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Newsline - February 18, 1999




YELTSIN WARNS CLINTON NOT TO ATTACK YUGOSLAVIA

President Boris Yeltsin telephoned with his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, on 17 February to say, "We will not allow you to touch Kosova," ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Yeltsin said he has told the U.S. president both by telephone and letter that NATO must not launch any airstrikes against Yugoslavia even if Belgrade fails to meet the deadline for a truce with the Kosovars. Such a bombing attack "won't happen," Yeltsin said. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, the head of international cooperation at the Russian Defense Ministry, said NATO "has no diplomatic, legal, political, or economic levers in its arsenal, only naked military force." He called plans to send NATO troops to Kosova "a very crude and simplistic" way of settling the conflict. PG/PB

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES 1999 BUDGET

By a vote of 130 to 18, the Federation Council gave final approval to the government's 1999 budget, Russian agencies reported. The budget calls for expenditures of 575 billion rubles ($25 billion) and revenues of 474 billion rubles ($21 billion). Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov thanked the council for its vote, adding that "you have paved the way for intensive work in the economy," even though he conceded that the budget is far from perfect and "cannot satisfy either us or you." Moreover, he promised that the budget will not be sequestered, as previous budgets have been. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said the government expects to gain additional revenues by delaying the reduction in value-added tax from 1 April to 1 July. But many observers suggested that the budget's assumptions--30 percent inflation in 1999 and a ruble exchange rate of 21.5 to the dollar--are so unrealistic that the budget will never work or attract support from Western financial institutions. PG

RUSSIA FACES NEW DIFFICULTIES IN SECURING MORE AID

Premier Primakov said that Russia's positions in talks with international lenders "could not be more flexible" than they are at present, Interfax reported on 17 February. The IMF technical adviser to the Federal Tax Service, Richard Hifield, said that the IMF would like to see Russia work harder to collect taxes, Interfax reported on 17 February. His comments, which were echoed by the World Bank, other IMF officials, and the U.S., came as the IMF delegation departed Moscow without making a commitment for more assistance. Meanwhile, German officials on the eve of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to Moscow said Bonn cannot extend any new loans to Russia. But World Bank officials indicated that they expect early agreement with Russia on extending three loans that the Russian government has already factored into the budget. In a related development, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said he will remain in place as the chief Russian negotiator with the IMF. PG

RUSSIA FACES 10 MILLION TON GRAIN SHORTFALL

An official at the Russian Ministry of Food and Agriculture said Russia will face a grain shortfall of some 10 million tons during the first half of 1999 as a result of last year's disastrous harvest, Russian agencies reported. But the situation may deteriorate even further. Farm Minister Viktor Semenov said Russia will have only a 1 million ton reserve after the winter season, down from the 20 million ton reserve a year ago. He indicated that Russia must harvest at least 73 million tons of grain this year, up from 47.8 million in 1998, or be forced to purchase grain from abroad. That may not happen. Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik said that Russia is likely to experience another drought this year and thus be unable to improve on the 1998 harvest. As a result, Russia has satisfied requirements for food aid from the EU and is considering asking Canada for food assistance as well, Kulik said. PG

IVANOV SEES NO FUNDAMENTAL RIFT WITH U.S. ...

Despite disagreements between Moscow and Washington over NATO expansion, Kosova, and Iraq, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 17 February that there is no "fundamental division" between the two governments, Interfax reported. He suggested that the main achievement in bilateral relations is that it is now "impossible" for the differences that do exist "to degenerate into direct confrontation." PG

...BUT WARNS AGAINST NATO EXPANSION...

If NATO continues to expand and especially if this process includes the Baltic countries or CIS states, Ivanov said that "Russia will take any steps it finds necessary to guarantee [Russian] national security." He repeated Moscow's insistence that agreement must be reached on modifications in the CFE treaty before the formal admission of the three new NATO countries in March, something he thought could be achieved during the visit to Moscow later this week of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. PG

... URGES UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO DEBATE KOSOVA...

Ivanov said that foreign troops--including Russian ones--could be deployed on Yugoslav territory only with the agreement of the Belgrade authorities. And he suggested that the UN Security Council should take up the matter rather than leaving it to unilateral NATO action, which Moscow continues to oppose. Meanwhile, the State Duma voted 318 to zero to approve a statement condemning any use of force in Kosova. And Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, the Defense Ministry's official responsible for international cooperation, told Interfax that the Western alliance has "no diplomatic, legal, political, or economic levers in its arsenal, only naked military force," which, he said, the Russian government must oppose. PG

...AND CRITICIZES U.S., BRITAIN ON IRAQ

Arguing that the U.S. and Britain have succeeded only "in making matters worse" by their lack of patience in Iraq, Ivanov said the UN Security Council should develop new approaches, including the replacement of inspections with monitoring of Iraqi military facilities. Without naming names, he denounced those who have deliberately spread what he said were "lies" and "provocations" about Russian involvement in Iraq, Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries. PG

LUZHKOV, ZHIRINOVSKY CONDEMN UKRAINIAN PACT

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov denounced the ratification of the Russian-Ukrainian treaty as "shameful," Interfax reported on 17 February. He said that he will let Russian citizens know just who voted for the "surrender" of Crimea and Sevastopol. And he suggested that the ratification might be declared "improper, immaterial, and unlawful" by Russian courts. Meanwhile, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky described the ratification of the treaty as a "black day in Russian history" and said that the Federation Council acted as "a council of Russia's destroyers." Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed was also among those who sharply criticized the ratification of the accord. PG

DUMA URGES NEW ANTI-CRISIS PROGRAM

By a vote of 261 to zero, the Duma approved an appeal calling on President Yeltsin and the government to work together with the parliament to develop a new anti-crisis program, Interfax reported. According to the resolution, the current crisis "cannot be overcome while the main defects in market relations still exist." PG

DOLLAR'S PURCHASING POWER IN RUSSIA DOUBLED SINCE AUGUST

According to Interfax, the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar in Russia has nearly doubled since the August 1998 financial crisis. The ruble has lost almost 73 percent of its value, and inflation in the consumer sector has exceeded 90 percent during this period. As a result, holders of dollars have seen their purchasing power increase twofold. PG

YELTSIN TEAM READY TO ATTEND IMPEACHMENT DEBATE

President Boris Yeltsin's aide Oleg Sysuev said on Ekho Moskvy that the presidential administration is quite prepared to take part in any discussion of the findings of the commission considering Yeltsin's impeachment, Interfax reported. The presidential envoy to the Duma would lead any such participation, Sysuev said. PG

COMMUNISTS OPPOSE SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS...

The Communist Party of Russia is opposed to simultaneous parliamentary and presidential polls, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax on 17 February. He said the country's constitution precludes such elections. PG

...DENOUNCE GOVERNMENT PROBE OF PARTY

Zyuganov also denounced the plans of the Justice Ministry to examine whether the Communist Party is complying with its charter. The party chief said that Communists have "not the slightest reason to worry about any objective probes," but he said that the current probe is politically motivated and thus should be dropped. If it is not, Zyuganov said, that will call into question Communist participation "in the task group now preparing an agreement on civil peace and reconciliation." PG

RUSSIAN CUSTOMS NOW DENOMINATED IN EUROS

Prime Minister Primakov has signed a decree ordering that customs duties be calculated in euros rather than ecus, Interfax reported on 17 February. PG

U.S. TEAM TO ADDRESS RUSSIAN MILITARY'S Y2K PROBLEMS

A U.S. military team arrived in Moscow on 17 February to begin talks with their Russian counterparts on how to cope with the millennium bug problem. Aleksandr Krupnov, the head of the State Communication Committee, said that Russia needs some $3 billion to overcome the problem in time but that Moscow does not currently have the funds. PG

FOREIGN NUCLEAR FUEL REPROCESSING IN RUSSIA URGED

In order to raise additional funds, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov has called for changing current regulations in order to allow Moscow to import and reprocess foreign-owned nuclear fuel, Interfax reported. on 17 February. He said that the average world price for such reprocessing is now approximately $1,000 per kilogram. PG

MOSCOW URGES FAIR TRIAL FOR KURDISH LEADER

Following a meeting with visiting his Syrian counterpart, Farouq al-Shara, Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 17 February that Moscow hopes that any trial of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan will be both fair and attended by international observers. But Moscow newspapers warned Russians against planning to spend their holidays on Turkish beaches, Reuters reported. PG

DUMA VOTES TO BAN ALCOHOL IMPORTS UNTIL 2002

In the second and third readings, the Duma approved a draft law banning imports of alcohol until 1 January 2002, Interfax reported on 17 February. Duma members explained their vote as part of an effort to "combat the illegal production and sale of ethyl spirits and alcohol products." PG

DUMA SEEKS TO PUNISH EMPLOYERS WHO DON'T PAY WORKERS

The Duma passed a bill that will hold employers criminally liable for not paying wages to their employees because of "mercenary or other personal interests," ITAR-TASS reported. If found guilty, employers could be fined or sent to prison for up to seven years. The bill now goes to the Federation Council. PG

ROSSIYA AIRLINE CHIEF SACKED FOR AIRPORT COLLISION

Prime Minister Primakov has fired Vladimir Kachnov, head of the state-owned Rossiya airline, holding him responsible for the 8 February ground collision at the Moscow airport between Yeltsin's IL-96 and a plane that had brought Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema to the Russian capital, Interfax reported. Yeltsin was returning from the funeral of King Hussein in Jordan at the time of the collision. D'Alema was not in his plane at the time. PG

RUSSIA, CYPRUS AGREE ON S-300 DEPLOYMENT ON CRETE

The Cypriot embassy in Moscow issued a statement on 18 February confirming that Cypriot and Russian officials have reached a final agreement on the deployment on Crete of the S-300 air defense missile complexes originally ordered by Cyprus for deployment on that island, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline." 17 February 1999). It is unclear whether Cypriot Defense Minister Yannakis Chrisostomis, who traveled to Moscow to finalize the agreement with the Russian arms export concern Rosvooruzhenie, met on 17 February, as planned, with his Russian counterpart, Sergeev. LF




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT LIFTS FORMER MINISTER'S IMMUNITY

Deputies voted by 102 to one on 17 February to lift the parliamentary immunity of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, AP and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Addressing the parliament before the vote, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said he has sufficient information to open criminal proceedings against Siradeghian in three cases involving five planned murders, according to Noyan Tapan. Siradeghian fled abroad on 29 January, three days after lawmakers had refused an earlier request by Hovsepian to impeach him. He is currently believed to be in France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January and 1 February, 1999). Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian said earlier on 17 February that if Siradeghian's immunity is lifted, he will seek his extradition. LF

U.S. EXPERTS TO HELP ARMENIAN MURDER INVESTIGATION

Two FBI officials have arrived in Armenia at the request of the country's leadership to participate in the ongoing investigation into the murder earlier this month of Interior Ministry troops commander Artsrun Markarian, ITAR- TASS reported on 16 February. The same day, the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and the former majority Hanrapetutiun parliamentary faction issued separate statements saying that the initial hypothesis that Markarian's death was suicide can be attributed to "cynicism" and criticizing the alleged inability of Interior and National Security Minister Sarkisian to prevent crime, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

ARMENIA'S CHANCES OF WTO MEMBERSHIP ASSESSED

Ara Hakobian, the Armenian official who presides over negotiations on Armenia's acceptance into membership of the World Trade Organization, told journalists in 15 February that the favorable prospects for Armenia's joining that organization has been jeopardized by the equivocal policy of the former administration, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 February. Armenia's new leadership has reaffirmed its eagerness to join the WTO, Hakobian added. Prime Minister Armen Darpinian said in November 1998 that he believes Armenia will join the organization no later than July 1999. LF

RUSSIA TO STRENGTHEN AIR DEFENSES IN ARMENIA

Speaking on his arrival in Yerevan on 17 February, Russian Air Force Commander Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov said Moscow has begun delivering the components of S-300 air defense systems to its military base at Gyumri, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Kornukov said the air-defense system currently installed at that facility is obsolete. He further characterized the overall level of armaments in the South Caucasus as "in favor of the states bordering Armenia, not Armenia itself." He said Moscow "would be pleased" if Azerbaijan decided to join the CIS unified air defense system. "Obshchaya gazeta" of 11- 17 February claimed that the deployment of the S-300 systems and additional MiG-29 aircraft is intended to protect Russia's Armenian base from a possible attack by NATO missiles and fighter aircraft stationed at the Incirlik base in eastern Turkey. LF

TURKEY CONCERNED THAT CAUCASUS MAY BECOME 'MANEUVERING ZONE'

Meeting on 16 February in Ankara with his Azerbaijani counterpart Tofik Zulfugarov, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said "we are anxious about the recent arms proliferation in the Caucasus. We don't want the region to become a maneuvering zone for larger countries. The Caucasus belongs to the Caucasian countries, and it should remain like that," according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 17 February. Cem said the close relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan constitute a base for peace and stability in the region. Zulfugarov, on a two-day official visit to Turkey, was also scheduled to meet with President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to discuss the Karabakh conflict and the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. LF

U.S. UPBEAT ON AZERBAIJAN EXPORT PIPELINE...

Stanley Escudero, the U.S. ambassador to Baku, told Turan on 17 February that "great progress" has been made in the past few months toward an agreement on construction of the Baku- Ceyhan oil export pipeline. Escudero said that talks between the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey and the oil companies engaged in exploiting Caspian oil are continuing, and he predicted that a final agreement on financing that pipeline will be made by the end of the summer. Anatolia News Agency reported on 17 February that two intergovernmental agreements between Turkey and Azerbaijan related to that project are expected to be signed in March and ratified within 90 days by both parliaments. LF

...WHILE OIL COMPANIES UNENTHUSIASTIC

Richard Oliver, managing director of BP Amoco, the senior partner in the first and largest international consortium to begin developing Azerbaijan's Caspian reserves, has said that the Baku-Ceyhan project is not currently needed, given that two pipelines for exporting Azerbaijan's oil already exist, Bloomberg reported on 17 February. He added that there is "no need" for an early decision to proceed with construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ENDORSES PLANNED TRANS- CASPIAN GAS PIPELINE

Heidar Aliyev has agreed to a formal request by his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, to route the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to Turkey via Azerbaijan, Reuters and Turan reported on 17 February. Meeting with Aliyev the previous day, Yossef Maiman, chairman of the Israeli company that is helping to form a consortium to build that pipeline, said the U.S. Ex-Im Bank will contribute approximately $1 billion toward the estimated $3 billion construction costs. LF

MORE AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS SENTENCED

A Baku district court on 17 February handed down sentences of two to three years in prison to 15 opposition activists, AP and RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. The activists had participated in a banned opposition rally in Baku on 8 November, which was forcibly dispersed by police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). Several of those sentenced were found guilty of resisting arrest. Also on 17 February, the newspaper "Halq," which is published by the president's office, reported that Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Chairman Abulfaz Elchibey has announced his candidacy in the 2003 presidential elections, according to Turan. LF

KARIMOV DECLARES DAY OF MOURNING...

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has declared 18 February a day of mourning for the victims of the bombings in Tashkent two days earlier, RFE/RL corespondents reported. ITAR-TASS reported on 18 February that 45 of the more than 150 people hospitalized have returned home, while 12 remain in critical condition following "complicated" operations. Fifteen people were killed in the explosions. Meanwhile, Halle Degn of the OSCE told a news conference in Tashkent on 17 February that Uzbek security agencies have apprehended five people in connection with the terrorist act. Several news agencies quote Karimov as saying that "if necessary, we will cut off the hands of those responsible" for the bombings. BP

...REPORTS ECONOMIC FIGURES FOR 1998

President Karimov addressing the cabinet on 17 February, said GDP increased by 4.4 percent last year, industrial output by 5.8 percent, and agricultural production by 4 percent, Interfax reported. Monthly inflation stood at 1.9 percent, and the Central Bank's monthly refinancing rate stayed below 3 percent. Retail trade was up by 14 percent and consumer goods output by 7.2 percent. Foreign investment last year totaled $1.3 billion, a 22.6 percent increase over 1997. Karimov noted that the government hopes that this figure will increase to $2 billion in 1999. The foreign trade surplus reached $240 million, which contributed to augmenting foreign currency and gold reserves. Karimov, however, did not give a figure for hard currency reserves. BP

MYSTERY ILLNESS CLAIMS 350 LIVES NEAR TAJIK- AFGHAN BORDER

An illness reported to be "unknown to modern medicine" has claimed the lives of 350 people in the area along the Tajik-Afghan border over the past two weeks, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus reported on 17 February. The illness has affected mainly young children and the elderly. Since the start of 1999, 203 cases of typhoid have been reported in the southern Tajik city of Kulyab. BP

KAZAKHSTAN COURT RULES AGAINST BRITISH COMPANY

Kazakhstan's Supreme Court has ruled that Britain's Trans-World Group caused "considerable damage to Kazakhstan's economic and financial interests," Interfax reported on 17 February. According to the court, the British company is responsible for losses totaling $145 million at the Aksu Ferroalloy Works, $102 million at Aluminum of Kazakhstan, more than $86 million at the Ferrokhrom ferroalloy works, and some $40 million at the Sokolov-Sarbai Mining Production Association, Kazakhstan's leading producer of iron- ore products. The court has already declared agreements with the British company to be invalid. BP

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS ECONOMY NEEDS MORE FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Askar Akayev told a 17 February meeting of the Advisory Council on Investment Policy that the country's economic stability this year depends on the level of foreign investment, Interfax reported. Akayev listed five main goals aimed at attracting foreign investment. First, improving tax legislation for both local and foreign businesses and establishing a special board at the Tax Inspectorate to concentrate on deals with foreign companies. Second, liberalizing legislation on foreign investment. Third, reforming the judicial system to ensure the legality of deals between state agencies and foreign producers (according to Akayev, the country has too few lawyers with expertise in interpreting the Civil Code). Fourth, limiting the interference of administrative bodies in the activities of foreign companies. And fifth, setting up free trade zones in the country. BP

KYRGYZ INCREASE SECURITY ALONG BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN

On the orders of President Akayev, security measures along Kyrgyzstan's border with Uzbekistan are being increased following the terrorist bombings in Tashkent on 16 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. In some areas, roads leading from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan have been closed. Akayev also ordered Kyrgyz security forces to cooperate fully with their Uzbek counterparts. BP

KURDS DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT BUILDING IN BISHKEK

Some 150 Kurds demonstrated outside the government building in the Kyrgyz capital to urge President Akayev to appeal to Turkish leaders for clemency toward captured Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Sulhadin Kasymov, chairman of the Nyshtyman Kurdish Association in Kyrgyzstan, said there are currently 30,000-40,000 Kurds living in Kyrgyzstan. BP




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ALLOWS FORMER PREMIER'S PROSECUTION

The Supreme Council on 17 February voted by 310 to 39 to lift the parliamentary immunity of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, Reuters reported. Before the vote, speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko read out a letter from Lazarenko saying that he checked into a clinic in Greece earlier this week with "heart attack symptoms." Ukrainian prosecutors accuse Lazarenko of embezzling more than $2 million in state property while he held state offices from 1993-1997. Lazarenko has repeatedly claimed that he is innocent and that the charges against him are politically motivated. JM

KUCHMA HAILS RUSSIAN RATIFICATION OF RUSSIA- UKRAINE PACT

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 17 February welcomed the ratification of the Russian-Ukrainian friendship and cooperation pact by Russia's Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999), Reuters reported. At the same time, the Council decided that the treaty will go into effect only after Ukraine ratifies three agreements on the Russian Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol. "I think that it won't take long for the Ukrainian parliament to ratify the [agreements] accompanying the pact," the agency quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

BELARUSIAN NEWSPAPERS TO CONTINUE REPORTING ON OPPOSITION ELECTIONS

Editors of the four Belarusian independent newspapers based in Minsk--"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," "Narodnaya volya," "Naviny," and "Svobodnye novosti"--have pledged to continue reporting on the opposition presidential elections in May, despite a warning by the State Committee for the Press (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The committee sent the same warning to "Pahonya" in Hrodna and "Nasha niva" in Vilnius, Lithuania. "There is a risk that the [warned] newspapers will be banned, but they will be published regardless of what happens," "Naviny" editor Pavel Zhuk commented. "Narodnaya volya" chief editor Iosif Syaredzich told RFE/RL that his newspaper will prepare for the "most unfavorable developments," including a ban and the need to publish his newspaper abroad. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES REJECT INTEGRATION REFERENDUM INITIATIVE

The Belarusian Central Electoral Commission has denied registration to a group proposing a referendum on further integration with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1998), Belarusian Television reported on 17 February. The group suggested that a referendum be held asking the question, "Do you agree to a confederation of Belarus and Russia?" The commission declined to register the group after the Chamber of Representatives, the lower legislative house, ruled that the referendum initiative is "untimely" and may be regarded as interference with the Belarusian-Russian leadership's negotiations on creating a Belarusian-Russian union state. JM

BELARUS SAYS IT WILL PAY OFF DEBT FOR LITHUANIAN ELECTRICITY

At a meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus on 17 February, Belarusian Ambassador to Vilnius Vladimir Garkun said Minsk is considering how to resolve the issue of outstanding payments for Lithuanian electricity supplies, ELTA reported, citing "Respublika." The ambassador said that different currency rates were mainly responsible for difficulties in making payments, but he added that in the future, a "uniform inter-bank U.S. dollar rate" will be used to determine prices of barter goods supplied to Lithuania in return for energy supplies. The Lithuanian government has postponed for two weeks a final decision on whether to continue electricity exports to Belarus. Minsk owes Lietuvos Energija about 400 million litas (some $100 million). That company is currently being sued for large-scale embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 February 1999). JC

ESTONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER WITHDRAWS RESIGNATION

Olari Taal has withdrawn his resignation, following a 17 February meeting with Prime Minister Mart Siimann, according to ETA. According to press reports, the two men had clashed over the appointment of a new chancellor to the Interior Ministry. Neither Siimann nor Taal has commented on that issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1999). The same day, the parliament voted by 51 to three with one abstention to approve a bill providing for "one party, one caucus." That motion had been narrowly rejected last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). JC

LATVIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS 'INADEQUATE' SAYS RIGA COMMISSION

Following a report by Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins on his recent visit to Moscow, the Latvian parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission concluded that relations with Russia are "inadequate," LETA reported on 17 February. Commission chairman and former Prime Minister Guntars Krasts told reporters that the range of issues currently discussed by Latvia and Russia is "very limited." While noting that some steps toward improving relations have been taken, he commented that ''there are still many 'buts.''' The commission concluded that Riekstins failed to achieve what was planned during his Moscow visit, Krasts added. Earlier, the state secretary had described his visit to the Russian capital as "positive" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). JC

POLISH PARLIAMENT OVERWHELMINGLY APPROVES NATO MEMBERSHIP

Lawmakers on 17 February voted by 409 to seven with four abstentions to ratify the NATO admission treaty. A few hours later, the upper house voted by 92 to two with one abstention to approve the document. "Poland is opening a new chapter in its history. This puts Yalta and the result of World War II behind us," President Aleksander Kwasniewski commented. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told the parliament that Poland's entry into NATO is an "act of historical justice." Kwasniewski will sign the document on 26 February at the same time as President Vaclav Havel in a televised link-up between Warsaw and Prague. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY

The government on 17 February approved the country's long-term national security and foreign policy strategy, CTK reported. Government spokesman Libor Roucek told journalists that the document was proposed by Premier Milos Zeman and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and is based on the country's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. One of its aims is "the renewal of 'above-standard' relations with Slovakia," Roucek said. MS

CROATIA TO LEASE COASTLINE TO CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA?

Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said in Bratislava on 16 February that his country may lease part of its coastline to the Czech Republic and Slovakia to cover a $4 million debt to the former Czechoslovak federation, AP reported. A similar offer was made by Granic when he visited Prague last month. CTK quoted him as emphasizing that there will be "no territorial concession" and that this is "purely a commercial affair." No details were provided as to what part of the coastline will be leased and for how long. Croatian media has dubbed the offer "rent-a-seaside," and the German weekly "Der Spiegel" on 15 February wrote that Croatia intends also to offer to lease a small island off the Dalmatian coast. MS

SLOVAKIA TO APOLOGIZE TO CZECHS?

The government on 17 February approved declassifying a report delivered to a closed session of the parliament last week by the chief of the Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS), Vladimir Mitro, CTK reported. Earlier the same day, Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik told journalists that the government may have to apologize to the Czech Republic if the allegations contained in Mitro's report prove true. According to those allegations, the SIS, under the leadership of Ivan Lexa, sought to hinder the Czech Republic's admission to NATO by discrediting that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1999). Referring to leaks from Mitro's report, the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" on 18 February wrote that under Lexa, the SIS undertook attempts to discredit Budapest and supplied arms to organized crime in Hungary. According to "Nepszabadsag," the SIS also engaged in spying in connection with the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam dispute. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY CHALLENGES GOVERNMENT'S AMNESTY ANNULMENT

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 17 February asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's canceling of the amnesty granted by his predecessor, Vladimir Meciar, is in accordance with the basic law, CTK reported. The amnesty would have freed, among others, those involved in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 and the successful bid to thwart the 1997 referendum on NATO accession and direct presidential elections, CTK reported. Former SIS chief Lexa and former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci are widely believed to have masterminded the two incidents. The Slovak parliament is to vote on 18 February whether to strip Krajci of his immunity. A similar vote on Lexa is expected to follow. MS




BRITIAN REPORTS SOME MOVEMENT IN KOSOVA TALKS...

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said on 17 February that some progress has been made by Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegates at peace talks in Rambouillet, France, but that the delegates must hurry to come to an agreement by the 19 February deadline, Reuters reported. Cook said "there is some movement, but [it] needs to pick up a lot of speed." Cook and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, met with the rival delegations separately. The two sides also held face-to- face talks for only the second time during the 12 days they have been in France. (See also Part I for Russian comments.) PB

...STRESSES NEED FOR PEACE-KEEPING FORCE

Both Cook and Vedrine repeated that an international peace-keeping force will be necessary in Kosova to uphold a political agreement. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has rejected such a force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). Cook said the "accord proposed by the Contact Group, both the political and the military dimension, is clearly the only way to respond to the ...worries of both sides." The Serbian paper "Glas Javnosti" reported on 18 February that the ruling Socialist Party will accept a foreign presence if it does not include Americans or soldiers from countries with a "negative attitude" toward Yugoslavia. PB

DRASKOVIC WANTS SANCTIONS LIFTED IN RETURN FOR AGREEMENT

Yugoslav Deputy Premier Vuk Draskovic said on 17 February in Belgrade that any Kosova peace agreement must include the lifting of all economic sanctions against Yugoslavia and that country's return to international organizations, AP reported. Draskovic said it is "unjust and illogical" for the West to accuse Belgrade of isolationism while at the same time not allowing it to interact with the international community. PB

NATO OFFICIALS APPROVE DEPLOYMENT PLAN FOR KOSOVA

NATO ambassadors meeting in Brussels on 17 February agreed to an operational plan to station troops in Kosova to monitor a peace agreement, AFP reported. The next day, two senior NATO officials arrived in Macedonia to discuss with local officials the plans for a possible deployment of 30,000 troops in Kosova. A NATO extraction force is already in Macedonia. Meanwhile in Podgorica, Montenegrin Premier Filip Vujanovic told Belgrade's B-92 radio that his country would allow NATO forces to use the Adriatic port of Bar. He said Montenegro would offer NATO troops logistical support as they transited the republic en route to Kosova. PB

CROATIAN AMBASSADOR PUSHING FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP

Miomir Zuzul, the Croatian ambassador to Washington, said on 17 February that leaving his country out of NATO would add to instability in the region, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Zuzul said Croatia has proven its ability to help NATO build peace and stability in Europe. He noted that Zagreb's most immediate goal is to be admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program, adding that Croatia is awaiting a formal answer to the PFP application it submitted more than one year ago. PB

BOSNIAN CROAT DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR SOLDIERS WHO COMMITTED ATTROCITIES

General Timohir Blaskic, a Bosnian Croat accused of war crimes, said he had no real control over soldiers under his command who reportedly committed attrocities in Bosnia in 1992-1994, Reuters reported. Speaking before the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Blaskic said he had not been in a position to give orders, only military expertise. Prosecutors say he sanctioned and organized deadly attacks against Muslims in the Lasva Valley. Blaskic pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of crimes against humanity. PB

ALBANIA TO HOLD SUSPECTED ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS

An Albanian court ordered the indefinite detention of two men suspected of spying on the U.S. embassy in Tirana, Reuters reported on 17 February. The men, one from Syria and the other from Iraq, were arrested earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). Interior Minister Petro Koci said the two are suspected of setting up an extremist Islamic network in Albania that may have links to terrorist Osama bin Laden. PB

ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER REPORTS ON CLASHES WITH MINERS

Constantin Dudu Ionescu told journalists on 17 February that miners' leader Miron Cozma "manipulated" the miners to serve his own interests and ultimately "betrayed" them by attempting to avoid arrest as his supporters clashed with the police. He said three of Cozma's deputies, as well as Cozma himself, are being questioned in Bucharest by the Prosecutor-General's Office. Ionescu said that earlier that day, one miner died in the clash with the police and some 50 people, 32 of whom were policemen, had been wounded. He said 543 people had been detained by the police for questioning, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Police sources later said that a 24-hour detention warrant has been issued for 46 of the miners questioned. MS

FURTHER PROGRESS ON LIFTING TUDOR'S PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

The Senate's Judicial Commission on 17 February recommended approving Minister of Justice Valeriu Stoica's request to lift the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor on the grounds of the 11 charges brought by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The plenum of the Senate must now endorse the commission's decision. Senate Chairman Petre Roman said that before submitting the recommendation to a plenary session, the Senate will vote on the commission's recommendation to allow lifting a parliamentary deputy's immunity by a simple, rather than a two-thirds majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). If the simple-majority recommendation is not approved, Tudor is likely to keep his immunity owing to the backing of his own PRM and the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE ABANDONS BID TO FORM GOVERNMENT

Serafim Urecheanu on 17 February said he has given up the attempt to form a new government. That announcement came after a brief meeting with leaders of the Alliance for Democracy and Reform (APDR), which includes the parties that form the parliamentary majority, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Urecheanu said his decision was prompted by the APDR's rejection of both his cabinet line-up and his proposals that the number of ministers be reduced and he be allowed to choose the ministers himself. President Petru Lucinschi the same day asked the APDR to put forward its candidate for the post of premier within 24 hours. MS

MOST BULGARIAN DETAINEES IN LIBYA RELEASED

Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 17 January announced that 15 of the 19 Bulgarian doctors and nurses detained by the Libyan authorities last week have been released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 1999), Reuters reported. He said a Bulgarian Foreign Ministry mission is flying to Libya on 18 February to secure the release of the remaining four detainees. Vlaikov also said Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova will propose at the 18 February cabinet meeting to sack Bulgaria's ambassador to Libya, Krastio Ilov, for "failing to protect the interests of Bulgarian nationals." MS




A NEW LEFTIST 'COALITION PARTY' IN LATVIA?


By Jan Cleave

An agreement signed earlier this month between Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans and the Social Democrats may have averted a government crisis for the time being. But the minority government's cooperation with the leftists may cause new problems for Kristopans. More to the point, few in Riga believe it will prove enduring.

After last fall's parliamentary elections, President Guntis Ulmanis asked Kristopans of the centrist Latvia's Way to form a government. Having ruled out cooperation with the right-of- center People's Party, which had narrowly won the ballot, Kristopans opted to set up a minority coalition with the nationalist-rightist Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and the left- of-center New Party. He also proposed offering the Social Democrats the agriculture portfolio in exchange for their support. While the TB/LNNK initially opposed that idea, it eventually agreed, thus paving the way for the recent cooperation agreement and Social Democrat Peteris Salkazanovs's confirmation as agriculture minister.

Under the terms of the cooperation agreement, the Social Democrats assume responsibility for the agricultural sector and will neither vote against nor abstain from voting on any government-proposed bills supported by the Cooperation Council (a consultative body composed of representatives of each of the three ruling parties). They also agree not to submit to the parliament any bills related to the state budget without the Cooperation Council's prior agreement, nor will they support opposition-proposed bills on the budget or taxes. In return, Kristopans agreed that the government will undertake, among other things, completing the pension reform by 2001, increasing the minimum wage, and boosting spending on education and research.

With this agreement under his belt, Kristopans can now look confidently toward the second and final reading of the 1999 state budget, which is expected to take place later this month. Without the Social Democrats' support, his government would almost certainly have fallen: under Latvian law, if lawmakers fail to approve the draft budget in either the first or second reading, their rejection constitutes a vote of no confidence in the government, requiring the cabinet to resign. Shortly after the TB/LNNK had consented to a Social Democrat as agriculture minister, the budget passed in the first reading, thanks to the virtually unanimous support of the Social Democrats. Earlier, the Social Democrats had threatened to vote against the draft, pointing to what they considered insufficient spending in the social sphere and too much on defense.

While relations between the Social Democrats and the two larger coalition parties--Latvia's Way and the TB/LNNK--are likely to prove difficult, the Social Democrats may already have found an ally in the junior coalition partner, the New Party. Last month, that party opposed Kristopans when it came out in favor of a Social Democrat proposal to establish a special commission to investigate activities at the telecommunications monopoly Lattelekom. That move earned the party a sharp rebuke from the premier, who argued that the New Party was breaking the coalition agreement by supporting the opposition. The New Party countered that since a Social Democrat was soon to be appointed agriculture minister, it did not regard the Social Democrats as being in opposition.

It is precisely this perception of a new leftist "coalition party" that may cause fresh problems for Kristopans and Latvia's Way. Since last fall's elections, both the premier and his party increasingly have come under fire for allegedly seeking to improve relations with Russia at the expense of pursuing integration into European and Trans-Atlantic structures.

Kristopans's November interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" asserting that Russian-Latvian relations should be based on the Finnish model caused a stir even before he had been sworn in as premier. The decision to fix 1999 defense expenditures at O.9 percent of GDP, instead of the 1.0 percent foreseen by the previous government, has been interpreted as going back on commitments to seek NATO membership. And accusations have repeatedly been made that leading Latvia's Way politicians are close to the industrial lobby that wants to boost transit trade with Russia--Moscow's price being that Riga back off from bids to join NATO.

While Kristopans has fended off such accusations so far, his cooperation agreement with the Social Democrats guarantees that there will be more such talk. The Social Democrats have made no secret of their coolness toward NATO membership and their preference for larger social expenditures and greater state intervention in the economy. Some observers have been quick to suggest that the leftist orientation of the new cooperation partner may encourage now hidden leftist tendencies within the ruling coalition. Others argue that it is just a matter of time before Kristopans finds himself forced either to make compromises aimed at accommodating the Social Democrats or to sacrifice his newly found "majority" in the parliament.

The TB/LNNK, for its part, has already said that should the government stray from its declared course--seeking EU and NATO entry, passing a balanced budget, and resolving questions related to minority issues--the party will not rule out joining forces with the main opposition People's Party of former Prime Minister Andris Skele. To form a majority government, those two parties would have to seek another coalition partner. But their ability to reach agreement with Latvia's Way, whose leadership has repeatedly clashed with that of the People's Party, is very doubtful.


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