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Newsline - March 4, 1998




DUMA APPROVES BUDGET IN FOURTH READING

The State Duma on 4 March approved the 1998 budget in the fourth and final reading by 252 to 129 with two abstentions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Previously, deputies had twice refused to pass the document in the fourth reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1998). Before the 4 March vote, acting Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov of the Russian Regions faction described the compromises reached in negotiations with the government. In place of a government proposal to make expenditures totaling 27.9 billion rubles ($4.6 billion) conditional on receiving enough revenues to cover that sum, the budget contains an amendment allowing the government to cut spending if the Duma is informed within three days and if all budget items are cut proportionally. In 1997, the government cut funding for some programs by more than 50 percent. LB

YELTSIN APPOINTS NEW ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER

President Boris Yeltsin on 4 March appointed nuclear researcher Yevgenii Adamov to head the Atomic Energy Ministry, Russian news agencies reported. Adamov was involved in the Chornobyl cleanup and since then has been director of Russia's Power Technologies Research Institute. He replaces Viktor Mikhailov, an unexpected casualty of the recent cabinet reshuffle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1998). After meeting with Yeltsin, Adamov told journalists that the president has instructed him to preserve "parity" in nuclear weapons while making it possible to reduce funds spent on Russia's nuclear arsenals. Adamov also said Yeltsin told him to work on improving nuclear safety and spoke "warmly" of Mikhailov. ITAR-TASS speculated that Mikhailov had recommended Adamov as his successor. LB

KOKOSHIN NOT TO OVERHAUL SECURITY COUNCIL

In his first press conference as Security Council secretary, Andrei Kokoshin announced on 3 March that he is not planning any "revolutionary" changes, ITAR- TASS reported. He said he does not intend to expand the Security Council staff, and he pledged to cooperate with the government apparatus and the presidential administration. Yeltsin has relieved Kokoshin of the post of chief military inspector, and the State Military Inspectorate, which was created last August, will now be subordinated to the Security Council. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported that Kokoshin has a reputation for being flexible and not antagonizing colleagues. Interfax quoted an unnamed source as saying that Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin recommended that Yeltsin appoint Kokoshin to succeed him as Security Council secretary. LB

NO MORE CABINET CHANGES FOR NOW?

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 3 March that to his knowledge, no more presidential decrees on personnel changes in the government are currently being prepared, Russian news agencies reported. The same day, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told journalists that "personnel rotation is a continuous process in the government." At the same time, Shabdurasulov said no further cabinet changes are expected in the near future, adding that dismissals "are possible only in the sense that they are always possible," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Russian media are still speculating about who was behind the recent government dismissals. "Russkii telegraf" reported on 3 March that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais was responsible for the decision to sack Transportation Minister Nikolai Tsakh and Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov. LB

RUSSIA REASSURES ISRAEL OVER IRAN

Russian Presidential Press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 3 March that Moscow has provided Israeli Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky with information that should convince the Israeli government that Moscow has not supplied missile technology to Iran. Yastrzhembskii met with Sharansky in Moscow the previous day. Sharansky told journalists that improving ties with Russia is a "strategic goal" for Israel, Interfax reported. Following his meeting with Sharansky on 3 March, newly appointed Russian Deputy Prime Minister Rybkin underscored Israel's increasing importance in Russian foreign policy. Economic cooperation and joint measures to combat international terrorism were discussed at that meeting, ITAR-TASS reported. Annual trade turnover between Russia and Israel totals $400 million, according to dpa. LF

POSUVALYUK TO RETURN FROM IRAQ SOON

Viktor Posuvalyuk, the presidential special envoy to Iraq, is expected to return to Russia following one month in Baghdad. The adoption of the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq "will speed up his return," Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said on 3 March. But while praising Russian diplomacy for defusing tensions over the Persian Gulf, Tarasov said Iraq must now fulfill its obligations or face "the most severe consequences." Meanwhile, Vladimir Lukin of the Yabloko faction, who is chairman of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, has returned from Washington, where he met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and invited him to address the Duma in Moscow. Lukin hinted there was little agreement over Iraq in meetings he held with U.S. congressmen. He added that differences also surfaced over ratification of the START-2 treaty. BP

RUSSIA REGISTERS DISPLEASURE OVER ISTANBUL CASPIAN TALKS

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tarasov said on 3 March that Moscow has conveyed to Ankara its "legitimate bewilderment" and dissatisfaction at not having received an invitation to attend the 1-2 March talks in Istanbul between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, Interfax reported. Iran was also not invited to send a representative to the talks. Meanwhile, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko told journalists in Tokyo on 3 March that the route for the main export pipeline for Caspian oil should be chosen exclusively on economic grounds, according to the "Turkish Daily News." LF

FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE "MORE ACTIVE" IN RUSSIA

Aleksandr Tsarenko, the deputy director of the Federal Security Service, said on 3 March that foreign intelligence services have become "more active" in Russia recently, ITAR-TASS reported. Tsarenko pointed to "traditional rivals" such as the U.S., U.K., and France but added that Iran, China, and North Korea have stepped up their foreign intelligence activities. He mentioned the case of an Iranian intelligence agent who was expelled last year while attempting to collect information on missiles. Tsarenko added that the large Chinese and North Korean communities throughout Russia, but particularly in Moscow, gave those countries an advantage in obtaining industrial and military secrets. BP

DUMA DEPUTIES IN NO HURRY ON TREATY WITH UKRAINE

At State Duma hearings on 3 March, most Duma deputies spoke out against rapid ratification of the Russian-Ukrainian friendship treaty, which was signed in May 1997, Interfax reported. A group of deputies proposed delaying ratification until after the new Ukrainian parliament ratifies agreements on dividing the Black Sea Fleet. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma recently said he hopes Russia will ratify the treaty before the Ukrainian parliamentary elections, scheduled for 29 March. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov urged Duma deputies to ratify the treaty as soon as possible, as did Vladimir Yatsenko, the head of the Ukrainian parliamentary delegation at the hearings. Yatsenko promised that the Ukrainian parliament "will never make a choice in favor of NATO." Russian opponents of the treaty have charged that it opens the door to NATO membership for Ukraine by renouncing any Russian claim to Ukrainian territory. LB

GOVERNMENT NOT TO PAY FOR CIRCULATION OF UKRAINIAN MEDIA

Russian government spokesman Shabdurasulov on 3 March denied reports that the Russian government will fund the distribution of Ukrainian media on Russian territory, ITAR-TASS reported. Shabdurasulov said Ukrainian Information Minister Zinovy Kulik had erroneously claimed that during Ukrainian President Kuchma's recent visit to Moscow, agreement was reached to have the Russian budget fund Ukrainian radio and television broadcasts and the circulation of some Ukrainian print media in Russia. Shabdurasulov added that "one can hardly imagine anything more absurd." LB

ARMY OFFICER SENTENCED FOR BEATING RECRUIT TO DEATH

In Birobidzhan (in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast), Lieutenant Valerii Mantulenko has been sentenced to seven years in prison for "overstepping his authority," ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. Mantulenko was found guilty of beating a 19-year-old recruit to death. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" on 3 March reported the case of one such youth who was fined 17,000 rubles (some $2,900) by a federal court for refusing to serve in the army. The youth was amnestied immediately because he claimed he wanted to carry out alternative service. The law on alternative service, however, has not yet been approved by the Duma. According to AFP, 40,000 youths dodged the draft last year. BP

CHERNOMYRDIN TO REOPEN INVESTIGATION INTO IRKUTSK CRASH

Government spokesman Shabdurasulov announced on 3 March that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is to order further investigation into the causes of a December plane crash in Irkutsk, ITAR-TASS reported. A military commission concluded last month that engine problems caused the An-124 military cargo plane to crash soon after takeoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 1998). However, representatives of the Motor-Sich company in Ukraine, which produces engines for An-124 planes, disputed that conclusion. Shabdurasulov said Chernomyrdin is to demand that civilian aviation officials and representatives of the Motor-Sich factory be represented on the commission that will continue to investigate the disaster. LB

CRIMINAL CASE OPENED AGAINST EX-KEMEROVO GOVERNOR

The Kemerovo Oblast Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal case against former Governor Mikhail Kislyuk for allegedly misappropriating funds from a World Bank loan in 1996-1997, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 3 March. Kislyuk is accused of misusing some 17 billion old rubles ($2.8 million) from the loan, which was earmarked for the coal industry. Officials from the presidential administration have arrived in Kemerovo to look into the charges against Kislyuk. Yeltsin replaced Kislyuk as governor with Aman Tuleev last July. Kislyuk was appointed to head the Federal Service on Regulating Natural Monopolies in the Transportation Sector the same month. In an interview with "Kommersant- Daily" on 4 March, Kislyuk denied wrongdoing and said the Finance Ministry was responsible for allocating funds from the World Bank loan. LB

REGIONAL LEGISLATOR KILLED IN YEKATERINBURG

Georgii Stepanenko, a deputy in the Sverdlovsk Oblast Legislative Assembly, was shot dead on 3 March near his home in Yekaterinburg, an RFE/RL correspondent in Yekaterinburg reported. Sverdlovsk is to hold legislative elections on 12 April, and Stepanenko was campaigning for a seat. The Our Home-Our City movement, which is headed by Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, was backing his candidacy. Our Home-Our City is the main political rival of the Transformation of the Urals movement, headed by Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. Some observers believe Stepanenko's murder was connected not to his political activities but to his work as a lawyer. One of his clients has been fighting for control over several enterprises in the oblast. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are still investigating a January explosion that occurred near a car carrying Rossel. LB

RUTSKOI LOSES LIBEL SUIT

A Kursk district court on 3 March rejected Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi's libel lawsuit against "Rossiiskie vesti," the official newspaper of the presidential administration, and one of its correspondents, ITAR-TASS reported. Rutskoi was demanding 10 million old rubles ($1,700) in damages for an article published last November, which alleged that mismanagement by the oblast administration had caused part of the region's sugar beet crop to remain unharvested. The Kursk verdict is unusual, since many regional leaders have won libel suits against journalists who criticize their work. Ulyanovsk Governor Yurii Goryachev, for example, has won several such lawsuits, even when the articles allegedly defaming him did not mention his name. Last October, an Ulyanovsk court fined an "Izvestiya" correspondent for allegedly libeling Goryachev in an article questioning the allocation of agricultural subsidies in the oblast. LB




OSCE REGRETS ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT'S FAILURE TO AMEND ELECTION LAW

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring mission in Armenia released a statement on 3 March expressing regret at the parliament's failure to include proposed amendments to the election law on its agenda. Those amendments would allow local Armenian observers to monitor the poll and the vote count. The OSCE statement also called on the Armenian authorities to ensure that all presidential candidates have equal access to state media, that government officials do not interfere in the voting, and that the elections are as transparent as possible, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The OSCE also called on the Central Electoral Commission to clarify procedures for Armenian citizens voting abroad. LF

ARMENIA TO RETHINK ITS POLICY ON OIL TRANSIT

Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan on 3 March, acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that Armenia's next president will have to reconsider the impact of oil on the country's foreign policy, Interfax reported. Oskanian described oil as a key factor for stability in the Caucasus region, and predicted that Armenian policy on oil transit will change after the 16 March presidential poll. Former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan had rejected linking a solution to the Karabakh conflict to the routing of oil pipelines through Armenia. In February, the Armenian parliament ratified the April 1996 agreement on the unrestricted transit of oil throughout the CIS. LF

KARABAKH FOREIGN MINISTER ASSESSES PEACE PROSPECTS

Naira Melkoumian told an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington on 3 March that she is "satisfied" with talks she held with Lynn Pascoe, the U.S. co-chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk group, at the U.S. State Department the previous day. Melkoumian predicted that a lasting solution to the Karabakh conflict could be achieved relatively quickly provided that the Azerbaijani leadership is prepared not only to demand but also to make concessions. A U.S. State Department official told RFE/RL that the financial benefits of a peace agreement are more important than concessions. "There is a lot of international willingness to help finance development in this long-troubled region," he said. LF

ABKHAZIA INTERCEPTS GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS

Abkhaz Security Service head Astamur Tarba told Interfax on 3 March that his men have detained four Georgian guerrillas armed with explosives, anti-tank mines, and detonators in a village in Abkhazia's Ochamchire Raion. To date, the Georgian "White Legion" guerrilla organization has largely confined its activities to Gali Raion, located between Ochamchire and Abkhazia's border with the rest of Georgia. Tarba also said that an Abkhaz patrol boat opened fire on four Georgian fishing vessels that refused to comply with a request to leave Abkhaz territorial waters off Anaklia. The Georgian Border Guard Service has condemned that incident as an "outright breach of the cease-fire agreement" concluded in May 1994. LF

U.S.-AZERBAIJANI JOINT VENTURE IN JEOPARDY?

Reza Vaziri, president of RV Investment Group Services, has expressed concern at the Azerbaijani parliament's delay in ratifying an August 1997 contract between his company and Azerbaijan's Azergyzyl, Turan reported on 3 March. The joint venture would develop deposits in western Azerbaijan containing an estimated 400 tons of gold and 2,500 tons of silver. Vaziri said that the contract is still being examined by the Azerbaijani presidential administration. In January, the deputy head of Azerbaijan's State Precious Metals Institute said that Azerbaijan may unilaterally cancel the contract because the U.S. partner has not yet begun to implement it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1997 and 12 January 1998.) LF

KYRGYZ, UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTERS IN TAJIKISTAN

Muratbek ImanAliyev and Abdulaziz Kamilov, meeting with their Tajik counterpart, Talbak Nazarov, in Dushanbe on 3 March, expressed concern about the spread of religious extremism in Central Asia, ITAR-TASS reported. They also supported maintaining a "secular" Tajik government. Kamilov said the three countries will work together to "locate sources of this threat [of religious extremism] and coordinate efforts to combat it." He declined, however, to specify what those sources might be. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will support Tajikistan's entry into the Central Asian Union (whose third member is Kazakhstan) at the next meeting of that organization. BP

HEAD OF RADIO ALMAZ COMMENTS ON CLOSURE

Rustam Koshmuratov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 3 March that although he completed the process of registering Radio Almaz last December, the National Agency of Communications (NAS), which was established in October 1997, had demanded additional documents. The station was also accused of piracy for broadcasting in translation programs originally broadcast by the Voice of America and RFE/RL's Russian Service. Koshmuratov, however, said he had submitted copies of letters giving him permission to rebroadcast programming from the two sources but was told by NAS officials that more documents were required. Radio Almaz was closed down on 23 February. BP

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER'S WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN

Madel Ismailov of the Almaty City Workers Movement has neither been seen nor heard from since he was taken into police custody following the founding conference of the opposition People's Front movement on 27 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. Murat Auezov co- chairman of the opposition movement Azamat, said inquiries have been made at all Almaty's jails. Ismailov's colleagues fear he is being detained at a National Security Committee prison. BP




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO WEST

Leonid Kuchma said that despite a tightening of relations with Moscow, Ukraine will continue to work toward integration with Western institutions, Reuters reported on 3 March. "The direction of Ukraine is integration into the EU, and our close, multifaceted agreement with NATO...remains unchanged," he said. Kuchma said that development of relations with Moscow "is of primary importance for any country," particularly for Russia's neighbors. Kuchma was criticized by many in Kyiv for signing a 10-year economic program with Russia, which has been dubbed "Ukraine's surrender to the grip of the Russian bear." Kuchma said the deal will offer "millions of jobs for Ukrainians." PB

RUSSIA TO HELP BUILD UKRAINIAN REACTORS

Ukrainian President Kuchma said on 3 March in Kyiv that Russia will help complete construction of two nuclear reactors that are necessary to compensate for the loss of energy after Chornobyl is closed. Kyiv had been seeking financing from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, but the bank decided last week not to fund most Ukrainian proposals. The Russian Atomic Energy Ministry confirmed that Kuchma and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed on a protocol in Moscow last week to cooperate in building the two reactors, located at the Rivno and Khmelnitsky nuclear power plants. Ukraine has said it cannot afford to close Chornobyl until those reactors are completed. PB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES CIS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 3 March said that the CIS has failed to fill the void left by the "catastrophic" disintegration of the Soviet Union, ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka, speaking at a Minsk conference entitled "Six Years of the CIS," said the commonwealth was deliberately used to facilitate a "civilized divorce of the Soviet republics, that is to rupture their ties." Lukashenka predicted that the 19-20 March CIS summit will resemble the previous two such gatherings, in Moscow and Chisinau last year, which he termed "failures." PB

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT FACTIONS TO REVIEW CITIZENSHIP LAW

The Cooperation Council has announced that the government factions will draw up proposed amendments to the citizenship law over the next week, BNS reported on 3 March. The council will consider those proposals later this month. Also on 3 March, the council rejected a bill drafted by the Democratic Party Saimnieks faction whereby children born to non-citizens since independence would automatically be granted citizenship. The Fatherland and Freedom party remains strongly opposed to such a measure. JC

POLICE USE FORCE TO DISPERSE DEMONSTRATORS IN RIGA

More than 1,000 people blocked a street near the Riga city council building on 3 March to protest low living standards, BNS reported. When the demonstrators failed to comply with a request to clear the street, police used batons to beat the demonstrators, most of whom were elderly Russian- speakers. According to "Diena," no one was hurt. Riga police chief Aivars Valcis said later that the police dispersed the crowd because the demonstrators had not sought prior permission to hold the rally and because they were blocking the street. Interior Minister Ziedonis Cevers declined to comment several hours after the incident, saying he was not familiar with all the details. JC

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT PULLS OUT OF DISPUTE WITH MOBIL

The Lithuanian government has announced it is "pulling out completely" from an ongoing dispute with the U.S. corporation Mobil, BNS reported on 3 March Mobil is suing the Lithuanian government for the alleged non-payment of oil deliveries to Lietuvos Energija. Government chancellor Kestutis Cilinskas told BNS that the government had not participated in concluding the relevant agreements and that therefore "we believe there are no grounds for inviting us to the litigation process." He said the litigation should continue between the companies involved in the deal. JC

POLISH PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO INVESTIGATE COMMUNIST PARTY FUNDS

Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Hanna Suchocka has ordered an investigation into allegations that the Socialist Party diverted Communist Party funds totaling some $7.5 million. Last week, "Wprost" reported that leaders of the (formerly Communist) Social Democratic Party, including President Aleksander Kwasniewski, withdrew that sum just before all Communist assets were nationalized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 1998). Suchocka said there is a "justified suspicion" that the law was broken. Former Communist Party leader Danuta Waniek said the investigation is "political." PB

NUNS HAND OVER CONVENT AT AUSCHWITZ

Catholic nuns have officially handed over a former cloister near the Auschwitz concentration camp to the state. This may pave the way for the removal from the site of a wooden cross, which Jewish groups have long objected to. The Carmelite nuns have not used the convent since 1993, when they moved following protests by Jewish leaders over its proximity to the concentration camp. PB

THREE MORE DEPUTIES LEAVE ODA

Karel Ledvinka, the chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) faction, resigned from the alliance on 3 March, together with two other ODA deputies, CTK reported. This makes a total of nine deputies who have now quit the party. The ODA is involved in a scandal over illegal donations made to the party in 1994-1995. Ledvinka said he has no intention of stepping down as deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies. MS

FREEDOM UNION LEADER NOT TO RUN FOR PARLIAMENT

Freedom Union leader Jan Ruml, on 3 March said he will not seek a seat in the parliament in the elections later this year because he wants to concentrate on leading the new party. Trade and Industry Minister Karel Kuhnl, who recently left the ODA, said he will seek election to the parliament on the ticket of the Freedom Union, while government spokesman Vladimir Mlynar said he has accepted an invitation from the union to run on its lists. A public opinion poll conducted by Sofres Factum shows that the union has 10.9 percent of popular support, while former Premier Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party, from which the union recently split, has 9.2 percent. MS

SLOVAK CABINET VOIDS KOVAC'S REFERENDUM DECREE...

The government on 3 March canceled the referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections, recalled 28 of Slovakia's 59 ambassadors, and granted an amnesty to some prisoners. RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau said the cabinet, symbolically meeting in the presidential palace after Premier Vladimir Meciar had assumed some presidential powers, decided not to publish former Slovak President Michal Kovac's referendum decree in the government bulletin. That decision means the plebiscite has been voided. AFP cited a government statement saying that in July, the cabinet will propose a constitutional amendment providing for direct presidential elections. The statement said the presidential ballot will be held at the same time as the September parliamentary elections. MS

...PROMPTING OPPOSITION PROTESTS

The Democratic Union countered that Meciar "is successfully doing everything he can to ensure that Slovakia is definitely excluded from the community of democratic countries and becomes a country like Belarus, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, or [communist] Czechoslovakia." The Christian Democratic Movement said it will launch a petition drive to collect the 350,000 signatures necessary to hold a referendum on direct presidential elections, Reuters reported. MS

KOVAC JR. RELEASED ON BAIL

A Munich court has released on bail Michal Kovac Jr., the son of the former Slovak president, AFP reported. The bail was set at 150,000 German marks ($83,000). Kovac Jr. was arrested in the Czech Republic on 4 February and extradited to Germany to face charges of involvement in swindling a Slovak textile company. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS VOTE ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF LAND

By a vote of 223 against 62 with 13 abstentions, the parliament has rejected an opposition initiative to stage a referendum on foreign ownership of farmland, Hungarian media reported on 2 March. Last September, opposition parties gathered more than 200,000 signatures supporting such a plebiscite. The parliament's Constitutional Committee ruled, however, that if the referendum were passed, Hungary would be under a legal obligation contrary to several international agreements it has signed. Ibolya David of the Hungarian Democratic Forum said her party will appeal to the Constitutional Court to annul the parliament's decision. MSZ




KOSOVO LIBERATION ARMY VOWS REVENGE

The clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) said in a statement published in "Bujku" on 4 March that the UCK will seek "multiple vengeance for the innocent deaths" of up to 30 ethnic Albanians at the hands of Serbian police on 28 February and 1 March. The UCK said it has clashed with Serbian security forces in a dozen villages in the Drenica region over the past four days, noting that it captured "a large amount of military equipment, a dozen vehicles, and a [police] helicopter" in the process. The recent violence has led to a ground swell of support among Kosovars for the UCK, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM

KOSOVARS, SERBS BURY THEIR DEAD

Some 40,000 people on 3 March attended the funerals of 24 ethnic Albanians killed in recent police violence. Serbian police barred foreign journalists from the funerals, which took place in Cirez and Likosane, and discouraged Kosovars from outside the area from attending. Speaking in Pristina, Kosovo shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova condemned the police for those actions. Meanwhile in Belgrade, two policemen killed in the violence were buried with full military honors. PM

GELBARD TELLS MILOSEVIC NOT TO USE FORCE

Robert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, said in Washington on 3 March that Yugoslav "President [Slobodan] Milosevic is well aware that the United States will not tolerate violence, and violence will be met by the most dire consequences imaginable. That will be the end of his government without any question." Gelbard added that, in a telephone conversation, he "offered President Milosevic two choices: one choice is to rejoin the international community..., the other way however is the road to the end to his government." The envoy also urged ethnic Albanians to shun "those who are terrorists and advocate violence." Gelbard added that the Albanians must solve the Kosovo problem themselves through dialogue with the Serbs and not expect "any rescue from outside." PM

ALBRIGHT WEIGHS KOSOVO MEETING. A spokesman for U.S

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 3 March that she has discussed the Kosovo situation with her Russian and British counterparts by telephone. The spokesman added that he does "not rule out" a meeting on Kosovo between her and other key foreign ministers later this week. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is slated to speak with Milosevic in Belgrade on 5 March. Cook's spokesman said in London that the minister will tell his host that the EU will not restore Yugoslavia's membership in the international community until the Kosovo problem is solved peacefully. PM

EU WANTS RETURN OF KOSOVO AUTONOMY

EU Commissioner for External Relations Hans van den Broek said in a statement in Brussels on 3 March that President Milosevic must "open a dialogue of peace with the Albanians of Kosovo... and restore its autonomy. If he does not act, he must not be surprised if others do so in his place." Van den Broek added that Milosevic faces "tough economic sanctions" if he resorts to violence in Kosovo. PM

YUGOSLAV DEFENSE MINISTER BLAMES FOREIGNERS

Federal Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic said in Belgrade on 3 March that "there would be no terrorism [in Kosovo] and the Kosovo problem would not be what it is today if the separatists did not enjoy the support of a certain section of the international community." Meanwhile in Pristina, the daily "Koha Ditore" wrote that "Gelbard shares responsibility" for the violence because he allegedly played into Serbian hands by recently accusing some Albanians of engaging in terrorism (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1998). PM

MACEDONIA HEIGHTENS BORDER ALERT

Macedonian troops stationed on the borders with Yugoslavia and Albania raised their level of readiness on 1 March, BETA reported from Skopje on 3 March. In Ankara, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for a dialogue in Kosovo to guarantee "basic rights and freedoms" for all ethnic groups "within the framework of Yugoslavia's territorial integrity," the "Turkish Daily News" wrote. In Athens, a Foreign Ministry spokesman announced that Greece has put its good offices at the disposal of all parties to the Kosovo dispute and that Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos will go to Belgrade on 6 March. PM

NO SFOR FOR KOSOVO

A spokesman for the Bosnian peacekeepers said in Sarajevo on 3 March that SFOR will not intervene in Kosovo because its mandate strictly limits its activities to Bosnia and Croatia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. The "Washington Post" wrote the next day that the U.S. and its NATO allies have decided to keep SFOR's strength at about 31,000 troops throughout this year. PM

DODIK WANTS IVANIC FOR BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Brussels on 3 March that he hopes that Mladen Ivanic will replace Momcilo Krajisnik as the Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency after the 12-13 September general elections. Ivanic was Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic's first nominee to become prime minister, but Krajisnik and other hard-liners vetoed his appointment. PM

BETTER CHANCES FOR NON-NATIONALISTS?

In Sarajevo on 3 March, the international community's Carlos Westendorp urged representatives of six opposition parties from both Bosnian entities to form a joint slate for the upcoming elections, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. Westendorp also discussed the possibility of changing existing legislation in order to increase the electoral chances of multi-ethnic and non-nationalist parties. PM

ALBANIAN PYRAMID TO BE INVESTIGATED FOR MONEY LAUNDERING

Officials at the Prosecutor-General's office said on 1 March that they will soon launch an investigation into the VEFA pyramid to determine whether the company was involved in money laundering, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. They noted that the final report on VEFA drawn up by the U.S. auditing firm Deloitte & Touche shows that the origins of a large amount of revenues are unknown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1998). Meanwhile, the government's chief pyramid investigator Farudin Arapi has discussed that report with Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi. "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 3 March that Rakipi will probably soon start legal proceedings against the owners of all five pyramid schemes investigated by Deloitte & Touche on charges of misappropriating investors' money. FS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO INCREASE BUDGET REVENUES

The cabinet on 3 March raised gasoline prices as part of the effort to keep the budget deficit at 3.6 percent of GDP. The price of gasoline was increased by 50 percent and diesel by 25 percent. Finance Minister Daniel Daianu said that despite those hikes, estimates of inflation this year at 45 percent may be "over ambitious." Also on 3 March, the State Property Fund said the Bucharest IMGB motor enterprise, one of Romania's largest, is to be sold to the Norwegian-British Kvaerner concern for $500,000. IMGB's $26 million debt is to be taken over by Kvaerner, which will also invest $80 million and refrain from layoffs. MS

CONSTANTINESCU MEETS ETHNIC HUNGARIAN LEADERS

Emil Constantinescu on 3 March told Bela Marko, the leader of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), that the UDMR is behaving "responsibly" and that its contribution to the government coalition goes "far beyond that of an ethnic party." Marko said that for the time being, the UDMR will not insist that its demands be implemented immediately because "the most important thing on the agenda" now is to ensure the passage of the budget in the parliament. The previous day, the Chamber of Deputies decided to postpone debates on the education law. Meanwhile, Gheorghe Funar, the nationalist mayor of Cluj, has announced he is banning all commemorations on 15 March, when Romania's Hungarian community marks the 1848 revolution in Transylvania. MS

KUCHMA TO TAKE PART IN TRANSDIESTER NEGOTIATIONS

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 3 March that he will participate in negotiations on the Transdniester conflict in March. He said that he will meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, and the leader of the separatist region Igor Smirnov to discuss a settlement of the conflict. Kuchma specified neither the date nor the venue of the talks. In other news, Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc responded to Ivan Rybkin's appointment as Russian deputy premier in charge of relations with CIS states, by saying cooperation within the organization has been developing "irrespective of personnel changes in either Chisinau or Moscow," ITAR-TASS reported. MS




FORMER COMMUNIST MAY HOLD KEY TO ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE


By Emil Danielyan

The Armenian presidential race has taken a new twist. Former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian is increasingly gaining ground on the two front- runners, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian and his main opposition challenger, Vazgen Manukian. It is widely believed that Kocharian pressured Demirchian to run for the presidency in a bid to weaken the chances of the other opposition candidates. But unofficial surveys suggest that Demirchian has good chances of winning the 16 March presidential ballot because of widespread popular nostalgia for the "good old days." Thus Kocharian's and Manukian's pre-election confidence may prove premature owing to the emergence of a new heavyweight.

Demirchian headed the Armenian Communist Party from 1974 to 1988, a period of stability and relative prosperity for the former Soviet republic. Since the end of Communist rule in Armenia in summer 1990, he has been director of one of Armenia's largest state enterprises but has kept a low public profile.

Demirchian's growing popularity underscores public discontent with the current socio-economic situation in Armenia. Many Armenians want the former Communist boss to return to power in the hope that he will be able to re- establish the living standards they enjoyed 10 years ago. Industrial decline and war with neighboring Azerbaijan triggered the economic collapse of the early 1990s.

As recently as two weeks ago, very few observers believed Demirchian would constitute a serious threat to Kocharian or any other leading candidate. At a closed-door meeting one day before Demirchian announced his candidacy, the two were rumored to have struck a deal whereby Demirchian would endorse Kocharian in an anticipated run-off election, thereby securing what they expected to be a significant number of additional votes for the acting president. Voters who had cast their ballots in September 1996 for Manukian and his center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM) to protest the policies of Levon Ter-Petrossyan now have Demirchian as an alternative. The same holds true for former supporters of current Communist leader Sergei Badalian, for whom Demirchian's bid is likely to prove disastrous.

Ironically, however, it is Prime Minister Kocharian who may ultimately suffer the most from Demirchian's unexpected popularity. Official opinion polls are notoriously misleading in Armenia. Thus, local observers rely largely on conversations with individual voters, which, combined with impressions of campaign volunteers collecting signatures for their candidates, suggest Demirchian and Manukian have the best chances of reaching a second round (which will be necessary if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on 16 March).

Demirchian told RFE/RL last weekend that, if elected, he will "consolidate all political forces" to establish democracy and a free market economy. He said he supports a "peaceful settlement" of the conflict with Azerbaijan. And he added that Nagorno-Karabakh must never be regain the status it had before1988, but he did not say what he would offer as an alternative. Demirchian also denied having colluding with the authorities over his decision to run in the elections. He gave the impression of being self-confident and showed no signs of poor health, despite allegations to the contrary.

In the event of Demirchian's victory, Armenia would join the other two Transcaucasian states in having returned a Brezhnev-era Communist to power. Both Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia and Heidar Aliyev of Azerbaijan are the linchpins of their countries' stability. Both know Demirchian well, having ruled the region at a time when it was one of the most well-to-do parts of the former USSR. Aliyev and Shevardnadze rapidly adjusted to the new post-Soviet realities, and their pragmatism and flexibility helped them regain power. Whether Demirchian can do likewise will become clear very soon. But it is nonetheless quite remarkable that many Armenians are now turning to the former Communist boss after having condemned him in 1988 for not sufficiently supporting Karabakh's drive for secession from Azerbaijan.

At the same time, Demirchian's conspicuous avoidance of the media has fueled suspicions about his possible involvement in pre-election deals with Kocharian. Some observers believe that the Armenian leadership has compromising information with which it could blackmail Demirchian into withdrawing his candidacy if he appears to be on his way to winning outright in the first round of voting. Those observers reason that Demirchian's last- minute endorsement of Ter-Petrossyan's presidential candidacy on the eve of the September 1996 election was highly suspicious following his decade of silence. Some think he may have made that endorsement under pressure from the then ruling party.

Moreover, Demirchian lacks a credible political force on which he can rely (he collected only 37,882 signatures in support of his registration, as compared with Kocharian's 255,994 and Manukian's 303,096). Undoubtedly, his rivals will make full use of their campaign mechanisms in an attempt to bolster support for their candidacies. The author is an RFE/RL freelance correspondent based in Yerevan.


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