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Newsline - March 5, 1999




BEREZOVSKII SACKED...

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, acting in his capacity as chairman of the Council of CIS Heads of State, on 4 March fired Boris Berezovskii as CIS executive secretary. Berezovskii had been appointed to that post at the suggestion of the Ukrainian and Georgian presidents during the CIS summit in Moscow last spring (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1998). In a statement issued by the presidential press service, Yeltsin said Berezovskii exceeded the limits of his executive authority and failed to implement unspecified instructions by the chairman of the Council of CIS Heads of State. Yeltsin named Ivan Korotchenya, Berezovskii's predecessor, as acting CIS executive secretary. Berezovskii's dismissal must be endorsed by the presidents of the other CIS member states. LF

...BUT REMAINS DEFIANT?

Despite orders from Yeltsin to return to Moscow immediately, Berezovskii remained in Baku, having met earlier on 4 March in Dushanbe with President Imomali Rakhmonov and in Tashkent with Islam Karimov to discuss his plans for CIS reform, which virtually all CIS presidents have approved. Meeting the next day with President Heidar Aliyev in the Azerbaijani capital, Berezovskii blamed his dismissal on unnamed Russian circles intent on "issuing orders and controlling developments throughout the CIS from Moscow," according to ITAR-TASS. Berezovskii's appointment and his efforts to reanimate the CIS by transforming it into a primarily economic grouping were intended to allay widespread misgivings among CIS presidents engendered by Yeltsin's threats at the March 1997 CIS summit. Yeltsin had threatened to sabotage domestic political stability in some CIS states in order to bind them closer to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1997). Misgivings among CIS member were intensified by heated disagreements at the Chisinau summit in October 1997. LF

MOSCOW SWIRLS WITH RUMORS

A report in "Argumenty i Fakty" from 3 March that President Yeltsin will soon reshuffle Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet by firing all Communists has unleashed a frenzy of speculation. Presidential administration officials were busy on 4 March making television appearances to deny an imminent shake-up. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told reporters that Yeltsin has not ordered Primakov to fire all Communists from the government. He noted that "it's sad to see that a brief report that is all fabrication could snowball with details and take on a kind of reality." State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that media reports were "disinformation and absolute fiction," while Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov warned that "either the government continues to work with the same composition or there will be a serious government crisis." JAC

ABSENCE OF LEADER ON DUTY TRIGGERS ANXIETY, OR IS BEREZOVSKII TO BLAME?

Rather than calming the nation, or at least the capital, the joint television appearance of Yeltsin and Primakov on 25 February pledging their commitment to each other and to stay in office at least until 2000 had the opposite effect, causing at least some newspapers to conclude that Primakov's days are numbered. Our Home Is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhov attributed the nation's "groundless" nervousness to the fact that Yeltsin is in the hospital while Primakov is away on vacation and that few people understand what their meeting, which took place before Primakov left, was all about. Presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha said that a video interview of that meeting had not been televised for purely technical reasons, not political ones. Some political analysts believe that former CIS executive secretary Berezovskii was deliberately stoking the rumors through media outlets he controls, such as "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and that with his departure, such speculation may subside. JAC

COOK WRAPS UP VISIT

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrapped up his visit to Russia on 5 March, with a side trip to Sochi on the Black Sea, where Prime Minister Primakov is currently vacationing. On the issues of Kosova and Iraq, Cook and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov agreed to disagree after four-hours talks in Moscow the previous day. Cook said that London has no intention of halting air strikes against Iraq. He also welcomed Russian participation in an international peace-keeping force in Kosova. However, Ivanov reasserted that "Yugoslavia is a sovereign state, and only with Belgrade's agreement can international forces be deployed there." Cook and Ivanov did not discuss Russia's recently troubled relationship with the IMF, "a diplomatic source" told Interfax. That issue will be taken up by Prime Minister Primakov in Sochi. JAC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS VIEW NATO EXPANSION

With three former Soviet bloc countries poised to join NATO on 12 March, Duma Chairman Seleznev said on 4 March that he feels "regret, if not surprise" over the eagerness of East European leaders to join the alliance, since history shows that when a grouping claims a leading role in Europe, destructive conflicts tend to flare up. First Deputy Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov told members of the Duma that "the NATO military machine is approaching the Russian border" and "demands concerted, well-coordinated, and confident actions from Russia." Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii had other ideas, suggesting in a proposal to the State Duma that Russia cut off natural gas supplies to the Czech Republic the day after it joins the alliance, CTK reported. JAC

PRIMAKOV, CAMDESSUS MEETING ON SCHEDULE FOR LATE MARCH

Prime Minister Primakov and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus will meet in Washington on 24 March, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported on 4 March. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov adopted a more conciliatory tone toward the fund than he had used in the past week, returning to his former optimism. He said that "a real rapprochement in negotiations with the IMF might be expected within the next few days, which might be followed by the arrival of an IMF mission in Moscow." The same day IMF Moscow representative Martin Gilman told Interfax that the situation regarding the timing of the return of the IMF mission to Moscow has not changed. According to Gilman, the mission could return at any time, but only if talks are likely to be productive and "will lead to a rapid conclusion of an agreement for [IMF] support for the Russian government's program." JAC

LOW EXPECTATIONS FOR FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Although the government has finally taken action to improve Russia's investment climate, such as adopting amendments to production-sharing agreement (PSA) legislation, it expects to attract only a "maximum of $1 billion in foreign investment" in 1999, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 March. But even the government understands that for investors, the advantages of PSAs are not very great at the moment. At the latest government meeting on investment policy, it was clear, according to the newspaper, that the government "is eager to support investments but it does not know how. The only question it has decided is that of state investments." The cabinet decided to devote only 15 percent of GDP to investment--the same policy that was followed at the beginning of the 1990s. The newspaper concluded that with such a low level of investment, "the nation is destined to descend the staircase of the world economic hierarchy" and "will have to scale down its high-technology industries." JAC

MOSCOW POOH-POOHS U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORTS

The press service of the Moscow city government told ITAR-TASS on 4 March that information contained in the U.S. State Department's human rights report is misleading and inaccurate. According to the service, the Moscow city government has never pursued a policy, as the report alleges, of deporting Chechens and other persons of Caucasian nationality from Moscow. Press service officials responded to the report's criticism that Moscow has not allowed entry to refugees from Armenia, Asia, and African countries with a legitimate need for political asylum, noting that Moscow is not a sovereign state and issues such as the granting of asylum come under the jurisdiction of federal authorities. JAC




DASHNAKS WANT ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TO GUARANTEE FAIR ELECTIONS...

Senior members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD), which supports President Robert Kocharian, told journalists in Yerevan on 4 March that the country's present leadership, and Kocharian personally, should ensure that the May 30 parliamentary elections are free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. HHD leader Vahan Hovannisian stressed that the new parliament "must be legitimate" and its members elected on the basis of their ideological views. The HHD shares many opposition parties' reservations about the new election law and will continue to lobby for amendments to it, according to Rouben Hakopian, the HHD's only deputy in the parliament. The HHD has held talks with the Republican Party and the Communist Party on cooperating to prevent election fraud and will also discuss that issue with the National Democratic Union. (AZhM). LF

...WHICH MANUKIAN BELIEVES ARE UNLIKELY

"Yerkir" on 3 March quoted AZhM chairman Vazgen Manukian as expressing doubt that the upcoming parliamentary poll will be democratic. Manukian recalled Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian's recent statement that "absolutely free and fair elections are impossible in a small country like Armenia." But Albert Bazeyan, deputy parliament speaker and chairman of the Yerkrapah majority parliamentary group, said that group is "ready to cooperate with all political forces in the matter of ensuring free and fair elections and help leaders of other parties to be elected in different electoral districts," Noyan Tapan reported on 4 March. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CREATES COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE PRIVATIZATION SCANDAL

President Kocharian has formed a presidential commission to look into allegations that the creation of the ArmenTel telecommunications company in the early 1990s and the firm's subsequent privatization were characterized by large-scale corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 March, citing the presidential press service. Leading opposition parties had unsuccessfully attempted last month to create an analogous parliamentary commission. Some opposition leaders have alleged that senior Armenian government officials had accepted millions of dollars in kickbacks from ArmenTel's former U.S. shareholder, US Trans World Telecom (TWT). TWT had a 49 percent share in ArmenTel until December 1997, when Greece's OTE paid $142 million for 90 percent of its stock. ArmenTel's current Greek owner has so far refrained from commenting on the corruption accusations against its predecessors. OTE has been the target of much criticism in Amenia since last December, when it announced a drastic increase in telephone charges. LF

AZERBAIJAN TO PARTICIPATE IN KOSOVA PEACEKEEPING FORCE

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 4 March saying that it informed NATO on 26 February of its willingness to send a contingent to serve as part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosova, Interfax and Turan reported. Azerbaijani presidential adviser for foreign policy Vafa Guluzade had told ITAR-TASS two days earlier that Azerbaijan accepted NATO's invitation to participate in the operation. The 30-man Azerbaijani platoon will be attached to a Turkish battalion, and Ankara will cover all its expenses. Azerbaijan already has eight observers serving with the OSCE observer force in Kosova. LF

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 3 March cited Noyan Tapan as reporting that the military attache at the Russian embassy in Yerevan had admitted that Azerbaijani claims that a Russian fighter aircraft had violated Azerbaijani airspace on 25 February could be true. Noyan Tapan on 4 March retracted that information as inaccurate.

SUSPECT IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID DEPORTED TO GEORGIA

Valerii Gabelia, former prefect of Georgia's Marneuli Raion, was flown to Tbilisi from Moscow on 4 March, Caucasus Press reported the following day, citing "Dilis gazeti." A supporter of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Gabelia had been detained by Moscow police last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999). The Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office has accused Gabelia of helping organize the failed attempt to assassinate President Shevardnadze in February 1998. LF

GEORGIA, TURKEY TO INTENSIFY DEFENSE COOPERATION

Representatives of the Turkish armed forces general staff and the Georgian Defense Ministry signed a protocol in Tbilisi on 4 March whereby Turkey will provide additional financial and technical aid to the Georgian armed forces over five years, Interfax and Turan reported. Last year, Ankara allocated $5.5 million to the Georgian armed forces. Turkey will also continue training Georgian military officers in Turkey. LF

AFGHAN NEGOTIATIONS SET FOR 10 MARCH IN ASHGABAT

The UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, announced in Islamabad on 4 March that representatives from the Taliban and the Northern Alliance will meet in Ashgabat on 10 March for talks, AFP and Pakistani newspaper "The News" reported. Brahimi credited Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov with helping to bring both sides to the negotiating table (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1999). Brahimi said the negotiations offered "the last chance" for the two factions to reach a settlement, but he cautioned against "too much optimism" because of the "rigid" attitudes of both sides. BP

OPPOSITION LEADER IMPLICATED IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS

The chairman of Uzbekistan's banned opposition party Erk has been named as a suspect in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, Uzbek Television reported on 1 March. Mohammed Solih, who ran against incumbent President Islam Karimov in the 1991 presidential election, was called a "traitor to his motherland" and was accused of bringing "young men" to Chechnya via Turkey to receive training in sabotage. The television station also linked Solih with former Chechen acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, calling the two "friends." Interfax on 4 March cited an article in Uzbekistan's daily newspaper "Pravda Vostoka" as reporting that Solih also has connections with "Takhir Yuldash, a Wahhabi." The article claimed Yuldash "wanders around Peshawar, Istanbul, Chechnya, Kabul, and Karaganda" and that "we know what these secret meetings are aimed at. It's naive to believe that Yuldash has no hand in the attack on the president. Yuldash shamelessly says he will need Solih after seizing power." BP

IMF INCREASES LOANS TO KYRGYZSTAN

The IMF on 4 March announced it will augment planned loans to Kyrgyzstan, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The fund said it will provide $12 million in addition to an already approved three-year loan, bringing the loan to a total of $100 million. Kyrgyzstan will receive immediately a $26 million tranche, as well as the extra $12 million. The IMF said the increase is necessary owing to the "external shock" of Russia's financial crisis. The IMF predicted that Kyrgyz economic growth for 1999 will be 3 percent, up on last year's 2 percent growth but well short of the 10 percent registered in 1997. BP




UKRAINIAN PRIVATE TELEVISION STATION APPEALS FOR PROTECTION

Ukraine's leading private television station, STB, has appealed to President Leonid Kuchma and Supreme Council chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko for protection against assaults and intimidation, AP reported on 4 March. Mykola Knyazhytskyy of the STB's administration council said unknown armed attackers on 3 March terrorized the STB director and his pregnant wife and searched television offices, ignoring money and valuables. Earlier, unidentified people attacked an STB cameraman and set fire to the building in which Knyazytskyy lives. According to Knyazhytskyy, attacks against STB were "part of financial and political pressure" on Ukraine's independent media in the runup to the presidential elections in October. JM

HROMADA CAUCUS SPLITS

The Hromada parliamentary group split on 4 March, as its leader and former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko remains in the U.S. seeking political asylum, dpa reported. Nineteen former members of the Hromada caucus and four other deputies have formed a left-of center caucus called "Batkivshchyna" [Fatherland]. The group is headed by 38-year-old Yuliya Tymoshenko, a former Lazarenko ally. Before the split, the Hromada caucus consisted of 42 deputies. Meanwhile, Lazarenko has announced through his lawyer that there is a "significant possibility" he will obtain political asylum in the U.S. Ukrainian Television reported on 4 March that the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Council has abolished its post of honorable chairman, which was assumed last year by Lazarenko. If extradited to Ukraine, Lazarenko faces trial on corruption charges. JM

BELARUS SAYS U.S. FANS TENSIONS OVER ARRESTED OPPOSITIONISTS

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 4 March accused the U.S. of aggravating tensions over the opposition-organized presidential elections in Belarus. On 25 February, the U.S. State Department expressed "great concern" over the arrest of Viktar Hanchar, head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, and 14 commission members. It called upon Belarus "to release the commission members immediately and to begin working with the democratic opposition in Belarus to resolve Belarus's long-standing impasse." The Foreign Ministry responded that the activities of Hanchar's commission contravene Belarusian laws and "provoke instability." Alluding to the U.S. statement, the ministry said that "fanning tensions" over Hanchar's commission "does not contribute to the development of equal and constructive dialogue with Belarus." JM

OSCE CONCERNED ABOUT ARREST OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS

OSCE Chairman Knut Vollebaek on 3 March voiced "deep concern" over the arrest of members of the Central Electoral Commission in Belarus. Vollebaek appealed for a solution to the "constitutional dispute" between the authorities and the opposition without resorting to "confrontational and undemocratic practices." He pledged OSCE support for a political dialogue in Belarus. Meanwhile, Anatol Hurynovich, a jailed commission member, has joined Hanchar and another commission member in a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999), RFE/RL Belarusian Service reported on 4 March. International Human Rights League Chairwoman Kathy Fitzpatrick has appealed to Hanchar to end his strike. JM

BELARUS, YUGOSLAVIA SCRAP VISAS, CONSIDER MILITARY DEAL

Belarusian Foreign Minister Ural Latypau and his Yugoslav counterpart, Zivadin Jovanovic, signed an agreement in Minsk on 4 March on abolishing visa requirements for their citizens. Jovanovic said the two countries discussed concluding a military agreement but declined to give details. "Military cooperation is one part of our cooperation overall," Reuters quoted him as saying. JM

LUKASHENKA WARNS RUSSIA AGAINST IMF LOANS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 4 March that the IMF policy is not directed toward providing real support to Russia, but "toward wringing out most of the country's [natural] resources," Interfax reported. He added that the IMF "wants all Russia to be put in hock for its loans. The West is now talking about putting Russian nuclear weapons under NATO control."JM

ESTONIAN CENTRAL BANK WANTS SINGLE FINANCIAL SUPERVISORY BODY

The Bank of Estonia on 4 March approved setting up a single supervisory body that would oversee all activities in the banking, insurance, and securities sectors, ETA reported. The bank justified that move by pointing to the level of integration of Estonia's financial markets as well as their small size. The government and the bank are to reach a decision by 1 September on merging the country's financial supervisory bodies. Finance Minister Mart Opmann said the government supports such a merger but is undecided about who should head the new supervisory entity. JC

LATVIAN LAWMAKERS VOTE TO KEEP SOLDIERS DAY...

By a vote of 37 to 33 with 11 abstentions, lawmakers on 4 March voted against doing away with 16 March as Latvian Soldiers Day. The motion had been proposed by the parliamentary group of the left-wing For Equal Rights in a Unified Latvia. Veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS mark 16 March as the day their unit first fought against the Red Army in 1943. Jewish leaders have said they will boycott the remembrance day by refusing to hang the Latvian flag outside their Riga building, as required by law. And Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis has said that military personnel will act in line with the government's recommendation that representatives of the armed forces do not take part in any commemorative events, BNS reported. JC

...AND AGAINST REVEALING INCOME

Also on 4 March, the parliament voted against a proposal by the opposition People's Party that would have guaranteed public access to information on all types of income of state and local government officials, "Diena" reported. The vote was two to 35 with 49 abstentions. JC

LITHUANIAN COURT DEEMS LUSTRATION LAW CONSTITUTIONAL

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the law banning former KGB agents from holding government office and a wide variety of private-sector jobs does not violate the basic law, ELTA reported on 4 March. At the same time, the court ruled that the provision on establishing a presidential commission that would decide whether to lift the restrictions in individual cases is unconstitutional, arguing that former KGB agents must be allowed to appeal against such restrictions in a court of law. President Valdas Adamkus, who earlier this year delayed forming the lustration commission pending the court's decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999), has expressed satisfaction with the ruling. JC

VAGNORIUS WANTS 'NORMAL WORKING CONDITIONS' FOR HIS CABINET

Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius told journalists on 4 March that his final decision on whether to resign will depend on whether the government is given "normal working conditions," ELTA reported. Vagnorius said his government will be unable to stay in office if its authority is reduced while its responsibilities remain the same. In this connection, he mentioned the debate over the new law on competition, which provides for the head of the government- subordinated Competition Council to be appointed by the prime minister with the president's approval. President Adamkus, who must decide by 5 March whether to sign the new law, has indicated he will propose that the parliament be given that prerogative. Earlier this week, amid allegations of corruption leveled against his cabinet, Vagnorius revealed that he is considering resigning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999). JC

POLISH PARLIAMENT BANS ADVERTISING TARGETED AT CHILDREN

Lawmakers voted by 208 to 197 with 17 abstentions to approve an amendment to the law on the media banning radio and television advertising targeted at children. "Such laws negatively influence the emotions of kids who like to behave like their richer peers, even though they cannot afford it," Reuters quoted an upper house member as saying. Polish broadcasters are afraid that the measure will result in million-dollar losses for radio and television stations. President Aleksander Kwasniewski's lawyer commented the same day that the president will not sign the amended media law. JM

ZEMAN WANTS SOCIAL DEMOCRATS TO NOMINATE SUCCESSOR...

In a letter to the Czech Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) national conference scheduled for April, CSSD leader and Premier Milos Zeman says he wants the party to nominate a successor to avoid a split in its ranks, CTK reported. He said he feels "worn out" and wants to leave politics by 2002. Zeman suggested as his successor deputy CSSD chairman Vladimir Spidla, whose "personal integrity, intelligence and devotion to work" he praised. While not naming the faction in the party headed by Stanislav Gross, Zeman said the party does not need officials who "keep giving advice to others on how to work, while they are themselves unable to do so." MS

...SEES TWO-PARTY SYSTEM AS A POSSIBILITY

Zeman also wrote that the so-called "opposition agreement" concluded after last year's general elections "emulates a two-party system" and that this option might be further tested at the local elections scheduled for fall 1999. He noted that while there can be no coalition between the CSSD and the Civic Democratic Party because of the too large differences in their programs, there should be respect for the right of each to monitor the other when in opposition. MS

LEXA LODGES COMPLAINT AGAINST HIS SUCCESSOR

Ivan Lexa, former director of the Slovak Counter-Intelligence Office (SIS), lodged a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office on 4 March, demanding that his successor, Vladimir Mitro, be criminally prosecuted. Mitro was replaced as SIS chief by Lexa in 1995. Speaking on Radio Twist, Lexa said that during his first tenure as SIS director, Mitro issued screening certificates attesting to non-collaboration with the Czechoslovak communist secret police, although he was not entitled to do so. Lexa said Mitro issued such a certificate to current Economics Affair Minister Ludovit Cernak. He also accused Mitro of failing to prevent information on SIS activities that the latter submitted to a 12 February closed session of the parliament from leaking to the media. Based on that report, the police have asked the parliament to lift the immunity of Lexa. The request is to be debated later this month. MS

SLOVAK MINISTER'S ALLEGED COLLABORATION WITH STB UNDER SCRUTINY

Radio Twist on 4 March said Labor and Family Affairs Minister Peter Magvasi "probably lied" when he denied having been an informer of the Czechoslovak communist secret police (StB), CTK reported. Magvasi said that in his capacity as director of a munitions factory engaged in "international military projects," he only had "contacts" with the StB. Magvasi's StB file, according to Radio Twist, shows his collaboration with the StB dates back to 1972, when he was a member of the communist youth organization. It also shows that Magvasi's father was a member of the Hlinka Guard, a pro-Nazi paramilitary organization, and his mother was suspected of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II. In reaction, Magvasi said he will "gladly take a look at the file," adding that "I know what I have been doing all my life and I have nothing to fear," CTK reported. MS




DOLE REFUSED VISA BY BELGRADE, MEETS KOSOVARS IN SKOPJE

Former U.S. Senator Robert Dole met with Kosovar Albanians in Skopje on 5 March after having been denied a visa to enter Kosova, dpa reported. It was not known with whom Dole met. Before departing for the Balkans, Dole had said he will ask the "Albanian leadership to put people first--without thought to their own position, power, or personal gain." Dole was asked to make the trip on behalf of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He first visited Kosova in 1990 and is thought to have good relations with Kosovar Albanian leaders. PB

YUGOSLAV FORCES TIGHTEN GRIP ON KOSOVA...

The Yugoslav government said on 4 March that it is strengthening its presence on Kosova's borders to stop "infiltration" into the province, Reuters reported. Troops have been deployed near a major border crossing with Macedonia--in violation of the October cease-fire agreement--and armored vehicles were reported heading toward the Albanian border late on 4 March. PB

...AS ALBANIA SENDS TROOPS TO DEFEND ITS BORDER

The Albanian army said on 4 March that it has sent reinforcements to two villages near its border with Kosova that were fired on by Serbian forces from Yugoslav territory, Reuters reported, citing ATA. A police spokesman said Serbian forces fired numerous shots at Albanian territory and that houses were struck in the village of Letaj. Tirana said the Pogaj border post was also fired upon the previous day. No injuries were reported. An army division from Kukes (about 250 kilometers northeast of Tirana) was sent to the area of the reported incursions. PB

SERBIAN JUDGE ORDERS ARREST OF UCK LEADER

Serbian Judge Danica Marinkovic on 5 March ordered the immediate arrest of Hashim Thaqi, who the previous day was named the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) new political leader, Reuters reported, citing the independent B-92 radio station. Thaqi, known as "Commander Snake," was a member of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team at Rambouillet. He replaced Adem Demaci after the latter resigned earlier this week and was also named as premier-designate in Kosova's provisional government. He did not return to Kosova after the peace talks in France, and his whereabouts are unknown. Marinkovic said the 29-year-old Thaqi has been tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison. PB

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT URGES KOSOVAR ALBANIANS TO SIGN ACCORD

Albanian lawmakers called on ethnic Albanian negotiators to sign a three-year autonomy deal for Kosova when the peace talks reopen in France on 15 March, Reuters reported on 4 March. The legislature unanimously approved a resolution backing the interim autonomy deal and said that the accord will "pave the way [to the independence] that has been sought so much over the centuries." It added that NATO peace-keepers are an "essential element which would guarantee this agreement." PB

TEN PEOPLE KILLED IN ALBANIAN SHOOTOUT

Ten people were killed in a shootout between police and an armed gang in the southern Albanian town of Berat on 4 March, Reuters reported. Three policemen were among those killed. Southern Albania was the scene of the worst violence when the country plunged into chaos in 1997. PB

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR BOSNIA THREATENS TO SACK POPLASEN

Carlos Westendorp warned Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen on 4 March that he might be dismissed, Reuters reported. Westendorp sent a letter to Poplasen accusing him of obstructing implementation of the Dayton peace accords and of refusing to recognize the results of last year's parliamentary elections. Westendorp said he has the power to dismiss Poplasen and will not hesitate to make use of it. Poplasen is in a power struggle with Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1999). PB

SERBS, MUSLIMS TO JOINTLY RULE SREBRENICA

Bosnian Muslim and Serbian political parties agreed on 5 March to form a joint government in Srebrencia, Reuters reported. The OSCE said the agreement, which it mediated, is an important and courageous step toward reconciliation. Thousands of Muslim men and boys who had gathered in Srebrenica--declared a UN safe haven during the Bosnian war--were massacred outside the town in 1995 by Serbian forces that had overrun Dutch peacekeepers. PB

CROATIA SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT FLAWED

The Croatian government on 4 March refuted a critical U.S. human rights report on the country, calling it "incorrect" and "factually unbalanced," HINA reported. Croatian Deputy Premier Ljerka Mintas-Hodak said "all positive steps the Croatian authorities have taken have been overlooked." She added that the government is drafting a report refuting the charges that it will hand to the U.S. ambassador in Croatia. The report was critical, among other things, of Zagreb's failure to reintegrate displaced Serbs and of restrictions against the independent media. PB

ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER SENTENCED AGAIN

A court in Pitesti on 4 March sentenced miners' leader Miron Cozma to two-and-a -half years in prison for vandalism and assault during a riot in a Petrosani restaurant in 1996 and to five months for hitting a journalist in 1994. The sentences are in addition to the 18 years imprisonment that Cozma received last month for his role in the 1991 Bucharest rampage by the Jiu valley miners, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

HUNGARIAN ETHNIC LEADERS PROTEST ROMANIAN DECISION ON TELEVISED PROGRAMS

The parliamentary groups of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) in the two chambers of the parliament have appealed to the houses' commissions on culture and mass media to re-examine a decision of the National Audiovisual Council earlier this month to make Romanian-language subtitling obligatory for programs in the languages of the national minorities. UDMR chairman Bela Marko said his party may appeal the decision in court. Arpad Marton, deputy leader of the UDMR group in the Chamber of Deputies, said the decision contravenes constitutional provisions and international treaties. Marko also said the UDMR will demand that the government speed up the establishment of the Petofi-Schiller "multicultural" university in Cluj. MS

STURDZA SAYS IMF VISIT DELAY HAS SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES

Premier Ion Sturdza on 4 March said the delay over confirming his cabinet has resulted in the "severing" of relations with the IMF, the World Bank, and other international institutions that intended to provide financial help, AFP reported. On 7 March, the Constitutional Court is to decide on the validity of Sturdza's confirmation as premier by the parliament. Sturdza noted that Moldova urgently needs the help of these institutions because of the precarious state of its economy. An IMF delegation has postponed its scheduled visit owing to the ongoing government crisis, thus delaying the release of a tranche of $190 million stand-by loan agreed on earlier this year. A World Bank delegation planning to discuss financial aid to Moldova also postponed a visit scheduled for earlier this week. MS

KOSTOV WANTS TO FOLLOW POLISH MODEL

Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, who is on an official visit to Warsaw, told journalists on 4 March that since the collapse of communism Bulgarian governments have had done little to promote reform, but he noted that there is still "enough time" to follow the so-called "shock therapy" model of Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Kostov also said that a Bulgarian parliamentary delegation will soon meet with Serbian and Kosova representatives to seek to persuade them to reach a compromise before talks resume on 15 March. MS




ESTONIANS VOTE IN THIRD PARLIAMENTARY POLL SINCE INDEPENDENCE


By Mart Linnart and Villu Kand

Estonians go to the polls on 7 March for the third time since the country regained its independence in 1991. They will elect the 101 members of the unicameral parliament, the Riigikogu. According to recent polls, the main contest is between the liberal, market-oriented Reform Party and the left-leaning Center Party.

Since neither party is likely to win enough seats to form a government by itself, the main question is which one will have enough support in the parliament to establish a ruling coalition. Led by former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar, the Center Party has signed a cooperation agreement with the largest rural party, the Country People's Party, whose head is the highly popular Arnold Ruutel, the last Soviet-era leader. An opinion poll conducted by the Emor polling agency showed that in mid-February, the Center Party had the backing of 17 percent of the electorate, up 2 percent from the previous poll. The Country Peoples Party placed third, with 10 percent.

The pro-business Reform Party, which polled about 15 percent support, has signed a cooperation pact with the centrist Moderates (9 percent support) and the rightist Pro Patria Union (8 percent), the winner of the first general elections after Estonia regained independence. The Pro Patria government headed by Mart Laar, some of whose members were Moderates, has been credited with launching the reform process in Estonia. When Laar was forced to resign in fall 1994, Moderates' leader Andres Tarand headed the government until the next scheduled elections in March 1995. Former Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilvess People's Party will run on a joint list with the Moderates. Recently, the two parties announced their merger after the elections.

All these parties are agreed that Estonia needs to continue to pursue market-oriented reforms and EU membership- -both of which were top priorities of all previous governments. They have also sharply criticized the current coalition government, led by the Coalition Party, for indecisiveness and corruption. According to the Emor poll, support for the Coalition Party has fallen below the 5 percent threshold required to win seats in the parliament.

Above all, the Center Party and Country Peoples Party seem to appeal most to those who feel they have been left behind by the reforms or who worry that Estonia is turning into a class-based society. Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar, whose political career almost came to an end several years ago over a major scandal, has become very popular once again. He promises to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and to introduce a progressive income tax system to replace the current 26 percent flat rate.

The liberal Reform Party, for its part, argues that Estonia needs less taxation, rather than more, and proposes abolishing corporate tax altogether. The party argues that this would help create more jobs. In addition, it has made an ambitious promise to double within four years the average monthly wage to 9,000 kroons ($630) from the current 4,400 kroons. Both Siim Kallas, the former central bank chairman and current head of the Reform Party, and Pro Patria Union leader Mart Laar are committed to the laissez-faire principle. But now that Estonia's economic growth seems secure, Laar would prefer more emphasis to be put on social policy.

Recently the Centrists' support has grown mainly on account of its backing among non-Estonian voters. There are three parties in Estonia that represent the country's large ethnic Russian community, and they all demand an improved status for the Russian language and less stringent citizenship requirements. The leaders of these parties, however, have been unable overcome their differences; they will compete in the elections on two lists and may fail gain to any seats in the parliament. But if they do gain parliamentary representation, they are most likely to support the Center Party, which has the most liberal citizenship policy of all parties in Estonia.

The Center Party may well need the support both of the Russian parties and of the Rural Union and the Pensioners and Families League, which are running on the list of the Coalition Party: the latest polls suggest that of the two main blocs, the center-right one led by the Reform Party will win the most seats in the parliament. But regardless of the outcome of the vote, observers say there will be no radical changes in the pillars of Estonia's economic policy. As independent Baltic strategist James Oates recently told Reuters: "Most investors in the Estonian market have a relaxed view of the political situation and are going to be satisfied with almost all the likely options available." Mart Linnart writes for the Estonian daily "Postimees." Villu Kand is director of RFE/RL's Estonian Service.


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