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Newsline - February 20, 1998


IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus announced on 19 February that Russia and the fund are agreed on a 1998 economic program for Russia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The program calls for adopting a realistic budget, with lower projected revenues and planned expenditures. Following three days of talks with senior officials in Moscow, including President Boris Yeltsin, Camdessus said the IMF will extend the next quarterly tranche of its $10.1 billion loan to Russia, but he did not specify when. A communique issued by Camdessus and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said the two agreed to extend the current three-year IMF loan for another year, to March 2000, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The communique also said the size of the loan is to be increased, although it gave no figure. The IMF has delayed some loan tranches to Russia, citing poor tax collection and other problems. LB


Camdessus told journalists on 19 February that he came to Moscow not only to discuss Russia's 1998 economic program but also to tell Russian leaders about the policy mistakes made by Southeast Asian countries, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He said that in order to attract foreign investment and lay the groundwork for economic growth, Russia must adopt a realistic budget, pass a new tax code, and maintain an open market with transparent corporate governance and equal conditions for all businesses. Referring to a recent presidential decree granting tax breaks to foreign automobile companies that invest in Russia, Camdessus argued that Russian taxpayers need not subsidize Western car manufacturers. Earlier the same day, Chernomyrdin announced that Russia will not cancel that decree, despite the demands of IMF experts, Russian news agencies reported. LB


First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais announced during a cabinet meeting on 19 February that Russia will not reduce certain import tariffs from 30 percent to 20 percent in the near future, Russian news agencies reported. He said IMF experts advocated such a reduction during negotiations with Russian officials. However, Chubais said cutting the tariffs would hurt both Russian industry and budget revenues. He added that Russian reductions in import tariffs should be matched by cuts in tariffs levied by other countries against Russian goods. LB


At a 19 February meeting with Camdessus, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev charged that the government's last-minute proposals to amend the 1998 budget are a "gross violation of the law on the adoption of the budget," Interfax reported. Addressing a cabinet meeting the same day, Chernomyrdin acknowledged that the proposed amendments "violate the procedures in some way," ITAR-TASS reported. However, the premier said it is time "to stop fulfilling the budget by 80 percent year in, year out." He added that "it is better to say this honestly now than to explain things dishonestly" later in the year. LB


Russian government officials are optimistic about UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visit to Iraq in search of a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Persian Gulf. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said Annan is bringing proposals that will allow Iraq to "save face." "If inspections were announced as visits..., nobody will be hurt," Primakov said. Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Annan is carrying an "impressive portfolio of solutions." But Ivanov noted that should Annan's trip prove unsuccessful, "the chances of a political settlement would shrink significantly." Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii noted Annan has the support of all the permanent members of the UN Security Council. He added that Annan "must be firm in substance but flexible in form." BP


Vladimir Ryzhkov, the first deputy speaker of the Duma and a member of the Our Home is Russia faction, has stressed that any U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf would jeopardize the Duma's ratification of the START-2 treaty, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 February . Ryzhkov said if planes leave U.S. aircraft carriers in Persian Gulf to carry out strikes against Iraq, the prospects of the Duma ratifying START-2 will "vanish into the clouds." He added that there is a direct relation between the treaty's ratification and the settlement of the Iraqi crisis. But Vladimir Yakovlev, the commander of Russia's strategic rocket forces, argued there is no link between the treaty and a possible U.S. attack against Iraq, saying such an attack "has nothing to do with nuclear missile strategy." BP


The State Duma on 20 February voted 294 to 11 to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights, Reuters reported. Russia signed the convention when it joined the Council of Europe in February 1996. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko told the Duma that ratifying the convention "is an important step on the road to providing real protection for human rights in Russia." Among other things, ratifying the accord will allow Russian citizens to file appeals with the European Court, the rulings of which would be binding. "Novye izvestiya" reported on 6 February that the European Commission on Human Rights, which refers cases to the European Court, has received more than 800 complaints from Russian citizens over the last two years. LB


During a meeting with Chernomyrdin on 19 February, high-ranking Communist Party officials, including party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, demanded that roundtable talks be convened to discuss various pressing issues, Interfax reported. The government's promise last October to hold such talks regularly was one of the concessions that persuaded the Communist faction to withdraw a vote of no confidence from the Duma's agenda. Since then, only one roundtable meeting has been held, in late December. Zyuganov told Interfax that the Communist leaders demanded talks at which energy tariffs and plans to compensate citizens for lost savings would be discussed, among other issues. He also noted that supervisory boards of Russian Public Television and Russian Television have not yet been appointed. Last October, the government promised to include opposition members on new supervisory boards for those networks. LB


Vladimir Popov, the head of the State Tax Service's department on extracting overdue tax payments, announced on 19 February that Russia plans to hold "show trials" against 88 tax debtors, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 February. After a new law on bankruptcy goes into effect on 1 March, the first such trial will be held against the Volzhskii pipe factory, which did not pay a single ruble in taxes last year. According to Popov, some 800,000 Russian enterprises owe a total of 297.9 billion rubles ($49 billion) to the federal budget in taxes, fines, and penalties. Those firms owe some 554.9 billion rubles to the consolidated budget (federal and regional budgets). By comparison, the draft federal budget for 1998 calls for some 500 billion rubles in planned expenditures. LB


A new law on excise duties, which went into effect on 18 February, is expected to raise consumer prices on many goods, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The law raises duties on 20 out of the 25 categories of goods subject to such charges, including wine, liqueur, champagne, vodka, cigarettes, and some imported automobiles. It lowers duties on beer and jewelry and rescinds the duty on Russian light automobiles. However, "Kommersant-Daily" argued that those reductions will not necessarily lead to lower prices for consumers. LB


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov charged on 19 February that the government's "young reformers"--code words for First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov--are not capable of solving Russia's economic problems, Russian news agencies reported. He expressed doubt that Chubais will be able to organize fair privatization auctions. He also said the government's "reformers" have pursued short- term rather than long-term goals, adding that they "took the easiest way, finding money to pay wages and fund the state apparatus through the tax system, loans, and sale of raw materials." Luzhkov again expressed the hope that the government will end the "age of monetarism" in favor of a policy to boost domestic industry. LB


Sergei Dovbysh, a leading suspect in a high-profile embezzlement case, was found hanging in his prison cell on 19 February, Interfax reported. Officials are investigating whether Dovbysh committed suicide, why prison guards left him unattended before his death, and why a Moscow court delayed handing down a verdict in his case for nearly 18 months. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 February, Dovbysh was the "right hand man" of Andrei Kozlenok, whose Golden-Ada company allegedly embezzled more than $180 million out of Russia. Kozlenok remains jailed in Athens pending his appeal to the Greek Supreme Court against two lower court rulings that he be extradited to Russia. The case against Kozlenok is politically explosive, as it involves several high-level former government officials and members of the State Committee on Precious Metals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 26 January 1998). LB


Members of the Chelyabinsk Oblast opposition movement Southern Urals on 19 February sent an appeal to Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov asking him to intervene to halt alleged censorship in the region, RFE/RL's correspondent in Chelyabinsk reported on 19 February. The appeal charges that "active opponents" of the president's policies use their control over the legislative and executive branches in Chelyabinsk to "persecute supporters of democratic reforms." It cites a recent order issued by the head of the regional state-run radio and television company demanding that an executive considered close to Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin screen all reports about the governor or other top officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). Southern Urals urged Chelyabinsk prosecutor Anatolii Bryagin to open a criminal case against the oblast leadership for introducing censorship, but he has ignored that appeal. LB


Yeltsin on 19 February sent a message to Mordovian President Nikolai Merkushkin congratulating him on his recent re-election, ITAR-TASS reported. The message states that Merkushkin's "convincing victory" demonstrates that "the republic's residents support your efforts to achieve political stability and accord" in Mordovia. Merkushkin won with some 96.6 percent of the vote amid allegations that serious challengers were barred from the campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 February 1998). LB


LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov met with Turkish Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer in Moscow on 19 February, Interfax reported. The two men discussed LUKoil's possible participation in the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for exporting Caspian oil, the export of Russian oil via Turkey, and refining LUKoil crude in Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem proposed last month that Russia be compensated if the main export pipeline for Caspian oil bypassed its territory. Also on 19 February, the chief Russian engineer engaged in planning construction of the underwater gas pipeline across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey announced that work on that project will get under way by year's end. LF


President Aslan Maskhadov issued a decree on 19 February imposing a temporary ban on all public rallies, demonstrations, and strikes, according to ITAR-TASS. The measure is reportedly directed, above all, against supporters of maverick field commander Salman Raduev, whose Marsho TV company is banned under the same decree. National Security Council Director Lecho Ultygov said that Marsho had engaged in anti-Chechen propaganda and anti-state activities. Also on 19 February, the Chechen Prosecutor-General's Office again summoned Raduev for questioning in connection with his claim of responsibility for the 9 February attempt to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Raduev ignored a summons to that office on 15 February. First Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 20 February that Raduev might be charged with an attempt on the life of a foreign head of state or with creating a terrorist organization. Both charges can be punished with the death sentence. LF


Ingush President Ruslan Aushev told journalists in Moscow on 19 February that whether the 1 March referendum on amendments to the Ingush legal and judicial system takes place will depend on a ruling handed down by the Conciliation Commission. That commission is composed of representatives of the Russian presidential apparatus, the Russian Constitutional Court, and the Republic of Ingushetia. A ruling would specify the division of legal and judicial powers between the Russian Federation and Ingushetia. Aushev added that Ingushetia will cancel the planned referendum if it considers the proposed division of powers acceptable. Earlier this week, the Russian Supreme Court declared the planned referendum illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998.) LF


The four members of the UN observer mission abducted on 19 February in Zugdidi are unharmed but all efforts to negotiate their release have been unsuccessful, Caucasus Press reported on 20 February. Supporters of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia claiming to represent Georgia's "legal government" are holding the four men (two Uruguayans, one Czech, and one Swede), their Georgian driver, and five members of a Georgian family in the village of Djikhaskari, north of Zugdidi. They are demanding the release of seven men arrested in connection with the failed 9 February bid to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, the release of all Georgian political prisoners, and the withdrawal from Georgia of all Russian troops stationed there. They have threatened to kill their hostages if those demands are not met. LF


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the UN Security Council condemned the UN officials' abduction and demanded their unconditional and immediate release, AFP reported. The UN Security Council termed the incident an attempt to undermine Georgia's international image and deter international organizations from their ongoing efforts to mediate a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. Liviu Bota, the UN secretary-general's personal representative in Georgia, met on 19 February with Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba to discuss the hostage-taking, according to Caucasus Press. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has condemned the failure of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to prevent "terrorist actions" on Georgian territory. LF


Self-Determination Union chairman and Armenian presidential candidate Paruir Hairikyan told journalists in Yerevan on 19 February that he has held "quite promising" talks with other presidential hopefuls on the possibility of several of them withdrawing to back a single candidate, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hairikyan neither confirmed nor denied that Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan would be that single candidate. Earlier, Hairikyan ruled out an alliance with National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukyan, in favor of whom he withdrew his candidacy in the 1996 presidential elections. LF


Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative Andrzej Kasprczyk told AFP in Baku on19 February that Azerbaijan bears responsibility for an incident on 17 February in which OSCE monitors patrolling the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier were fired on. Noyan Tapan quoted two OSCE field aides as noting that both Armenia and Azerbaijan were informed in advance of the monitoring exercise and that the monitors had displayed a white flag. On 18 February, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry had issued a statement blaming Armenia for the shooting. LF


Kazakh authorities on 17 February sent some 1,000 policemen and OMON troops to disperse striking workers from the Janatas Phosphorus plant who were blocking the tracks at the Taraz railroad station (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 18 February 1998), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Some strikers were beaten and thrown into rail cars destined for Janatas, while 11 others were taken into custody. Charges have been brought against three of the detainees. On 20 February, the opposition movement AZAT organized a rally in front of the former parliament building in Almaty to express solidarity with the strikers. Police dispersed the crowd. BP


Turkmenistan celebrated National Flag day on 19 February, which is also the birthday President Saparmurat Niyazov. To mark the occasion, Niyazov signed several decrees, including one calling upon citizens to send letters to the government citing violations of their rights by members of law-enforcement agencies, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported. Another decree changes the official name of the "militia" to "police," reportedly in a bid to change the image of that body. Wages for state employees will be doubled and pensions tripled, but neither wages nor pensions will exceed the equivalent of $50 a month. In the past, however, such increases have been outpaced by inflation before payments are received. BP


Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Nina Mazai has denied a "Washington Times" report that Minsk is preparing to sell tank parts to Iran, the RFE/RL Belarusian Service reported on 19 February. Mazai added that agreements on agriculture and education will be signed when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visits Tehran in early March. The "Washington Times" reported that Belarus is to sell tank engines and other spare parts in a deal to be signed in Tehran during the president's visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998). First Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Kozlov said relations with Tehran are "developing" and that "we do not wish to hang an iron curtain in front of Iran." PB


Leonid Kuchma and his visiting counterpart, Islam Karimov, signed a friendship and cooperation treaty and several economic agreements on 19 February. Karimov said the friendship treaty is a "foundation for our future relations with Ukraine" and proclaimed Ukraine to be Tashkent's "most reliable and most-needed partner." Economic agreements focused on building transportation corridors for Uzbek gas and oil. In an effort to reduce dependence on Russian sources of energy, Ukraine has agreed to import 1 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Uzbekistan. PB


At a meeting in Kyiv on 19 February, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Ukrainian President Kuchma discussed Ukraine's natural gas needs and Kuchma's upcoming visit to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin said Moscow is not against Turkmenistan supplying gas to Ukraine, adding that Russia cannot guarantee fulfilling Kyiv's energy needs in any case. Natural gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine would transit Russia. Kuchma is to visit Moscow on 26 February where he is scheduled to sign a 10-year economic cooperation agreement with President Boris Yeltsin. PB


Some 6,000 miners, teachers, and pensioners gathered in Kyiv to protest months of wage arrears, Reuters reported on 19 February. Oleksandr Stoyan, spokesman for the Organization of All-Ukrainian Unions, which organized the protest, called for the government to use money raised last week in a Eurobond issue to address the arrears situation. The government made some $412 million in that issue. The state is reported to owe about 5.2 billion hryvna ($2.65 billion) in arrears. PB


According to Estonia's State Statistics Department, the foreign trade deficit reached 20.9 billion kroons (some $1.4 billion) last year, an increase of 7 billion kroons over 1996, ETA reported on 19 February. Exports totaled 40.4 billion kroons and imports 61.3 billion kroons. The Statistics Department said that the share of exports grew in 1997 but that this growth was largely due to a boost in re-exports. Russia was Estonia's largest export partner last year, accounting for 18.8 percent of total exports, followed by Finland (15.7 percent) and Sweden (13.5 percent). JC


Russian President Boris Yeltsin has sent a letter to his Latvian counterpart, Guntis Ulmanis, on how to improve bilateral ties and achieve the integration of the Baltic state's large Russian minority. Ulmanis's office told Reuters on 19 February that the "tone of the letter is hopeful and positive," but it gave no details of the proposed measures. Yeltsin's letter was in reply to one sent by Ulmanis earlier this year confirming Latvia's readiness to sign all drafted agreements, including the one on borders, BNS reported. JC


Lawmakers on 19 February adopted amendments to the electoral law stipulating that political parties must receive 5 percent of the vote and alliances 7 percent in order to gain parliamentary representation, BNS reported. The vote was 52 to 22 with 12 abstentions. Some 35 members of the 100-strong parliament later appealed to President Ulmanis not to sign the amendments. They maintain that the thresholds will impede the consolidation of political forces in the country. Under the Latvian Constitution, the president must postpone proclaiming new legislation for two months if at least one-third of parliamentary deputies make such a request. JC


Jiri Skalicky, the leader of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), has resigned as ODA chairman and "probably" also as deputy premier and environment minister, Skalicky's adviser Katerina Lojdova told CTK on 19 February. Skalicky will formally announce his decision at the party's Central Assembly meeting on 20 February. Lojdova said Skalicky is "disgusted by party members trading accusations" over donations to the ODA and alleged tax evasion. She also said ODA Deputy Chairman Miroslav Toser was trying to find a way to discredit Skalicky over Toser's own involvement in contacts with businessman Kamil Kolek. Kolek claims he was forced to make a donation to ODA in 1996 or lose a department store he acquired through privatization at an advantageous price. MS


President Vaclav Havel on 19 February sent a telegram of condolence to the family of a Romani woman who was beaten unconscious and then drowned by three skinheads in Vrchlabi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998). Havel said he can find "nothing to explain this terrible evil and hatred" and that he hoped "neither institutions nor individuals" would tolerate the growing racially motivated violence any longer. He added that he expects the authorities to hand down harsh punishments to the culprits. MS


Economics Minister Karol Cesnek and Social Affairs Minister Olga Keltosova on 19 February submitted their resignations to President Michal Kovac. Presidential spokesman Vladimir Stefko told Reuters that they gave no reason for resigning. Cesnek has no party affiliation, while Keltosova is vice chairwoman of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. The same day, the government asked the president to appoint Milan Cagala to take over the economics portfolio and Vojtech Tkac that of social affairs. Cagala is currently head of the Slovak Engineering Association, while Tkac is deputy minister of social affairs. MS


The Interior Ministry on 19 February announced it is drawing up a draft amendment to the electoral law requiring each party belonging to an electoral allianceto pass a 5 percent threshold to gain parliamentary representation. Under current legislation, electoral alliances of more than three parties must obtain 10 percent of the vote, while parties running on their own must obtain five percent. The Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), a loose alliance of five opposition parties, said the initiative is an attempt to thwart its chances in the elections scheduled for September, Reuters reported. Democratic Union deputy chairman Ludovit Cernak said the move is "clearly aimed at the SDK and even kills two birds with one stone, as it would also hit the coalition of ethnic Hungarian parties." MS


Croatian trade unions representatives are to proceed with a planned protest demonstration in Zagreb on 20 February, despite a police ban, Reuters reported. Up to 60,000 people are expected to participate in the protest against deteriorating social conditions. The organizers have stressed they have no intention of trying to overthrow the Croatian government. Interior Minister Ivan Penic appealed to potential participants not to convene for the demonstration, saying police will enforce the ban. LF


The governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) introduced legislation in the parliament on 18 February to promote economic growth by cutting labor costs, ridding firms of surplus workers, and supporting small businesses. An opposition spokesman said the plan is a political ploy. Unemployment currently stands at 18-23 percent and is particularly high among veterans of the 1991-1995 wars. PM


Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe spokesman Mark Thompson told journalists in Zagreb on 19 February that the OSCE is "concerned" about the continued exodus of Serbs from eastern Slavonia, AFP reported. Thompson said that hundreds of Serbs from that region have applied for political asylum in Western Europe. Formerly Serb-controlled eastern Slavonia reverted to Croatia's jurisdiction on 15 January 1998, after having been administered for two years by the UN. LF


An undercover Serbian policeman was shot dead in an ambush near Pristina on 19 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The victim was riding with other policemen in a car close to the town of Podujevo when three men ambushed the vehicle. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, though officials suspect it was carried out by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army. Meanwhile in central Belgrade on 19 February, seven people were injured when bombs exploded in a popular cafe. Four people are in serious condition, Tanjug reported. No suspects have been named by police. PB


Max van der Stoel met with Albanian Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova in Pristina on 19 February. Van der Stoel refused to reveal what the two men discussed. Rugova's main political rival, Adem Demaci, refused to meet with the OSCE official because Albanians in Kosovo "are a nation" not a minority, AFP reported. But Van der Stoel met later with representatives of human rights organizations. His visit was a private one, as Serbia and Montenegro have been excluded from the OSCE since 1992. PB


A bomb exploded in an Albanian-owned butcher's shop in the mainly Albanian-populated western town of Gostivar on 19 February, Reuters reported. No one was injured in the blast, which was the second in Gostivar and the fifth in Macedonia during the past three months. LF


Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has denounced the naming of Mirko Marjanovic to continue as Serbian premier. In a statement on 19 February, the SPO noted it had not agreed to that decision, taken by Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. Draskovic reportedly had agreed earlier this week to join a coalition with the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), to which both Marjanovic and Milutinovic belong. But Draskovic had insisted that he be named prime minister in exchange for his party's support. If the SPO decides not to join the SPS in a coalition, the Socialists will most likely form a minority government. PB


Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Washington on 19 February that he will resign if previously promised foreign aid is not forthcoming. He noted that, despite having taken many steps to meet Western approval, financial aid was still being withheld. Dodik referred specifically to a promise by Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, that Dodik's government will receive some $6 million in aid, which, he said, is urgently needed to prevent a teachers' strike. The premier added that the goal of returning some 70,000 displaced persons to their homes by September is still a priority, even though the complexity of such a task is "beyond imagination." PB


The leaders of Bosnia's main religions pledged tolerance and interethnic understanding in a joint message on 19 February in Sarajevo. Jakob Finci, head of Sarajevo's Jewish community, Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Serbian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Nikolaj, and Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Muslim community, held a roundtable discussion on religious issues and the importance of implementing the Dayton agreement before issuing their statement. Westendorp said the religious leaders have a major role to play in the country's reconciliation process. PB


Parliamentary speaker Janez Podobnik told a government anti-crime conference in Ljubljana on 17 February that organized crime accounts for three-quarters of all criminal activity in the Alpine republic. Interior Minister Mirko Brandelj noted that Yugoslav citizens dominate the money laundering, extortion, and drug rackets, BETA news agency reported. Croats specialize in counterfeiting, gun-running, and illegal border crossings, while citizens of former Soviet republics concentrate on prostitution, money laundering, and stolen cars. Brandelj added that Slovenes can be found in all branches of criminal activity but that they tend not to be as brutal as some of the foreign gangs. PM


Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari told journalists on 19 February that charges of intimidation and incitement to violence brought against him are politically motivated, dpa reported. The charges followed a 14 February confrontation between a group of parliamentary deputies led by Hajdari and police officers who searched the deputies' cars and found arms and ammunition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998.) In other news, the Democratic Party has issued a statement announcing that its national council will decide on 20 February whether to end its five-month boycott of the parliament, Reuters reported. The boycott was launched to protest an incident last year in which Hajdari was shot and wounded by Socialist deputy Gafur Mazreku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). LF


Referring to negotiations under way with the IMF on the 1998 budget, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said that it is an "aberration" to employ the term "Bulgarization" in connection with the development of the economy. His remark followed comments by Finance Minister Daniel Daianu and Reform Minister Ilie Serbanescu one day earlier. Ciorbea said chief IMF negotiator Poul Thompsen has prolonged his stay, at the end of which the government will sign an aide-memoir with the IMF stipulating measures to accelerate privatization and meet budget expenditures. Also on 19 February, Charles Frank, the vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said in The Hague that he is "somewhat disappointed" by the slow pace of Romanian reform. MS


As paramedics continue their general strike, the Senate factions of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR),the Greater Romania Party, and the Party of Romanian National Unity have moved a motion opposing the government health-care policies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. PDSR chairman Ion Iliescu said his party hopes the Democrats will support the motion, but Democratic Party deputy chairman Radu Berceanu said his formation will not do so. In other news, a commission mediating between the two chambers of the parliament has succeeding in bridging the gap over a law granting compensation to persons persecuted under the communist regime and those deported to or held war prisoner in the former Soviet Union. Romanian citizens who reside abroad will also be entitled to claim compensation. MS


Andrei Plesu met with his Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Tabacaru, and Deputy Prime Minister Ion Gutu in Chisinau on 19 February, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Talks concentrated on the pending basic treaty and on bilateral economic relations. Plesu told journalists that he prefers a "very good treaty" to a "very quick one" and does not know whether the accord will be concluded during his tenure as foreign minister. Romanian media reported recently that Bucharest agrees to no mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact being made in the document but insists that the treaty be called a "fraternal" one and be written in the Romanian language. Plesu is also to meet with Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and by President Petru Lucinschi. MS


The Russian State Duma on 19 February postponed debates on the ratification of the basic treaty with Moldova until next month, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev. The treaty was signed in September 1990 and ratified by the Moldovan parliament the same year. The separatist leadership in Tiraspol has called on the Russian Duma not to ratify the document and to negotiate a new treaty that takes into consideration the "new situation" that arose with the existence of the "independent" Transdniester state. MS


The chief of Bulgaria's National Security Service on 19 February said that the Multigroup conglomerate and Gazprom have been involved in smuggling pirated compact discs out of Bulgaria, AFP reported. Atanas Atanasov said more than 1.5 million pirated CDs were produced at the state-owned DZU-DMON factory in Stara Zagora and transported to Russia in five shipments aboard planes owned by the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom. He added that Multigroup's earnings from the operation totaled $500,000 a month. Multigroup is alleged to have been set up with funds from the communist-era secret police and to be owned and managed by former members of the nomenklatura who have links to organized crime. BTA reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office has received documents attesting to the smuggling. MS


Japan's Nomura International investment bank has won a bid for a 78.3 percent majority share in Bulgarian Postal Bank, AFP reported on 19 February, quoting Bulgarian officials. The deal is to be finalized by the end of May. Privatization chief Petar Jotev told BTA that the privatization of the Postal Bank is the first in the banking sector and will be followed by the privatization of four other banks. Postal Bank made a profit of 13.5 billion leva ($7.4 million) in 1997. MS


By Emil Danielyan

Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh will hold official ceremonies on 20 February to mark the 10th anniversary of the mass movement for the re-unification of the two territories. Politicians, prominent intellectuals, and the media will stress the significance of the occasion for the Armenian nation and call for the restoration of the national solidarity that reigned 10 years ago. They will also try again to evaluate the profound influence the movement for reunification has had on Armenia.

When the legislative body of the former Nagorno- Karabakh Autonomous Oblast declared its desire to split away from the then Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan and join the Armenian SSR, very few people foresaw what the consequences of that demand would be. Undoubtedly, the possibility of a war with Azerbaijan did not enter the minds of the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who took to the streets of Yerevan to support what they saw as the just cause of their Karabakh co-ethnics. But the nationwide campaign of rallies and petitions that ensued gave birth to perhaps the most intractable territorial dispute in the former Soviet Union.

The Kremlin rejected the Armenian demands as endangering the stability of the empire. That, however, did not prevent the Karabakh movement from gathering momentum as it progressed from the romantic idealism of the perestroika era to a solid anti-Communist platform and the emergence of a new political elite, the so-called Karabakh committee, which in the late 1980s enjoyed the virtually unlimited support of the population. The committee soon expanded the movement's agenda to include democratization and market reforms. A party created on the basis of the committee, the Armenian Pan- National Movement (HHSh), came to power in the 1990 elections to the Supreme Soviet.

The movement for the unification of Karabakh with Armenia also engendered nationalist sentiments in neighboring Azerbaijan, where anti-Communist groups not only opposed Karabakh's secession but also agitated for abolishing the region's autonomy. Increasingly, the attitudes of the two peoples became polarized. And as Moscow's control over the union republics eroded, sporadic clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani militias, the latter backed by Russian troops, developed into large-scale warfare. The collapse of the USSR in December 1991 signaled the beginning of war.

One of the questions Armenians will be asking themselves today is whether the Karabakh movement has achieved its aim. Owing to its decisive military victory over Azerbaijan in 1993-1994, the Republic of Nagorno- Karabakh is de facto independent, even though that independence has not formally been recognized by any other country. It has a powerful army and unfettered links with Armenia proper. To put it succinctly, it is now totally "Armenian."

Yet the conflict has also taken an appalling toll on Armenia: thousands of war casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees, a dramatic drop in living standards, economic decline, and mass emigration. But, most important, the military victory did not bring a lasting peace. Despite the Armenian leadership's commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict, the war threatens to resume at any moment. Moreover, Azerbaijan's and Turkey's blockade of Armenia stifles economic growth.

So was it worth all the trouble? Most of the Armenian elite would say "yes" and would advocate evaluating the Karabakh problem within the context of Armenia's 3,000- year history, rather than in terms of immediate economic interests. Indeed, despite all the suffering it caused, the war has helped Armenians overcome an inferiority complex acquired over centuries of defeat and foreign oppression. And, as regards a future peace deal on Karabakh, the bargaining positions of the Armenians are now incomparably stronger than 10 years ago.

Armenians in general tend to be more ambivalent. Years of hardship have generated war fatigue among them. But aspirations to a better life are offset by a deep distrust of Azerbaijan. Many people are convinced that Baku would guarantee neither the Karabakh Armenian population's security nor respect for its ethnicity, pointing to anti- Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan from 1988-1990. Moreover, Armenians did not rally behind former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, who promised prosperity in exchange for major concessions to Azerbaijan.

On the contrary, it seems that for the time being, Armenians will give Ter-Petrossyan's more hard-line opponents a chance. Two of those opponents, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian and former premier and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian, are the key contenders in the 16 March presidential elections. The two men agree that Karabkh's relationship with Azerbaijan must be on an equal footing, testifying to a consensus in Armenian society on both the Karabakh movement and the future of the peace process.

Armenia's Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian recently suggested that even if Armenians had known in 1988 what they know now, they would still have agreed to forfeit their relative prosperity for the sake of Karabakh. And all the signs today are that he is right. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.