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Newsline - February 18, 1998




DUMA POSTPONES BUDGET VOTE

The State Duma on 18 February removed the fourth reading of the 1998 budget from its agenda for the day, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Also on 18 February, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met with the leaders of Duma factions and called for the lower house of the parliament to approve 12 proposed budget amendments submitted by the government the previous day. Those amendments are to be examined by the Duma Budget Committee and by Duma factions before being put to the vote on 20 February at the earliest. The most controversial amendment deals with the 27.9 billion rubles ($4.6 billion) in expenditures added to the budget during negotiations between the government and parliament last fall. The amendment would stipulate that those funds are not to be spent unless the government receives sufficient revenues to cover them--an unlikely prospect, given the government's poor record on tax collection. LB

CONTROVERSIAL AMENDMENT DRAWS OPPOSITION...

The Duma is expected to approve 11 of the government's 12 proposed budget amendments, including one that would eliminate all planned offset (as opposed to "real money") payments. However, deputies are expected to fight the amendment that would likely cut the additional 27.9 billion rubles in spending. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 18 February that the proposal is a "provocation" by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais in order to "ruin the budget process." Even the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction opposes that amendment. Faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin told RFE/RL that the government's power to impose spending cuts on any program should be broadened. He noted that the 27.9 billion rubles are not listed as a separate part of the budget but have been incorporated into many budget articles. LB

...BUT YABLOKO SUPPORTS MEASURE

In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 17 February, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii praised the proposal to withhold spending of the 27.9 billion rubles added to the budget last fall. He said he is glad Yeltsin recognized that the draft budget is unrealistic, as Yabloko has long maintained. However, Yavlinskii said that even if the government refrains from spending those 27.9 billion rubles, the 1998 budget, as currently drafted, remains unrealistic. He estimated that planned expenditures will outstrip planned revenues this year by 70 billion rubles, not including the 27.9 billion rubles. LB

FEDERATION COUNCIL FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO ON LAND CODE

The Federation Council on 18 February fell well short of the two- thirds majority needed to override Yeltsin's veto of the land code, ITAR- TASS reported. The vote was 67 in favor, 70 against, and 15 abstentions (119 votes were needed for the measure to pass). Yeltsin vetoed the code last July, and the Duma overrode his veto in September. Yeltsin and top officials from the government and both houses of the parliament agreed in late December to forge a compromise on the code within three months, but there has been little progress on revising the code since then (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998). LB

UN CONFIRMS RUSSIA-IRAQ DISCUSSED BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS

UN Special Commission Chairman Richard Butler has written to Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov asking him to clarify documentation that his inspectors secured in Baghdad in September 1997, AFP reported on 17 February. The documentation confirms that discussions took place in 1995 between Russian and Iraqi officials on possible cooperation in manufacturing biological weapons. The Russian Foreign Ministry recently issued a statement rejecting claims by the "Washington Post" that Russia has Iraq equipment that could be used for the manufacture of such weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1998.) LF

YELTSIN, LI PENG EXPRESS "CONCERN" OVER IRAQ

In a joint statement following their talks on 17 February, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese Premier Li Peng expressed "profound concern" at the dangerous development of events surrounding Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. They confirmed that, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia and China reject resolving the crisis by force and support a settlement providing for Iraq's full compliance with Security Council resolutions and guaranteeing the removal of Iraq's potential to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Such a settlement, the statement continued, would expedite the lifting of current sanctions against Iraq, in particular the oil embargo. The same day, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said Iraq is prepared to allow UN weapons inspectors access to sites suspected to contain weapons of mass destruction, according to AFP. LF

RUSSIA, CHINA SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENTS

Also on 17 February, Li and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin signed five bilateral agreements following two-hour talks, Russian news agencies reported. The agreements deal with cooperation in ship-building, the settlement of Russian debts to China, trade and economic cooperation in 1998, streamlining the procedure for allowing Russians into some Chinese cities, and setting up a new railroad border crossing. Li told journalists that "direct links" between the most industrialized Chinese provinces and Russian regions must be established in order to significantly increase bilateral trade turnover from the current level of $6 billion annually. (The Primorskii Krai administration announced on 18 February that more than 40 business deals were signed during a recent Russian-Chinese trade show.) Li and Chernomyrdin also discussed preparations for an informal meeting between Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, scheduled for later this year. LB

CHECHEN LEADERS CONDEMN RADUEV

President Aslan Maskhadov and Prime Minister Shamil Basaev have said that maverick field commander Salman Raduev's claim that he was responsible for the bid to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze "discredit" Chechnya's leadership and adversely affect its foreign relations, AFP reported. Basaev intends to convene a congress of field commanders on 21 February to discuss Raduev's "anti-state" activities. He is also ready to use force against Raduev if necessary, RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent reported on 18 February. On 15 February, Raduev ignored a summons to appear at the Chechen Prosecutor-General's office for questioning in connection with his claims. LF

LUZHKOV STILL HAS EYE ON SEVASTOPOL...

During a speech to World War Two veterans on 17 February, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov vowed that "we will still fight for Sevastopol," ITAR-TASS reported. Luzhkov criticized what he called the "forced Ukrainianization" taking place in the Crimean port, where the Black Sea Fleet is based and which Luzhkov has repeatedly declared a Russian city. He confirmed that the city of Moscow will continue to fund the construction of housing for Russian sailors based in Sevastopol. Luzhkov also told the veterans that Russia must develop a strong defense industry. The mayor, who is considered a leading contender for the support of the "patriotic" electorate in the next presidential election, recently announced that all defense enterprises located in Moscow will be exempt from city taxes, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 February. LB

...TAKES ISSUE WITH GOVERNMENT POLICIES

Luzhkov was one of three regional leaders whom Yeltsin praised by name during his 17 February address to both houses of the parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. (The others were Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak and Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov.) But commenting on the president's speech, the Moscow mayor again criticized the federal government's economic policy. Luzhkov said growth cannot be achieved through the "monetarism" supported by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, and Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, Interfax reported on 17 February. Luzhkov favors an economic policy focused on supporting domestic industry. On 13 February, Luzhkov said the government should change its customs policy to reduce imports of food products, ITAR-TASS reported. He has also assailed the government for leaving courts chronically underfunded. LB

LEBED MAKES IT OFFICIAL...

Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 17 February confirmed that he is running for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He did not disclose the identity of the financial backers of his campaign but said he has held talks with all major Russian financial groups. He noted that all of those groups have an interest in resource-rich Krasnoyarsk. Losing the 26 April election would damage Lebed's prospects in the next presidential election. For that reason, Lebed believes that some of his political opponents are trying to harm his chances in Krasnoyarsk. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 February, Lebed charged that Viktoriya Mitina, the deputy head of the presidential administration, has warned "almost all somewhat well-known bankers in Moscow and Krasnoyarsk" not to support his gubernatorial bid. LB

...CHANGES TUNE ON BEREZOVSKII

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 February, Lebed said he has changed his opinion of former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. Noting that he himself began the peace process in Chechnya, Lebed said he has come to believe that Berezovskii continued that process. Following his ouster as Security Council secretary in October 1996, Lebed repeatedly accused Berezovskii of profiting from the war in Chechnya and trying to sabotage his peacemaking efforts. He charged that Berezovskii had once chided him for "ruining a very good business." After Yeltsin sacked Berezovskii last November, Lebed acknowledged that Berezovskii's actions in the Caucasus region were effective, but he nonetheless argued that Berezovskii put his business interests before the interests of the Russian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 1997). LB

BEREZOVSKII TRANSFERRED TO SWISS CLINIC

Berezovskii has flown from Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital to a private clinic in Switzerland for treatment over the next 10-12 days, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 February. The head of the LogoVAZ business empire reportedly suffered a spinal injury when he recently fell off a snowmobile. LB

NEWSPAPER SAYS BEREZOVSKII RETAINS INFLUENCE OVER ORT

Berezovskii has managed to retain his influence over 51 percent state- owned Russian Public Television (ORT), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 February. Although businesses controlled by Berezovskii own only some 8 percent of ORT shares, Berezovskii has in recent years partly financed the network and paid the salaries of some ORT executives. ORT recently adopted a new charter and elected a new board of directors; six of the 11 members of the board are state-appointed representatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998). Two of those representatives--board chairman Vitalii Ignatenko and government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov- -are considered part of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin's team, "Kommersant- Daily" noted. Media financed by Berezovskii have provided consistently favorable coverage to Chernomyrdin since last summer. Berezovskii is also believed to have close ties with another ORT board member, Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. LB

OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER WANTS TO SEVER TIES WITH ADMINISTRATION

Employees of the official daily newspaper "Rossiiskie vesti" have met with editor-in-chief Valerii Kucher and supported his proposal to make the paper independent of the presidential administration, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 17 February. Kucher told RFE/RL that "Rossiiskie vesti" wants to sever relations with its partner partly because the presidential administration has not invested "a single kopeck" in the publication. In addition, Kucher charged that at meetings with him, Kremlin officials have sought to "dictate terms" for the newspaper's content and have insisted that the newspaper publish only official materials, many of which Kucher considers uninteresting. He said "Rossiiskie vesti" journalists "want freedom" and independence from bureaucratic interests and financial groups. He did not explain how he expects the newspaper to survive financially without ties to the presidential administration or business groups. LB

SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST INGUSH PRESIDENT

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled on 17 February that Ingush President Ruslan Aushev's decree providing for a referendum on reform of the republic's legal and court system is invalid, ITAR-TASS reported. The referendum is scheduled to take place at the same time as the 1 March Ingush presidential elections. Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov asked the Supreme Court to ban the referendum on the grounds that such votes may not be used to decide issues that are either within the competence of the federal center or fall under the joint jurisdiction of the center and federation subjects. "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 February quoted Aushev as confirming he will disregard the Supreme Court's ruling. Also on 17 February, seven presidential candidates issued a statement accusing Aushev and the republican authorities of numerous violations of the electoral law. LF

DIFFERING VIEWS ON MORDOVIAN ELECTION RESULT

In its 17 February issue, the official newspaper "Rossiiskie vesti" argued that the recent presidential election in Mordovia demonstrated that reforms have produced "tangible results" in some regions. The newspaper said that in voting for incumbent "reform architects" by wide margins, residents of such regions seek to "consolidate" the results of reform. (Mordovian President Nikolai Merkushkin won with 96.6 percent of the vote, and his only competitor did not actively campaign against him.) "Russkii telegraf" noted on 17 February that high-profile critics of Merkushkin were excluded from participating in the race and that since last fall the local radio and television have carried out a "massive propagandistic attack" in favor of the incumbent. The newspaper also reported that Merkushkin is one of very few regional leaders considered loyal to Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, who is rumored to have supported Merkushkin's campaign. LB

MORDOVIAN POLICE OFFICERS CONVICTED OF TORTURING SUSPECTS

The Supreme Court of Mordovia has convicted several officers on charges of torturing suspected criminals, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 February. The republican prosecutor's office brought the case after a series of disturbing incidents, including the death of 19-year-old Oleg Igonin, who was arrested for burglary (a charge of which he was posthumously cleared) and tortured by several police officers. He was eventually asphyxiated when officers put a gas mask on him and cut off the air supply. The Mordovian Supreme Court sentenced two officers to nine-and-a-half years in prison and five others to terms ranging from three to five years. In addition, the court ordered the Mordovian branch of the Interior Ministry to pay 200,000 rubles ($33,000) to Igonin's mother and more than 100,000 rubles to others who have been tortured in custody. LB




WHICH 'ZVIADISTS' TRIED TO KILL GEORGIAN PRESIDENT?

Speaking on Georgian television on 16 February, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze disclosed that most of those who took part in the 9 February attempt to kill Eduard Shevardnadze are former members of the battalion headed by Loti Kobalia, ITAR-TASS reported. Kobalia served in 1992-1993 as head of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's private army and led Gamsakhurdia's failed attempt in August 1993 to return to power by force. Kobalia was sentenced to death in Tbilisi in November 1996 on charges of treason and banditry. Gamsakhurdia's widow, Manana Archvadze- Gamsakhurdia, told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 February that Kobalia is a "traitor" and that she has no contact with him. She further denied that her late husband's supporters played any part in the attempt to kill Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, two other suspects have been arrested in connection with the 9 February attack, Caucasus Press reported on 18 February. LF

KOCHARYAN MEETS WITH DASHNAKS FROM ABROAD

Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan on 17 February met with a sizable Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) delegation from abroad, the Yerevan News Agency and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharyan underscored the importance to Yerevan of the Armenian Diaspora and promised that in future ARFD members will be allowed unrestricted travel to Armenia. He also advocated introducing dual citizenship, currently barred by the constitution, for Armenians living abroad. LF

OSCE MONITORS SHOT AT IN KARABAKH

A Karabakh Armenian officer was wounded on 17 February when Azerbaijani units opened machine-gun fire on a car in which cease-fire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were traveling. The incident took place in the eastern Karabakh district of Martuni, Noyan Tapan reported, quoting the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic. LF

"NO CHANGES" IMMINENT IN AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN POLICY

In an interview with Turan on 17 February, Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade denied that his country's foreign policy will change following the dismissal by President Heidar Aliyev of Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov. Gulu-Zade also denied that he himself is likely to be named as Hasanov's successor. According to the news agency, Hasanov has written to Aliyev acknowledging he made a "mistake" in using Turkish credits to finance construction of the Europa Hotel and casino complex. Hasanov denied that partial control of the complex was granted to Turkey's Imperial Group in payment of massive gambling debts incurred by Aliev's son Ilham. The former minister pleaded with the president to show "magnanimity." LF

STRIKING KAZAKH MINERS DISRUPT RAIL TRAFFIC

Several hundred workers from the Janatas Phosphorous Plant in Jambyl Oblast blocked the railroad station in the town of Taraz on 17 February, halting rail traffic between Shymkent and Almaty, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Some 3,000 employees of the Janatas plant launched a strike four months ago to protest wage arrears from 1996 and 1997. The police prevented other strikers from storming the Jambyl Oblast administration building, while oblast leaders failed to persuade the strikers to call off their protest. The strikers continue to demand to meet with Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev. A meeting with the premier was scheduled for 13 February, but Balgimbaev failed to show up. LF

BELGIAN COMPANY BLAMES KAZAKH GOVERNMENT OVER GAS SHORTAGES

A representative of the Belgian utilities company Tractebel has disclaimed responsibility for the current gas shortages in southern Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 17 February, Tractebel Vice President Ludo Candries said Prime Minister Balgimbaev precipitated the shortages by preventing the transfer of a key gas storage facility to Tractebel's subsidiary, Intergas. Candries also accused Kazakh officials of harassment and of threatening to close down Tractebel's Almaty office, according to ITAR- TASS. LF




EBRD UNCERTAIN ABOUT LOAN FOR UKRAINIAN REACTORS

Charles Frank, the acting president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said in Kyiv on 18 February that the EBRD is still unsure about lending money to Kyiv for the construction of nuclear reactors, ITAR- TASS reported. The new reactors would be built at the Rivno and Khmelnytsky nuclear power plants and would pave the way for the permanent shutdown of Chornobyl. Frank said that even if the $1.2 billion loan were granted, it would not be possible to construct the new reactors by 2000, the year by which the Ukrainian government has pledged to close down Chornobyl. Frank said the EBRD wants to ensure that the decision to build the two new reactors is cost-effective, that a safe design is used, and that the loan would be repaid. PB

U.S. NEWSPAPER SAYS BELARUS, IRAN TO SIGN WEAPONS DEAL

Belarus is preparing a weapons deal whereby it would send tank engines and other spare parts to Iran, the "Washington Times" reported on 17 February. Citing CIA sources, the newspaper said Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka would sign the agreement during a trip to Iran scheduled for early next month. The spare parts would allow Iran to maintain its Soviet-built tanks. An Iranian-Belarusian economic commission met in Tehran earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1998). PB

COMMITTEE CALLS FOR SUSPENSION OF LATVENERGO PRIVATIZATION

The parliamentary committee investigating the loss of 3 million lats (some $6 million) at the state energy utility Latvenergo is to submit a draft resolution calling for the privatization of the company to be suspended, BNS reported on 17 February. The committee also concluded that "political pressure" on the board of the Latvian Privatization Agency facilitated the illegal deal between Banka Baltija and an off-shore Liechtenstein company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). "The decision was made hastily and in violation of record-keeping violations at the agency," Andrejs Pantelejevs, the head of the committee, told reporters. At the time of the deal, the board was subordinated to former Prime Minister Andris Skele. JC

ADAMKUS WANTS CABINET POSTS SLASHED

Lithuanian President-elect Valdas Adamkus has confirmed that he would like to see significant reductions in the size of the cabinet, BNS reported on 17 February. Following a meeting with Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, Adamkus proposed abolishing three ministries initially and another two at a later date. Adamkus is to be sworn in next week, and the parliament is due to hold a vote of confidence in the cabinet on 3 March. Last month, the government requested that Constitutional Court rule on the transfer of powers following the inauguration of a new president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998). JC

POLISH PRESIDENT RE-NOMINATES CENTRAL BANK HEAD

Aleksander Kwasniewski has nominated Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz to continue her duties as central bank chief, an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw reported on 17 February. Known as the "Iron Lady of Polish finance," Gronkiewicz-Waltz was praised by Kwasniewski as having "special knowledge and talents." The parliament is expected to vote later this week whether to grant Gronkiewicz-Waltz a second six-year term in office. Gronkiewicz-Waltz was recently named the best national bank chief in Central Europe. PB

HAVEL ASKS DEPUTY PREMIER TO POSTPONE RESIGNATION

President Vaclav Havel on 17 February asked Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister Jiri Skalicky not to resign until the minister has answered questions about controversial donations to his party, CTK reported. Skalicky asked to be allowed to consider Havel's request for one week. He spoke with journalists after visiting Havel in the hospital, where the president is to undergo surgery to an ulcer in his throat, Reuters reported. Earlier on 17 February, Prime Minister Josef Tosovsky had informed Havel of Skalicky's resignation, saying it is a "responsible political gesture." MS

CZECH SKINHEADS CAUSE ROMANI WOMAN TO DROWN

A 26-year-old Romani woman was found dead after three skinheads pushed her into the Labe River in Vrchlabi, eastern Bohemia, on 15 February, CTK reported. A local police spokesman said the skinheads have been detained. MS

SLOVAKIA, HUNGARY MAKE NO PROGRESS ON GABCIKOVO- NAGYMAROS

Julius Binder, deputy head of the Slovak delegation seeking to resolve the issue of the dam project on the River Danube, said on 17 February that his country's position on the project remains firm and is in accordance with the International Court of Justice ruling. Talking after another round of the bilateral discussions in Bratislava, Binder said Slovakia has no reason to make any concessions that would disadvantage the operation of the Cunovo dam, on the Slovak bank of the Danube. Hungarian government commissioner Janos Nemcsok admitted that the two sides remain far apart over the issue. He added that no agreement was reached on the water level at the Hungarian Dunakiliti reservoir, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES ROLE IN POSSIBLE ATTACK ON IRAQ

The parliament on 17 February approved the government's proposal that Hungary send a 50-member medical contingent to participate in a possible international operation against Iraq, Hungarian media reported. The resolution also allows countries taking part in such an operation to use Hungarian airspace and military airports. Hungary's participation would cost some 550 million forints ($2.6 million). Owing to the opposition of the Young Democrats and Independent Smallholders, the proposal to send a 200-member technical unit was dropped from the resolution. MSZ




CROATIAN UNIONS DEFY GOVERNMENT

Boris Kunst, the president of the United Labor Unions of Croatia, has said his group will hold a rally in Zagreb on 20 February to protest deteriorating social conditions. Several other unions and 11 political parties have endorsed the demonstration, which organizers expect will draw at least 50,000 participants, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital on 17 February . The government the previous day had banned the rally for what the authorities called security reasons. In his latest remarks, Kunst said that security is not a valid reason to ban a demonstration in peace time. Meanwhile, a government spokesman charged that some unions have rejected a call by Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa for talks and that this refusal "reveals the real intentions" of the unions. PM

VUKOVAR EX-COMMANDER WINS SETTLEMENT

The Croatian Defense Ministry on 16 February awarded $60,000 in damages to former Lieutenant-Colonel Mile Dedakovic, better known by his nom-de-guerre of Jastreb. The out-of-court settlement ends three years of litigation. After the fall of Vukovar in November 1991, the authorities accused Jastreb of deserting his post, collaborating with the Yugoslav army, and embezzlement. He was subsequently so badly beaten in a military prison that he is now an invalid. The authorities later dropped all charges against him. Jastreb, for his part, has repeatedly charged President Franjo Tudjman with refusing to send reinforcements to Vukovar and deliberately abandoning the town to the Serbs after a three-month siege. Many other former Croatian military personnel and civilians sympathize with Jastreb's views. PM

TEN THOUSAND AT ETHNIC ALBANIAN'S FUNERAL IN KOSOVO

Some 10,000 people attended the burial on 17 February near Glogovac of an ethnic Albanian electrician whom Albanian spokesmen say was killed by police two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). Meanwhile in Klina, police officials told BETA that the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army attacked a police station on the Klina-Srbica road the previous night. Spokesmen for an ethnic Albanian human rights group confirmed there had been gunfire in the area and that police reinforcements arrived soon afterward. PM

MEIDANI CALLS FOR UN ROLE IN KOSOVO

Albanian President Rexhep Meidani said in Tirana on 17 February that the situation in Kosovo has become "very dangerous" and that it is imperative to prevent an outbreak of violence. He called on unspecified "European institutions" to increase diplomatic activity in the area and for the UN to set up a mission in Pristina, BETA reported. PM

SFOR ISSUES NEW ORDERS TO BOSNIAN ARMIES

A spokesman for SFOR said in Sarajevo on 17 February that the federal and Bosnian Serb armies will have to reduce their respective arms depots by one-quarter in the near future to enable peacekeepers to monitor the weapons more effectively. He also pointed out that the two armies' military vehicles must display the new joint license plates by 1 May, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. Meanwhile, Hanns Schumacher, a deputy to the international community's Carlos Westendorp, criticized federal officials for charging citizens up to more than 10 times the official price for the new license plates. PM

WARNING STRIKE IN BOSNIA

Some 65,000 workers in the metallurgy industry staged a one-hour warning strike in several towns in the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation on 17 February. The workers demand that the federal government honor an agreement it reached with the unions at the end of last year. PM

BOSNIAN CARDINAL BACKS ECUMENISM

Cardinal Vinko Puljic told a meeting of the Bosnian Bishops' conference in Mostar on 17 February that the Roman Catholic Church should "strengthen the spirit of ecumenism" in its relations with both the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community. Puljic, who is the first cardinal in Bosnian history, also called for a concordat between Bosnia and the Vatican to regulate questions involving the return of Church property confiscated by the communists, building new religious buildings, and carrying out pastoral work. He also urged that all refugees be able to return to their former homes and enjoy full political, religious, and cultural freedom. Many Bosnian Croatian refugees come from centuries-old communities in central Bosnia now under Muslim or Serbian control. PM

MACEDONIA RECEIVES WORLD BANK LOAN

The World Bank announced in Washington on 17 February that it will loan Macedonia $35 million to modernize six power plants. Those facilities produce 91 percent of the country's electricity. PM

NEW ELECTION LAW FOR MONTENEGRO

Representatives of all political parties have expressed satisfaction with the election law that the parliament passed on 17 February, BETA reported. The legislature will have 78 members who are elected by proportional representation from among all parties receiving more than 3 percent of all ballots cast. The entire country will be treated as one election district. Five seats are reserved for members of the ethnic Albanian minority. PM

MONTENEGRIN BORDER GUARDS SHOOT ALBANIANS

Montenegrin border guards shot and killed a 22-year-old Albanian on 17 February. The victim was on his way to work in the Montenegrin town of Tuzi when the guards fired at him from a patrol boat, "Koha Jone" reported. Four days earlier, two Albanians were injured when Montenegrin border police opened fire at them in the same area. FS

ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS DETAINED PENDING TRIAL

A Tirana court on 17 February sent 11 supporters of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari to pre-trial detention of between six to 15 days, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. Three others remain under house arrest. All 14 people were allegedly involved in a recent armed incident with police at a road block in Milot (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 16 February 1998). They are charged with illegal possession of arms and interfering with the work of the police. A police spokesman said that machine guns and other weapons have been found in cars belong to Hajdari's supporters and near the scene of the incident, "Koha Jone" reported. Meanwhile, Hajdari, who claims the police wanted to kill him, has offered to relinquish his parliamentary immunity to facilitate an investigation into his role in the incident. FS

BOMB ATTACK IN SHKODER

A bomb went off outside the Socialist Party headquarters in the northern city of Shkoder on 17 February, "Shekulli" reported. The bomb caused heavy damage, but nobody was injured. The previous day, two bombs destroyed a Socialist Party branch in the south (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). And in Tirana on 17 February, police found a bomb inside the parliament building after receiving an anonymous telephone call. FS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ON POSSIBLE MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ

In an interview with RFE/RL on 17 February, Constantin Dudu Ionescu said Romania has "at no point" considered sending combat troops to take part in possible military operations against Iraq. Ionescu said the Romanian army is "among the best prepared" for integration into NATO forces but "at this stage" is "not yet ready" for participation in operations such as those conducted in the Gulf in 1991. The same day, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said the decision of Victor Ciorbea's cabinet demonstrated its "courage and leadership" MS

ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER CONSIDERS RESIGNATION

Daniel Daianu told a meeting of the National Liberal Party caucus on 17 February that he is considering resigning as finance minister. Daianu said the country's ongoing political crisis makes it impossible to take the necessary decisions to promote economic reforms, adding that the 1998 budget has to be "changed every day" to meet new demands. He warned against the danger of the country's "Bulgarization" and said Romania is probably heading toward early elections. He also said he would not agree to be an "accomplice" in "complicating even further the country's economic situation and negotiations with the IMF," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

COMPROMISE OVER PARAMEDICS' DEMANDS IN OFFING

The leader of the Sanitas trade union federation said on 17 February that members of his union are willing to "compromise" over its demands by agreeing to a wage hike of 75 percent, instead of 100 percent. Negotiations with the government resumed on 17 February, and several proposals are being considered to find budget funds to finance the strikers' demands. The paramedics have been on a general strike since 12 February. Also under consideration is a special levy imposed on hospitalized smokers and alcohol consumers as a means to increase funds for the rapidly deteriorating health system, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN, TRANSDNIESTER LEADERS FAIL TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES

President Petru Lucinschi and Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, meeting in Tiraspol on 17 February, failed to bridge their main political difference but reached agreement on how to resolve outstanding economic questions, Infotag reported. Lucinschi said Moldova cannot meet Tiraspol's demand that it be treated as an independent state, while Smirnov pointed to the Transdniester constitution, which, he noted, defines the region as such. Smirnov added that Tiraspol is "ready to take into consideration international practice" but only if the two sides conduct negotiations as "fully equal partners." He said the term "unified state," included in the 8 May memorandum, is interpreted in Tiraspol as meaning "two states that have decided to build one unified country." MS

GAGAUZ-YERI ASSEMBLY APPROVES REFERENDUM

The Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region has approved holding a referendum on a "basic law" for the region, the RFE/RL Chisinau bureau reported on 17 February. The plebiscite will take place at the same time as the Moldovan parliamentary elections on 22 March. Both Moldovan parliamentary chairman Dumitru Motpan and regional leader (Bashkir) Georgi Tabunshchik had asked the assembly to postpone the decision on the referendum, but the deputies argued that the costs of conducting a separate plebiscite would be much higher. MS




YELTSIN WARNS OF CABINET RESHUFFLE


by Stephanie Baker

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has warned that there will be a cabinet shakeup if ministers fail to solve the economic problems facing the country.

In his annual speech to a joint session of the parliament on 17 February, Yeltsin called for the adoption of a realistic budget and the passage of tax reform to ensure substantial economic growth this year. "If the government is not capable of resolving these strategic tasks, we will have a new government," he said.

The Russian president patted himself and his cabinet on the back for bringing down inflation, stabilizing the ruble, and reversing the decline of the economy last year. But he said "this is no longer enough. We need a steady and qualitative economic growth. We need a growth supported by a mighty influx of investments."

Yeltsin called on legislators to amend the 1998 budget to ensure that it contains realistic revenue and spending parameters. The amendments were due to be submitted later that day to the State Duma, the lower house of the parliament. The Duma is expected to pass the budget in a fourth and final reading soon.

Also on 17 February, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov warned that Yeltsin could veto the budget bill unless the Duma passed the amendments. It is unclear what specific changes the government is proposing, but First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the amendments are intended to tighten budget policy and increase revenues in response to the world market volatility. He remarked that "if the country pursues an irresponsible financial policy at a time of financial crisis, if the budget is not realistic, it is a terrible threat to its economy."

The Asian financial crisis has shaken the Russian economy, pushing up interest rates and making it far more expensive for companies to raise funds on international markets. At the same time, investors have been demanding that the government cut spending to prevent its budget deficit from expanding. In his address, Yeltsin acted to meet some of those concerns, ordering the government to draw up a program by May to slash government spending. "It is time to learn to do what any housewife knows how to do--spend money economically, rationally and live according to one's means," he commented.

At the top of the government's agenda this year is tax reform, considered essential if Russia's messy public finances are to be cleaned up and tax evasion eradicated. The government submitted a revised tax code to the Duma earlier this month, after a similar proposal was rejected by deputies last year. Yeltsin urged the Duma to pass the much anticipated tax bill, saying it is the precondition for economic growth and "cannot be delayed any longer."

The government has made much of a 40 percent increase in tax revenues in January, compared with the same period last year. But analysts say the increase is due to a one-off tax payment by gas giant Gazprom.

Yeltsin's push for tax reform coincided with the arrival of International Monetary Fund head Michel Camdessus in Moscow on 17 February. He is to discuss the fund's $10 billion loan to Russia. The IMF has repeatedly suspended loan payments due to chronically low tax revenues. Yeltsin, for his part, has said he wants the current IMF loan to be Russia's last.

Among other initiatives, Yeltsin ordered the Economics Ministry to draw up an industrial policy program by June that would help domestic producers compete with foreign companies.

Reaction to Yeltsin's speech was muted. The markets generally shrugged off the speech, despite Yeltsin's call for driving full-speed ahead with reforms. Some observers remarked that Yeltsin's proposals were reminiscent of past promises that were not kept. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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