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Newsline - March 12, 1999




IMF TO ASK FOR NEW BUDGET?

Shortly before new talks started with the IMF mission in Moscow on 12 March, Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told reporters that Russia "needs an agreement with the IMF, but that does not mean that this will be the main pillar of support for the domestic economy." Primakov also called for stronger central control over local spending. Meanwhile, sources at the IMF told RFE/RL's Washington bureau that Russia will have to get an amended budget through the State Duma if there is to be any chance of reopening the fund's lending programs. The Duma, however, is likely to oppose such an effort. Ekho Moskvy reported that legislators passed in the third reading a bill reducing value-added tax as of 1 July just one day after Prime Minister Primakov asked legislators to refrain from making any decision on when the cut would take effect. JAC

PRIMAKOV, MASKHADOV MEETING PLANNED...

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov told Interfax on 11 March that preparations are under way for a meeting between Prime Minister Primakov and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Yeltsin's press secretary, Dmitrii Yakushkin, said the meeting "must be thoroughly planned and prepared" in order to achieve tangible results, but Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev urged that it take place "immediately." Aushev added that the 5 March abduction in Grozny of Russian Interior Ministry Major-General Gennadii Shpigun was "not a criminal kidnapping, it was committed for purely political objectives to weaken" Maskhadov. LF

...WHILE REPORTS ON SHPIGUN'S WHEREABOUTS DIVERGE

A senior Chechen official in charge of one of the groups investigating Shpigun's abduction told journalists in Grozny on 11 March that Shpigun is no longer in Chechnya, but the official declined to divulge the major-general's whereabouts. He added that the identity of the abductors is known. But Radio Mayak on 11 March quoted a Russian Interior Ministry official in the North Caucasus as stating that Shpigun is still in Chechnya. That official, too, claimed that the identity of the kidnappers has been established. In Grozny, Maskhadov issued a decree merging all existing security and special services into a new ministry for state security, of which Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev was named head, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, two convicted murderers were executed by firing squad in Grozny on 11 March, Reuters and AP reported. LF

U.S. FOOD AID ARRIVES

The first batch of U.S. food assistance--48 containers of green-pea seeds intended for farmers in the northern and central areas of Russia-- arrived in St. Petersburg on 11 March, ITAR-TASS reported. According to "Trud" the same day, a special Russian government decree lays out how the food will be distributed to each federation subject. For example, Moscow will receive 360,000 tons of wheat, 10,000 tons of rice, and 40,000 tons of beef. Most of the food assistance from the U.S. and EU will go to Komi Republic, Primorskii and Khabarovsk Krais, and Kemerovo, Kamchatka, and Smolensk Oblasts, the newspaper reported. JAC

RUSSIA SUGGESTS BARTER TO REDUCE FOREIGN DEBT

Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told ITAR-TASS on 12 March that Russia wants to pay off part of its foreign debt with goods. According to Kasyanov, the government of Italy has already expressed "a general interest in the plan," while similar proposals were discussed with the German government during Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to Moscow and during the meeting of deputy finance ministers of G-7 and G-25 countries in Bonn on 11 March. Kasyanov added that "the talk is not about raw materials. We want Russian equipment to be bought." JAC

STOCKS FLOAT UPWARD, AS MARKET REGULATOR FACES THREAT

Russian share prices on 11 March rose to their highest level since the onset of the economic crisis last August, with the benchmark RTS index soaring 7.55 percent. Analysts suggest the increase is due to optimism about upcoming IMF talks and upward trends in oil prices, the "Moscow Times" reported on 12 March. According to the newspaper, the market's regulator, the Federal Securities Commission, is facing new legal challenges to its authority. On 11 March, a Moscow court ruled that the commission exceeded its powers when it ruled last August to ban the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange from trading in derivatives. Next week, the Moscow Central Stock Exchange will appeal to the Supreme Court, asking it to declare all the commission's rulings since 1 July 1996 invalid because they were not published in an official newspaper, as required by a 1996 presidential decree. JAC

YELTSIN TRIP TO PARIS POSTPONED

President Boris Yeltsin's trip to Paris scheduled for the second half of March has been postponed, presidential spokesman Yakushkin announced on 11 March. Yeltsin is currently slated to leave the hospital on 20 March, but Yakushkin emphasized that his release will depend on how his medical treatment proceeds. Yeltsin met with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii on 10 March. Yavlinskii told NTV the next day that the two men discussed the Russian Constitution, the IMF, the foreign debt, and corruption. Yavlinskii also revealed that following news reports of his meeting with Yeltsin, 11 governors contacted him by phone. According to Interfax, Yeltsin may meet with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov "in the near future." JAC

MORE HARSH WORDS ABOUT NATO

Yeltsin "was and remains negative" about NATO's eastward expansion, presidential spokesman Yakushkin told reporters on 12 March. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the landmark event of three former Warsaw Pact countries--the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland--joining the alliance is "rather sad" and a "movement in the wrong direction." Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's Department for International Military Cooperation, told Interfax that Russia is not planning any new military measures but "NATO's further enlargement, which is diminishing Russia's geopolitical and military-strategic space, may force Russia to take responsive measures." Colonel-General Leontii Shevtsov, commander of the Moscow military district, suggested that Russia needs more soldiers. He told reporters on 12 March that at their current strength Russian ground forces would be incapable of countering a NATO attack. JAC

RUSSIAN REGIONS VULNERABLE TO MILLENIUM BUG

While playing down fears about the ability of large Russian companies such as Gazprom or managers of the country's nuclear missile system to cope with problems associated with the millennium bug, computer specialist and Director-General of Lanit-Tercom Andrei Terekhov told Reuters on 11 March that local governments in Russia are dangerously unprepared. The breakdown of local computers could trigger interruptions in the provision of social services, heat, and electricity. Meanwhile, in Khabarovsk representatives from 10 krais and oblasts gathered with a group of information technology specialists from Moscow to discuss the problem at a session of a subcommittee of the Far East and Trans-Baikal Association, ITAR-TASS reported. One official noted that to resolve the YK2 problem, it is essential for local officials to first recognize that they have one. JAC

RUSSIA, CHINA CONSULTING ON ABM

Russian and Chinese officials are "more or less continuously" discussing possible steps to counter U.S. plans to set up a tactical anti-ballistic missile system in Asia, Russian "military and diplomatic sources" told Interfax on 11 March. According to these sources, the issue is likely to be raised again when Defense Minister Igor Sergeev visits India in the spring and his Chinese counterparts visit Moscow in April. JAC

FINANCE MINISTRY CONTINUING TO SPOTLIGHT REGIONAL MISSPENDING

First Deputy Finance Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 11 March that while the central government has paid wages to state workers financed from its budget in February in full, most regions are continuing to have problems meeting the payrolls of their workers, although there has been some overall progress. For example, as of 1 February 1999, the debt to workers paid by local budgets had dropped 9 percent from 1 January to 11.6 billion rubles ($516 million). But in only six regions have wages been paid in full with no accumulated debt. According to "Izvestiya" on 12 March, the poorest regions tend to have the biggest government staffs, whose wages are "not bad." Union leaders complain, according to the daily, that information about transfers from Moscow is not reported in the local press and therefore it is hard to track how money is being spent or, in many cases, wasted. JAC

KRASNOYARSK PLAGUED BY TAX EVASION

A top Interior Ministry official in Krasnoyarsk Krai announced that he has uncovered evidence of tax evasion in some of the territory's key cities, such as Achinsk, Nazarov, and Divnogorsk, "EWI Russian Regional Report" reported on 11 March. With growing export volumes and declining tax revenues, krai officials are naturally suspicious. Large enterprises, such as Krasugol, the Nazarovskii and Berezovskii coal mines, the Krasenergo power utility, and the Achinsk Alumina Combine, owe large tax bills to all levels of government. Their total debt is some 3 billion rubles ($134 million), tax agencies estimate, according to the report. JAC

IRANIAN DELEGATION SIZES UP MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX IN KIROV

Headed by Iran's ambassador and plenipotentiary to Russia Medhi Safari, an Iranian delegation has arrived in Kirov Oblast for a two-day official visit, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 March. Featuring prominently on the itinerary of the group, which includes the Iranian military and defense attaches, are visits to the oblast's military-industrial complex. According to the daily, Kirov Governor Vladimir Sergeenkov favors promoting arms exports and using the revenues for dual-purpose high-technology production. JC

TATARSTAN'S PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT

In his annual address to the State Council on 11 March, Mintimer Shaimiev said his republic's primary objective in 1999 is to "overcome the consequences of the financial crisis in Russia," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the following day. Shaimiev said the current negotiations on prolonging the intergovernmental treaty between Tatarstan and Russian Federation, which expired last month, focus on defining future inter-budget relations between Russia's donor regions and the federal center. He confirmed that the republican government will continue to support and develop domestic industry by "bringing the system of financial institutions and the taxation system in the Tatarstan Republic into order." Shaimiev also advocated reprofiling former Russian defense industry plants in Tatarstan to produce consumer goods. LF

CONFUSION OVER BEREZOVSKII'S STATUS CONTINUES

Boris Berezovskii told Interfax on 11 March that reports he has resigned as CIS executive secretary are "a lie and a provocation." Earlier that day, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press quoted the Georgian presidential press service as stating that President Yeltsin had informed his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, the previous day that Berezovskii submitted his resignation on 9 March. Berezovskii said that he merely requested Yeltsin's permission to take vacation. He added that only the Council of CIS Heads of State , which appointed him as executive secretary, is empowered to remove him from that post. LF




AMENDMENTS TO ARMENIAN CONSTITUTION PROPOSED

Meeting on 10 March, the presidential Commission on Constitutional Reform proposed making it more difficult for the parliament to overturn a presidential veto on legislation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. The commission proposed that the parliament need a two-thirds majority--instead of the current simple majority--to override a presidential veto. It also proposed that the president be empowered to dissolve parliament only in the event of its "inactivity." The constitution currently enables the president to dissolve the legislature virtually at will, except during the first year of its tenure and his last six months in office. The commission moved to remove the latter constraint. Commission chairman and presidential adviser Paruyr Hayrikian was quoted as saying that the proposed changes give the parliament more powers and "create a real balance" between the executive and legislative branches. LF

ARMENIA DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN FORMER ENVOY'S TRIP TO BAKU

An Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 11 March that a planned visit to Baku by Jirair Libaridian, Armenia's former chief negotiator on Nagorno- Karabakh, was not endorsed by the Armenian leadership. "Libaridian is not authorized to speak on behalf of Armenia," the spokesman said. The Azerbaijani news agency Turan reported the previous day that Libaridian, who is a U.S. citizen, will arrive in Baku from Paris on 12 March as a "private guest" of President Heidar Aliev's chief foreign policy aide, Vafa Guluzade. The Azerbaijani agency quoted Guluzade as saying that Libaridian will be visiting Azerbaijan "on his own initiative" to "see Baku" and discuss the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Liparitian and Guluzade met face to face on several occasions in 1994-1996 in an attempt to find a solution to the Karabakh conflict. LF

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BACKS OSCE KARABAKH PEACE PLAN...

The European Parliament passed a resolution on 11 March endorsing the most recent Karabakh peace proposal by the OSCE Minsk Group, which it characterized as constituting a basis for discussion likely to end the negotiating deadlock. Noting that the October 1998 Azerbaijani presidential elections were "marked by fraud and irregularities that have been condemned by international observers" and that irregularities were also noted during the March 1998 Armenian presidential elections, the resolution proposes that EU aid to both countries be linked to "tangible progress in the areas of human rights and democracy." LF

...WHILE U.S. BACKS DIRECT TALKS BETWEEN ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN

In a 10 March message to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright underscored the intention of the U.S. to continue its efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict, adding that Washington "firmly backs" direct dialogue between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships, Turan and AFP reported. Albright also expressed satisfaction that Aliyev plans to attend the NATO summit next month. Aliyev will meet with U.S. leaders during his U.S. visit to discuss security issues in the Caucasus. LF

AZERBAIJANI OIL REACHES GEORGIAN BLACK SEA TERMINAL

The first Azerbaijani off-shore Caspian oil to be exported via the western export pipeline via Georgia reached Supsa on 11 March, three months after it was pumped into the pipeline at Baku, AP and Interfax reported. The 812 kilometer pipeline has a throughput capacity of 5 million metric tons annually. Caucasus Press on11 March quoted Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Chechelashvili as saying that disagreements over financing are delaying a decision on construction of the so-called Main Export Pipeline from Baku to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan. Chechelashvili added that the precise route of that pipeline through Georgia has not yet been decided and that it may run from Baku to Supsa and from there to Ceyhan. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMNET SPEAKER DENIES PLANNING ASSASSINATION

In a statement summarized on 11 March by Turan, Rasul Guliev rejects allegations by Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry that he enlisted the advice of a former CIA employee to plan the assassination of former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 8 March 1999). Guliev termed the charges part of "a series of threats and intimidation" directed against the Azerbaijani opposition as a whole. He added that he and Elchibey are "united in [their] refusal to recognize the results" of the 1998 presidential poll, in which incumbent Heidar Aliyev was re-elected for a second term. Guliev and Elchibey were among five prominent opposition leaders who boycotted the poll. LF

KYRGYZSTAN TO REINFORCE ITS SOUTHERN BORDERS

First Deputy Defense Minister Major-General Ismail Isakov announced on 11 March that Kyrgyzstan will send additional troops to its borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. Isakov said the situation there "compels us to come to grips with border reinforcement," but he did not elaborate. With regard to the recent decision to withdraw the Kyrgyz battalion from the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan, Isakov said it has "become economically difficult" to unilaterally maintain the unit along the Tajik-Afghan border. It is unclear whether the unit that guarded the Tajik-Afghan border will be sent to the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. BP

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN

Lawmakers met behind closed doors on 12 March to discuss claims that Uzbekistan has been advancing its borders into Kyrgyz territory, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Defense Minister General Myrzakan Subanov told the parliament that since 1996 Uzbekistan has built 27 new fortified border posts along the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Also, Uzbekistan has deployed a special unit to guard the Kempirabad reservoir, which straddles the countries' common border. Subanov added that Uzbekistan's national army has 130,000 troops, making it the largest army in CIS Central Asia. The parliament decided to appeal to President Askar Akayev to set up a special commission to investigate the issue. BP

AKAYEV COMMENTS ON GREAT SILK ROAD

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, in an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 March, wrote about the "diplomacy of the Silk Road," noting that international community supports the revival of the ancient route and that Kyrgyzstan lies at the center of it. But, he said, dynamic development is necessary but is impossible without friendly ties between the countries located on the route. His country foresees development in three directions--toward immediate neighbors, toward Europe, and toward East and Southeast Asia. He said the principles of cooperation and "equal partnership" with regard to the new Silk Road should be "mutual dependence, mutual advantage, and development of long-term perspectives." Akayev noted that at the end of the 20th century, "globalization" is an indisputable fact. No country, regardless of "military or economic power," can exist in isolation, he commented. BP

KYRGYZ NATIONAL CURRENCY LOSING VALUE...

Kyrgyzstan's national currency, the som, was trading on 11 March at 32.7 to $1, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. The som was exchanged at 30.5 to $1 at the start of March and has slowly decreased in value since then. BP

...WHILE GOLD PRODUCTION DWINDLING

Kyrgyzstan's biggest gold company, Kyrgyzaltyn, said gold production dropped in the first two months of 1999, Interfax reported on 11 March. The company noted an 8.3 percent drop, compared with the same period last year. The major reason is a decrease in production at the country's largest mining project, Kumtor. The Kumtor Gold Company, in which Canada's Cameco Corp. is a partner, reported a 9.4 percent decline in production in January-February. Kumtor produced 19.2 tons of gold in 1998, up 25 percent on the previous year. Kyrgyzaltyn reported it produced 21.311 tons of gold last year. BP

UZBEK TERRORISTS DETAINED IN KYRGYZSTAN?

ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March that up to 10 Uzbek citizens have been arrested on the outskirts of Bishkek on suspicion of involvement in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent. The 10 reportedly resisted arrest. The same source later reported that the officials in the Kyrgyz Security Ministry could not confirm the report. The spokesman for the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Joldoshbek Busurmankulov, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek that his ministry has no information on the arrests. BP

KAZAKH ENVIRONMENTALIST FAVORS CAVIAR OVER OIL

Ibragim Kushenov, the leader of Kazakhstan's Kaspi Tabigaty environmental organization, told a press conference in Almaty on 10 March that the extraction of oil from the Caspian Sea could cause an environmental disaster, Interfax reported. Kushenov said that under the Law on Specially Protected Territories, adopted in 1997, the northern section of the Caspian Sea and the Ural River have the status of nature preserve, which gives fishing priority over oil extraction. Kushenov pointed out that sturgeon live in the north part of the Caspian and that "1 ton of black caviar produced by the Atyraubalyk company costs an average of $1.2 million on the world market. 1 ton of oil costs only $60." BP

IRANIAN OFFICIAL CRITICIZES CASPIAN PIPELINE PROJECT

Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Ali Majedi was in Ashgabat on 11 March to attend the Oil and Gas Exhibit-1999, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking at the exhibit, Majedi said an Iranian pipeline route carrying Turkmen natural gas to Turkey would save $700 million, compared with the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline. The previous day, Majedi had said in Tehran that his country opposes Turkmenistan's plan to lay a natural gas pipeline across the bed of the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan. Majedi said "Iran has a common border with Turkmenistan--it is the best and cheapest route for Turkmen gas." Majedi criticized the decision to begin construction of the pipeline before the legal status of the Caspian has been defined. Majedi added that Turkmenistan's "ignoring of Tehran's rightful misgivings are unacceptable." BP

FOREIGN COMPANIES CUT PRODUCTION AT TURKMEN OIL FIELDS

According to London's International Oil Exchange, the U.S.'s Mobil, Britain's Monument Oil, and Ireland's Dragon Oil will cut the volume of work at Turkmen deposits by 50 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The reason for that move is reportedly the high cost of the extraction and transportation of the oil from the east coast of the Caspian Sea. The same agency cites London brokers as saying Mobil and Monument wantthe Turkmen government to change the terms of development at the Garashyzlyk field and offer a more advantageous tax regime. Dragon Oil also wants the terms revised for work at the Chelken field. BP




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST SAID TO HAVE BEEN TORTURED IN JAIL

Viktar Hanchar, head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, was released on 11 March after 10 days in prison, during which he kept up a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). His wife told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that her husband was tortured while in custody. She added that there is blood in his urine and he "can barely speak." On the sixth day of his hunger strike, Hanchar was tied up by jail authorities and forced to take 400 grams of glucose. When he was released, Hanchar was thrown out of a car into snow some 2 kilometers from where he lives and had to return home on foot. The authorities have charged him with "usurping official duties," an offense that can carry two years in prison or a penal labor colony. JM

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT AFFIRMS READINESS FOR 'DIALOGUE' WITH OPPOSITION

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that the Belarusian government "is ready for a dialogue with the opposition and interested international organizations," Belarusian Television reported on 11 March. The statement came as a response to an OSCE appeal to seek dialogue and abstain from confrontation in Belarus. The Foreign Ministry added that the dialogue should be continued on the basis of the "existing constitution," which stipulates that presidential elections in Belarus are to be held in 2001. The Belarusian opposition does not recognize that constitution, adopted in the 1996 controversial referendum, and has scheduled presidential elections for 16 May, in accordance with the constitution promulgated in 1994. JM

LUKASHENKA FIRES MAHILEU OBLAST GOVERNOR

"You are not a governor from this moment, good bye, you are free to go," Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Alyaksandr Kulichkou in a televised government meeting on 11 March. "We have nothing to talk about, you have betrayed my trust, you have disgraced me in my native Mahileu Oblast," Lukashenka added. The president has accused Kulichkou of tolerating economic offenses in his region. JM

POLL SHOWS 39 PERCENT 'CRYSTALLIZED' SUPPORT FOR LUKASHENKA

A poll taken in January and February by the Novak Sociological Laboratory shows President Lukashenka has 39 percent backing, while support for any of his political opponents does not exceed 3 percent. At the same time, 78 percent of respondents said that the economic situation worsened in January, compared with the previous month. Novak director Andrey Vardamatski commented that Belarus has a "crystallized electorate that will vote for Lukashenka as a person regardless of whatever takes place in the economy." JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES ELECTRICITY, GAS RATES

The National Commission for Electricity Regulation on 10 March ordered that beginning 1 April the prices of electricity and gas be increased by 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Trade Union Federation has said some 70 percent of the country's population will not be able to pay the new rates on a regular basis. Deputy Economy Minister Viktor Kalnyk predicted on 11 March that tariffs for utility payments--including rent, heat, and water supplies--will be increased by 25-30 percent. JM

ESTONIAN RIGHT-WING ALLIANCE TO NAME CABINET WITHIN WEEK

The Reform Party, the Fatherland Union, and the Moderates have begun official talks on forming a new government, ETA and BNS reported on 11 March. A spokesman for the Moderates said after the talks that the three parties hope to reach agreement on the distribution of portfolios next week. With regard to the possible inclusion of the Coalition Party in the alliance, the spokesman said that the three parties are agreed that their current parliamentary majority of 53 members is "too risky." The Coalition Party won seven seats in the 7 March elections. JC

LOSSES OF ESTONIAN BANKING SECTOR EXCEEDED $43 MILLION LAST YEAR

The total losses of the Estonian banking sector last year, excluding those banks that were closed down, exceeded 600 million kroons (some $43 million), ETA reported on 11 March, citing data released by Hansapank. Uhispank suffered the biggest loss, 383.4 million kroons (compared with a 211 million kroons profit in 1997) owing to the crisis on world financial markets and the collapse of the Russian economy. Optiva Pank, created as a result of the merger of Eesti Forekspank and Eesti Investeerimispank, registered unaudited losses totaling 255.9 million kroons, mainly owing to bad short- and long-term securities investments. JC

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS ALLOWING NON-CITIZENS TO FORM POLITICIAL PARTIES

Lawmakers on 11 March voted down a proposal by the For Human Rights in a United Latvia parliamentary group that would have allowed non-citizens who are permanent residents of the country to form political parties. The same day, Russian Foreign Minister Vladimir Rakhmanin positively evaluated the Latvian government's initiative to put the issue of the integration of society to a public debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 1999). "We hope that the Latvian government will implement in practice its readiness to launch a broad debate and will take into full consideration the opinions of all ethnic minorities residing in Latvia as well as basic pan-European standards," BNS quoted him as saying. JC

CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARY, POLAND TO BECOME NATO MEMBERS...

The foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland will hand U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright their countries' "protocols of accession" to NATO on 12 March. The joining ceremony will take place at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Once Albright accepts the protocols, the three countries are immediately considered official NATO members. Their air defense systems will be included into that of the alliance. Originally, it had been planned that the three would join NATO at the April summit in Washington celebrating the 50 anniversary of the alliance. But according to the U.S. State Department, all three countries pressed to join NATO before that summit in order to participate in it as full members. JM

...HAIL NATO ENTRY AS HISTORIC EVENT

"We will make sure that freedom and democracy become common values of all members of the community that is called NATO," Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek said in a nationwide address on Polish Television on 11 March. "I think we can now say that in the next years and decades Hungary will enjoy a level of security it has never enjoyed before," Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said before leaving to attend the ceremony in Independence. And Czech President Vaclav Havel on 12 March hailed the entry of his country into NATO as one of the most important moments in Czech history. JM

CZECH PREMIER FAVORS TEMELIN COMPLETION

Milos Zeman told journalists on 11 March that while he favors completing the construction of the controversial Temelin nuclear plant, the government as a whole will decide on the matter later this month. He noted that his vote in the cabinet "weighs the same as that of any other of its members." Zeman said a report recently submitted by a government commission on the completion of the plant does not present the cabinet with a recommendation "one way or the other" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). MS

FORMER SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER COMPLAINS OF POLICE BIAS

Gustav Krajci, who is under investigation for his role in hindering the 1997 referendum on accession to NATO and direct presidential elections, told journalists on 11 March that the police investigator examining his case is "biased," CTK reported. He also contested the investigation's legality on the grounds that the Constitutional Court has yet to rule on the validity of Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's decision to annul the amnesty granted to those involved in hindering the referendum by his predecessor, Vladimir Meciar. Former Slovak Counter-Intelligence chief Ivan Lexa complained that two policemen tried to seize his personal notebook in the parliament building, which he called a "clear case of power abuse." The parliament is to decide whether to strip Lexa of his immunity for his alleged involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son. MS

ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER IN HUNGARY, CZECH REPUBLIC

Massimo D'Alema told journalists in Budapest on 11 March that Italy is not preparing to tighten visa requirements for Hungarians. He said problems that resulted from changes to the Schengen agreement have been dealt with, and Hungarians will be able to enter Italy with their identity cards only once those cards conform with EU standards. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said both Rome and Budapest agree that NATO must maintain its "open-door" policy. Italy sees Slovenia and Romania as new member candidates, while Hungary argues in favor of Slovakia's admission. Also on 11 March, D'Alema and Czech Premier Milos Zeman discussed in Prague how to boost Italian investments in the Czech Republic as well as cooperation in fighting organized crime, corruption, and economic crime. MSZ/MS




RUSSIA'S IVANOV SIDES WITH BELGRADE ON NATO TROOPS IN KOSOVA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 11 March that any international military force in Kosova should first be approved by Belgrade, dpa reported. Ivanov, who was in Tirana for talks with government officials, made it clear that Moscow sees the political and military portions of the Rambouillet peace agreement as separate issues--as does Belgrade. "The political document should be signed," he said. "But the way the implementation of the agreement will be enforced is another problem." Ivanov met with Premier Pandeli Majko and his Albanian counterpart, Paskal Milo, as well as with President Rexhep Mejdani before leaving for Belgrade for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PB

UCK SEEMS AGREEABLE TO SIGNING ACCORD

The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) gave equivocal support to the Rambouillet peace agreement on 12 March, AP reported. In a statement released after a meeting of top UCK officials--including political leader Hashim Thaqi--in the Drenica region of Kosova, the UCK said the plan "was not the solution that we would want the most. But it does not close all doors to future roads." The statement went on to say that "the future of Kosova depends mostly on the [ethnic] Albanians themselves and their cooperation with the international community." Thaqi reportedly urged "all political forces" to accept the plan. The previous day, Kosovar journalist Veton Surroi, who was also a member of the Albanian side at Rambouillet, said "if we don't sign the agreement we will be isolated from the world and our future will resemble [that of] the Kurdish people." Kosova Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova stressed his support for the peace plan, saying "we'll go to Paris to sign because there is no more time to negotiate." PB

NATO SUPREME COMMANDER WARNS OF 'DEVASTATING STRIKES'

U.S. General Wesley Clark said on 12 March in London that NATO has a "vast air armada" ready to make a "devastating series of strikes" against Serbian targets, Reuters reported. Clark, who later flew to France for talks with government officials, said Yugoslav President Milosevic will not be allowed to "smash the civilian populace and their villages in Kosova." He said the NATO strikes will begin if Belgrade continues to block the peace accord. PB

UN REFUGEE AGENCY SAYS SOME 4,000 KOSOVARS MISSING

The UNHCR said on 12 March that up to 4,000 ethnic Albanians are unaccounted for after fleeing fighting near their villages in southern Kosova, Reuters reported. UNHCR spokeswoman Paula Ghedini said between 800 and 1,000 people from each of the villages of Ivaja, Straza, Ljoc, and Pustenik have fled but have not arrived in nearby towns. She said abandoned camp sites have been found, adding that she believes that the people are hiding in the forests from Serbian forces. Macedonian Radio reported on 11 March that 1,200 Kosovars fled to Macedonia in the past two days. The UN high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata, said in Washington that 30,000 people have been displaced in Kosova since the end of the Rambouillet peace talks. Meanwhile, fighting between Serbian security forces and the UCK erupted in southwestern Kosova after a respite of several months. Fierce fighting continued north of the capital, Prishtina, and in the south. PB

POPLASEN THREATENS VIOLENCE IF ATTEMPT IS MADE TO REMOVE HIM

The sacked president of Republika Srpska, Nikola Poplasen, vowed on 11 March to stay in office and threatened violence against Western officials if they press on with efforts to remove him, AP reported. Poplasen said, "We are ready with a different kind of defense if democratic principles are not applied.... [It] will include other arguments: sticks, stones, arms, and tanks." U.S. Balkan envoy Robert Gelbard said "unfortunately we have a very sad history with terrorists like Mr. Poplasen." Gelbard said Poplasen would be held "personally responsible" for any attacks on U.S. citizens. Simon Haselock, the spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the high representative for Bosnia, said "we consider [Poplasen] to be taking a little extra time to clear his desk, which is why he is still in office." Both Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik and Zivko Radisic, the Bosnian Serb chairman of Bosnia's presidency, condemned Poplasen's statements. PB

CROATIA TO RESTORE MEMORIAL AT CONCENTRATION CAMP

The Croatian government has said it will restore a memorial at Jasenovac, the country's infamous concentration camp where tens of thousands of people were killed during World War II, AP reported on 10 March. Premier Zlatko Matesa said during a visit to the site that the decision was "a policy of reconciliation." He said the events that took place at Jasenovac can "never be allowed to be repeated." The memorial was destroyed and the museum there looted by Serbs fleeing a Croat offensive in 1995. Jasenovac was one of 20 concentration camps run by the pro-Axis Ustasha regime during World War II. PB

ALBANIAN CENTRAL BANK TO TIGHTEN BANK REQUIREMENTS

The Central Bank said on 11 March that it will increase supervision over financial institutions in an effort to prevent a repeat of the fraudulent pyramid schemes that led the country into chaos in 1997, Reuters reported. The bank said that it will seek new legislation regulating financial operators and that the minimum starting capital for banks will be increased from $5 million to $7 million. Pension and investment funds will also be required to have larger starting capital. PB

BALKAN 'TROIKA' AGREE ON FREE TRADE ZONE

The presidents of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, meeting in Sinaia on 11 March, agreed that their countries will set up a free trade zone by 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. In a joint declaration released on 12 March, Emil Constantinescu, Petar Stoyanov and Suleyman Demirel called on Serbs and Albanians to stop fighting and reach a settlement. They said they support ending the conflict through an agreement, noting that NATO's enlargement to southeastern Europe could contribute to stability in the region. On 11 March, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, after meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, told journalists that an inter-Balkan conference on Kosova should be convened in Bucharest or Skopje before the next round of Kosova peace talks begins on 15 March in France. Romanian Radio on 12 March quoted Plesu as saying that Belgrade has "reservations" about a Bucharest conference. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON NATO TO CONTINUE EXPANSION

In a resolution passed ahead of the NATO April Washington summit, the two chambers of the Romanian parliament on 11 March called on their parliamentary colleagues from NATO countries to support the continued enlargement of NATO. In other news, the Romanian government and France's Renault have signed a preliminary agreement for the sale of the Dacia car maker to the French company, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 11 March. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN VOTES CONFIDENCE IN STURDZA CABINET

The parliament on 12 March voted confidence in Ion Sturdza's cabinet, but the 52 majority was obtained through the absentee ballot of deputy Ilie Ilascu, who is imprisoned in Tiraspol, Romanian Radio reported. Observers say this may lead to a challenge over the legality of the vote in the Constitutional Court. The nine deputies representing the Christian Democratic Popular Front again boycotted the vote, their demand for four ministers having been rejected in the negotiations the previous day within the Alliance for Democracy and Reform parliamentary majority. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT QUALIFIES KOSTOV'S REMARKS

Petar Stoyanov on 11 March said that one "must not conclude from the [1 March] interview of Premier Ivan Kostov that Bulgaria is reconsidering its strategy for integration into the EU or that poverty in Bulgaria is caused by a lack of sympathy from the rich West," Reuters reported. Stoyanov added that responsibility for Bulgaria's poverty rests with "the Communist Party, which brought us to this plight." Reuters said the statement is a move to ease tensions between Sofia and the EU sparked by Kostov's sharp criticism of the union in an interview with the agency at the beginning of this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO MEMBERSHIP

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told a NATO-sponsored seminar in Borovets on 11 March that her country deserves NATO membership because of its cooperation with the alliance over Kosova and its need for protection against threats posed by the conflict in that region, Reuters reported. Mihailova said the Kosova conflict threatens to spill over to other parts of the region. She added that Bulgaria also faces an influx of refugees and increased organized crime and arms trafficking. MS




UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENT MEDIA SUFFER MORE WOES


By Lily Hyde

Ukraine's non-government media have suffered a series of recent setbacks that have further reduced the dwindling number of independent media outlets in the country.

Late last month, the trouble-plagued opposition daily "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication after it ran out of money. Another opposition newspaper, "Polityka," announced that the state printing press was refusing to publish it, despite a court ruling in the newspaper's favor. And the state broadcasting company temporarily silenced a private TV channel, while another private TV channel claims it is being harassed and intimidated.

These four cases are the latest chapters in a saga of political and financial problems encountered by independent media in Ukraine.

'KIEVSKIE VEDOMOSTI': According to Dmytro Chekalkin, president of the broadcasting arm of the Kievskie Vedomosti media company, the newspaper does not have the financial resources to continue publishing. The newspaper's deputy editor-in-chief, Irina Titova, said staff wages have not been paid for the last four months of publication and working conditions have become intolerable, as staff have access only to three phone lines, four computers, and no news wire service or Internet access.

"Kievskie Vedomosti" has been dogged by previous misfortunes, most of which it claims were due to political persecution for its oppositionist editorial content. Chekalkin said a general decline in advertising and unfair competition were major factors in the newspaper's demise. Other Ukrainian newspapers, he noted, are subsidized by companies close to the presidential administration and the current government and sell for only 5 or 6 kopecks (less than 2 U.S. cents) per issue.

Titova said the editorial staff decided to suspend publication in an attempt to attract attention to the newspaper's plight. She said the newspaper wants its shareholders to pay attention to its problems. The newspaper's major shareholders are the Ukrainian companies Dendi, Dovira, Ukrrichflot, and Pryvatbank.

'POLITYKA': The same week that "Kievskie Vedomosti" stopped publishing, "Polityka" announced that the printing house Pressa Ukrainy was refusing to resume printing the Kyiv-based weekly.

Last November, the state printing house received a Pechersk district court order banning it from printing "Polityka." A Kyiv city court decision early last month reversed that ruling.

Editor-in-chief Oleh Lyashko said the newspaper has paid Pressa Ukrainy an advance of 28,000 hryvna (about $7,200) and provided it with 25 tons of paper. Lyashko said repeated letters and visits failed to extract any explanation from Pressa Ukrainy: "From February 8 we have all legal right to put out the newspaper, but unfortunately to date the newspaper hasn't been issued [by Pressa Ukrainy]. Why? Because Pressa Ukrainy, with which we have worked for three years, now refuses to renew the contract with the newspaper for 1999 and has given absolutely no explanation for that refusal."

While Lyashko believes the presidential administration is behind the move, an unnamed Pressa Ukrainy spokesman said the company's decision was motivated by the newspaper's financial unreliability. Last year, the spokesman said "Polityka" twice broke its contract by stopping publication.

In the meantime,. "Polityka" is due to restart publication this week under a new agreement reached with another publishing house.

NART: On the same day that "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication, the private TV channel National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NART) was taken off the air because--its owners claim--of its independent political stance. Volodymyr Tsendrovskyy, president of the Ukrainian TV Union and a founder of NART, predicted that this will be only the first in a chain of private channels to be taken off the air. He called it a "rehearsal for political censorship and economic dictatorship in the Ukrainian TV market."

Tsendrovskyy admitted that NART owes 160,000 hryvna (about 41,000 dollars) to the Ukrainian Radio and Television Broadcasting concern, the state company that controls Ukraine's airwaves. But he argued that the figure is insignificant compared with the debts of many other broadcasting companies, such as the state-run Television and radio channels, which he said owe the state broadcasters 62 million hryvna.

NART resumed broadcasting on 23 February after reaching an agreement on paying off its debt. But NART officials still maintain they are victims of political harassment since no other broadcasters owing debts have been taken off the air, even temporarily.

STB: The private television network STB issued a statement last week to President Leonid Kuchma, saying its executives have been attacked or threatened and requesting the government to increase protection.

An STB official said in the most recent incident, armed attackers broke into the Kyiv apartment of STB's commercial director and forced the man and his pregnant wife to the floor at gunpoint. In searching the apartment, the gunmen ignored money and valuables, apparently looking for documents. Several days earlier, the station official said, an STB cameraman was robbed of his camera and cassettes by unidentified attackers.

The official says harassment intensified after the network broadcast investigative reports about illegal deals in Ukraine's lucrative industries that allegedly involve powerful business groups close to the government. The author is Kyiv-based contributor to RFE/RL.


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