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Newsline - March 8, 1999




BEREZOVSKII FIRING WINS PRAISE...

Russian political figures across the political spectrum have backed President Boris Yeltsin's decision to dismiss Boris Berezovskii as CIS executive secretary, Russian agencies reported on 5 March. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that the CIS leader failed to act "with the authorization of the CIS chief executive," (that is, Yeltsin). State Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev said Yeltsins decision was an occasion for raising "a glass of champagne or something stronger." Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said the sacking was of no consequence for Russia itself, while Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said it was "long overdue." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that "justice has finally prevailed." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii called Yeltsins action "an insignificant event" calculated to obscure reports of corruption in the government. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said that Russian law enforcement agencies are not currently investigating Berezovskii. PG

...FUELS SPECULATION ABOUT MORE CHANGES...

Russian political analysts generally viewed the dismissal of Berezovskii as a victory for Primakov, Interfax reported. While some suggested that the firing marked the end of Berezovskii's political career, Georgii Satarov on 5 March said he "does not consider Berezovskiis political future hopeless." But the chairman of the State Duma's CIS Affairs Committee, Georgii Tikhonov, told Interfax the same day that Berezovskii's dismissal may lead to more attacks on Primakov's government. "A person possessing such huge funds as Berezovskii will not just calm down; he will fight together with his team and do a lot of harm," Tikhonov concluded. And "Izvestiya" suggested on 6 March that Yeltsin may sack others, including members of the government, because "the president does not make 'asymmetric' firings." PG

...SURPRISES SOME CIS LEADERS

The presidents of several CIS member states have expressed surprise at Yeltsin's decision to fire Berezovskii as CIS executive secretary, suggesting that such a decision does not lie within the competence of the chairman of the CIS Heads of State Council. Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliyev said Berezovskii's dismissal should have been discussed beforehand by all CIS presidents. Georgia's Eduard Shevardnadze said he was not consulted in advance. Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balghimbayev told Interfax that consensus is needed to remove the executive secretary from his post. Moldova's Petru Lucinschi told Interfax that he supported the decision, as did spokesmen for Armenia's Robert Kocharian and Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akayev. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma predicted that his colleagues will endorse Yeltsin's decision at the next CIS summit, but he did not say whether he personally approved it. Ivan Korotchenya, named by Yeltsin on 5 March to succeed Berezovskii, told Interfax that the next summit will be held on 30 or 31 March or 2 April. LF

YELTSIN AIDE CRITICIZES PRIMAKOV FOR 'COMPLACENCY'

Appearing on ORT television on 6 March, Oleg Sysuev, Yeltsins first deputy chief of staff, criticized the prime minister for "complacency" and added that Yeltsin "undoubtedly has no complacency about the government," Interfax reported. Sysuev noted that Primakov enjoys a great deal of public support "but this does not mean that this confidence is endless." And he noted that Yeltsin is not "unconditional" in his support of the government and is especially concerned about the slow pace of negotiations with the IMF. If things do not improve on that front, Sysuev said, Yeltsin may intervene directly. Asked if all this meant that the president is preparing to make new changes in the government, Sysuev said that such changes are "the prerogative of the president" and that no official should conclude that he will remain "in the government forever." PG

DRAFT YELTSIN ADDRESS REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO REFORM

"Izvestiya" on 6 March reported that it had acquired a copy of a draft speech that Yeltsin plans to give once he has recovered, ITAR-TASS said. The newspaper indicated that the text is a manifesto of liberal reforms and reaffirms Yeltsin's commitment to market-oriented transformations. But on 8 March, Russian agencies reported that Yeltsin will remain in the hospital until the end of March. PG

MOSCOW DECRIES REPORTED CIA INVOLVEMENT IN UNSCOM...

A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that reports in the "Washington Post" that the U.S. had used UNSCOM as a cover for its intelligence operations against Iraq are disturbing. He said that this report "proves that the special commission has discredited itself by once again crudely violating the mandate" of the UN Security Council. PG

...CALLS FOR CONSULTATIONS ON BOSNIA, KOSOVA

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 6 March calling for urgent consultations with Western governments to discuss the future of the Bosnian peace process following the decision by the international community's high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Carlos Westendorp, to sack the president of the Bosnian Serb entity, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement also questioned the decision to establish a Brcko district in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Regarding Kosova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said Moscow is opposed to any unilateral use of force in Kosova without the approval of the UN Security Council. In a related move, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev met with his Yugoslav counterpart, Pavle Bulatovic, in Moscow on 6 March. The two also said that any use of force by NATO in Kosova is "inadmissible." PG

CENTRAL BANK PROMISES TO DEFEND RUBLE

As the ruble fell below 23 to $1 on 5 March, Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said that the Central Bank of Russia has sufficient resources "both to prevent a sharp drop of the ruble exchange rate and to make foreign debt payments," Interfax-FIA reported. He added that Moscow has extended until 1 May the period in which Treasury bills and Finance Ministry bonds are to be restructured. PG

INFLATION SLOWED IN FEBRUARY

The State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 5 March that monthly inflation fell to 4.1 percent in February, down from 8.5 percent in January and 11.6 percent in December. PG

DUMA BACKS MEASURE TO MAINTAIN STATE CONTROL OVER ORT...

The lower house on 5 March gave preliminary approval to a bill that would maintain government control over Russian Public Television network and prohibit foreigners from owning any shares in the station, AP reported. At present, Berezovskii, newly fired as CIS executive secretary, is the largest shareholder in the network after the government. Deputies reportedly acted to prevent him from selling his shares to Rupert Murdoch. PG

...PASSES LAW TO PROTECT SMALL ETHNIC GROUPS

The next day, the Duma approved in the third reading a bill intended to provide special protection for indigenous ethnic communities, ITAR-TASS reported. The law requires Russian government agencies to provide these communities with support and allows the communities in turn to set up territorial self-government bodies and seek compensation when economic development harms their lands. PG

CORRUPTION IN RUSSIA REACHES 'UNPRECEDENTED' LEVELS...

Acting Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika told the Duma on 5 March that corruption in Russia has reached "unprecedented" levels and become "a destructive force" in the country, Interfax reported. Chaika said that prosecutors have exposed some 56,000 crimes involving government officials over the last three years. The same day, Interior Minister Stepashin asked the Duma to ratify an extradition accord with Europe in order to help fight corruption, and he announced that a new agreement with Switzerland will allow Moscow to track down funds illegally transferred to that country. PG

...WHILE CIVILIAN CRIME UP, MILITARY CRIME DOWN

Chaika also noted that crime in Russia rose by 8 percent in 1998, with some 2.6 million crimes registered by the authorities, Interfax reported. But crime fell almost 6 percent in the military, Russian army prosecutors told Interfax. PG

EFFORT TO BAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CONTINUES

A Moscow judge hearing a case brought by the government to ban the activities of the Jehovahs Witnesses religious organization in Russia has called for experts to examine their literature, AP reported on 5 March. The civil trial, the first effort by Russian prosecutors to use the religion law to ban a group, will now be further delayed. Defense attorneys suggested that the judge's move was designed to avoid having the Jehovahs Witnesses acquitted, something they said powerful political forces are against. "In any court of law, we think that now the judge would be in a position to render a decision and we could be exonerated. But not here," said a spokesperson for the group. Meanwhile, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said that "if organizations naming themselves religious violate civil and moral norms, the law enforcement bodies have all grounds to take adequate measures," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. PG

YELTSIN ACTS ON VARIOUS LEGISLATION

Yeltsin on 7 March signed into law various acts that will protect stock market investors and govern state grain purchases, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, on 5 March, he vetoed legislation that would have modified the countrys civil code and changed the status of Federation Council deputies. In a related matter, Yeltsin on 7 March submitted a resolution on the draft law concerning Russian social security urging greater specificity on the sources of revenue and spending limits. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Primakov signed a resolution setting rules on natural monopoly tariffs and issued an order to cut spending on administrative costs in the government. PG

BORDER GUARDS CHIEF DENIES REORGANIZATION PLANS

Federal Border Guards Service Director Konstantin Totskii on 6 March denied reports that his service will be consolidated with the Federal Security Service, ITAR-TASS reported. "This is not just a rumor, this is gossip," he said. In other comments, he noted that the most difficult problem facing border guards in the Caucasus is a severe shortage of housing for officers and warrant officers. PG

KURDS RALLY IN MOSCOW

Approximately 1,000 people took part in a rally in Moscow on 6 March in support of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, now under arrest in Turkey, Russian agencies reported. Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and Communist Duma Deputy Leonid Petrovskii pledged that their groups will support the Kurds and their demand for an independent Kurdish state. PG

RUSSIA DEVELOPS RADAR TO DETECT STEALTH AIRCRAFT

Unnamed Russian military expects told Interfax on 6 March that Moscow has developed the first radar system in the world capable of identifying very small targets such as cruise missiles and also stealth aircraft. The new system, according to these sources, "shows a stealth aircraft just like 'an ordinary one.'" PG

BLACK SEA FLEET WONT BE BASED IN KRASNODAR

Admiral Vladimir Komoedov told Interfax on 5 March that his fleet will not leave Sevastopol and be home-based in Krasnodar, as recent rumors suggested. PG

RUSSIAN POPULATION AGING, BUT LIFE EXPECTANCY LOW

The State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 6 March that while the average age of Russians is increasing, some 40 percent of all Russian males now at age 16 will not survive until age 60 "if current life expectancy levels in Russia are maintained." The committee said that life expectancy at birth is 58 for males and 71 for females. PG

REFERENDUM, PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS HELD IN DAGESTAN

Some 70 percent of Dagestan's 1.24 million electorate voted for a third time on 7 March to oppose the introduction of a directly elected presidency, Reuters reported the following day. The post of head of state will continue to be held by the chairman of the State Council, on which Dagestan's 14 autochthonous ethnic groups are represented. Results of simultaneous elections to the People's Assembly, in which 490 candidates were competing for a total of 121 seats, are not yet known. LF

SENIOR RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN GROZNY...

Five armed masked men on 5 March seized Major- General Gennadii Shpigun from the aircraft at Grozny airport in which he was about to fly to Moscow. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov immediately set up a working group tasked with solving the kidnapping. Russian Interior Minister Stepashin briefed President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Primakov the next day on the measures taken to secure Shpigun's release. The border between Chechnya and Dagestan was closed to motor traffic, and Russian Interior Ministry troops in the North Caucasus republics bordering on Chechnya were placed on the alert. LF

...PROMPTING ACCUSATIONS, DENIALS...

AP quoted witnesses to Shpigun's abduction as saying that the kidnappers said that in exchange for Shpigun, they intend to demand the release of two Chechen women sentenced by a Stavropol Krai court last month for a bomb attack on a North Caucasus railway station in April 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 17 February 1999). Chechen presidential adviser Danilbek Tamkaev told ITAR-TASS on 6 March that renegade field commander Salman Raduev was responsible for the kidnapping, but Raduev's deputy Lom-ali Yakhyaev denied this, adding that Raduev is still seriously ill and recovering from surgery. Raduev had vowed reprisals against Russia for the sentencing of the two Chechen women. Chechen investigators said on 6 March they believe that Shpigun's kidnappers hope to extract a ransom for his release. Speaking on NTV on 7 March, Stepashin implicitly accused Chechen opposition state council head Shamil Basaev of masterminding the abduction. He vowed to secure Shpigun's release. LF

...AND DEPARTURE OF RUSSIAN REPRESENTATION

The Russian mission in Grozny informed the Chechen leadership on 6 March that it would evacuate its personnel to Mozdok in North Ossetia. President Maskhadov provided armed guards to accompany those Russian bureaucrats, whose convoy left Grozny at midday on 7 March. The same day, Basaev accused Russian special services of masterminding Shpigun's abduction in order to discredit Chechnya. Basaev's ally, former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, announced the creation of a commission charged with assessing alleged violations by Moscow of the May 1997 bilateral treaty on peace and mutual relations. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev told Interfax on 7 March that a Russian warplane had dropped bombs in a rural district south of Grozny the previous day, but a Russian air force spokesman denied that charge. LF




FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS

Some 350 delegates attended the 11th congress of the center-right Armenian Pan-National Movement in Yerevan on 5-6 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The congress adopted a resolution describing the present Armenian leadership's advent to power as "illegal" and as resulting in the "criminalization" of the government and the establishment of a "military-police system." Delegates vowed to thwart the present leadership's alleged "plans to form a puppet parliament" by falsifying the outcome of the 30 May parliamentary elections. The resolution also called for the creation of a shadow cabinet. The congress failed to elect either a new 40-person ruling board or a new board chairman to replace former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, who left Armenia in late January and is wanted for questioning in connection with his suspected complicity in a series of murders. LF

NEW LOAN FOR ARMENIA POWER SECTOR

The International Development Association (IDA) approved a loan of some $21 million on 4 March to help Armenia put its electric power industry on an efficient commercial footing, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington. The credit is the first of an anticipated total of some $53 million the World Bank plans to allocate to Armenia over the next four-and-a-half years to support power sector restructuring. It will be used to make sure that Armenia's power needs are met in a reliable and cost-effective manner while the industry is updated and made self-sufficient. The plan includes ending subsidies and will focus on three enterprises: Armenergo, High Voltage Electronic Network Company, and Yerevan Distribution. LF

AZERBAIJAN IMPLICATES CIA IN ALLEGED ASSASSINATION PLOT

Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry issued a statement on 6 March claiming that a former CIA agent advised former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev on the latter's alleged plan to assassinate former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999). A CIA spokesman in Washington declined to comment on the allegations. The Baku-based committee to defend Guliev, who has lived in the U.S. since his resignation in September 1996, will stage a protest demonstration outside the Ministry of National Security on 12 March, Turan reported on 5 March. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT NATO MEMBERSHIP, TURKISH BASES

Speaking in Tokyo on 5 March, Eduard Shevardnadze admitted that Georgia is unlikely to be admitted to NATO however much it aspires to membership in that alliance, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze also said that Georgia's intensifying military cooperation with Turkey will not extend to the opening of Turkish military bases on Georgian territory. "The subject has never been discussed, the Turkish side has never even mentioned that possibility," ITAR-TASS quoted Shevardnadze as saying. LF

RUSSIAN ENVOY, ABKHAZ LEADER DISCUSS REPATRIATION...

Russian special envoy for Abkhazia Lev Mironov met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Sukhumi on 6 March to discuss the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons, ITAR-TASS reported. Abkhazia formally began the repatriation process on 1 March. Mironov proposed that Abkhazia and Georgia sign a bilateral agreement on repatriation and on economic aid for the restoration of Abkhazia's war-damaged infrastructure. Estimates of the number of Georgians who have returned to Abkhazia differ widely. Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 March that "no process of repatriation has got under way," Interfax reported. But an official with the Russian peacekeeping force told ITAR-TASS on 5 March that "a large number" of displaced persons have returned to the villages of Tagiloni, Nabakevi, and Pichora. LF

...AS GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ISSUES FORMAL PROTEST

The Georgian parliament, meanwhile, issued a statement protesting Ardzinba's unilateral initiative to allow Georgian displaced persons to return to Abkhazia before international guarantees of their security are in place, Caucasus Press reported on 5 March. The statement accused the Abkhaz leadership of seeking to exploit the returnees as cheap labor. It recalled an April 1996 resolution affirming that repatriation will not begin until Georgia's territorial integrity and Tbilisi's jurisdiction over Abkhazia are restored. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ISLAMABAD...

Kasymjomart Tokayev was in the Pakistani capital on 5-6 March, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. Tokayev met with his counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, and President Nawaz Sharif to discuss the potential for trade after the opening in May of a highway from Kazakhstan to the Pakistani port of Karachi via Kyrgyzstan and China. Tokayev said Pakistan is interested in buying wheat from Kazakhstan. He also discussed cooperation in banking and aviation as well as cultural and humanitarian exchanges. Both sides confirmed a commitment to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan on the basis of non-interference in that country's internal affairs. BP

...MEETS WITH TALIBAN REPRESENTATIVES

Tokayev also met with Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, an aide to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and said that Kazakhstan favors peace through the establishment of a coalition government in which all warring factions and groups are represented. The Afghan Islamic Press agency was cited by dpa as reporting that the meeting was "positive" and that the two sides agreed to "maintain contact." Tokayev later side-stepped a journalist's question about whether closer ties would be established with the Taliban. "Recognizing or not recognizing the Taliban is not important. The issue is we had direct talks with Taliban," he said. BP

PRISONERS IN KAZAKHSTAN ATTEMPT SUICIDE

Twenty-six inmates of the Atyrau prison in western Kazakhstan stabbed themselves in the stomach in what reportedly was a mass suicide attempt to protest conditions in their jail, AP reported on 4 March. All are expected to recover from the wounds that they inflicted on themselves with home-made knives. The inmates were protesting overcrowding, lack of food, and other inhumane conditions that they claim exist in the prison. A similar incident happened at the same prison late last year. The country's Security Council recently discovered that funds slated for the prison have been misappropriated. BP

GAZPROM CHIEF COMMENTS ON TURKMEN GAS SHIPMENTS...

Rem Vyakhirev, addressing the Russian State Duma on 5 March, explained the state of affairs as regards Turkmen natural gas shipments to Ukraine via Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999), ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Vyakhirev said the system for those shipments allows Russia "to control the fuel supply from Turkmenistan to Ukrainian consumers." Vyakhirev also said Turkmenistan has lost about $1 billion since Turkmen gas shipments to Ukraine ceased in spring 1997 owing to disputes over shipping terms, Ukraine's large debt, and the low price paid to Turkmenistan for the shipments. Vyakhirev said that Gazprom, as the operator of the pipeline, sets the conditions for transportation of Turkmen gas. He also noted that his company will participate in projects to develop new gas fields in Turkmenistan and ship Turkmen gas to China. BP

...AS DOES RUSSIAN MINISTER FOR CIS AFFAIRS

Boris Pastukhov said "the closer we are connected to Turkmenistan's gas and oil sectors, the more the CIS countries, above all Russia, will be the winners." Pastukhov noted that Turkmenistan still plans to build a pipeline to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan and that "sooner or later" this will take place. He recommended that Russia take part in this project. However, Pastukhov said the Russian government should block plans to lay a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan along the bed of the Caspian Sea. BP

TURKMENISTAN, PAKISTAN SIGN MEMORANDUM ON ELECTRICAL SUPPLIES

The Energy Ministries of Turkmenistan and Pakistan have signed a memorandum on conducting a feasibility study for the export of Turkmen electricity to Pakistan via Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 6 March. Two routes will be examined: Mary-Sherberghan-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar and Mary-Herat-Kandahar-Quetta, both of which are some 1,150 kilometers long. Regions in Afghanistan would also receive supplies and two transit stations would be built in that country. BP




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES VETO ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BILL...

The Supreme Council on 5 March voted by 313 to 14 to override President Leonid Kuchma's veto of the presidential election bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1999). In particular, the parliament rejected Kuchma's proposed amendment stipulating that presidential elections should be invalidated if less that 50 percent of registered voters take part. The president also proposed that each voter be allowed to put his signature to only one list in support of a candidate's registration. JM

...VOTES AGAINST TWO WORLD BANK LOANS

The same day, the parliament voted down two loan agreements concluded by the government with the World Bank. The first agreement is a $200-million deal to improve the heating system in Kyiv, the other a $16.4 million loan to purchase computer equipment for the Treasury. But the parliament did ratify a $22-million World Bank loan to modernize plants that use ozone-destroying substances. Foreign loans are opposed primarily by Ukrainian left-wing parliamentary deputies, who believe that foreign aid does Ukraine's economy more harm than good. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST FORCED TO END HUNGER STRIKE...

Viktar Hanchar, chairman of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, was forced by jail authorities to end his six-day hunger strike on 6 March, AP and Interfax reported, citing opposition members and Hanchar's wife. Hanchar was imprisoned last week. His wife said her husband had complained in a telephone conversation about violence being used against him but the conversation was cut off before he could give any details. Anatol Hurynovich and Borys Hyunter, two oppositionists released from the same jail on 6 March, confirmed that Hanchar had been forced to end his hunger strike after the jail administration became alarmed about his failing health. A statement issued by Hanchar's wife and opposition forces says Hanchar also complained about being given psychoactive drugs in jail. JM

...WHILE MINSK COUNCIL DEPUTIES DENIED ENTRY TO JAIL

Following a complaint by the wives of Hanchar, Hurynovich, and Hyunter, two Minsk City Council deputies tried to visit Hanchar and his companions in jail but were refused entry by the head of the jail, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 5 March. Deputies from the opposition Supreme Soviet have appealed to Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE mission in Minsk, to visit Hanchar in jail, but Wieck refused. In a statement sent to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, opposition deputies say they are "indignant" over Wieck's behavior and accuse him of refusing to conduct "serious negotiations" with the democratic opposition in Belarus. JM

LUKASHENKA SAYS BELARUS WANTS NO DEMOCRACY 'LECTURES' FROM LITHUANIA

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Lithuania Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas in Minsk on 5 March that he is grateful to Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus and Foreign Ministry for their "strict position" over plans to set up a radio station broadcasting from Lithuania to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 1999), Baltic news agencies reported. Lukashenka assured Saudargas that Belarus does not have "less democracy" than neighboring countries, and he added that Minsk does not wish to receive "lectures on this topic." JM

CENTER PARTY WINS ELECTIONS IN ESTONIA

According to preliminary results, the Center Party won the 7 March elections, gaining 23.62 percent of the vote or 28 seats in the 101-seat parliament, RFE/RL's Estonian Service reported, citing data from the Central Election Commission issued at 2:00 p.m. CET on 8 March. The Fatherland Union unexpectedly took second place (15.98 percent, 18 seats) alongside the Reform Party (15.98 percent, 18 seats). Other parties that crossed the 5 percent threshold are the Moderates (15.14 percent, 17 seats), the Coalition Party (7.59 percent, seven seats), the Country People's Party (7.24 percent, seven seats) and the United People's Party (6.13 percent, six seats). Turnout was 55.8 percent, according to BNS. Observers say the right-wing alliance of the Reform Party, Moderates, and Fatherland Union, which has a total of 53 seats, is likely to form the next government. JC

ESTONIA, RUSSIA INITIAL BORDER TREATY

Meeting in St. Petersburg on 5 March, Estonian Foreign Minister Raul Malk and the head of Russia's border negotiations committee, Ludvig Chizhov, initialed the border treaty between their countries, some seven years after negotiations were launched. Under the agreement, the two countries are to exchange small parcels of land totaling some 30 square kilometers. No date has been set for the signing of the treaty. JC

ESTONIA'S KALLAS ACQUITTED

Reform Party leader and former Bank of Estonia President Siim Kallas has been acquitted of all charges in the so-called $10 million affair, ETA and BNS reported on 5 March. The court ruled that Kallas was not guilty of abuse of power or giving false information leading to the loss of some $10 million in state funds in 1993, when Kallas was head of the Central Bank. The charge of intended embezzlement had been dropped last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). The former legal adviser of the Central Bank, Urmas Kaju, was acquitted of the same charges. The prosecutor is to appeal the ruling. JC

LATVIAN CENTRAL BANK SUSPENDS COMMERCIAL BANK'S OPERATIONS

The Bank of Latvia has suspended the operations of Rigas Komercbanka, Latvia's fifth largest bank, effective 5 March. In a statement released on 7 March, cited by ITAR-TASS, the Central Bank said it will declare the Rigas Komercbanka insolvent. A total of 27.5 percent of the bank's assets is tied up in Russia in, among other things, Treasury bills and local government bonds, according to that statement. JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT ACCEPTS ENVIRONMENT MINISTER'S RESIGNATION...

Valdas Adamkus on 5 March accepted the resignation of Environment Minister Algis Chaplikas, ELTA reported. Chaplikas, who is a member of the non-coalition Center Union, offered to resign late last month after the Center Union leader had predicted early elections and the resignation of Premier Gediminas Vagnorius (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"1 March 1999). The same day, at a meeting with the parliamentary group of the ruling Conservatives, Adamkus said that he has no intention of seeking the government's resignation or "provoking any other destabilizing actions." He stressed his "overall" support for Vagnorius's government. JC

...SEEKS POWER TO APPOINT COMPETITION COUNCIL

Adamkus has returned the competition law to the parliament for a second time, requesting that the president be granted the right to appoint the Competition Council's five members on the recommendation of the premier, BNS reported on 6 March. The current version of the law provides for the council to be appointed by the government on the recommendation of the premier and with the president's approval. Vagnorius has hinted that his government may resign if it is stripped of its control over the council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 1999). JC

POLISH PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAW ON ACCESS TO SECRET FILES

The parliament on 5 March approved changes to the law on access to communist-era secret service files. The law was passed in September but was vetoed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski in December. The ruling coalition then overrode the veto by mustering the support of the opposition Peasant Party (PSL) in exchange for promised amendments. The most important of those changes stipulates that the head of the Institute of National Remembrance--a body that will collect and screen secret files--is to be appointed by a 60 percent majority vote in the parliament, which means that the PSL will play a role in that official's appointment. JM

HAVEL MEETS PARTY LEADERS

President Vaclav Havel on 6 March met with leaders of parties represented in the parliament, CTK reported. The opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) boycotted the meeting, while the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia was not invited to attend. The participants conceded later that their opinions on the causes of country's economic crisis and their envisaged solutions to that crisis differ; thus, they did not discuss the bills on solving the crisis that the government intends to submit to the parliament. They did agree, however, to support amendments to the constitution facilitating the country's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and to decentralize state administration by creating regional governing bodies, CTK reported. ODS leader Vaclav Klaus the next day called for a consensus among parties over how to lead the country out of its economic crisis. MS

SLOVAKIA TO DESTROY SS-23S?

Defense Minister Pavol Kanis on 5 March said Slovakia will make clear its "political stand" on destroying its six medium-range SS-23 missiles before the April NATO summit in Washington. He added that the missiles "should have been destroyed long ago." The SS-23s were delivered by the former Soviet Union to Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia in the 1980s and their destruction is stipulated by a 1987 U.S.-Soviet agreement. While Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have destroyed their missiles, former Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar refused to do so, arguing that Slovakia was not a signatory to the 1987 agreement and that the missiles' life span was to expire in 2000 in any case, CTK reported. MS

IMF PRESSES FOR FURTHER HUNGARIAN REFORMS

Hungarian Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai has said Budapest is willing to implement the measures proposed by the IMF in a recent report on Hungary aimed at keeping this year's budget deficit below 4 percent of GDP, Hungarian media reported. The report praised last year's drop in inflation and 5 percent growth in GDP but said tighter budgetary policies are needed to check growing domestic demand and a worsening balance of payments deficit. In other news, Istvan Csurka, leader of the extremist Justice and Life Party (MIEP), on 6 March opened the Istvan Bocksai Open University, which is to promote national awareness. MS




BOSNIAN SERB OFFICIALS RESIGN OVER BRCKO RULING

Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik and his government resigned on 6 March. Zivko Radisic, the Serbian chairman of the Bosnian presidency, said he will freeze his participation in that body to protest the ruling by an international panel the previous day to make the strategic town of Brcko a neutral district, AFP reported. Dodik, a moderate who is supported by the West, said the ruling should be suspended and revised to account for the Bosnian Serb entity of Republika Srpska, which would be split in two by the ruling. He urged Serbian officials to reject the ruling but to continue working with the West. Brcko is currently run by Serbs under international supervision. Robert Farrand, the U.S. administrator of Brcko, said he will do "all in his powers" to implement the ruling. The town had a majority population of Bosnian Croats and Muslims before the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. The UN and several Western countries praised the ruling, while Belgrade strongly condemned it. PB

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT NOT TO ACCEPT BRCKO DECISION OR POPLASEN'S SACKING

The Bosnian Serb parliament decided in an emergency session on 7 March in Banja Luka to withdraw all Bosnian Serb representatives from the country's federal institutions in protest at the Brcko decision, Reuters reported. In a resolution, the parliament voted not to accept the ruling and called on Serbian officials in federal institutions to "cease their work" until the ruling is rescinded. It also refused to accept the sacking of Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen. The hard-line president was removed from office on 5 March by Carlos Westendorp, the international community's high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. PB

WESTENDORP SAYS POPLASEN WILL BE REMOVED BY FORCE IF NECESSARY

Westendorp, meanwhile, told the Spanish daily "El Pais" that the sacked president of Republika Srpska, Poplasen, will be removed by force if he continues to refuse to leave office. Westendorp, who dismissed Poplasen last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 1999), said the president is acting on orders from Belgrade. Poplasen was locked in a power struggle with Dodik and has refused to recognize him as premier. Mirko Sarovic, Poplasen's vice president, is a member of hard-line Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party. Westendorp added that he will try to persuade Radisic, a member of Dodik's pro-Western alliance, to remain as head of the Bosnia presidency. PB

VIOLENCE ERUPTS AS SFOR SOLDIER KILLS BOSNIAN SERB POLITICIAN

A SFOR soldier in northeastern Bosnia shot and killed a local politician on 6 March, Reuters reported. SFOR spokesman David Scanlon said the soldier fired two shots at the man, Krsto Micic, after being struck by a wooden club. The SFOR soldiers had reportedly been accosted in a restaurant in Ugljevik by a group of 14 angry Bosnian Serbs. Some 2,000 people attended Micic's funeral the next day. Micic was a member of a local town council and a member of the Serbian Radical Party, which said "these American occupiers and bandits will pay dearly for [this] criminal murder," Tanjug reported. Small protests occurred in many towns in Srpska. No casualties were reported, but some UN vehicles were torched in Zvornik. PB

DOLE SAYS ETHNIC ALBANIANS TO SIGN PEACE ACCORD...

Former U.S. Senator Robert Dole said on 6 March that he "is confident" Kosovar Albanians will sign the Rambouillet peace accord, AP reported. Dole said that at his meetings with Kosova Albanian officials in Skopje the previous day, those officials promised "many times" to sign the agreement. Dole was incorrect, however, in predicting that they would sign the agreement the very next day. A Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) meeting to discuss the accord was postponed until 8 March. Despite the postponement, Western officials are counting on all Kosovar Albanian officials who attended the talks in Rambouillet to sign the accord before talks resume in France on 15 March. PB

...AS LEADING UCK REPRESENTATIVE ACKNOWLEDGES PROGRESS...

Hashim Thaqi, the political representative of the UCK, said in Tirana on 7 March that there has been "significant progress" among Kosovar Albanians toward acceptance of the Kosova peace accord, AP reported. Thaqi said discussions between UCK officials and ethnic-Albanian officials have moved in a "very positive direction." Thaqi was in Tirana for meetings with Albanian officials. He and UCK official Xhavit Halitit met with Albanian President Rexhep Meidani, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo. Thaqi said the Kosovar Albanians will continue to insist on a NATO presence in Kosova and that the UCK will remain a defensive force in the province. PB

...AND ANOTHER GROUP SIGNS ON

Rexhep Qosja, the head of the United Democratic Movement, announced on 7 March that his party has agreed to accept the Kosova peace agreement, Reuters reported. The movement unites six ultranationalist groups, including the Kosova Parliamentary Party of Adem Demaci, who has spoken out against the agreement. U.S. envoy Christopher Hill and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer are due to arrive in Prishtina on 8 March to urge Kosovar Albanian leaders to agree to the accord. PB

TUDJMAN ASSURES JEWISH GROUP OF FAIR TRIAL

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said on 5 March that the trial of former concentration camp commander Dinko Sakic will be "impartial and objective," AP reported. A statement from Tudjman's office said that the president told former Bnai Brith President Tommy Baer that "Croatia has condemned all crimes committed during the Ustasha regime" and that the trial will be fair. Sakic is suspected of involvement in the murder of up to 2,000 people during his rule as head of the Jasenovac concentration camp during World War II. A district court judge postponed the trial last week after doctors said Sakic's life would be at risk during the trial owing to poor health (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1999). PB

ROMANIAN POLICE GENERAL SANCTIONED

President Emil Constantinescu on 7 March signed a decree discharging General Gheorghe Lupu, former commander of a special police force, from "active service." An investigative commission at the Ministry of Interior ruled that Lupu was guilty of failing to implement standing orders and made "serious errors" during clashes with miners attempting to march on Bucharest in January. Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu said on 7 March that General Teodor Zaharia, former state secretary at the ministry, will be "sanctioned" in line with the findings of a report prepared by the ministry on the clashes. That report says Zaharia bears the main responsibility for the troops' failure to stop the miners. He has been transferred to another executive position in the ministry. MS

MOLDOVAN COURT DECLARES STURDZA CABINET INVALID

The Constitutional Court on 6 March ruled that the narrow majority (51-50) by which lawmakers last week passed a vote of confidence in Ion Sturdza's cabinet was insufficient to validate the government. The court said that a confidence vote constitutes a so-called "organic law" and therefore requires a majority of at least 52. Presidential adviser Anatol Golea responded that President Petru Lucinschi will re-name Sturdza to form a cabinet. Christian Democratic Popular Front leader Iurie Rosca said that his party will again insist that ministers have "clean hands" and that it has least four ministers, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN DEPUTIES INITIATE DRAFT LAW ON 'BULGARIAN' COUNTY

Several parliamentary deputies of the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova bloc have submitted a bill that would make the Taraclia district an administratively independent county, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 5 March. President Petru Lucinschi refused to sign legislation approved by the parliament that would include the district (which is mainly inhabited by ethnic Bulgarians) into the newly created Cahul County. The parliament refused to meet Lucinschi's request that it revise the legislation. A local referendum in Taraclia overwhelmingly approved the demand for a separate county, but that vote was declared unconstitutional by the Central Electoral Commission. MS

BULGARIA'S OPPOSITION CONCERNED ABOUT TALKS WITH NATO

Georgi Parvanov, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), said on 7 March that his party is concerned about the "lack of information" on the recent talks between cabinet members and NATO officials. He said the cabinet is conducting negotiations on agreements under which Bulgaria "undertakes heavy commitments that can harm national security." Parvanov added that he will propose that President Petar Stoyanov convene the National Security Council to discuss the country's military doctrine and reforms in the army. MS




KOSTOV'S CRITICISM OF EU HIGHLIGHTS THREATS TO REFORM


by Ron Synovitz

Recent complaints about the EU by Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov shed light on some key policy goals in Sofia as well as potential threats to reforms there and in neighboring countries.

Last week, Kostov told a Reuters correspondent that EU aid to Bulgaria since 1990 has been "negligibly little" and that Brussels has applied different standards for countries not named in the first wave of eastward enlargement. Those unusually outspoken remarks could be aimed at achieving several goals: future compensation in case of a renewed sanctions against Yugoslavia over the Kosova crisis, expediting Bulgaria's inclusion in EU membership talks, continuing full operations at the Kozloduy nuclear power station, and receiving more aid from the U.S. and international financial institutions.

In his interview with Reuters, Kostov said NATO airstrikes against Serbian forces in Kosova would be a "nightmare" for Bulgaria because they would likely be accompanied by a new embargo of Yugoslavia. Bulgarian officials estimate the country lost more than $10 billion dollars in trade during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war when road and rail links to Central and Western Europe were cut off under UN sanctions. The World Bank says Bulgarian losses were less than $1 billion a year. But World Bank officials in Sofia told RFE/RL the sanctions did strengthen organized criminal groups that smuggled weapons and fuel into Yugoslavia.

As in other eastern countries, the Yugoslav embargo allowed clandestine criminal groups in Bulgaria to gain considerable financial and political influence. In Bulgaria's case, some groups became strong enough to delay economic reforms for years so that they could continue to skim off profits from state companies through their ties with state managers.

Nicol Wegter, a spokesman for EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek, told RFE/RL that none of the countries in the Balkans should expect any EU compensation if their trade routes are cut again by a renewed embargo of Yugoslavia. He said that the EU has argued for a number of years that "it is the UN that is firstly and foremost responsible for [any] possible compensation whatsoever."

Clearly, Kostov wants Brussels to ease its demands for the closure of the two oldest reactors at Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear plant, which produces about 40 percent of the country's electricity. Kostov told Reuters that the EU is exerting a "meaningless diktat" by demanding the closures as a pre-condition to Bulgarian membership in the EU. Kostov said a shutdown would destroy what little competitiveness Bulgaria still has after suffering a severe financial crisis in early 1997.

EU officials thought they had won promises from Bulgaria on early closures in 1993, when a grant of about $35 million was awarded to improve nuclear safety there. Kostov's refusal to honor the pledge, which was made by an earlier government, is mirrored in Lithuania. The government in Vilnius wants the EU to pay compensation for lost earnings from the closure of the Ignalina nuclear plant, despite earlier commitments.

Wegter refutes Kostov's remark that Brussels is issuing "dictates" on Kozloduy: "I think the European Union cannot but insist on closure of those units. We do not dictate anything at all. But certain commitments have been made by Sofia and we think those promises should be fulfilled."

By stating that the EU is not doing enough to help Bulgarian reforms, Kostov also could be signaling a desire for more aid from the U.S., the World Bank, or the IMF. Such a move might suggest Sofia has drawn conclusions similar to ones reached in Ankara after Turkey was left off an EU list of countries ready for membership talks. Ankara responded by distancing itself further from Europe and announcing that it would focus its foreign policy on greater links with the U.S. and Russia.

But Wegter said he does not think Sofia is changing its key foreign policy goal of joining the EU. He noted that the remarks by Kostov were contained in a press interview only and have not been sent to Brussels in any official communique. And Wegter insists that Bulgaria and the EU are still on track in regard to implementing a pre-accession strategy. "The EU is doing its utmost to underpin the reform efforts in Bulgaria," he said, "but we also are aware that further improvements are needed before one can say that negotiations for membership are justified."

Whatever foreign policy goals Kostov may have had in mind when he criticized Brussels last week, the comments appear to have boosted his support within Bulgaria. Most Bulgarian newspapers are praising those remarks, and the public also appears to be rallying behind the Bulgarian leader.

That development could be important for Kostov in light of the fact that economic reforms have failed to reach official targets. Foreign investment last year was less than half of the $1 billion the government had hoped to attract. And the privatization of key state industries also is proceeding slower than Kostov's cabinet predicted. The author is an RFE/RL editor based in Prague.


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