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Newsline - September 25, 1998




YELTSIN REAPPOINTS ZADORNOV AS FINANCE MINISTER

Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 25 September reappointed Mikhail Zadornov as finance minister. He also ended the suspense for some other cabinet members, reappointing acting Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov, acting Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, acting Transport Minister Sergei Frank, and acting Railroads Minister Nikolai Aksenenko. Acting Minister for Trade and Industry Georgii Gabuniya was named head of the new Ministry of Trade. Among the new cabinet members, former Deputy Prime Minister in charge of nationality policy Ramazan Abdulatipov has been named minister of nationalities affairs, former First Deputy Minister of Economics Andrei Shapovalyants minister of economy, former Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov minister for CIS affairs, and Mikhail Kirpichnikov minister of science and technology. JAC

PRIMAKOV SKETCHES ECONOMIC MEASURES

Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 24 September finally revealed at least a skeletal outline of his government's economic priorities. He told a cabinet meeting that his government intends to lower taxes for producers, force exporters to sell more dollars, improve tax collection measures, reduce capital flight, and revive the banking system. Primakov also pledged that in September the government will pay back wages to the military and as of October begin paying all wages on time. JAC

GOVERNMENT ADOPTS TOUGH STANCE WITH WESTERN BANKS

Russian officials' comments on foreign financial institutions turned bellicose on 24 September. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Shokhin told reporters that the attitude of Western banks and international financial institutions is "driving Russia into a corner." He added that "I do not wish to scare people with a prospect of a default on foreign debts, but our partners, including the G-7 countries, should realize the situation" that Russia faces. The same day, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko warned that those foreign banks that are being "greedy" and are unwilling to search for a solution during debt negotiations "may get nothing at all." But he noted that some Western banks are acting reasonably. The next day Shokhin told reporters that it would be shameful for the IMF mission to leave Moscow "without cheering the world by announcing results." JAC

INCOMES TO FALL, ECONOMY TO SHRINK

The Russian Central Bank on 24 September predicted that inflation will soar to at least 240- 290 percent this year and that the population's real incomes could plunge by 13-24 percent. The bank based its predictions on a exchange rate of 20 rubles per dollar. If the ruble's value falls below that level, then inflation will be even higher and real incomes even smaller. According to Interfax, inflation in July measured only 0.3 percent, compared with 45.5 percent for the first 21 days of September. The Central Bank also forecast that GDP in 1998 will fall by 5-6 percent. In 1997, GDP rose 0.8 percent. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO SCUTTLE ROSNEFT SALE?

Interfax reported on 24 September that the government's plan to sell a 75 percent stake in the oil company Rosneft is likely to be scrapped. The sale of the company has been postponed twice owing to a lack of bidders. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak has ordered his staff to concentrate its efforts on speeding up the sale of a stake in the oil firm Slavneft. JAC

NEMTSOV TO RUN FOR DUMA

Just two days after President Yeltsin announced Boris Nemtsov's appointment to the new post of deputy chairman of the Local Self-Government Council, Nemtsov announced on 24 September that he will run for a State Duma seat in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1998). Nemtsov refused to say whether he will run as a representative of an existing party or form his own. Former Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin will become deputy chairman of Gazprombank, according to "Kommersant- Daily" on 25 September. JAC

SUPPORT GROWS FOR FEWER, LARGER REGIONS

Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov has become the latest leading Russian official to endorse Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's proposal for rationalizing the existing structure of the Russian Federation. Meeting on 16 September with Prime Minister Primakov, Luzhkov had advocated reducing the number of federation subjects from the present 89 to 10-12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 September 1998). Farkhutdinov acknowledged that merging several small federation subjects to form one larger territorial unit is "difficult and intricate," but he argued that it is necessary to prevent Russia from disintegrating. On 21 September, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev had suggested that the optimum number of federation subjects would be between 25 and 35, according to ITAR-TASS. Tuleev said the federal authorities should bestow on those unified regions economic autonomy equal to that currently enjoyed by Tatarstan and Yakutia. He added that steps should be taken to prevent "regional separatism." LF

YELTSIN APPROVES FIRST SUCH MERGER

First Deputy Prime Minister and former Leningrad Oblast Governor Vadim Gustov told journalists on 24 September that President Yeltsin has approved the administrative merger of the city of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, Interfax reported. Gustov, who originally suggested the merger, said that Yeltsin has given him responsibility to prepare for the merger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1998). Referenda on the merger are required by the Russian Constitution. They will be held in St. Petersburg in December 1998, at the same time as elections for the city legislature, and in Leningrad Oblast at a later unspecified date. LF

MOSCOW TO CRACK DOWN ON REGIONAL TAX DEADBEATS?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 September, reported that regional leaders are again trying to withhold tax money from the central government. On 22 September, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishayev announced that he is suspending payments to Moscow in part because the central government owes the region more than 3 billion rubles ($189 million). The newspaper reported that Khakassia and Omsk are prepared to take a similar step, although they have not yet made a public announcement. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. On 23 September, Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov sent orders to all prosecutors in Russia's republics and regions to check on the suspension of tax-payments and to launch criminal proceedings and/or lawsuits if necessary, according to "Segodnya". The newspaper also included Khabarovsk in its list of regions refusing to transfer tax funds to the center. JAC

SCANDALS PLAGUE MAYORAL RACES

A court in Vladivostok has ruled that Mayor Viktor Cherepkov cannot stand for reelection because he used public money to pay for his campaign. The flamboyant Cherepkov hosted outdoor discos to promote his candidacy and decorated a road construction project with an enormous flower bed that said, "To the city from the mayor," according to the "Moscow Times" on 25 September. Since Cherepkov intends to appeal the court's decision, he may still be able to run in the election scheduled to take place on 27 September. Meanwhile, as the mayoral election nears in Nizhnii Novgorod, the candidates there are accusing one another of violating local election laws. In August, the local election committee refused to register two new candidates, accusing them of falsifying voters' signatures, "Novosti" reported. Duma deputy Vladimir Semago, who recently quit the Communist Party, has called for Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to ensure the legality of the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1998). JAC

MOTHERS SUGGEST HOW TO SAVE MONEY

The Soldiers' Mothers Committee has sent an open letter to President Yeltsin asking him to cancel the fall draft, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 September. The committee proposed that the money saved by canceling the draft could be used to pay back wages to Russia's armed forces officers. The newspaper argued that the president will be sorely tempted to accept the mothers' suggestion as an "anti-crisis measure," since it would not require the Duma's approval. JAC

RUSSIA TO GRANT IRAN MFN STATUS?

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, at the close of his four-day visit to Tehran, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that there would be no opposition in the Duma to the ratification of documents granting Iran most- favored-nation status, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 25 September. On Afghanistan, Seleznev said that the Taliban are given far greater significance than they actually merit and would not exist as a political force without financial support from Pakistan. But at a 24 September press conference after his return to Moscow, Seleznev conceded that Russia is concerned about reports that the Taliban are deploying long-distance missiles on the Afghan-Iranian frontier, according to Interfax. Seleznev also said that Russia will continue to sell arms to Iran, which he termed "a reliable partner." LF

KHACHILAEV SUPPORTERS STAGE PROTEST IN MAKHACHKALA

Several hundred supporters of Magomed Khachilaev, one of the leaders of the Kazi Kumukh organization representing Dagestan's Lak minority, and his brother Nadirshakh, chairman of the Union of Muslims of Russia, ended their march on the Dagestani capital on 24 September and began a protest demonstration on the outskirts of the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1998), Interfax reported . The demonstrators are demanding the release of Magomed Khachilaev, who was arrested on 9 September for his role in the 21 May storming of the government building. They further demand that a Russian State Duma delegation travel to Makhachkala to meet with them. In a vote that observers believe to have been falsified, the Duma stripped Nadirshakh Khachilaev of his deputy's immunity on 18 September to facilitate his arrest for his involvement in the 21 May incident. Dagestan State Council chairman Magomedali Magomedov assured Prime Minister Primakov on 24 September that there are no anti-Russian or separatist sentiments in Dagestan, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES TRY TO BAN DEMONSTRATION...

Between 500 and 1,000 people met in a cinema in the city of Dzhalalabad on 25 September to formulate their opposition to the changes to the Kyrgyz Constitution proposed by President Askar Akayev, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported. The organizers of the meeting had been prevented from convening it on the city's central square by police, who also blocked all roads leading into the city. The constitutional changes legalize private land ownership, modify the structure of the parliament, and restrict the parliament's role in drafting key legislation, including the state budget. Those amendments are to be submitted to a nationwide referendum in mid-October. Three of the protest organizers were arrested on 22-23 September. Two of them have been tried and sentenced to 15 days in prison for violating public order, while the third, Nazarbek Nyshanov, chairman of the unregistered Patriotic Party of Kyrgyzstan, has been charged with large-scale embezzlement. LF

...AS OPPOSITION TO PROPOSED CHANGES MOUNTS

Interfax on 23 September quoted Communist Party leader Absamat Masaliev, who was Kirghiz Communist Party first secretary from 1985-1991, as saying that 80 percent of Kyrgyz citizens oppose the idea of private land ownership, which he claimed was forced on Kyrgyzstan by the IMF. On 24 September, the Bishkek daily newspaper "Utro Bishkeka" predicted that a civil war comparable to those in Chechnya and Tajikistan may be imminent. The newspaper claimed that MasAliyev and the chairmen of the Ata-Meken and Agrarian-Labor parties are planning to oust Prime Minister Kubanychbek Djumaliev. Meanwhile, the local council in Osh Oblast had to cancel an urgent session to discuss President Askar Akayev's proposed constitutional changes for lack of a quorum, according to RFE/RL's correspondent in the oblast capital. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, VATICAN SIGN AGREEMENT

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Sodana and Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev signed an agreement on 24 September regulating the legal status of the Roman Catholic Church in Kazakhstan, Reuters reported. The agreement, which grants the Church full religious freedom and access to the media, is the first of its kind signed between the Vatican and a former Soviet republic. Following the signing ceremony, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had an audience with Pope John Paul II. LF

TAJIK GOVERNMENT ACCUSES OPPOSITION

The Tajik government On 24 September issued a statement accusing United Tajik Opposition field commanders of violating last year's peace agreement and committing terrorist acts, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement claimed that some opposition commanders engage in looting and hostage-taking. It also identified opposition detachments in the Darband region as being responsible for the murders of four members of the UN observer mission in July and of a leading customs official the following month. The chief of staff of the UTO armed forces, Mirzokhudja Nizomov, rejected the government's accusations. On 25 September, the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe announced it is suspending its work indefinitely because of insufficient security guarantees. LF

TURKMENISTAN'S CLANS LOOKING AHEAD TO POST-NIYAZOV ERA?

The 17 September sackings by President Saparmurat Niyazov of seven prominent military and security officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1998) may have been intended to circumscribe the influence of former Interior Minister Gurban Kasymov, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 September. Niyazov has transferred Kasymov to the post of defense minister. The newspaper claims that after Niyazov's cardiac surgery one year ago, the various Turkmen clans began a covert struggle for power in which each faction tried to enlist Kasymov's support. The daily also claims that the country's inability since March 1997 to export natural gas has brought it to the verge of an economic catastrophe that can be averted only if Niyazov draws on his personal funds in Western banks, estimated at $3 billion. LF

ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES BEGIN MANEUVERS...

Armenian military units and Russian troops from the military base near Armenia's second-largest city, Giumri, began four-day joint maneuvers on 23 September at the Armavir training ground, west of Yerevan, Russian media reported. Infantry units backed by armor and aircraft will participate in the exercises, which will simulate defense actions in mountain conditions and a joint retaliatory strike, according to AP. Armenian Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 September that he hopes the Russian Defense Ministry will soon replace the obsolete equipment of its forces stationed in Armenia. LF

...AS DOES KARABAKH

The armed forces of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 25 September began three weeks of maneuvers that coincide with the 27 September local elections in the disputed enclave and with the 11 October Azerbaijani presidential elections, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Those maneuvers are aimed at monitoring coordination between various detachments of the Karabakh Defense Army, testing combat readiness, and honing the military skills of its personnel, according to a statement released by the Karabakh Defense Ministry. The statement affirmed that optimum combat readiness is an important safeguard against renewed hostilities with Azerbaijan for control of the enclave. LF

TURKISH MILITARY INSPECT RUSSIAN BASES IN GEORGIA

Turkish defense experts have inspected Russian military bases in Georgia and established that the levels of equipment deployed there do not exceed those permitted under the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. An Italian contingent similarly inspected Russian military installations in Leningrad Military District and found no violations there. LF

GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA CONDUCT MORE TALKS

Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze led a government delegation to Sukhumi on 24 September for talks with the Abkhaz leadership. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba said those talks focused on creating confidence-building measures and defusing tensions. As a first step toward achieving those aims, the Georgian and Abkhaz interior and security ministers signed a protocol on the disengagement of forces along the Inguri River, which forms the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh told journalists after the talks that a meeting between Arzdinba and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze will take place "in the nearest future," according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile, two Abkhaz local officials were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion during the night from 23 to 24 September. LF

GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN INITIAL OIL PIPELINE PROTOCOL

Georgian and Azerbaijani representatives on 23 September initialed a protocol stipulating that if the Baku-Ceyhan route is selected for the Main Export Pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, that pipeline will be routed through Georgia, Reuters and Interfax reported. The agreement is to be signed by the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey on 9 October. The vice president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, which represents the first consortium created to exploit Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, told journalists in Baku on 22 September that the decision on the final route for the MEP will be made on schedule in late October, ANS Press reported. The Turkish newspaper "Yeni Yuzil" reported last week that the U.S. State Department has advised the AIOC to delay a decision on the final route until early 1999. LF

AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE DISCUSS OIL EXPORT

Azerbaijani First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 24 September in Kyiv to discuss the prospects for exporting some of Azerbaijan's oil by tanker from the Georgian port of Supsa to Odessa and then via a pipeline to Brody in western Ukraine, AP reported. Ukrainian officials maintain that this is the shortest and cheapest route for transporting Caspian oil to Europe. Ukrainian First Deputy Premier Anatoliy Holubchenko said completion of the half-built pipeline will cost approximately $400 million and take some two years. The cost of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is estimated at $3 billion. LF

TENSION BEFORE AZERBAIJAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Central Electoral Commission spokesman Arif Guseinov told Interfax on 24 September that preparations are almost complete for the 11 October presidential poll. But Turan reported that the opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform is still demanding that the poll be postponed for three months. The Movement also demands that eight of the 24 seats on the Central Electoral Commission be allocated to opposition representatives. Some 100 members of the movement staged a picket on 24 September outside the Prosecutor-General's Office to demand the release of the remaining 12 persons held in custody since the 12 September clashes between police and opposition supporters in Baku. Musavat Party spokesman Arif Gadjiev said on 24 September that the opposition will proceed with plans for a march in Baku on 27 September along the route they have chosen rather than that proposed by Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev. LF




UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT CREATES STATE BROADCASTING GIANT...

In accordance with a recent presidential edict, the Ukrainian government on 24 September announced the establishment of Ukrainian Television and Radio Broadcasting, a state shareholding company that will unite state-run broadcast media, AP reported. Several national television channels and radio stations as well as 27 regional state-run television and radio companies that are not subject to privatization will be united in the new entity. The cabinet appointed Mykola Knyazhytskyy as the company's board chairman. Information Minister Zynoviy Kulyk said the government is currently able to finance only some 20 percent of broadcasters' needs. "It is entirely possible that we shall cut the national radio broadcasts, for instance, from 22 hours a day to seven or eight hours," the agency quoted him as saying. JM

...TRIES TO CALM PUBLIC FEAR OF FINANCIAL COLLAPSE

Ukraine's regional government leaders agreed on 24 September to launch a nationwide information campaign to restore confidence in the national currency, AP reported. In the wake of the Russian crisis, the Ukrainian hryvnya has fallen from 2.1 to $1 in mid- August to $3.25 to $1 on 24 September. Official estimates put the inflation rate in September at 7.5 percent, up from 0.2 percent last month. Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko told regional leaders that "psychological factors" have played a "most significant role" in Ukraine's current economic slump. National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko added that panic among the population is the only obstacle to stabilizing the hryvnya and curbing inflation. JM

UKRAINIAN PENSIONERS TRADE UNPAID PENSIONS FOR FOOD

Authorities in 14 towns in Kharkiv Oblast have organized fairs at which local pensioners can obtain food as compensation for pension arrears, the daily "Fakty" reported on 24 September. Some 3,000 people in the town of Valky are able to choose among pork, beef, milk, sugar, and other foodstuffs provided by enterprises that owe money to the State Pension Fund. Despite the government's repeated attempts to crack down on debtor enterprises, the total debt to the fund remains virtually unchanged, at some $3 billion hryvni ($900 million). JM

LUKASHENKA SAYS BELARUS SHOULD EMBRACE CHRISTIAN VALUES

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told visiting Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksei II that Christian values should become "the state ideology of Belarus," ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. "We are an Orthodox country and we will always be devoted to Orthodoxy," Lukashenka told the patriarch, who is on a four-day visit to Belarus. Lukashenka added that Aleksei II is the only man in whom he "unconditionally trusts." Speaking about his initial impressions of Belarus, Aleksei II said the country is leading a "normal life. A lot has been done to increase the birth rate. While flying to Minsk, we saw harvested fields." JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS 1999 DRAFT BUDGET

The cabinet on 24 September adopted a 1999 draft budget whose volume is 18.451 billion kroons ($1.37 billion), ETA reported. The budget surplus of 20 million kroons will be channeled into the stabilization fund, a government spokesman told the news agency, adding that the cabinet will continue to boost the fund next year. Finance Minister Mart Opmann noted that all ministers have managed to cut their budgets by 2 percent, while the expenditures of the national investment program have been reduced by 10 percent. The deadline for submitting the budget to the parliament is 30 September. JC

MOSCOW ACCUSES LATVIAN PRESIDENT OF 'UNFRIENDLY' UN SPEECH...

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement accusing Guntis Ulmanis of delivering an "openly unfriendly" speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, Russian news agencies reported on 24 September. The ministry said that Ulmanis's speech was based on "speculation on historical themes in which an anti-Russian undercurrent was clearly discernible." It added that Ulmanis sought to shift the blame for the "intolerable status" of Latvia's national minorities on to the "consequences of Soviet occupation," rather than the "discriminatory" policies of the Latvian government. JC

...WHILE LATVIAN OFFICIAL REJECTS ACCUSATION

Latvian Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Maris Riekstins told BNS on 25 September that no "subtexts" or "unfriendly gestures" could be found in Ulmanis's speech to the UN General Assembly. "The issues addressed by Ulmanis were internationally well-known facts about the tragic history of the Baltic States and Europe," Riekstins said. Ulmanis had called on nations to address the issue of "one of the most inhuman regimes--Soviet totalitarianism," adding that Latvia is ready to "cooperate actively." Noting that the Latvian people survived both the Nazi and the Communist occupations, he argued that he therefore has the "full right to call on the world community to do everything so that neither the brown nor the red plague endangers humanity ever again." JC

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT AGREES TO REVISE LAW ON PENSIONS

Lawmakers have voted to revise the newly adopted amendments to the pensions law, BNS reported on 24 September. President Ulmanis returned those amendments to the parliament earlier this week. Welfare Minister Vladimirs Makarovs threatened to resign after the amendments were adopted, saying they are "unfeasible" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1998). But Prime Minister Guntars Krasts has asked him to remain in office. JC

KRZAKLEWSKI RE-ELECTED SOLIDARITY LEADER...

The 10th Solidarity Congress has re-elected Marian Krzaklewski chairman of the Solidarity trade union until 2002, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 25 September. Krzaklewski, who was the only candidate for the post, received 256 votes out of the 321 delegates who voted. Krzaklewski repeated his pledge to resign as chairman of Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), a party created by Solidarity to win the last parliamentary elections. He also promised to cede 80 percent of his powers as AWS parliamentary caucus leader to the AWS Presidium. JM

...WHILE WALESA PANS SOLIDARITY FOR POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT

Addressing the congress, former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa bitterly criticized the trade union for its political involvement and its failure to defend employees' rights. "I see that my children have gone astray. I am going to give you a fatherly admonition," he told the delegates. Walesa reproved Solidarity leaders for combining trade union and government tasks, which, he argued, corrupts both institutions "Trade unions cannot be a transmission belt between the party and the masses. That is a Bolshevik practice that completely distorts the idea of a trade union," he commented. JM

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA ORDERED TO APPEAR IN THE HAGUE

The International Court of Justice in the Hague has ordered representatives of Hungary and Slovakia to appear before the court on 7 October in connection with their dispute over the Danube hydropower project. Slovakia had appealed to the court earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1998). In other news, the EU has warned Hungary that unless it proposes suitable projects on which to spend the 34 million ECU ($29.3 million) remaining in its allocation in the 1995 PHARE budget, it will have to forfeit that money. MSZ

HUNGARY READY TO SUPPORT POSSIBLE NATO ACTION IN KOSOVA

Hungary will provide logistical support and offer the use of its military bases and air space to assist in possible NATO operation in Kosova, the Hungarian delegation attending the NATO conference in Vilamoura, Portugal, said on 24 September. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told Hungarian journalists in New York that his country has not yet received a request to take part in any operation, but if a request is made, the parliament "must approve any such participation." MSZ




WESTERN OFFICIALS WARN MILOSEVIC

The U.S. and Germany on 24 September warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to comply with UN and NATO demands for a cease-fire in Kosova soon or face an ultimatum. U.S. Defense Minister William Cohen, speaking at the NATO meeting in Vilamoura, said that "time is of the essence" and that NATO's "credibility is on the line." His German counterpart, Volker Ruehe, said failure by Belgrade to end Serbian offensives could lead to NATO issuing an ultimatum in as soon as 10 days. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in New York that Milosevic must end the "tragedy in Kosova" or face military intervention. Russian officials argue that another UN mandate is needed before military action can take place. On 24 September, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed its opposition to NATO air strikes in Kosova. But contact group countries U.S., Germany, and Britain argue that further UN approval is not needed for military strikes. PB

MILOSEVIC SAYS THREATS WON'T SOLVE PROBLEM

Yugoslav President Milosevic said on 24 September that NATO threats "only feed the illusions" of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), AP reported. During a meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, Milosevic said "pressure on Yugoslavia" did not help solve the problem. In a meeting of his ruling Socialist Party the same day, Milosevic said "Albanian separatism and terrorism" are to blame for the crisis, and he declared that "the rooting out of terrorism" is the country's top priority. UN spokesman Fernando del Mundo said in Prishtina that some 15,000 civilians have fled the latest Serbian offensive in the central Drenica region. Serbian forces are reportedly routing UCK resistance in the area. PB

RUGOVA ALLY WOUNDED IN ATTACK

A top aide to ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, Sabri Hamiti, has been wounded by an unknown gunman in Prishtina, Reuters reported on 25 September. Hamiti was hit by three bullets, but his condition is reported not serious. Hamiti is a member of the General Council of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova. A writer, Hamiti is also president of the Kosova chapter of PEN. In Tirana, hundreds of people attended the funeral of Ahmet Krasniqi, who was murdered earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1998). Krasniqi was the top defense official of the Kosova government- in-exile's Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosova, a rival to the UCK. PB

NANO REAFFIRMED BY PARTY...

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano was given the full support of his party's top leadership at a meeting of the Socialist Party in Tirana on 24 September. Nano said after the meeting that he is convinced he "has not lost the confidence" or trust of his party. The party leadership also approved the continuation of the coalition government. Nano called the meeting after being criticized by some members of his party for his handling of the uprising in the capital on 12 September. In other news, U.S. President Bill Clinton sent a letter to Albanian President Rexhep Mejdani urging him to mediate a dialogue between the government and the opposition to end "violence and polarization," which Clinton said is a "destructive force in Albania's development." PB

...ANNOUNCES STABILIZATION PLAN

Nano also announced a plan that aims to help reduce tensions in Albania and restore stability, Reuters reported. Nano said the government will step up efforts to find those responsible for the killing of deputy Azem Hajdari, which sparked days of violence in the city. He added that the state will purge itself of police that took part in the violence or the demonstrations that followed. His three-month plan also targets economic stability and corruption, which he said will be tackled by reforming the justice system, customs, and tax collection. Interior Ministry spokesman Artan Bizhga said the leader of the Monarchy Party, Ekrem Spahia, has been arrested for his actions in the "armed uprising." PB

EU OFFICIAL CONCERNED ABOUT ALBANIA

Hans van den Broek, EU commissioner responsible for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan affairs, said that no one in the EU supports the actions of former Albanian President Sali Berisha, ATA reported on 24 September. Van den Broek said "we continue to be concerned about the developments in Albania." He singled out the fact that "both the ruling parties and the opposition" are not cooperating to normalize the situation. Van den Broek made his comments to Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo at the UN in New York. PB

NATO WILL MAINTAIN ROLE IN BOSNIA

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on 24 September that the alliance "will not abandon Bosnia," AP reported. Solana, speaking after the NATO meeting in Portugal, said the international peacekeeping force in Bosnia- Herzegovina "will continue to play a pro-active role" in maintaining security in the country. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said that some NATO allies are hoping that "military forces and missions can shrink as civilian authorities play a larger role" in Bosnia. The peacekeeping operation is to be reviewed in December. PB

BOSNIAN SERB MODERATES SIGN AGREEMENT

Three top moderate Bosnian Serb politicians signed an agreement in Banja Luka on 24 September pledging to continue to advance democratic and economic reforms, dpa reported. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, Premier Milorad Dodik, and Zivko Radisic, whose parties formed a coalition in the elections, signed the accord. While Plavsic has conceded defeat in her bid for re-election, many observers say that Radisic beat Serbian hard-liner Momcilo Krajisnik for the Serbian seat of the Bosnian presidency. PB

MACEDONIAN POLICE ARREST SUSPECTED UCK MEMBER

Macedonian police said on 24 September that they had arrested an ethnic Albanian suspected of carrying out bomb attacks in Macedonia, AFP reported. The man is part of a UCK squad arrested during a police operation on 17 September in which another man was killed. The police are seeking two others who escaped. Police suspect the group of eight bomb attacks at police and military installations in several Macedonian towns between December 1997 and July 1998. PB




LUZHKOV AND ZYUGANOV: FRIENDLIER THAN EVER


by Floriana Fossato

Not many Russian governors receive congratulations and presents from the Kremlin on their birthday The powerful mayor of Moscow, Yurii Luzhkov, does. And in the current times of political and financial uncertainty, that is not by chance.

Earlier this week, President Boris Yeltsin wished Luzhkov a happy 62nd birthday, and Russian television channels showed Yeltsin holding a large present wrapped in green paper. Hours later, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov found time to go to Moscow City Hall and personally give Luzhkov his present.

Analysts in Moscow say that the Kremlin's show of consideration is also a sign of fear, as it comes precisely at the moment when populist, nationalist-leaning Luzhkov is openly sealing his ties with Yeltsin's communists foes. Yeltsin's comment that the Moscow mayor deserves a tribute on the occasion of his birthday seemed to disguise a last-minute attempt to make a "non-aggression pact" with Luzhkov, said one analyst who wished to remain unnamed.

Luzhkov has repeatedly denied having presidential ambitions, but many--both in Moscow and across Russia--see him as a likely presidential candidate in the year 2000, when the next presidential vote is scheduled. They also see him as a candidate in the event of early elections.

Luzhkov and communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov in the past week or so have revealed that their positions are growing closer. Echoing earlier communist demands, Luzhkov has urged Primakov to renationalize some former state companies, adding that the architects of privatization schemes, as well as officials involved in investment pyramid schemes, should be put on trial.

Zyuganov, for his part, has openly praised Luzhkov. He said he is pleased to see that "in the present crisis situation, Luzhkov has assumed positions aimed at strengthening order in the country." Using Soviet-era terminology, Zyuganov added that people like Luzhkov are considered by the Communists to "poputchiki" or fellow-travelers.

"Kommersant-Daily" reports that Luzhkov has agreed that his goals do, indeed, coincide with the Communists'. The daily quoted him as saying that "as a matter of fact this is a consolidation, aimed at implementing important principles that we share."

One of Luzhkov's closest allies, General Andrei Nikolaev, is reportedly working to broaden the political platform that could bring Luzhkov to power.

Fired by Yeltsin earlier this year from the post of Federal Borderguard Service, the ambitious general, reportedly with Luzhkov's backing, soon obtained a seat in the State Duma and created a political movement, the Union of People's Power and Labor. Within a matter of only a few months, the union has forged alliances with 12 centrist and leftist political organizations. Most recently, it signed a protocol aimed at coordinating its activities with those of the communist-led Popular and Patriotic Union.

Nikolaev has announced that his plans for the 1999 parliamentary elections include the creation of a wide bloc that would become the "party of the majority." If such a bloc emerges, he predicted, it is very likely that its common candidate for the presidential vote will be Luzhkov.

However, "Kommersant-Daily," quoting unnamed communist Duma deputies, said Nikolaev's predictions overlook the fact that most communists legislators would like to see their leader, Zyuganov, as the common candidate for the next presidential election. In the event of early elections, a struggle for power could easily break out among the new "fellow-travelers."

Until the financial crisis started biting hard in the capital, sweeping away savings and leaving the emerging middle- class jobless, Moscow had been the symbol of coming abundance. Having re-elected Luzhkov in 1996 with 90 percent of the vote, Muscovites are now anxious that the capital could end up resembling the deprived and neglected towns that abound in Russia. They would most likely support the Moscow mayor in a presidential ballot in the hope this would guarantee them a better future. Other Russians, who have been wary of Moscow's success so far, would have to be convinced that the mayor of the capital would be able to improve their situation to some degree.

Luzhkov has been criticized by human rights organizations and by many Russians for perpetuating Soviet-era practices, such as the Moscow residency permit, or "propiska." The Constitutional Court has twice instructed Moscow authorities to abolish the propiska, but Luzhkov responded by publicly telling officials to disregard the ruling.

Others underline that Luzhkov, far from being a politician who counts on businesses to finance his political initiatives, is himself a full-fledged member of Russia's "oligarchy" and would have trouble finding the support of other "oligarchs."

The English-language daily "Moscow Times" wrote last month that Luzhkov has never missed a chance to criticize privatization over the past years and its main architect, Anatolii Chubais. However, the daily noted that "few have benefited more from Chubais' privatization than Luzhkov himself."

Luzhkov's financial and industrial resources include telecommunications companies, television and printed media assets, car, electronics, and food-processing plants, refineries and dozens of filling stations. With such "incredible resources," writes the newspaper, Luzhkov can only be considered an oligarch who is "well ahead of the pack," as he is "the only oligarch who holds elected office." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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