations throughout the country. It will also supervise the activities of a number of undercover agents, "Koha Jone" reported. Italian experts helped set up the new department, which is modeled after its Italian counterpart. FS

ROMANIAN LEADERS DIFFER OVER FUTURE OF COALITION

Before leaving for Davos, Switzerland, on 29 January to attend the World Economic Forum, President Emil Constantinescu said the agreement reached with the Democratic Party provides for the continuation of the coalition until 2000, when new elections are due. But Democratic Convention of Romania chairman Ion Diaconescu said the same day that the future of the coalition is uncertain because each draft law will have to be negotiated with the Democrats before it can be debated in the parliament. Democratic Party leader Petre Roman, who is on official visit to Portugal, told Reuters that his party would be "disappointed" if Premier Victor Ciorbea were to stay in office but has agreed for now to give "tactical support" to the government. Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Bogdan Niculescu-Duvaz said his party's support for the cabinet will end on 31 March, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER AGREES TO STAY ON

Andrei Plesu on 29 January said he has agreed to stay on in the cabinet, as requested by Constantinescu and Ciorbea, because "changing the foreign minister every month or so is not an indication of continuity and political stability." In other news, former President Ion Iliescu said the same day that the government "will not survive" but that he welcomes the new developments because opposition parties will now have to be consulted before new legislation is proposed in the parliament. Iliescu also said that his Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Democratic Party "have much in common...[as regards] doctrine." MS

MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN WASHINGTON

Valeriu Pasat on 29 January discussed with his U.S. counterpart, William Cohen, strengthening military relations and cooperation aimed at avoiding the proliferation of mass-destruction weapons, ITAR-TASS reported. Cohen praised Moldova's contribution to the Partnership for Peace program, saying details have been worked out for an enhanced participation. Pasat is paying a four-day visit to the U.S. and is scheduled to meet Vice President Al Gore and other U.S. officials. BASA-press and Infotag reported on 29 January that his visit includes discussions on the sale of another six MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. In December 1995, Chisinau and Washington signed a military cooperation agreement, and in late 1997 Moldova sold 21 MiG-29 planes to the U.S. MS

MOLDOVAN-TRANSDNIESTRIAN TALKS CANCELED AGAIN

A meeting between experts representing the two sides in the Moldovan- Transdniestrian conflict, scheduled to take place in Chisinau on 29 January, has been canceled, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. This is the second time that the Transdniestrian side has decided not to participate. Presidential adviser Anatol Taranu said that the separatists were using the excuse that the head of the Tiraspol delegation, Valerii Litskay, is in Moscow. He also accused them of "pursuing a wait-and-see policy and waiting for the outcome of the [March] Moldovan elections." Meanwhile, separatist leader Igor Smirnov met in Moscow with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to discuss the issue of the Russian armament stationed in the Transdniester. The separatists have variously claimed full or partial ownership of those arms, Infotag reported. MS

NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION FAILS IN BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT

A no-confidence motion in Ivan Kostov's cabinet was defeated on 29 January by a vote of 135 to 56, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. The motion, proposed by the opposition Socialist Party, was aimed at the cabinet's health care policies. No other parliamentary party supported the motion, but some non-Socialist opposition members abstained or stayed away from the ballot. Kostov said that the motion's defeat is a show of support for continuing the government's economic reforms. Later on 29 January, in a statement issued before the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kostov expressed confidence that Bulgaria will be included in many future European infrastructure projects. He noted that Sofia is focusing on investments in transport and communications to improve links with Western Europe. MS




UNBALANCED SCALES OF JUSTICE IN KYRGYZSTAN


by Narynbek Idinov

A series of incidents has raised questions about Kyrgyzstan's judicial system and, especially, about its attitude toward human rights and press freedom. Observers say a trend of reversing lower court decisions reveals political motives behind the orginal charges.

For example, Topchubek Turgunaliev, an opposition leader, was last year accused of embezzlement, abuse of power, and forgery. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a district court in Bishkek in January 1997. He appealed, and the Kyrgyz Supreme Court of changed the verdict the following month. It upheld only one accusation (abuse of power) and reduced Turgunaliev's sentence to four years in a penal colony.

Yrysbek Omurzakov, a journalist for the independent "Res Publica" weekly, was accused of libeling a factory manager in an article published in January 1997. A district court failed to reach a verdict in May; but several months later, it sentenced him to two-and-a-half years in a penal colony. A Bishkek municipal court upheld that verdict in November but ruled that the journalist be pardoned under a new amnesty law.

Omurzakov, nonetheless, appealed to the Supreme Court, which earlier this month found him guilty of a civil-- rather than criminal--offense. The court fined him the equivalent of 100 minimum monthly wages (some $600). He will not have to pay, however, because of the amnesty law.

Four other journalists from "Res Publica," including chief editor Zamira Sydykova, were accused of libeling the manager of a state company in several articles published from 1993-1996. In May 1997, a district court sentenced Sydykova and one of her colleagues, Alexander Alianchikov, to 18 months in a penal colony. The two other journalists were fined. Alianchikov was released in June, when a municipal court suspended the sentence, but the court upheld the sentence against Sydykova. In August, the Supreme Court threw out the case and ordered her freed.

Opposition leaders and human rights organizations say local officials aggresively pursued each of those cases and clearly had an influence on their outcome. Opposition leader TurgunAliyev had the right to serve in a colony near the capital, where his family lives, but was sent to the remote district, on the border with Tajikistan. Following protests by parliamentary deputies and domestic and international human rights organizations, he was allowed to return to a penal colony near Ashgabat.

Journalist Omurzakov spent 79 days in detention before a municipal court ordered his release. When a local court convicted him months later, he was not ordered to return to detention.

A top government official who wishes to remain anonymous told RFE/RL that the government is aware of local officials' animosity toward journalists and that local officials will go to extremes to try to silence any media criticism. At the same time, Kyrgyz journalists have told RFE/RL that they believe top government officials have also influenced court cases against journalists.

Each of the verdicts listed above was changed only after strong protests from both domestic and international human rights organizations. Amnesty International, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters sans Frontieres, and other organizations sent protest letters to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev. The President's Office insisted Akayev could not intervene in legal questions, but Akayev announced in December that TurgunAliyev could be pardoned, if he apologized. TurgunAliyev rejected that offer, saying he was not guilty in the first place.

Kyrgyzstan announced legal reform after it gained independence in 1991. But Akayev, addressing the first congress of Kyrgyz judges in 1994, stressed there had been no reform whatsoever. And two years later, the president repeated his strong criticism.

Opposition politicians and independent journalists continued to be tried from 1995-1997 under the old Soviet criminal code, adopted in the 1960s. The parliament passed a new criminal code last June, while the trials of some of the journalists were in progress. But it retained the Soviet-era provision whereby a journalist who criticizes a state official can be accused of criminal libel and sentenced to three years in jail.

The new criminal code has been criticized by domestic and international human rights organizations. In December, President Akayev's office said journalists convicted of libel will be fined, not sent to jail. Other citizens are still subject to jail terms.

While welcoming such progress, observers and human rights organizations note what they call Kyrgyzstan's pattern of oppression. They also note that none of those who leveled the charges against the journalists faces accountability for his or her actions. The author works for RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.


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