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Newsline - June 10, 1998




FEDOROV TO PURGE TAX OFFICE

The director of the Federal Tax Service, Boris Fedorov, announced on 9 June that he will "purge" his office of senior officials suspected of corruption, Interfax reported. Fedorov also spoke of the need to improve coordination between the tax police and tax inspectorate and repeated the call for the creation of a new "ministry of revenues," which would unite several bodies now working independently. In a country of 150 million people, only 3.2 million tax declarations were submitted last year, Fedorov said. He added that his first targets will be rich Russians and foreigners. AW

MORE DETAILS EMERGE ON ARREST OF YURKOV

Fedorov's announcement followed the detention of Yurii Yurkov, the director of Russia's State Statistics Committee, on suspicion of distorting information about major companies to help them avoid paying taxes. The Prosecutor-General's Office later the same day announced that more than 20 people were involved in the scheme, including the head of the agency's data processing center, Boris Saakyan. In a statement, the Prosecutor-General's Office said both Yurkov and Saakyan have pleaded guilty to the charges. More than $1 million was found in Yurkov's apartment, while another $500,000 and a large amount of jewelry were seized from the residences of the others arrested. AW

KIRIENKO LAUDS ARRESTS, BUT RATING AGENCY UNIMPRESSED

Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko said on 9 June that the arrests highlight government efforts to battle economic crimes, ITAR-TASS reported. "I do not think that today's arrest of Yurii Yurkov is a misfortune," Kirienko said, adding that the arrests were a combined effort of the Russian security service and the Prosecutor- General's Office. But the international rating agency Standard and Poor's seemed unimpressed. Citing tax problems among the reasons, the agency on 9 June cut Russia's long-term foreign-currency rating to B+ from BB-. Standards and Poor's said, however, that the long-term outlook is stable. And it praised Russia's commitment to low inflation, running at an annual rate of 12 percent. AW

TAX SERVICE PRESSED TO INCREASE COLLECTION

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced on 9 June that the government has instructed the Federal Tax Service to boost collections by 40 percent in June, ITAR-TASS reported. Khristenko said the tax service's work overall is "unsatisfactory" but added that urgent measures implemented at the end of May will greatly improve tax collection. AW

MORE MONEY FLOWS OUT OF COUNTRY

Russian security officials said on 9 June that more than $25 billion has been smuggled out of Russia illegally since the collapse of the Soviet Union in order to dodge paying taxes, Interfax reported. Most of the money has ended up in bank accounts in Switzerland, Cyprus, Britain, and Israel, Interfax said. Investigators said they have leads on $5 billion of the smuggled funds. AW

WAS JOURNALIST'S MURDER POLITICALLY MOTIVATED?

Leading media outlets, human rights organizations, and some politicians are alleging that the murder of Larisa Yudina in the southern republic of Kalmykia, was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1998). The Kalmykian authorities, however, deny that was the case. Yudina was co- chairwoman of the local branch of the pro-reform Yabloko movement and an editor of "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya," the republic's only non-government newspaper. That newspaper frequently published articles critical of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Kalmykia's president and a wealthy businessman . Following harassment by the local authorities, it was forced to print outside Kalmykia. NTV reported that demonstrators took to the streets of Elista, Kalmykia's capital, on 9 June carrying banners that read "Ilyumzhinov--who killed Yudina?" FF

SKURATOV TO HEAD PROBE INTO YUDINA'S SLAYING

Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov has agreed to lead the probe into Yudina's murder. The State Duma backed Yabloko's request that he head the investigation. Meanwhile, Skuratov has responded by ordering a special group of Moscow investigators and prosecutors to Kalmykia and personally taking charge of the case, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 9 June. AW

MEDIA MOST OFFICIAL TO HEAD GAZPROM MEDIA

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev has said that Media Most president Sergei Zverev will become his deputy, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 9 June. Vyakhirev said Zverev will head Gazprom Media, which is in charge of structuring and developing Gazprom's numerous media assets. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that Viktor Ilyushin, who until now headed Gazprom Media, will become head of Gazprom's public relations and regional relations department. Vyakhirev said Zverev was appointed as part of a "reorganization" of Gazprom's media holding. Gazprom owns a 30 percent share in NTV, Media Most's main electronic media asset. Russian media said on 10 June that Zverev will head the group of consultants advising former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in his bid to become a member of the Duma before running in the 2000 presidential election. FF

RUSSIA DENIES S-300s ALREADY DEPLOYED ON CYPRUS

Russian, Turkish, and Turkish Cypriot spokesmen have all denied a Russian newspaper report that Russia has already sent S-300 air defense missiles to Greek Cyprus, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 10 June. Yevgenii Ananev, head of the Russian arms export monopoly Rosvooruzhenie, has repeatedly said that the missiles will be sent on schedule to Cyprus, in August. But "Segodnya" reported on 9 June that the missiles have already been shipped to the island. A Rosvooruzhenie spokesman said the "Segodnya" report is "thoroughly baseless." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said Russia "is a reliable commercial partner" and will fulfill its obligation to supply the S-300s on schedule, Reuters reported. LF

DUMA POSTPONES START-2 HEARINGS UNTIL FALL

The Duma voted by 235 to 39 on 10 June to postpone hearings on the START-2 nuclear arms reduction treaty from June 16 until the fall, ITAR-TASS reported. Communist Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev has warned that the hearings will be further delayed if U.S. President Bill Clinton continues to pressure Russia to ratify the treaty. Clinton has said he would prefer to visit Moscow for a proposed summit with Yeltsin after START-2 has been ratified. Retired General Albert Makashov, a communist deputy who backed ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky's proposal to put off the hearings, said the Kremlin wants Duma deputies to convince their colleagues to ratify the treaty. But Makashov added that "it's Clinton who needs [the treaty ratified]." AW

RUSSIA CONTINUES CUTS IN TRADE MISSIONS

Russia announced on 9 June that it will continue reducing its overseas trade missions by consolidating offices in South Africa, Mozambique and Nigeria, ITAR-TASS reported. In 40 countries, Russian trade missions, often separate entities with their own support staff and facilities, have already seen their operations cut as part of the government's efforts to reduce spending. AW

RUSSIAN PATRIARCH NOT TO ATTEND TSAR'S REBURIAL

After a meeting of the Holy Synod on 9 June, it was announced that the Patriarch of All Russia and Moscow Aleksei II will not attend the ceremony to bury the remains of Nicholas II and his family on 17 July in St. Petersburg, Interfax reported. Metropolitan Yuvenalii said the Church still has doubts whether the bones are genuine. A government commission said in January it is satisfied that exhaustive tests conducted in Russia and abroad proved the bones found in Yekaterinburg in 1991 were those of Nicholas II and his family. The commission also agreed to hold a funeral in the former imperial capital exactly 80 years after the family was murdered. Metropolitan Yuvenalii also repeated calls for a symbolic memorial grave to be set up as a place of repentance for the sins of the communist era and of prayer for its victims. AW

SIBERIAN TEACHERS TAKE OFFICIAL HOSTAGE TO DEMAND BACK PAY

ITAR-TASS reported on 9 June that teachers in Siberia's Maiminsk region are holding a local administration chief in his office to demand months of unpaid wages. It said the teachers, who have barricaded the office for two days, will not free the official until their wages are paid. AW

NO PROGRESS IN NORTH OSSETIAN HOSTAGE CRISIS

The five Ingush bus passengers abducted in the North Ossetian village of Zilgi and another six Ossetians kidnapped the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1998) have not yet been released, despite an agreement between the premiers of the two republics that the groups will be exchanged, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokov has proposed a meeting with his Ingush counterpart, Ruslan Aushev. Aushev, who has enjoyed good working relations with Dzasokhov since the latter's election as president in January, accused the North Ossetian leadership of being unable to control the situation in North Ossetia. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko, Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Kovalev, and other leading law enforcement officials arrived in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, on 10 June, ITAR-TASS reported. LF




KARABAKH PARLIAMENT REBUFFS PRESIDENT

The parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic voted overwhelmingly on 9 June not to allow President Arkadii Ghukasian to assume the duties of prime minister, arguing that this would "disrupt the balance" among the three branches of power, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Murad Petrosian, chairman of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, argued that Ghukasian's performance record since taking office last September has been unimpressive and that therefore it makes no sense to place any further "burden" upon him. Petrosian also criticized "political games" by the Armenian leadership "aimed at excluding any influence by Nagorno- Karabakh on Armenian foreign policy." LF

ARMENIAN REVOLUTIONARY FEDERATION ISSUES ULTIMATUM

Following the 9 June parliamentary session in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation's Karabakh organization issued a statement criticizing the enclave's leadership for deviating from the path of democracy and national unity, RFE/RL reported. The statement called on Ghukasian to take immediate measures to safeguard Karabakh's "victories." Those measures included pre-term parliamentary elections, elections to local government bodies, a major government reshuffle, an active policy of economic development, and the resettlement of the occupied territories adjacent to Karabakh. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION TO DEMAND PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION

Akaki Asatiani, parliamentary speaker under Zviad Gamsakhurdia and leader of the opposition Union of Georgian Traditionalists, has said his party will begin collecting signatures to demand the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported on 10 June. Several other opposition parties have called for Shevardnadze's resignation following the expulsion of some 30,000--40,000 ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia last month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 15, 9 June 1998). Asatiani told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in March that he will contend the 2000 presidential poll rather than allow the country to become "a battlefield between two former Georgian Communist Party first secretaries," meaning Shevardnadze and his successor, Djumber Patiashvili. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION LAW

The parliament has passed the law on the presidential elections in the third and final reading, Turan and Reuters reported on 9 June. The legislature will set the date of the poll, due in October, only after its summer recess, to the annoyance of international observers. Although numerous amendments have been made to the original draft on the recommendation of the OSCE, opposition politicians still object that it is undemocratic, pointing to the provision for deploying police and security officials at polling stations. Azerbaijan Popular Front deputy chairman Ali Kerimov, Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar, Democratic Party chairman Ilyas Ismailov, and Liberal Party chairwoman Lala-Shovket Gadjieva have all declared their intention to boycott the elections. A leading member of the Movement for Democratic Reforms and Democratic Elections told Turan that the movement will stage demonstrations to protest the law. LF

EVACUATION OF BARSKOON AREA COMPLETED

Kyrgyz Minister of Health Care Naken Kasiev told a press conference in Bishkek on 9 June that the evacuation of the Barskoon area, on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, has been completed, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The evacuation follows the spill last month of sodium cyanide into a local river when a truck belonging to the Kumtor gold mining operation overturned. Kasiev said the authorities have temporarily relocated 4,800 people to the northern shore of the lake. and that 5,349 people from the affected area have sought medical help. Two experts from the World Health Organization said at the same press conference that the level of sodium cyanide in the water and ground is now at acceptable levels and pose no danger to the population. BP

NAZARBAYEV GIVES INTERNET INTERVIEW

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev appeared on nationwide television on 8 June to answer questions put to him via the Internet. He said that $188 million has been spent on government buildings in the new capital, Astana, and that part of that sum was contributed by foreign firms. Some $250 million has been spent on other structures. Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan has a free press and that journalists who feel that their rights have been violated can take their case to court. The president praised the work of Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev's government, noting that Kazakhstan now ranks among the leaders in the CIS in terms of per capita foreign investment ($500) and average monthly wages ($120). The economy, he added, shows signs of improvement, despite declining world prices for oil and metals (which are among Kazakhstan's leading exports). BP

TURKIC SUMMIT IN ASTANA

The fifth Turkic summit took place in the new Kazakh capital, Astana, on 9 June, ITAR-TASS reported. The leaders reaffirmed their commitments to cooperating in the fields of economics, culture, and science. They also released a statement calling on India and Pakistan to halt nuclear testing and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. BP

KARIMOV ON TURKIC UNITY, "EXTREMISTS"

Before departing for Astana, Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 8 June said that past summits have shown "unhealthy rivalry and competition." He argued that there should be limits to Turkic unity, pointing to the example of to the Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang Province: "Uyghurs...want Turkic-speaking states to help them. If we support them, our relations with the great China might be destroyed tomorrow." At a press conference following the summit , Karimov spoke out against religious extremism, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Karimov said the idea that an ideological vacuum has been created in Central Asia following the break up of the Soviet Union is "a myth." He also said the fight against Wahhabism should not be regarded as a fight against Islam in general. "Islam is the religion of 70-80 percent of Uzbekistan's population...[and is] sacred to us." BP

KAZAKH DEMONSTRATORS ARRESTED

A protest march to the new capital, Astana, by about 200 residents of the southern city of Kentau was halted by police and National Security forces on 8 June, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The group was protesting wage and pension arrears. Most of the protesters were requested to return home. However, 29 were arrested, of whom 14 are to remain in detention for up to two weeks. BP




MINSK'S EVICTION ORDER PROVOKES INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS

Following the U.S refusal to relocate its ambassador from his residence at Drazdy, near Minsk, while repairs are carried out to the compound (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1998), other countries are opposing Minsk's eviction order. "These measures are unacceptable and unbearable," Reuters quoted a French Foreign Ministry spokeswomen as saying. France threatened to recall its ambassador for consultations if Minsk carries through its plan to expel diplomats from the compound. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said the Belarusian authorities are "outrageously violating international law," ITAR-TASS reported. Russia also expressed concern over the dispute, saying on 9 June that the decision should have been "taken in accordance with international law," Reuters reported. JM

BELARUS SAYS PROTESTS ARE POLITICALLY MOTIVATED

In a statement issued on 8 June, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry apologized for any "inconvenience" connected with the relocation of ambassadors to other lodgings. The statement added that the repairs are necessary because of the sharp deterioration of the technical and sanitary conditions of the buildings and utility systems. Speaking on national television the next day, Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich said the Drazdy compound may wind up "floating in its own sewage" unless the ambassadors vacate their apartments. Antanovich added that foreign countries are overreacting . "There is a tendency to give political coloring to this [incident] on the part of those who are ready to view all events in Belarus only from a political perspective," he said. JM

LUKASHENKA GIVES AMBASSADORS ANOTHER WEEK TO MOVE

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 10 June issued a statement saying the relocation deadline has been extended for a week to all 22 ambassadors after the "personal intervention" of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Reuters reported. The previous day, Minsk notified the U.S. about that decision. Washington says, however, that its ambassador will not be moving under any circumstances, Reuters reported on 9 June. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin stressed that the eviction order is a "fundamental violation" of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations and is without precedence since the end of the Cold War. "We have tried hard to maintain a working relationship with Belarus.... But now the government has made that task even more difficult by this unnecessary, foolish, and illegal provocation," he commented. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN FAILS TO ELECT SPEAKER

The legislature's sixth attempt to elect its speaker has been declared invalid owing to the lack of a two-thirds quorum, Ukrainian Television reported on 9 June. Socialists/Peasants candidate Oleksandr Moroz received 177 votes, while Hromada candidate Oleksandr Pukhkal mustered only 30. As on previous occasions, the Popular Democratic Party, the Popular Rukh, the United Social Democrats, and the Greens refused to participate in the vote. They are demanding a "package vote" on a centrist speaker and two deputy speakers representing the left- and right-wing parliamentary groups. Some Ukrainian newspapers have dubbed the continued deadlock in the Supreme Council a "farce" that is preventing deputies from addressing the country's acute socio- economic problems. JM

EU LUKEWARM TOWARD UKRAINE'S BID FOR ASSOCIATE MEMBERSHIP

At the first session of the Ukraine-EU Cooperation Council in Luxembourg on 9 June, Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko requested that Ukraine be granted associated membership in order to pave the way for a full-fledged membership in the future, Ukrainian Television reported. But according to Reuters, the EU reacted unenthusiastically to Ukraine's association bid, saying it is "premature" to look further than the current accord on Ukrainian-EU cooperation and partnership, which took effect on 1 March. "I'm sure that in the medium term Ukraine will arrive at that point which in our view, at the present time, it has not arrived at yet," Reuters quoted EU Commissioner for Foreign Relations Hans van den Broek as saying. JM

ETHNIC RUSSIAN ACTIVISTS CHARGED IN ESTONIA

Yurii Mishin, the head of the Russian Citizens Union of Estonia, has been charged with organizing protest rallies without obtaining permission from the authorities, BNS reported on 9 June. The charges are linked to demonstrations last fall that began protesting the high cost of living and concluded by denouncing the Estonian government. Last week, similar charges were filed against two elderly ethnic Russian women. Estonian police have said they realize legal proceedings against the three could be "politically sensitive." But they add that charges have to be brought after investigators concluded laws were violated. JC

EU WELCOMES LATVIAN LAWMAKER'S APPROVAL OF CITIZENSHIP LAW CHANGES

The EU on 9 June issued a statement welcoming the Latvian parliament's decision on 4 June to approve in the second reading amendments to the citizenship law proposed by the Latvian government. The statement, which was made by the current holder of the EU presidency, Britain, on behalf of the union, added that reform of the citizenship law is a "key criterion" for Latvia to begin EU entry talks. JC

POLAND'S COALITION SEEKS SUPPORT FOR 15 PROVINCES

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek met with President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 9 June to seek Kwasniewski's support for 15 provinces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 June 1998), "Rzeczpospolita" reported. Both Buzek and Kwasniewski declined to comment after the meeting, but Kwasniewski's lawyer said the president will veto the bill unless it provides for 17 provinces. Later the same day, Buzek and Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski tried to persuade Solidarity Electoral Action senators to introduce an amendment to the administrative reform bill that would increase the number of provinces from 12 to 15. The ruling coalition has 59 senators in the 100-seat upper house but is afraid some of them may not endorse the amendment. JM

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS STILL AHEAD IN CZECH OPINION POLLS

A public opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research shows the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) still ahead less than two weeks before the elections. The CSSD received 22.5 percent backing, followed by Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (15 percent), Pensioners for Secure Life (9 percent), the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (7.5) percent, and the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats (7 percent each). The far-right Republican Party gained only 4 percent support, which would mean it would fail to pass the 5 percent threshold for entry to the parliament, CTK reported. MS

HAVEL WANTS CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION INTO CSSD TO CONTINUE

Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek on 8 June told journalists that President Vaclav Havel will ask the counterintelligence service to continue its investigation into the so-called "Bamberg affair," CTK reported. After studying a preliminary report, Havel said he believes the case could be one of "provocation by forces that aim at destabilizing the country," Spacek said. The investigation focuses on allegations that CSSD leaders met with a Czech-born entrepreneur in Switzerland three years ago and promised him a top economic and state position in exchange for preferential loans to finance the CSSD's 1996 election campaign. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT CANCELS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ROUND

The parliament on 9 June canceled a new round of presidential elections after the only candidate, the independent Vladimir Abraham, withdrew from the race, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Parliamentary chairman Ivan Gasparovic said another round will be held on 11 July. MS




CALLS FOR INTERVENTION IN KOSOVA INCREASE...

U.S. President Bill Clinton said on 8 June that he is determined to prevent "a repeat of the human carnage...and ethnic cleansing" that took place in Bosnia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Clinton said he has authorized "accelerated NATO planning" to deal with the Kosova crisis. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said NATO feels "an increased sense of urgency" to deal with the conflict. "The Guardian" reported on 9 June that NATO planners in Brussels are considering the use of air strikes to force Serbia to halt its offensive in Kosova. Dutch Defense Minister Joris Voorhoeve called for rapid NATO intervention. But his German counterpart, Volker Ruehe, was quoted by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" as saying military action should be a last resort. NATO defense ministers will meet in Brussels on 11 June to discuss options for dealing with Kosova. A spokeswoman for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for "vigorous action" to stop the violence. PB

...WHILE RUSSIA, CHINA OPPOSE FOREIGN ACTION

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his defense minister, Igor Sergeev, said in Bonn on 9 June that they oppose any NATO involvement in Kosova, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. Yeltsin said at the end of a two-day visit to Germany that foreign intervention could cause the conflict to spread to neighboring countries. He suggested that he would meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to help resolve the crisis. Yeltsin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said such a meeting is "quite possible." In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it also opposes foreign intervention in Kosova. Both Russia and China could veto a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Kosova. PB

OFFENSIVE NEAR ALBANIAN BORDER INTENSIFIES

Serbian forces on 9 June continued to spray areas of western Kosova with heavy mortar and artillery fire, Reuters reported. UN and Western officials reported that several villages along the Albanian border between the Kosovar villages of Djakovica and Decan were under attack. The pro-Albanian Kosova Information Center said armed ethnic Albanians are putting up "strong resistance" to the attacks. The upsurge in fighting caused the flow of refugees, which had stabilized in recent days, to increase, a UNHCR official said, adding that some 65,000 people have been displaced because of the fighting over the past 10 days. "Koha Jone" reported that only 8,500 out of an estimated 15,000 refugees in Albania have registered with the UNHCR as of 9 June. The daily added that most of the unregistered refugees are leaving the northern mountainous areas for the central and southern Albanian plains and larger cities, where many of them have relatives. PB/FS

YUGOSLAV DEFENSE COUNCIL MEETS IN BELGRADE

Yugoslavia's Supreme Defense Council, chaired by President Milosevic, convened in Belgrade on 9 June to discuss the situation in Kosova, Tanjug reported. The council announced that the army and police are in complete control of the border and have successfully taken "measures that guarantee the safety of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." It was the first meeting of the council since the Kosova crisis erupted in February. The council included Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, Yugoslav Premier Momir Bulatovic, and Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic. In a separate statement, Yugoslav officials denounced the new economic sanctions leveled against the country, calling them "strange and unreasonable." PB

BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS ISSUE STATEMENT ON KOSOVA

Meeting in Istanbul, the foreign ministers of six Balkan countries issued a statement calling for the "immediate cessation of excessive use of force," the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 10 June. The ministers-- from Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey--decided to issue a separate statement after Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic refused to allow any mention of Kosova in the conference's final declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1998). Greek Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos, however, said he does not think the recent economic sanctions imposed on Serbia are the best means of resolving the crisis. He added that third countries suffer greatly when sanctions are imposed. PB

COURT FINDS CROATIAN JOURNALIST INNOCENT

Davor Butkovic, the former editor of the Croatian weekly "Globus," on 8 June was found innocent of charges that he slandered an alleged criminal. Mladen Naletilic, currently under arrest, accused Butkovic of slander for writing that he was "a most notorious warlord." The judge ruled that Naletilic created that image for himself during the Bosnian war. In other news, the eastern Croatian town of Darda was awarded $14 million from the U.S. to rebuild homes and improve its infrastructure. The town was chosen for the aid because it has successfully promoted reconciliation between Croats and Serbs and has a multi-ethnic local administration. PB

COUNCIL SAYS BOSNIAN PEACE PROCESS MUST ACCELERATE

The Peace Implementation Council, charged with overseeing adherence to the Dayton peace accords, has bemoaned the slow pace of change in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Reuters reported on 9 June. The council, which was meeting in Luxembourg, is composed of delegates from more than 60 countries and international institutions. In a statement, it said that top priorities for Bosnia in 1998 are an accelerated return of refugees, police and judicial reform, economic integration, and fair parliamentary elections in September. The council reaffirmed the right of its high representative, Carlos Westendorp, to decree certain reforms In Bosnia- Herzegovina. PB

LEADING ALBANIAN BUSINESSMAN KIDNAPPED

Four unidentified gunmen kidnapped Koco Dado, the head of Albania's Association of Businessmen, in Tirana on 8 June, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 10 June. Tirana deputy police chief Ilir Cano told the daily on 9 June that the kidnappers have not yet demanded a ransom. He added that the kidnapping may be linked to Dado's recent appearances on television as part of an initiative to collect aid worth some $90,000 for Kosova refugees. FS

PREMIER SAYS FOREIGN SERVICES SEEK TO 'DESTABILIZE ROMANIA'

Radu Vasile told Pro TV on 9 June that "some foreign services are interested in Romania's destabilization." He said these attempts are taking place "at key moments in the country's evolution" and cited the unsubstantiated rumor that a nuclear accident has taken place at the Cernavoda power station. He said the rumor was circulated last month at the time President Emil Constantinescu was visiting Canada and seeking to negotiate the financing of a second reactor at Cernavoda. Vasile said one can expect an "intensification" of the "destabilization attempts" in the fall, when NATO will again discuss the possibility of its further enlargement. MS

HUNGARIAN CHURCH LEADERS DEMAND RETURN OF CONFISCATED CHURCH ASSETS

An ecumenical gathering of representatives of the Hungarian Reformed Church and Hungarian Roman Catholics on 9 June demanded that the authorities stop dragging their feet over the return of Church assets confiscated by the Communists, Mediafax reported. The gathering also backed the demand of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) to set up a separate Hungarian-language university in Cluj. UDMR leaders are meeting with coalition partners on 10 June in an attempt to find a solution to the demand. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has ruled that government regulation No. 22 was unconstitutional. That regulation made possible bilingual signs in localities where minority populations exceeded 20 percent. It was rejected by the Senate because it also allowed former Premier Victor Ciorbea to continue in office as mayor of Bucharest. The Chamber of Deputies has yet to debate the issue. MS

PERSONNEL CHANGES IN MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL STAFF

President Petru Lucinschi on 9 June appointed former Minister of Internal Affairs Mihai Plamadeala to the position of Supreme Security Council secretary, BASA- press reported, citing a press release of the presidential office. Gheorghe Carlan, who until now held that post, has been appointed presidential counselor and head of the negotiating team with the Tiraspol separatists, replacing Anatol Taranu. Taranu's replacement has been repeatedly demanded by the separatists, who claimed he was "uncompromising." MS

MOLDOVAN COALITION'S FUTURE UNCERTAIN

The parliamentary groups of the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM) and the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD) on 9 June warned in a joint statement that the future of the ruling coalition is uncertain. The two groups say that Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov are "mishandling" the negotiations on the appointment of deputy ministers and directors-general of ministries and are refusing to implement an agreement on those appointments that was reached at the time of the coalition's formation. Under that accord, for every two officials representing the CDM and the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMPD), one official should represent the PFD. The two parties accuse Diacov and Ciubuc of attempting to achieve a "privileged status" for the PMDP, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

BULGARIAN, MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONS

Nadezhda Mihailova and her Macedonian counterpart Blagoj Handziski, meeting at a Balkan conference in Istanbul on 8 June, said they are determined to solve bilateral problems, BTA reported. The two ministers also discussed the situation in Kosova and pledged to contribute to solving the conflict. They exchanged draft documents on bilateral relations, which are to be signed during a visit by Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov to Bulgaria at an unspecified date. At a meeting with Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo, the two chief diplomats agreed that Mihailova will pay an official visit to Tirana in November. MS




VERDICT AGAINST UKRAINIAN NEWSPAPER THREATENS PRESS FREEDOM


by Tiffany Carlsen and Katya Gorchinskaya

A Kyiv court last week ordered the opposition daily "Kievskie Vedomosti" to pay libel damages totaling 5 million hryvni (more than $2 million) to an ally of President Leonid Kuchma. If unable to pay, the newspaper will have to close down.

But there has been almost no reaction from the journalistic community. Only a few voices have been heard about the case, which many consider to constitute yet another assault on press freedom by the government.

"There has been no reaction from any sort of journalists' union and that is very surprising," said Volodymyr Mostovy, editor of the weekly "Zerkalo Nedeli." "This is precisely the moment that solidarity between journalists should be manifested through a statement that speaks out against such actions."

Mostovy said that the Starokyivsky District Court's ruling was a "purely political action directed at closing the newspaper" by forcing it into "an unsustainable economic condition."

That echoed the comments made last week by Yevhen Yakhunov, editor of "Kievskie Vedomosti," who also said that the court decision was "a political action."

But these were isolated comments. Last weekend, several journalists were given awards by Kuchma in a ceremony at Mariyinsky Palace marking Press Day. "Freedom of speech helps the development of democracy," the president said, adding that journalism is a "serious weapon" in politics but should be used with "objectivity and independence."

"Kievskie Vedomosti" is standing by its series of reports in which it alleged that Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko bought a luxury $115,000 Mercedes with money from a fund for the families of slain policemen. Kravchenko filed suit last year after the newspaper had first printed the allegation. The daily plans to appeal the ruling.

Four month ago, another Kyiv opposition daily, "Vseukrainskie Vedomosti," was forced to shut down after a court ordered it to pay 3.5 million hryvni in damages to a pro-Kuchma businessman and politician. At that time, however, many journalists openly argued that the government was trying to gag the opposition in the run-up to the March parliamentary elections.

Now, Yakhunov is saying, newspapers have not rushed to the defense of "Kievskie Vedomosti" for purely commercial reasons. "Mass media are separated into different camps," he said. "Even those on friendly terms with us might not support us because we are competitors. However, I want to warn them that the repression has started."

"Kievskie Vedomosti" attorney Viktor Nikazakov sees apathy as the main reason for silence. "Those newspapers that might want to scream about the decision don't do it because they know it won't accomplish anything," he said, adding that "more and more newspapers are working for the president in any case."

Foreign observers say that the case highlights a troubling pattern of opposition newspapers falling afoul of the authorities.

In two recent cases, the newspaper "Polityka" had its bank accounts frozen by a local tax administrator for failure to submit documents in time. The newspaper "Pravda Ukrainy" faced similar close scrutiny from government inspectors.

Tim O'Connor, Kyiv resident adviser of ProMedia, a U.S.-financed non-governmental organization supporting international press reform, says that cases like the "Kievskie Vedomosti" one are "worrisome because they show how one-sided the libel and defamation laws are in Ukraine." He added that loopholes in the Ukrainian press law are partly to blame, since plaintiffs are currently not required to prove any actual damage in court. He also said there is no legal distinction between press scrutiny of a private citizen and public official. "Certainly public officials should be scrutinized closely, no matter what country you're in," he commented.

Irina Polykova, regional office director of the European Institute for the Media, said that Ukraine lacks both courts and lawyers experienced in handling press freedom issues. And she criticized the fact that legislation places no limit on the amount of damages a plaintiff can seek from a media outlet.

"Kievskie Vedomosti" attorney Nikazakov said more public pressure should be put on lawmakers. "The media should press the parliament to change laws so that they defend themselves against high-ranking officials," he said. "The parliament probably would pass this kind of law just to spite the president." The authors are Kyiv-based RFE/RL correspondents.


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