Accessibility links

Newsline - November 17, 1998




RUSSIA ASKS U.S. TO BUDGE IMF

Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with U.S. Vice President Albert Gore in Kuala Lumpur on 17 November. Interfax reported that the two men discussed the delayed IMF tranche and Primakov suggested that the U.S. promote the disbursement of the IMF tranche now rather than wait for the government to produce additional economic measures. After the meeting, Minister of Economics Andrei Shapovalyants told reporters that the tranche would be spent mainly "on refinancing [Russia's] debts to the IMF and World Bank." According to Shapovalyants, the U.S. will submit additional proposals on the drafting of Russian fiscal and monetary policies for 1999. JAC

GERMANY OFFERS MEDICINE BUT NO CASH

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder ruled out the possibility of any new loans for Russia during his meeting with Prime Minister Primakov, while Primakov stressed Russia's eagerness for direct foreign investment from Germany's private sector. Schroeder called the government's economic plan "a good start," suggesting that more work was needed. He brought with him 1,500 tons of medicine for cancer and tuberculosis patients, which, according to ITAR- TASS, is to be distributed to clinics in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Ryazan. Schroeder's visit coincides with the expiration of the 90-day moratorium on payment of foreign debts. Neither leader would reveal details of the discussion on this topic. Schroeder also met with First Deputy Prime Ministers Yurii Maslyukov and Vadim Gustov, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov and the leaders of Tatarstan and Chuvashia. JAC

DEADLINE EXPIRATION BRINGS BANKS TO NEGOTIATING TABLE

Since the 90-day moratorium on foreign debt payments expired last weekend, some Russian commercial banks have launched negotiations with creditors. Menatep, Alfa Bank, SBS-Agro, and Promstroibank have already begun discussing their debt on unfulfilled forward contracts, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 November. The "Moscow Times" quoted Parvoleta Shtereva, an economist at MFK Renaissance, as saying that even the most aggressive of foreign creditors will try negotiations first. She added "I am also sure Russian banks that do not intend to pay will use negotiations as a delaying tactic." Meanwhile, Aleksandr Livshits, former deputy head of the presidential administration, told Russian Television on 16 November that forcing a bank into bankruptcy would work against foreign creditors' interests since they would be last in line after domestic financiers. Meanwhile, the Central Bank again reduced banks' reserve requirements, this time by 5 percent, in order to free up some cash. JAC

ECONOMY TO SHRINK UNDER BEST, WORST CASE SCENARIOS...

The Ministry of the Economy predicted the Russian economy will contract by 3-9 percent next year, depending on three economic scenarios that bear an uncanny resemblance to those reportedly presented by First Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov to the State Duma's Budget Committee last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Under the best case scenario, Russia achieves a primary budget surplus (which excludes debt payments) of 2-2.5 percent and inflation of only 30 percent, while the economy shrinks by 3 percent. In the worst case, inflation reaches 130 percent and GDP declines by 9 percent. The Ministry of Economy also predicted that industrial output will drop 3 percent in 1999, with the steel, engineering, metalworking, and light industry sectors taking the biggest hits. JAC

...WHILE GOVERNMENT PLAN BASED ON BEST CASE

According to ITAR-TASS on 15 November, the main focus of the Primakov government's finally-released economic plan is to keep inflation below 30 percent in 1999. The plan contained few surprises as the government proposed measures previously discussed. According to the document, entitled "On Measures of the Russian Government and Central Bank to Stabilize the Socio- Economic Situation in the Country," the ruble exchange rate will float and exporters will have to sell 75 percent--a 25 percent increase from the current level--of their hard currency to the state. On the fiscal side, the government proposed a series of tax measures, including lowering the profit tax from 35 to 30 percent and a gradual reduction of value-added tax. However, on 16 November, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told a Moscow audience that VAT should not be reduced because it accounts for 46 percent of all federal budget revenues. JAC

COURT UPHOLDS 5 PERCENT BARRIER

The Constitutional Court has upheld the 5 percent barrier for parties and coalitions in elections to the Duma as constitutional, Russian agencies reported on 17 November. The Court ruled that "equality of citizens does not mean equality of election results" and acknowledged that the 5 percent barrier will bar some small parties and groups from the Duma. JAC

CASE TO BAN RELIGIOUS GROUP REOPENS

A Moscow city court resumed hearings of a case to ban the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. The city prosecutor alleges that because of the organization's activities some parents have become estranged from their children, blood transfusions have been denied during emergency situations, and "several people entered mental hospitals and committed suicide." The prosecutor is pursuing the case under a controversial 1997 law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1998). JAC

MORE PERSONNEL SHIFTS AT KREMLIN, FOREIGN MINISTRY

Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 16 November appointed Leonid Drachevskii deputy foreign minister with responsibility for CIS issues. Drachevskii is a former ambassador to Poland and former director of the CIS department at the Foreign Ministry, according to Interfax. On 14 November, Yeltsin sacked Colonel-General Valerii Mironov from his duties as chief military adviser to Prime Minister Primakov and discharged him from military service. Reasons for Mironov's dismissal were not offered, but "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 17 November that Mironov said he is going of his own volition. JAC

U.S. TO IMPOSE DUTIES ON RUSSIAN STEEL?

The U.S. International Trade Commission on 14 November reached a preliminary decision that imposing anti-dumping measures against Russian steel plants might be necessary. Earlier, Russian producers said that new import duties would kill the domestic industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 12 October 1998). A Russian Trade Minstry delegation was in Washington trying to negotiate a last-minute compromise to prevent the imposition of the new duties. "Noviye izvestiya" reported on 14 November that Russian steel exports to the U.S. "constitute only 2.5 percent of U.S. consumption so there is no question of any glut of cheap Russian steel." The daily predicted that "unemployment will increase by 20-30 percent, according to the most conversative estimates at plants in Novolipetsk, Cherepovets, and Magnitogorsk," which provide approximately 80 percent of all Russian steel exports. JAC

KIRIENKO TURNS DOWN ANOTHER OFFER

Former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko rejected reports that he will join the Young Russia political movement. Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov will launch that movement and earlier suggested that Kirienko would join. He told Interfax on 16 November that he is not going to join Young Russia or any other movement. Earlier, Kirienko confirmed that he is considering running for a seat in upcoming parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1998). JAC

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER URGES LIFTING SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ

Speaking in Cairo on 16 November, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev argued that "no further progress can be made" unless the sanctions imposed on Iraq eight years ago are lifted, Reuters reported. In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk told Interfax that although the threat of military action against Baghdad has abated, Moscow will continue to act resolutely to ensure that the Iraqi leadership resumes its cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors and to prevent "new tensions" arising. LF

MAVERICK WARLORD DEFIES CHECHEN AUTHORITIES...

Hundreds of Salman Raduev's supporters staged a march in Grozny on 16 November to protest the four-year prison sentence passed on him in absentia by the Chechen Supreme Court earlier this month, AP reported. Raduev told journalists later that day that he will not comply with the court's demand to surrender. Also on 16 November, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev told journalists that Raduev will be forcibly apprehended. An initial attempt to do so on 15 November failed for reasons that are unclear. ITAR-TASS reported that all approaches to Raduev's Grozny headquarters have been blocked by concrete slabs and that machine guns have been mounted on surrounding high-rise buildings. LF

...AS PRESIDENT THREATENS NEW CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS

Speaking on Chechen television on 15 November, President Aslan Maskhadov said he has ordered Prosecutor-General Mansur Tagirov to open criminal proceedings against the organizers of the so-called All- National Committee of the Chechen People on charges of attempting a coup, ITAR-TASS reported. On 9 November, Raduev and two fellow field commanders, former acting Premier Shamil Basaev and Khunkar-pasha Israpilov, convened a session of that body, which had been abolished by deceased President Djokhar Dudaev. LF

GENERALOV UNENTHUSIASTIC ON CHECHEN BYPASS PIPELINE

Speaking at a Moscow press conference on 16 November, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Generalov said there is no money in the Russian budget to start building the planned $160 million oil pipeline that would bypass Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. Generalov added that the proposed pipeline is a purely political project whose implementation could undermine "normal relations" with Chechnya. For that reason, he said, it is not expedient to use part of the proceeds from the planned sale of Rosneft to finance it. Generalov also warned that five or six Russian oil companies, which he declined to name, may be barred access to export pipelines within the next few days for failing to meet their commitments to domestic clients. He predicted that although world oil prices may rise in the near future, the price of Russian crude will not exceed $13 per barrel. The current price is $11 per barrel. LF




ARMENIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES CABINET RESHUFFLE

Armen Darpinian told journalists in Yerevan on 16 November that he has asked President Robert Kocharian to replace the ministers of trade and industry, energy, health care, and the environment, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian said the new appointments will make the work of the government more efficient. At the same time, he denied persistent rumors that he is planning to resign, according to Interfax. Reviewing Armenia's economic performance for the first nine months of 1998, Darpinian said that GDP grew by 7 percent. He predicted that annual inflation will not exceed 3 percent, but he conceded that the Russian financial crisis has negatively impacted on the country's industrial sector and on supplies of fuel for Armenia's nuclear power station, which provides one third of the country's electricity, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES ELECTION LAW IN FIRST READING

Lawmakers on 16 November approved in the first reading the draft election law drawn up by the majority Yerkrapah group, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The vote was 96 to 72. Under the bill, 80 of the 131 deputies in the new parliament would be elected in single-mandate constituencies. Eleven opposition parties that drafted an alternative law argue that the Yerkrapah variant would facilitate the falsification of voting results. They also object to its procedures for drawing up voter lists, forming electoral commissions, and voting by military personnel, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN KURDS PROTEST OCALAN ARREST

Hundreds of Armenian Kurds took part in a demonstration in Yerevan on 16 November that Kurdish organizations convened to protest the arrest four days earlier of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan and to urge the Italian government to grant him political asylum, AFP reported. The demonstrators subsequently marched to the UN office, where they delivered a statement calling on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to recognize Kurdistan as part of a federal Turkish state. Also on 16 November, the Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement denying media reports that Armenia may offer Ocalan asylum, ITAR-TASS reported. More than 100 members of Moscow's Kurdish community began a hunger- strike on 14 November to protest Ocalan's arrest, according to Interfax. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE PROTEST VICTIMIZATION

In a letter to the U.S. State Department, the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry has denied that police used violence against participants in recent demonstrations in Baku, Turan reported on 16 November. The letter condemned as a "fabrication" a State Department statement deploring the beating of demonstrators by police in Baku on 7-8 November. It also appealed to the U.S. to be objective, and "not to remain indifferent to the violations of policemen's rights and insults to their honor and dignity." LF

GEORGIA DENIES ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN HELPED QUASH INSURRECTION

Georgian parliamentary Defense and Security Committee chairman Revaz Adamia on 16 November denied allegations by Colonel Akaki Eliava that Armenia and Azerbaijan sent troops to help the Georgian armed forces suppress the mutiny in western Georgia last month, ITAR-TASS reported. Eliava led that revolt. The presidents of both countries expressed their support for Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze hours after the insurrection began. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE OUTLINES PROGRAM

Meeting with journalists on 16 November in Almaty, former Customs Committee chairman Ganiy Qasymov said that if he is elected president, his first priority will be the economy, in particular development of Kazakhstan's smaller towns and payment of wage and pension arrears, Interfax reported. But he stressed that he does not dispute the merits of present incumbent Nursultan Nazarbayev's economic development program. (Nazarbayev told campaign helpers in Aktyubinsk on 16 November that 50 percent of the national budget should be spent on social needs, according to Interfax.) RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported that Qasymov spoke to the journalists in Russian and that his command of spoken Kazakh is so poor as to raise questions about how he managed to pass the proficiency examination mandatory for all presidential candidates. Appearing live on KTK-TV the previous day, Qasymov hurled a flower vase at a journalist who quoted him as saying earlier that he would never run against Nazarbayev for the presidency. LF

REJECTED CANDIDATE WANTS REFERENDUM ON EARLY POLL

Mels Eleusizov, head of Tabiyghat, the Kazakh Green party, also convened a news conference in Almaty on 16 November, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Eleusizov had been refused permission to register as a presidential candidate because earlier this year he was sentenced to a three-day prison sentence for having participated in a meeting of an unregistered organization. Eleusizov condemned the presidential election campaign as undemocratic, and advocated holding a nationwide referendum to determine whether the electorate considers pre-term presidential elections necessary. LF

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS PRESIDENT WILL GUARANTEE DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 November that former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev has formed a Committee for National Salvation, which intends to campaign for the resignation of incumbent President Saparmurat Niyazov and for free and democratic parliamentary and presidential elections in late 1999 and 2002, respectively. That report sparked a protest by the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, which "Nezavisimaya gazeta" printed on 17 November. According to that statement, Niyazov himself has undertaken to reform Turkmenistan's political system and to ensure that both polls are democratic. LF

UZBEK PEACEKEEPERS IN TAJIKISTAN REDEPLOYED

The Uzbek peacekeeping force stationed in southwestern Tajikistan along that country's border with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan has been moved to a new, undisclosed location, AP reported on 16 November, citing Interfax. No reason was cited for that move, which follows repeated Uzbek denials of Tajik accusations that Tashkent assisted the organizers of the failed revolt in northern Tajikistan earlier this month. Also on 16 November, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced it will resume operations in the Karategi region of Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. The Red Cross halted its operations there following the July murder of four UN personnel. LF

MOSCOW TO EXTRADITE UZBEK DISSIDENT?

A 60-year- old Uzbek academic may be extradited to Uzbekistan to stand trial on charges of attempting to overturn the country's constitutional order, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 November. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of five to 10 years. Tashkent issued an order for the arrest of Aliboy Yulyakhshiev in 1995 in connection with his role in organizing the shipment of the opposition newspaper "Erk" from Kyiv, where it is printed, to Uzbekistan. LF




UKRAINE BEGINS SCRAPPING SOVIET-ERA STRATEGIC BOMBERS

On 16 November, Ukraine demolished one of its 44 Soviet-era warplanes capable of carrying nuclear bombs, AP and Reuters reported. The demolition of Ukraine's Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers is taking place under the nuclear disarmament program initiated by U.S. Senators Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn in 1991. Lugar personally watched the scrapping of the first bomber at the Pryluky air base, in northeastern Ukraine. All strategic bombers and nuclear missiles in Ukraine are scheduled to be destroyed by December 2001. The U.S. has contributed $500 million under the Lugar-Nunn program to help Ukraine dismantle its nuclear weapons. JM

UKRAINIAN STUDENTS DISRUPT COURT PROCEEDINGS IN LVIV

Some 2,000 nationalist students rallied in Lviv, western Ukraine, on 16 November, disrupting the court hearings of three fellow nationalists accused of attacking leftist demonstrators, AP reported. The three were charged with hooliganism over a clash during the 1997 demonstration in Lviv commemorating the 80th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The crowd of students blocked the way to the court, preventing witnesses and victims from entering the courtroom. Leaflets distributed throughout the city before the rally called on the students to "crush the red cockroaches" and praised the three for "kicking the teeth" of the Communists and their allies last year. JM

BELARUSIAN CENTRAL BANK EASES EXCHANGE RATE CONTROLS

The Belarusian National Bank has allowed commercial banks to trade in foreign currency using exchange rates that are up to 50 percent higher than the official one (66,000 Belarusian rubles to $1 on 16 November). Belapan reported that the exchange rate at commercial banks immediately fell to the maximum allowed under the new regulation--99,000 rubles to $1). The new rate, however, is far below the street exchange rate of some 170,000 to $1, which is widely considered the most accurate indicator of the Belarusian currency's value. A National Bank spokesman commented that the new regulation is the "next step toward liberalization of the currency market and the introduction of a single exchange rate." JM

EXPERT SAYS ONLY 100 BELARUSIAN STATE FARMS ADAPTED TO MARKET

Mikhail Antanenka, a Belarusian agricultural expert, says Belarus has restructured only 100 out of its 2,700 state collective farms, Belapan reported on 16 November. Antanenka believes that current relations between the state and state farms are "based on injustice." He says that the state purchases agricultural products from farms at prices that cover only 50 percent of the production costs. He argues that the state should liberalize prices for agricultural products and impose a higher tax on farms that have more fertile land in order to successfully implement market reforms in the agricultural sector. JM

ESTONIAN BANKS CONTINUE TO FEEL FALLOUT FROM RUSSIAN CRISIS

The combined assets of Estonia's commercial banks totaled 41.6 billion kroons (some $3.2 billion) in October, down 1.6 billion kroons on the previous month, ETA reported on 16 November. The agency reported that the banks are continuing to suffer from exposure to Russian markets. Of the three largest commercial banks, only Hansapank has managed to make a profit in the first 10 months of this year, while Uhispank registered a 9.6 million kroons loss and Forekspank a 247 million kroons shortfall. On 15 November, Forekspank shareholders approved a merger agreement with Estonian Investments Bank. The merger is to be completed by the end of the year, and the new bank will be called Optiva. JC

POPULARITY OF ESTONIA'S FATHERLAND UNION GROWS

According to a poll conducted by the EMOR opinion research institute, the popularity of the right- leaning Fatherland Union rose 4 percent last month, following the election of former Prime Minister Mart Laar as its leader, ETA and BNS reported on 16 November. The union's approval rating now stands at 11 percent, after that of the rightist Reform Party (13 percent) and the leftist Center Party (12 percent). The ruling alliance, led by the Coalition Party, saw its approval rating drop from 12 percent to 10 percent. The only other party to clear the 5 percent hurdle was the Moderates. However, 34 percent of respondents said they were undecided. JC

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER URGES 'PRAGMATIC' APPROACH TO EU ENTRY

Echoing the words of Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998), Algirdas Saudargas said that Vilnius should dampen "romantic enthusiasm" over possible EU membership, BNS reported on 16 November. He added that officials should continue to make the issue of the Ignalina nuclear power plant less political, regretting that Vilnius "failed to separate" the issues of closing Ignalina and opening EU talks. "Our discussions are always morbidly focused on the shutdown of the power station," he commented. "Let us [instead] talk of our work in a pragmatic way." JC

KALININGRAD SEEKING CLOSER TIES TO LITHUANIA

Leonid Gorbenko, governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, has ordered that proposals be drawn up aimed at "further deepening the business partnership and cultural exchange with Lithuania." BNS reported on 16 November, citing the press service of the governor's administration. The governor has proposed creating a Russian-Lithuanian council on cooperation between Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuanian districts. And on his orders, an appeal is being drafted on holding Russian-Lithuanian consultations over lowering railroad cargo rates for goods transported from Russia to the ports of Kaliningrad and Klaipeda. According to the press service, these proposals were made by the governor during his visit to Lithuania at the end of last month. JC

POLISH PREMIER IN IRELAND

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has assured his visiting Polish counterpart, Jerzy Buzek, of Ireland's support for Poland's EU entry, Polish Radio reported on 16 November. Ahern stressed that the entry of Poland and other Central European countries to the EU must not delay institutional reforms within the EU. Buzek, for his part, noted that Poland wants to take advantage of Ireland's experience in reform. Meeting with Irish businessmen, Buzek encouraged them to invest in Poland. JM

POLISH INFLATION DOWN TO ONE DIGIT

Poland's Central Statistical Office announced on 16 November that the annual inflation rate from October 1997 to October 1998 dropped to one digit (9.9 percent) for the first time since Poland began reforming its economy. The consumer price index in October was 0.6 percent, down from 0.8 percent in September. Consumer prices rose by 7.6 percent from January to October 1998, down from 10.8 percent in the same period last year. Experts say lower inflation can be attributed to smaller price increases for foodstuffs following the good harvest and surplus agricultural production this year. JM

INDEPENDENTS LEAD IN CZECH LOCAL ELECTION RETURNS

Independent candidates have won the most seats on local councils in the 13-14 November elections, taking the lead mainly in small towns and villages, CTK reported. Of the political parties, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) is leading, followed by the Communists, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Social Democrats, and the Civic Democratic Alliance. In a Prague district, former Finance Minister Jan Ruml, running on the list of the four- party coalition headed by the KDU-CSL and the Freedom Union, defeated ODS candidate and Prague Mayor Jan Koukal in the Senate race. ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus said the four-party coalition ran a campaign "full of hatred" against his party and that he considers the possibility of an electoral agreement with the coalition before the Senate run off on 20-21 November "to belong to science fiction" (see also "End Note" below). MS

CZECH CARDINAL SEEKS DIALOGUE IN FEUD WITH PREMIER

A statement released on 16 November by the Czech Bishop Conference says Prague Archbishop Cardinal Miroslav Vlk wants to settle the dispute with Milos Zeman's cabinet "through dialogue, at the negotiating table," CTK reported. Earlier, Vlk announced the Catholic Church will not send a representative to the planned commission on relations between the state and the church. He also raised reservations about some of the members nominated by the cabinet, strongly criticizing the Social Democrats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). MS

HUNGARIAN, SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN ROME

Janos Martonyi and Eduard Kukan said in Rome on 16 November that they believe the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydropower dam dispute can be resolved through a bilateral agreement, Hungarian media reported. The two foreign ministers agreed that on 27 November, the countries' expert teams will discuss in Bratislava the implementation of the International Court of Justice's ruling on the issue. Martonyi and Kukan also agreed on a document detailing the implementation mechanism for the bilateral basic treaty, which they will sign on 24 November in Bratislava (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). MS

HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER PRESENTS DRAFT BUDGET

"Hungary will become one of the fastest developing economies in the world next year," Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai told the parliament on 16 November while presenting the 1999 draft budget. That draft focuses on child benefits, housing, education, culture, public safety, urban development, and accession to NATO and EU. Jarai said it is designed to reduce the deficit from nearly 5 percent of the GDP this year to 3.95 percent in 1999. MSZ

U.S. TO AID DEVELOPMENT OF EASTERN HUNGARY

U.S. Ambassador Peter Tufo announced on 16 November that his embassy plans to open an office in Debrecen within a few months to help the economic development of eastern Hungary "by all possible means." The US-Eastern Hungary Partnership Program office will replace the USAID program set up in 1991, which is pulling out of the country because "Hungary succeeded," Tufo said. MSZ




BOSNIANS FAIL TO SIGN AGREEMENT WITH CROATIA

Representatives of the mainly Muslim and Croatian Bosnian federation failed to arrive in Zagreb on 16 October as planned to sign an agreement on bilateral relations. Federal President Ejup Ganic told "Oslobodjenje," however, that he recently informed Bosnian Ambassador to Croatia Hasan Muratovic and U.S. General Jacques Klein, who is a deputy to the international community's Carlos Westendorp, that Ganic needed several more days to discuss the agreement with Bosnian legislators before signing the pact, which both sides recently initialed. The U.S., in particular, has actively encouraged both sides to conclude such an agreement since 1994, when Washington brokered an end to the Croatian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia. The text deals with bilateral relations, including Bosnian use of Croatia's port of Ploce, which is Bosnia's natural outlet to the Adriatic, and Croatian transit rights through Bosnia's Neum region, which cuts the Croatian Dalmatian coast into two. PM

KLEIN BLASTS MUSLIMS FOR NO-SHOW

Klein said in Zagreb on 16 November that the Muslims' failure to attend the signing ceremony is the result of internal party divisions and personal feuds within the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that the Muslim leaders' behavior is "irresponsible and a disservice" to their voters. "This situation calls into question the desire of federation government officials to negotiate in good faith, their capability to engage in coherent international negotiations, and their concern for their citizens," he added. Richard Sklar, who is President Bill Clinton's special envoy for questions involving relations between Bosnia and Croatia, told Bosnian Television that the Bosnian officials have tarnished their own reputation at a time when the international community is "pouring billions of dollars" into the reconstruction of Bosnia. He added that the Bosnians must sign the text without any further changes. PM

MUSLIM-CROATIAN RELATIONS IN JEOPARDY?

Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said in Zagreb on 16 November that the Muslim leaders' failure to appear casts serious doubt on their credibility as negotiating partners, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported. Granic added that the Muslims' behavior could have long-term repercussions on their relations with the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as with Croatia and the international community. He ruled out any further changes in the agreement. In Sarajevo, Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, who is a Croat, said that the Muslims' refusal to go to Zagreb will have a negative effect on Croatian-Muslim relations within Bosnia. He added that the time has come for Zagreb to review its relations with Bosnia across the board. PM

UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO REBUKE BELGRADE

Peter Burleigh, who is acting U.S. ambassador to the UN, said in New York on 16 November that the council will shortly adopt a resolution criticizing Yugoslavia for its failure to allow representatives of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to conduct investigations in Kosova. He added that the text also rebukes Belgrade for failing to surrender three indicted war criminals to The Hague. Unnamed diplomats told Reuters that Russian envoys succeeded in making the language in final text of the resolution far less harsh than some Western countries had wanted. PM

OSCE, MILOSEVIC DIFFER ON AGREEMENT

William Walker, who will head the OSCE's civilian monitoring mission in Kosova, told reporters after he met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 16 November that he and his host had a "difference of opinion on the question of full compliance...a difference of interpretation" regarding the terms of the agreement that Milosevic negotiated with U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke in October. Referring to a recent incident in which Yugoslav troops in Kosova reportedly fired over monitors' heads, Walker added that he has not accepted either that version of the incident or the Yugoslav account, which claimed that the Yugoslav vehicles had backfired (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). He noted that "we do not want weapons pointed at our vehicles and our verifiers." PM

SERBIAN MINISTER WARNS PUBLISHER

Serbian Minister of Information Aleksandar Vucic has sent a letter to the Forum Publishing House in Novi Sad warning the publisher not to print newspapers registered in Montenegro lest his firm face a fine, the independent daily "Danas" reported on 17 November. After receiving Vucic's letter, Forum terminated its recent agreement to print the Montenegrin- registered daily "Dnevni Telegraf," which Vucic and other Serbian authorities banned from Serbia under a draconian media law in October. Slavko Curuvija, who is the editor of "Telegraf" and the banned weekly "Evropljanin," told "Danas" that both periodicals are printed in Montenegro and distributed in Serbia. He added that the authorities now realize that the media law was a mistake and that they will soon try to find a face-saving way to modify it. PM

ALBANIAN PEASANTS BLOCK KUKES WATER SUPPLY

Armed peasants of the village of Kolesian, between Kukes and Peshkopia, occupied the local waterworks on 13 November and shut off pipelines to Kukes to protest what they called the government's indifference to their economic plight. The peasants ended the blockade on 17 November after the government pledged to increase its support for the remote region. The blockage caused havoc at the local hospital and other medical facilities. Observers believe that the incident has a political background, dpa reported. The ruling Socialist Party accused the peasants, mostly supporters of former President Sali Berisha, of trying to create chaos and instability on the eve of the 22 November constitutional referendum. The situation threatened to spin out of control when peasants of another village cut off electricity to Kolesian over the weekend in revenge for the interruption of water supplies. FS

ALBANIA'S GJINUSHI CLARIFIES STAND ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

Parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi said in Tepelena on 14 November that the draft constitution does not abolish the death penalty. He was in Tepelena to campaign for a "yes-vote" for the constitution in the upcoming referendum, "Albanian Daily News" reported. He said that "the Penal Code determines when a person should receive capital punishment" and stressed that the draft constitution does not explicitly ban the death penalty. The draft says only that "the life of every person is protected by law," he noted. There is strong popular support for maintaining the death penalty, while the Council of Europe has repeatedly urged Albania to abolish it. FS

DENMARK GRANTS $17 MILLION TO IMPROVE ALBANIAN JUDICIARY

A Danish government delegation visiting Tirana on 16 November pledged to grant $17 million to help improve Albania's judicial system. Justice Ministry spokesman Agim Neza told the ATSH news agency that the delegation visited prisons and met with prosecutors and local government representatives in the northern cities of Burrel and Peshkopia to assess the needs of the judicial system. Denmark planned to support Albania's legal system in the early 1990s but canceled the project after doubts emerged about the government's readiness to respect the independence of the judiciary. Instead, it decided at the time to support 17 smaller projects, mostly NGOs, with a total of $7.5 million. Observers noted that the latest Danish decision to allocate $17 million suggests Copenhagen believes the current government is more committed to the independence of the judiciary than was its predecessor. FS

CLUJ MAYOR OFFICIALLY JOINS GREATER ROMANIA PARTY

Greater Romania Party (PRM) chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 16 November officially appointed Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar secretary-general of the extremist formation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tudor expressed confidence that the PRM will be backed by at least 25 percent in the elections scheduled for 2000. At the same time, he said he hopes the ballot will take place earlier. MS

ROMANIA SLIGHTLY REDUCES FOREIGN DEBT

Romania's medium- and long-term foreign debt totaled $8.3 billion at the end of August, down $31 million on the August 1997 level, dpa reported, citing National Bank figures. In 1999 Romania is scheduled to service a debt of some $2.2 billion, but international rating agencies are doubtful about its debt service capability. On 16 November, the Thomson BankWatch agency reduced the rating of Bancorex, one of the two banks slated for privatization this year, citing delays in restructuring that may affect the bank's capacity to meet its obligations. MS

MOLDOVA STARTS BUILDING DANUBE OIL TERMINAL

At a 15 November ceremony attended by Premier Ion Ciubuc, the foundation stone was laid for the building of the Giurgiulesti oil terminal on the River Danube, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 16 November. The construction of the terminal was made possible due to the agreement reached between Ciubuc and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in early August, which gave Moldova access to the disputed territory on the river's banks in exchange for a section of the road connecting the Ukrainian cities of Odessa and Izmail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1998). MS

GERMAN ALLIANZ BUYS MAJORITY STAKE IN BULGARIAN INSURER

The Munich-based Allianz AG, Europe's largest insurance group, has acquired a 51 percent stake in the Bulgarian insurance group Bulgarian Holding Ltd, dpa reported on 16 November. Allianz refused to divulge the price of the deal. MS

BULGARIA, IRAN SEEK TO BOOST TRADE

Bulgaria and Iran on 13 November signed agreements aimed at encouraging bilateral trade and investment, Reuters reported. Transportation Minister Wilhelm Kraus and his visiting Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Hojjati, signed the agreements after a meeting of a joint economic commission on agriculture. Kraus told Reuters that the two countries wish to achieve a trade turnover volume of at least $100 million (not including oil imports from Iran) in 1999, compared with $68 million this year. MS




MOST VOTERS STAY HOME IN CZECH LOCAL ELECTIONS


by Jolyon Naegele

Czech voters were asked to cast ballots in local and Senate elections on 13-14 November. But most voters chose to stay home. Nationwide voter turnout was just over 42 percent for communal elections and less than 46 percent for Senate elections.

Admittedly, this represents a gain of more than seven percentage points in public interest in the Senate, compared with the Czech Republic's first elections to the upper chamber of the parliament two years ago. But turnout for local elections was down a whopping 20 percentage points on the communal elections four years ago.

Some 180,000 candidates competed for 62,000 seats on municipal councils in 6,880 communities. As in 1990 and 1994, so-called independent candidates won the biggest share of local council seats, although they gained only 11 percent of the vote overall.

The opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus gained the biggest portion of the local vote of any party--more than 24 percent--and won the largest share of seats in every major city in the country. In Prague, it won 21 out of 55 seats on the municipal council, taking first place in each of the city's 10 electoral districts. Since the ODS lacks a majority on the municipal council, which elects the mayor, the political future of Prague Mayor Jan Koukal, who heads the ODS's party organization in Prague, is now in doubt. Unless the ODS strikes a deal with the Social Democrats (CSSD), Koukal may be forced out of office.

None of the 27 Senate races was won in the first round. One-third of the 81-seat upper house is elected every two years for a six-year term. The ODS will field candidates in 22 of the 27 run-off races to the Senate on 20-21 November, with 13 ODS candidates having placed first in last week's voting. The center-right four-party coalition-- composed of the Freedom Union, the People's Party, the Civic Democratic Alliance, and the Democratic Union--will have 14 candidates in the run-offs, 10 of whom took first place in the first round. The Social Democrats (CSSD) will have 15 candidates in the next round, of whom only three took first place. The Communists will have three candidates, and one independent will be running.

The ODS and CSSD are thus guaranteed a majority in the Senate and have a good chance of achieving the three- fifths majority required to make constitutional changes. Those being discussed include changing the way the lower house of the parliament is elected by abolishing the proportional representation system in favor of a "first- past-the-post" system. This reform is generally perceived as benefiting large parties at the expense of smaller ones and contributing to political stability. The pro-CSSD daily "Pravo" wrote on 16 November that potential Social Democrat supporters stayed at home, having fallen victim to apathy following the opposition agreement signed after last June's general elections. The deal allowed the CSSD to form a minority government tolerated by the ODS and assured the ODS the speakership of the Senate. "Pravo" adds that the lackluster performance of Milos Zeman's government in its first three months in office--marked, it wrote, by unfulfilled promises, lack of direction, and nepotism-- did little to attract undecided voters.

Similarly, the mass-circulation daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" noted that the four-party coalition did unexpectedly well. This, the newspaper says, "did not arise in the name of a struggle against the Left but mainly out of defiance against the unnatural, albeit omnipotent contractual pact between the CSSD and the ODS."

But a commentary in "Lidove noviny" says the four- party coalition can be credited with having nominated more distinguished personalities than its rivals, thereby managing to attract undecided voters from both the Right and Left of the political spectrum.

Klaus, for his part, said the low turn-out was due to the elections having been the second ballot this year. His deputy, Libuse Bensesova, blamed the poor turnout on the elections being held in the fall, when, she says, Czechs are in a worse mood than in the Spring and when short days hamper campaigning.

Zeman's CSSD did poorly in the local elections. He said he was particularly mortified by the outcome in the Senate vote, saying victory there had been within reach. Never one to mince words, Zeman announced that "heads must fall."

Zeman also accused those who did not vote of being "cowards" and ascribed the Social Democrats' failure in Prague to "the citizens of the capital being convinced that a megalomaniac poster...was enough reason to vote for the ODS." This was a reference to a controversial huge photo of Klaus displayed on a billboard on the former site of the world's largest statue of Stalin. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


XS
SM
MD
LG