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Newsline - April 17, 1998


The State Duma on 17 April again refused to confirm acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, with only 115 deputies voting in favor, 271 voting against, and 11 abstaining, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Kirienko fared worse than in the first Duma vote on his candidacy, when he had 143 supporters and 186 deputies voting against (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 1998). The Duma's decision to hold an open vote on 17 April contributed to Kirienko's poor showing, as it appears to have strengthened discipline among his main opponents: the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has repeatedly charged that Kirienko lacks enough experience to head the government. Kirienko told reporters after the vote that he is "relaxed" and said he found the Duma debate over his candidacy "interesting and constructive," Reuters reported. LB


President Boris Yeltsin nominated Kirienko for prime minister a third time less than an hour after the Duma's vote on 17 April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin reacted "calmly" to the vote, adding that "we expect the third round to bring the result that is necessary for the entire country, and Sergei Kirienko will be confirmed." Yeltsin would be constitutionally obliged to dissolve the Duma if deputies rejected his prime ministerial nominee a third time. The Duma has challenged Yeltsin's right to nominate the same candidate more than once, but Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai confirmed on 16 April that the court is unlikely to consider that appeal before the fall. LB


The influential businessman Boris Berezovskii has denied reports that he recently received a stern warning from Yeltsin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1998). In an interview with NTV on 16 April, Berezovskii acknowledged that he and Yeltsin spoke by telephone but said the two had a "very friendly and constructive conversation." He commented that they talked about the presidential elections scheduled for 2000 but not about acting Prime Minister Kirienko. Yeltsin is alleged to have warned Berezovskii against trying to influence the formation of the new government. Although Berezovskii has praised Kirienko in public, some media financed by him have criticized the acting prime minister. Berezovskii is rumored to be supporting acting Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin for the premiership. Rybkin was Security Council secretary when Berezovskii was deputy secretary of that council from November 1996 until November 1997. LB


Yeltsin was also reportedly angered by Berezovskii's decision to help finance former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed's gubernatorial campaign in Krasnoyarsk Krai, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 14 April. Speaking to NTV, Berezovskii admitted that he is supporting Lebed, who was once a bitter rival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 1997 and 18 February 1998). He explained that he is trying to help secure "the continuity of power" after the next presidential election. If Lebed loses in Krasnoyarsk, he will be out of the running for the presidential race, Berezovskii argued. However, Berezovskii wants Lebed to remain a contender for the nationalist electorate that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is courting in advance of his expected presidential bid. That way, Lebed and Luzhkov can keep "fighting it out among themselves," Berezovskii added. LB


Yeltsin announced on 16 April that he is "as healthy as ever" and dismissed speculation that his health took a turn for the worse as "funny." During a televised meeting with his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, and Aleksandr Livshits, deputy head of the presidential administration, Yeltsin acknowledged that he went to the Central Clinical Hospital the previous day but said he was there for only 30 minutes while his dentist replaced a crown on one of his teeth. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 15 April denied that the president had gone to the hospital and said nothing about a visit to the dentist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1998). Yeltsin is scheduled to fly to Japan late in the evening on 17 April and to return to Moscow two days later. Yastrzhembskii said the president will not delegate his powers while he is out of the country. LB


The Duma on 16 April approved by 312 to 17 the government's draft tax code in the first reading, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Nine other versions of the tax code had been proposed, but two were withdrawn during the course of the debate in the Duma and the rest were supported by fewer deputies than the government's draft. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction voted for the government's draft, although Yavlinskii was a vocal critic of the tax code the government proposed last year. The Duma passed that code in the first reading last June but, following months of negotiations over thousands of amendments, did not support it in the second reading. Following the appointment of former Yabloko member Mikhail Zadornov as finance minister last November, Zadornov's aide, Mikhail Motorin, replaced Sergei Shatalov, the main author of the government's previous draft tax code, as deputy finance minister. LB


The Sverdlovsk Oblast prosecutor's office has opened a criminal case in connection with violence at a recent student's demonstration in Yekaterinburg, ITAR- TASS and RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported on 16 April. The same day, the oblast government held a session that was attended by members of an Interior Ministry investigative commission. Oblast Prime Minister Aleksei Vorobev chaired the meeting in the absence of Governor Eduard Rossel. Deputy Interior Minister Valerii Fedorov, who heads the investigative commission, said at the government session that the city and oblast authorities, the organizers of the student demonstration, and law enforcement agencies should share responsibility for the events, ITAR-TASS reported. Oblast Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Gaida has offered his resignation, explaining that he failed to cope with the events that led to the violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1998). LB


At a government session in Moscow, both acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin charged that the local authorities were to blame for the violence, Russian news agencies reported. Valerii Kraev, the head of the Sverdlovsk branch of the Interior Ministry, on 16 April took responsibility for ordering police to push protesting students away from the regional government building. He explained that the students were throwing sticks, ice, and empty bottles at the police. But Stepashin said the Yekaterinburg law enforcement authorities displayed unprofessional conduct and failed to handle the situation properly. He also noted that politicians failed to turn up for an authorized demonstration in order to hear the students' grievances, prompting the angry students to embark on an unsanctioned march to the regional government building, where the violent clashes occurred. LB


U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin on 16 April confirmed a "USA Today" report that there is an "informal list" of 20 Russian agencies that receive "extra scrutiny" because of suspected dealings with Iran, Reuters and AFP reported. Rubin said there is currently no ban on assistance to those agencies but that the U.S. is "extremely concerned and quite troubled" by reports that Iran has received missile program technology from Russia. Rubin refused to name any of the Russian agencies on the list but did say it does not include the Russian Space Agency, contrary to the "USA Today" report. The next day, acting Prime Minister Kirienko said that while he opposes transfer of military technology to Iran or Libya, both countries "are future markets and whoever goes there now will in the future have a strong foothold." BP


The Duma on 15 April overrode a presidential veto on a law that would substantially raise soldiers' wages, "Russkii telegraf" reported. Yeltsin vetoed the law "on the status of those in military service" because it would mandate spending that is not provided for in the 1998 budget. According to First Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Petrov, the law would provide wage increases not only to soldiers in the army and navy but also to troops who are subordinated to other agencies (such as the Interior Ministry or the Federal Security Service). Petrov estimated it would cost 52 billion rubles ($8.5 billion) over two years to implement the law. If the Federation Council also overrides Yeltsin's veto, the president will be obliged to sign the law. LB


The government on 16 April approved a program aimed at stimulating foreign investment in the automobile industry, Interfax reported. The main points of the program were outlined in a February presidential decree. It would provide tax breaks and reduced customs duties to companies that invest at least 1.5 billion rubles ($250 million) in the automobile industry over five years, provided that the share of Russian parts used in the cars manufactured rises to at least 50 percent within that period. During his speech to the Duma on 17 April, Kirienko pledged that the government will support the automobile industry despite the objections voiced by the IMF, ITAR- TASS reported. In February, IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus argued that Russian taxpayers should not subsidize the activities of foreign automobile manufacturers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 20 February 1998). LB


As part of a program to combat the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, more than 1,000 machines dispensing condoms will be installed around the Russian capital, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported. The so-called "Capsule of Love" program is aimed specifically at syphilis. There are currently 17,000 registered cases of the disease among Moscow's population, and the incidence of the disease among youths aged 12-14 is increasing alarmingly. The machines will first be installed in train stations, nightclubs, and discos and later in casinos and gas stations. However, those installed outdoors will only be in operation for six or seven months of the year, as condoms cannot be stored at temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius. BP


Stanislav Kholopov, the editor in chief of the privately owned weekly newspaper "Stolitsa S" in Saransk (Republic of Mordovia), was beaten and stabbed outside his home on 16 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. He remains hospitalized following emergency surgery. Local observers believe the attack was connected to Kholopov's professional activities. "Stolitsa S," which is an influential newspaper in the republic with a circulation of some 60,000, has run hard- hitting reports on alleged torture committed by police. Those reports ultimately led to criminal convictions against several police officers and the dismissal of high- ranking officials in the republican branch of the Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998). The newspaper's coverage may also have angered local crime groups, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LB


The Nizhnii Novgorod prosecutor's office has opened another criminal case against Andrei Klimentev, the apparent winner of the mayoral election in the city that was recently annulled. Klimentev was arrested four days after that election for allegedly breaking a promise not to leave the city while his retrial on embezzlement charges is pending (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 April 1998). According to Governor Ivan Sklyarov, the new case against Klimentev is based on three alleged crimes: slander, violating another citizen's right to privacy, and publicly insulting an official, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 April. Sklyarov is the alleged victim of all three crimes. He was mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod before being elected governor last July and is a supporter of acting Mayor Vladimir Gorin, who finished a close second to Klimentev in the 29 March election. LB


Chechen leaders on 16 April denied any involvement in the attack earlier that day on a Russian military motorcade. Five men died in that attack, which took place close to the Ingushetian-North Ossetian border. Russian acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin had alleged that renegade Chechen gunmen were responsible for the shootings. Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said the attack was aimed at destabilizing Ingushetia and its president, Ruslan Aushev. Basaev added that the Chechen authorities are ready to assist Moscow in investigating the incident and expressed surprise that Moscow has not yet asked for such help. Aushev, for his part, denied the attack took place on Ingush territory, telling Interfax that it was on the North Ossetian side of the border. LF


North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov has cut short his planned trip to Georgia because of the 16 April killings and returned to Vladikavkaz, ITAR-TASS reported. Dzasokhov was in Tskhinvali that day for talks with South Ossetian President Lyudvig Chibirov. He had planned to travel to Tbilisi for talks with Georgian leaders on resolving the conflict between South Ossetia and the Georgian government. LF


Interviewed by NTV on 16 April, former deputy Security Council secretary Boris Berezovskii condemned the attack earlier that day but ruled out the possibility of a new war in the North Caucasus. At the same time, he conceded that the situation there is "fragile and tense." Referring to the agreement concluded last year between Moscow and the Chechen leadership on the transit of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya, he argued that oil remains an important factor for promoting stability in the Caucasus but is not the only one. LF


U.S. ambassador Stanley Escudero met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 15 April and handed over a letter from U.S. Vice President Al Gore calling on Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to resolve their dispute over the ownership of two Caspian oil fields before Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's 20 April visit to the U.S., Russian agencies reported. Last summer, Turkmenistan claimed ownership of the Kyapaz and Chirag fields, which Azerbaijan says lie within its sector of the Caspian. At his meeting with Escudero, Aliyev announced he has formally approved construction of proposed Trans- Caspian pipelines to export oil and gas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Those pipelines would link up with the proposed pipeline from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan (see also "End Note"). LF


The Armenian Foreign Ministry on 15 April issued a statement registering its concern about significant discrepancies between the preliminary report issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission and its final assessment of the second round of the presidential poll, Reuters reported. The OSCE final assessment concluded that the poll "does not meet the OSCE standards to which Armenia committed itself." The Foreign Ministry statement pointed out that four other observer groups, including those sent by the Council of Europe and the Russian State Duma, failed to register violations. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 16 April, Shavarsh Kocharian, a leading member of the National Democratic Union, said his party is willing to support Robert Kocharian because the new president's agenda does not contradict that of the NDU, ArmenPress reported. But Shavarsh Kocharian said the NDU is concerned that the new president may not be able to implement his programs under the existing regime. He said the NDU will offer its support to President Kocharian only if he takes steps toward the Armenia that the NDU envisions. NDU chairman Vazgen Manukian polled 12.24 percent of the vote in last month's pre-term presidential elections. He was among several defeated candidates who protested alleged falsification of the vote. LF


Mamuka Areshidze, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Commission for Relations with Caucasian Peoples, told journalists in Tbilisi on 15 April that the Georgian Ministry of National Security is aware preparations are being made in the North Caucasus for a further attempt on the life of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 17 April reported. Areshidze added that several North Caucasian militants participated in the failed 9 February attempt to kill the Georgian president. LF


Russian acting Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin was in Ashgabat on 15 April where he met with President Saparmurat Niyazov and discussed regional security, Russian loans to Turkmenistan, and the status of the Caspian, Interfax reported. The following day in Dushanbe, Rybkin promised the Tajik government that Russian troops will remain in the country and that the military exercise with Russia's 201st motorized division in southern Tajikistan was "a demonstration of the political will necessary for settling many problems here," Interfax reported. Later the same day in the Uzbek capital, Rybkin said Russia is not seeking to "usurp the right to reform the CIS," Radio Mashal reported. And on 17 April, Rybkin was in the Kyrgyz capital where he expressed regret that President Askar Akayev will not attend the 29 April CIS summit owing to a previous engagement. Rybkin's tour of the four countries was intended to review plans for that summit. BP


Three young members of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front were beaten on Minsk's Kamarouka marketplace on 13 April, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 16 April. The youths were attacked by some 20 guards with dogs at the marketplace, allegedly for speaking Belarusian. Police arrived some 20 minutes after the assailants had fled. The youths were handcuffed and taken to a nearby police station where, according to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, they were beaten by police officers. One of the youths was subsequently taken to the hospital with concussion, while the other two allowed to go home. JM


While receiving the credentials of the EU mission head in Minsk on 16 April, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that maintaining ties with the EU is a priority for Minsk, Interfax reported. He also welcomed a statement by the mission head that European agencies are prepared to assist Belarus in building a democratic society and observing human rights. "Belarus has expected this statement for a long time," Interfax quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM


During his one-day trip to Crimea on 16 April, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met with Mustafa Dzhemilev, head of the Crimean Tatar parliament, ITAR- TASS reported. Dzhemilev told journalists after the meeting that Kuchma had promised to present a bill on by- elections to the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in order to ensure the Crimean Tatars are represented in that body. Dzhemilev and his deputy, Rafat Chubarov, were elected to the Ukrainian Supreme Council on 29 March, but no Tatar candidate was elected to the Crimean legislature. JM


Interior Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis has ordered the Special Investigations and Organized Crime Investigation services to launch an inquiry into the bomb explosion on 15 April in the northern city of Siauliai, BNS reported. Nine people were injured, four seriously, when a bomb exploded at the city's tax office. President Valdas Adamkus expressed his condolences to those injured in the blast and said he is concerned about the ongoing wave of explosions in the country. The Siauliai incident is the latest in a series of bomb attacks in Lithuania since the beginning of this year. Police say the attacks are the work of organized criminal gangs, but no one has been arrested to date. JC


Vaclav Havel's office on 16 April said all official engagements of the president, who recently underwent emergency surgery in Innsbruck, have been canceled until the end of May, CTK reported. The doctors in the Austrian clinic said his condition is "very good" but the second operation he has to undergo, though "relatively risk free," cannot be carried out for at least six weeks. MS


Lawmakers on 16 April failed again to elect a successor to Michal Kovac, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. This was the fifth time that the legislature had voted on the issue but the first in which Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) ran its own candidate, Milan Secansky. Secansky received 59 votes, short of the three-fifths majority of 90 votes needed for election. Brigita Schomognerova, the candidate of the Party of the Democratic Left, was endorsed by 43 deputies and independent candidate Zdeno Suska received five votes. A run-off between Secansky and Schomognerova will be held on 30 April. MS


The Central Electoral Office on 16 April said that 1,544 candidates have collected the 750 signatures necessary to endorse candidates in single-member constituencies in the forthcoming May elections. Registration ends on 17 April, Hungarian media reported. The office said it has so far verified the national lists of four political parties. Under the Hungarian electoral system, national lists can be presented only by those parties that can prove they are running on at least seven regional lists. A total of 31 political parties and groups are seeking representation, compared with 15 in the 1994 elections. Six groups are represented in the current parliament. MS


The government on 16 April decided to allow the Civil Secret Service to tap mobile phones as of next year in its fight against organized crime, Hungarian media reported. The decision makes it possible also to tap messages on the Internet. Providers of communications services will have to install the necessary equipment at their own expense, Hungarian media reported. MS


UN police found the bodies of a Bosnian Serb couple in their burning house in Croatian-held Drvar on 16 April. A police spokesman said that both had been shot in the back and that the husband's body showed signs of physical abuse, RFE/RL reported. The two had recently returned to Drvar within the framework of a program sponsored by the international community under the Dayton agreement, which guarantees all refugees the right to go home in safety. The UN police spokesman added that some local Croats have been seeking to intimidate returning Serbs. He stressed that the latest incident underscores the need to replace the current Croatian police force with a multi- ethnic one. In Washington, the State Department issued a statement blaming the local Croatian authorities for "the climate of intolerance and harassment in which these murders took place." PM


William Dale Montgomery, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia, said in a statement in Zagreb on 16 April that Croatia must help dismantle the Herzegovinian quasi-state of Herceg-Bosna, which continues to exist in contravention of the Dayton agreement. "We look to the government of Croatia to use its influence to see that these parallel institutions are dismantled and that responsibility is ceded" to the joint Croatian and Muslim federal government in Sarajevo. Montgomery added that Zagreb's continued support for the Herzegovinian hard-liners places a "heavy financial and political burden on Croatia." PM


On 16 April, representatives of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal took custody of Zoran Zigic at a Banja Luka prison, where he was serving a sentence for murder not related to alleged war crimes. He has since arrived in The Netherlands. The tribunal wants him in conjunction with atrocities at the Bosnian Serbs' Omarska concentration camp in northwest Bosnia in 1992. PM


On 16 April in Prishtina, ethnic Albanians continued to stage peaceful protests and to boycott talks with the Serbian authorities without foreign mediation. The previous day, political representatives of Serbia's other regions demanded in Novi Sad that Belgrade offer them the same type of open negotiations on outstanding issues that the authorities say they are ready to offer all ethnic groups in Kosova. Representatives of Vojvodina, Sumadija, and Sandzak said their regions are no less important to Serbia than is Kosova. Sandzak Coalition leader Rasim Ljajic said his group has given the authorities a one-week deadline to send a negotiating team to Novi Pazar, the Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote. PM


Meanwhile, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj dismissed as "laughable" the idea of talks with the leaders who met in Novi Sad, "Danas" reported on 16 April. Seselj said the government offered talks to the ethnic Albanian political parties because they represent the majority of the Kosovars. He added that the other regional leaders are "political clowns" who have no mandate from the people they claim to represent. PM


A group led by nationalist academic Rexhep Qosja and former Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) Deputy Chairman Hydajet Hyseni has founded the New Democratic League of Kosova (LRDK). Meeting in Prishtina on 15 April, the group elected Qosja as party leader and Hyseni as deputy. In a declaration, the LRDK accused the current LDK leadership of "changing the character, the substance, the structure and the organizational principles of the LDK [by] neglecting...democratic procedures and misusing the institution and position" of President Ibrahim Rugova. It also said that the LDK was responsible for gross irregularities in the 22 March parliamentary and presidential elections. FS


Yugoslav troops in the Gjakova region have seized over 60 automatic rifles, four machine guns, 100 hand grenades, more than 10,000 bullets and other "terrorist equipment" after an armed clash with smugglers who were attempting to cross the border from Albania, Tanjug reported on 16 April. This is Belgrade's first acknowledgment that regular troops as well as the paramilitary police are playing a role in the current repression. The Yugoslav authorities formally protested the alleged incursion to the Albanian government. The following day, a spokesman for the Albanian Prime Minister's Office said the incident was a "set-up." PM


General Henry Shelton, who is chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Skopje on 16 April that an international armed force could be sent to Kosova if no political solution emerges there. "Because of the impact in the region we have made it, I think, very clear that we prefer a diplomatic solution, but we have not ruled out any alternative," he said. PM


Rexhep Meidani on 16 April turned down the proposed new cabinet agreed on by the parliament the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1998). Meidani noted that the position of prime minister was not mentioned in the cabinet list and demanded that the minister for local government also be made deputy prime minister. The parliament then approved yet another cabinet, which Prime Minister Fatos Nano presented to Meidani. In the new version, the Socialist Luan Hajdaraga will receive the defense portfolio and his fellow Socialist Bashkim Fino local government. Outgoing Interior Minister Neritan Ceka is not included the new government, but his Democratic Alliance will keep the Interior Ministry through former Deputy Defense Minister Perikli Teta. Observers told "RFE/RL Newsline" in Tirana that the changes are more a public relations exercise than a real political overhaul. FS


Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania and Turkey agreed on 16 April to set up the Multinational Peace Force in South-Eastern Europe (MPF). Romanian chief of staff Gen. Constantin Degeratu said the MPF will be subordinated to either the United Nations or to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and could begin operations within two years. Each country will contribute some 5,000 troops. Further discussions on setting up the force are planned for 22 May in Tirana, and the final agreement is expected to be signed in Sofia in May or June. MS


Meeting in the southern Turkish resort of Antalya on 16 April, the presidents of Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania discussed regional security and agreed that the best form of such security is integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. They called on the international community to continue closely monitoring the implementation of the Dayton agreements. They also said that the Kosovo crisis can be resolved only by a peaceful solution achieved through "constructive dialogue" and in line with the UN Charter on Human Rights. The three presidents agreed to "gradually" set up a free trade zone between their countries, Mediafax reported. MS


Radu Vasile spent his first day in office visiting the counties of Harghita and Covasna, Romanian media reported on 16 April. He said he wanted to "demonstrate" to ethnic Romanians who form a minority there that "they are not abandoned." and that Vasile said the local authorities' use of the Hungarian language "should pose no problems," but he warned the Sfantu-Gheorghe authorities that it "must show the same sensitivity" to the demands of ethnic Romanians that it displays toward those of ethnic Hungarians living in counties with a Romanian majority. Vasile also said he found out that while some of the ethnic Romanians' demands are "legitimate and correct," many of their alleged problems exist "in their imagination." By way of example, he cited alleged "flooding" of the counties by investments from Hungary. MS


Bodyguards of Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), physically attacked a private television team filming on the Bucharest street where both the senator and Premier Vasile live, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 15 April. Tudor shouted insults at the team and later said in the parliament that the journalists had scared his daughter, who believed they wanted to kill her. The Prima TV team had reported that Tudor has set up an illegal information network from among PRM members but Tudor told the parliament his party was "too poor" to maintain such a network. MS


A meeting of the experts negotiating a settlement of the conflict between Moldova and the separatist Transdniester has been postponed for what Chisinau described as "technical reasons," Infotag reported on 16 April. RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital quoted Aleksander Karaman, the deputy of separatist leader Igor Smirnov, as saying Tiraspol is interested in a speedy resumption of the negotiations and that the "only obstacle" to those talks is the continuation of the Moldovan coalition parleys and Chisinau's failure to date to appoint a successor to Anatol Taranu, the former chief of the negotiating team. Taranu failed in his bid to be elected a deputy in last month's parliamentary elections. MS


The parliament on 16 April approved setting up a National Security Council and a pro-Western national security program, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The council is to be headed by Premier Ivan Kostov and will deal with economic issues, domestic and foreign policy, and participation in collective security systems such as NATO. The program defines gaining access to NATO and the EU as strategic priorities and says Bulgaria is to take part in regional peace-keeping efforts. MS


In a letter addressed to President Petar Stoyanov, Reporters sans Frontieres protested the recent sentencing of Yovka Atanasova, the chief editor of a daily published in the southern Bulgarian town of Stara Zagora. Atanasova is to pay a fine and serve a five-month jail sentence for the repeated libel of a local businessman: she had previously received a suspended sentence. The organization says that there are four other cases pending against Atanasova and that several other journalists may face trial for similar reasons. It demands that the penal code be changed to prohibit such prosecutions. Stoyanov recently asked the parliament to amend the relevant provision. MS


by Liz Fuller

Developments since the beginning of this month have substantively changed the prospects for developing Caspian oil reserves and exporting them to world markets. While Moscow has further modified its stance on the status of the Caspian Sea, it now seems certain that there will be delays in completing two of the pipelines intended to transport oil from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Meeting last week in Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev, again affirmed their agreement on dividing the entire sea bed of the Caspian into national sectors proceeding from the median line and leaving the sea waters under joint control. Discussing this option during their two-day summit in January, the two presidents had called for the drafting of a bilateral agreement delineating their respective national sectors.

That move represented a concession to Kazakhstan on the part of Moscow: last August, the Kazakh government had formally protested a Russian tender for developing several north Caspian oil and gas fields on the grounds that the deposits in question were located in Kazakhstan's sector of the sea. The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected that protest but at the same time announced Moscow will abandon its previous negotiating position, adopted in late 1996, whereby it would permit all five Caspian littoral states (Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan) to freely develop hydrocarbon resources located in a 45-mile offshore zone but would allow deposits in the remainder of the sea to be developed only by unanimous consent. Iran and Turkmenistan signaled their agreement with this approach, but both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, which at that time had already signed three lucrative agreements with Western consortia to exploit deposits beyond the 45-mile coastal zone, opposed it.

The Russian-Kazakh agreement is to be signed on 28 April, but its implementation may prove problematic, given that the two sides still disagree over the water depth to be used in calculating the median line. And Kazakhstan's prospects of exporting its oil in bulk received a further setback this week with the announcement that the Caspian pipeline running from the vast Tengiz field via Astrakhan to Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk will not be completed before late 2001, one year later than planned.

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, too, appear to be closer to reaching an agreement in their dispute over the ownership of several Caspian deposits, including Chirag and Kyapaz. Visiting Baku in early April, Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov announced that "there is no disagreement between us in principle on dividing the Caspian." He added that "we are ready to reach a mutual agreement with Azerbaijan." Two days ago, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Stanley Escudero delivered to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, a letter from U.S. Vice President Al Gore asking Aliyev and his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, to resolve the disagreement before Niyazov's planned trip to Washington next week.

A solution to the Azerbaijani-Turkmen dispute is crucial for an agreement on constructing an alternative pipeline to export oil from both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. That pipeline would run across the bed of the Caspian to Baku and thus link up with Azerbaijan's export pipeline network. Aliyev and Nazarbaev first agreed on the expediency of a Trans-Caspian oil pipeline during the former's visit to Almaty last summer. The Azerbaijani president announced his official endorsement of Trans- Caspian pipelines for oil and gas during his 14 April meeting with Escudero, but he did not give any indication of who might agree to finance the project, estimated to cost $3 billion. Russia is opposed to an underwater pipeline across the Caspian on ecological grounds, given that the Caspian is a seismically sensitive zone. And it is unclear whether the Russian compromise proposal on the status of the sea, whereby the waters would fall under joint jurisdiction, constitutes an obstacle to building such a pipeline.

Moreover, construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline depends on a decision on how best to export oil from Baku. At present, limited amounts of Caspian oil are being exported through the sole operational pipeline, which runs north from Baku via Chechnya to Novorossiisk. A second pipeline running west from Baku to the Georgian Black Sea coast of Supsa, which is currently undergoing repair, was expected to go into operation in the fall of this year. But earlier this month, it became apparent that this pipeline is in far worse condition than originally believed. Experts say it needs to be almost totally rebuilt, meaning its completion will be delayed by up to one year. The cost of repairs has already reached $590 million, almost double the original estimate, and Azerbaijan's State Oil Company is reportedly refusing to increase the budget further.

This setback strengthens the arguments espoused by both the U.S. and the Turkish government in favor of having the so-called Main Export Pipeline for Caspian oil from the Azerbaijani, Kazakh, and Turkmen sectors run from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan. The U.S. favors that route because it avoids Russian territory and will therefore strengthen the common pro-Western orientation of Azerbaijan and Georgia. But most Western companies currently engaged in developing Azerbaijani oil fields regard the Baku-Ceyhan option as the least advantageous of the three on economic grounds--the projected cost is between $2.5 and $3 billion. A decision between the three possible routes for the Main Export Pipeline--Baku-Novorossiisk, Baku-Supsa, or Baku- Ceyhan--is due to be taken in October but will almost certainly be postponed.