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Newsline - December 15, 1998




YELTSIN LOOKING ENERGIZED?

President Boris Yeltsin may have gotten "his political second wind," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 December. Three days earlier, Yeltsin not only delivered a radio address but also appeared at a holiday reception at the Kremlin Palace's banquet hall, looking "vastly better than usual," according to the newspaper. Yeltsin has made several public appearances since his three hour stop-over in the Kremlin on 7 December, when he dismissed the leadership of his administration. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC

EBRD TO PROVIDE BIG BUCKS IF BIG IMPROVEMENTS FORTHCOMING...

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Horst Koehler held out the prospect of $1 billion worth of new loans in 1999 for Russia pending an improvement in its investment climate. Speaking at a quarterly meeting of the Foreign Investment Advisory Council in Moscow on 15 December, Koehler said that the EBRD is closely monitoring Russia's banking sector reforms. "Our concern is that some insolvent banks are operating too long without getting some substantive control from the Central Bank or even being liquidated," he said. Koehler also called for improvements in Russian corporate governance, including strengthening minority shareholders' rights. The EBRD will release approximately $150 million before the end of 1998 to finance projects that had already been agreed on. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT PLEDGES TO IMPROVE INVESTMENT CLIMATE

In his address to the council, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov outlined a series of measures intended to lure foreign investment to Russia. He spoke about creating a "powerful state insurance agency" to protect foreign investors and to streamline bureaucratic mechanisms that hamper foreign investment. He also promised to introduce changes in customs and tax regulations as well as accelerate the adoption of a law on free economic zones. He added that "none of the major foreign investors who has made direct investments in the real sector of the economy has withdrawn from our market." First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov noted that Russia has "already adopted a law on changes to the production-sharing legislation, exempted foreign investors from the profit tax until their enterprises reach estimated capacity, and passed laws on foreign investment and leasing." JAC

DUMA TO SAVE BUDGET FOR LATER

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that the Duma will likely not consider the government's 1999 budget until 23 December, Interfax reported on 15 December. Seleznev pointed out that the budget has 2,550 pages and that reading it will take time. The government submitted the budget on 11 December after many delays (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). The same day, the Duma passed a bill banning all reconstruction work on Red Square that would destroy its historical facade. The vote was 280 to one. Aleksandr Kotenkov, presidential representative to the Duma, said President Yeltsin might veto the measure because it conflicts with UNESCO's guidelines for maintaining places of historical or cultural value. JAC

RUSSIA RETURNS TO DEBT NEGOTIATING TABLE

Russia's foreign debt has soared to 120 percent of GDP, up from 20 percent of GDP in 1992, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told Russian Television on 13 December. On 11 December, Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that the government will continue talks with foreign investors on a scheme for repayment of the government short term defaulted treasury bonds. Earlier, foreign holders of short-term treasury bonds rejected the government's plan to start swapping new bonds for old defaulted ones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 1998). JAC

ARE TWO MAYORS BETTER THAN ONE?

Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko named former Deputy Mayor Yurii Kopylov acting mayor of Vladivostok on 14 December, while former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov named Nikolai Beletskii. Cherepkov, who was dismissed by presidential decree on 11 December, had dismissed Kopylov from the government, and Kopylov himself ran for mayor unsuccessfully this summer, ITAR-TASS reported. Both "mayors" held working meetings with municipal services staff, the agency reported on 15 December. Meanwhile, reporters from Russian Public Television, NTV and Russian Television could not transmit their reports to Moscow because of an order issued by a local television and radio company. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 December that several dozen Cherepkov supporters have set up a 24- hour vigil outside the mayor's office. JAC

ANOTHER ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENT IN KRASNODAR

Krasnodar Krai, which has already been placed on the watch lists of human rights organizations because of a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents, experienced yet another such incident on 11 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). Dozens of residents received leaflets in their mail boxes calling for the extermination of all Jews in Krasnodar. The leaflets also called for Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko to run for president of Russia in 2000. Kondratenko earlier had expressed his support for Communist Party member and Duma deputy Albert Makashov, who has been widely criticized for anti-Semitic remarks. JAC

SUICIDE THINNING SOLDIERS' RANKS

The number of soldiers in Defense Ministry units who died during service from non-combat related causes rose 2 percent from 1996 to 1997, "Kommersant vlast" reported on 8 December. Forty-six percent of the 1997 deaths were suicides. JAC

ZYUGANOV VISITS TRIPOLI

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli on 14 December to discuss bilateral and international issues. In an address to the Libyan parliament, Zyuganov said UN sanctions against Libya contravene all international values and principle. He called for a "world free of sanctions and aggressions in the 21st century." JAC

RUSSIA DEBATES ASIAN ISLANDS

Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Legislative Duma of Khabarovsk Krai, said on 15 December that the idea of developing Bolshoi Ussuriiskii and the Tarabarov Islands is "unacceptable," ITAR-TASS reported. Ozerov said he and other officials in the krai are concerned at Chinese moves to infringe on navigation of Russian vessels in the Amur. He claimed that there is no need to develop the islands as they are already used for agriculture by Russians living nearby. Meanwhile, Russian residents of Kunashir Island, which is one of the Kuril chain, are debating renting plots of land to Japan for a period of 99 years. Japanese Prime Minister Keidzo Obuchi said on 9 December that in negotiations with Moscow, his country will be "persistent" in demanding that the Kuril islands are ceded to Japan. BP

NEW INSIGHT INTO PUSHKIN?

One of only 30 known books inscribed with a dedication from Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin appeared on public display and for possible sale at a Moscow antiques gallery, the "Moscow Times" reported on 15 December. The copy of "Eugene Onegin" reads "To Her Highness the Princess Maria Arkadyevna Golitsyna from Pushkin." The daily quoted Petr Druzhinin, a rare books expert at the gallery, as saying that "Absolutely everything has been said about Pushkin.... [But] this short text is worth more than an enormous amount of articles and speculations." JAC

CONFUSION OVER MOBILIZATION OF RESERVISTS IN CHECHNYA

Meeting in emergency session on 14 December, the Chechen parliament declared President Aslan Maskhadov's mobilization of reservists "unconstitutional," arguing that the Chechen Constitution provides for the call-up of reservists only in the event of an external threat, Interfax reported. But deputy speaker Selim Beshaev told NTV that owing to the lack of a quorum, the parliament was unable formally to condemn Maskhadov's action, which it will continue debating on 15 December, Reuters reported. Also on 14 December, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Yusup Soslambekov said that the reservists will be deployed to crack down on terrorism only after the parliament has set a date for the beginning of that action, according to ITAR-TASS. Soslambekov predicted that the Chechen anti-crime measures will be coordinated with the Interior Ministries of Russia and the North Caucasus republics. LF




AZERBAIJAN NOT TO ATTEND COUNCIL OF EUROPE KARABAKH HEARINGS

Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov told deputies on 11 December that Azerbaijan will not send a delegation to attend the 16 December Paris hearings on the Karabakh conflict, Assa-Irada reported. That meeting has been organized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. An Armenian delegation headed by parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian left Yerevan on 14 December to participate in those hearings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The hearings were originally scheduled for early November but were postponed after Baku objected to the participation of a separate delegation from the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic headed by President Arkadii Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 October 1998). It was subsequently agreed that the Azerbaijani delegation to the talks would include representatives of the Azerbaijani community who were forced to flee Karabakh during the war. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER SUMMONED FOR QUESTIONING

Former President and Azerbaijani Popular Front chairman Abulfaz Elchibey was summoned to the Prosecutor-General's office in Baku on 14 December in connection with his 6 November statement that President Heidar Aliyev was instrumental in creating the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Turan reported. Two days earlier, Elchibey was required to give a written undertaking that he will not try to leave the country. LF

INDEPENDENT AZERBAIJANI NEWSPAPER FINED

A Baku city court handed down a $125,000 fine to "Azadlyg" on 14 December for publishing reports that members of President Aliev's family had purchased expensive real estate in the UK, AP reported. The newspaper was also ordered to print a front-page retraction of those allegations. Also on 14 December, editors of independent newspapers voted to postpone indefinitely a resumption of their suspended hunger strike after meeting with presidential administration member Ali Hasanov. Some 20 editors began a hunger strike in November to protest libel cases they believe are intended to bankrupt them. LF

DEMOLITION OF ARMENIAN MONUMENTS REPORTEDLY HALTED

The destruction and removal of Armenian stone crosses and gravestones from a cemetery in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan has stopped, according to Groong on 14 December. Armenian observers in Iran had reported the demolition earlier this month, eliciting protests from Armenian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). LF

REWARD OFFERED IN ARMENIAN MURDER CASE

The Armenian Defense Ministry has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the clarification of the 10 December shooting of Deputy Defense Minister Vahram Khorkhoruni, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 December, citing the Prosecutor-General's Office. Khorkhoruni was close to Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, reputedly one of the most powerful men in Armenia. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT TO REVIEW COGNAC FACTORY SALE

Armenia has agreed to a request by Pernod-Ricard, the purchaser of the Yerevan Cognac Factory, to review the terms of the sale and extend for six months the deadline for the main payment, Reuters reported on 14 December, quoting Economy and Finance Minister Eduard Sandoyan. Pernod-Ricard had requested the delay after the financial crisis in Russia in effect wiped out demand for Armenian brandy. Russia is the plant's main market. Armenian opposition parties had protested the sale of the plant to Pernod Ricard, arguing that the price of $30 million was too low. LF

IMF EQUIVOCAL ON SUPPORT FOR GEORGIA

Hunter Munroe, the IMF representative in Tbilisi, told journalists on 14 December that "Georgia will receive the support of international financial organizations only if the government adopts a stronger economic policy," Caucasus Press reported. Munroe refused to predict how soon the Georgian lari would stabilize, after losing almost 50 percent of its value since early December. He said the IMF will take a decision on whether to release the next tranche of an ESAF loan after a delegation visits Georgia in January. Also on 14 December, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze ruled out a monetary emission to counter the lari's loss in value, Interfax reported. The IMF and World Bank have earmarked $200 million to cover half the estimated $400 million budget shortfall faced by six countries hardest hit by the Russian financial crisis: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Tajikistan, Reuters reported on 11 December. LF

RUSSIANS, ABKHAZ ACCUSE GEORGIA OF MILITARY BUILDUP

Nikolai Rusak, a senior officer of the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, told Caucasus Press on 15 December that Tbilisi has violated a September 1998 agreement limiting the number of troops either Georgia or Abkhazia may station in the border zone. Rusak claimed that Georgia currently has 1,300 regular troops stationed in the region, as opposed to the 365 permitted under the agreement. On 11 December, Abkhaz Interior Minister Amazbei Kchach accused the Georgian government of sending 300 troops into Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, AP reported. A Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected that claim as "a provocation." LF

KAZAKH OFFICIALS CRITICIZE OSCE ADVICE

Presidential candidate and head of the Customs Committee Gani Kasymov on 14 December commented on the OSCE'S 3 December call to postpone the January presidential elections, Reuters reported. Kasymov said that "as in every government, we have our constitution, and to say how it should work and moreover to give orders, right or not, is unsuitable." Revealing something about his own political standpoint, Kasymov commented that "democracy and a firm hand go well together," adding that "the people demand it and it is what they need." Senate speaker Omirbek Baigeldi also criticized OSCE statements on the presidential elections, Interfax reported on 14 December. Baigeldi said the early October decision of the country's parliament to hold elections in January 1999 "expresses the will of the Kazakh people." He viewed the participation of four candidates in the upcoming election as "the best proof" that the vote will be democratic. BP

RUSSIA INCREASES KAZAKH OIL QUOTA

Russia's Ministry of Fuel and Energy has offered to pump via Russian pipelines an additional 1.5 million tons of Kazakh oil and gas to countries outside the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 December. Kazakh Minister of Energy, Industry, and Trade Mukhtar Ablyazov called the offer a "gesture of goodwill," noting that 30 percent of his country's budget is based on sales of hydrocarbon resources. As a result, Kazakh oil exports to countries outside the CIS will increase from 3.5 million tons annually to 5 million tons. The Russian offer was made last week when Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev was in Washington to hold talks with U.S. oil and gas companies. BP

NUCLEAR TESTING SITE NEEDS $43 MILLION FOR CLEANUP

A UN official, speaking in Almaty on 14 December, said that at least $43 million is needed to clean up the damage caused at the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing site in northern Kazakhstan during the Soviet era, Interfax reported. The official said the UN General Assembly discussed the issue in mid-November and agreed to submit 38 projects to the governments of donor countries. Kazakh Minister for Natural Resources Serikbek Daukeyev said his country cannot afford to clean up the environmental disaster in Semipalatinsk on its own. He added that negotiations are under way with a UN nongovernmental organization that is to offer between $5-7 million. BP

VOLSKII WRAPS UP VISIT TO KYRGYZSTAN

Arkadii Volskii, the chairman of Russia's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, ended his two-day visit to Kyrgyzstan on 14 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Volskii held meetings with Kyrgyz government and business leaders, after which he said trade between Russia and Kyrgyzstan can easily be doubled. Volskii said if Kyrgyzstan exported rare earth elements to Russia and if transportation and energy tariffs were regulated, there would be "an instantaneous effect" on bilateral trade. Volskii also favored trade based on barter rather than hard currency. BP

AKAYEV SAYS DRUGS NO. 1 PROBLEM

In an interview with the Russian newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda" published on 15 December, President Askar Akayev said that drug-trafficking is his country's number one problem, followed by "the infiltration of Muslim fundamentalist ideas into Kyrgyzstan." Akayev said the cyanide spill near the popular lake resort of Issik Kul this summer was not overly dangerous, "something immediately clear to me as an engineer-physicist." He commented that he is unsure whether he will run in the 2000 presidential elections but added that if the situation in Kyrgyzstan grows much worse, he will definitely not run. BP




UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS THREATEN TO BLOCK RATIFICATION OF INTERNATIONAL ACCORDS

The parliamentary caucus of the Communist Party of Ukraine has threatened to block ratifications of all international agreements signed by the government, Reuters reported on 14 December . Adam Martynyuk, deputy speaker from the Communist Party, said his caucus will not vote for any of the 64 international treaties pending ratification until the parliament approves Ukraine's membership in the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly. Communists hold 122 seats in the 448-member Supreme Council and often block legislation, together with the Socialist and Agrarian caucuses. JM

UKRAINIAN MINER SETS HIMSELF ON FIRE OVER UNPAID WAGES

Oleksandr Mykhalevych, a 35-year-old miner in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, doused himself with gasoline and set alight to himself on 14 December to protest unpaid wages, Ukrainian media reported. Mykhalevych, along with some 200 miners, had been on strike since July, living in shacks built near the Luhansk administration building. In a note written before his attempted self-immolation, Mykhalevych said he was taking this action because he has lost hope of receiving the some 5,000 hryvni ($1,450) he is owed. After police and fellow miners put out the flames, Mykhalevych was taken to the hospital, where he remains in critical condition. According to the Independent Miners' Trade Union, more than 20,000 miners are currently on strike over back wages. JM

BELARUS, EU ISSUE STATEMENT ON RESOLUTION OF DIPLOMATIC HOUSING ROW...

The 14 December "Narodnaya volya" published a statement by Belarus and the EU on the political resolution of the diplomatic housing conflict. In June, five EU nations--Britain, France, Germany, Greece, and Italy--recalled their ambassadors from Belarus, following the diplomats' eviction from the housing compound at Drazdy, near Minsk. Under a recent agreement, the EU ambassadors will lease new apartments elsewhere in Minsk and be given one month to transfer their belongings from Drazdy to new residences. Belarus will compensate EU nations. The amount of compensation will be determined in bilateral negotiations. The statement does not specify the time frame for the return to Minsk of the ambassadors, nor does it indicate that the EU visa ban on Belarusian state officials will be lifted. JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION SAYS EU YIELDS TO LUKASHENKA REGIME

The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) has said that the EU-Belarusian statement is a "concession made by the European community to the Lukashenka regime," Belapan reported on 14 December. The BNF believes that the "softening" of the EU stance vis-a-vis the Belarusian leadership is "groundless and untimely," since Belarus is currently witnessing "growing social and political protest against the dictatorship." It argues that the Lukashenka regime should be addressed only "in the language of precise demands to observe international agreements, restore constitutional lawfulness, release political prisoners, stop persecuting the press, [and] liberalize the economy. Any other manner of speaking only assures the dictatorship of its impunity," the BNF statement concludes. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT URGES VOTE ON 1999 BUDGET BEFORE YEAR'S END

The cabinet has proposed that an extraordinary session of the parliament be convened on 18 December to continue the second reading of the draft 1999 budget, ETA and BNS reported on 14 December. According to the proposal, the budget bill would be the only item on the agenda. Leaders of the United Opposition have approved the idea of extraordinary sessions to discuss the budget but do not believe that the draft should be endorsed by year's end at all costs. The parliament's last regular session this year is on 17 December. The draft budget, however, does not feature on the parliament's agenda for this week. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER URGES COALITION PARTNER TO ENDORSE AGRICULTURE MINISTER

Vilis Kristopans has urged the junior coalition partner Fatherland and Freedom to approve his proposal to appoint a Social Democrat to the post of agriculture minister. The Fatherland and Freedom party said last week that it will postpone taking a decision on that issue until the end of January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). Kristopans stressed again that he does not believe there will be a government crisis over the agricultural portfolio. But he pointed out that the draft 1999 budget will go into its first reading before the end of January and that if it fails to win approval, this would mean a vote of no confidence in the government. The Social Democrats have promised to support Kristopans's minority government in the parliament on condition they are granted the agriculture portfolio. JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES LEGISLATION BANNING DEATH PENALTY

Valdas Adamkus has proposed that the parliament urgently debate legislation providing for the replacement of the death penalty with life-long imprisonment, BNS reported on 14 December. Adamkus urged changes to the penal code and a law " On Replacement of the Death Penalty with Life-long Imprisonment for Persons Sentenced to Death But Not Executed." He explained that the drafts have been drawn up taking into account the Constitutional Court's ruling last week that capital punishment contravenes the basic law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). Nine convicts are currently on death row in Lithuania, according to the news agency. Adamkus's predecessor, Algirdas Brazauskas, issued a moratorium on the death penalty in July 1995. JC

POLISH ARMS INDUSTRY WORKERS, MINERS ON STRIKE...

Workers at the Radom Lucznik arms plant began a sit-in strike on 14 December over unpaid November and October wages, PAP reported. The protesters also want an arms industry restructuring program that foresees welfare packages for laid-off employees. Meanwhile, a sit-in strike continues at the Mielec Aviation Plant, where some 3,000 workers rallied on 14 December to demand the payment of wage arrears and a plan to save the aviation industry. Meanwhile, some 50 miners at six coal mines have gone on strike underground over the new pension law, which sets the retirement age at 65, instead of after 25 years of service, as stipulated in previous legislation. JM

...WHILE PREMIER SEEKS TO REASSURE PROTESTERS

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told Polish Radio on 14 December that miners "should and will get pensions after 25 years of work in coal mines." He also promised that the Mielec Aviation Plant workers will obtain their outstanding wages "in the coming days." Meanwhile, the leftist National Trade Union Alliance (OPZZ) has called on all trade unions to form a nationwide protest committee to protest the "incompetent and arrogant policies" of the government, PAP reported on 14 December. The OPZZ accuses the government of "the most anti-worker pension reform in Europe" and of "lacking a concept for restructuring the Polish economy." The Miners' Trade Union on 14 December appealed to President Aleksander Kwasniewski to veto the recently adopted pension and mining industry restructuring laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998). JM

PROMINENT SLOVAK JOURNALIST DIES

Karol Jezik, editor in chief of "Sme," has died from a head injury, "Sme" reported on 15 December. Jezik, who was 45, had been in a coma for one week following a head injury sustained at a concert by Slovak pop singer Pavol Hammel. CTK reported that Jezik was found unconscious after the concert in a toilet of the Culture House in Bratislava-Petrzalka. Jezik helped found "Sme" in 1993, after being sacked as editor of "Smena" when Vladimir Meciar's government took action against that newspaper. A large number of the editorial staff of "Smena" later joined Jezik at "Sme," which was the only newspaper to reflect the views of the opposition under Meciar. MS

BILAK MIGHT BE TRIED IN SLOVAKIA

Vasil Bilak, a former senior Czechoslovak Communist Party official, might be put on trial for his role in the so-called "invitation letter" to the Soviet Union to send troops to the former Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Jaroslav Ivor, head of the Interior Ministry's investigation section, told journalists on 14 December that Bilak will also be charged with making donations of $11.2 million to foreign communist parties under the guise of "international aid," thus undermining the economy and infringing foreign exchange laws. He added that the ministry is now considering resuming investigations into the case of Alojz Lorenc, the last chief of the communist secret police, who was sentenced in the Czech Republic but managed to escape imprisonment by residing in Slovakia after the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia. MS

SWISS OWNER WILL NOT SELL 'MAGYAR HIRLAP'

Swiss media baron Jurg Marquard said on 14 December in Budapest that he does not intend to sell the independent Hungarian daily "Magyar Hirlap." His statement ended days of media speculation following Prime Minister Viktor Orban's announcement last week that the cabinet plans to make the daily part of the Hungarian Development Bank's press portfolio and merge it with the conservative, pro- government "Napi Magyarorszag." The Prime Minister's Office said it would like to see a "major conservative political daily on the market that would balance the socialist-liberal slant in the press." Ilona Kocsi, chief editor of "Magyar Hirlap," told reporters after Marquard's announcement that "we are greatly relieved that we will not have to become government property." MSZ

BRUSSELS WARNS HUNGARY AGAINST IMPATIENCE

Nikolaus van der Pas, director-general of the European Commission group dealing with EU accession, said on 14 December in Vienna that the commission understands Budapest's view that Hungary needs the EU to set a date for its accession, but he warned against "displaying impatience." Such an attitude, he said, does not create a good impression in Brussels. Van der Pas was responding to Prime Minister Orban's statement at the EU summit that Hungary's plan to join the union in 2002 "remains realistic." MSZ




NATO DISMISSES MILOSEVIC WARNING

An unnamed NATO official told dpa on 14 December that the NATO extraction force in Macedonia does not pose a threat to federal Yugoslavia. The official dismissed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's statement to the "Washington Post" that federal Yugoslavia would consider any NATO action to evacuate OSCE verifiers as an act of aggression (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). The official said the force would act only "in a case of extreme emergency." Meanwhile, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke is scheduled to meet with Milosevic on 15 December in Belgrade and is expected to tell the Yugoslav leader that he must fulfill his commitments, a State Department official told Reuters the previous day. Meanwhile, the European Commission has approved $8.4 million in emergency aid to Kosova. FS

IMF POSTPONES READMISSION OF YUGOSLAVIA

The IMF has postponed the admission of federal Yugoslavia for six months, Reuters reported. The IMF has repeatedly postponed decisions on readmitting Yugoslavia since it expelled the country in 1992 as part of international sanctions. In 1995, after the Dayton agreement, the U.S. set three preconditions for Yugoslavia rejoining the IMF and the World Bank: full cooperation with the international war crime tribunal in The Hague, progress in talks on dividing assets of the former Yugoslavia, and an improved human rights record in Kosova. FS

ALBANIA PROTESTS BORDER VIOLATION

The Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement to Yugoslavia on 14 December protesting recent incidents on the Kosova-Albanian border. The statement said that federal Yugoslav border guards fired several shots and shells inside Albanian territory, near Padesh, over the weekend. A shell hit the home of a local peasant family, destroying its roof. Albanian officials have asked Yugoslav officials for explanations. Yugoslav border officials failed to attend a meeting of a joint border commission scheduled for 13 December. FS

FRESH FIGHTING BREAKS OUT ON KOSOVA BORDER

At least 30 ethnic Albanians were killed and 12 wounded on 14 December in fighting with Yugoslav border guards near Prizren, OSCE representatives told AP. According to Tanjug, those killed were separatist guerrillas trying to smuggle arms and ammunition into Kosova. The ethnic Albanian Kosova Information Center confirmed there had been shooting in the area and reported that federal Yugoslav forces had surrounded three villages. Reuters said that locals had reported seeing a number of dead and wounded but had given no figures. Elsewhere, unidentified gunmen in Peja opened fire in a Serb-run bar the same day, killing four Serbs and wounding five others, according to OSCE verifiers. FS

IMPASSE OVER SERBIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS...

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia ruled on 14 December that federal Yugoslavia must bow to its jurisdiction, Reuters reported. The court demands the surrender of three former army officers who are charged with involvement in a massacre in which 260 unarmed men were killed in the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991. A military court in Belgrade has begun its own inquiry into the murders and called on the three to testify on 17 December. Western officials, however, have dismissed that move as a farce. The Belgrade court has asked The Hague tribunal to submit its evidence against the indicted men and has invited tribunal representatives to attend the Belgrade court session. FS

...PROMPTING TRIBUNAL TO CALL FOR INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE ON BELGRADE

Meanwhile, tribunal President Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald sent a letter to the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) on 14 December accusing federal Yugoslavia of obstructing the tribunal's work. McDonald informed representatives of the 51 PIC member states of Belgrade's refusal to recognize the court's jurisdiction and its failure to surrender the three indicted war crimes suspects. She argued there can be no lasting peace while one of the parties openly flouts the terms of the Dayton accord, Reuters reported. The PIC is holding its annual meeting in Madrid on 15 and 16 December. The talks will focus on the return of refugees, economic development, the reform of the judicial system, and the setting up of a centralized border police to fight widespread smuggling. FS

POPLASEN HOPES FOR DAYTON IMPLEMENTATION

Before leaving for Madrid, Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen said in Banja Luka on 14 December that he is hopeful that the PIC meeting will help boost the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. FS

CROATIAN-BOSNIAN BORDER COMMISSION RESUMES WORK

The Croatian- Bosnian border commission met in Zagreb on 14 December to settle outstanding border questions, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The meeting took place, despite demands by Muslim Presidency member Alia Izetbegovic that Croatian police withdraw from the Bosnian town of Martin Brod before negotiations resume (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). FS

CROATIAN TEACHERS' STRIKE FOR HIGHER WAGES

Croatian high-school teachers staged day-long strike on 14 December, their fourth labor action this year, AP reported. The teachers are demanding a 12 percent salary hike and increased budget funds for education. The union decided to stage the strike after months of fruitless negotiations with the government and a series of warning protests and walkouts. Teachers earn the equivalent of $360 per month, well below the national average salary of $450. About 80 percent of teachers participated in the strike, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. FS

ALBANIAN STUDENTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE

About 70 students in Tirana launched a hunger strike on 11 December, demanding a 50 percent increase in scholarships and better accommodation. The students said their protest is not politically motivated, Reuters reported. Information Minister Musa Ulqini, for his part, suggested that the protest was organized by the opposition Democratic Party. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said the following day that the students are justified in their demands, which the government will seek to fulfill. Majko also said he is ready to meet with the students to discuss their demands. FS

NEW TENSIONS OVER 'MULTICULTURAL UNIVERSITY' IN ROMANIA...

National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) chairman Ion Diaconescu on 14 December said he recommends that the government does not appeal the Bucharest Court of Appeal's ruling last week against the setting up of the "multicultural" Petofi-Schiller university. PNTCD deputy chairman Remus Opris said the tribunal's decision had "washed away the government's shame" for "giving into the exaggerated demands of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania [UDMR]." Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman said he recommends that the government "reformulate" the draft law on setting up the university to avoid illegalities. Prime Minister Radu Vasile said he is awaiting the opinion of government experts before deciding whether to appeal the decision, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

...AND OVER AMENDED EDUCATION LAW

The National Liberal Party (PNL) on 14 December announced it will not be represented on the mediation commission that is to attempt to find a compromise between the versions of the amended education law passed by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. As a result of the PNL's decision, the opposition will be represented by three, instead of two, representatives on the seven-member commission. The same day, UDMR parliamentary deputies voted against all draft legislation proposed by the government, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN BANK SALE AGREEMENT CONCLUDED

Representatives of French Societe Generale were in Bucharest on 14 December to sign the agreement on acquiring a majority stake in Romania's fourth largest state bank, the Romanian Bank for Development. Societe Generale paid $200 million for the 51 percent share, of which $65 million will be reinvested in the bank to raise its capital share by 20 percent. Premier Vasile, who attended the signing ceremony, said the government is determined to pursue its bank privatization program. Also on 14 December, workers from the Bucharest Republica steel plant marched in the capital to protest the cutting off of power supplies to the plant because of a 10 billion lei (just below $1 million) debt to the state electricity company. Miners in the Brad gold mines are protesting the intention to close unprofitable mines. Thirty-eight of them launched a hunger strike on 14 December. MS

BULGARIAN LEV TO BE PEGGED TO EURO

As of 1 January 1999, the lev will be pegged to the Euro, National Bank governor Svetoslav Gavriiski told journalists on 11 December. The lev has been pegged to the German mark since mid-1997, when the Currency Board was set up. MS

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN TRADE MINISTER IN SOFIA

Borislav Vukovic and Bulgarian Trade and Tourism Minister Valentin Vasilev, meeting in Sofia on 14 December, signed an agreement on avoiding double taxation, BTA reported. Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Ventislav Varbanov and Vukovic initialed an agreement on quarantine and plant protection as well as an accord on veterinary control. A working group is to study obstacles to bilateral trade and propose measures for overcoming them. The volume of trade between the two countries has dropped to $107 million this year, compared with $160 in 1997. MS




CORRUPTION REMAINS WIDESPREAD IN LATVIA


by Peter Zvagulis and Jan Cleave

A World Bank study on corruption in Latvia drew considerable attention in that country when its findings were published in the local media earlier this month. The study, which was carried out in the summer and focused on low-level corruption in the public sector, shows that the abuse of power among Latvian officials remains widespread. It also reveals that Latvians do not believe cabinet ministers have been serious in their efforts to deal with corruption. Indeed, that perception may prove as difficult to ameliorate as the problem itself, particularly in view of the corruption scandals that have plagued the executive over the past 18 months or so.

According to the World Bank study, corruption is most widespread among customs officials and road traffic police, two groups that are noted for corruption across the post-Soviet region and with which Latvians are most likely to come into contact in every-day life. Companies surveyed for the study said bribes are required most frequently in dealings with road traffic police (33 percent of all cases of bribe payments) and customs officials (21 percent), while households identified pay-offs as most rife in dealings with customs (48 percent), road traffic police (39 percent), and the judiciary (38 percent).

Thirty-seven percent of companies and 13 percent of households surveyed admitted they have made such payments. On average, companies spend 2.1 percent of their monthly turnover in pay-offs, while households pay an average of 1.2 percent of their monthly income. Sixty percent of both companies and households said they believe that corruption has increased over the past four years.

The study asserts that the reason for the high level of corruption in Latvia is the largely unregulated competence of civil servants and their arbitrary application of the regulations that are in force. One day after publishing the results of the World Bank study, the Latvian daily "Diena" ran a survey among politicians of all stripes on their response to the study. Several of those politicians argued that the primary cause of corruption is inadequate legislation dealing with the problem.

Arguably the most damning finding of the World Bank study is the widespread perception among the population that cabinet ministers have not been serious about fighting corruption. Asked to evaluate on a scale of zero to 10 the intention of the executive to carry out such a fight, 35 percent of companies, 28 percent of households, and 15 percent of civil servants gave a zero evaluation (reflecting the view that the "government does not have the slightest intention to fight corruption"). Only 1 percent in each of the three categories gave the government the maximum 10 points in this regard.

The popular perception of an executive not committed to combating corruption can be attributed in large measure to last year's series of corruption scandals involving cabinet members, which led to the demise of Andris Skele's government in July 1997. Under the 1996 anti-corruption law, several members of Skele's cabinet were found guilty of a conflict of interests and of concealing private business activities. None of those ministers, however, was prosecuted since they were considered to have broken the law only "nominally" and their "crime" was not deemed to constitute a criminal offense. (Just weeks after the new minority government was installed last month, Andrejs Pantelejevs, head of the ruling coalition party Latvia's Way and chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating the Latvenergo affair, was found guilty of not declaring all his assets as required by the 1996 law. Similarly, he was considered to have broken the law only "nominally" and therefore escaped prosecution.)

One of the ministers in Skele's cabinet found guilty of having broken the anti-corruption law was Vilis Kristopans, the head of the new government. At the time, Kristopans denied any wrongdoing, although he resigned his post as transport minister (only to be reappointed to that portfolio in the cabinet of Guntars Krasts). Asked by RFE/RL's Latvian Service last week whether he believes the World Bank study is "accurate," the prime minister answered "yes." He went on to argue that "you cannot expect the legacy of Soviet mentality to disappear overnight" but pledged that his cabinet would seek to deal with the issue. So far, however, there has been no statement on what measures the new government intends to take.

Staking out a clear anti-corruption strategy would help convince both the Latvian population and officials in Brussels that the new government is serious about fighting corruption. In its annual progress report on countries aspiring to become EU members, which was released last month, the European Commission noted that Latvia has taken some measures to tackle the problem, including the establishment in September 1997 of a Council for the Prevention of Corruption and the adoption in January 1998 of a national program of urgent short-term measures against corruption, which so far has been implemented only in part. At the same time, the commission stressed that corruption remains an "important problem" in Latvia and, together with public administration reform and the strengthening of the judiciary, "requires continued efforts by the Latvian authorities." Peter Zvagulis is director of RFE/RL's Latvian Service.


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