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Newsline - February 3, 1998




RUSSIA SEEKS PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO IRAQ QUESTION...

Russian officials, in particular President Boris Yeltsin, are seeking to ease international tensions over Iraq. Yeltsin on 2 February had a telephone conversation with U.S. President Bill Clinton, who agreed that a diplomatic solution is desirable but stressed that time is running out. Yeltsin also spoke twice by telephone with French President Jacques Chirac, who took the Russian view that it is still possible to achieve a peaceful outcome. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Karasin was in China on 2 February to talk with his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Deguang, about the crisis in the Persian Gulf. BP

...AMID CONFLICTING REPORTS ON BREAKTHROUGH

Following talks between Russian special envoy to Iraq Viktor Posuvalyuk and Saddam Hussein on 2 February, the Kremlin announced that a break- through had been achieved and that Hussein is prepared to allow UN inspections of eight sites in Iraq. Baghdad, however, denied any such development. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 3 February continued to say that there has been "positive changes" in Iraq's position. He added "we confirm the announcement we made yesterday." BP

GOVERNMENT SUBMITS REVISED TAX CODE TO DUMA

The government on 2 February submitted a revised draft tax code to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. The government's plan of 12 major tasks for 1998 calls for the code to be adopted by year's end. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 February that Finance Ministry officials deny the new tax code is to blame for recent turmoil on Russian financial markets. On 28 January, Federal Securities Commission Chairman Dmitrii Vasilev charged that steep declines on Russian markets were caused by Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov's recent remarks on the tax code. Vasilev alleged that the code will affect certain market transactions. Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Motorin told "Kommersant-Daily" that Vasilev is not familiar with the latest draft of the tax code. He said the version submitted to the Duma does not contain the provisions criticized by Vasilev. LB

FORMER BORDER SERVICE CHIEF CASTS DOUBT ON MERGER WITH FSB...

Andrei Nikolaev, who stepped down in December as director of the Federal Border Service, says the planned subordination of that service to the Federal Security Service (FSB) will not take place. Yeltsin is expected to issue a decree within a month to transform the border service into a department of the FSB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27-28 January 1998). But in an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 3 February, Nikolaev said such a merger cannot be implemented because it would violate current legislation. Article 90 of the Russian Constitution prohibits the president from issuing decrees that contradict federal laws. LB

...CONFIRMS PLANS FOR POLITICAL CAREER

In the same interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets," Nikolaev confirmed that he will run for the State Duma seat vacated by Irina Khakamada when she took up a government post last November. The by-election is scheduled for April. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 January, Nikolaev is likely to face nearly 20 rivals for that Duma seat, including former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. Former Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii is rumored to be considering a bid in the by-election as well. LB

FORMER LATVIAN COMMUNIST LEADER IN MOSCOW

Alfreds Rubiks, the former leader of the Latvian branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, arrived in Moscow on 2 February, Russian news agencies reported. Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, described Rubiks as an "old friend." Rubiks spent more than six years in prison after he supported the August 1991 coup attempt. During Rubiks' time in captivity, Zyuganov's party and other communist organizations in Russia repeatedly called for his release. Rubiks also met with Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and leaders of several small communist organizations. Speaking to ITAR-TASS, Rubiks said he came to Moscow to discuss Russian-Latvian relations and conditions for Russian-speakers in Latvia. He denied that he is trying to collect money for the Communist Party, which is still banned in Latvia. LB

LUKYANOV EXPLAINS STANCE ON ELECTORAL LAW

Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov, a prominent member of the Communist Party, explained his party's opposition to changes to the electoral law in remarks quoted by "Pravda-5" on 3 February. Yeltsin wants to eliminate the proportional representation system currently used to elect half of State Duma deputies and have instead all 450 deputies elected in single-member districts. Lukyanov said the Communists believe the proposed change is an attempt to "remove any organized opposition from the political arena," although he denied that the Communist Party would do worse without proportional representation. In the 1995 elections to the Duma, Communists won 58 of the 225 seats elected in single-member districts and candidates representing allied groups won 29 of those seats. In contrast, the pro-government Our Home Is Russia bloc won just 10 of the single-member districts. LB

UN MAY CUT BACK NORTH CAUCASUS PROGRAM

John Horekens, the director of the European bureau of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Vladikavkaz on 2 February that his group will reduce its activities in the region, Interfax reported. That statement comes in the wake of the 29 January kidnapping of Vincent Cochetel, a member of the organization's North Caucasus bureau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998). Horekens added that he had told the North Ossetian leadership that the UN will not pay a ransom for Cochetel's release. PG

MASKHADOV WANTS NEW CHECHEN CONSTITUTION

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is advocating the adoption of a new constitution for the republic, RFE/RL's correspondent in Grozny reported on 2 February. The current constitution, adopted in March 1992 under President Dzhokhar Dudaev, declares the republic a secular state. It also gives the parliament significant powers, such as the right to confirm ministerial appointments and dismissals and to approve changes in the structure of the executive branch. Maskhadov argues that when the 1992 constitution was adopted, Dudaev was hoping for support from the international community. But Maskhadov charges that not only did Western countries not back Chechnya's bid for independence; they helped Russia finance the war to keep the republic in the Russian Federation. Maskhadov advocates a new constitution that would declare Chechnya an Islamic state and would give the president almost unlimited powers. LB

DAGESTANI AUTHORITIES EXPEL FARRAKHAN

Authorities in the Republic of Dagestan on 2 February expelled a delegation of 28 people led by Louis Farrakhan, the head of the U.S.-based movement Nation of Islam. Farrakhan's delegation was to have traveled to the Dagestani-Chechen border to meet with Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov. Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Tolboev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent that Farrakhan and his delegation were expelled because they lacked the correct documentation. However, Union of Muslims of Russia leader Nadir Khachilaev, who invited Farrakhan to Russia, said the expulsion was politically motivated. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Khachilaev said Dagestani authorities erroneously described Farrakhan as an extremist. He also denied that Farrakhan made anti-Russian statements while in Dagestan, adding that "I speak out against Russia. [Farrakhan] speaks out against [the United States of] America." LB

COURT STRIKES DOWN SOME RESIDENCY REGISTRATION RULES

The Constitutional Court on 2 February ruled that a federal government directive issued in July 1995 contained unconstitutional rules on registering citizens' places of residence, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The judges ruled that although citizens must register their residences with local authorities, they retain the right to choose where they want to live. In other words, the registration process is a matter of notifying authorities--not seeking permission for temporary or permanent residence in a given location. The only valid restrictions are contained in a federal law on citizens' rights to travel and choose their place of residence. For instance, authorities may refuse to register an apartment in an area that is restricted because of an ecological disaster or an epidemic. Some cities have ignored previous Constitutional Court rulings against the "propiska" or residency permit system. LB

KOMI LEADER REFUSES TO IMPLEMENT COURT RULING

Yurii Spiridonov, the leader of the Republic of Komi, says the Constitutional Court is not empowered to force changes in republican legislation, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 February. The court recently struck down provisions in Komi's constitution and law on executive authorities, saying the 1993 Russian Constitution supersedes the provisions of the 1992 Federation Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1998). However, Spiridonov maintains that only the Komi legislature may decide whether republican laws should be changed. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that the Republic of Udmurtia last year refused to implement a Constitutional Court ruling that struck down republican laws related to local government. The Udmurtian authorities backed down only after Yeltsin had issued a decree ordering them to comply with the court ruling. LB

MINISTER, GOVERNOR SIGN PROTOCOL ON KEMEROVO COAL INDUSTRY

Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev on 30 January signed a protocol on steps to solve the financial crisis in the region's coal basin, which is the largest in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agreement, the Fuel and Energy Ministry will oversee the reorganization of the coal industry and will finance investment projects for some mines. In addition, the ministry will draft new safety regulations and monitor their implementation. (An explosion at a Kemerovo mine in December claimed the lives of 67 miners.) Kirienko also said his ministry will review a list of mines currently slated for closure. The Kemerovo administration will be responsible for local development programs for mining cities. Kemerovo miners recently staged a one-day strike to protest inadequate financing of the coal industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1998).

KEMEROVO HOSTAGE DRAMA ENDS WITH ARREST OF HOSTAGE

ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February that police have detained Aleksandr Ternovykh, a Kemerovo coal mine manager who allegedly caused the deaths of three miners in February 1997. The miners, whom Ternovykh sent into the mine following a fire, died of the effects of methane fumes. Before his arrest, Ternovykh and some other executives at the mine were held hostage for several days by a group of miners who said they had not received their wages for more than two years. LB

EXECUTIVE DESCRIBES LUZHKOV'S RELATIONS WITH TV- CENTER

Anatolii Lysenko, a member of the board of directors of the network TV-Center, described the network's relations with Moscow Mayor Luzhkov in an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 January. The Moscow city government provides most of the financing for TV-Center, which began broadcasting last June and is widely seen as a vehicle for a future presidential bid by Luzhkov. In addition to serving on the TV-Center board of directors, Lysenko chairs the Moscow government's committee on telecommunications and the mass media. He acknowledged that officials acting on behalf of the mayor occasionally complain about programs. However, Lysenko noted that contrary to the expectations of some journalists, he was not fired after First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais--a political opponent of the Moscow mayor--recently appeared on TV-Center. LB




PRESSURE MOUNTS ON ARMENIAN PRESIDENT

An influential organization of Karabakh war veterans has joined opposition calls for the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported 2 February. The group accused Ter-Petrossyan of pursuing a "defeatist policy" on Karabakh. Also on 2 February, Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian resigned, shortly after the Armenian parliament ratified the 1997 treaty of friendship with Russia. Arzumanian, a supporter of Ter-Petrossyan and his Karabakh policy in the past, has not yet made any public statement as to why he resigned, but his departure will certainly put additional pressure on Ter-Petrossyan over the issue of settling the Karabakh conflict. The Armenian president has accepted his resignation as well as that of Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghian. PG

GEORGIA SEEKS RUSSIAN, ARMENIAN COOPERATION ON CORRIDOR

In his weekly radio address on 2 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he hopes Russia and Armenia will join with Georgia and other countries in promoting a Eurasian corridor, Interfax reported. He noted that Russia would "acquire vast opportunities for transporting large streams of cargo from north to south" if the Abkhaz conflict were settled. That conflict, Shevardnadze suggested, "will be settled through compromises, external interference, or in some other way." Meanwhile, communist groups in Georgia' Ajaria region have begun a petition drive calling for Tbilisi to join the Russian-Belarusian union, ITAR- TASS reported. PG

KARABAKH LEADER REJECTS SUBORDINATION TO AZERBAIJAN

Arkadiy Gukasyan said on 2 February that he has ruled out re-subordinating his region to Baku, ITAR-TASS reported. "The Karabakh side cannot agree that the Nagorno-Karabakh republic is fiction and its powers are illegitimate," Gukasyan told the Karabakh legislature. Such subordination is part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group peace plan that Armenian President Ter-Petrossyan and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev have endorsed. But Gukasyan indicated that he has grave doubts about Baku's pledge under the accord to provide the region with the "highest degree of autonomy." Re-subordinating Karabakh to the authority of Azerbaijan, Gukasyan concluded, will only bring the "conflicting sides closer to warfare." PG

AZERBAIJANI FORCES "LEAFLETTED" BY MORTAR

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 2 February that units of the Azerbaijani army near the disputed Karabakh region had come under fire with mortar shells filled with propaganda leaflets. The ministry said Azerbaijan would take unspecified "retaliatory measures." PG

TAJIK OPPOSITION FREES POWS

Said Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the United Tajik Opposition, was in the village of Tavil-Dara on 2 February to witness the release of 12 government soldiers who had been prisoners of war, Reuters and Interfax reported. They are the first of at least 50 POWs expected to be freed in the next few days. RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe could not confirm that any POWs had returned to the Tajik capital. Fighting took place in the Tavil-Dara area during most of 1996. The number of people killed and captured there is still unclear. BP




CZECH PRESIDENT SWORN IN FOR SECOND TERM

Vaclav Havel on 2 February was sworn in for a second and last term as president, CTK and Reuters reported. Deputies representing the far-right Republican Party, who argue that Havel's election was unconstitutional, boycotted the ceremony (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). Deputies and senators from the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia were also absent. In an address after the ceremony, Havel pledged to "strengthen civil society, spread respect for human rights, [and] fight against nationalism, and xenophobia." He also said he would seek to replace the current "atmosphere of intrigue, power calculation, and mutual tripping up" with one that would offer "a fast and effective solution to the large economic and social problems of the country." MS

BACK WAGES FOR VOTES IN UKRAINE?

Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz says the government has increased efforts to pay arrears in an attempt to garner political support as parliamentary elections near, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 February. Moroz said the "influence of money sacks" is definitely being felt in some regions of Ukraine. He charged that wage and pension arrears are being paid with budgetary funds allocated for other purposes. The Central Electoral Commission reported on 1 February that nearly 7,000 candidates will compete for the 450 seats in the parliament. Half of those seats will be filled by the winners in single- mandate constituencies and the other half by candidates nominated by parties that clear a 4 percent threshold. The elections are scheduled for 31 March. PB

DEATH PENALTY BAN TO BE ADDRESSED IN UKRAINE

Boris Oleynyk, the head of the Ukrainian delegation at the Council of Europe, said his country's parliament will decide soon on the status of capital punishment, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 February. But the next day, parliamentary speaker Moroz said in Kyiv that legislators will address the issue later this month or in early March. Kyiv imposed a moratorium on executions when it joined the council in 1995, but it has repeatedly violated the ban. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recently demanded that Ukraine pass legislation banning the death penalty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1998). PB

ESTONIAN OFFICIAL URGES SPEEDY ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY

Meanwhile, Eiki Nestor, the head of the Estonian delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, has said that if Tallinn does not soon abolish the death penalty, "pressure from third countries can be expected, " ETA reported on 2 February. Abolishing capital punishment in Estonia will be a formality only, since the country's Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that death sentences would no longer be carried out because "legislation is insufficient to justify it." In what was seen as a step toward doing away with the death penalty, the parliament last year passed a bill allowing life imprisonment (previously, the maximum prison sentence was 15 years). In March 1996, Estonia ratified the European human rights convention but not the additional clause on abolishing capital punishment. JC

LATVIAN PRESIDENT BACKS PREMIER OVER NATURALIZATION

Guntis Ulmanis says he welcomes Prime Minister Guntars Krasts's statement that the government may call for granting citizenship to all children born in Latvia since the country regained independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1998), BNS reported. Krasts's Fatherland and Freedom party strongly opposes the naturalization of non-citizens' children and other changes to the citizenship law. Meanwhile, Krasts said at a 2 February press conference that he had not proposed changing the citizenship law but had only agreed that a discussion should be launched, RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported. JC

VAGNORIUS ORDERS PROBE INTO KGB ALLEGATIONS AGAINST MINISTER

Lithuanian Premier Gediminas Vagnorius has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate allegations that an unspecified member of his cabinet collaborated with the Soviet-era KGB, BNS reported on 2 February. The order comes after Vytautas Cepas, a member of the National Security Committee, confirmed to reporters that he has information showing a cabinet member involved in the privatization of Lithuania's Telecom was recruited by the KGB in 1989. A government statement issued on 2 February described the allegations as yet another attempt of the "remnants of Soviet repressive structures...to exert inadmissible pressure on ministers' decisions." JC

POLISH ECONOMY CONTINUES TO GROW

The government has announced that the economy grew 7 percent in 1997, up from 6.1 percent the previous year, AFP reported on 31 January. The country received $6.6 billion in investment last year, the highest yearly amount for any Eastern European country since the fall of communism. Foreign investment since 1989 now totals $20.6 billion, meaning that Poland has overtaken Hungary as the country in the region with the largest foreign investment. The U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Poland ($4 billion), ahead of Germany ($2.1 billion). PB

SLOVAK POLICE SEIZE 13 TONS OF CANNABIS

Police in Slovakia say they have arrested four men, one of them a Colombian national, after seizing almost 13 tons of marijuana in a raid in Nitra on 30 January. According to a police statement, Slovak police cooperated with U.S., German, and Czech law-enforcement agencies in tracking the shipment that left Columbia for Slovakia via the Czech Republic a few months ago, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. MS

SLOVAKIA'S HUNGARIANS SUPPORT MINORITY REPRESENTATION IN HUNGARY

Leaders of the three political parties representing Slovakia's Hungarian minority have urged politicians in Budapest to facilitate the representation of minorities in the Hungarian parliament as soon as possible, Hungarian media reported on 2 February. The ethnic Hungarian leaders told Csaba Tabajdi, political state secretary at the Prime Minister's Office, that Hungary's legislature must provide for the parliamentary representation of minorities since they are unable to win such representation through the regular electoral process owing to their small size. Of the former communist countries, only Romania has a constitution that provides for minority representation in the parliament. MSZ




INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY URGES MUSLIMS TO LET REFUGEES RETURN

Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard, and other representatives of the international community opened a conference in Sarajevo on 3 February to encourage all three sides to let refugees go home. The draft declaration calls on the Muslims to allow 20,000 Serbs and Croats to return to Sarajevo, which was multi-ethnic before the war but which is now almost 90 percent Muslim. The blunt language in the text reflects the international community's impatience with the reluctance of the Muslims to let others return to their homes on Muslim-controlled territory. Many of the new Muslim inhabitants of the capital are refugees from rural eastern Bosnia whose former homes are now under Serbian control. PM

BOSNIAN AID MONEY LINKED TO REFUGEE ISSUE

J. Brian Atwood, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in Sarajevo on 2 February that international aid money has helped revive the economy of the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation. He added that, with continued aid, the federation might reach 80 percent of Bosnia's pre-war gross domestic product by the year 2000. He praised Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and indicated that U.S. aid money will now be available to the Republika Srpska. Atwood warned the Muslims, however, that they must allow Serbs and Croats to return and quickly enact legislation to enable non-Muslims to reclaim their former homes. PM

JOINT BOSNIAN LICENSE PLATES RELEASED

Jacques Klein, who is Westendorp's deputy, distributed the first of the new joint Bosnian license plates in Sarajevo on 2 February. Those plates do not identify where the car comes from and are intended to facilitate freedom of movement across the former front lines. Klein stated that "where previously drivers had feared that the license plates on their car could--and did--serve as an invitation for thuggery or worse, with the new plates drivers will be able to travel freely around the country without parading where they come from." Drivers who do not switch to the new plates by the end of July will be fined. Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the joint presidency, said in Sarajevo on 2 February that the introduction of joint plates is a "bad move," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. PM

BRITAIN SEES KOSOVO, MONTENEGRO LINK

British Junior Foreign Minister Tony Lloyd said in Podgorica on 2 February that the same people are responsible for the recent violence in Kosovo and Podgorica, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. He did not, however, identify those people. Lloyd added that he hopes the new Montenegrin government will be democratic and multi-ethnic. The same day in Belgrade, Lloyd told Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic that the EU, whose presidency the U.K. currently holds, will help reintegrate Yugoslavia back into international institutions, provided that Belgrade "opens up the political process in Kosovo" and implements a 1996 agreement on restoring Albanian-language education there, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. PM

SERBS WARNED OF LETHAL BRANDY

Police on 2 February arrested the director of the Zivadinovic Distillery in Nis and summoned three food inspectors for questioning following the death of 12 people and the poisoning of many more in recent days from drinking a local grape brandy made with methyl alcohol. Serbian government officials said the Zivadinovic company produced more than 40,000 liters of alcoholic drinks over the previous eight months and that some of those had been sold at cut- rate prices in various parts of Serbia. PM

SLOVENIA BACKS SECURITY COUNCIL ON IRAQ

President Milan Kucan, whose country holds one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, wrote his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, on 2 February to say that Ljubljana will back any Security Council decision on Iraq. "Slovenia... will insist on Iraq's fully and unconditionally observing the Security Council resolutions on the destruction of chemical and biological weapons and others designed for mass destruction." Kucan added that the UN Special Commission must have a free hand to carry out its mandate. The president concluded that he hopes the current tensions can be defused by diplomatic means. PM

SLOVENIA SAYS NO POLITICAL STATUS FOR GERMAN MINORITY

Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said in Ljubljana on 30 January that Slovenia's 765 native-German speakers will not be recognized in the constitution as a distinct ethnic minority. He had earlier met with Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel. Drnovsek noted that he and Schuessel agreed that the status of the German speakers "is a cultural question" and that "Austria does not expect us to change our constitution." He said they agreed that the German-speakers in Slovenia are not a homogenous group, but scattered. The constitution recognizes an Italian and a Hungarian minority, each of which is guaranteed one seat in parliament. The status of the German-speakers has been a thorny issue in relations between Ljubljana and Vienna. PM

ALBANIA TO END TELECOM MONOPOLY

A spokesman for the Economy and Privatization Ministry said on 2 February that the government has approved a law abolishing the current monopolies on telecommunications. Only the state company and the private company Albanian Mobile Telecommunications are currently allowed to operate, "Koha Jone" reported. The law would also put an end to the ban on private Internet providers. To date, the United Nations Development Project and the Soros Foundation offer e-mail services only to NGOs schools, universities, and government institutions. Private or commercial users have no access to e-mail. Also in Tirana, Deputy Sports Minister Kreshnik Tartari said that he hopes to privatize all soccer clubs this year. FS

ALBANIAN PYRAMID AUDITORS PUBLISH REPORT

None of Albania's five largest pyramid investment companies is able to pay back its debts, according to the French auditing firm Deloitte & Touche. A report handed to the government on 2 February concludes that 56 individual businesses belonging to pyramid firms generate some income but that 273 do not. It notes that the pyramids as a whole continue to generate losses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1998). Meanwhile, 200,000 creditors have reported their claims to a government office. FS

ROMANIA'S RIVAL COALITION CAMPS HOLD TALKS...

The leaderships of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the Democratic Party met on 2-3 February to discussed how to cooperate in the future, Radio Bucharest reported. The new coalition protocol was not discussed, but on 2 February agreement was reached by the PNTCD and the coalition parties that did not withdraw from the government on the details of the protocol. That document is to be submitted for the Democrats' approval. The five Democrats who withdrew from the cabinet on 2 February have handed in their written resignation and also demanded the dismissal of the management of state television for interrupting broadcasts to air the 31 January press conference of the PNTCD in which Wim van Velzen also participated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1998). MS

...WHILE CONSTANTINESCU MEETS WITH OPPOSITION LEADERS

President Emil Constantinescu on 2 February met with leaders of the main opposition parties represented in the parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Adrian Nastase, deputy chairman of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said he had handed the president a 10-point letter on how to improve cooperation in the legislature between the coalition and the opposition. He said the issue of the PDSR possible support's in the legislature of a minority government was not raised "because of the Democrats' still ambiguous position" on participating in the ruling coalition. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, said later that early elections are "unavoidable" and that he proposed to Constantinescu that those elections be organized either by a "government of technocrats" or by one of "national unity" in which all parties are represented. MS

ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES RELEASE PRIVATIZATION FIGURES

Sorin Dimitriu, the chairman of the State Privatization Fund, told journalists on 2 February that 1,304 state companies were privatized in 1997. He said most of those companies were small or middle-sized and that in the previous year, some 1,450 companies had been privatized. Nevertheless, revenues from privatization last year were considerably higher than in 1996. The fund plans privatizing 1,600 companies this year. Dimitriu said the country's ongoing political crisis is affecting privatization because prospective investors are losing confidence in Romania's political and economic stability. MS

MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER ON ECONOMY

Ion Ciubuc on 2 February said that since taking office one year ago, his cabinet has managed to fulfill all its objectives. Pensions arrears, which 12 months ago amounted to 315 million lei ($70 million), have been were reduced by 90 percent, and the government hopes to make all back payments by the end of this month. GDP grew 1.3 percent in 1997, marking the end of economic decline. Ciubuc also said Moldova reduced its debt to Gazprom by $140 million, of which $80 million was paid by means of goods. The remaining debt totals $91 million (not including the more than $200 million that the Transdniester authorities owe Gazprom). MS

PART OF ARMS WITHDRAWAL FROM MOLDOVA COMPLETED

Valerii Yevnevich, the commander of Russian troops in the Transdniester, said on 2 February that a train carrying 200 tons of dichloroethane left the region earlier that day. Yevnevich noted that the train's departure meant "we have implemented in full the [1993 Russian- Moldovan] agreement on withdrawing engineering technology from the region." He added that preparations have been completed for the withdrawal of arms and ammunition that belonged to the former Russian 14th Army. "If the Russian government and the Defense Minister order the withdrawal, we are ready to implement it," he commented. That withdrawal is being obstructed by the authorities in Tiraspol, which consider the arms to belong either partly or fully to the separatists. MS

MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS SUSPECT PLANE STOLEN IN AFRICA

Chisinau authorities suspect that a Moldovan-registered cargo plane that disappeared after a flight to Africa in December 1997 has either been stolen or "hidden somewhere" by the six-member crew. Iurie Armasu, general manager of the Civil Aviation Authority, said on 2 February that the AN-72 plane, owned by the Moldova Renan company, was chartered by a company registered in Congo. After delivering its cargo, the plane flew to the Ivory Coast for unknown reasons and landed in Angola. The Moldovan media speculates that the plane was involved in arms trafficking, but Moldovan officials are refusing to reveal the plane's cargo, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. MS

BULGARIAN POLLS SUGGEST WIDESPREAD CORRUPTION

An opinion poll conducted by the Center for Democratic Studies suggests widespread corruption among Bulgarian officials. Eighty-six percent of the respondents said bribes are essential to obtain proper medical treatment. Seventy-four percent said bribes are readily accepted by custom officers, while 63 percent named judges and 56 percent police as bribe-takers, AFP reported on 2 February. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents believe "it is a waste of time" to report cases of corruption, while 31 percent said paying bribes was "bad, but unavoidable." MS




TURKMENISTAN MAKES RAMAZAN BAYRAMI OFFICIAL HOLIDAY


by Lowell Bezanis

As the Muslim holy month of fasting and atonement-- Ramadan --concludes, it will be marked throughout the Islamic world with three consecutive days of celebration. In Turkmenistan, for the first time, the beginning of this religious holiday on 30 January will be observed and officially sanctified as a day of rest. The change was ushered in by a 14 January presidential decree.

In accordance with the decree, the first day of the Festival of Breaking Fast, or Ramazan Bayrami, as it is known to Turcophone Muslims, as well as the beginning of the other Muslim canonical festival, the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Gurban Bayrami, have been declared non- working, national holidays.

Including the two new religiously-inspired ones, Turkmenistan celebrates 21 official holidays. This number has climbed steadily since Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty in October of 1991. Among the holidays, only three -- namely New Year, International Women's Day (8 March), and Victory Day (9 May) -- were celebrated in the Soviet era. The remainder represent newly-instituted holidays.

Most of them have a distinct national overtone. Two have a historical and solemn character. The first of these, observed on 12 January, refers to the slaughter of Turkmen tribesmen at Goek-Tepe by Russian forces in 1881. The other, which is marked on 6 October, commemorates those who died in the devastating earthquake which hit the republic in 1948. Among those who died in the earthquake were President Saparmurad Niyazov's mother and brothers.

Other holidays are less somber in character, but aim to strengthen national unity and pride in Turkmenistan, and in its present-day institutions. In this category are holidays commemorating, for example, Turkmen musicians, national development and unity, the republic's declaration of sovereignty, and its national flag. Others highlight some of the government's more innocuous policies, such as its declared commitment to good neighborliness and neutrality in international affairs.

Several of the new holidays belie the manner in which the nation-building process has gone forward in Turkmenistan. They take their inspiration from something important to, or closely associated with, Turkmen, but otherwise lack profundity or abstract value. Without denigrating the importance of water, Turkmen carpets, melons or Akhal Tekin horses, many observers were taken aback by official announcements that these items deserved to be commemorated as national holidays.

Some holidays, such as National Flag Day (19 February), were added to the calendar in a curious manner. The holiday was initially conceived by Turkmenistan's 50- member unicameral parliament (majlis) as a day of rest to mark Niyazov's (known as Turkmenbashi--the ruler of all Turkmen) birthday. Niyazov, ridiculed in international media for his cultivation of a personality cult, rejected his parliament's rubber-stamp offer, and turned the planned birthday celebration into National Flag Day.

The latest, religious additions to Turkmenistan's list of official holidays fall into a different category. They will undoubtedly be welcomed by many Turkmen as a gesture to the Muslim faith they esteem as a hallmark of their culture. Outsiders, particularly in the Muslim East, will also likely nod their approval.

Niyazov has also brought Turkmenistan into line with his Central Asian neighbors, such as Uzbekistan.

In making this gesture, Niyazov recognizes long- standing traditions; he does not create them, as has been attempted with all but the Soviet-era holidays Turkmen citizens now celebrate. Even for Muslims living in officially secular or in atheist socialist states, like Turkey, Albania or the former Soviet Union, Ramazan Bayrami remained a time of celebration.

Though many did not observe the fourth pillar of the Muslim faith, which forbids food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn-to-dusk during the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim lunar calendar, Ramadan, people remained in the habit of making visits, giving presents to children and offering congratulations at its conclusion, as the faith required. The author writes regularly on Turkey, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.


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