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Newsline - September 8, 1998




YELTSIN CONSIDERING NEW CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER?

President Boris Yeltsin on 8 September delayed announcing his candidate for the third vote on the premiership, feeding speculation that he will nominate a new candidate. Observers told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who has repeatedly denied having presidential ambitions, will accept the nomination to the post of prime minister only if he obtains the guarantee that Yeltsin will step down. The mayor's press service denied in a statement that Luzhkov and his supporters are trying to promote his candidacy for the post of prime minister and at the same time stipulating that he be allowed to keep his job as mayor. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters on 8 September that Luzhkov is one of the few candidates for the post of prime minister who can work successfully to overcome the economic crisis. JAC

BURYATIA, KALININGRAD DECLARE STATE OF EMERGENCY

Leonid Gorbenko, governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, and Leonid Potapov, president of Buryatia, both declared a state of emergency on 8 September, Russian agencies reported. Gorbenko attributed the declaration to the worsening "socio-economic crisis" and assumed "entire responsibility for political and economic decisions." In Buryatia, the government has said it finds it impossible to meet its current financial obligations. The acting head of the presidential administration, Igor Shabdurasulov, told reporters that the imposition of a state of emergency in Russia's regions is the prerogative only of the president of the federation. JAC

ROUNDTABLE YIELDS NO COMPROMISE

At a roundtable meeting of the government and legislature on 7 September, President Yeltsin agreed to extend new powers to the Duma. Yeltsin also proposed giving the government of acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin a probation period of six to eight months, according to Interfax. The Duma, however, remained firm in its opposition to Chernomyrdin, voting later the same day against his confirmation by 273 to 138 with one abstention. According to Interfax, Chernomyrdin received 44 more votes than during the first round of voting on his candidacy (see also "End Note" below). JAC

GOVERNMENT LEADERS INITIAL TREATY

Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, and Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev initialed a "political truce" that will remain in effect until the end of 1999, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 September. Under that accord, the president will consult with the Duma before either appointing or dismissing a member of the cabinet. The president will also "refrain from adopting decisions on the removal of the government of the Russian Federation." For its part, the Duma will refrain from putting forward motions of no confidence in the government and review "in the first instance" the executive's legislative proposals to overcome the economic crisis. Legislation amending the constitution to redistribute power between the legislative and executive branches will be put forward within one month of the accord's signing. JAC

YABLOKO PROPOSES PRIMAKOV

Yabloko on 7 September proposed acting Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov for the position of prime minister. According to Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Primakov is a "compromise" choice who "would not have to be sacked in three months," according to ITAR-TASS. He is also an ideal candidate because he does not belong to a political party, has sufficient political authority, and lacks any desire to run for president, Yavlinksii commented. Earlier Yabloko had proposed a "political" candidate for the position of prime minister. According to "Die Welt" on 4 September, Primakov believes that Russia has slid back to where it stood under the Kerensky government in 1917, because it has lost influence in world affairs and has allowed the Commonwealth of Independent States to start "melting away." On 8 September, Primakov said that he is quite satisfied with his current position. JAC

KOBZON PROPOSES GREATER BURYATIA

"Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Regiony" reported that State Duma deputy and popular singer Iosif Kobzon will propose legislation on the "political rehabilitation and establishment of the territory of the entire Buryat people." The legislation would unite Buryatia with two autonomous national okrugs, Ust- Ordynskii (Irkutsk Oblast) and Aginskoye (Chita Oblast). "Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Regiony" argued that each time the idea of a greater Buryatia resurfaces, a concrete political event has triggered it. This time, the newspaper suggested, it is the proposed gas pipeline to China that would run through Buryatia. And another looming political development is the 2002 presidential elections for the republic, in which the incumbent, Leonid Potapov, is ineligible to run. JAC

NEW LABOR ACTIONS UNLEASHED

Workers in the nuclear industry staged a warning strike on 7 September to protest unpaid wages, according to ITAR-TASS. AFP reported that around 200 representatives of nuclear facilities from Yekaterinburg, Arzamas, and Chelyabinsk will demonstrate outside the Ministry of Atomic Energy in Moscow on 8 September. Meanwhile, teachers' strikes on Makarov and Tomari on Sakhalin Island continued into their second week, while miners' strikes in the Vorkuta region spread to another mine. On 8 September, 36 workers in a Vladivostok heat and energy plant joined 11 colleagues who have been on a hunger strike for four days over wage arrears dating back six months. JAC

OLD, POOR, YOUNG SUFFER FOOD SHORTAGES

Murmansk Governor Yurii Yevdokimov on 7 September requested food assistance from Finland, citing reduced shipments of food to the region from central Russia. In particular, nurseries, kindergartens, hospitals, and nursing homes are in need of basic commodities such as meat, sugar, salt, and cooking oil. Meanwhile, in Moscow the legal monthly minimum wage of 83.49 rubles ($4.17) barely buys one liter of vegetable oil, two cans of meat, and one loaf of bread, according to Interfax. Prices for imported foodstuffs have risen 100-500 percent at wholesale food markets in Moscow from their pre-crisis level, while bread and milk prices remain steady in most retail shops. JAC

COURT ANNULS INKOMBANK TAKEOVER

A Moscow district court on 8 September declared void an order by the Central Bank assuming temporary administration of Inkombank, one of Russia's five largest banks in terms of assets, Bloomberg reported. The same day, "Izvestiya" suggested that Central Bank chose to take over SBS-Agro and later Inkombank because it had provided both institutions with special credits of $100 million and wanted to make sure that sum was spent on sorting out "interbank" payments rather than speculating against the ruble. According to "Trud," Vladimir Vinogradov, president of Inkombank, agrees with the Central Bank officials that a restructuring of the banking system is needed but that all the population's wages and deposits should not be concentrated under the management of Sberbank. Such a policy is "not in the interest of the banking system of Russia and returns it to its state that existed 10 years ago." JAC

RENOWNED JURIST AMETISTOV DEAD

Ernest Ametistov, a member of the Russian Constitutional Court, died of cancer at the age of 64 on 7 September. Ametistov advocated streamlining and liberalizing Russia's legal system. In 1993, Ametistov participated in the Constitutional Assembly when it drew up the Russian Constitution. The same year, Ametistov supported Yeltsin, when most court judges sided with the parliament in its rebellion against the president. In an 8 August 1996 commentary published in "Izvestiya," the judge called for the Justice Ministry to take steps against the Communist Party, since it was not a "civilized opposition." He also called for a cadre policy to replace corrupt local bureaucrats and "red directors," whom he blamed for the problem of wage arrears. He also wanted "totalitarian symbols" from city streets and enterprises removed. JAC

YELTSIN POSTPONES VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN

Yeltsin has postponed his visit to Kazakhstan scheduled for 8 September, during which he was to have met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and to sign several bilateral agreements. Yeltsin had announced earlier that he would shorten the length of his visit, but on 7 September he telephoned with Nazarbayev to say the political situation in Russia demanded the presence of the Russian president in the country. Yeltsin had canceled a scheduled visit in July, saying that Russia's financial crisis prevented him from making the trip. Also canceled is the meeting of the presidents from the CIS Customs Union, who were scheduled to meet in Kazakhstan after Yeltsin's talks with Nazarbayev. Yeltsin now plans to visit Kazakhstan on 12-13 October. BP

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS CHERNOMYRDIN...

In a 7 September statement, Aslan Maskhadov expressed the hope that the Duma would confirm Chernomyrdin as Russian premier, Russian agencies reported. Maskhadov characterized Chernomyrdin as "the most acceptable" candidate for that post in light of his "rich experience," which Maskhadov considered would help stabilize the situation on Russia's financial markets. In an interview with Interfax on 7 September, former acting Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said that the impact on Chechnya of the Russian financial crisis is comparable to the aftermath of the 1994-1996 war. He said that in theory, Chechnya should leave the ruble zone, as it is inappropriate that a foreign currency should be in circulation in a state that aspires to be recognized as independent. He added, however, that Chechnya would not do so in order "not to irritate Russia." Basaev also accused Maskhadov of making unwarranted concessions to Moscow. LF

...APOLOGIZES TO TBILISI OVER ABKHAZIA

Maskhadov has formally apologized to the Georgia for the participation of Chechen troops in the 1992-1993 war in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 7 September. Maskhadov told a Georgian delegation that was in Grozny for the 6 September celebrations marking the seventh anniversary of Chechnya's declaration of independence that Chechnya's support of Abkhazia was "a tragic mistake." LF




TRACECA CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS CONVERGE ON BAKU

The presidents of Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan arrived in Baku on 7 September to attend an EU-sponsored conference that will discuss the creation of a road, rail, and ferry network linking Central Asia and Europe via the Transcaucasus. Representatives from a total of 38 countries and 16 international organizations are attending. The Russian delegation is headed by CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii. Iran is represented by a deputy transport minister. Earlier, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had said he would attend the meeting, according to Turan. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT HOPES FOR PEACE WITH ARMENIA

Welcoming fellow presidents at Baku airport, Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliyev said the aim of the conference is to ensure peace, stability, and mutual understanding between the states of the region. He stressed that Armenia "has the right" to participate in the TRACECA project. Aliyev added that it is time for Azerbaijan and Armenia to "move from an atmosphere of hostility to one of mutual trust," adding that without such an atmosphere, it will be impossible to restore peace, according to Interfax. An Armenian delegation headed by Prime Minister Armen Darpinian is due in Baku on 8 September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTESTS ARMENIAN PARTICIPATION IN TRACECA CONFERENCE

Nine leading opposition parties--Musavat, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Vahdat, the Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, the People's Democratic Party, Akhrar, Civic Solidarity, and the United Azerbaijan Union--issued a joint statement on 7 September condemning the invitation to Armenia to participate in the TRACECA conference as "a betrayal of national interests" and an insult to the feelings of millions of people, Turan reported. The statement described Armenia as "the main factor hindering economic and cultural cooperation" in the Transcaucasus. And it added that cooperation with Armenia is inadmissible before Armenia withdraws its forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NEW CONSTITUTION NOT NECESSARY

At a 5 September session of the presidential commission tasked with revising the constitution, Robert Kocharian again rejected the demand by the opposition National Democratic Union that Armenia should have a new constitution rather than amend the existing one, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian reasoned that under present conditions, "it is better to have a bad constitution" than to act too hastily to replace it. He added that the electorate has not voted in favor of a new constitution, since that issue did not figure either in his election program or that of his rival in the runoff poll. Kocharian has advocated amending the constitution to curtail the powers of the president and increase those of the prime minister and the parliament. But he said he will not "impose" such amendments on the commission "no matter how important I consider them to be." LF

ETHNIC ARMENIAN FARMERS FACED WITH GEORGIAN BOYCOTT?

Local bakeries are refusing to buy high-quality wheat produced in the predominantly Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Djavakheti region of southern Georgia, even for dumping prices, Caucasus Press reported on 4 September. Instead, they are purchasing imported wheat. In related news, Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, whose relations with the central Georgian authorities have long been tense, has denied establishing contact with members of the Djavakhk organization, which is demanding autonomous status for Samtskhe-Djavakheti. LF

GEORGIAN CURRENCY REGAINS GROUND

The lari was trading at 1.35 to the U.S. dollar on 7 September, after falling to 1.7 in street trading the previous day, AP and Caucasus Press reported. The official exchange rate set by Georgia's Central Bank remained stable at 1.35 to the U.S. dollar after the bank sold $2.9 million on the Tbilisi inter- bank currency exchange, which is three times the normal daily sum. Addressing the Tbilisi city council on 7 September, Mayor Ivane Zodelava said that "unfortunately Georgia cannot keep pace with economic processes and is unable to make the correct economic predictions." Zodelava instructed the heads of Tbilisi's 10 local councils to monitor local markets for the possible influx of cheap imported goods from Russia, which, he said, would harm local producers. LF

GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS DENY EVICTING RUSSIAN COLLEAGUES

In a 7 September statement, the Georgian Border Guard Service denied Russian reports that Georgian border guards stationed at the Black Sea port of Poti had issued an ultimatum the previous day to their Russian counterparts to vacate their barracks immediately, Caucasus Press reported. The statement accused the Russian Federal Border Service of systematically violating a Russian-Georgian agreement on the schedule for Russian border guards in Georgia to hand over their duties to local border officials. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO EXPEL SIX WAHHABIS

Authorities in Kazakhstan are preparing to expel six Pakistani citizens allegedly engaged in spreading Wahhabi propaganda, Interfax reported on 7 September. Acting on a tip-off that the Pakistanis would be at a conference of Muslims in the Jambyl Region, the Kazakh National Security Committee has detained the six. The Kazakh authorities had attempted to expel the Pakistani citizens from the country several months ago when their visas expired, but the six men apparently stayed on illegally. Investigators found Wahhabi literature and audio cassettes reportedly with information on dealing with "infidels" and creating an Islamic state. In late August, Tajikistan expelled four Pakistani citizens who according to the Tajik authorities were distributing extremist Islamic literature in Dushanbe's mosques. BP

KAZAKH CITIZENS ARRESTED TRYING TO SELL URANIUM IN TURKEY

Turkish police have taken eight men into custody for attempting to sell uranium, the Anatolia news agency reported on 7 September. The eight men--three from Kazakhstan, one from Azerbaijan, and four from Turkey--tried to sell 4.5 kilograms of unprocessed uranium and six grams of plutonium to undercover Turkish police officers for $1 million. Turkish authorities are attempting to determine out of which country the uranium was smuggled. According to media reports, it came from somewhere in the CIS. BP




WORLD BANK TO CONSIDER $900 MILLION LOAN TO UKRAINE

The World Bank is planning to consider next week a $900 million loan to finance four projects in Ukraine's farming and coal sectors, Interfax and dpa reported on 7 September. Paul Siegelbaum, World Bank director for Ukraine and Belarus, said in Kyiv that the World Bank's assistance to Ukraine is now possible again because of the IMF's approval of a $2.2 billion loan. Siegelbaum added that the economic situation in Ukraine is better that in neighboring Russia because Ukraine has fewer debts and is less vulnerable to the worldwide drop in oil prices. He also noted that the Ukrainian government has taken appropriate steps to solve its economic problems. JM

UKRAINIAN CENTRAL BANK RESTRICTS HARD CURRENCY TRADING

National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko said on 7 September that the central bank has limited hard currency trading to the Ukrainian Interbank Currency Exchange, Ukrainian Television reported. Exporters are now obliged to sell 75 percent of their hard- currency earnings on the exchange; the remaining 25 percent is to be paid into their accounts. The difference between the official exchange rate of the hryvnya and that used in cash operations with hard currency cannot exceed 5 percent. According to Yushchenko, these measures are aimed at "invigorating the circulation of hard currency" in Ukraine. JM

BELARUS EXPERIENCES FOOD SHORTAGES, PRICE HIKES

Belarus is witnessing a run on foodstuffs and manufactured goods as the Belarusian ruble continues to lose value against the dollar amid the ongoing financial crisis in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 1998), Belapan reported on 7 September. Many stores report shortages of food staples such as sugar, flour, meal, and cooking oil. The prices of foodstuffs in street trade have increased by 10-20 percent compared with the previous week. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 7 September that there is a also a run on banks in Belarus, as Belarusians clamor to withdraw their savings. JM

BELARUSIAN STATE DAILIES TO APPEAR TWO, THREE TIMES A WEEK

Beginning this week, most government- sponsored daily newspapers will be cut back to two or three editions a week, Belapan reported on 7 September. "This is a forced and temporary measure," the agency quoted Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Zamyatalin as saying. According to Zamyatalin, the cutback is caused by an increase in the price of imported newsprint from Russia. Zamyatalin said Russia "does not guarantee the fulfillment of previously adopted agreements" in the current economic situation. JM

ESTONIAN FARMERS UNION WANT 1998 DECLARED DISASTER YEAR

Meeting with Prime Minister Mart Siimann on 7 September, representatives of the Farmers' Central Union requested that 1998 be declared a disaster year for agriculture, ETA reported. In many areas, crops have been destroyed and fields are under water, following heavy rainfalls this year. Some farmers, however, are opposed to declaring a disaster situation, saying that owing to the recent dry weather, they have managed to save a considerable part of their crops. Siimann intends to postpone making a decision until next month. JC

WELL-KNOWN ESTONIAN DIPLOMAT DIES AGED 93

Ernst Jaakson died in a New York hospital on 4 September at the age of 93. For several decades, Jaakson served as Estonia's main diplomatic representative in the U.S. During the Soviet occupation of Estonia, he published numerous appeals in the U.S. press for the international community to pressure the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from the Baltic States. He is to be buried in the Kensico cemetery in New York on 14 September. JC

LITHUANIA FORMS SOVIET, NAZI WAR CRIMES COMMISSION

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has officially established an international commission to examine war crimes committed during the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Lithuania. Presidential adviser Julius Shmulkshtis told Reuters on 7 September that the commission's main function is "to investigate the World War Two period and the immediate aftermath in order to come up with answers to various questions concerning Jewish and Lithuanian genocide." The commission will be headed by parliamentary deputy Emanuelis Zingeris. Earlier this year, the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia agreed to set up commissions in their countries to investigate the events of 1939-1991, especially during and after World War II. JC

LANDSBERGIS CALLS FOR FOOD AID TO KALININGRAD

Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis has called on the international community to consider sending humanitarian aid to Kaliningrad Oblast in the event of food shortages there as a result of the financial crisis in Russia, BNS and AP reported. Landsbergis was responding to a public statement by Russian Baltic Navy commanders that the force has enough food only for the next 40 days. He commented that "pending famine [within] the Russian navy should raise international concern." To facilitate sending aid to the Russian exclave, Landsbergis urged that "immediate preparations and coordination actions--first of all with Poland and the European Union--should be taken." JC

AUSTRIAN PRESIDENT SAYS POLAND 'MOST IMPORTANT' EU CANDIDATE

Austrian President Thomas Klestil said in Warsaw on 7 September that Poland is the biggest and "strategically most important" country wanting to join the EU, PAP reported. He added that EU expansion is the focus of Austria's current chairmanship of the EU. Polish and Austrian labor ministers signed an agreement on pensions and other allowances. That accord may benefit the estimated 35,000 Polish immigrants residing in Austria. It also applies to those Poles who were sent to forced labor in Austria during World War II. JM

CANADA OFFERS TO HELP POLAND TAKE FIRST STEPS IN NATO

Canadian Defense Minister Arthur Eggleton on 7 September offered Canada's assistance to Poland in the initial period of its NATO membership, PAP and Reuters reported. Eggleton, who was in Warsaw, said Canada's five- year program of peacekeeping, language, and communications training will also be offered to Hungary and the Czech Republic. So far, the three NATO candidates have received substantial asssistance under the Partnership for Peace program; that aid, however, will cease to be available to them when they join NATO in April 1999. "The Canadian initiative shows that we can count on the further assistance we so obviously need," Reuters quoted Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz as saying. JM

ZEMAN PLANS TO LEAVE POLITICS IN 2002

Prime Minister Milos Zeman told the daily "Pravo" on 7 September that he intends to leave politics after completing his term as premier in 2002. In a report to his Social Democratic Party that was leaked to the media, Zeman had said that " a politician should decide to leave right when he has fulfilled the aims he has set." Consequently, he added, "I have decided to leave politics in four years at the latest." MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PLANS BROAD COALITION AFTER ELECTIONS

Mikulas Dzurinda, leader of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), says he expects his party to win 25-27 percent of the vote in this month's parliamentary elections and "to create a broad coalition with all [other] opposition parties" to make possible a "constitutional majority" against Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and his allies, AP reported on 7 September. Political observers in Bratislava say that even if the SDK manages to win a quarter of the vote, setting up a coalition will be difficult owing to different views within opposition groups. The Hungarian Coalition Party focuses primarily on minority issues, while some groups within the Party of the Democratic Left oppose Dzurinda's economic policies and do not rule out cooperation with Meciar. The new Civic Understanding Party is not among those parties whom Dzurinda envisages will be included in the new ruling coalition. MS




MILOSEVIC REMAINS DEFIANT

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said after a meeting with U.S. officials on 7 September that Serbian forces will continue battling ethnic Albanian forces in Kosova, AP reported. In a statement released after talks with Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck and former Senator Bob Dole, Milosevic said "terrorism in Kosova will be suppressed and eliminated." Shattuck and Dole had called for Serbian forces to pull back so that civilians could return to their homes. Shattuck said he will monitor closely Milosevic's promise to allow Red Cross officials to visit detained ethnic Albanians accused of being members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Shattuck said that Milosevic realizes he "has a very serious problem in Kosova" but "disagrees on the dimension of the problem." Dole warned that if Milosevic allows a "humanitarian catastrophe" to occur in Kosova, "the repercussions will be dramatic." PB

MANY DETAINED ETHNIC ALBANIANS RELEASED

Serbian security forces released many of the some 450 ethnic Albanian men recently detained on suspicion of being involved in the UCK, AP reported on 8 September. Some of those released said they were beaten and not allowed to eat or drink for 24 hours. They added that they were interrogated and accused of being terrorists. Western officials estimate that at least 50,000 Kosovars are still living in the hills and forests after being driven out of their homes. PB

SOLANA UPBEAT ON KOSOVA ACCORD

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on 7 September that a proposed interim accord between Belgrade and Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova is a "good chance to start negotiations," AFP reported. Speaking in Brussels, Solana said that military intervention in Kosova is currently not being considered. He added that it is not yet clear if the accord--dubbed "Autonomy Plus"--has sufficient support from Belgrade and among ethnic Albanians. PB

REFUGEES IN ALBANIA TO BE MOVED SOUTH

Albanian Deputy Prime Minister Bashkim Fino said on 7 September that the government will move thousands of Kosovar refugees from the north to better-equipped areas in the south before the onset of winter, Reuters reported. Fino said the government is "very worried" about providing for the some 15,000 refugees, the majority of whom are in the Tropoje district, which is Albania's poorest. Fino said 3,000 to 5,000 refugees will be moved to Diber and Shkoder and that more than $1 million will be spent to improve the infrastructure in Tropoje for those remaining. Small groups of 20 to 30 refugees continue to flee Kosova for Albania each day. PB

ALBANIAN MINISTER URGES POLITICAL CALM TO HELP ECONOMY

Albanian Finance Minister Arben Malaj called for a truce between the government and opposition because political infighting could undermine modest economic gains, Reuters reported on 6 September. Malaj said the macroeconomic outlook for the country has improved in the first seven months, compared with last year's disastrous economic plunge. GDP, which shrank 7 percent in 1997, was expected to grow by 10 percent this year, he added. Finances, he continued, should "not feel the consequences of artificial political tension." PB

OSCE STANDS FIRM ON CANDIDATE BAN

The OSCE said on 7 September that it will not change its decision to ban Bosnian Croat candidates from participating in the 12-13 September elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 1998), Reuters reported. Nicole Szulc, an OSCE spokeswoman, dismissed a suggestion made by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that the decision to ban the politicians will affect the peace process in Bosnia. The OSCE has asked the leadership of the Serbian Radical Party to ban the party's head, Vojislav Seselj (who is also a Serbian deputy premier), from participating in any election rallies because of his statements that all Serbian lands should be united. OSCE mission chief Robert Barry said such a statement violates the Dayton accords. In other news, posters of leading war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic appeared in the Serbian stronghold of Pale on 7 September. He has been banned from attending all political events, and posters depicting him are also prohibited. PB

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA PRESIDENT COMPARES RIVAL TO HITLER

Biljana Plavsic said during a campaign rally in Brcko that Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian presidency, committed numerous crimes and that she "would replace Adolf Hitler's figure at Madame Tussaud's [wax museum in London] with Krajisnik's," SRNA reported on 7 September. Republika Srpska Premier Milorad Dodik said at the same rally that people should vote for the Sloga [Accord] coalition because it is respected internationally. Dodik added that 1.3 million German marks will be used this week to repair the water system in Brcko and that some 200 plots of land will be made available to Serbs who want to stay in Brcko permanently. PB

SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY MEMBERS

Milan Kucan met with Alija Izetbegovic, the chairman of the Bosnian presidency, and Kresimir Zubak, the Croat member of the presidency on 7 September during a one-day visit to Sarajevo, Bosnian Radio reported. After inaugurating a pharmaceutical plant near Sarajevo built with Slovenian aid, Kucan told reporters that Slovenia considers Bosnia-Herzegovina to be a economic and political partner. He said Ljubljana supports the integrity of Bosnia and that Serbs, Croats, and Muslims must find "a formula ... by which to live together." PB

CROATIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. OFFICIAL

U.S. Ambassador to Croatia William Dale met with Franjo Tudjman on 7 September after the State Department criticized Zagreb for supporting hard-line Bosnian Croats in the Bosnian elections, AP reported. A statement released by the president's office said the two had agreed to "avoid unwise decisions that could lead to the deterioration of the situation in Bosnia and harm the elections there." The State Department said in Washington the same day that it is "extremely concerned" by the actions of the Bosnian branch of Tudjman's ruling party. PB

BUCHAREST TRIBUNAL APPROVES PARTY MERGERS

The Bucharest Municipal Tribunal on 7 September approved the merger of the New Romania Party and the Liberal Christian Party into the Democratic Agrarian Party. It also approved the new name of the formation, the Romanian National Party (PNR). National Peasant Party Christian Democratic deputy chairman Ion Ratiu, one of whose ancestors founded a PNR in Transylvania last century, has contested the use of that name. His appeal was initially supported by the tribunal but was later overruled by the Bucharest Court of Appeals in July. Ratiu said he is prepared to fight "right up to the International Court of Justice in the Hague." The Municipal Tribunal also approved the merger of the Liberal Party into the National Liberal Party. Former Liberal Party leader Nicolae Cerveni is appealing that decision, claiming his wing is the "genuine" Liberal Party. MS

MOLDOVAN NATIONAL BANK CLAMPS DOWN ON EXCHANGE OFFICES

The National Bank has revoked the licenses of 27 currency exchange offices that it says contributed to the recent panic over the exchange rate. It also narrowed the margin between buying and selling rates from 10 to 1.5 percent, National Bank deputy chairwoman Veronica Bacalu told journalists on 7 September. She described the offices whose licenses were withdrawn as "fortune-seekers". Deputy Prime Minster Ion Sturdza accused the offices of seeking to "undermine the stability of the national currency." The exchange rate for the leu on 6 September was 4.85-5.00 to $1, while one day earlier some exchange offices were trading at 7 lei to the dollar, Infotag reported. MS

BULGARIAN TURKISH MINORITY PROTESTS REMOVAL OF COMMEMORATION INSCRIPTIONS...

Ahmed Dogan, leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), has protested the removal of three commemorative plaques from a fountain in the village of Trunak, BTA reported on 5 September. The inscriptions, which were removed on the orders of Burgas district prosecutor Emil Kristov, were in memory of three Turks who were executed in 1988 for their alleged involvement in a series of bombings that killed eight people in 1984- 1985. Dogan told a rally attended by some 10,000 Turks that the order to dismantle the inscriptions was an "act of vandalism" that displayed the incumbent government's "barbaric attitude" to the democratic system. He said there was "no compelling evidence" that the executed men had been involved in terrorist acts. MS

...AS BULGARIAN PREMIER STRESSES NEED TO INTEGRATE MINORITIES

Addressing a forum of the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) in Pamporovo, southern Bulgaria, on 6 September, Prime Minster Ivan Kostov said the SDS and local government authorities must give priority to the integration of national minorities into Bulgarian society. He said the Turkish minority was "alienated" mainly owing to the policies pursued by the DPS, which are "past-oriented" and based on "symbols that divide Bulgarian society." Deputy Premier Evgeni Bakardzhiev told the forum that the Turkish minority "holds anti-communist views" and "massive efforts are being made" to stop members of that minority from supporting the SDS. Bakardzhiev said he was "surprised" by the timing of the Burgas prosecutor's decision to remove the commemorative plaques, which coincides with SDS forums on minorities that took place in both Pamporovo and Silistra. He added that "history will show if those people were terrorists or heroes." MS

BULGARIAN JUDGE TO ISSUE WARRANT FOR MARKOV'S ALLEGED MURDERER

A Bulgarian judge investigating the 1978 murder of dissident Georgi Markov has said he will issue an international warrant for the arrest of Francesco Gulino, a Dane of Italian origin who used to work as a Bulgarian agent. Gulino was recruited as an agent after being arrested in 1972 by the communist authorities for drug smuggling, AFP reported. Markov, who worked for the BBC and RFE/RL during the 1970s, died after an unknown man fired a poisoned pellet from an umbrella into his leg in central London. MS




DUMA REJECTS CHERNOMYRDIN IN SECOND VOTE


by Floriana Fossato

As the ruble continued its dramatic collapse and panicking Russians were emptying the shelves of most food shops and markets in the capital, the State Duma on 7 September again overwhelmingly rejected the nomination of Prime Minister-designate Viktor Chernomyrdin. Only 138 members of the house voted in favor, while 273 voted against and one abstained. Chernomyrdin needed 226 votes to be approved.

The parliament had rejected Chernomyrdin one week earlier. President Boris Yeltsin now can either renominate him or choose another candidate for the third vote, which must take place within a week. Under the constitution, if the Duma rejects the president's candidate in the third vote, the president must dissolve the lower house and call new elections within three months.

Chernomyrdin, speaking on NTV the day before the vote, warned that further delay in forming a new government would exacerbate Russia's economic woes to such a degree that extreme nationalist forces might try to take advantage of the turmoil and seize power. Looking worried and confused, Chernomyrdin said that "when the boat is sinking, it is unacceptable to see the officers busy discussing, instead of saving the ship." And he warned that extremists "will not spare anyone. That would be a tragedy and catastrophe for Russia."

Just hours before the second vote on Chernomyrdin's candidacy, Yeltsin met with representatives of the legislative and executive branches in a last-hour attempt to convince them of the necessity of confirming Chernomyrdin. He warned that he was ready to name Chernomyrdin as his candidate for the third time, should the second vote also prove negative. Russian news agencies reported that Yeltsin also asked the Duma and regional leaders to give Chernomyrdin a chance to form a government now and to re-examine the issue within six months.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who usually take very different stances, both described the negotiations as "extremely tough." Zyuganov added that "it is a dangerous time and we should search for acceptable solutions."

At the roundtable meeting, a group of influential regional governors had suggested that Yeltsin nominate Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov for prime minister. Some regional leaders, including Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, said he could see either Luzhkov or Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev leading Russia out of the political and financial crisis, but not Chernomyrdin. Saratov governor Dmitrii Ayatskov said he favored only Luzhkov.

Communist Party leader Zyuganov said his party suggested several candidates for the job: Stroev, Luzhkov, acting Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, former Industry Minister Yurii Maslyukov, former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashenko. But it did not propose Chernomyrdin, he stressed. The Communists and their allies control roughly half of the votes in the 450-strong Duma.

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii also declared his faction's continued strong opposition to Chernomyrdin. Yavlinskii said that Russia " now needs a political prime minister, not an economic one...in order to avoid a permanent political crisis." He said he supported Primakov's candidacy.

Before the vote, it was clear that Chernomyrdin had the support only of his Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction, the ultra- nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and some of the Russian Regions factions. But at the very best, that support meant some 120-130 votes in Chernomyrdin's favor.

NDR leader Aleksandr Shokhin and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said Chernomyrdin had some chance of being approved "only in case of a secret ballot." In a heated discussion preceding the vote, Zhirinovsky had proposed an open ballot, but 289 deputies voted against the proposal in a first vote and 295 confirmed the decision in a second vote.

The Duma's negative disposition was not mitigated by the concessions Yeltsin had made during the roundtable discussions, despite the fact that, as radical Communist such as Aleksei Podberezkin told journalists, Yeltsin had agreed to expand the Duma's powers to select the cabinet and to approve changes in the lineup proposed by the president.

For the past two weeks, Russia has had an interim government and Chernomyrdin has been struggling to win confirmation, leaving little time to devote to the economic crisis. On the day of the second vote, the Central Bank canceled hard-currency trading because traders wanted only to buy dollars, not to sell them. Currency exchange booths remained open, and the ruble was quoted at 20 to the U.S. dollar. The ruble was trading at just over six to the dollar when the crisis erupted less than a month ago.

The same day, the Interfax news agency reported that people living on the current minimum monthly wage of 83 rubles can afford to buy only 1 liter of vegetable oil, two cans of meat, and one loaf of white bread. Since the crisis began, prices of imported foodstuffs have increased by 100-500 percent, while prices of Russian products have gone up by 50-100 percent.

With the ruble continuing its free fall, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin offered to resign, saying one of the reasons for his decision was the Duma's delay in passing a number of "vitally important" draft laws on banking. Yastrzhembskii said that Yeltsin had been informed of Dubinin's offer and had commented that "such a decision should have been taken earlier." The author is a Moscow-based correspondent for RFE/RL.


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