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Newsline - April 16, 1998




KIRIENKO PLAYS GOOD COP IN TALKS WITH DUMA...

Acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko announced on 15 April that he has received more than 30 recommendations for cabinet appointments and will consider them all, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. At the same time, he said ministers will be chosen according to their professional capabilities, not their political convictions. On 16 April, Kirienko is to hold consultations with the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power State Duma factions. He will need several dozen votes from those factions in order to be confirmed on 17 April. Kirienko is also to meet with the Our Home Is Russia and Russian Regions factions. The acting premier told the U.S. network CNN on 15 April that "we have an understanding with the Duma about the plan we are trying to implement and we now have a constructive relationship with the Duma," Reuters reported. LB

...WHILE SHAKHRAI PLAYS BAD COP

Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, on 15 April predicted that the Duma will confirm Kirienko, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, Shakhrai outlined a grim scenario for the Duma if deputies reject Kirienko's candidacy three times. He said Yeltsin would then appoint Kirienko prime minister and dissolve the Duma. If Duma deputies have managed to begin impeachment proceedings, the dissolution of the lower house would be delayed, but only for a few months, Shakhrai argued, explaining that the Supreme Court would soon rule that there were no grounds for impeachment. Yeltsin would then call new parliamentary elections for late September or October. In addition, Shakhrai claimed that Yeltsin could issue a decree changing the electoral procedures to eliminate the proportional representation system currently used to elect half the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February and 13 March 1998). LB

JUDGE SAYS YELTSIN CANNOT CHANGE ELECTORAL RULES

At a 16 April press conference, Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai decisively rejected Shakhrai's argument that new parliamentary elections could be held under different electoral rules, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Baglai noted that an electoral law exists, and although the president objects to some provisions of that law, the constitution does not allow him to change it unilaterally. Article 90 of the constitution prohibits the president from issuing a decree that contradicts a federal law. In an interview with RFE/RL on 15 April, Duma deputy Viktor Sheinis of Yabloko also denied that Yeltsin has the right to introduce new rules for electing the Duma. Sheinis was one of the key authors of the electoral law, which was adopted in 1995. LB

COMMUNISTS IN A BIND

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov repeated during a 15 April press conference that the Communist Duma faction will oppose Kirienko's confirmation on 17 April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He also said the Duma has called for an emergency session of the Federation Council to be convened in order to persuade Yeltsin to alter his choice of prime minister. However, "Izvestiya" on 16 April published a letter to Zyuganov from Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev and Volgograd Oblast Governor Nikolai Maksyuta, who argued that Kirienko should be confirmed for the sake of political stability. (Tuleev supported Zyuganov's 1996 presidential bid, and Maksyuta was elected governor later that year with Communist backing.) According to Zyuganov, it was appeals from regional leaders that persuaded some Communist deputies to support the 1998 budget in the fourth and final reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 1998). LB

OFFICIALS DENY LATEST RUMOR ABOUT YELTSIN'S HEALTH

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 15 April vigorously denied a rumor that Yeltsin had again been taken to hospital, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin was spending the day at his residence outside Moscow, adding that the president's doctors say his upcoming trip to Japan will not adversely affect his health. Acting Prime Minister Kirienko also denied the rumor, saying he spoke to Yeltsin many times by telephone on 14 and 15 April and can confirm that his health is robust. Citing unnamed Kremlin sources, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 16 April that the rumor about Yeltsin was first reported by the Otkrytoe Radio station and a little-known radio station attached to the news agency NSN. Otkrytoe Radio is rumored to be financed by Gazprom, and NSN is reportedly financed by the bank SBS-Agro. LB

DECREE SEEKS ADDITIONAL REVENUE FROM SHARE DIVIDENDS

Yeltsin on 16 April signed a decree ordering partly state-owned companies to pay dividends to the state as well as to other shareholders, ITAR-TASS reported. Previously those companies were allowed to keep the share of the dividends that would otherwise have gone to state coffers. Acting Prime Minister Kirienko said the decree will "substantially increase" budget revenues. He did not specify the amount of the projected additional revenues, saying "first we will receive [the money], then we will count it." The 40 percent state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom and the electricity utility Unified Energy System, in which the state owns a majority of shares, are among the firms affected by the new decree. Last year, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov repeatedly complained that the state did not receive its share of Gazprom profits and dividends. LB

DUMA OVERRIDES VETO OF LAW ON ELECTRICITY GIANT

The Duma on 15 April overrode a presidential veto of a law that would regulate the distribution of shares in Unified Energy System (EES), ITAR-TASS reported. The law would require the state to hold at least a 51 percent stake in the utility and would limit foreign ownership to 25 percent. Currently the state owns some 52-53 percent, and foreign shareholders hold an estimated 28 percent. Yeltsin vetoed the law last July, in part because the government plans to reduce its stake in the utility to 50 percent plus one share. If the Federation Council also overrides his veto, he will be forced to sign the law. "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 16 April that the law would put EES into a "legal vacuum," since foreigners already own more shares than the law would allow. LB

YELTSIN SIGNS TROPHY ART LAW

Yeltsin on 15 April signed the trophy art law and simultaneously filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court challenging the content of that law, Russian news agencies reported. Shakhrai, the president's representative in the court, told journalists that while the court case is pending, the contested provisions of the law cannot go into effect, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 16 April. The court is not expected to hear the case until late 1998. According to the 15 April edition of "Segodnya," the president's lawyers will argue that 11 provisions of the trophy art law violate the Russian Constitution and 14 violate the UN Charter. In addition, they will claim that the procedures used to adopt the law involved six violations of the constitution. LB

MOSCOW ACQUIRES CONTROLLING STAKE IN CAR FACTORY

The Moscow city government has acquired from the federal government a 59.07 percent stake in the automobile factory Moskvich, Interfax reported on 15 April. The planned transfer was announced last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 1997), but the handover was delayed by disagreements over who would pay nearly $600 million in company debts accrued from foreign loans, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 April. The newspaper said the agreement signed by acting Prime Minister Kirienko and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is a victory for the city, which will assume only $157 million of the debt from foreign loans. In addition, Moscow has guaranteed that over the next four years Moskvich will pay debts of of 497 million rubles ($81 million) to the federal budget and 130 million rubles to the Pension Fund, Interfax reported. Some 751 million rubles in penalties for tax arrears will be rescheduled. LB

SPECIALIST CRITICIZES NEW NARCOTICS LAW...

Vladimir Ivanov, a specialist on drug abuse, has criticized the law on narcotics that went into effect on 15 April, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL correspondents reported. The law was adopted after consultations with "more than 1,000 specialists" and after the examination of comparable laws in 118 countries, according to the news agency. However, specialists such as Ivanov disagree with some of the law's provisions. In particular, Ivanov said the section requiring drug users to be treated only in state clinics or hospitals is pointless as the "effectiveness of drug treatment in clinics is zero." Ivanov claims 95 percent of those treated in such clinics are back on drugs within two days. He added that most drug users no longer even consider clinics and hospitals an option. BP

...WHILE DUMA DEPUTY ALSO COMPLAINS

Valerii Borshchev of the Yabloko faction told RFE/RL on 15 April that Article 46 of the new law, which prohibits publishing information about narcotics, "makes no sense" in its current wording. That article is aimed at concealing from the general public information about manufacturing drugs. Noting that a key to combating drug use is the availability of information on the physical and social consequences, Borshchev said such information would also fall under the ban. Borshchev said in his opinion the new law is not so much against drug trafficking but rather is designed to punish "those who suffer from drug addiction." BP

DEMOCRATIC RUSSIA SUFFERS ANOTHER SPLIT

The three co-leaders of the party and movement Democratic Russia--Lev Ponomarev, Gleb Yakunin, and Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova--have decided to pursue separate political paths. At a congress in Moscow on 11-12 April, Ponomarev and Yakunin announced that they are quitting the Democratic Russia party, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 April. They have asked Starovoitova to resign from the Democratic Russia movement. Ponomarev told the newspaper that the movement will join "the democratic opposition camp, whereas Starovoitova wants to be loyal to the authorities" and cooperate with Our Home Is Russia and Yegor Gaidar's party, Russia's Democratic Choice. Starovoitova told the newspaper last month that Democratic Russia was divided between a "liberal wing" (her supporters) and a "more left-leaning" or social- democratic wing. After the April congress, she told "Kommersant-Daily" that Ponomarev and Yakunin had trouble accepting a woman as party leader. LB

DIVIDE HAS DEEP ROOTS

Democratic Russia played an important role in bringing Yeltsin to power and was one of Russia's most influential political movements of the early 1990s, but it suffered many defections after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as members could not agree on a political agenda. In particular, members have disagreed on economic policies and on whether to continue to support Yeltsin as the number of veteran Democratic Russia activists in the president's circle has declined. During the campaign before the December 1995 Duma elections, the movement threw its support behind Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko movement--the democratic opposition. However, a sizable group within Democratic Russia favored an alliance with Gaidar's party, which opposed the war in Chechnya but otherwise backed Yeltsin. LB

TATARSTAN ADOPTS LAND CODE, CITIZENSHIP LAW

The Tatar parliament on 15 April adopted in the third and final reading a land code permitting the free sale and purchase of land, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The code provides for state control over the sale of land to foreigners. Addressing the parliament, President Mintimer Shaimiev argued that "we will never reach a democratic civil society until the population acquires the right to the ownership of land." Saratov Oblast adopted legislation in November 1997 allowing the sale and purchase of agricultural land, but not by foreigners. Also on 15 April, the parliament adopted in the first reading a controversial law on citizenship that provides for dual (Russian and Tatar) citizenship. Some Russian officials have objected that the provision violates the Russian Federation Constitution. The Tatar law also allows persons whose parents or grandparents were born in Tatarstan to claim citizenship. LF

THREE RUSSIAN OFFICERS SHOT DEAD IN INGUSHETIA

Russian army general Viktor Prokopenko and two colonels were killed on 16 April when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their jeeps with rocket-propelled grenades. Two drivers were also killed and several other senior officers injured in the attack, which took place in Ingushetia's Malgobek Raion close to the border with North Ossetia, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. The previous day, 10 Russian border guards were abducted in the Ingushetian capital, Nazran. In response to a personal request by the commander of the Caucasus Frontier Troops, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev promised all possible assistance in apprehending those responsible for the abductions. LF




ARMENIAN DEPUTY PROPOSES MORATORIUM ON KARABAKH MEDIATION

Hovannes Igitian, chairman of the Armenian parliamentary Commission on International Affairs, suggested on 15 April that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group should suspend its efforts to mediate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict until after the Azerbaijani presidential elections in October, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan, Igitian accused the OSCE of trying to impose a "quick settlement" whereby Nagorno-Karabakh will be returned to Azerbaijani control. Igitian is a member of the leading minority Hanrapetutiun parliamentary faction, which supported former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES NEW DRAFT ELECTION LAWS

Lawmakers on 15 April began debating three draft election codes, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The drafts are composed of separate laws on the procedure for electing the parliament, president, and local councils. The first draft, prepared by the Commission on State and Legal Affairs, provides for 50 of the total 131 deputies to be elected in single-seat constituencies and the remainder from party lists. The other two drafts, authored by former State and Legal Affairs Commission chairman Vigen Khachatrian and the Communist faction, put the ratio at 30:101. The drafts also differ in their provisions on the composition of electoral commissions. The final assessment by the OSCE of last month's pre-term Armenian presidential elections called for a "fundamental review" of the existing election legislation, which, it said, "does not guarantee transparency in the election process." LF

TURKISH CHIEF OF STAFF IN BAKU ...

Meeting in Baku on 14 April with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, General Hakki Karadayi said that the Karabakh conflict must be resolved in such a way that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity is preserved. Aliyev termed the conflict a threat to Turkey. The two men also discussed the possibility of deploying NATO forces to protect oil pipelines in the Transcaucasus, Interfax reported. Karadayi praised Azerbaijan as "the star of the future in economic, commercial, and military terms," the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 16 April. He refused, however, to comment on reports that Azerbaijan is seeking to buy F-16 aircraft from Turkey, according to Turan. LF

...AND TBILISI

Karadayi held talks in Tbilisi the next day with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze, Caucasus Press reported. The talks focused on Turkish financial and technical support for the Georgian military and on the ongoing training program Turkey is offering Georgian army officers. Shevardnadze and Karadayi noted their "common interests" in exporting Caspian oil and gas via Georgia and creating a regional security system. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN VISITS ALMATY...

Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 15 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Geremek said he appreciated Kazakhstan's efforts to promote stability in Central Asia, particularly in Tajikistan. Nazarbayev replied he was disappointed the OSCE did not play a more active role during the five-year Tajik civil war. He added that the OSCE pays too little attention to Central Asia in general. Meeting with Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev, Geremek said the understanding reached between Boris Yeltsin and Nazarbayev on the division of the Caspian Sea and its resources "largely eliminates apprehensions" that the sea will cause problems in the region, Interfax reported. BP

...AS DOES BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER

Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene was also in Almaty on 15 April to meet with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, ITAR-TASS reported. At a press conference, they said an agreement has been signed on avoiding double taxation. Dehaene said the agreement paves the way for Belgian investment of up to $1 billion within the next few years. There are currently seven Kazakh-Belgian joint ventures including Almaty Power Consolidated, the company responsible for supplying energy to the former Kazakh capital. ITAR-TASS noted that trade between the two countries amounted to $53.5 million in 1997. BP

KYRGYZ OFFICIAL WANTS INDEPENDENT AUDIT OF GOLD INDUSTRY

Mamat Aibalaev, the head of Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary commission on corruption in the gold industry, told RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek on 15 April that the government should ask a foreign company to conduct an audit of the industry. A four- member parliamentary commission requested information on the gold industry from the Kumtor joint venture in February but has only just received it. The Kumtor facility had far exceeded its budget in January, while Apas Jumagulov's sudden resignation as premier in March followed media reports alleging that Jumagulov was involved in illegal sales of Kyrgyz gold through a company in Austria. BP




BELARUSIAN KGB TO ISSUE 'OFFICIAL WARNINGS'

Uladzimir Matskevich, chief of the Belarusian KGB, has signed an order on issuing official warnings to citizens engaged in "unlawful actions," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 15 April. According to that directive, a citizen may be summoned to the KGB headquarters and given a warning on the basis of incriminating information received by the agency. The warning is to be signed by both parties and may subsequently be included in the citizen's file if he continues to engage in illegal activities. Vintsuk Vyachorka, deputy chairman of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, said the directive is evidence that the KGB is reviving old practices of psychological terror against citizens. JM

JAILED YOUTH LEADER DENIED COUNSEL OF HIS CHOICE

Pavel Sevyarynets, 21-year-old leader of the Belarusian Popular Front youth branch, has been denied his chosen counsel of attorney by the prosecution, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service informed on 15 April. Sevyarynets has been in jail since 5 April on charges of "malicious hooliganism" during the 2 April rally protesting the Russian-Belarusian union. According to Harry Pahanyayla, Sevyarynets's chosen counsel, the prosecution's decision violates Sevyarynets' constitutional right to select his own attorney as well as a number of international norms and agreements. JM

KUCHMA WANTS 'UNENGAGED POLITICIAN' AS SPEAKER...

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 15 April he wants to see an "unengaged politician" as new parliamentary speaker, ITAR-TASS reported. In such a case, "the parliament will do its job instead of engaging in political intrigues," Kuchma asserted. He declined to give any names, but his spokesman said Kuchma is opposed to the old parliament leadership, thus hinting that the president is against Oleksandr Moroz's re-election. JM

...IS CONFIDENT ABOUT NEW IMF LOAN

Also on 15 April, Kuchma expressed confidence that the IMF will grant Ukraine a new loan to help promote structural reforms. An IMF mission currently in Kyiv is discussing a three-year loan worth some $2.5 billion. Earlier this year, the fund suspended installments of a stand-by loan. JM

LATVIAN COOPERATION COUNCIL AGREES ON CHANGES TO CITIZENSHIP LAW

The Cooperation Council, which is composed of representatives of the ruling coalition factions, has reached agreement on amendments to the citizenship law, BNS reported on 15 April. Those changes will be submitted to the parliament next week. The ruling factions agreed that all children born after 21 August 1991 will be entitled to citizenship when they reach 16 years of age and if they can prove efficiency in the Latvian language. They supported the partial removal of the "naturalization windows" to allow all non-citizens born in Latvia to be naturalized by 2001; other non-citizens will be able to beome naturalized after that date. And the factions backed a proposal to grant naturalization to people who were Polish nationals on 17 June 1940 as well as to their offspring. On 16 April, a Russian Foreign Ministry official described the agreement as a "step in the right direction," ITAR-TASS reported. JC

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS ACTION PROGRAM

The cabinet on 15 April approved in principle an action program aimed at increasing national and public safety and promoting integration into the EU, BNS reported. Prime Minister Guntars Krasts told journalists that the program gives priority to setting up a system for crisis management, saying that the situation in the country could be stabilized by implementing the program. President Guntis Ulmanis, who opened the meeting, had called last week for an emergency cabinet session following the recent bombings of the Riga synagogue and the Russian embassy in the Latvian capital. JC

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT UNANIMOUSLY SUPPORTS LATVIA

Lawmakers on 15 April unanimously adopted a document expressing support for Latvia and denouncing any attempt to "apply economic sanctions not approved by the UN and any other external actions increasing international tension and instability inside the country," BNS reported. The deputies said they hoped the solidarity among the Baltic States, diplomatic efforts by Latvia and Russia, and international "prevention mechanisms" would help preserve a "normal situation in the sensitive Baltic Sea region." To date, there has been no official statement of support for Latvia from either the Lithuanian government or the president. Valdas Adamkus, however, is known to be sympathetic toward Latvia in its current dispute with Russia. JC

POLAND, HUNGARY TO JOINTLY SEEK EUROPEAN INTEGRATION

Aleksander Kwasniewski and Arpad Goncz, presidents of Poland and Hungary, said on 15 April in Warsaw that their countries are forming an alliance to seek entry to the EU and NATO, Reuters and Hungarian sources reported. Goncz stressed that Poland and Hungary are not rivals but partners on the road to European structures. Kwasniewski pointed out that both countries play the role of advocates in the integration process, with Budapest supporting Slovenia and Romania at international forums and Warsaw representing the interests of Ukraine and the Baltic States. JM

HAVEL TO FACE SECOND OPERATION

The chief surgeon at the Innsbruck hospital where Vaclav Havel underwent surgery on 14 April says the Czech president will have to undergo a second operation in six weeks to remove a colostomy bag and stitch together his intestine. "The risk will be very small compared to the first emergency operation," the surgeon told Reuters. Speaking from the hospital, Havel on 15 April praised the parliament's decision to approve NATO membership. He said that the legislature has "written a very important chapter" in that " for the first time in our history our security will be firmly embedded...in a democratic world that protects democratic values," CTK reported. MS

CZECH-GERMAN FUND FOR HOLOCAUST VICTIMS MAKES FIRST PAYMENTS

The Czech-German fund for the victims of the Holocaust, set up in January 1997 to foster Czech-German reconciliation, has made its first payments, CTK reported on 15 April. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said the payments went to social projects for the victims of the Nazis. He added that Germany is "assuming its historical responsibility" through those payments. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER SIGNS NEUTRALITY PETITION

Jan Sitek, who is a member of the extreme right Slovak National Party (SNS), has signed a petition calling for the country's neutrality. The petition, which was launched last week by the SNS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1998), also demands the restoration of the death penalty. The government's official position is that NATO membership is a Slovak priority. A spokesman for Sitek said he signed the petition "as a private citizen using his rights under the constitution, rather than as a member of the government," Reuters reported. MS

PRO-MECIAR DAILY CALLS FOR STRONG ACTION AGAINST PLANNED REFERENDUM

The pro-government "Slovenska Republika" on 14 April published an appeal to the government to use "any means" to prevent a referendum in Sturovo on 19 April on electing the country's president by popular vote and on NATO membership. The referendum is identical to the one called for by the opposition and annulled by Meciar after former President Michal Kovac ended his term. "Slovenska Republika" said the referendum in Sturovo had long been planned by "Hungarian irredentists," and it called on the government to mobilize special forces to prevent it. Meciar rejected the appeal but said the next day that "the state must take action against violators of the law," RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT WILL NOT DEBATE RESTORING DEATH PENALTY

Hungarian parliamentary chairman Zoltan Gal on 15 April said he will not convene a special session of the parliament to debate the restoration of the death penalty. The initiative for the debate came from Smallholders' Party chairman Jozsef Torgyan, but the party has been unable to gather the signatures of one-fifth of the deputies, as demanded by the regulations. Gal said the initiative is simply an "electoral campaign ploy," Hungarian media reported. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on 15 April rejected objections by the Federation of Jewish Communities to allowing the neo-Nazi Hungarian Welfare Federation (MNSZ) to run in the elections. The court ruled that the MNSZ is legally registered as a political party. MS




WESTENDORP REMINDS BOSNIANS OF HIS POWERS

Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 15 April that "it is for the institutions of this country, for the authorities of this country, to take decisions that are permanent decisions. But for the time being, if they are not capable of doing that, then somebody has to take the responsibility--and if the authorities prefer that I take this responsibility, I do it voluntarily." His remarks follow the refusal of the Bosnian Serb mayor of Banja Luka to allow the reconstruction of a mosque that Serbian paramilitaries blew up in 1993 (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 15 April 1998). The Sarajevo-based Serbian Civic Council and some other non-nationalist Serbian organizations have condemned the mayor's decision. PM

CROATIA PLEDGES STIFF GUN CONTROL LAW

Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa said in Zagreb on 15 April that he will propose a "radical law on possession of firearms, with severe punishments. We know that the post-war period has its problems but we also think there has come a time to collect weapons from Croatian homes and store them in places where they are properly kept." Matesa's statement came in response to an incident the previous day in which a bar patron in Slavonski Brod gunned down seven other patrons without warning or provocation. The gunman then blew himself up in his car. On 15 April, a veteran of the 1991-1995 war shot and wounded himself in front of the Defense Ministry to protest what he called the government's neglect of war veterans. PM

ISRAEL BACKS CROATIA OVER SAKIC

Eytan Ben-Tsur, the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said in Zagreb on 15 April that Israel "fully supports" Croatia's request that Argentina extradite to Croatia suspected World War II war criminal Dinko Sakic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1998). Ben-Tsur and President Franjo Tudjman issued a joint statement saying the improvement of bilateral relations is in the interest of both countries. Tudjman added that "the development of relations between Croatia and Israel...will help break certain stereotypes about Croatia, which are the result of anti-Croat propaganda." Tudjman hopes to visit Israel this year, but many Israelis regard him as an anti-Semite and oppose the trip. Israel has recently promoted good relations with Croatia in hopes of securing key arms contracts. PM

'MACEDONIAN CLINTON' BLASTS ALLEGATIONS OF ADULTERY

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov told Skopje's "Dnevnik" of 16 April that a 20-page special issue of the weekly "Denes" the previous day was an "unscrupulous attempt" aimed at discrediting him in the runup to the fall parliamentary elections and at forcing a presidential vote ahead of the 1999 deadline. In an article headlined "The Macedonian Clinton," "Denes" charged that the 81-year-old president is having an affair with Katerina Kocevska, an actress who is half his age and also his cultural adviser. Gligorov's wife of 60 years also denied the "Denes" report and called it "the ultimate insult." Kocevska was not available for comment. PM

SESELJ TELLS SERBS TO BE READY FOR WAR

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said on 15 April that the possibility of "war [in Kosova] cannot be excluded, so we must be ready for that option, but also do everything to avoid it," Belgrade's BETA news agency reported. He added that "some Western forces constantly encourage Albanian separatists to [prepare for] open war," but the Kosovars "know what they can expect in a possible war in which they have no chance, since they can lose everything." PM

BELGRADE SAYS KINKEL DESTROYING YUGOSLAVIA

Belgrade's state-run Tanjug news agency said in an editorial on 15 April that German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel "favors and protects" Kosova's Albanians. "It is obvious that Kinkel, and those behind his policy, wish to break up Yugoslavia into pieces. That is the reason for the blatant, ruthless, and unprecedented interference in the internal affairs of Serbia and Yugoslavia." In recent months, Germany has been one of many countries calling on Belgrade to grant autonomy to Kosova and urging the Kosovars to forget about independence. Kinkel is currently visiting the successor states to the former Yugoslavia. PM

ROW OVER INCIDENT AT TIRANA YUGOSLAV EMBASSY

A high school student on 15 April jumped over the walls of the heavily-guarded federal Yugoslav embassy in Tirana, climbed onto the balcony, and tore down the Yugoslav flag, ignoring warning shots fired by police. The boy, who said he acted out of "hatred for the Serbs," was arrested. The embassy protested the incident. In Belgrade, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Albanian charge d'affaires to protest "the attack," Tanjug reported. The ministry demanded that the Albanian authorities again increase security for the embassy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). FS

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT...

The center-left parliamentary majority has approved the new government nominated by Prime Minister Fatos Nano (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 15 April 1998). In a last-minute move, Nano named the non-party painter Edi Rama to replace the Socialist Arta Dade as culture minister. Media reports suggest that Dade angered Nano by signing a cultural agreement with the Kosovar shadow- state government without the premier's permission. Former Interior Minister and Minister of Local Government-designate Neritan Ceka unexpectedly voted against the new government, arguing that procedural rules were violated. President Rexhep Meidani must still approve the new cabinet, "Koha Jone" reported. FS

...WHILE DEMOCRATS WALK OUT OF PARLIAMENT

Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha told a press conference in Tirana on 15 April that his party will again boycott the parliament, this time to protest the government changes. He argued that parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi violated house rules by rushing through the vote within one day, rather than giving the opposition three days to discuss the new cabinet, "Albania" reported. Berisha also said the new government is not legitimate, predicting that it "will be short-lived" and calling for new elections. The Democrats have frequently boycotted the parliament since it lost the June 1997 elections. FS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT

By a vote of 317 to 124, the bicameral parliament on 15 April endorsed Radu Vasile's cabinet, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The opposition Alliance for Romania voted in favor of endorsing the government. Vasile told legislators that the cabinet and its program are "the only alternative to early elections, which...would be an unforgivable waste of time and energy." He stressed that the coalition is committed to democratic and economic reforms and that no one should be surprised about "elements of continuity" between the cabinet he heads and that of his predecessor, Victor Ciorbea. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER ON DANGERS AHEAD

In an interview with RFE/RL on 15 April, Vasile said Romania "has no more than 10-12 months to prove it is serious about economic reforms." He warned that both reform and democracy are endangered by the decline of living standards, which, he said, could provoke a resurgence of extremism. The state bureaucracy's opposition and its functioning on the basis of personal and political favors also pose a danger, as does the "lack of responsibility of politicians." Vasile pledged that the state bureaucracy, starting with the government itself, will be "drastically reduced." He said the participation of representatives of the Hungarian minority in the government is "beneficial" and that Romania will never face inter-ethnic and religious conflicts such as those in former Yugoslavia. MS

SMIRNOV ON CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS

Igor Smirnov, the leader of the separatist Transdniester republic, said on 15 April that the Supreme Soviet and its chairman, Grigori Marakutsa, have violated the constitution and "abused power." Last week, the parliament sacked Oleg Natakhin, the chairman of the National Bank, Security Minister Vladimir Antyufev, and Finance Minister Nina Voinarovskaya, saying they were responsible for the three-fold devaluation of the Transdniester ruble (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 April 1998). Smirnov named Eduard Kosovski to replace Natakhin, but the separatist leader stressed that only he has the right to sack cabinet ministers, unless the legislature twice votes no confidence in them. Sources close to Smirnov say he has no intention of dismissing Voinarovskaya and Antyufev, who is considered particularly close to Smirnov. MS

EBRD AGREES TO LATER SHUTDOWN OF BULGARIAN NUCLEAR REACTORS

Charles Frank, chairman of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, told BTA on 15 April that the deadline for the closing the aged nuclear reactors at Kozloduy can be extended and that a new date will be discussed later this month. The Bulgarian government in 1993 agreed to shut down the reactors by the end of 1998 and received from the EBRD $26 million in financial assistance for improving the safety of the reactors. Bulgaria has received a total of $180 million from different sources to upgrade the reactors' safety, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. MS

BULGARIA HANDS DOWN FIRST SENTENCES TO CD PIRATES

Three persons have been given suspended sentences by a court in Nessebar for distributing illegally produced compact discs, an official of the Ministry of Culture told Reuters on 15 April. These are the first sentences handed down for CD piracy in Bulgaria, which has been placed by the U.S. on a piracy "watch list" and was threatened with trade sanctions for production of pirated discs, estimated at 15 million annually. MS




ALBANIANS SPLIT OVER KOSOVA


by Michael J. Jordan

The battle lines in Kosova seem clear-cut. The Albanian minority wants independence. Serbia--which, along with Montenegro, makes up postwar Yugoslavia-- steadfastly rejects it. And the West prefers something in between: autonomy reinstated to the Serbian province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs by nine to one

But to neighboring Albania, the situation is far from black-and-white. Indeed, it finds itself in an unenviable pinch: sandwiched between its utter dependence on the West for financial aid and its loyalty to the Kosova Albanians. Seemingly everyone in northern Albania has a cousin across the border. Those blood ties may drag the state into war with Serbia. Yet so far, pragmatism has won out over idealism: Albania toes the diplomatic line on the Kosova question.

"I haven't seen them say 'no' to the West on anything," says a Western observer who heads a nongovernmental organization in Tirana. But Albania's leaders--former Communists elected last summer after anarchy swept the country--are quick to defend their foreign policy as sovereign. "We are not supporting the ideas of the West because we are weak or in crisis--we think this is the best solution now," Foreign Minister Paskal Milo says. "The Kosova Albanians need to understand that in politics there are compromises. And when you have two extreme positions, it's impossible to work without compromise."

Milo insists that theirs is a well-intentioned attempt to introduce a "new philosophy" to an Albanian nation with no tradition of democracy, only of iron-fisted leadership. Yet Western-style diplomacy has elicited mixed reactions among ordinary Albanians. Far from the Kosova border, in central and southern Albania, is a public occupied again with its poverty, not the perpetual problem of Kosova. Already Europe's poorest country, Albania sank even deeper when several huge pyramid-investment schemes collapsed a year ago. The violent backlash left some 3,000 dead. "We Albanians have many problems of our own to solve first before we start fighting again," says one young woman in Tirana.

But the mood is different in the rugged mountains of northern Albania. In the city of Kukes, 14 miles from the Kosova border, locals do not appreciate the moderate language of Prime Minister Fatos Nano. Albanian "patriotism," they say half-jokingly, is gauged by how much you hate Serbs. Widespread joblessness fuels that enmity; the bustle of daytime street activity is actually restless men moving from one cafe to another. One senses that war would give them something to do.

Albanians here want Tirana to take a harder line with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic following the massacre of some 80 Kosovar "terrorists" by Serbian police more than a month ago. If their Kosovar brethren continue to die in large numbers--and Tirana resists intervention--those well-armed northerners vow to rush in.

The 500,000 restive Albanians in Macedonia have pledged to do the same. "If war starts, one man from every family would go fight; the bloodshed would affect everyone here," says Jonuz Hallaci, a journalist with Radio Kukes. "[The Serbs] have done so many bad things to us over the years that you couldn't resist revenge, no matter how big a heart you have."

Capitalizing on such sentiment is Sali Berisha, who was seemingly down and out last year. The charismatic former president is again surging in popularity, attacking Mr. Nano's policies with nationalist rhetoric. If violence in Kosova escalates, Berisha, a northerner, could be the spark that galvanizes Albanians against Serbia. Milo and other Albanian officials concede they have so far failed to effectively communicate the importance of diplomacy over saber-rattling. Albania, they note, also has no tradition of regard for public opinion.

Being forced to rein in the hotheads of Kukes is a worrisome prospect for Tirana. With its army and police still recovering from last year's anarchy, the state has requested stepped-up cooperation with NATO. A civilian monitoring group from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is also being set up. And in Macedonia, a United Nations force including 350 US troops is watching for spillover.

Albania will likely continue to take cues from Washington and the EU: the state could not survive without their economic and political support. And turning up the heat are Italy, Greece, and Germany. War would likely unleash a wave of refugees, who would pause only briefly in Albania before heading West. Thousands of Albanians washed onto Italy's shores last year.

Officials in Tirana try to put the best face on their situation. Autonomy, while far from an ideal solution, could be a means to an end, says Nano spokesman Ben Blushi. In words that would make Serb nationalists blanch, Blushi says: "If we go for autonomy, 10 years later who knows? It may lead to a better, self-determined solution." At least that's the line Tirana officials will whisper into Kosovar ears.

But backing the Western powers is a gamble. They showed less than total resolve to stamp out the war in Bosnia or punish Iraq's Saddam Hussein for violating UN agreements. If the West fails with Kosova, at best it will cost Nano and his cohorts popular support; at worst, it will likely mean another war in the Balkans.

As one Kosova Albanian puts it, "We have to fight for independence. Autonomy comes with no guarantee: They gave it to us once and took it away [in 1989]. Why wouldn't they do it again?" The author is the Budapest-based correspondent for the "Christian Science Monitor."


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