Accessibility links

Newsline - May 22, 1998




YELTSIN CRITICIZES MINERS' TACTICS

President Boris Yeltsin on 22 May said coal miners "have gone beyond reasonable boundaries" by blocking major railroads. In a nationwide radio address, the president ruled out printing extra money or taking funds away from other workers to meet the miners' demands. He acknowledged that "strikes are certainly a good way to make yourself heard" but argued that "nobody has the right to make the lives of others even more insufferable." The protests have gone on for more than a week in some areas and have affected hundreds of trains on the Trans-Siberian, Moscow-Vorkuta, and North Caucasus lines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 May 1998). Officials have repeatedly said the government has met its financial obligations to the coal industry and that the massive wage arrears to miners are caused by non-paying consumers and dubious financial practices by coal enterprise directors. LB

KIRIENKO INSISTS GOVERNMENT WILL STICK TO BUDGET

Speaking to journalists on 21 May, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko repeated that the government will not deviate from the 1998 budget targets for spending on the coal industry, NTV reported. He said allocating extra money to miners would take money away from other vital social needs, such as paying teachers and child allowances. Yeltsin and Kirienko discussed the situation in the coal industry during a "big four" meeting on 21 May with State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev. According to Seleznev and Stroev, Yeltsin and Kirienko agreed to meet with deputies from both houses of the parliament during the first 10 days of June in order to discuss an "anti-crisis" program of economic and social policies, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev warned during a 21 May interview with NTV that the coal miners' protests could soon "spin out of control." LB

NEWSPAPER SLAMS NTV'S COVERAGE OF MINERS' PROTESTS

"Russkii telegraf" on 21 May charged that NTV's coverage of the wave of miners' strikes has resembled "propaganda" with the subtext "Go for it, boys!" rather than news reporting. In particular, the newspaper blasted an NTV report from Moscow's Yaroslavl train station, which, it suggested, had been edited misleadingly to give the impression that most railroad workers and would-be passengers support the miners' protests. (NTV on 21 May broadcast a segment from the same station, in which many inconvenienced travelers said they support the miners and believe that "the government should be changed.") "Russkii telegraf" is fully owned by Oneksimbank and generally supports the government. NTV is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most holding company. It provided mostly positive coverage of the government from 1996 until summer 1997, when it began broadcasting sharp criticism of some high-ranking ministers. LB

PARLIAMENTARY LEADERS AGREE TO PUSH FOR START-2 RATIFICATION

During the 21 May meeting of the "big four," Duma Speaker Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Stroev agreed to help push for speedy ratification of the START-2 arms control treaty, ITAR- TASS reported. Yeltsin again argued that the treaty is in Russia's interests, and the government agreed to submit documents to the parliament to "remove the concern" of some deputies that implementation of START-2 would be too expensive. LB

STANDOFF IN MAKHACHKALA ENDS PEACEFULLY

Several hundred armed supporters of Union of Muslims of Russian chairman Nadirshakh Khachilaev who occupied the government building in Makhachkala on 21 May vacated it peacefully later that day following talks with top Dagestani officials. Moscow had responded to the seizure of the building by deploying additional police and security forces in the town. On the town's central square, Khachilaev told his supporters that the republic's leadership has agreed to their demands that the constitution be amended to provide for direct elections of the chairman of the State Council. Khachilaev's elder brother Magomed, who heads an emergency committee created to stabilize the situation, told the demonstrators that his committee has decided to drop its demand for the resignation of the present State Council chairman, Magomed Magomadov, "in order not to destabilize the situation further," Interfax reported. LF

DAGESTANI INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS

At an emergency session of the State Council on 22 May attended by Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, Dagestani Interior Minister Magomed Abdurazakov submitted his resignation, thus meeting one of the demonstrators' demands, ITAR-TASS reported. The State Council issued a draft resolution blaming the republic's Interior Ministry for not taking adequate measures to prevent armed supporters of Khachilaev from occupying the government building. LF

RUSSIA, TURKEY CLOSE TO AGREEMENT ON CAUCASUS FORCE

Speaking to Turkish journalists in Moscow on 21 May, Turkish Chief of General Staff General Ismail Hakki Karadayi said that during his talks with Russian defense officials, a "95 percent agreement" had been reached on creating a Russian-Turkish rapid reaction force for deployment during crises in the Caucasus, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 22 May. Karadayi did not say whether the force might also be deployed for peacekeeping purposes. LF

LUKOIL PREPARING TO BUY SIDANKO

LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov announced on 21 May that his company is negotiating to buy the Sidanko oil company, Interfax reported. Earlier this year, the two companies were rumored to be considering a merger, but Alekperov denied those reports. The press service of Oneksimbank, which owns a controlling stake in Sidanko, issued a statement on 21 May saying Oneksimbank and British Petroleum have not yet made any decision on selling or merging Sidanko, ITAR- TASS reported. BP owns a 10 percent stake in Sidanko. But Alekperov's announcement raises more doubts as to whether the auction for a 75 percent stake in the Rosneft oil company will go ahead next week as planned. LUKoil, Gazprom, and Royal Dutch Shell have held negotiations on submitting a joint bid for Rosneft, while Sidanko and BP were planning to form their own consortium for the Rosneft auction. LB

YELTSIN REPLACES HEAD OF RUSSIAN TELEVISION

Yeltsin on 21 May appointed Mikhail Shvydkoi as the chairman of the fully state-owned Russian Television (RTR) network, which is being transformed into a holding company for state-owned electronic media. Shvydkoi, up to now chairman of the Kultura television network, replaces Nikolai Svanidze, a close ally of former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais who had chaired RTR since February 1997. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 May, Svanidze will continue to host RTR's Sunday analytical program, "Zerkalo." The newspaper said Shvydkoi was chosen as a "compromise figure" who is "not associated with any financial-industrial groups." On 19 May, Prime Minister Kirienko signed a resolution transforming the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency into a subsidiary of RTR, which will be called RIA-Vesti. RTR first deputy chairman Eduard Gindeleev will be the new director of the news agency. LB

FSB OFFICER ALLEGES PLOT TO ASSASSINATE BEREZOVSKII

Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Aleksandr Litvinenko has alleged that late last year the deputy head of an FSB department on organized crime instructed him to assassinate Boris Berezovskii, one of Russia's most powerful businessmen, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 22 May. The newspaper said Litvinenko warned Berezovskii on 20 March and soon after informed Yevgenii Savostyanov, deputy head of the presidential administration, of the alleged plans. FSB Director Nikolai Kovalev has ordered an investigation into the allegation. "Moskovskii komsomolets" cast doubt on Litvinenko's claim, noting that he is reportedly close to Berezovskii and would not be chosen to carry out such a plot if one indeed existed. It also suggested that Litvinenko has given "invaluable help to the criminal world," because his allegation has for more than a month paralyzed the FSB's department on organized crime. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and its coverage of Berezovskii is generally negative. LB

KOKH PRESENTS COPY OF CONTROVERSIAL BOOK ON PRIVATIZATION

Former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh on 21 May held a press conference to show copies of his forthcoming book, "The Selling of the Soviet Empire," NTV reported. The book is being published in English and will sell for $20, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 May. A criminal case was opened against Kokh last year after it emerged that he received a $100,000 advance from a Swiss company for writing the book. Kokh argued on 21 May that his advance was not excessive, adding that the book is aimed at a mass audience. On 22 May, investigators in the Moscow Prosecutor's Office questioned Kokh in connection with allegations that he and other former officials embezzled property when they acquired apartments in the capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 1998). LB

CUSTOMS ACCOUNTS DIVIDED AMONG 10 BANKS...

A government commission on credit, monetary, and financial policy has approved the results of a tender for the right to service bank accounts of the State Customs Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 May. Of the 28 commercial banks that bid for the right to service the accounts, 10 were declared winners: Sberbank, Oneksimbank, MFK (linked to Oneksimbank), Alfa Bank, Rossiiskii Kredit, Most Bank, Avtobank, MDM-Bank, Promstroibank, and Sobinbank. Yeltsin and government officials have repeatedly promised to cease using "authorized" commercial banks to handle state funds, but exceptions have been made for the accounts of some ministries and federal agencies. The arrangement is lucrative for commercial banks, which can earn money on the inter-bank market while delaying the transfer of funds to federal coffers. LB

...FOLLOWING LAST-MINUTE ATTEMPT TO CANCEL COMPETITION

Most Bank, Menatep, SBS-Agro and Tekhnobank sent a last-minute appeal asking Prime Minister Kirienko to cancel the tender for the State Customs Committee's bank accounts and transfer the accounts to Sberbank. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 May, the four banks argued that the system of conducting such tenders has "discredited itself many times," since the losers inevitably dispute the results and the ensuing scandal "harms Russia's entire commercial banking system." Oneksimbank serviced the bulk of the State Customs Committee's accounts until late 1997. Some two months ago, the government authorized the transfer of the Central Excise Customs Service's bank accounts to Oneksimbank without a tender--a decision former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais later admitted was "unwise" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 24 March 1998). LB

YELTSIN SIGNS MORE POWER-SHARING AGREEMENTS WITH REGIONS

Yeltsin on 20 May attended a Kremlin signing ceremony for power-sharing agreements between the federal government and Amur, Voronezh, Ivanovo, and Kostroma Oblasts, as well as the Marii-El Republic, ITAR- TASS reported. The president praised the merits of such agreements, saying they "help strengthen our federation" by adjusting the government's regional policy to the specific conditions of each region. Yeltsin said 45 out of the 89 regions of the Russian Federation have signed bilateral treaties with the federal government. Some regional leaders, including Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, have criticized the practice of concluding power-sharing treaties, saying they exacerbate inequalities among regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January and 11 February 1998). LB

SARATOV GOVERNOR DOWNPLAYS PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS

Saratov Governor Ayatskov has said he will run for re-election when his current term expires and that he does not plan to seek the presidency before 2004, Russian news agencies reported on 19 May. Commenting on the fact that Yeltsin introduced him to U.S. Bill Clinton as "the next Russian president" during the recent G-8 summit in Birmingham, Ayatskov speculated that Yeltsin was making a joke. Interfax on 18 May quoted Ayatskov as saying he will run for president in 2000 if Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor-elect Aleksandr Lebed does so. Ayatskov has sought to maintain a high profile since his election as governor in September 1996. On 20 May, he vowed to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the land code approved by the Federation Council if that code becomes law, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. A Saratov law permits the purchase and sale of farmland. LB

IS TATARSTAN HEADING FOR ECONOMIC DECLINE?

The sharp fall in world oil prices may signal the end of Tatarstan's relative economic prosperity, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 May. The republican oil company Tatneft stands to lose $250-300 million this year, and the republic's remaining hard currency earnings will suffice only to service the foreign loans and Tatneft's earlier credits. Earnings from the oil sector enabled the Tatar leadership to subsidize both the agrarian and the industrial sector and to provide substantial social subsidies to cushion the impact of albeit cautious moves toward market reform. Two major enterprises, the KamAZ truck factory and Tatenergo, are close to bankruptcy. The republic's leadership may be constrained to surrender key enterprises to powerful Russian businessmen in return for loans and credits that it is unable to repay. LF




SITUATION ON GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ BORDER REMAINS TENSE

Sporadic minor clashes are continuing in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion between Georgian guerrillas and Abkhaz forces after the Abkhaz Interior Ministry sent another 800 men to the district, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. The Abkhaz are setting fire to Georgian homes as they retreat. Addressing an emergency session of the Georgian National Security Council on 21 May, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Tbilisi will use "both diplomatic talks and any other methods" to defend its territorial integrity. In an implicit denial of Georgian claims that the Russian peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia is colluding with the Abkhaz, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement on 21 May saying the peacekeepers are acting in accordance with their mandate and demonstrating "courage and endurance," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIA REJECTS ABKHAZ PRESIDENT'S OFFER OF TALKS

Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 21 May that he is ready "at any time" for talks with Shevardnadze on the recent clashes in Gali, Interfax reported. Ardzinba blamed the leadership of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, composed of ethnic Georgian deputies elected to the Abkhaz parliament in 1991, for the recent fighting. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said in Moscow on 21 May that Russia favors a meeting between Ardzinba and Shevardnadze in order to "normalize" the situation in Gali. Rakhmanin said both Tbilisi and Sukhumi precipitated the recent hostilities by failing to "show the necessary political will" to expedite the repatriation of displaced persons and curtail guerrilla activities in Gali. But Shevardnadze's press spokesman, Vakhtang Abashidze, said a meeting between the two presidents is "hardly possible' in the near future as Ardzinba "has no new proposals" on resolving the conflict. LF

GEORGIAN NAVAL COMMANDER FIRED

Newly appointed Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze has dismissed Naval Commander Otar Chkhartishvili for financial irregularities and logistical incompetence, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 20 May. Tevzadze had criticized Chkhartishvili at a conference of defense officials the previous day. Chkhartishvili was appointed in March 1997 by Tevzadze's predecessor, Vardiko Nadibaidze, to replace Aleksandr Djavakhishvili. Djavakhishvili was forced to resign several months earlier following disagreements with Nadibaidze over the size and structure of the country's naval forces (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 16 December 1996). LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS DOWN ON TAX CUTS

Lawmakers on 21 May voted down a bill reducing value- added tax from 20 percent to 15 percent in order to avoid a confrontation with the new government , RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The previous day, the parliament had approved in the first reading a law substantially reducing government revenues from income tax. Vartan Khachatrian, deputy chairman of the Committee on Finance and Economics and author of both initiatives, argued that a lower tax burden will spur economic activity and boost economic growth. But Prime Minister Armen Darpinian objected to the bill on VAT, arguing that it would cut this year's projected budget revenues. Under the Armenian constitution, the government may seek a vote of no confidence if the parliament passes a law that the cabinet considers unacceptable. The failure of such a vote automatically overturns the law passed by the legislature. LF

TAJIK PARLIAMENT VOTES DOWN OPPOSITION FIGURES

Lawmakers on 21 May voted against the appointment of Tajik opposition leaders Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda and Davlat Usmon as first deputy prime minister and economics minister, respectively, RFE/RL correspondents reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the vote against Turajonzoda was 112 to 15 and against Usmon, 106 to 21. Both were appointed to those posts by presidential decree but required the parliament's approval to take office. Interfax reported that many deputies wanted to ask questions of Turajonzoda and Usmon, neither of whom were present. RFE/RL correspondents say some saw the failure of either to appear as a sign of disrespect. Another vote to confirm both candidates is expected on 22 May. Under the terms of the 1997 peace accord, 30 percent of cabinet posts are to be given to representatives of the United Tajik Opposition. BP

TEXT OF NEW LAWS ON RELIGION PUBLISHED IN UZBEKISTAN

In its 19 May issue, the Uzbek daily newspaper "Khalk Suzi" published the text of laws aimed at regulating the activities of religious groups in the country. The new legislation stipulates that religious groups must register and outlaws missionary activities aimed at converting individuals to other religions, teaching religious subjects without official permission, publishing material that advocates extremism, separatism, and chauvinism. Some clauses of the laws are vague, such as the one forbidding people to wear religious clothing in public. Clergymen from registered religious groups are exempt from that provision. BP

KAZAKH INTERIOR MINISTER NAMES "GUILTY" PERIODICALS

Kazakh Interior Minister Qayirbek Suleymenov on 21 May revealed the names of some publications against which the government has initiated criminal proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 7 May 1998), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Suleymenov listed "Karavan," "Kazakhskaya Pravda," "Rabochaya Zhizn," and "Biz-MY" but said that others are being investigated also on charges of "igniting racial, ethnic, and religious hatred." BP

IS ISSIK-KUL CONTAMINATED FOLLOWING TRUCK ACCIDENT?

A truck carrying 20 tons of sodium cyanide drove into the Barskoon River near the Issik-Kul lake, which is Kyrgyzstan's biggest tourist attraction, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported on 20 May. Reports vary as to the extent of the damage to the environment. A spokeswoman for President Askar Akayev said there were no "environmental consequences." But "Komsomolskaya Pravda" on 22 May reported that 8 tons of sodium cyanide spilled into the river. Independent ecological experts told RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek that the Kumtor gold mining operation, located in the mountains not far from Issik-Kul, refused to allow them to the site. Kumtor is a joint venture between Kyrgyzstan's state gold company, Kyrgyzaltyn, and Canada's Cameco Corp. BP




UKRAINE SIGNS MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH TURKEY

During Turkish President Suleyman Demirel's official three-day visit to Ukraine, Kyiv and Ankara signed a military cooperation agreement, ITAR- TASS reported on 21 May. Demirel said he sees "great prospects" for bilateral cooperation in the military sphere. His Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, declined to comment on details of the agreement, saying that "details will be tackled by the military." Meanwhile, the 22 May "Turkish Daily News" reported that Ukraine "is on tenterhooks" to sell T-84 tanks to Turkey, which, the newspaper said, is "in the market for 1,000 battle tanks." Demirel announced in Kyiv that Turkey is going to spend $150 billion on armaments over the next 30 years. JM

PUSTOVOYTENKO SAYS COAL MINERS STRIKES POLITICALLY MOTIVATED

Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko has said the recent strikes in the coal mining sector are organized by political forces interested in destabilizing and ousting the government, Ukrainian Television reported on 21 May. Pustovoytenko added that his opinion is based on reports by the Interior Ministry and the Security Service. "Today, the Hromada faction is collecting signatures to seek the government's resignation," Ukrainian Television quoted Pustovoytenko as saying. JM

FOUR CAUCUSES APPEAL FOR COMPROMISE IN ELECTING SPEAKER

Four parliamentary groups have appealed for a compromise on the election of a speaker and new parliamentary leadership, Ukrainian Television reported on 21 May. The Popular Democratic Party, the Popular Rukh, the Social Democrats, and the Greens have proposed forming the parliamentary leadership on the basis of equal participation of all political forces represented in the legislature. The groups believe that the speaker should be elected from among centrist politicians who are not interested in seeking the presidency in the 1999 presidential elections. Observers say that since no party or bloc has an absolute majority and 13 candidates have been proposed for the post of speaker, there may be a stalemate within the Supreme Council if no compromise is reached on its speaker. JM

WORLD BANK LENDS KYIV $200 MILLION TO IMPROVE HEATING SYSTEM

The World Bank has approved a $200 million loan to Ukraine to modernize and improve the central heating system in Kyiv. But the loan will be on hold until Ukraine makes more progress in economic reform, Reuters reported. In March, the World Bank delayed releasing $600 million in loans to support business and strengthen the banking sector because of the slow pace of microeconomic reform. World Bank representative for Ukraine Paul Siegelbaum told Reuters that the current loan is "investment lending" to the project, which, he said, will pay for itself "in three or four years" due to an increased efficiency in heat delivery. JM

BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS CALL FOR PROTEST ACTIONS

A national conference of trade unions and working collectives held in Minsk on 21 May called on regional trade union organizations to organize protest actions against the deterioration of living standards in Belarus, Belapan reported. The conference demanded a change in the government's socio-economic course and an increase in the minimum wage. If those demands are not met, the trade unions intends to hold a nationwide protest action in October and to seek the government's resignation. JM

LATVIA PRESIDENT INSISTS ON ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY

Guntis Ulmanis on 21 May called for the parliament to review the recently passed criminal code, which provides for maintaining the death penalty, BNS and Reuters reported. In a statement, the president's press office said Ulmanis stressed again his conviction that capital punishment should be abolished in Latvia. He pointed out that Latvia undertook to scrap the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe in 1995 by ratifying the sixth protocol of the European Convention for the Protection for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The parliament must comply with Ulmanis's request to review the law but need not make the changes he wants. If it does not amend the law, he cannot ask for it to be reviewed again. JC

LITHUANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS

BNS reported on 21 May that President Valdas Adamkus has signed a decree accepting the resignation of Interior Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis and appointing Justice Minister Vytautas Pakalniskis as acting interior minister for the time being. Ziemelis, a member of the ruling Conservative Party, admitted he was quitting over disagreements with Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, who, together with the opposition, has criticized the former minister for poor performance in fighting crime. In particular, Ziemelis has come under attack for the lack of progress in solving the recent wave of bomb attacks in Lithuania. JC

POLISH COALITION PARTNERS DIFFER OVER MEDIA CONTROL

The appointment of a new Radio Board of Directors has provoked quarrels between Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union, "Rzeczpospolita" and "Zycie" reported on 22 May. The AWS accuses the Freedom Union of supporting the opposition's media policies by making deals with the opposition over control of the media. The new board consists of two Democratic Left Alliance representatives, two Peasant Party representatives, and one representative linked to the Freedom Union. The Freedom Union proposes that the four parties meet to seek a compromise before the appointment of the Television Board of Directors, scheduled for next month. JM

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT CLOSES GAP IN POLLS

The governing coalition in Slovakia has slightly closed the gap between itself and the combined opposition forces, Reuters reported on 21 May. A poll conducted by the Bratislava-based Opinions institute earlier this month shows the opposition's lead reduced from 62 percent in April to 52 percent. The coalition parties are now backed by 31 percent, 1 percent less than last month. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia is the single most popular party (21 percent), slightly ahead of the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (19 percent). The opposition Party of Civic Understanding and Party of the Democratic Left are backed by 13 percent each, and the Hungarian Coalition by 7 percent. The ultra-right Slovak National Party's has 8 percent support and the leftist Workers' Party 2 percent, below the 5 percent threshold for parliamentary representation. MS

SLOVAKIA REJECTS AUSTRIAN CONCERN OVER REACTOR

Deputy Prime Minister Sergej Kozlik on 21 May said it is "impossible to consider" in a gesture of goodwill Austrian demands to postpone starting operations at the Mochovce nuclear plant, "especially when no adequate reasons are offered," Reuters reported.The next day, 25 protestors from Austrian environmental and anti-nuclear groups occupied a room in the Slovak Embassy in Vienna, while others chained themselves to the compound's gate. MS

FIDESZ LEADER DENIES 'GRAND COALITION' PLANS

Viktor Orban, head of the main opposition Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP), on 21 May excluded the possibility of a "grand coalition" of his party with the Socialists. Cooperation with Socialists and their coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), would run counter to the meaning of democracy, as a democratic system implies the existence of an alternative, he said. SZDSZ chairman Gabor Kuncze said that if voters choose to unseat the present government, they face uncertainty, since FIDESZ-MPP has not named its potential coalition partners. On 22 May, Independent Smallholders' Party chairman Jozsef Torgyan announced he is withdrawing 82 candidates in favor of FIDESZ. MSZ




ORTHODOX CHURCH SLAMS MILOSEVIC

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic turned down an invitation from Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle to meet with him and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in Belgrade on 21 May. After Pavle held talks with Djukanovic and Montenegrin parliamentary speaker Svetozar Marovic, a Church spokesman said Milosevic has been arbitrary in his policy toward Montenegro and wants to destroy the federal Yugoslav state (see "End Note" below). Montenegrin Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Artemije from Kosova charged Milosevic with "consciously or unconsciously helping those who want to destroy the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Artemije, who favors reconciliation with the Kosovars, added that Milosevic "has suicidal tendencies, to which he has subordinated the fate of the Serbian people." Both of Milosevic's parents committed suicide. The Church has long mistrusted Milosevic because of his communist background. PM

U.S. WARNS MILOSEVIC OVER MONTENEGRO

A State Department spokesman said in Washington on 21 May that Milosevic's ouster of Prime Minister Radoje Kontic three days earlier was "of dubious legality" and was "intended to influence the 31 May parliamentary elections. Such blatant political maneuvering by the political leadership in Belgrade by Mr. Milosevic to maintain power diminishes public confidence in democratic processes. [Milosevic's actions threaten] instability not only in Montenegro but also in the rest of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." The spokesman stressed the Montenegrin vote must be free and fair and that all parties must respect its outcome. He added: "We have made it clear to Belgrade that its handling of Montenegro will affect its relations with the international community.... We regard this blatant political maneuvering as only undermining international confidence in President Milosevic's leadership." PM

SERBIAN MIG CRASHES IN KOSOVA

Serbian military spokesmen said in Prishtina on 21 May that a MiG 21 crashed just east of that city due to a technical failure. The pilot ejected and landed safely. There was no independent confirmation on the nature of the crash. The Kosova Liberation Army has often claimed that it has Strela and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. And to the west of Prishtina, Reuters reported that a Russian-built Hind M-24 attack helicopter "hovered" over the Prishtina-Peja road, which has been the scene of fighting for at least two weeks. Journalists noted that half of the helicopter's rocket launching pads were empty but did not see it fire its missiles. PM

BELGRADE CLOSES LAST BORDER CROSSING WITH ALBANIA

Federal Yugoslav authorities on 21 May closed the border crossing on the road connecting Kukes and Prizren. It was the last open checkpoint on the border between Albania and Yugoslavia. On 11 May, the Yugoslav authorities closed the checkpoints between Montenegro and Albania. The remote city of Kukes is largely dependent on imports from Kosova and Serbia. About 1,000 inhabitants of Kukes earn their living in cross-border trade, mostly involving basic food stuffs, "Koha Jone" reported. The daily added that residents of Kukes have begun storing food supplies. In Prizren, shops are empty and gasoline stations closed owing to Serbia's blockade of Kosova that began earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1998). FS

MUSLIM PARTY TO JOIN DJUKANOVIC COALITION

A spokesman for the Montenegrin branch of the Bosnian Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said in Sarajevo on 21 May that the SDA will join Djukanovic's party and two- other reformist parties in a coalition following the 31 May elections. The SDA will field 35 candidates on a list headed by Sefer Medjedovic, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

NON-SERBIAN PARTIES BOYCOTT BANJA LUKA PARLIAMENT

Legislators from the SDA and the Social Democratic Party walked out of the Republika Srpska parliament in Banja Luka on 21 May. They say they will not return until the legislature changes the constitution to allow non-Serbian parties to elect their own deputy speaker of parliament. In Sarajevo, spokesmen for the international community's Carlos Westendorp launched an open competition for a joint Bosnian national anthem. The spokesmen added that Westendorp will select the winner if the three ethnic groups cannot reach agreement among themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1998). And in New York, the UN Security Council agreed to add 30 more police to the existing contingent of 2,045 international police in Bosnia-Herzegovina. PM

AIR LINKS BETWEEN BOSNIA, YUGOSLAVIA RESTORED

An Air Bosnia aircraft flew from Sarajevo to Belgrade on 21 May, the first civilian airplane to fly a scheduled flight between the two capitals in six years. Air Bosnia, Montenegrin Airlines, and Serbia's JAT will fly several flights weekly to link Sarajevo and Banja Luka with Belgrade and Podgorica. PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER DEFENDS BANKS

Zlatko Matesa told the parliament on 21 May that the overall situation of the banking sector is "stable." He added that the government and the National Bank are working on a solution to the liquidity problems that some banks are facing. Newly appointed Defense Minister Andrija Hebrang told the legislature that his main task is to transform the army from being a wartime to a peacetime institution. Hebrang said he intends to complete the restructuring "within the next few months," "Novi List" wrote. PM

SLOVENIAN PRIME MINISTER SURVIVES CONFIDENCE VOTE

Janez Drnovsek won a vote of confidence in the parliament on 21 May. Opposition leader Janez Jansa recently demanded the vote after charging that Drnovsek knew about a 1995 secret security agreement with Israel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1998). PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT AGREES TO CHANGE ELECTORAL LAW

Rexhep Meidani on 21 May announced a change in the local electoral law following negotiations with opposition leader Sali Berisha, which Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Ambassador Daan Everts mediated. The Central Election Commission will henceforth make its decisions by a two-thirds, rather than simple, majority, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Berisha, for his part, agreed that his Democratic Party will field candidates in the local elections slated for 21 June, which he previously threatened to boycott (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1998). In other news, unidentified attackers ambushed and killed two policemen near Burrel. The officers were investigating organized crime in the area. FS

NEW POLITICAL ALLIANCE FORMED IN ROMANIA

The Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR) and the Alliance for Romania Party (APR) on 21 May signed an accord to cooperate in the parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The two formations' deputy chairmen, Emil Putin and Mircea Cosea, said the accord may eventually result in the "setting up of a Social Democratic pole." They added that the alliance is open to other Social Democratic formations. PSDR chairman Sergiu Cunescu said the accord "does not affect" his party's relations with the Democratic Party, with which the PSDR ran in the 1996 elections on a joint Social Democratic Union list. But Democratic Party leader Petre Roman said he "fails to comprehend" the sense of an agreement between a party that is a member of the ruling coalition (the PSDR) and one belonging to the opposition (the APR). MS

EU WELCOMES ROMANIAN INTENTION TO DECRIMINALIZE HOMOSEXUALITY

The EU on 21 May said it welcomes the Romanian government's "proposed amendments to the Penal Code relating to homosexuality." Last week, the government submitted to the parliament several amendments to existing legislation, and in a 20 May interview with Reuters, Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica said he hopes the amendments will be passed in the current session. Stoica also said the proposed amendments do away with libel suits under which journalists have been convicted and for which the Council of Europe has criticized Romania. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CIUBUC'S CABINET

After lengthy negotiations between Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and the parties belonging to the Alliance for Democracy and Reform, the parliament on 21 May approved the new cabinet, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The vote was 59 to 36. Ciubuc has four deputy prime ministers: Ion Sturza of For a Prosperous and Democratic Moldova Bloc (PMPD), Valentin Dolganiuc and Nicolae Andronic of the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM), and Oleg Stratulat of the Party of Democratic Forces. Nicolae Cernomaz (PMPD) remains as minister of state but Ciubuc was forced to agree to remove Interior Minister Mihai Plamadeala, who is now replaced by Victor Catan (CDM). Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru, National Security Minister Tudor Botnaru and Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat kept their portfolios. Roughly one-third of the new government's members served in Ciubuc's previous cabinet. MS

KOSTOV LISTS PRIORITIES

Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told RFE/RL on 21 May that his government's priorities remain administrative reform and privatization. He said he had underestimated the complexity of administrative reform because of the extent of corruption and crime. Bulgaria's "immune system" must be strengthened to deal with those "diseases," he commented. Kostov said that privatization has slowed down because the government is seeking the expertise of foreign investment banks and financial consultants in order to "privatize the privatization process." This is necessary, he added, because administration personnel are "corrupt, secretive and reluctant to give up [their] power over the economy." MS




BRINKMANSHIP IN BELGRADE


by Patrick Moore

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is on a collision course with the reformist leadership of Montenegro under President Milo Djukanovic. Milosevic's immediate goal may be to influence Montenegrin voters in the runup to the 31 May parliamentary elections, but the outcome of his actions may have longer-term repercussions.

The current political crisis began on 18 May, when federal parliamentary deputies unseated Milosevic's prime minister, Radoje Kontic. The following day, Milosevic nominated as prime minister his ally Momir Bulatovic, who is also Montenegro's former president and the political arch-enemy of Djukanovic. The legislature quickly approved Milosevic's choice on 20 May.

Kontic's grave mistake in Milosevic's eyes was his failure to help Bulatovic stay in office in Podgorica after his term expired in January. At that time Bulatovic stirred up violence and hoped to prompt Belgrade to declare a state of emergency and prevent Djukanovic's inauguration, but Kontic refused to intervene. In the end, the Montenegrin police kept Bulatovic's rowdies under control and Djukanovic took office on schedule.

Djukanovic has mounted the strongest challenge to Milosevic from within Serbia or Montenegro since the former Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991-1992. Throughout last year, then Prime Minister Djukanovic argued that Milosevic's policies were keeping Yugoslavia isolated internationally and consequently preventing the economic revival of Montenegro, which traditionally depends on tourism and shipping to earn foreign exchange. As president in 1998, Djukanovic visited Washington and other Western capitals, where he received a sympathetic hearing and offers of political and economic support in his efforts to return his country to membership in the international community.

After Milosevic launched his campaign of repression in Kosova at the end of February, Djukanovic disassociated himself from the use of violence and called for internationally mediated talks leading to autonomy for Kosova. Speaking to French journalists on 13 April in Podgorica, Djukanovic charged that "Milosevic is tragically behind the times in his assessments and is always embarking on new political failures." The Montenegrin leader dubbed Milosevic's 23 April referendum against foreign mediation in Kosova "the collective suicide...he proposes for the Serbian people." Djukanovic urged the international community to back his "efforts to form a block of reformist forces [in Yugoslavia] capable of barring the way to the damaging policies that Milosevic personifies."

The spring of 1998 thus found Milosevic confronting two crises that were largely of his own making. The first was in Kosova, where his repressive policies had radicalized much of the mainly ethnic Albanian population and driven them into the arms of the shadowy Kosova Liberation Army. His policies in Kosova also threatened to trigger the reimposition of the political isolation and economic sanctions that the international community had placed on Yugoslavia during the Croatian and Bosnian wars of 1991-1995.

The second crisis was with Montenegro, whose leadership insisted upon full equality with Serbia within the federation and resented Milosevic's attempts to increase his own powers at the expense of the republics. Djukanovic, moreover, was clear about his own policy goals and had won the support of a slight majority of the voters the previous October.

Moreover, he made it clear on 19 May that he would not allow Milosevic to provoke "Montenegro into giving up the idea of joint statehood [with Serbia] by engaging in irresponsible, uncontrolled, and unpredictable moves on the federal level," such as sacking Kontic and replacing him with Bulatovic.

With regard to his relations with Podgorica, Milosevic may have sought to bring matters to a head in the runup to parliamentary elections in Montenegro at the end of May. He may have reasoned that a bit of pressure from Belgrade might cost Djukanovic's supporters votes and bolster the chances of Bulatovic's backers. The Yugoslav president may also have felt that he needs to bring Montenegro into line as he prepares for what may prove a longer confrontation with both the ethnic Albanians and the international community over Kosova.

But that strategy could backfire on the Yugoslav president. He is himself of Montenegrin origin and has presumably made his calculations carefully; but a head-on confrontation with Djukanovic is potentially fraught with danger for Milosevic, and its outcome is not easy to predict. In Montenegrin politics, the fault lines traditionally involve relationships between clans and tensions between supporters of unity with Serbia and those who favor emphasizing a separate Montenegrin identity. But even among those who back close ties with Belgrade, there are few who would submit Montenegro to centralized rule from the capital. Djukanovic, for his part, has made it clear that he and his government will recognize neither the sacking of Kontic, the election of Bulatovic, nor the appointment of Bulatovic's government.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife in Belgrade and Podgorica as to whether Milosevic will now begin to purge other prominent officials who have defended the autonomy of their respective institutions and have not done his bidding. One such individual is General Momcilo Perisic, the chief of the General Staff, who kept the army out of the Milosevic-Djukanovic feud and has been less than enthusiastic about waging a war in Kosova. Whatever may happen in the coming days, Belgrade is clearly faced with its worst constitutional crisis since the breakup in 1991- 1992 of the Yugoslavia created by Marshal Josip Broz Tito.


XS
SM
MD
LG