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Newsline - November 13, 1998




JAPAN INVITES YELTSIN TO VISIT TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on 12 November invited Russian President Boris Yeltsin to visit Japan early next year, at which time, his spokesman said, Japan will respond to Russian proposals related to the territorial dispute between the two countries, Russian agencies reported. On 13 November, Obuchi and Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov exchanged the texts of the Moscow declaration signed by Yeltsin and Obuchi the previous day. The two premiers also signed four other documents to expand capital investment, increase tourism and environmental protection, and expand cooperation in mail delivery and telecommunications. During his visit, Obuchi announced Tokyo's plans to give Russia $10 million worth of medicines and provide expanded cooperation in a variety of technical areas. PG

VLASOV RELEASED

Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov was freed at an unidentified location in the North Caucasus early on 13 November. He later flew to Moscow from Ingushetia, Russian agencies reported. Russian officials said the operation for his release was conducted jointly by Russian and Ingushetian Interior Ministry forces. They also denied that any ransom had been paid. Vlasov was abducted on 1 May on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Until recently, Chechen officials had claimed that his kidnappers were demanding a $7 million ransom for his release. LF

YELTSIN CALLS FOR STRUGGLE AGAINST EXTREMISM

President Yeltsin on 12 November directed his government to put an end to what he called "manifestations of ethnic and political extremism" in Russia, his presidential news service announced. He directed the government to take "urgent radical measures" and law-enforcement agencies to reverse their "inadmissible and politically short- sighted" approach in the past. "Extremists," the president said, "should be prevented from throwing the country into havoc and social unrest." PG

OPPOSITION TO MAKASHOV'S ANTI-SEMITIC COMMENTS GROWS

Russian regional and local officials from around the country have added their voices in denunciation of recent anti-Semitic statements by State Duma deputy Albert Makashov, Interfax reported on 12 November. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov spoke for many-- including Academician Dmitrii Likhachev--in demanding that Makashov be stripped of parliamentary immunity and tried for inciting interethnic hatred. Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy in Moscow released a statement revealing that it is concerned about "an increasing number of manifestations of racism and anti-Semitism in Russia." And Minister of Justice Pavel Krashennikov said Makashov's statements are "just short of hooliganism" and a "direct challenge to law enforcement agencies." PG

IS YELTSIN 'FEELING WELL' OR IS HE 'A ROBOT ON DRUGS'?

Naina Yeltsin told journalists on 12 November that her husband "feels well" after his vacation in Sochi but is finding it difficult to adjust to the climate change, Interfax reported. However, one Japanese diplomat who saw Yeltsin up close during the Russian president's meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi told Western journalists that the Russian leader now looks like "a robot on drugs." PG

RUSSIA, IRAN CALL FOR PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF IRAQI CRISIS

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk and the Iranian Ambassador in Moscow Mehdi Safari on 12 November called for a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis within the framework of the UN, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement published by Interfax. The same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov added that "the entire international community must remain unanimous" on this issue. Meanwhile, Russian news agencies reported that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev will visit Syria and Egypt from 13-17 November, where, the agencies said, he will discuss the Iraqi crisis. PG

'GLOBALIZATION' OF NATO'S MISSION WORRIES FOREIGN MINISTRY

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 12 November released a statement saying that Moscow is concerned about "the desire on the part of certain NATO member states to officially globalize the sphere of NATO's activities," Interfax reported. The statement specifically criticized recent U.S. statements calling for the extension of NATO's activities "beyond [the alliance's] zone." The ministry said that Moscow believes NATO's efforts to assume responsibility in so many areas "may lead to serious disturbances of the existing world order and the entire system of international relations." PG

RUSSIA PREPARED TO ACCEPT EU FOOD AID

Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik said on 12 November that he is sending a letter to the EU saying that Moscow is prepared to accept the EU's offer of food aid, Interfax reported. Under a preliminary agreement, the EU will supply approximately $500 million in food of various kinds. PG

MASLYUKOV EXPECTS FEW CHANGES IN CABINET BEFORE 2000

First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said that he does not expect any changes in the core of Prime Minister Primakov's cabinet before 2000, although Maslyukov said there may be some changes in less important posts, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 November. Maslyukov added that the current government has begun work at a time when the economy is in near collapse, and he warned against any effort to replace him with either Yegor Gaidar or Grigorii Yavlinskii, two reformist figures. At the same time, Maslyukov said that it would be a mistake to "throw mud" on the entire reform period. The current government, he suggested, simply has to "complete much of what the reformers stopped doing half-way through." Interfax reported the same day that an opinion poll has found that 24 percent of Russians now trust Primakov's government. PG

FOREIGN INVESTMENT DROPS BY 50 PERCENT

Deputy Economics Minister Vladimir Kossov told Interfax on 12 November that foreign investment in Russia this year will total approximately $3 billion, down from $6.1 billion in 1997. Meanwhile, Central Bank officials said that as many as 720 of the country's commercial banks may be closed during the restructuring of the country's banking system, Interfax reported. PG

ZADORNOV SAYS RUBLE TO BE AT 20-21 TO DOLLAR IN 1999

Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told Interfax on 12 November that the government expects the ruble- dollar exchange rate to be at 20-21 to $1 in 1999. In other comments, he said the Russian government budget will have a primary surplus of 2 percent and that inflation next year is forecast at 30 percent. PG

PRIMAKOV SAYS STATE SHOULD GET STAKE IN DEBTOR COMPANY

Prime Minister Primakov said on 12 November that the Rosneft oil company should pay its debts to the state by yielding a portion of its ownership to the government, Interfax reported. Speaking to a government meeting, Primakov said such an arrangement would allow the firm to continue to operate rather than "turning it into state property." In other comments, Primakov denounced the practice of paying 3 percent of privatization revenues to the Ministry for State Property. PG

MOSCOW PLANS TALKS ON DEFERRING SOVIET DEBT...

Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 November that the Russian government will seek talks with creditors in order to defer "for one or two years" its repayment of the Soviet Union's foreign debt. PG

...BUT CENTRAL BANK SAYS NO MORATORIUM EXTENSION PLANNED

Andrei Kozlov, a first deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, said on 12 November that Moscow is not considering any extension of the 90-day moratorium on the payment of Russian bank debts to non- residents, Interfax reported. PG

GOKHRAN TO SELL GOLD NOTES DESPITE CENTRAL BANK OPPOSITION

Deputy Finance Minister German Kuznetsov, who heads the State Repository GOKHRAN said that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is prepared to buy certificates representing 50 tons of gold held by his agency, "Segodnya" reported on 12 November. Kuznetsov said that Russia's Central Bank is opposed to the deal, but he added that "if the Russian government is not ready to buy our gold, well, let it be bought by Western banks." PG

GOVERNMENT TO AID SPACE INDUSTRY

The Russian cabinet on 12 November approved the agreement between Russia, the European Space Agency states, the U.S., Japan, and China to build a space station and forwarded the accord to the Duma for ratification, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Russian Space Agency Director-General Yurii Koptev told a press conference in Moscow that the government has promised to increase its support for his organization. He indicated that the government has provided only 1.2 billion rubles of the 2.8 billion originally budgeted. In other remarks, Koptev said that Moscow will decide by the end of the year on the future of the "Mir" space station. And he acknowledged that 80 percent of the 137 satellites Russia currently has in orbit are no longer functioning. PG

MORTALITY RATE NOW 50-100 PERCENT ABOVE WESTERN LEVELS

Minister of Health Vladimir Starodubov told Interfax on 12 November that Russian mortality rates are now 50 to 100 percent higher than those in industrialized Western countries. He added that the high morality rate combined with a low birth rate meant that the Russian population fell by 5.2 per thousand in 1997. PG




TAJIKISTAN AGAIN ACCUSES UZBEKISTAN OVER REBELLION

Addressing the Tajik parliament on 12 November, President Imomali Rakhmonov said he has proof that his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, rendered assistance to former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdollojonov, whom Rakhmonov identified as the mastermind behind last week's failed rebellion in northern Tajikistan, Reuters reported. "By organizing coups and helping rebels, the Uzbek leadership wants to take the whole of Tajikistan under its control," Rakhmonov said. Tajik Prosecutor-General Salomiddin Sharapov condemned Uzbekistan's alleged complicity in the revolt as "armed intervention" and claimed that the rebels had undergone training in Afghanistan. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov on 11 November denied earlier Tajik allegations of official Uzbek support for the rebels. LF

UN EXTENDS TAJIK OBSERVER MISSION

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on 12 November to extend its observer mission in Tajikistan for another six months, until 15 May 1999, Reuters reported. But the Security Council also officially condemned the July killings of three members of that force and their civilian driver, saying the observer mission will not resume its activities in Tajikistan until those murders are solved, according to dpa. LF

TURKISH PRESIDENT IN TURKMENISTAN

During a two- day visit to Ashgabat on 11-12 November, Suleyman Demirel held talks with his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, on expanding economic cooperation, Russian agencies reported. Turkey is one of Turkmenistan's largest trading partners: bilateral trade turnover for the first eight months of 1998 totaled $141 million. Claiming that bilateral relations are "so solid that nothing can threaten them," Niyazov proposed that future cooperation with Turkey focus primarily on the oil and gas sector. He said he has appointed Deputy Minister for the Textile Industry Ahmet Calyk, who is a Turkish citizen, to represent Turkmenistan in talks on the sale of energy to Turkey. Demirel also attended the ceremonial opening of several buildings in Ashgabat, including the National Museum, that were constructed by Turkish firms. LF

KAZAKHSTAN ESTABLISHES STATE ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION

President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a decree on 12 November setting up a State Commission for the Struggle Against Corruption, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Nazarbayev simultaneously abolished the State High Council on Disciplinary Control, established three months ago, and named its chairman, Oralbay Abdykarimov, as chairman of the new commission. Addressing the body's first session on 12 November, Nazarbayev said that the struggle against corruption and bribetaking among high ranking officials is essential for the preservation of the country's independence. No mercy will be shown to persons found guilty of corruption, he added. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEPUTY SILENCED

Marat Ospanov, speaker of the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament, interrupted deputy Valerii Zemlyanov on 12 November when the latter tried to suggest that the presidential elections scheduled for 10 January will not be free and fair, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. Zemlyanov's microphone was then switched off and other deputies began reviling him as an obstacle to the parliament's work. Zemlyanov subsequently told RFE/RL correspondents that he wanted to attract the parliaments attention to the closure of many newspapers in the country and to pressures faced by opposition movements and organizations. LF

KYRGYZSTAN BRACES FOR BATTLE OF SOM

Kyrgyzstan's currency stabilized at 28 som to $1 in street trading on 12 November after falling to 29-32 som the previous day, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 9 November the National Bank had ceased intervening to prop up the som. Also on 12 November, Finance Minister Taalaibek Koichumanov told journalists that the planned budget deficit in 1999 will be about 7 percent, almost twice the rate for 1998. (In August, Prime Minister Kubanychbek Djumaliyev had estimated the 1999 budget deficit at 2.1 percent.) Koichumanov said that Kyrgyzstan must repay about $100 million of its estimated $1.3 billion foreign debt next year. LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE

Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the independent "Yeni Musavat," and three other journalists from that newspaper have begun an indefinite hunger strike to protest harassment by the Azerbaijani authorities, Turan reported on 12 November. The newspaper recently severed its connections with the opposition Musavat party. Ramiz Mehtiev, head of the presidential apparatus, and Nizami Gadjiev, head of the Interior Ministry's intelligence department, have brought libel proceedings against Arifoglu for publishing uncorroborated allegations that presidential candidates Ashraf Mehtiev and Nizami Suleymanov had made against them. Arifoglu told the European Institute for the Media in Baku last month that he has reason to believe that after the elections, when international attention to internal developments in Azerbaijan wanes, "the free press will be taught a lesson." LF

RUSSIAN EMBASSY REJECTS AZERBAIJANI ALLEGATIONS

The Russian Embassy in Baku issued a statement on 12 November denying that Russian intelligence has either tried to stage a coup in Azerbaijan or that its operatives have encouraged Azerbaijani opposition parties to do so, Turan reported. The statement was in response to allegations by Azerbaijani security officials during a parliamentary session on 10 November that opposition parties, including the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, are receiving support from foreign intelligence services. LF

CIS MINISTER SAYS BAKU-CEYHAN ROUTE UNLIKELY BEFORE 2003

Boris Pastukhov, Russian minister for CIS affairs, said on 12 November that the U.S.-supported Baku- Ceyhan pipeline route "will not be built before 2003, if at all," "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported. The line intended to carry oil from the Caspian basin across Turkey to the Mediterranean would cost what Pastukhov called a "staggering" $2.5 billion. Western estimates are as high as $3.5 billion. And because oil prices are so low, any money invested in this route "will not be quickly recouped." As a result, he concluded, oil companies are far more likely to use the Baku-Supsa and Tengiz-Novorossiisk routes favored by Moscow. PG

MKHEDRIONI SUPPORTERS PROTEST TRIAL VERDICT

Some 25 members of the paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni are staging a protest action in central Tbilisi to demand the release of the organization's leader Djaba Ioseliani and 14 of his associates, Caucasus Press reported on 13 November. The men were sentenced earlier this week to up to 15 years in prison for treason, robbery, and the failed attempt in August 1995 to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Mkhedrioni spokesman Tornike Berishvili argued that Ioseliani's sentence was illegal since at the time of his arrest he was a parliament deputy and therefore enjoyed immunity from prosecution. LF

MORE POLICE KILLED BY MINES IN ABKHAZIA

Two police officers were killed and four injured late on 11 November when their vehicle hit an anti-tank mine in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Interfax reported. Those deaths raise the number of Abkhaz police either shot dead or blown up by mines since early June to at least 10. Six Russian members of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed on the Georgian-Abkhaz internal border have been killed in similar incidents over the same period. LF




UKRAINIAN CHIEF BANKER UPBEAT ON FINANCIAL STABILIZATION

National Bank chairman Viktor Yushchenko said on 12 November that the bank's hard- currency reserves grew to some $1 billion in October, Interfax reported. In Yushchenko's opinion, that figure confirms that the current exchange rate of the hryvnya-- 3.42 to $1--reflects supply and demand. He said he believes that Ukrainians have not lost confidence in the country's banking system and that Ukraine "stands a chance of keeping the situation under control through the rest of the year." Yushchenko also said the administrative management methods on the currency market, which "proved very efficient during the crisis," should be abandoned "as soon as possible." He did not rule out a money emission but said it should be "totally justified and appropriately related to currency flows or growth in GDP." JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT DECREES 'ADDITIONAL BUDGET REVENUES'

Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov on 12 November said that the government has issued a decree "ordering all ministries and departments to accumulate at least 700 million hryvni ($205 million) in additional budget revenues," Ukrainian News reported on 13 November. Mityukov said the decree provides for, among other things, the sale of assets seized by tax authorities from debtor companies. He added that the document reveals the government's resolve not to resort to money emissions in paying wage and pension arrears. Mityukov also said the government intends to reduce borrowing in coming years in order to prevent its debt from becoming unmanageable. He stressed that the threat is posed not by the size of the debt (some $15 billion) but by the period for its repayment. The government will not apply for "short-term and expensive loans," he commented. JM

LUKASHENKA, ADAMKUS PLEDGE ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Meeting at the Lithuanian border checkpoint of Meduninkai on 12 November, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus, pledged to continue economic cooperation on free market principles, Reuters reported. A joint statement issued after the meeting said Belarus "will take all the necessary measures" to repay its $65.5 million debt to Lithuania for electricity supplies. ITAR-TASS reported that the two presidents are also expected to discuss a bilateral agreement on the readmission of illegal migrants. Belarusian Television reported that Lukashenka briefed Adamkus on the human rights situation in Belarus and assured him that "people in today's Belarus have no fewer rights and freedoms than Lithuanian citizens." JM

LUKASHENKA SAYS 'HEADQUARTERS' NOT TO REPLACE GOVERNMENT

Commenting on the creation of the "nationwide headquarters" to stabilize the economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1998), Lukashenka said the new body is not a government but will "coordinate all power organs and structures on the president's behalf," Belarusian Television reported on 12 November. The headquarters, Lukashenka explained, has been set up "to stave off the economic collapse that, unfortunately, is taking place all around." The president added that "trends" toward such a collapse can now be seen in Belarus. JM

NARVA RESTORES REDUCED WATER SUPPLIES TO IVANGOROD

The Narva water authorities have resumed supplies to the Russian city of Ivangorod but at only one- quarter of the previous level, ETA and BNS reported on 12 November. Director of the Narva Vesi company Aksel Ers commented that supplies will depend on the reliability of Russian payments. He said that supplies will be restored to their previous level only after full payment of the 18.5 million kroons ($1.4 million) debt. JC

MOSCOW AGAIN LINKS BORDER ACCORD TO RUSSIAN- SPEAKERS' SITUATION

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told BNS on 11 November that the Russian-Estonian border agreement will be signed only after there has been real progress in Russian-Estonian relations. He added that "we don't conceal that the key to normalizing Estonian-Russian relations is a real...improvement in the situation of our compatriots living in Estonia." Estonian Foreign Minister Raul Malk had said after the latest round of talks last week that the two sides are close to the finishing post and that the next meeting will be the last (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1998). Rakhmanin, however, commented that the talks are only just entering the last lap. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE OFFERS CABINET POSTS TO PEOPLE'S PARTY

Vilis Kristopans on 12 November confirmed he has offered the People's Party the foreign affairs, justice, and agriculture portfolios within the framework of a coalition agreement, BNS reported. That confirmation came after the People's Party insisted it had been offered the posts without such an agreement. Kristopans said he had sought at the 11 November meeting with the People's Party first to talk about cabinet posts and only then to discuss a coalition agreement. He added that the People's Party had distorted his remarks, signaling the continued "crisis of confidence" between that party and his Latvia's Way. JC

LITHUANIAN PREMIER WANTS TO COOL EU ENTHUSIASM

Gediminas Vagnorius told the parliament on 12 November that Lithuania has been "too enthusiastic" in seeking to join the EU, BNS reported. He said he plans changes in the government's preparation strategy for talks with the EU and stressed that Vilnius will continue to seek membership in the union "but not at any price." Vagnorius also commented that Lithuania will not close down the Ignalina nuclear power plant earlier than planned purely out of "political motives." Officials in Brussels have said that the issue of Ignalina was one reason why Lithuania has not been included in the "fast-track" entry talks, according to Reuters. JC

GIMZAUSKAS TRIAL TO BEGIN IN JANUARY

The Vilnius District Court has announced that the trial of Kazyz Gimzauskas on charges of crimes against humanity will begin on 5 January. The 90-year-old Gimzauskas, who was deputy chief of the Vilnius security police during the Nazi occupation, is accused of involvement in the genocide of Jews. His immediate superior at the time, 91-year-old Aleksandras Lileikis, is currently facing similar charges. Lileikis's trial, however, has been postponed indefinitely owing to his poor health (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 10 November 1998). JC

POLAND BACKS SLOVAKIA'S NATO, EU MEMBERSHIP BID

Polish leaders on 12 November assured Slovakia's new prime minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, that they support his country's aspiration to join NATO and the EU, AP reported. "It is Poland's strong intention to see Slovakia in the EU and NATO as soon as possible," Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told Dzurinda in Warsaw. Dzurinda commented that "Poland is becoming a driving force for the integration efforts of Central European nations," which, he explained, is why he chose to visit Warsaw at the start of his term. JM

IRAQ SAYS IT CAPTURED POLISH SPY

Iraq claims it has caught a Polish UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspector spying in the vicinity of the presidential palace in Baghdad, Polish media reported on 12 November. Iraqi authorities arrested Grzegorz Torbinski, who at the time was in possession of a map of the city, and released him after interrogation. Torbinski maintains that he went to visit the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Iraq has sent a protest to the UN over the alleged spying incident. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler said the accusations are absolutely groundless, adding that Iraq is using the incident to sustain tension between Baghdad and UNSCOM. JM

VANDALS DAMAGE JEWISH MONUMENT IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Police in Trutnov, eastern Bohemia, say vandals have damaged a monument to Jewish girls tortured by the Nazis. The vandals also knocked over and smashed headstones around the monument, which was sprayed with the words "Death to Jews." The monument and the headstones were erected to commemorate 41 Jewish girls who worked as slave laborers at a local textile factory during World War II and were later tortured by the Nazis, AP reported. MS

HUNGARY TO TIGHTEN ANTI-CRIME LEGISLATION

Interior Minister Sandor Pinter on 12 November told the parliament that a comprehensive new law to combat crime is necessary because the opening of borders in recent years and the transformations in society have created "a criminal subculture." A legislative package presented by Pinter introduces new provisions to deal with arms and drug trafficking and money laundering. It increases the powers of border and custom guards and introduces stricter requirements for foreign residence permits. Under the draft legislation, local authorities are to seek to restrict prostitution to designated areas away from residential zones. The opposition has protested a provision that would give police access to data banks before an investigation is ordered. Socialist Party deputy Zoltan Gal said there is a danger of creating an "information technology police state." MS




HOSTAGES FREED IN KOSOVA

Kosovars have exchanged two Serbian civilians who were kidnapped earlier this week for seven ethnic Albanians. The exchange took place at Leposaviq, near the Montenegrin border, on 13 November. The seven Kosovars were the last of nearly 100 whom armed Serbian civilians seized on 11-12 November. The Kosovar KIC news agency claimed on 12 November that the Serbian civilians captured the ethnic Albanians "in collusion with the police." Many details of the story remain unclear. In Prishtina, U.S. envoy Chris Hill said he wants to "move ahead as quickly as possible" to obtain an interim political settlement in the province. He added: "We made a lot of progress on the agreement but we have a long way to go." Hill discussed the settlement with local Serbs opposed to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, including Bishop Artemije. The U.S. diplomat is slated to arrive in Belgrade on 13 November. PM

SIXTY PERCENT OF WAR-ZONE VILLAGES DESTROYED

Spokesmen for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in Geneva on 13 November that Serbian forces earlier this week surrounded a town near Prizren and told the 2,400 residents that the police would burn the settlement if the residents did not surrender their weapons immediately. The spokesmen condemned what they called "repeated attacks" by Serbian forces against Kosovars. The spokesmen added that some 60 percent of all villages in the areas that saw fighting during the recent Serbian crackdown have been entirely or partly destroyed. Only 41 percent of the houses in those areas are inhabitable, dpa reported. An additional 29 percent will require extensive repairs to get them ready for winter, and 30 percent have been completely destroyed. The Western press has frequently described systematic looting and destruction of ethnic Albanian villages by Yugoslav army troops, Serbian police, and Serbian paramilitary forces. PM

ALBANIA'S MAJKO WARNS OF 'DANGEROUS VACUUM' IN KOSOVA

Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told his Greek counterpart, Kostas Simitis, in Athens on 12 November that "there is a dangerous vacuum [in Kosova]. It is neither war nor peace." He added that only "immediate intervention" by the international community can bring "a temporary [political] status" that will eventually become the basis of a final settlement, AP reported. Majko did not elaborate but suggested that the interim status must give the Kosovars wide autonomy. Simitis stressed that Kosova needs "more independence...but within the existing borders" of Serbia and Yugoslavia. FS

BELGRADE HALTS MONEY FLOW TO REPUBLIKA SRPSKA

The Yugoslav government announced on 12 November that it will not allow the further transfer of dinars to the Republika Srpska until the Bosnian Serb government lowers its official exchange rate from 7.5 dinars to the German mark to 6 dinars, which is the official rate in Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Serb government recently adopted the rate of 7.5 to one, which is approximately the black market value. In Belgrade on 12 November, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said that the devaluation is an attempt by Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik to "destabilize Serbia," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Both the Yugoslav and Bosnian currencies are legal tender in the Republika Srpska. The German mark has functioned as a de facto second currency throughout the former Yugoslavia for decades. PM

WESTENDORP BLASTS REPUBLIKA SRPSKA

A spokesman for the international community's Carlos Westendorp said in Sarajevo on 12 November that the Bosnian Serb government is violating the Dayton agreement by hindering the work in Banja Luka of the Bosnian Court for Human Rights. He noted that the court has been unable to obtain any office space in the Republika Srpska. Meanwhile near Stolac in the Croatian-controlled part of Herzegovina, an explosion damaged a house owned by a Muslim, who was injured in the blast. There have been some 70 explosions or other violent incidents against Muslims or Serbs in the Stolac area since the beginning of 1998. No arrests have been made, AP reported. PM

CROATIAN OPPOSITION QUITS PARLIAMENTARY POSTS

The leaders of the six main opposition parties announced in Zagreb on 12 November that members of their parties who are deputies in the lower house of parliament have resigned all their committee functions. The deputies will keep their seats in the legislature. The party leaders said that the move is a protest against what they called their parties' "marginalization" in the parliament by the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). They added that the move was prompted by the parliament's recent refusal to set up a body to investigate links between the secret services and the HDZ. Three deputies who represent ethnic minorities joined their colleagues from the opposition in resigning their posts. The six parties are the Social Democratic Party, Croatian Peasants' Party, Croatian Social-Liberal Party, Liberal Party, Croatian People's Party, and Istrian Democratic Assembly. PM

TEACHERS STRIKE IN CROATIA

Thousands of elementary and secondary school teachers throughout Croatia staged a one-day strike on 12 November to demand better pay and increased government spending on education. Union leaders said that 80 percent of all teachers joined the strike, which followed similar one-day actions earlier this year. The average salary for a teacher is $360 per month, which is $40 less than the national average. And in Vukovar, Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, who is an aide to President Franjo Tudjman, told several Western ambassadors to Croatia and representatives of the OSCE that Croatia needs $2.5 billion to renovate war-scarred eastern Slavonia. She spoke at a meeting to mark the third anniversary of the conclusion of the Erdut agreement between Milosevic and Tudjman, which set the terms for the return of the area to Croatian control. PM

SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT WEATHERS POLITICAL STORM

The government of Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek is likely to remain in power, despite opposition calls for it to resign in the wake of recent EU criticism of Slovenia's preparation for EU membership, Reuters reported on 12 November. Drnovsek's position is strong enough to enable him to survive, and he upstaged the opposition parties by inviting them to join the governing coalition, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 11 November. The government has made little progress toward EU membership because of tensions between the two leading coalition partners, namely the center-left Liberal Democrats and the conservative People's Party. PM

ALBANIA, GREECE SIGN LOAN AGREEMENT

Majko and Simitis, the premiers of Albania and Greece, signed a $17.86 million loan tranche agreement in Athens on 12 November. This is third tranche of a $71.44 million loan agreed on two years ago. Greece will pay the loan to help Albania improve its infrastructure. Part of the money will be used to help Albania build a new national theater in downtown Tirana. Simitis said Greece is willing to help Albania forge closer ties with NATO, the EU, "and any other international organizations it chooses." FS

ROW CONTINUES OVER ALBANIAN CONSTITUTION

Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha said on 12 November in Tirana that a provision in the draft constitution allowing the state to nationalize private property violates another constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to private property. Berisha added that the constitution obliges the government to pay only "fair compensation" rather than "complete compensation" for nationalized property. The chairman of the parliament's constitution drafting commission, Sabri Godo, dismissed the criticism as "pointless," the "Albanian Daily News" reported. He stressed that the state will need to build roads and other public works and warned that the lack of such provisions could "bring economic progress...to a halt." Godo added that experts recommended the term "fair compensation" as meaning the market value of properties. He suggested that Berisha "does not believe" his own criticism and that he simply wants to discredit the draft in the run-up to the 22 November. FS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION MOTION REJECTED

The Chamber of Deputies on 12 November rejected an opposition motion to debate the deterioration of pensioners' living standards as a result of the growing costs of living. The vote was 155-91. At a government meeting the same day, State Property Fund chief Radu Sarbu announced that 49 loss-making state companies will be closed down if they cannot be privatized in the very near future. MS

ROMANIAN STRIKES SUSPENDED

After meeting with Prime Minister Radu Vasile, representatives of the striking students said they are suspending the strike till 1 January 1999, having agreed with Vasile on ways to satisfy some of their demands. Heavy truck and taxi drivers also suspended industrial action after talks with representatives of the government. Agreement was reached on social protection measures for drivers unemployed during the winter season and on the reduction of fines imposed for driving penalties. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILLS ON PUBLIC, LOCAL ADMINISTRATION

The parliament on 12 November approved two bills whose adoption has long been urged by the IMF and the World Bank: a bill on public administration and one on reorganizing local administration. Moldova is now divided into nine counties and one autonomous region, Gagauz-Yeri. The district of Taraclia, inhabited by a large Bulgarian minority, is included in Cahul County but will have a deputy county chairman in charge of the special needs of that minority, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Last month, the Bulgarian ambassador to Moldova protested the intention to do away with a separate administrative unit for Taraclia. MS

MOLDOVAN MINISTER DISMISSED

President Petru Lucinschi on 12 November dismissed Transportation and Communications Minister Tudor Leanca, Infotag reported. No reason was given for the decision, Infotag reported. It is unclear whether Leanca, a member of the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD), will be replaced by another PFD member in order to honor the coalition agreement. Meanwhile, in an interview with RFE/RL on 12 November, Lucinschi said the country's economic crisis has mainly been triggered by the crisis in CIS countries and Romania, to which Moldova sends more than 80 percent of its exports. MS

SMIRNOV IN MOSCOW

Moldovan media reported on 11- 12 November that Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov's 10- 11 November visit to Moscow and his talks with the Russian leadership were aimed at coordinating positions in advance of the Moldovan-Russian-Ukrainian summit scheduled to take place in Kyiv for 27-29 November. The summit will be attended by OSCE rotating chairman Bronislav Geremek. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER DISMISSES DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTERS

Ivan Kostov told reporters in Budapest on 12 November that he has dismissed Deputy Defense Minister Simeon Petkovski and expects Deputy Defense Minister Rumen Kunchev to tender his resignation, BTA reported. Kostov said unsatisfactory progress of reform in the army was reason for that move. An RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported the same day that Petkovski had opposed the government's plans to dismiss 900 employees from the army's Economic Directorate, which he heads. Kunchev's responsibility at the ministry is for political-military affairs. The daily "24 Chasa" said he is being dismissed for his failure to implement political reforms in line with NATO membership aspirations. Both officials were appointed in February 1997 by Stefan Sofiyanski's caretaker government. MS

BULGARIA TO CUT VAT

The parliament on 12 November approved a bill slashing value-added tax from 22 percent to 20 percent as of next year in a bid to encourage investment, AP reported. At the same time, legislators approved levying VAT on bread and dairy products. Finance Minister Muravei Radev said this will cause a "temporary increase" in prices for staples. An RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reports on 13 November that Bulgaria's largest kraft paper producer, Celhart, will receive long-term loans totaling $ 27.8 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to renovate and modernize its plant at Stamboliyski. The IFC and the EBRD will also each make a $1.5 million equity investment in the firm, which is 82 percent owned by Isiklar, Turkey's leading producer of paper sacks. MS




GEORGIA'S WATERSHED ELECTIONS


by Liz Fuller

When Georgians went to the polls in November 1995 to elect a new parliament and president, very few observers doubted that the outcome would be a resounding endorsement of, and a personal triumph for, Eduard Shevardnadze and the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), which Shevardnadze had created as his personal support base. Three years later, however, the local elections scheduled for 15 November may well reveal to what extent support for Shevardnadze has since eroded.

Foremost among the factors contributing to that development is the perception that Shevardnadze is unwilling and/or unable to eradicate corruption within the upper echelons of the country's leadership, allowing a handful of individuals to amass huge fortunes while the bulk of the population is living at or below the subsistence minimum.

But that is not the only grievance. Equally, if not more, important is the perception that the central government has only minimal control over large expanses of the country since the governors appointed by Shevardnadze regard their regions as personal fiefdoms. A third factor is the lack of a resolution to the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Several hundred thousand ethnic Georgians who were forced to flee those conflicts are disenfranchised, presumably because the Georgian leadership fears that they would register their anger and despair by voting for opposition parties.

According to the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, a Georgian NGO that intends to monitor the 15 November poll, voters will elect city councils in Georgia's five largest cities (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Poti, and Rustavi), in 312 smaller towns, and in 60 raions. Those ballots will be held under the proportional system. Voting in 654 villages with fewer than 2,000 registered voters will be in accordance with the majoritarian principle.

Thirteen parties, blocs, and political organizations have registered with the Central Electoral Commission to field lists of candidates for the proportional system voting. The United Communist Party of Georgia has been barred from running on the grounds that it advocates the resurrection of the USSR. Several small political parties and groups, including the Round Table/Free Georgia bloc of deceased former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, have announced that they will not contend the poll as they fear the Georgian authorities will falsify the outcome to ensure that the SMK controls most, if not all, local councils.

That view appears to be shared by much of the electorate, not least as a result of the Central Electoral Commission's decision to nullify the results of a June by- election in eastern Georgia and hold a second round of voting after the Socialist Party candidate trounced his SMK rival in the first round. As one parliament deputy, Guram Chakhvadze of the Popular faction, told RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau earlier this week, preparations for rigging the vote began at an early stage of the campaign, when the central, government exerted massive pressure on local officials to exclude opposition candidates by any possible means.

Some observers predict that voter turnout will be low, reflecting both the conviction that the outcome is a foregone conclusion and a widespread loss of faith that any political party is capable of improving economic and social conditions in Georgia. RFE/RL correspondents in Kutaisi, Rustavi, and Tskhinvali (the capital of South Ossetia) all report that people they have questioned say either that they will boycott the vote to protest chronic wage and pension arrears (even the Georgian armed forces have not been paid for several months) or that they are still undecided about which party to vote for.

But widespread apathy among the electorate does not mean an absence of tension in the runup to the poll. On the contrary: the voting will act as a gauge of the relative strength of the one politician who is perceived as capable of posing a serious threat to Shevardnadze, should he decide to run in the presidential elections in 2000.

That man is Aslan Abashidze, chairman of the parliament of the Adjar Autonomous Republic on Georgia's Black Sea coast, which borders on Turkey. Abashidze has ruled Adjaria autocratically for seven years, during which period that republic has remained an oasis of stability and relative economic prosperity, while the remainder of Georgia has undergone civil war and economic collapse. Abashidze's All-Georgian Union of Revival is the second largest faction within the Georgian parliament, and its showing in the 15 November poll will provide some indication--assuming the vote is free and fair--as to how far his popularity extends beyond his local power base.

Meanwhile, if the SMK performs poorly, its younger members, including parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and SMK faction leader Mikhail Saakashvili, may make good on their threat earlier this summer to quit the faction and form a constructive opposition within the parliament. For that reason, the poll is important since it will clarify the relative strength of the ruling party and the opposition ahead of the November 1999 parliamentary elections, even if it has only minimal impact on the everyday lives of the Georgian electorate.


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