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Newsline - April 2, 1998




YELTSIN AGREES TO ROUNDTABLE TALKS

President Boris Yeltsin has offered to convene roundtable talks on 7 April in order to discuss the formation of the new government and its policies, Russian news agencies reported on 2 April. Yeltsin made the offer during a meeting with State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, and acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko. The previous day, both houses of the parliament called for roundtable talks, and Seleznev said the opposition does not view the meeting of the "big three and a half" as an acceptable alternative to such talks, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB

DUMA VOTE ON KIRIENKO POSTPONED

Kirienko announced on 2 April that he, Yeltsin, Seleznev and Stroev agreed to postpone until 8 April the Duma vote on his candidacy for prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. Article 111 of the constitution requires the Duma to consider the president's nominee within one week of the official nomination, which in this case would mean by 3 April. But Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov argues that the Duma is merely obliged to discuss the nomination of a prime minister within seven days and may vote on the candidacy later, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 2 April. Alternatively, Yeltsin may withdraw his 27 March letter nominating Kirienko and submit a new letter; this would give the Duma another week to consider the candidacy. LB

KIRIENKO FACES UPHILL BATTLE

Of the seven Duma factions, only Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has endorsed Kirienko. Zhirinovsky told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 1 April that his party considers Kirienko a "lesser evil" and fears that if the Duma rejects him, Yeltsin will nominate "far worse" candidates. The Russian Regions and Our Home Is Russia factions are viewed as possible supporters of Kirienko. Our Home Is Russia is reportedly seeking guarantees that its representatives will be appointed to the new government, but Kirienko has ruled out using cabinet appointments as bargaining chips to secure his confirmation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). Even if Russian Regions and Our Home Is Russia deputies support Kirienko, the acting prime minister would still need some 75 votes from the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction has vowed to vote against Kirienko. LB

KIRIENKO NOTES WORRYING ECONOMIC TRENDS

Addressing the Federation Council on 1 April, acting Prime Minister Kirienko admitted that recent economic indicators do not show positive trends, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Kirienko said year-on-year GDP was stagnant in March and the average standard of living has declined since the beginning of the year. He also noted that wage arrears are increasing. Repeating promises made by government officials in past years, Kirienko said the new cabinet must improve tax collection and take an active role in managing "natural monopolies" in the energy sector. He also promised to reduce government spending but did not specify where cuts would be made. LB

IMF REPRESENTATIVE CONCERNED BY DEVELOPMENTS

Martin Gilman, the IMF's representative in Moscow, on 1 April told Reuters he is concerned that "precious time is being lost" because of the government dismissal. Before he was sacked, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was due to sign an Russian-IMF statement on Russia's economic policies for 1998. Gilman said the government may make up for the lost time after the new cabinet is appointed. But he also expressed concern that First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin was reprimanded after announcing some proposals for reducing the number of state employees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 1998). Kirienko and Yeltsin both said the government had not approved those plans, which Kudrin said involved eliminating more than 200,000 jobs. Gilman told Reuters that the cost-cutting policies Kudrin had described "form a critical part of IMF support for the 1998 program." LB

OPPOSITION, UNIONS STILL PLANNING NATIONWIDE PROTEST

The presidium of the Communist-led Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR) has confirmed that it is continuing preparations for a nationwide protest on 9 April. In a statement released on 1 April, the NPSR blasted Yeltsin for causing a "political crisis" by firing the government "without analyzing the disaster called 'the reform course,'" Interfax reported. The statement also said the NPSR supports roundtable talks aimed at forming "a government of responsible, competent patriots." The Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) leader Mikhail Shmakov has announced that the FNPR is also going ahead with its plans to organize rallies on 9 April, ITAR-TASS reported. LB

SPOKESMAN CASTS DOUBT ON YELTSIN'S VISIT TO JAPAN

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii has raised doubts about whether Yeltsin will travel to Japan next week for an informal meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Yastrzhembskii said on 1 April that the visit depends on Russian's internal political situation, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He made a point of saying that the meeting is still on. Some observers note, however, that the president may opt to postpone his trip if the Duma has not confirmed acting Prime Minister Kirienko. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka said in Tokyo that the Japanese government "has not been informed by Russia about schedule changes," Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. And Premier Hashimoto said his country is going ahead with preparations for the visit. BP

ENERGY MINISTERS WRAP UP MOSCOW MEETING

The energy ministers of the world's leading industrial nations released a communique on 1 April saying that while "we recognize that governments continue to have a role in the development of energy markets," buyers and sellers of gas and electricity services should be free to negotiate price, terms, and conditions without government approval. ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. The communique also detailed "prospects for the development of global power engineering up to the year 2020." Special attention was paid to the consequences of the so-called greenhouse effect. Participants in the Moscow conference emphasized the goal set at their meeting last year to decrease gas emissions by 5 percent over the next 15 years. BP

DUMA REJECTS RESOLUTION ON 1997 BUDGET SPENDING

The Duma on 1 April rejected a resolution charging that the government broke the law by unilaterally cutting budget expenditures in 1997, Interfax reported. The resolution failed to gain a majority even after its leading supporter, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, agreed to drop its most controversial passage, which would have asked the Procurator-General's Office to consider filing criminal charges against then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and then First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). According to Interfax, the resolution has now been dropped from the Duma's agenda. LB

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT DEFENDS BELARUS

The Federation Council on 1 April passed an appeal to the heads of Russian media outlets urging them not to adopt "double standards" in their coverage of CIS leaders, ITAR- TASS reported. The appeal charged that coverage of some countries, above all Belarus, occasionally trespasses "international standards of etiquette" and harms the process of integration. Also on 1 April, the Duma passed a provisional version of a resolution condemning efforts by members of the U.S. Congress to withhold "most favored nation" trade status from Belarus until the human rights situation in that country improves, Interfax reported. The resolution, drafted by deputies in the Popular Power faction, calls on the Russian president and government to support the Russian-Belarusian Union and take steps to counter the international isolation of Belarus. LB

STEPASHIN IDENTIFIES EXTREMIST THREATS

Acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin says the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, Wahhabism, and radical political parties in Tuva, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan are among the most serious extremist threats to the Russian Federation, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 1 April. Stepashin was addressing a conference in Moscow on "political extremism and constitutional means of countering it." Stepashin said that, together with Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov and Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Kovalev, he has decided to propose that the Federation Council amend Russian legislation in order to classify as "extremist" any organization that resorts, or threatens to resort, to the use of force to achieve its goals. Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Davydov called for amending the constitution to make the dissemination of fascist propaganda a criminal offense. LF

'ROSSIISKIE VESTI' NO LONGER AN OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER

Valerii Kucher, the editor-in-chief of "Rossiiskie vesti," informed readers in a 1 April commentary that the newspaper is no longer the official publication of the presidential administration. Kucher promised that "Rosskiiskie vesti" has been "de-ideologized" and will in future represent the interests of ordinary citizens and the middle class. He also said that owing to the loss of financing from the presidential administration, the newspaper has been forced to switch from daily to weekly publication for the time being. Kucher has accused the Kremlin of failing to meet its financial obligations toward "Rossiiskie vesti" and of trying to force the newspaper to publish only official materials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998). LB

WINNER OF ANNULLED ELECTION ARRESTED IN NIZHNII

The controversial businessman Andrei Klimentev was arrested on 2 April in Nizhnii Novgorod, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported. Klimentev was the apparent winner of a 29 March mayoral election that was later annulled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 April 1998). On 1 April, he vowed to file a court appeal against the decision to cancel the election result. He was arrested the following day when he appeared at the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Court, which is holding a retrial of Klimentev's 1997 embezzlement conviction. The authorities say he was arrested for "disturbing public order" and violating an order not to leave Nizhnii Novgorod while his criminal case is pending. His lawyer charged that Klimentev did not leave the city and that there are no grounds for his arrest, which the lawyer attributed to "orders from above." LB

ANNULMENT OF NIZHNII ELECTION DRAWS CRITICISM

The Nizhnii Novgorod Electoral Commission has formally declared the mayoral election invalid because of campaign violations committed by all candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). However, many observers consider the annulment politically motivated, since several high-ranking federal officials had criticized the election result on 30 and 31 March. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 1 April, Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko of Yabloko noted that Yabloko was also disappointed by Klimentev's victory but warned that however "understandable" the motives might be in this particular case, annulling an election sets a "very dangerous legal precedent." Similarly, "Izvestiya" argued on 2 April that canceling the election may turn Klimentev into a local hero. More important, the newspaper said, it sets a precedent that could later be used to cancel the results of elections at the federal level. LB

FORMER DEPUTY FINANCE MINISTER TO COMPETE IN ALTAI ELECTION

Andrei Vavilov, former first deputy finance minister and current financial adviser to Gazprom, has been registered as a candidate for a by-election in the Altai Republic for a seat in the State Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 April, citing Vavilov's press secretary Yuliya Rusova. She denied earlier reports that the Altai Electoral Commission refused to register Vavilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1998). Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin is viewed as Vavilov's main rival in the 31 May election. LB




OSCE ASSESSES SECOND ROUND OF ARMENIAN POLL

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission in Yerevan said on 1 April that in some areas, the 31 March presidential run-off "fell short of the commitment Armenia made to [meet] OSCE standards," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The OSCE said that in several instances there is sufficient indication of voter fraud to require further investigation. But it said those shortcomings do not call into question the outcome of the vote, which Robert Kocharyan won with 59.7 percent. The OSCE also praised the professionalism of the Central Electoral Commission and noted a marked improvement in the way military personnel organized the ballot and in media coverage of the run-off. LF

DEMIRCHIAN PONDERS NEXT MOVE

Addressing his campaign staff on 31 March, defeated presidential candidate Karen Demirchian pledged to continue the "sacred task" that he has embarked on, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, citing "Aravot" of 1 April. At the same time, he conceded that accomplishing that task may take 30-40 years. Demirchian predicted in the shorter term, his supporters will constitute "a force that everybody will reckon with," whose main goal will be winning the next parliamentary elections. A spokesman for Demirchian argued that the 31 March runoff was neither free nor fair, but Demirchian himself argued that "even if we accept the result, it's not so bad because it means that every third voter trusts us." LF

BAKU COMMENTS ON KOCHARYAN'S ELECTION

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said on 1 April that "we are ready to cooperate with any president elected" and that "since we have a special relationship with Armenia, we do not want to become involved in their internal affairs," AFP reported. Aliev's foreign policy adviser, Vafa Gulu- zade, said that "we are waiting for the elections to end so the peace talks can begin." But Musavat Party vice president Hikmet Hadji-zade interpreted Kocharyan's election as an indication that "Armenians have voted for war." Former president Abulfaz Elchibey commented that "we cannot work with this man" and predicted the resumption of hostilities between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, Turan reported. LF

TURKEY CALLS ON KOCHARYAN TO TAKE "POSITIVE STEPS."

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Necati Utkan told journalists on 1 April that Turkey "wants an improvement in relations with Armenia," Reuters reported. He added that he hopes Armenian president-elect Kocharyan will "feel [his] presidential responsibility and take positive steps" toward resolving the Karabakh conflict." Ankara has consistently said that a warming of relations with Yerevan is contingent on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied districts of Azerbaijan. But Tunjai Mutlu Er, the head of the eastern Anatolian municipality of Kars, told Turan on 1 April that the local population opposes any move by the Turkish government to formalize trade ties with Armenia and wants Armenian citizens to be prohibited from entering Turkey from Georgia. LF

COUNCIL DISCUSSES RETURN OF DISPLACED PERSONS TO ABKHAZIA

Participants in the third session of the Coordinating Council to expedite a solution to the Abkhaz conflict focused on the obstacles to the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons forced to flee during the 1992- 1993 war, Caucasus Press reported. Russian Foreign Ministry special envoy Gennadii Ilichev again rejected the "peace enforcement" variant suggested by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Ilichev expressed doubt that either Russia or the UN will be able to impose a solution to the conflict, and he proposed that the Abkhaz and Georgian leaderships agree on mutual compromises. Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze said on Georgian television on 1 April that the direct dialogue between the two sides will soon "become more intensive," ITAR-TASS reported. Lortkipanidze met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Sukhumi on 31 March. LF

CHECHNYA SNUBS ABKHAZIA

Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba has written to his Chechen counterpart, Movladi Udugov, complaining that Abkhazia has not been invited to the meeting of representatives of Transcaucasus states and North Caucasus republics in Grozny on 4 April, Caucasus Press reported. Shamba warned that this "oversight" could prove "a serious obstacle to the consolidation of Caucasian nations." But Chechen Vice President Akhmed Zakaev argued that Chechnya has no reason to feel insulted. Zakaev said that a decision on whether Abkhazia should be represented at the meeting lies with the official Georgian government, to whom the original invitation was addressed. Over the past year, the Chechen leadership has systematically sought to expand relations with Tbilisi. LF

LAST CAPTIVE SOLDIERS RELEASED IN TAJIKISTAN?

Armed groups loyal to field commanders in the Kofarnikhon region released what they claim are the last 16 government troops to be held captive by them since 24 March, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The government is investigating the fate of another 15 soldiers who are still unaccounted for. Forces from both sides are withdrawing from the area. BP

IMF APPROVES MORE CREDIT FOR TAJIKISTAN

The IMF has approved a second $10 million credit to Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 April. Last December, the fund granted the country a $10 million credit to help improve macroeconomic discipline, accelerate structural reforms, and increase efforts to ensure rescheduling of the country's foreign debts. This latest credit is intended to help GDP to grow by 4-5 percent, lower inflation by 18 percent, and augment hard-currency reserves. BP

RUSSIA CUTS OFF ELECTRICAL SUPPLIES TO NORTHERN KAZAKHSTAN

Russia's Unified Energy Systems carried through its threat to cut off electrical supplies to Kazakhstan's northern Kustanai region on 1 April, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The region owes the Russian company nearly $16 million for supplies and has received several warnings that deliveries would be cut off. Electricity in Kustanai is now being supplied only to vital industries. BP

KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER FAILS TO APPEASE STRIKING WORKERS

Nurlan Balgimbayev on 1 April failed to persuade striking workers at the Kazafosfor plant in the southern city of Janatas to return to work, RFE/RL corespondents reported. Balgimbayev told the workers that if they called off their strike, they would begin receiving wages for current work and would later receive wage arrears, which in some cases go back more than two years. Workers rejected that offer and continue to demand full payment of the $19 million they are owed. BP




UKRAINIAN PARTIES CLAIM ELECTION FRAUD

Several political parties have accused the government of falsifying the results of the 29 March elections, but those parties have brought no evidence to support their charges, AFP reported on 1 April. "We are 100 percent certain that the results were falsified," Dmytro Ponomarchuk of the Rukh party said. "Mass falsifications were organized by the president and his administration. They stole half our votes," Viktor Omelych of the Hromada party commented. The Communists, who won the elections, also claim they were deprived of some 20 percent of their tally. But observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say the elections took place "in a peaceful manner" and were generally free and fair. JM

LEFTISTS TO DOMINATE UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT

Leftist parties will have 180 of 450 seats in the new Ukrainian parliament, dpa reported on 1 April, citing preliminary results announced by the Central Electoral Commission. Eight of the 30 parties competing in the elections have passed the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation. The Communists won 24.68 percent of the vote and can count on the support of the Socialists/Peasants' Bloc (8.54 percent) and the Progressive Socialists (4.04 percent). The Rukh party gained 9.4 percent of the vote, the Greens 5.46 percent, the Popular Democratic Party 4.99 percent, the Hromada party 4.68 percent, and the United Social Democrats 4.02 percent. JM

KUCHMA DOES NOT INTEND TO CHANGE CABINET LINEUP

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Kyiv that the government lineup will remain largely the same, Interfax reported on 1 April. Yevhen Kushnaryov, head of Kuchma's administration, did not rule out the possibility that the president and the government will hold consultations with the new parliamentary factions on the composition of the cabinet. He said the preliminary election results give no reason to suggest that the new parliament will be opposed to Kuchma. Kushnaryov also commented that, judging from statements by political leaders, "there are signs of the formation of temporary or permanent centrist or center-right coalitions in the parliament." JM

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO RESIGN?

Hennadiy Udovenko is to hand in his resignation of his own free will, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 April, citing what it called a well-informed source in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. But Udovenko will continue to serve as chairman of the UN General Assembly, the same source said. Udovenko has been elected as a deputy of the Ukrainian parliament, and observers believe he is being considered for the post of parliamentary speaker. JM

WORK GROUP TO REVISE LATVIAN CITIZENSHIP LAW

At a meeting of the Cooperation Council on 1 April, the ruling factions agreed to set up a work group to draft amendments to the citizenship law, BNS reported. The work group has to submit those amendments by 14 April; if it fails do so, the ruling factions will be entitled to submit their own proposals to the parliament. Janis Straume, the head of the Fatherland and Freedom faction, which has strongly opposed any changes to the law, said this approach will "stabilize the situation as it is supported by all the ruling parties." He added that "it provides an opportunity for constructive discussion." Observers had predicted a government crisis had the ruling parties failed to agree on this issue. JC

RIGA SYNAGOGUE DAMAGED IN BLAST

The synagogue in the Latvian capital was damaged in a blast in the early hours of 2 April, RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported. There were no casualties, and so far no one has claimed responsibility. The synagogue was built in 1906 and was the only one in Riga to survive World War II. It was bombed in May 1995 but the culprits were never found. JC

IGNALINA REACTOR SHUT DOWN

One of the two reactors at Lithuania's Ignalina nuclear power plant was shut down on 1 April after a leak was detected in the reactor's cooling system. A plant spokesman described the shutdown as "unplanned maintenance" and said it would last about two weeks. He said there was no increase in radioactivity due to the leakage. The Ignalina plant, which uses the same kind of Soviet-made reactors as does Ukraine's Chornobyl facility, is widely regarded as one of the world's most dangerous. JC

CZECH ENVIRONMENT MINISTER AGAINST NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

Martin Bursik said his ministry is preparing a study that should lead to a halt in construction of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. Bursik said the report will suggest alternatives for providing the energy that would have been supplied by the Temelin facility. A hybrid of both Soviet and Western designs, the plant is located just 50 kilometers from the Austrian border and Vienna has voiced concerns about its existence. PB

MECIAR TOPS OPINION POLL

A poll taken by the Institute for Public Affairs shows Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar is the most trusted politician in Slovakia, RFE/RL's Slovak Service reported. Of the respondents, 19.8 percent said they have faith in Meciar, although 20.6 percent said they do not trust any politicians. Slovak Democratic Coalition leader Mikulas Dzurinda came in second with 14.8 and parliamentary chairman Ivan Gasparovic was third with 12.1 percent, just ahead of possible presidential candidate Rudolf Schuster (11.9 percent). PB

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT PASSES RESOLUTION ON DANUBE DAM

Slovak deputies on 1 April overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging Hungary to comply with the International Court of Justice verdict on the highly controversial Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam, TASR reported. The court had called on the two countries to solve the dispute by 25 March. Bratislava blamed Budapest for the countries' failure to reach an agreement, saying it will return the case to the court if an agreement is not reached by July. Slovakia completed its part of the dam in 1993, but Hungary pulled out of the agreement--first signed in 1977- -and has refused to complete its portion. Under the pressure of public opinion, Hungary has reneged on a recent pledge to finish the dam. PB

CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BUDAPEST

Mate Granic said in the Hungarian capital on 1 April that Croatia supports the return of ethnic Hungarians to eastern Slavonia. Granic and his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, agreed to jointly rebuild Hungarian-inhabited villages in that region and to open more border crossings. The foreign ministers also expressed support for Hungarian and German involvement in mine clearance in eastern Croatia to aid the resettlement of the some 25,000 ethnic Hungarian refugees who fled the region during the Yugoslav wars, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




MONTENEGRO SLAMS MILOSEVIC FOR "COUP ATTEMPT."

The Montenegrin parliament passed a resolution on 1 April charging that outgoing President Momir Bulatovic tried to stage a coup and retain power by calling out violent street mobs in Podgorica early this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1998). The text added that "the highest officials of the federal government, including President...Slobodan Milosevic, gave full assistance and [complete] support to the demonstrators." The resolution praised government officials, particularly employees of the Interior Ministry, for defeating the coup attempt and saving numerous lives in the process, BETA reported. PM

KOSOVARS WANT MONTENEGRINS AT TALKS

Leading Kosovar spokesman Fehmi Agani said in Pristina on 1 April that the Albanians want Yugoslav authorities, and not just Serbian ones, to be included in Belgrade's delegation to any talks on the future of Kosovo. Montenegrin leaders in recent public statements have supported autonomy for Kosovo and the inclusion of foreign mediators in any talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). The Montenegrins stress that Kosovo belongs to Yugoslavia and rule out Kosovar independence. Meanwhile in Paris, the daily "Le Monde" published an interview with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic, who said Belgrade is "ready for a dialogue without conditions but sanctions must be put aside. It is clear that there cannot be a solution based on a separatist agenda. There cannot be a solution outside of Serbia. Serbia exists with Kosovo or not at all." PM

BELGRADE SLAMS ARMS EMBARGO

The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry issued a statement to the state news agency Tanjug on 1 April calling the UN's arms embargo "baseless and unacceptable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). The text repeated Belgrade's position that Kosovo is its own internal affair and that "Albanian terrorists and separatists" are to blame for the province's problems. Meanwhile in Moscow, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Russia voted for the arms embargo as "a preventive measure" and not to punish Belgrade. And in Tirana, the Albanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the embargo "limits the opportunities for the exercise of police violence against the population of Kosovo and encourages the political process and talks." PM

YUGOSLAVIA DEVALUES DINAR...

The Yugoslav government, on the advice of the Central Bank, agreed on 31 March to devalue the dinar from 3.3 to six to the German mark. Tanjug reported that the devaluation is part of a package of "measures aimed at restoring a macro-economic balance and market stability." Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica the next day that the Montenegrin government did not agree to the devaluation, which he called "an unacceptable fait accompli." He stressed that Podgorica wants a thorough review of federal economic policies. The same day in Belgrade, the mark sold on the black market for 6.5 dinars, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. On 2 April, the pro-government daily "Novosti" ran the headline: "There will be no inflation." PM

...WHILE BOSNIAN SERBS ADOPT MARK

Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Banja Luka on 1 April that the government of the Republika Srpska has decided that the German mark will replace the Yugoslav dinar as the legal tender until the unified Bosnian currency, the convertible mark, is introduced later this year. Dodik added that the government is replacing the dinar as legal tender in order to prevent the importation of inflation from Yugoslavia. PM

OSCE BLASTS CROATIAN REFUGEE RETURN POLICY

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in Zagreb on 1 April that the Croatian government's new program to facilitate the return of refugees is flawed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). "The return is an individual right and...cannot be made dependent on other conditions, conditions to be mentioned in respect to housing, or return of other individuals, or international assistance or whatever." The following day, the pro-government daily "Vecernji list" ran the headline: "Croatia opens the door to all who left." PM

BELGRADE WANTS ZAGREB'S DIPLOMATIC HELP

Yugoslav Ambassador Veljko Knezevic asked Croatian Parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic to help Belgrade gain admission to the Council of Europe, "Vjesnik" reported on 1 April. Pavletic replied that Croatian assistance will depend not only on the development of bilateral relations but on internal political developments in Yugoslavia. He singled out what he called the "growing Seseljization" of Serbian political life, by which he meant the growing influence of the ultranationalist Radical Party of Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj. Unnamed Croatian political leaders said Croatian support for Yugoslavia is currently out of the question in view of the latest developments in Kosovo, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. PM

ALBANIAN PYRAMID CREDITORS CLASH WITH AUDITORS

Some 100 investors in the VEFA pyramid company tried to block chief government auditor Farudin Arapi and representatives of the U.S. auditing firm Deloitte & Touche from entering the VEFA building in Tirana on 1 April. The auditors succeeded in entering the building only with police assistance, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Many investors oppose the government's and auditors' plans to begin selling off parts of the pyramids and demand that the U.S. firm leave Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1998). Arapi told the investors that this demand is "unacceptable." FS

LEADING ALBANIAN SOCIALIST CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT

Dritero Agolli, who is a prominent writer and leading member of the governing Socialist Party, said in Tirana on 1 April that the government is not carrying out social and economic reforms quickly or efficiently. He added that the authorities are constantly making excuses for their failure to act decisively and will never succeed in governing unless they change their behavior. He noted that the government promised last year to create 200,000 jobs but so far has created only 5,000. Agolli stressed that changes in the cabinet are urgently needed to remedy the situation. FS

VASILE NAMED ROMANIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu has officially named Radu Vasile as prime minister-designate, Reuters reported on 2 April. Vasile was nominated the previous day by the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, of which he is secretary general. Vasile has 10 days to form a government and be endorsed by the parliament. An economic historian, Vasile said he is a politician who "does not yield to pressure." He said his strengths are a "capacity for dialogue, for negotiations in order to reach a common solution for the benefit of the country." Constantinescu approved the choice after holding talks with leaders of the parties expected to make up the coalition government: National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, the National Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (see "End Note" below). PB

BULGARIA REJECTS EU CONCERNS ABOUT NUCLEAR PLANT

Ivan Hinovski, the executive director of Bulgaria's National Electricity Company, said European Commission concerns about the safety of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant are "outdated," Reuters reported on 2 April. Hinovski said that owing to extensive modifications over the last several years, the four Soviet-designed reactors meet all safety requirements. He added that a European Commission report issued on 1 April calling for the reactors to be shut down was based on "old information." More than $100 million has been spent to update the reactors and Bulgaria plans to operate the first two reactors until 2005 and the other two until 2010, according to Hinovski. Sofia had earlier pledged to close the plant by 2000. A Commission spokeswoman said failure to decommission the reactors could hinder Bulgaria's chances of joining the EU. PB




ROMANIA'S CIORBEA STEPS DOWN


by Breffni O'Rourke and Michael Shafir

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea resigned earlier this week, leaving the country with its reform process in tatters and its future uncertain.

Ciorbea's decision to go ends a lengthy chapter of political infighting in the ruling coalition. In his resignation speech, broadcast on national television, Ciorbea spoke of his place in history, suggesting it will be different from the role assigned to him by his present detractors. What is his legacy?

The high hopes with which Ciorbea began his term nearly 18 months ago have not been fulfilled. He takes credit for setting the country on a reform path after years of postcommunist governments' inactivity. But reforms faltered amid bickering and indecision: the national economy shrunk last year by 6 per cent of GDP, living standards continued to plummet, and privatization ground to a halt.

Ciorbea's most lasting contribution might well be his attempt to achieve the integration of Romania's Hungarian minority. His tenure was marked by a desire to grant ethnic Hungarians the basic rights that had long been withheld from them. It will be a delicate task for an incoming prime minister to continue that process as well as economic reform. Moreover, the omens are not all good.

President Emil Constantinescu has named Radu Vasile, secretary-general of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), as prime minister-designate with a mandate to assemble a new coalition government by the end of this month. The four parties of the original coalition--National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, the National Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania--are expected to form the new government.

Romania currently faces many urgent economic tasks. A London-based analyst with the Chase Manhattan Bank, Michael Marrese, says the economy is at a standstill. Restarting the privatization program and getting the state budget through the parliament will be among the priorities of the new government.

Marrese notes that the IMF has not released the third of five tranches of its standby loan to Romania. He says Bucharest will have a last chance to persuade a visiting IMF mission next month by presenting a program that includes downsizing and restructuring state monopolies. He says that task will require political willpower because of the labor opposition it is sure to cause.

Developments in Romania over the past few months show the extent of the rifts between parties in Romania's pro-reform and pro-democracy movement. They are also reminiscent of developments in Bulgaria in 1991-1992, when the failure of a democratic coalition led to the return of former Communists. That relapse froze Bulgaria's recovery process, so that only now and with great difficulty is Bulgaria gaining reform momentum. Breffni O'Rourke is an RFE/RL senior correspondent.


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