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Newsline - January 18, 1999




YELTSIN RETURNS TO HOSPITAL

Russian President Boris Yeltsin was hospitalized on 17 January for an acute bleeding stomach ulcer. The next day, doctors at Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital proposed that Yeltsin be treated with medicine over the next two to three weeks rather than undergo surgery. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told NTV the same day that the illness had developed "all of a sudden" and that there had been no symptoms the previous day. Acknowledging that the ulcer "could have been caused by stress," Yakushkin added that it is unlikely to have been caused by the overconsumption of aspirin, as had been initially reported, since Yeltsin had stopped taking aspirin for some time. A meeting with French President Jacques Chirac planned for 28-29 January "is most likely to be postponed," according to Yakushkin. JAC

NEW CALLS FOR TRANSFERRING PRESIDENTIAL POWERS...

No changes have been made in Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's schedule in connection with President Yeltsin's illness, according to Primakov's press secretary, Tatyana Aristarkhova. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 18 January that the president's illness will have "no effect" on the country's political situation. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the president's "diagnosis was not the most terrible," while Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that Yeltsin's illness should be treated and not commented on, ITAR-TASS reported. However, he suggested that "Yeltsin is not in condition to exercise his duties" and that "one should think about how to turn them over to the prime minister and government and how to elect a new president." Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov suggested on 16 January that early presidential elections should be seriously considered, given the problem of the Russian president's "being not active enough." JAC

...AND CREATING OFFICE OF VICE PRESIDENT

Luzhkov told Swedish Television on 15 January that the post of vice president should be reintroduced in Russia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the next day. Luzhkov said that the elimination of the post from the constitution had been a mistake owing to a "personal conflict" that should now be rectified. JAC

TOP IMF, US OFFICIALS DERIDE BUDGET...

IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer told an investment conference on 15 January that Russia's 1999 budget is "neither sufficiently ambitious nor realistic." He added that "fund staff estimate that it falls some 3-4 percentage points of GDP short of what is needed" and "will entail a continuation of the cycle of large deficits and every growing interest payments." The previous day, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said that Russia will have to make "genuine and realistic cuts" in its budget deficit if it wants IMF assistance. JAC

...AS MASLYUKOV SAYS NOT TO WORRY

First Deputy Minister Yurii Maslyukov downplayed Fischer's remarks, telling reporters on 17 January that in a private conversation Fischer "did not sound so categorical." "Segodnya" noted the previous day that the Primakov government does not seem fully aware of the international financial institutions' (IFIs) dissatisfaction with Russia. The daily quoted Maslyukov as saying that the IFIs have "no questions" for Russia regarding its World Bank loans, while the World Bank Country Director for Russia Michael Carter warned that the Bank may suspend further installments of its coal loan, unless it receives clarification of the Russian government's plans for the coal sector. Meanwhile, another brainstorming session to resolve issues stemming from Russian economic program, involving officials from the Russian government, IMF, World Bank, and EBRD, opened in Moscow on 16 January. According to Carter, the session is meant to clarify issues before upcoming negotiations, "Segodnya" reported. JAC

PRIMAKOV CALLS FOR NATIONAL UNITY...

At a two-day meeting of the inter-regional association Siberian Accord in Kemerovo on 15 January, Prime Minister Primakov warned Siberian governors that "there can be no talk of conflict between the center and the regions" and that separatist trends "must be quelled, liquidated, and uprooted." Primakov called for the "restoration of the vertical state power structure, where all matters would be solved jointly by the center and local authorities." Primakov and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev said a recent agreement signed by them is a new model for cooperation between the center and the regions, "Segodnya" reported on 16 January. Under the agreement, the Kemerovo Oblast administration can appoint up to 50 percent of the boards of directors of local coal mining enterprises. In addition, oblast authorities must be consulted on sales of coal company shares. JAC

...DEFENDS THE BUDGET

Prime Minister Primakov also defended the 1999 budget against Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed's charge that the document "puts regions in the hardest position" and should be rejected outright. According to Primakov, it would be "simply ridiculous" to reject the budget, arguing that revenues and expenditures are "balanced enough" and cannot be expanded. Acknowledging that some redistribution of spending is possible, he noted that Russia "cannot turn its back on the army," Interfax reported. JAC

RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT DENIES OCALAN IN MOSCOW

Russian Ambassador to Turkey Aleksandr Lebedev told ITAR-TASS on 17 January that Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan has not returned to Moscow from Italy. Lebedev said all Russian consulates have been instructed to deny Ocalan a visa. A spokesman for the Russian Security Service declined on 17 January either to confirm or deny that Ocalan might travel to Moscow, according to Interfax. On 16 January, Ocalan left Italy for an unknown destination. He had been apprehended on arrival in Rome from Moscow last November. LF

FORMER VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR WINS VICTORY OF SORTS AT POLLS

Voters in Vladivostok elected backers of recently ousted former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov to the city's local assembly on 17 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Cherepkov supporters won 15 out of 16 electoral districts in which the ballot was considered valid. In six other districts, turnout was too low for the vote to be valid. Voters had been expected also to vote for a new mayor the same day but a local court canceled that ballot last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). Overall, voter turnout was low, according to election committee chairwoman Tatyana Plokhova. On 16 January, one polling station was broken into and 37 ballot sheets and an electoral commission stamp stolen, Interfax reported. JAC

NEW POLITICAL FAULTLINES EMERGE IN ST. PETERSBURG

Yabloko has recalled party member Igor Artemiev from the post of St. Petersburg deputy governor and chairman of the city finance committee, declaring that it will now be in opposition to St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and his government, ITAR- TASS reported on 17 January. Aleksandr Shishlov, chairman of Yabloko's St. Petersburg branch, told the agency that the decision was prompted by Governor Yakovlev's repeated violations of a 1996 coalition agreement. Meanwhile, another alliance in St. Petersburg is also crumbling. Four deputies in the city's legislative assembly from the Yurii Boldyrev Bloc have announced they are quitting the movement and are now willing to cooperate with Governor Yakovlev's government, "Vremya MN" reported on 15 January. According to the newspaper, many members of the assembly were elected solely because they joined the bloc, whose main founding principle was strict party discipline. JAC

DEBT RATING FOR SVERDLOVSK OBLAST HITS BOTTOM

In its annual review of the economy of Sverdlovsk Oblast, international credit rating agency Moody's reported that the country's economic crisis has hit the region hard, reducing its ability to pay its foreign debt, "Vremya MN" reported on 15 January. The agency gave Sverdlovsk the lowest rating on its scale, a Caa3, for the region's ability to repay its hard currency debt of 954 million rubles ($44 million). Moody's ranked the city of Moscow the most reliable of all Russia's cities and towns in terms of debt repayment. JAC

KALMYKIA OFFERS DZERZHINSKII A HOME

President of the Republic of Kalmykia Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has offered the territory of his republic as a permanent home for a monument of Felix Dzerzhinskii, founder of the Cheka, that the Duma recently voted to restore to its original place on Lubyanka Square in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 January. Ilyumzhinov has volunteered Kalmykia because there have been some disagreements between the Duma and Moscow authorities over the restoration. JAC

LEAKS REPORTED FROM NICHOLAS II ICON

Myrrh, a yellowish to reddish brown aromatic resin, has been flowing from an icon of Tsar Nicholas II for the past two months in Moscow's Ascension Church, Archpriest Vasilii Golovanov told ITAR-TASS on 16 January. According to Golovanov, hundreds of Muscovites and pilgrims from across Russia have witnessed the miracle, which will likely be used as evidence that Nicholas II should be canonized. Myrrh first started flowing from the icon on 7 November, the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Golovanov claimed. JAC

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS IGNORE PARLIAMENT SUMMONS

A special session of the Chechen parliament scheduled for 17 January failed to take place because Shamil Basaev, Khamzat Belaev, and former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev ignored a request to attend, Interfax reported. The session was to have discussed the 24 December decision taken by the Chechen Supreme Shariah Court under pressure from the field commanders to suspend the powers of the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 16 January, Russian presidential envoy to Chechnya Valentin Vlasov said that Moscow should have provided more economic and political support to President Aslan Maskhadov in accordance with the agreements signed by Maskhadov and President Yeltsin in May 1997. He criticized Yeltsin for not more systematically monitoring the government's implementation of those agreements. LF

NEW BODY TO ADDRESS OSSETIAN-INGUSH CONFLICT

At a special conference on 16 January, the Russian Security Council set up a new working group to address the consequences of the 1992 conflict in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, Interfax reported. Participants agreed that progress toward a solution of the conflict was made last year, not least owing to the good will of the presidents of the two republics involved. The working group includes Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha. The last-named subsequently briefed President Yeltsin on the conference proceedings. LF




AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED IN TURKEY

Heidar Aliyev was flown to Ankara on 17 January and taken to a military hospital to be treated for bronchitis and a respiratory infection. Azerbaijani government officials denied rumors that Aliev, who is 75, is also suffering from cardiac problems. LF

FORMER TOP ARMENIAN OFFICIALS SET UP NEW ORGANIZATION

Several former leading members of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), including former deputy parliamentary speakers Ara Sahakian and Karapet Rubinian, have formed what they say is a non-political organization named "EuroWay" to promote Western- style democracy in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 January. LF

PROMINENT ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ASSESSES ELECTION CHANCES

Interviewed by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 16 January, HHSh chairman Vano Siradeghian predicted that the movement will gain popularity in the runup to the May parliamentary elections. He added that the party may poll more than 10 percent of the vote. But Siradeghian predicted that no single party will have an absolute majority in the new parliament. He said the Republican Party, created on the basis of the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war, would be lucky to receive 25 percent of the vote. The Yerkrapah are currently the largest group within the parliament. Siradeghian also forecast that tensions between President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian will inevitably increase. LF

FINAL ELECTION RESULTS RELEASED IN KAZAKHSTAN

According to data released by the Central Electoral Commission on 16 January, incumbent Nursultan Nazarbayev polled 79.78 percent of the vote in the 10 January presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported. Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin received 11.7 percent, Customs Committee chairman Gani Kasymov 4.61 percent, and Senator Engels Gabbasov 0.76 percent. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF IN KYRGYZSTAN

Meeting in Bishkek on 15 January, General Konstantin Totskii and Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akayev discussed how to implement the agreement concluded last summer whereby Russian border guards will gradually be withdrawn from Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz border guards will take over their duties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1998), ITAR-TASS reported. That agreement was due to take effect on 1 January 1999, according to RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau. But Kyrgyzstan's Defense Minister Marat Subanov told journalists after the talks that a timetable for the Russian withdrawal still has to be drafted. He added that Russia will transfer some military equipment to Kyrgyzstan. LF

PREMIER SAYS ECONOMIC SITUATION IN KYRGYZSTAN 'SERIOUS'...

Addressing parliament on 15 January, Jumabek Ibraimov expressed concern at the economic situation in Kyrgyzstan and pledged "strong measures" to improve it, including tighter fiscal discipline and a crackdown on smuggling, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Also on 15 January, "Vremya-MN" reported that GDP growth in Kyrgyzstan totaled only 2.2 percent compared with the projected 4.6 percent. Industrial output in 1998 was only one third of the 1991 level, the news paper reported. Last year, wages and pension arrears skyrocketed from almost nil to 720 million som (about $24 million). LF

...AS FINANCE MINISTER ASSESSES BUDGET, FOREIGN LOANS

In an interview with "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" published on 15 January, Finance Minister and former Central Bank chairman Marat Sultanov said that the 1999 draft budget, approved by the upper but not the lower chamber of parliament, requires "serious amendments." Sultanov said that the Russian financial crisis has had little impact on Kyrgyzstan, noting that foreign currency reserves fell in 1998 from $195 million to $189 million. He said that the problems involved in rescheduling Kyrgzystan's foreign debt are not insoluble but warned that more "bad loans" could seriously complicate the situation. The National Bank announced on 16 January that it has reached agreement with Turkey's Ex-Im Bank on postponing repayment of a $75 million credit. In Moscow last week, Ibraimov and his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, agreed on postponing repayment of Kyrgyzstan's $132 million debt to Russia. Sultanov said that the Kyrgyz government has offered to purchase some of Russia's foreign debt. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS OF DRUGS THREAT

Imomali Rakhmonov told an international conference in Dushanbe on 15 January that drugs are being smuggled into his country from neighboring Afghanistan at the rate of 1 ton per day, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. He said the number of addicts in Tajikistan is increasing, and he pleaded for additional international aid to halt drug trafficking through Tajikistan to third countries. The following day, the German government donated several thousand dollars' worth of computers and other equipment to the Tajik anti-narcotics commission, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax reported on 15 January that Uzbekistan registered an 11 percent increase in drug trafficking during the first 10 months of 1998. LF

U.S. EMBASSY IN TAJIKISTAN RESUMES NORMAL OPERATIONS

U.S. Ambassador Robert Finn told journalists in Dushanbe on 15 January that the embassy has returned to normal operations, which were suspended in September 1998 following the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa one month earlier. At that time, embassy staff were evacuated from Dushanbe to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. But he added that the embassy is currently looking for a site on which to build a more secure building, according to Asia-Plus. Finn also said that the U.S. will grant Tajikistan assistance worth some $47 million in aid in 1999, including $30 million in food aid, ITAR-TASS reported. LF




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILL ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

The Supreme Council on 15 January voted by 232 to 23 to approve a law on presidential elections in 1999, AP reported. The law stipulates that presidential candidates can be nominated by political parties or a group of at least 500 voters. Each candidate must collect 1 million signatures among Ukraine's 35 million eligible voters, be over 35 years old, and have resided in Ukraine for at least 10 years before the elections. To win in the first round, a candidate must be supported by more than half of the voters who cast their ballots. A simple majority of votes is required to win in a runoff. Political parties that nominate candidates are allowed to send two representatives to every constituency to monitor vote counting. The vote is scheduled for 31 October. JM

TATAR PARLIAMENT OFFICE IN CRIMEA FIREBOMBED

Unknown attackers early on 15 January threw several bottles containing flammable liquid through the windows of the Crimean Tatar National Parliament, a self-governing body of Crimea's 275,000-strong Tatar minority, AP reported. The blaze destroyed the office of parliamentary head Mustafa Dzhemilev and seriously damaged documents and computers in other sections of the building. Dzhemilev expressed doubt that the police will find the attackers, adding that the authorities are still looking for the perpetrators of a similar attack in 1993. JM

EU AMBASSADORS RETURN TO MINSK

Ambassadors of France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, and Italy returned to Belarus on 17 January after a nearly seven-month absence following the EU- Belarus conflict over diplomatic residences at Drazdy, near Minsk. Under an agreement concluded in December, the EU diplomats will have limited access to their former location at Drazdy until they find new residences. "The past is past. Now we should concentrate on the future and create effective relations between our countries," AP quoted the French ambassador as saying. Andrey Sannikau, head of the opposition Charter-97 and former Belarusian deputy foreign minister, told RFE/RL on 15 January that the EU ambassadors are "now very necessary in Belarus" in view of the opposition Supreme Soviet's resolution to hold presidential elections in May (see "End Note" below). JM

BELARUSIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS PROTEST BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION

The Social Democratic Party "Narodnaya Hramada," led by Mikalay Statkevich, staged a march and a rally in Minsk on 17 January to protest the planned Belarus-Russia union, Interfax reported. Protesters marched through the capital's main avenue brandishing placards that urged President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to resign. In an adopted resolution, they stressed that Lukashenka's policy poses a threat to Belarus's sovereignty. They also greeted the return of EU diplomats to Minsk, which, they said, will "uphold Belarusian democracy". According to law enforcement bodies, the protest action involved some 2,000 people and took place without incident. JM

ESTONIA'S MAIN RUSSIAN PARTIES FAIL TO REACH ELECTION AGREEMENT

The United Popular Party and the Russian Party in Estonia have failed to reach an agreement on cooperation in the run-up to the 7 March elections, ETA reported on 18 January. The news agency cited "personal conflicts" between the parties' leaders for that failure. The United Popular Party, however, will run on a joint list with the Russian Unity Party and the former communist Social Democratic Labor Party. Last November, the parliament voted to ban election alliances but stopped short of prohibiting joint lists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). JC

LATVIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO EXAMINE CONTROVERSIAL BOOK FOR ANTI-SEMITISM

The Latvian Foreign Ministry has requested that the Prosecutor-General's Office examine a 1942 book reprinted in Latvia 18 months ago to determine whether it contains anti- Semitic propaganda and/or any glorification of Nazi ideology, LETA reported on 15 January. The book, entitled "The Fearful Year," describes crimes committed against Latvians under Soviet rule from June 1940 to the end of 1941. It was reprinted in 1997 by publisher Leonards Inkins, who is a member of the ruling Fatherland and Freedom party. The party's leadership, however, has stressed it had nothing to do with the reprinting of the book. Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin sharply criticized the decision to reprint the book, saying it was a bid to "justify the crimes of Latvian members of the Waffen-SS against Jews and Russians" and linking the decision to the Latvian government. JC

MINORITY TEACHERS IN LATVIA TO BE FIRED FOR NOT OBTAINING LANGUAGE CERTIFICATE

Eighty-eight teachers in Latvia who failed to obtain the highest state-language certificate by the end of last year are to be fired as of 1 July, "Diena" reported on 15 January, quoting the director of the Department of General Education at the Ministry of Education and Sciences, Guntis Vasilevskis. Another 53 teachers have been given until 1 June to obtain the necessary certificate. Vasilevskis told the daily that the teachers will be fired only if replacements can be found for them. He also said that those who are dismissed will have the opportunity to take the language exam free of charge and, if successful, resume their teaching career. In December 1996, the Ministry of Education ordered that all teachers who did not receive their education in the Latvian language must obtain the highest state-language certificate. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER IN VILNIUS

During his visit to the Lithuanian capital on 15 January, Vilis Kristopans met with the Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus to discuss bilateral relations, LETA and BNS reported. The two leaders agreed that talks on delimiting the Latvian-Lithuanian maritime border must be accelerated, and Kristopans urged a quick solution to the issue. They also discussed the recently resolved issue of pork quotas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999), with the latter saying he believes the two states can remove any barriers to bilateral trade by means of cooperation and harmonization of customs policies, according to "Diena" on 16 January. JC

LITHUANIA REGISTERS LOWEST INFLATION AMONG BALTS IN 1998

Inflation in Lithuania totaled just 2.4 percent in 1998, down from 8.4 percent the previous year, BNS reported on 17 January. Latvia's inflation rate last year was 2.8 percent (down from 7 percent in 1997) and Estonia's 6.5 percent (12.5 percent). The news agency reports that last year, all three countries registered their lowest inflation rate since regaining independence. JC

BUZEK ELECTED LEADER OF SOLIDARITY PARTY

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has been elected leader of the Solidarity Electoral Action Social Movement (RS AWS), Solidarity's political arm formed in 1997 after the parliamentary election victory, Polish media reported on 17 January. Buzek received 368 of the 376 valid votes cast. In this capacity, Buzek is subordinated to Marian Krzaklewski, head of the Solidarity trade union and chairman of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS)--the parliamentary caucus of some 30 right-wing parties, including the RS AWS. The Freedom Union (UW), the AWS's coalition partner, criticized Buzek's appointment. "It's not Jerzy Buzek who makes decisions, but a politburo headed by Marian Krzaklewski," UW deputy Wladyslaw Frasyniuk commented. Polish observers say Krzaklewski, who is planning to run in the 2000 presidential elections, nominated Buzek as RS AWS head to quash the premier's possible presidential ambitions. JM

KWASNIEWSKI PLEDGES 'PERMANENT SUPPORT' TO UKRAINE'S PRO-WESTERN BID

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, in Warsaw on 15 January that Poland is to render "permanent support for Ukrainian efforts in international institutions," including the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU, Polish Television reported. Kuchma said Ukraine wants to follow Polish models of integration with Europe. He added that assertions that economic reform in Ukraine has been halted are "groundless." The reform continues, he said, but owing to insufficient aid from world financial institutions, its pace is unsatisfactory. "We are witnessing an experiment in which the doctors, having diagnosed how to treat the patient, are indifferently watching if the patient will die or survive," Kuchma commented. Both presidents agreed to participate in the May opening of reconstructed Ukrainian-Polish cemetery in Lviv, which has recently provoked tension in mutual relations. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1999 BUDGET...

The Chamber of Deputies on 15 January approved the 1999 budget in the third and final reading. The vote was 114 to 83, CTK and AP reported. The budget foresees a deficit of 31 billion crowns ($1 billion). Its approval was made possible by a last-minute deal with the opposition Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM). Most of the amendments proposed by the KDU-CSL were approved, while the Communists agreed to a compromise whereby 5 billion crowns are to be allocated for the development of the Czech-made L-159 fighter jet and 8.3 million crowns to the development of depressed areas in northwestern Bohemia. The KSCM had earlier demanded that military spending be slashed to a minimum, which other parties saw as endangering entry to NATO. MS

...PROVOKING CONFLICTS IN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE

The leadership of the Freedom Union on 16 January rejected a proposal made the previous day by the party's parliamentary group to leave the four-party opposition alliance in protest against the KDU-CSL's vote for the budget. In addition to the union and the KDU-CSL, the alliance is composed of the extraparliamentary Civic Democratic Alliance and the Democratic Union. Freedom Union leader Jan Ruml said the party's leadership has decided to oppose the parliamentary group's decision to leave the opposition alliance, but he added that in the future "clear rules of cooperation" must be defined. MS

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER ASSAULTS JOURNALISTS DURING FUNERAL

Vladimir Meciar on 15 January physically attacked journalists who were filming the burial ceremony of Meciar's former economics minister, Jan Ducky, who was assassinated on 11 January. Meciar also encouraged other people attending the ceremony to do so. His victims were a CTK correspondent and a journalist from the private TV Markiza. After the incident, Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia said in a statement to CTK that the journalists were guilty of "provocation" and "lack of respect for the dead" because they had filmed at a ceremony that was private and had been informed by the mourning family that their presence was "undesirable." MS

HUNGARIAN JUNIOR COALITION PARTY ELECTS NEW BOARD CHAIRMAN

At its first session since the May 1998 general elections, the National Board of the coalition Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) elected Agoston Szekelyhidi as MDF board chairman, Hungarian media reported on 16 January. Szekelyhidi said after the meeting that in the next three years, the party must begin to act more independently. At the same, he said the MDF would like to continue political cooperation with the current coalition even beyond 2002. MSZ




SERBIAN FORCES CONTINUE OFFENSIVE FOLLOWING MASSACRE

Serbian forces killed some 45 Kosovar civilians in the village of Recak near Shtima in central Kosova on 15 January. The victims ranged from age 12 to 80 and included women. William Walker, who heads the OSCE monitoring mission in Kosova, said the next day that many of the Kosovars had been killed "execution-style" at close range. AP added that many bodies had been mutilated or decapitated. Serbian security forces fired on the village again on 17 and 18 January, using mortars and anti-aircraft guns. Reuters quoted unnamed OSCE monitors on 18 January as saying that the Serbs are shelling several other villages in the area as well. PM

SERBS SAY KILLINGS RESULT OF 'COMBAT'

Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in a statement in Belgrade on 17 January that the killings in Recak were the result of fighting between Serbian forces and "terrorists," by which Serbian officials mean the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). He added that Walker's comments were the result of "false and personal assessments that are totally baseless[and] an obvious attempt to divert attention from the terrorists, murderers, and kidnappers." Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia issued a declaration calling Walker's comments "brazen lies." Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj charged that the UCK mutilated corpses and killed children in Recak in order to discredit the Serbian forces. He added that U.S. and British monitors are helping the UCK and that Walker is a CIA agent aiding the guerrillas, AP reported. Seselj's Radical Party said in a statement that Walker is the "patron of terrorist gangs." PM

RUGOVA URGES NATO INTERVENTION

Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 16 January that only an "energetic and decisive" intervention by NATO can stop "the Serbian military-police machine" and create a situation conducive to reaching a political settlement in the province. He urged the Atlantic alliance to launch air strikes against Serbian military positions. PM

SHADOW-STATE REPRESENTATIVE CALLS FOR 'FORCE'

Isa Zymberi, who is the Kosovar shadow state's representative in London, told the BBC on 17 January that he sees "no purpose" in recent Western appeals to Milosevic to bring the killers to justice. "Asking Milosevic to bring his own henchmen to justice for carrying out his own orders" is ridiculous, Zymberi stressed. He added that "the only thing that Milosevic understands is force" and that time has come for the international community to use force against him. The shadow-state representative added that the Serbian authorities have not respected the cease-fire or the October agreement between Milosevic and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke. Zymberi called that agreement "a mistake" because the Serbs have not observed it. PM

NATO SENDS TWO GENERALS TO BELGRADE

Meeting in emergency session in Brussels on 17 January, NATO ambassadors agreed to send the alliance's two top generals, Wesley Clark and Klaus Naumann, to Belgrade the following day "to impress upon the Yugoslav authorities the gravity of the situation." Secretary-General Javier Solana condemned "all acts of violence [and called] on both sides to cease hostilities immediately and to begin negotiations toward a lasting political solution." The previous day, Clark said that he believes Milosevic may be preparing a "new, all-out offensive" that could soon lead to a renewal in large-scale fighting. PM

ALBANIA URGES UN INTERVENTION IN KOSOVA...

Prime Minister Pandeli Majko sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on 17 January urging intervention in Kosova, Reuters reported. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement the same day saying only through intervention can tensions be defused and the crisis resolved. The document called for an urgent UN Security Council debate, saying that "the Recak massacre shows once again that Belgrade is increasingly sinking into the mire of a deep crisis, is committing the most atrocious crimes, and using neo-fascist methods for the mass extermination of the [Kosova] Albanians." The statement added that "this crime of Serbian chauvinism is also a great challenge to the international organizations that are trying to find a peaceful solution" to the problems of the troubled province. FS

...SEEKS OSCE ACTION...

In a separate statement, the Albanian Foreign Ministry called for an urgent OSCE meeting in Vienna. A ministry official told dpa that Albania wants the OSCE to immediately deploy all 2,000 verifiers, as provided for in the October Milosevic-Holbrooke pact. Only some 600 monitors are in place because of the difficulties in finding qualified people willing to travel to Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 1999). FS

...PUTS ITS FORCES ON ALERT

The Albanian Defense Ministry on 15 January put its forces on alert and sent tanks to the border with Kosova. The move came in response to Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic's statement two days earlier in Madrid that Albania is a "haven for international terrorism," dpa reported. Also on 15 January, the Foreign Ministry handed a note of protest to the Yugoslav charge d'affaires describing Jovanovic's remarks as "war-mongering declarations [and] an open provocation." The same day, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Belgrade told Reuters that Jovanovic's statement "was no threat of war to Albania. But we do have every right to condemn their inappropriate policies." FS

BERISHA CALLS ON ALBANIANS TO PREPARE FOR 'WAR'

Former Albanian President and current opposition leader Sali Berisha wrote in an editorial in "Albania" on 17 January that Albanians should prepare for a "life-or-death war[for the] survival of the Albanian people." He stressed that "it's time to stand as a nation," adding that "Albanians should understand they are at war...and they have every right to resist by all means." Berisha said that the crisis in Kosova is the result of "clashes of interests [within] the international community, which has lost its effectiveness...and left the initiative in Milosevic's hands," AP reported. FS

CLINTON SLAMS 'MURDER'

U.S. President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 16 January that the Recak killings were "a deliberate and indiscriminate act of murder designed to sow fear among the people [of Kosova]. It is a clear violation of the commitments the Serbian authorities have made to NATO." Elsewhere, a State Department spokesman said that the U.S. wants NATO to make a "clear response" to the latest developments in Kosova. He added that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is monitoring events there closely, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

COOK SAYS 'ATROCITY' NOT RESULT OF BATTLE

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC on 17 January that there could be "no possible," justifiable claim by the Serbian authorities that the killings were the result of a battle. "It plainly was not a battle, they were shot in the head at close range. Observers saw absolutely no evidence of fighting." He added that "this atrocity is appalling and although we have become wearily familiar with ethnic atrocities from the former Yugoslavia, nevertheless, this one is of such a character that it still has the capacity to leave you deeply shocked and distressed." In Paris, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin called the killings "barbarous acts." He added that "there are no words that can describe this horror. We are filled with revulsion and disgust." PM

ROMANIAN MINERS BEGIN MARCH ON BUCHAREST

Some 10,000 striking miners from the Jiu Valley have begun a march on the capital, Mediafax reported on 18 January. Following an emergency cabinet meeting the previous day, Industry and Trade Minister Radu Berceanu announced that the government has sealed off road and rail links to the valley. Prime Minister Radu Vasile has rejected the miners' demand to meet with them "on neutral territory" in Targu Jiu. On 15 January, a court declared their strike illegal on grounds of endangering the safety of the mines and because the miners had increased their earlier demands from four to 30. When the miners declared they will not abide by the court's decision, the management of the Jiu Valley company submitted its collective resignation MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIR

For the first time, Emil Constantinescu has publicly denied having had an extra-marital affair with actress Rona Hartner, saying he only met her "in public places," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 16 January. He told journalists an allegation that he had an affair with a female officer from the Service for Guard and Protection is also unfounded. He added that he had not known the officer even existed "until last week." Constantinescu also called on the Jiu Valley miners to keep away from Bucharest, saying violent labor unrest "will not be tolerated." MS

RUSSIAN, ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES FAIL TO AGREE ON BESSARABIAN CHURCH

Representatives of the Russian and Romanian Orthodox Churches, meeting in Chisinau on 15-16 January, failed to reach an understanding over the status of the Bucharest-subordinated Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, Mediafax reported. This was the fourth meeting held to discuss the conflict, but the first one to be held in Moldova itself. Earlier talks took place in Switzerland and Austria. Sources close to the Bessarabian Church cited by Mediafax on 17 January said the Russian delegation, headed by Smolensk and Kaliningrad Metropolitan Kiril, has proposed that the Bessarabian Church be subordinated to Moscow, like the Moldovan Orthodox Church. The Romanian delegation, led by Metropolitan Daniel, rejected that proposal. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL NOMINEE

Petar Stoyanov on 15 January announced that he has rejected the nomination of Boyko Rashkov, former head of the National Investigation Service, as prosecutor-general. The former Supreme Judiciary Council had nominated Rashkov to that position in November 1998 to replace Ivan Tatarchev, whose term expires on 18 February. The new Supreme Judiciary Council, however, has appealed to Stoyanov to reject that nomination. Stoyanov said he accepts the argument of the council that it must be allowed to make its own choice. He added that he is rejecting the nomination not only on legal grounds but also by taking into consideration "motives" advanced "by the public in the last couple of months." In other news, the parliament on 15 January passed an amendment to the penal code making it possible to prosecute people who attempt to bribe foreign public officials in connection with international financial transactions, BTA reported. MS




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION WANTS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS THIS YEAR


by Jan Maksymiuk

The Belarusian opposition does not want to wait until 2001 for presidential elections, as stipulated by the constitution adopted in the November 1996 referendum. Rather, it wants to elect a new president on 16 May 1999. A resolution to that effect was passed on 10 January by 44 deputies of the Supreme Soviet, which was disbanded by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka following the 1996 referendum. That body, however, is recognized as Belarus's legitimate legislature by all European parliaments except the Russian State Duma.

On 16 January, the opposition Central Election Commission, which was set up by the Supreme Soviet on 10 January, held its first meeting and approved an election schedule. It also decided to set up a fund for the election campaign and to open a bank account for that fund in Moscow.

The Belarusian opposition has provided ample evidence that there were gross violations of democratic procedures in the 1996 referendum. Moreover, the plebiscite was to have been of a non- binding nature, as stated on each ballot. However, Lukashenka decreed the referendum results binding and has put them into effect.

First, in accordance with the new constitution, Lukashenka replaced the Supreme Soviet with a bicameral legislature--the National Assembly. Members of the lower house--the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives--were hand-picked by Lukashenka from among those deputies who gave up their mandates in the Supreme Soviet and sought membership in the new legislature. The upper house--the 64-seat Council of the Republic--is populated with "senators" proposed by local soviets and by the president himself.

Second, Lukashenka extended his presidential term to 2001. A provision in the constitution draft that was put to the November 1996 referendum stipulated that the executive authorities' term in office was to be considered to have begun on the day of the referendum. Thus, Lukashenka--who was elected president on 14 July 1994 for five years--extended his own term in office by two- and-a-half years.

Some 50 Supreme Soviet deputies have refused to recognize Lukashenka's post-referendum decisions, claiming that he committed a "constitutional coup d'etat." They have remained loyal to the 1994 constitution and continued to hold parliamentary sessions, even though they lack a quorum and the power to implement their resolutions. But both the OSCE and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly recognize the Supreme Soviet as Belarus's legitimate legislative representation, if not its full-fledged parliament. The Lukashenka regime has persistently sought official recognition for the National Assembly among European nations and organizations, but to no avail.

The Supreme Soviet decision to hold presidential elections in accordance with the 1994 constitution may have significant repercussions. It remains unclear whether voters will cast their ballots. However, the opposition's launching of an election campaign--which involves collecting signatures among the electorate and setting up local election commissions around the country--creates a new political climate in Belarus.

First, the 1999 presidential election campaign offers the Belarusian opposition the clear-cut political goal it has seemingly lacked over the past two years. All the major opposition parties--including the mildly nationalist Popular Front (BNF), which has no deputy in the Supreme Soviet--have pledged coordinating efforts to make the elections happen.

Second, the campaign puts Lukashenka's authoritarian regime under the international spotlight and offers a political challenge to European democracies. Belarusian opposition activists believe that since European countries recognize the Supreme Soviet, they must be consistent and also recognize the Supreme Soviet's decision to hold presidential elections in May.

At the very least, Belarus's opposition expects that Europe will begin publicly recognizing Lukashenka as a political usurper when his five years in office expire in July 1999. Analysts note that the Belarusian president is clearly eager to avoid such a development. They argue that he is under pressure owing to Belarus's current economic difficulties and wants to improve political and economic relations with Europe, not to mention his desire to remain Belarus's legitimate leader.

The stance adopted by European countries vis--vis the Belarusian opposition's election initiative will be of utmost importance for both the Belarusian opposition and the future of democracy in Belarus. On 17 January, five EU ambassadors returned to Minsk after they had been recalled over the diplomatic housing scandal last year. The same day, an OSCE group arrived in Minsk to bolster the OSCE's mission there ahead of local elections on 4 April, the opposition presidential elections on 16 May, and the signing of a Belarusian-Russian union state treaty scheduled for mid-1999.

In the past, Lukashenka has dealt harshly with any manifestations of political dissent, and it is unlikely that he will respond differently this time. The Prosecutor-General's Office has already warned the opposition that the May elections are unconstitutional. However, as BNF deputy head Yury Khadyka recently put it, from a legal point of view Belarus has a "dyarchy." The opposition expects its election initiative to prompt the Belarusian people to seek other ways of overcoming their social and economic plight than continuing to rely on authoritarian rule.


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