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Newsline - March 20, 1998


President Boris Yeltsin returned to his office in the Kremlin on 20 March, Russian news agencies reported. The president held telephone conversations with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who is touring the former republics of Yugoslavia (see Part Two). Yeltsin was also shown on television meeting with his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, to discuss his summit with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl scheduled for 25 and 26 March in Yekaterinburg. Yeltsin went to his Gorky-9 residence outside Moscow on 13 March in order to recover from a respiratory infection, and his illness forced the postponement of a CIS summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 1998). LB


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 19 March that Yeltsin has instructed Chernomyrdin to investigate "disgraceful lobbying" by government officials among parliamentary deputies and to punish those responsible, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yastrzhembskii named Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Toporov, First Deputy Labor Minister Yurii Lyublin, Deputy Finance Minister Izosim Molchanov and Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Kiselev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 March. "Russkii telegraf" said Pension Fund Deputy Chairman Yevgenii Vasilev may also be dismissed. The officials involved are accused of supporting either laws that exceed the government's spending capacity (such as pension increases) or legislation contradicting official policy. For instance, Kiselev is said to have backed a law that would restrict land ownership rights, according to "Kommersant- Daily." LB


Also on 19 March, Yeltsin issued a decree revoking the right of several dozen officials to have federally funded bodyguards, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The decree affects 41 regional leaders, including Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. (Leaders of the other Russian regions do not use federal funds to pay for their security.) The decree also applies to former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, who is now the leader of the Popular Power faction in the State Duma. "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 March quoted Yastrzhembskii as saying those officials are free to hire bodyguards from local branches of the Interior Ministry, as long as they pay for the service with regional funds. Yeltsin recently stripped 12 senior officials, including First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, of their state-funded bodyguards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1998). LB


The government on 20 March announced that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has signed instructions on selling a 75 percent plus one share in Rosneft, Russia's last major fully state-owned oil company. The starting price for the stake will be 12.8 billion rubles ($2.1 billion), RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The German firm Dresdner Kleinwort Benson recently valued Rosneft at some $2.3 billion and estimated that a 75 percent stake in the company would be worth $1.6-1.7 billion, Interfax reported on 17 March. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais on 19 March told journalists representing foreign media organizations that there will be no restrictions on foreign participation in the Rosneft auction. A plan to sell a stake of 50 percent plus one share in Rosneft had also been under consideration by Chernomyrdin, but potential investors criticized that proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998). LB


The decision to allow foreign companies to bid for the controlling stake in Rosneft is bad news for the Yuksi oil company, recently formed from the Yukos and Sibneft oil companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 January 1998). Yuksi president Mikhail Khodorkovskii tried without success to recruit a foreign partner to submit a joint bid for the Rosneft stake. It will be difficult for Yuksi to raise enough funds to win the auction, "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 20 March. A consortium involving LUKoil, Gazprom, and Royal Dutch Shell, and an alliance of Sidanko and British Petroleum have announced plans to bid for Rosneft. Boris Berezovskii, a major shareholder in Yuksi, argued repeatedly in January and February that it is not in Russia's interest to allow foreigners to make "strategic" investments in the energy sector. LB


The State Duma on 20 March rejected a proposal to reschedule the government's report on its implementation of the 1997 budget, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The report is planned for 10 April, and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has asked Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to deliver it to the Duma in person. The Communist faction sought to move up the report for 31 March, so that it will take place before a nationwide protest action the Communists and other opposition groups are planning for 9 April. But the proposal fell short of a majority when the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia declined to support it. Meanwhile, the Duma has yet to vote on a final version of a resolution calling for criminal cases to be opened against Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais for illegally reducing 1997 budget expenditures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). LB


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov wants the federal government to pay its debt to the capital by transferring 50 percent stakes in some leading military enterprises to the Moscow city government, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported. Luzhkov discussed his proposal at an 18 March meeting attended by government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin, and Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. Luzhkov's request applies to the aircraft design firm Sukhoi, the Ilyushin and Antei aviation complexes, and the Aircraft Electronics and Communications Systems company. "Russkii telegraf" on 19 March quoted unnamed government sources as saying the share transfers are likely to be approved, since the 1998 budget does not foresee sufficient spending to revive defense enterprises. Output in the defense industry declined 16 percent in 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). LB


Although many defense enterprises are currently unprofitable, the plan to transfer shares in leading defense enterprises to Moscow could yield significant political dividends for Luzhkov, who is widely considered a strong presidential contender. "Russkii telegraf" noted on 19 March that the enterprises that would be affected by Luzhkov's proposal have networks of affiliates across Russia. For instance, Sukhoi owns companies based in Bashkortostan, Khabarovsk Krai, and Irkutsk and Novosibirsk Oblasts. Antei has affiliates in the republics of Tyva, Marii-El, and Udmurtia, as well as Orenburg, Sverdlovsk, and Yaroslavl Oblasts. Luzhkov has proposed offering tax breaks and reduced energy charges for the defense industry. He has promised to use Moscow city funds to help pay for those measures, but only if Moscow acquires controlling stakes in some defense enterprises. If his plan is approved, Luzhkov could gain more influence over elites in regions with a substantial defense industry. LB


U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins said in Yuzhnosakhalinsk on 19 March that Washington considers the Kuril Islands to be the property of Japan, Interfax reported. Ownership of the four islands, which were occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two, has proven an obstacle to signing a Russian-Japanese peace treaty to officially end hostilities. The previous day, Grigorii Yavlinskii, the leader of the Yabloko movement, had said the peace agreement should be based on the 1855 treaty between Russia and Japan. That document gave Russia the northern Kuril Islands but left Japan with the four southern ones, now at the center of the dispute between Moscow and Tokyo. BP


Aleksandr Losyukov, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department for Asia, commented that Collins's statement is "untimely and incorrect," Interfax reported. Losyukov said statements by representatives of third countries on the subject are "inappropriate," especially "if they are done on our territory in the Far East." The Russian- Japanese subcommission on the new treaty ending wartime hostilities is to meet for the first time in Tokyo on 26 March. President Yeltsin is scheduled to have an informal meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in Kawana, Japan, on 11-13 April. BP


Speaking at a press conference in Grozny on 19 March, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said that the situation in Chechnya is more stable than at any time since September 1996, Interfax reported. Maskhadov rejected a statement made the previous day by Khunkar-Pasha Israpilov, head of the Chechen anti-terrorist squad. Israpilov claimed that supporters of the abductors of a British couple held hostage in Chechnya since July 1997 have seized a building in Urus Martan and that tensions in the town are escalating. Chechen intelligence agents recently failed to secure the release of the British hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998). LF


Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed announced on 19 March that Russia needs massive assistance modeled on the Marshall Plan, which the U.S. offered to many European countries after World War Two, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Testifying before the National Security Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Lebed criticized current U.S. aid to Russia, saying money is not going to the right people. The previous day, Lebed met with U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and highly praised the Nunn-Lugar program, under which U.S. funds have helped pay to dismantle some Russian missiles. But he warned that chronic underfunding of the Russian military continues, and Russia's nuclear specialists often receive only part of their wages with great delays. Lebed is running in the 26 April gubernatorial election in Krasnoyarsk Krai. LB


During a 19 March press conference in Moscow, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Valerii Zubov expressed confidence that he will be re-elected this spring, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Zubov said he does not consider Lebed his main rival in the race. However, in thinly-veiled criticism of Lebed, he warned that Krasnoyarsk residents should not "count on a miracle" by voting for a "magician" for governor. Zubov portrayed himself as a person committed to working in Krasnoyarsk in the long term (Lebed is widely believed to be planning a presidential bid in 2000). "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 17 March that many officials, both in the krai and in Moscow, believe Zubov's re-election chances are slim. The newspaper said other regional leaders are already negotiating as to who will replace Zubov as deputy speaker of the Federation Council if he loses his post in Krasnoyarsk. LB


Two Mormon missionaries have been abducted in Samara Oblast, Reuters reported on 19 March, citing a statement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The statement, which was issued through the U.S. State Department, gave few details about the disappearance of the missionaries and did not speculate about who might be responsible for their abduction. The Church said it has taken measures to protect others in its Samara mission. LB


Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan told journalists in Yerevan on 19 March that "minor" procedural violations during the presidential elections did not significantly affect the final results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1998). Kocharyan said he has informed the head of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission that he disagrees with three of the six points of criticism contained in the OSCE evaluation. He pledged to ensure that the 30 March runoff will be free of infringements. Kocharyan also said he is discussing a possible second round alliance with defeated candidate Paruir Hairikyan, who polled 5.5 percent. He also appealed to Vazgen Manukyan, who came in third, "not to burn bridges" for future cooperation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF


Seyran Avakyan, a spokesman for Manukyan's National Democratic Union (NDU) said on 19 March that the party has already lodged 30 formal protests with the Central Electoral Commission and another 16 with local commissions, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Avakyan said Manukyan's campaign staff are still receiving complaints of fraud and will seek legal action on 50 "criminal cases" of violence against NDU activists. Avakyan added that whereas most violations occurred during the vote count in 1996, the majority took place during the actual voting this year. Four members of the Central Electoral Commission, including Vova Hakhverdyan of the NDU, refused to sign the final protocol on preliminary returns issued by the commission on 19 March, Noyan Tapan reported. LF


Nemo Burchuladze, who was Georgian deputy parliamentary speaker under ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was released on bail by Russian police on 19 March after being detained in Moscow for one day, Russian media reported. Senior Georgian officials told Caucasus Press on 19 March that Tbilisi will not demand Burchuladze's extradition because of the positive role he played in securing the release of four UN observers abducted by Gamsakhurdia sympathizers in western Georgia last month. Also on 19 March, Guram Absandze, who was finance minister under Gamsakhurdia, was extradited to Tbilisi and taken into detention on arrival, Russian media reported. Absandze, who was arrested in Smolensk on 16 March, is suspected of financing the 9 February assassination attempt against Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. LF


Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev announced on 19 March that the three Iranian nationals arrested charged with espionage last month will be sent back to Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. Tokayev told the Iranian ambassador to Kazakhstan that Kazakh security agents had been able to establish that the Iranians had gathered information and "infringed on the interests of Kazakhstan's national security." Tokayev, who had been in Tehran on 13 March to discuss the issue, added that "to show goodwill...[and] preserve friendly relations between the two countries," the Kazakh authorities had decided to free the suspected spies. There was no mention of the fate of the Kazakh citizen who was charged alongside the three Iranians. BP


Kyrgyz presidential press spokesman Kanybek ImanAliyev said on 18 March that the U.S. has removed Kyrgyzstan from the list of countries covered by the 1973 Jackson-Vanick amendment, RFE/RL correspondents reported. That act placed severe restrictions on trade with countries that have a poor human rights records. Removal from the list means Kyrgyz exports are now officially freed from the maximum customs duties that could be levied on listed countries. However, since the 1992 agreement with the U.S. giving Kyrgyzstan most-favored nation status, those duties have rarely been enforced. Last November, President Askar Akayev sent a letter to the U.S. President Bill Clinton requesting Kyrgyzstan be removed from the list. BP


Mohammad Hasan Marikana, the president of Malaysia's Petronas Oil Company, opened the oil tank storage facility at the Turkmen Caspian port of Turkmenbashi on 19 March, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Petronas will invest between $60-70 million in offshore oil-drilling projects this year in the Livanovo, Barinovo, and Gubkino Caspian fields, which contain an estimated total of 500-660 million tons of oil. Earlier the same day, Marikana met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat. BP


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 19 March that Russia is considering "certain targeted economic counter- measures" against Latvia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yastrzhembskii expressed concern about the "silence" of other European countries over the recent march in Riga by veterans of the Latvian SS Legion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998). Yastrzhembskii questioned whether the lack of condemnation of that march indicates that the verdicts at the Nuremburg trials are no longer deemed binding international law and whether Europe is willing to invite "a country whose government panders to SS remnants" into the "zone of democracy." In contrast, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced on 19 March that "Russia will not impose economic sanctions on Latvia," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that "we do not support a 'tooth for a tooth' position." LB


Addressing a session of the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva on 19 March, Valdis Birkavs argued that Russia is conducting a "widespread anti-Latvian campaign," BNS reported. Referring to the recent incident at the Latvian Embassy in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1998),. Birkavs said Latvian diplomatic personnel "have been threatened with physical violence." He added that "Latvia has received threats of economic sanctions because, it is said, Latvia is not loyal enough to Russian interests." Birkavs was responding to a proposal made by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Ushakhov in Geneva two days earlier that the committee adopt a resolution condemning human rights violations in Latvia. The Latvian minister rejected Ushakhov's accusation of applying "double standards" over the protection of human rights, adding that he is ready to discuss those rights with Moscow. JC


The Latvian Prosecutor-General's Office on 19 March arrested a Russian citizen and former Soviet security official on charges of genocide, BNS reported. Ilya Mashonkin is accused of involvement in the 1949 deportation of some 100 ethnic Latvian families. Many of the deportees reportedly died in exile. A spokeswoman said that Mashonkin's arrest cannot be linked to the recent activities of Latvia's Russian-speakers or SS Legion veterans because the Prosecutor-General's Office has been working on the case for the past year or so. Until now, Latvia had sentenced only one former Soviet security official. Alfons Noviks, a Latvian citizen, was jailed for life in 1995 for helping organize deportations. He died in prison the following year, aged 89. JC



The Belarusian government on 19 March ordered state-owned companies and private businesses to reduce prices on all goods to 1 March levels in an effort to stave off an economic crisis, Reuters reported. Trade Minister Pyotr Kozlov said directors of state firms failing to adhere to the order would be sacked and that the licenses for disobeying private businesses revoked. The government announced that Deputy Trade Minister Hrihor Kravchenka and Alyaksandr Hretsky, the chairman of the Economics Ministry's prices committee, have been fired. The Belarusian ruble has lost about 25 percent of its value since the beginning of the month, leading to huge increases in prices. PB


Moscow's Interbank Currency Exchange announced on 19 March that it is suspending all trading in the Belarusian ruble, AFP reported. An exchange official said the action was recommended by the Russian Central Bank. Also on 19 March, Gazprom said it is reducing gas deliveries to Belarus because of Minsk's failure to pay its debt of $220 million. Belarusian Prime Minister Serhei Ling said Minsk might take "retaliatory steps" if gas supplies are cut by 30 percent, Interfax reported on 19 March. PB


Lawmakers on 19 March voted by 57 to six with three abstentions for the government to begin talks with the U.S. Williams International Company on investing in Lithuania's leading oil companies, BNS reported. The U.S. company will be given a chance to acquire 33 percent stakes in Butinges Nafta, Naftotiekis, and Mazeikiu Nafta. The state plans to retain at least a 51 percent stake in Naftotiekis, a 34 percent stake in Butinges Nafta, and no less than 25 percent of the shares in Mazeikiu Nafta. JC


Some 1,500 workers and miners held a demonstration at government buildings on 19 March to protest plans to privatize their enterprises, an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw reported. Organized by the Solidarity trade union, the rally involved workers from the Ursus tractor plant and miners from Silesia, who burnt EU flags and shouted "Balcerowicz must go." The workers blame Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz for the lay-offs that will result from the privatization plans. The EU has instructed Poland to stop subsidizing unprofitable factories or risk violating EU association agreements. Talks on joining the union begin on 31 March. PB


Senators on 19 March approved a bill shortening the mandate of the Chamber of Deputies and saying that new elections must be held by 30 June. President Vaclav Havel's spokesman recently said that if the Senate passed the law, Havel would call elections for 19 and 20 June, CTK reported. In another development, Social Democratic Party chairman Milos Zeman on 19 March told journalists that it was likely that the lower house will ratify Czech NATO membership before early elections. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Czech counter-intelligence service (BIS) on 19 March said the service has started investigating allegations that Czech businessmen living in Switzerland bribed Zeman. Zeman, who denies the allegations, has handed over documents to both the Interior Ministry and the BIS. MS


Lawmakers on 19 March again failed to elect a president. Ladislav Ballek, the candidate of the opposition Democratic Left Party received 50 votes, 40 votes short of the needed two-thirds majority. Independent candidate Milan Fogas withdrew from the race before the ballot. A third vote is now set for 16 April, when new candidates may be nominated. In other news, an opinion poll released by the Focus institute confirms that the gap between the opposition and the forces supporting Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar is widening, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported on 18 March. The joint forces of the opposition are backed by 59.2 percent, while the present ruling coalition has 29.4 percent support. MS


Slovak state radio reported that Meciar on 19 March said that for decades Hungary has been pursuing a "policy of genocide" against its national minorities and has turned into a state that is a "graveyard for national minorities." The criticism was triggered by the recent failure of the Hungarian parliament to pass a law that would have allowed minorities to be represented in the legislature in guaranteed seats. In other news, Meciar charged in a national television address the previous day that Czech politicians are "permanently acting on the international scene to secretly undermine Slovakia's interests." MS


According to a Marketing Center opinion poll, support for the governing Socialist Party has decreased as a result of the recent controversies over the Hungarian-Slovak Danube hydropower plant. The Socialists' support dropped from 43 percent last month to 34 percent, while the opposition Young Democrats have 30 percent backing, compared with 24 percent last month. The Independent Smallholders are backed by 14 percent, followed by the junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (8 percent) and the opposition Democratic Forum (5 percent). MSZ

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Some 40,000 ethnic Albanians on 19 March held a demonstration in the center of the Kosovar capital at which demonstrators jangled keys to signify the passing of the deadline set by the six-nation Contact Group for Belgrade to begin talks with ethnic Albanian leaders. A few hours later, some 50,000 Serbs, carrying flags and singing nationalist songs, began a counterprotest against what they called "terrorism and separatism," an RFE/RL correspondent in Pristina reported. Fighting broke out between many of the demonstrators from the opposing sides, and police had to use tear gas to restore calm. Some minor injuries were reported. In Pec, some 10,000 people attended the funeral of a man said to have been shot by Serbian police during a rally the previous day that ended with gunshots. Police officials deny the charges. PB


German and French Foreign Ministers Klaus Kinkel and Hubert Vedrine said progress was made in talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in Belgrade on 19 March, Reuters reported. Vedrine said "significant progress was achieved," although Kinkel added that there had not been a "breakthrough." Milosevic was said to have made concessions by naming Yugoslav Deputy Premier Vladan Kutlesic as a special envoy for Kosovo and by agreeing to talk with EU special envoy Felipe Gonzalez. Those talks, however, will deal only with relations between Belgrade and the EU and will not cover Kosovo. Milosevic is also said to have agreed in the talks with Kinkel and Vedrine to withdraw special paramilitary police units from Kosovo, a promise he had already made earlier this week. Kinkel did not say if the pledges by Belgrade were enough to prevent a tougher regime of sanctions to be imposed by the Contact Group, which is scheduled to meet in Brussels on 20 March to review the situation. PB


Xhemail Mustafa, an adviser to Kosovo shadow state President Ibrahim Rugova, said that Serbian President Milutinovic's offer of unconditional talks with Kosovo Albanian leaders next week is a "farce," AFP reported on 19 March. Mustafa said it is "another attempt at deceiving the public and international political circles." Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said in Banja Luka on 19 March that autonomy is the "most acceptable" answer for the Kosovo crisis, though he repeated his position that it is Yugoslavia's internal affair. PB


The Kosovo Democratic League (LDK), the leading ethnic Albanian party, called for voters to turn out in force on 22 March in the elections to elect a shadow Kosovo president and 130-seat parliament, AFP reported on 19 March. An LDK statement said the elections "will be a sort of referendum of Albanians for an independent republic of Kosovo." The document accused Belgrade of doing everything possible to prevent the vote. Rugova, who is also the leader of the LDK, is the only candidate for president. Several other Kosovo Albanian political parties have called for the elections to be postponed until tensions in the province subside (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 March 1998). The election commission announced that voting will not take place in the Drenica region owing to the Serbian police presence there. PB


U.S. special envoy to the Balkans Robert Gelbard told journalists on 19 March that if Yugoslav President Milosevic fails to comply with the Contact Group's demand that he begin a dialogue with the Kosovo leadership and withdraw special police from the region, the U.S. government will consider toughening its sanctions against Serbia. "If President Milosevic is serious about the dialogue, then he is going to have to prove it," Gelbard affirmed, following a meeting in Tirana with Albanian leaders. Gelbard also expressed approval of Rugova's 18 March statement that he is ready to seek a dialogue with the Serbian leadership. LF


Also on 19 March, Gelbard said after talks with Macedonian Foreign Minister Blagoj Handziski in Skopje that Yugoslav President Milosevic does not understand the "seriousness" of the Kosovo situation, AFP reported. Gelbard said Milosevic "is not prepared yet" to take the measures prescribed by the Contact Group to relieve tension in Kosovo. He said Belgrade's call for dialogue "falls quite short of what we feel is necessary to a serious start." PB


Addressing Russian members of SFOR, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said he hopes that the Contact Group will be able to avoid imposing tougher sanctions on Yugoslavia at its 25 March meeting, Interfax reported on 19 March. Primakov said that Serbian President Milutinovic's statement the previous day that he is ready to begin a dialogue with the Kosovo leadership on self- government may render such sanctions unnecessary. He also underlined that Moscow is opposed to Kosovo's seceding from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Speaking in Moscow on 19 March, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin welcomed Milutinovic's offer and called on the Kosovo Albanian leadership to accept it. LF


Lawmakers on 19 March voted to shorten their mandates, thereby enabling President Milo Djukanovic to schedule new parliamentary elections for May, AFP reported. The parliament also voted to increase the number of deputies from 71 to 78. In January, Yugoslav Prime Minister Radoje Kontic brokered an agreement between Djukanovic and his predecessor, Momir Bulatovic, on scheduling pre-term elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). LF


The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia applied to join the Council of Europe on 19 March, AFP reported. Daniel Tarschys, secretary-general of the council, said that a decision on whether to admit Belgrade would be based on Yugoslavia's respect for human rights and the rights of minorities. PB


Before their talks with Milosevic and Milutinovic in Belgrade, the German and French foreign ministers said in Zagreb on 18 March that as long as Croatia continues to implement the Dayton peace agreement and facilitate the return of Serbian refugees, Zagreb can count on French-German support in forging closer ties with Europe. Kinkel and Vedrine held talks with their Croatian counterpart, Mate Granic, and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Granic said Tudjman presented them with a new proposal for establishing a lasting peace in the region by demilitarizing under EU guarantees and securing non-aggression agreements between Croatia and Bosnia and between Yugoslavia and Bosnia. Also on 18 March, Granic complained that Croatia is being put under "unjust and unfair pressure" by the international community. JN/PB


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on 19 March met with President Emil Constantinescu, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, and Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu to discuss the Kosovo crisis, regional developments, Romania's bid for NATO membership, and U.S. investments in Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Talbott said that all three leaders expressed Romania's readiness to participate in finding a solution to the Kosovo crisis and that Bucharest is in a position to "use its prestige and influence" for that purpose. He added that the U.S. wants to see a "strong, democratic, prosperous Romania" that will be integrated into NATO as soon as possible. MS


The Senate on 19 March began the long-postponed debate on a draft law allowing access to former secret police files, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. It approved the first article of the law, whereby Romanian citizens residing in the country or abroad as well as those who acquired foreign citizenship after 1945 will be allowed to inspect their own files. Debates on all articles of the law are expected to take months. MS


Victor Ciubuc told journalists on 19 March that he is ready to fulfill President Petru Lucinschi's wish that he form the next government but added he will do so only if it is not a heterogeneous cabinet such as the current one. Ciubuc called on the electorate to support Lucinschi's program at the 22 March ballot, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The premier added that recent negotiations in Moscow over gas deliveries had been "difficult" because Gazprom had set "very tough terms" for those deliveries. The two sides had agreed, however, that Moldova supply goods worth $100 million and pay $40 million in cash to cover part of its debt. Setting up the MoldovaGas company, in which Gazprom owns 50 percent of the shares, will cover another $47 million of the debt. MS


The electoral headquarters of the pro- presidential Social Democratic Bloc Speranta in Tiraspol was ransacked by officers from the Transdniester Ministry of State Security. The leader of the bloc, presidential adviser Anatol Taranu, called the incident a "pogrom," Infotag reported on 19 March. The separatist authorities say that campaigning for the Moldovan elections in the region is illegal. BASA-press reported on 19 March that the cars of two candidates running on the list of the pro- presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova, were stolen while the candidates were campaigning in Chisinau and Comrat, respectively. MS


Bulgarian Deputy Defense Minister Rumen Kanchev and Robert Zweerts, the visiting manager-general of the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMASA) met in Sofia on 19 March and signed a memorandum on cooperation in logistics, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The cooperation will begin with coordinating the codification of military standards, which is to be achieved within two years. Kanchev said this was the "first step toward integration into Western military structures." One day earlier, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott discussed with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova measures aimed at ending the conflict in Kosovo. He lauded Sofia's stabilizing role in the Balkans, saying Bulgaria has become a "strong multi-ethnic democracy that could serve as a model for other Balkan nations," dpa reported. MS

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by Michael Shafir

It is a victory of the Right, rather than of the Left, that President Petru Lucinschi fears may lead to a "confrontational situation" between himself and the parliament. The main force on the Right is the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM), an alliance that was set up last year. Its main components are the Party of Revival and Conciliation (PRRM) and the Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD). Former President Mircea Snegur, who heads the PRRM, and the FPCD were bitter enemies in 1994, when Snegur opted for the road of "Moldovanism" and the FPCD remained true to its pro-Romanian, unionist stance. But Snegur's alliance with the FPCD may been seen by some observers as the "homecoming" of the former president. Leaving behind his communist identity (as chairman of the Moldovan Supreme Soviet in July 1989 and Central Committee secretary since 1985), Snegur in 1990 allied himself with the pro-independence and pro-Romanian Popular Front.

Snegur has not fully returned to a pro-Romanian unionist position, but Iurie Rosca, the co-chairman of the CDM, has apparently decided to follow the "Romanian model" in setting up the convention. Like the Democratic Convention of Romania, the CDM sees its main purpose in removing the "vestiges of communism" and is therefore willing to postpone resolving differences among its component parties or leaders. For the time being, the FPCD is not promoting reunification with Romania as a main priority, though the CDM wants closer links with Bucharest and wants to step up efforts to eventually gain entry to the EU. It also insists that it is the only political alternative that can guarantee accelerating the privatization process and cutting the umbilical cord that links President Lucinschi (a former Central Committee secretary in Moscow under Mikhail Gorbachev) to the CIS and Russia.

Other parties on the Right of the political spectrum are the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD), led by Valeriu Matei, and the Alliance of Democratic Forces Bloc (BAFD), set up by the National Peasant Party and the National Liberal Party. Their electoral chances are uncertain. The first CURS-IMAS poll put support for the PFD at 15 percent, the second at 16 percent. Support for the BAFD dropped from 11 percent to 6 percent over the past two months, according to the CURS-IMAS surveys. The Opinia poll also credited the PFD with 15 percent, but put the BAFD below the electoral threshold.

The CDM, meanwhile, has been running a close second to the Communists in the opinion polls. It gained 18 percent support in the first CURS-IMAS poll, 19 percent in the second, and 20 percent in the Opinia survey. The fact that the CDM has moderated its position on unification with Romania may well explain why it leads the field among rightist parties. Polls in Moldova have consistently shown that for both historical and more immediate reasons, a solid majority of voters do not favor reunification. And while the separatist Transdniestrian demands find little backing on the left bank of the Dniester River, Moldovans are in general willing to go a long way toward accommodating the fears of the non-Romanian (non- "Moldovan") minorities, whether they are Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauz, or any other.

For lack of a better definition, parties backing President Lucinschi can be considered "centrist". The Center is aware of the need to promote reforms but at the same time realizes that many voters oppose them. It also builds on Lucinschi's popularity and the widespread belief that his links to Moscow will ultimately bring about a settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict whereby the country's territorial integrity would be preserved and the large population of Slavs and particularly Russians (who constitute nearly 13 percent of the population) would be accommodated.

The pro-presidential For a Democratic Prosperous and Moldova Bloc (PMDP), set up immediately after Lucinschi's victory in the late 1996 presidential elections and led by Dumitru Diacov, is the most prominent among the centrist parties. Premier Ion Ciubuc, whom Lucinschi has named as his preferred candidate for the premiership after the elections, is a PMDP member. Support for the PMDP has soared from 9 percent to 19 percent in just one month, according to the two CURS-IMAS polls (the Opinia poll credited it with some 10 percent backing). The PMDP, as well as other pro-presidential lists (which, unlike it, may fail to pass the 4 percent election threshold), favors transforming the system from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential one-- a rather dangerous proposition in a state lacking strong democratic traditions.

Perhaps the most colorful of the centrist formations is the Party of Social and Economic Justice. Last week, 16 would-be candidates on the list headed by Maricica Levitschi left the party in protest at her apparent attempts to bribe the electorate by distributing humanitarian aid received from abroad, including condoms and contraceptive pills. They also objected to the fact that Levitschi had forced them to swear on the Bible everlasting political fidelity. She should have known that there is no such thing in politics and least of all in Moldovan politics, where everything is still in flux.

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