Accessibility links

Newsline - June 23, 1998


President Boris Yeltsin told an expanded cabinet session on 23 June that "radical measures are required to bring order to the economy," NTV and Reuters reported. He argued that "the economic crisis has become so acute that there are social and political dangers," and he called on the parliament to approve the government's "anti-crisis program," which seeks to plug holes in the 1998 budget and restore calm to Russian financial markets. If the plan is not approved before the parliament's summer recess begins in mid-July, Yeltsin vowed to take "other measures" but did not elaborate. Only parts of the anti- crisis plan could be imposed by presidential decree, and it would be difficult for Yeltsin and the government to force the parliament to adopt the rest of the plan. The constitution does not cite the refusal to pass legislation as grounds for dissolving the State Duma. LB


The government on 23 June submitted its "anti-crisis program" for discussion at a cabinet session also attended by numerous parliamentary deputies and some business leaders. The program includes measures announced in recent weeks to cut 1998 federal spending by 42 billion rubles ($6.8 billion), ITAR-TASS reported. The government plans, among other things, to downsize the number of state employees and transfer to regional authorities responsibility for running hundreds of health, education, sports, and cultural facilities. The government also seeks to reduce subsidies for industry, agriculture, and transportation and to include non-budgetary funds such as the Pension Fund in the federal budget. The plan calls for raising revenues by some $20 billion a year, in part by increasing the tax authorities' powers, raising the land tax, and--a familiar government objective--increasing penalties for the illegal production and sale of alcohol. LB


Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko on 22 June announced that the Supplemental Reserve Facility Russia is seeking from the IMF is "not intended for consumption," but only to protect the ruble and boost investor confidence, Russian news agencies reported. Kirienko told journalists that "we are only talking about stabilization resources for the Central Bank. This will boost the reliability of the ruble and allow for tougher defense against any speculative attacks." Unified Energy System chief executive Anatolii Chubais, who is Russia's chief liaison to international financial organizations, has also suggested that Russia may not spend additional aid it receives from the IMF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1998). Meanwhile, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson on 22 June assured those attending the third Central and East European economic forum in Salzburg that the government will not permit a significant devaluation of the ruble, ITAR-TASS reported. LB


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 22 June said media reports on the proposed creation of a council of business leaders to advise the government were "exaggerated," Russian news agencies reported. He hailed the "interest in cooperation and readiness to act together to counter the crisis displayed by both the government and the business community." Yastrzhembskii noted that he sees "nothing extraordinary" in the idea of having business elites advise the government on economic policy, adding that "it is a pity that such a council was not set up before" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 June 1998). LB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has issued a statement denying reports that his party aims to use illegal means to remove the current regime, Interfax reported on 22 June. Zyuganov said the party leadership believes that "Communists and all patriotic forces" in Russia can overcome the crisis by working within "constitutional and legal norms." Interfax on 20 June quoted Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin as saying that the Communist Party may use any means, "including illegal ones," to remove the Yeltsin regime, since criminals "must be fought with whatever means at one's disposal, not those the regime itself has imposed." A Justice Ministry statement called on the Communist Party leadership to disavow Ilyukhin's comments. LB


Grigorii Karasin and Minoru Tamba attended a 22 June meeting in Tokyo of the subcommission working on a Russian-Japanese peace treaty to officially end World War II, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Karasin, the meeting also focused on a "broader treaty" on bilateral cooperation and friendship in the 21st century. Following the meeting, Tamba said his government is awaiting Boris Yeltsin's reply to a proposal made by Japan's Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto at their informal summit in Kawana, Japan, in April. That proposal deals with ownership of the Kuril Islands. However, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin has hinted in Moscow that a solution to that issue is not close at hand. On 22 June, he told a press briefing that he "would not take the liberty" of saying the treaty will be signed when Hashimoto makes an official visit to Russian this fall. BP


An unnamed member of Russia's permanent representation for international organizations and the UN was ordered to leave Switzerland for alleged espionage two weeks ago, dpa reported on 21 June, citing the Swiss newspaper "Sonntagszeitung." Since 1994, the diplomat had been receiving NATO and Slovak security information, including reports related to NATO expansion, from a Slovak UN diplomat in Geneva in exchange for bribes and gifts, the newspaper alleged. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nesterushkin expressed "bewilderment and regret" that the diplomat was expelled without explanation from the Swiss government. As well, he indicated that "initial contacts with Switzerland gave reason to believe that this incident would not be made public," Interfax reported on 22 June. "This will not strengthen Switzerland as one of the major centers of world diplomacy," Nesterushkin told Reuters on 22 June. BT


The State Duma on 19 June passed an amendment to the law on the state border to introduce a border tax, Russian news agencies reported. If the Federation Council approves the amendment and Yeltsin signs it, individuals will be charged 80 percent of the monthly minimum wage, which is currently 83 rubles ($13.4), upon filling out documents when leaving Russia. The tax for trucks and buses will be equal to the minimum wage, while the levy on cars will be double that amount. The government sought to impose a border tax last year, but the Constitutional Court ruled that such a tax may be introduced only through a federal law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1997). The court rejected Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev's claim that the tax violates the right to enter and leave Russia freely. LB


Oneksimbank founder Vladimir Potanin, the head of the Interros holding company, is the wealthiest Russian citizen, according to the latest edition of the U.S. magazine "Forbes." Potanin was ranked 186th out of the world's 200 wealthiest citizens and was the only Russian on that list. The magazine estimated his net worth at $1.6 billion, up from some $700 million last year. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii was the highest-ranked Russian on the "Forbes" list last year, with a net worth of $3 billion, but the magazine now says he is worth $1.1 billion. "Forbes" named Berezovskii and three other Russian citizens on a separate list of those who did not make the top 200: Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev (estimated net worth $1.4 billion), Rosprom-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii ($1.3 billion), and LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov ($1.2 billion). LB


In an open letter to Yeltsin, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has blasted the president for tolerating and sometimes openly supporting "the excesses of regional authorities in a number of Russian Federation subjects," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 June. Yavlinskii cited the "grandiose profanation called a presidential election" in Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 June 1998). He argued that Yeltsin's "inaction serves as confirmation for numerous governors and presidents in our country that everything is permissible and justified." Yavlinskii warned that such an attitude could lead to the country's "feudal disintegration" and is already making Russia "more and more resemble a confederation of principalities." The Yabloko leader asked Yeltsin whether he is ready to assume responsibility for "future political murders," since he condones "illegal 'elections' and arbitrary rule" in the regions. Yabloko is conducting its own investigation into the recent murder of Kalmykian journalist Larisa Yudina. LB


Murtaza Rakhimov began his second term as the president of Bashkortostan on 20 June following a lavish inauguration ceremony in Ufa, ITAR-TASS reported. Yurii Yarov, first deputy head of the presidential administration, attended the inauguration on behalf of the Kremlin and Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev on behalf of the government. Speaking during the ceremony, Sysuev said Rakhimov represents a 21st-century leader. He said that Bashkortostan has developed a stable political and social environment and that the republic's leaders have great authority, having carried out successful economic reforms while devoting attention to social support of the population. LB


Duma deputy Alekansdr Arinin is appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the results of the Bashkir presidential election, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 June. Arinin has already won one court appeal against the Bashkir Electoral Commission's refusal to register him as a candidate. However, the commission ignored the Supreme Court's instruction to include him on the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 1998). Arinin criticized the federal authorities for keeping silent about the legal violations leading up to the Bashkir election. He added that a campaign of civil disobedience is gaining support in the republic and is demanding a new presidential election. Rakhimov faced no genuine challenger on the ballot, but more than 15 percent of voters cast their ballots "against all candidates," including more than a third of voters in the republic's capital, Ufa. LB


"Moskovskie novosti" charged in its 14-21 June edition that high-level federal officials have long protected Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, despite convincing evidence of widespread corruption in his administration. The newspaper noted that shortly after the recent murder of "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya" editor Larisa Yudina, the Federal Security Service transferred Vladimir Timofeev, its director in Kalmykia, to a post in Vladimir Oblast. In an interview with Yudina, Timofeev had spoken of alleged corruption in the republic. According to "Moskovskie novosti," the federal government and presidential administration have taken no action concerning alleged embezzlement of federal funds by Kalmykian authorities. A Kremlin official who once told "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya" that Ilyumzhinov and his circle "live on stolen money" is no longer sent on business trips to the republic, and a Kalmykian prosecutor who once offered to help Yudina was transferred to Moscow. LB


The parliament of Ingushetia has appealed to the president, government, and Russian Security Council to impose a state of emergency in Prigorodnyi Raion, in neighboring North Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 22 June. The appeal said that only a state of emergency can prevent further acts of terrorism and kidnapping and facilitate the return to their homes of ethnic Ingush families forced to flee the raion during the November 1992 fighting. Russian President Yeltsin rejected an appeal by his Ingush counterpart, Ruslan Aushev, to impose presidential rule on the district during a wave of violence last summer (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997). LF


Elections took place in North Ossetia on 22 June for the Duma seat vacated by Aleksandr Dzasokhov following his election as the republic's president in January, Russian media reported. Independent candidate Hazbi Bogov, head of the "Ossetia" intensive economic development scheme, polled 39 percent of the vote, defeating 13 other candidates. Bogov advocates tougher measures against crime and increased economic cooperation between North Ossetia and other Russian regions, according to ITAR-TASS. LF


Magomed Tolboev on 22 June announced he will step down as head of Dagestan's Security Council following the election later this month of a new State Council chairman, "Kommersant- Daily" reported. Tolboev said he is no longer able to control the situation in Dagestan, which he described in a 2 June interview with "Trud" as a struggle for power between criminal clans. A former cosmonaut, Tolboev is notorious for his ability to negotiate the release of North Caucasus kidnapping victims. Also on 22 June, one Russian OMON police officer was killed and another 10 injured when the van in which they were traveling exploded in Dagestan's Kizlyar Raion, according to Interfax. LF


Vladimir Yakovlev, president and co-founder of the Kommersant publishing house, says he and two business partners have decided to sell a major stake in the publishing house, which owns "Kommersant-Daily" and several weekly publications. In an interview published in the daily on 23 June, Yakovlev said they plan to protect the independence of the publications by selling to 10-15 investors "who share our views." He said no one person will be able to acquire a controlling stake and promised that the buyers' names will be made public. (The sources of the publisher's current financing are a matter of widespread speculation among Moscow journalists.) Yakovlev said he and his partners will "regulate the number and composition" of shareholders but did not explain how they could prevent one investor from buying enough shares from the others to eventually acquire control over Kommersant. LB


In his traditional weekly radio address on 22 June, Eduard Shevardnadze said that South Ossetian President Lyudvig Chibirov's proposal that Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba should meet in the South Ossetian capital for talks is "interesting." Previously, Shevardnadze had commented that he would meet personally with Ardzinba only if there were a chance of signing formal agreements on the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons. Shevardnadze said that during talks on19 June in Sukhumi with Georgian and Russian officials and with CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, Ardzinba agreed that Abkhazia will ensure the security of the returnees, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 June. Shevardnadze had refused on 20 June to sign either a draft peace agreement or an accord on repatriation approved by Ardzinba during his talks with Berezovskii the previous day. LF


Heidar Aliyev canceled a private visit to Turkey to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the newspaper "Hurriyet" just hours before his scheduled departure on 22 June, ITAR-TASS reported. No explanation was given for the cancellation. LF


The leaders of the Rule of Law State Party told journalists in Yerevan on 19 June that the primary goal of their party is to ensure "the rule of law" and legal protection for citizens of Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. One of the party's founders, parliamentary Committee on State and Legal Affairs chairman Albert Baghdasarian, argued that the development of democracy in Armenia is hindered by the existence of many laws "contradicting one another" and also by people's widespread ignorance of their rights. He also complained that some laws "breach human rights" but did not elaborate. Baghdasarian said the party will strive to boost citizens' awareness of Armenian laws and legislation. LF


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nesterushkin told a press briefing in Moscow on 22 June that Russia supports the compromise solution to the ban on religion-based political parties reached by a newly formed Tajik commission and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission reviewed laws adopted by the parliament in late May that prohibit religion-based parties from participating in the election process. The commission and Rakhmonov agreed on a compromise solution whereby political parties would not be allowed to use the premises of religious organizations. They also sent the law back to the parliament. Nesterushkin said Russia is counting on the Tajik parliament "to accept the decision, which answers the greater interests of the nation and makes it possible to further progress toward national reconciliation." BP


The presidential press service on 22 June issued a statement on Askar Akayev's concerns about the storage of radioactive waste in 45 of the country's uranium waste storage facilities, Interfax reported. Akayev had visited several sites the previous day. He said that owing to the poor maintenance of these facilities, particularly in the south, a landslide could damage carry the waste into the water supply. Akayev singled out the Kara Balta ore dressing plant, 45 kilometers west of Bishkek, and ordered that repairs be carried out immediately. The plant is located close to the Chu River, which flows into Kazakhstan. BP


The chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Central Electoral Commission, Sulaiman Imambayev, announced on 22 June that a referendum on proposed amendments to election laws is expected to be held in either September or October of this year, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Some proposals are still being discussed but are likely to deal with the structure of the bicameral parliament and minimum voter turnout. Local elections are due to be held early next year and to the parliament and the presidency in 2000. BP


In a statement released on 22 June, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry says the recall of six Western ambassadors from Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1998) is an inadmissible "ultimatum" and an example of the EU's "double standards" toward Belarus, Belapan reported. The ministry accused the ambassadors of violating the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations by disobeying the laws of the country of their residence. It stressed that the Belarusian government gave the ambassadors sufficient notice to relocate to other accommodation. And the ministry said that Belarus remains "loyal to the principles of international law and to existing agreements," while "defending the sovereign right to manage its own territory, real estate, and national resources." JM


The European Commission has announced it fully supports the decision of EU governments to recall their ambassadors from Minsk. A commission spokeswoman said on 22 June that the EU mission head in Ukraine, who is also accredited to Belarus, was advised against visiting that country. ITAR-TASS reported that Japan and Lithuania have also recalled their ambassadors to Belarus for consultations. A Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman has said Poland is "strongly considering" the recall of its ambassador, Reuters reported. Poland has handed over a note protesting the eviction order and demanding from Belarus compensation for the money it invested in the Polish ambassador's residence at Drazdy. JM


The U.S. State Department has asked Belarus not to send its ambassador, who is currently in Belarus, back to Washington. "It is very hard to have a serious discussion with [Belarusian officials]," U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin commented on 22 June. But he added that the recall of the U.S. ambassador from Belarus does not mean breaking off diplomatic relations between the two countries. Germany, too, has asked the Belarusian ambassador to Bonn to leave immediately, dpa reported. JM


The Belarusian president has suggested that a compromise in the row over the recall of ambassadors from Minsk can be found. Speaking on national television after an unexpected meeting with CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii in Minsk on 22 June, Lukashenka said he is ready to conduct a dialogue with the governments that have recalled their ambassadors. "If the question is not political, but of an everyday-life level, I am open to everybody," ITAR-TASS quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM


IMF Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer said after a meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 22 June that Ukraine and the IMF "have nearly agreed on launching a new credit program," Ukrainian Television reported. Ukraine is currently negotiating a $2 billion loan from the IMF to be issued over three years. Fischer said there are still "some technical problems" and that the final decision on the loan will be made in late July. But he praised Ukraine's recent reform efforts and said he is "surprised at the production growth in Ukraine achieved over a very short period." JM


Valeriy Pustovoytenko on 22 June said that the government can now make regular payments to the coal industry, Ukrainian Radio reported. The premier announced that the government allotted 9 million hryvni ($4.5 million) early this week to pay wages for coal miners. The government has also ordered that enterprises pay for no less than 60 percent of coal supplies in cash. Meanwhile, Mykhaylo Volynets, leader of the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners, has accused the government of failing to meet its former pledges to pay current wages, Ukrainian Television reported. According to Volynets, miners at 20 coal mines are still on strike over unpaid wages. JM


The parliament on 22 June approved an amendment to the citizenship law in the third and final reading whereby citizenship will be granted to all children born to non-citizens after 21 August 1991 if their parents request it. In an emergency parliamentary session called by the opposition Democratic Party Saimnieks, lawmakers voted by 54 to 14 to adopt the amendment. The parliament also voted to abolish the so-called "naturalization windows," which placed quotas on granting citizenship, and to simplify language tests for people over 65. The OSCE had strongly recommended that the parliament adopt those changes. Meanwhile, the For Fatherland and Freedom party has collected the required number of deputies' signatures to prevent the amendments from going into force for two months. During that period, it will seek to collect the signatures of 10 percent of voters to hold a referendum on the amended law, Reuters reported. JC


Addressing lawmakers before the debate, Prime Minister Guntars Krasts of the Fatherland and Freedom Party said he doubted that the proposed amendments to the citizenship law could promote mastery of the Latvian language among non-Latvians. The prime minister urged the parliament to carefully consider whether the automatic extension of citizenship to children would stimulate them to learn the state language. "If we amend the law but fail to carry out a substantial reform of the educational system with a view to increased degree of state language protection, we may lose important instruments of integration," Krasts said. Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis told lawmakers that the citizenship law amendments should serve to form a stable society. He underscored that citizenship issues are closely related to the education and language policy and that the task of the state is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to learn the Latvian language. JC


Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin said in Warsaw on 22 June that Turkey will soon ratify the agreement on NATO enlargement, which will provide for the entry of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Sezgin made that statement following the signing of a military cooperation agreement between Turkey and Poland. The accord foresees an exchange of military cadets and stipulates that each country send observers to monitor the other's military exercises, "Turkish Daily News" reported. JM


President Vaclav Havel on 22 June met with the leaders of the parties that won parliamentary representation in the early elections several days earlier, excluding the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. He asked the leader of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), Milos Zeman, to begin talks on forming a new government, CTK reported. Havel said Zeman, whose party won the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, must win "the support and tolerance of other parties" in order to succeed. MS


The leader of the Civic Democratic Party, Vaclav Klaus, said after the talks with Havel that his party will not join a coalition headed by the CSSD but is ready to try to form a coalition himself if Zeman fails to do so. Freedom Union leader Jan Ruml repeated that his party will not join a Zeman-led coalition. Christian Democrat leader Josef Lux said a coalition of the CSSD, the Freedom Union ,and his own party would be "the most accurate reflection of the election results." MS


State Department spokesman James Rubin on 22 June said the new election law approved by the Slovak parliament last month "fails to meet international standards and should be changed." Rubin said major changes in the election process made only four months before the scheduled ballot "create confusion and raise doubts about the intention of the legislation," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. He said that in its current form, the law could result in "unfree and unfair elections," not least because it increases the authority of the Interior Ministry, which disrupted polling in two referenda last year. MS


Prime Minister-designate Viktor Orban, chairman of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP), and Hungarian Democratic Forum chairman Sandor Lezsak signed a coalition agreement on 22 June. They stressed that the two sides cooperated closely even before the elections and that their plans are identical. According to Orban, the coalition agreement is not only for the next four years but for "several cycles". Also on 22 June, FIDESZ-MPP agreed to let the Independent Smallholders' Party nominate a joint candidate for the president of the republic in the elections due in 2000, but reserved the right to veto its choice. MSZ


Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Vienna on 22 June that "we Albanians are at the moment on the eve of a war with another nation, the Serbs, and it is not our fault. The Albanian state and government has to face on its northeastern border a situation of real war with all its consequences, victims, economic damage, lots of refugees, and considerable increase of defense costs." Nano noted that Serbia's "massacres" in the province have led to "spontaneous resistance on the ground." He added that he hopes the Kosovar political leadership will open contacts to the armed resistance groups, saying his government is trying to exert a "moderating influence" on all factions in the province. Nano called for Kosova to become a separate republic within the Yugoslav federation but without the right of secession. PM


On the eve of a trip to Belgrade, Prishtina, and Skopje by Richard Holbrooke, who is the U.S. ambassador- designate to the UN, a State Department spokesman warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that the demands of the international Contact Group are a package "and not a menu from which you can pick and choose." The spokesman said in Washington on 22 June that Milosevic "must not only follow through...on the requirements to allow access for humanitarian organizations in Kosova, but he also must pull back...the forces that have been involved in the violence there." Holbrooke arrived in Belgrade for talks with Milosevic on 23 June. PM


Elisabeth Rehn, the UN's special representative to Bosnia, said in Helsinki on 22 June that Kosova "is ripe" for NATO intervention but stressed that the Atlantic alliance must have a mandate from the UN before it takes action. She warned that "human rights are never [purely] the internal affair of any state." She noted she is especially troubled by reports that Serbian authorities have begun to place Kosovars in detention camps but did not elaborate. Rehn added that she "hates violence" and that "there has been too much violence" in Kosova recently. She told the BBC that the UN-mandated international action in the 1991 Gulf War is the proper model for intervention in Kosova and that she is confident that Russia will support such a formula. PM


NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in Vienna on 22 June that "time is running out. As time goes by the radicalization of Kosova will be dramatic. The international community has to act rapidly." An unnamed NATO military official told Reuters that the alliance is able to act "within four days" after Western leaders make "the political decision" to intervene. The official suggested that NATO will use air strikes rather than ground troops and seek to bring the crisis to an end quickly. PM


A journalist for Denmark's TV2 told BBC Television on 22 June that a Serbian policeman stepped out of a ditch in the Gllogovc area and fired point blank at the windshield of the clearly marked Danish press vehicle. No one was injured. Serbian spokesmen said in Prishtina that the policeman "acted out of fear, [thinking he was] dealing with Albanian separatists." In Tirana, two Montenegrin Muslim deserters from the Yugoslav army arrived and will tell international experts what they know about atrocities committed by Yugoslav troops in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. And in Podgorica, the Montenegrin government appealed for international aid to help it provide for the more than 10,000 refugees from Kosova who have fled to Montenegro since Milosevic launched his crackdown in February. PM


The "convertible mark" went into circulation throughout Bosnia on 22 June. Some 60 financial institutions in 14 cities will exchange the new currency for German marks at the rate of 1:1 and will maintain that rate for the next six years, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. Within the first three hours after the exchange offices opened in the mainly Croat and Muslim federation, customers obtained some 5 million convertible marks. The correspondent added, however, that the introduction of the common currency "passed unnoticed" in the Republika Srpska. Until now, the Bosnian dinar and Croatian kuna have circulated in the federation, while the Republika Srpska has used the Yugoslav dinar. The German mark is also widely used throughout Bosnia and most of the former Yugoslavia. PM


Speaking at a press conference in Tirana on 22 June, spokesmen for the Alliance for the State coalition, which is led by the governing Socialists, claimed victory in four out of the seven municipalities and six out of the nine communities that held by-elections the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1998). The opposition Union for Democracy, which is headed by the Democratic Party, is ahead in only one municipality and three communities. Run-offs will be held in Vlora and Roskovec on 28 June. The Alliance for the State estimated voter turnout at some 50 percent, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. FS


Skender Gjinushi said in Tirana on 22 June that in the local elections showed the governing coalition has "a strong base of support [that will carry it through] until the next parliamentary elections, in 2001." Socialist parliamentary leader Pandeli Majko stressed that the coalition was able to win "even in the most problematic corners of the country, such as the [southern] municipalities of Patos, Roskovec, and Ura Vajgurore," all of which were badly affected by the 1997 anarchy, "Koha Jone" reported. The Socialists fared best in the south, near Elbasan and in the northeastern community of Lura. The Democrats' showing was strongest in the central regions of Kavaja and Shijak, which are their traditional strongholds. They also won a majority in the northeastern community of Bushtrice and the southeastern community of Proger. FS


A bomb caused heavy damage to a restaurant in a downtown park on 21 June, slightly injuring a guard and a waiter. The restaurant is owned by Gazmend Demi, a close friend of Prime Minister Fatos Nano, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Demi told the daily that the bombing "was not an act of personal revenge," and he linked the attack to the local elections. Former Deputy Interior Minister Ndre Legisi told "Koha Jone" that the Socialist leadership had planned to celebrate the election victory in the restaurant. Tirana's police chief Fadil Canaj declined to comment on the blast, but said it was "clearly of a terrorist nature." FS


Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), said on 22 June that the ruling coalition has "to make up its mind whether it wants the UDMR in the coalition or out of it." Marko was responding to a declaration made the same day by National Peasant Party Christian Democratic chairman Ion Diaconescu. That declaration supported Education Minister Andrei Marga's position that a "multicultural" university, rather than a Hungarian-language university, is the solution to university-level education of the minorities. Diaconescu also supported Marga's position that a separate Hungarian-language state university might become a "source of inter-ethnic conflict resembling that in the former Yugoslavia." He added that the task of the commission set up earlier this month was to examine not "ways of setting up a Hungarian-language university, but whether this was opportune," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


The UDMR Council of Representatives on 20 June announced it will quit the coalition if the government does not set up by 15 July the commission to examine ways of setting up the Hungarian university. The council also said the ruling coalition must officially declare its intention to set up the university by 31 July and the parliament must amend the education law by 30 September, Romanian state radio reported. In other news, the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal on 19 June rejected the registration of Gheorghe Funar's formation under the name of Romanian Unity Alliance (AUR). The Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), whose former chairman Funar is, appealed against the registration because AUR was the name of a PUNR-Republican Party alliance in the 1990 elections. MS


A motion submitted to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg urges Moscow to fulfill its obligation to withdraw its troops from Moldova. The motion was filed on 22 June by former Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Nastase and Vasile Nedelciuc, a member of the Moldovan parliament, Romanian Radio reported. State Duma deputy speaker Aleksandr Shokhin told journalists that Russia intends to fulfill its obligations on joining the council but "does not consider it opportune" to discuss the matter during the council's current debate on the issue. Shokhin later told BASA-press that he does not believe the Duma will approve the withdrawal and said that Russian troops in the Transdniester ensure that there are no more clashes in the region. MS


Alexander Saidakov, the Transdniester representative of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, died in a Chisinau clinic on 22 June from the wounds sustained in the recent assassination attempt in Tiraspol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 1998), ITAR-TASS reported In other news, the All-Russian Cossack Union convened a congress in Tiraspol on 20 June and called on Russia and Belarus to help the Transdniester join their union as an associate member, Infotag reported on 22 June. The assembly also demanded to maintain Russia's military presence in the region. MS


by Liz Fuller

On 9 June, the Azerbaijani parliament passed in the third and final reading a law on the presidential elections that Socialist Democratic Party leader Zardusht Ali-zade has described as "tailor-made for one individual." In other words, it is formulated in such a way as to virtually guarantee the re-election for a second term of the authoritarian incumbent, former KGB boss and Azerbaijan Communist Party first secretary Heidar Aliev. That outcome is all the more likely, given that most potential opposition candidates have announced their intention not to contend the poll if it takes place under legislation they consider undemocratic. But even if Aliev's re-election appears assured, recent political developments may herald the gradual erosion of his power base.

Anticipating the introduction of unequal conditions for prospective presidential candidates, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan announced in March the creation of an informal Movement for Democratic Elections (subsequently renamed the Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform). As many as two dozen political parties and NGOs subsequently aligned themselves with the movement, whose main aims were to prevent the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party from monopolizing the election campaign and to ensure that all candidates enjoyed equal rights.

In late April, the parliament began debating two draft laws, one on the Central Electoral Commission and the other on the presidential elections. The opposition criticized both those bills as undemocratic, objecting in particular to the procedure for appointing the Central Electoral Commission, half of whose 24 members are nominated by the president and the remainder by the parliament. The opposition, which has only a handful of deputies in the parliament, will in effect be deprived of any say in the composition of the commission.

Opposition parties also criticized the minimum required voter turnout of 50 percent plus one vote, reasoning that in recent years, some 2 million people have left Azerbaijan out of a declared population of 7.5 million . And they condemned the provision allowing the presence at polling stations of police and Security Ministry officials. In mid-April, the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party had unveiled an alternative draft election law stipulating a minimum turnout of 25-30 percent and advocating measures to preclude violations, including transparent glass ballot boxes. It also entitled all registered candidates to 180 minutes free air time on state television and 15 million manats ($4,000) from the state budget to finance their campaigns. The parliament passed the law on the Central Electoral Commission in mid-May. The law on the presidential elections was submitted for comment both to the Council of Europe and to the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Both organizations suggested amendments, which were duly made to 32 of the law's 59 articles, but those changes failed to satisfy the opposition. When the law was passed in the third and final reading in June, all potential opposition presidential candidates announced they will boycott the poll.

That boycott should not, however, be construed as the opposition's acknowledgment that defeat under these circumstances is inevitable. Rather, it testifies to the unifying influence of the one person who, if he were able to contend the poll, would pose a serious challenge to Aliev.

Rasul Guliev has lived in exile in the U.S. since he was stripped of the post of Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker in September 1996, one month after publishing a damning critique of Aliev's leadership in a Russian journal. The parliament voted in December 1997 to strip him of his deputy's mandate. Four months later, it lifted his deputy's immunity and approved Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov's proposal to open criminal proceedings against him on charges of financial mismanagement and large-scale embezzlement during his tenure as head of one of Azerbaijan's largest oil refineries. Guliev, who in January 1998, announced his intention of running for president, now risks arrest if he returns to Azerbaijan.

In recent months, Guliev has written to U.S. senators and to the Council of Europe denouncing Aliyev as a totalitarian dictator. He also issued an appeal in early June to members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (founded by Aliyev in late 1992 as his personal power base) to quit the party. Several hundred, mostly younger members of the party have complied with Guliev's appeal, saying they were motivated to do so by widespread corruption within the party and by its betrayal of its original goal to create a democratic and just society. Some of those defectors have since founded the Democratic Azerbajian Party. Spokesmen for Yeni Azerbaycan have conceded that a handful of its members have quit, but they deny either a mass exodus or any connection between the resignations and Guliev's appeal.

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party newspaper "Azadlyg" reported on 12 June that Aliev's son Ilham, who is currently vice president of the state oil company SOCAR, is forming his own team of progressive economists and industrial managers. The newspaper interprets that move as a bid to create both a personal power base and a seemingly more democratic elite with which the opposition might be willing to cooperate following the demise of the elder Aliev.