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Newsline - March 18, 1999




YELTSIN, PRIMAKOV MEET EMBATTLED PROSECUTOR-GENERAL...

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov met privately with Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov on 18 March, after slamming the Federation Council's decision the previous day to reject Skuratov's resignation. According to the Kremlin press service, "the fight against crime can be conducted only by morally unstained people." Just hours after the Federation Council decision, Russian Television showed footage of a man looking a lot like Skuratov, who is married and the father of two children, dallying with two prostitutes. Before his meeting with Yeltsin and Primakov, Skuratov told NTV that the film was used to blackmail him to drop a case concerning a Swiss firm. Yeltsin ordered a probe into the film itself, ordering the Security Council to conduct a thorough check of information smearing the honor and dignity of an official of the Prosecutor-General's Office, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

...WHILE DANGLING POSSIBILITY OF DISMISSING HIM AGAIN

Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said on 17 March that President Yeltsin may ask the Federation Council to relieve Skuratov of his duties once again, while first deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev told Russian Television that Skuratov has become a tool in a political struggle and that a prosecutor-turned-political figure in the hands of extremists is "explosive" in any state (see also "End Note" below). JAC

RUSSIA HAILS PROGRESS WITH IMF

Evaluating the past week's negotiations with the IMF, the Ministry of Economics issued a statement noting that "considerable progress has been made in coordinating the parameters of the Russian government's economic policy." Remaining differences will be settled before Prime Minister Primakov's visit to Washington next week, according to the ministry. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, who was in Asia for most of the time that the IMF mission was in Moscow, told reporters on 18 March that he will meet with the IMF mission on 19 March. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 March that according to its sources, the main sticking points between the fund and the Russian government's remain the latter's desire to cut value- added tax and its reluctance to increase energy export duties. JAC

RUSSIA TO COOPERATE WITH OPEC?

ITAR-TASS on 17 March quoted Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov as saying Russia will join OPEC oil producers in voluntarily cutting its oil exports in order to boost prices. But "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that the ministry is ready to cut oil production but not oil exports. Generalov told the Federation Council the previous day that Russia has lost $6.2 billion because of the drop in the world market price for oil during 1998. LUKoil Chairman Vagit Alekperov said the same day that Russian producers have already cut back their output enough in recent years and cannot afford further cuts. JAC

RUSSIA REAFFIRMING COMMITMENT TO IRAN?

After suggesting in an interview with "The New York Times" that Russia is willing to suspend all nuclear cooperation with Iran in exchange for the U.S.'s lifting sanctions against two Russian nuclear research facilities, Atomic Energy Industry Minister Yevgenii Adamov told reporters on 17 March that not only will Russia honor its commitments to Iran with regard to its nuclear energy programs; it will also expand its activities there. The next day, "Izvestiya" attributed Adamov's revelations to the New York daily to the odd phenomenon of Russian officials' "keeping their mouths shut in the presence of their compatriots but embarking on unthinkable revelations when they meet a foreigner." Head of the Russian Chemical- Technological University told "Izvestiya" that he is shocked by the minister's contention that his institute is supplying Iran with information on heavy water technology, saying "it is a mystery where the minister got his information." JAC

RUSSIA, NORTH KOREA INITIAL TREATY

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin and his North Korean counterpart, Ri In Gyu, initialed a new cooperation agreement in Pyongyang on 17 March, according to Interfax and the South Korean news agency Yonhap. Few details of the treaty have been made public, but Karasin called it "an absolutely normal agreement that complies with international law and is not directed against any third countries." The formal agreement, which replaces the one signed in 1961, is expected to be signed when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visits North Korea later this year. BP

THREE LAWS SAIL PAST UPPER LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER...

The Federation Council on 17 March passed the law on gas supply and a controversial law on morality in the media. President Yeltsin has already pledged to veto the media law. The Federation Council also passed legislation reducing VAT to 15 percent effective 1 July. The Duma passed the bill five days earlier, ignoring a request by Prime Minister Primakov to delay action on the bill until after negotiations with the IMF, which opposes the measures, have been completed. Tax Minister Georgii Boos told members of the Federation Council's budget committee that the government may submit a draft law to the Duma postponing the lowering of VAT to 1 October or 1 January if the issue becomes a "stumbling block" with the IMF. JAC

...AND ONE PUSHED THROUGH DUMA

The same day, the State Duma passed the law on financing the Strategic Nuclear Forces through 2010 in its first reading by a vote of 376 to zero and one abstention. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich said earlier that passage of this law is critical to the successful ratification of the START-II treaty. According to ITAR-TASS, the legislation clarifies certain aspects of the drafting and implementation of the law on the federal budget where the latter concerns financing of the country's strategic nuclear forces. It also addresses ratification issues of international treaties pertaining to those forces. JAC

PRESIDENT VETOES LAW ON FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

President Yeltsin on 17 March vetoed the law amending Article 7 of the Russian Federation law on rights of citizens to free movement and choice of place of residence. Yeltsin objected to the law in its present form because of a provision that made conducting the military draft impossible since registration of residents would be canceled, "Novosti" reported. JAC

YELTSIN PROPOSES FILLING COURT VACANCY

President Yeltsin has nominated Mikhail Mityukov, presidential representative to the Constitutional Court, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Vladimir Oleinik last month, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March. Mityukov's nomination must be approved by the Federation Council. JAC

CHUBAIS TRIES TO PUT LIKE-MINDED ON UES BOARD

United Energy System (EES) Chairman and former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has nominated former acting Premier Yegor Gaidar, former Premier Sergei Kirienko, former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and former head of the Federal Tax Service Boris Fedorov as candidates for the EES board of directors, Ekho Moskvy reported on 17 March. Kirienko has already turned down the offer, according to Chubais. Duma Chairman Seleznev said that the Duma will make its own recommendations for board members, noting that the nominees, who are members of the Right Cause party, do not have a strong background in power engineering. JAC

YELTSIN SET TO LEAVE HOSPITAL

Presidential spokesman Yakushkin told reporters that President Yeltsin will be released from the Central Clinical Hospital on 18 March. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told reporters two days earlier that the Duma will invite Yeltsin to participate in the debate on his impeachment scheduled for 15 April. JAC

HARD TIMES FOR OLDEST PROFESSION

Moscow police officer Viktor Egorin told reporters on 17 March that a night with one of the more desirable prostitutes in Moscow would have cost between $100-$200 before the devaluation of the ruble, but now prices have been cut in half, AFP reported. Part of the problem might be increased supply. According to Moscow Interior Board figures, police arrested 12.7 percent more women on suspicion of prostitution during the first two months of 1999 than during the same period the previous year, AP reported. JAC

'BARBER OF SIBERIA' DRAWING CROWDS

The new film by director Nikita Mikhalkov, the man who would not be Russian president, is attracting record audiences since it opened three-and-a- half weeks ago, Interfax reported on 17 March. According to Mikhalkov, the film, which cost $45 million, has already made $500,000. In other film news, Vissarion Dzhugashvili, the great grandson of Soviet ruler Josef Stalin plans to make a movie about his grand-father, Stalin's son, Iakov, AFP reported. Iakov was shot by the Germans during World War II after Stalin refused to hand over captured German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus in exchange for his son, saying that he refused to exchange an ordinary soldier for a field marshal. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN ELECTS NEW PARLIAMENT

More than 60 percent of Bashkortostan's estimated 2.85 million voters cast their ballots on 14 March in the parliamentary and local elections, Russian media reported. A total of 144 candidates were elected to the lower and 30 to the upper house of the parliament; of those, 83 and 14, respectively, had been members of the previous parliament. Not a single Communist Party candidate was elected to either chamber. But that does not reflect an absence of widespread dissatisfaction with social conditions: "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 March that in 10 constituencies in Ufa the number of votes cast against all candidates for the local council was larger than the combined total of votes for any given candidate. The poll in those districts was therefore declared invalid. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT RESHUFFLES SECURITY AGENCIES

At a cabinet meeting on 18 March, Aslan Maskhadov formally accepted the resignations of Shariah Security Minister Aslanbek Arsanov and Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Maskhadov then confirmed Atgeriev's appointment as head of the newly created Ministry of State Security, which incorporates all previously existing bodies responsible for state security. Maskhadov announced that he will personally take charge of Chechnya's law enforcement agencies. The previous day, Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov had criticized Moscow for its refusal to cooperate by sharing information on the ongoing investigation into the 5 March abduction in Grozny of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun, according to Interfax. Magomadov expressed surprise at Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin's statement that his ministry is aware of both Shpigun's whereabouts and the identity of his kidnappers. LF

RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ADVOCATES QUADRILATERAL COOPERATION

Speaking in Tbilisi on 17 March, Stepashin said that "the time is ripe" for cooperation between his ministry and its Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani equivalents to stabilize the situation in the Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin denied media reports that former Georgian security service chief Igor Giorgadze visited Moscow in February as part of a Syrian government delegation. Giorgadze, whom the Georgian authorities accuse of masterminding the assassination attempt on Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, is reported to be in hiding in Syria. In an interview with "Krasnaya zvezda" the same day, Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov advocated imposing emergency rule in the North Caucasus republics that border on Chechnya. Abdulatipov said the situation in most of those republics "is getting out of control." LF




EX-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN ARMENIA FAIL TO FORM ELECTION ALLIANCE

Vazgen Manukian, chairman of the center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM), said in Yerevan on 17 March that former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian has declined Manukian's proposal to form an alliance to contend the 30 May parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian's center-left People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) and the AZhM are among five parties that observers believe have the greatest chance of surmounting the 5 percent barrier to parliamentary representation under the proportional system. Demirchian and Manukian were among the 12 candidates in the March 1998 presidential poll. Manukian polled third place in the first round, and Demirchian lost to acting president Robert Kocharian in the runoff. Manukian on 17 March also ruled out an electoral alliance with Paruyr Hairikian's Self- Determination Union. Hairikian withdrew his candidacy in the 1996 presidential election in favor of Manukian. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS AGAINST 'PRESSURE'

Khosrov Harutunian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 17 March that he will not tolerate "public pressure" on the parliament to adopt in the second reading an opposition-sponsored bill lowering energy prices. Hundreds of opposition supporters picketed the parliament building on 15 March when the bill underwent its first reading. LF

AZERBAIJANI OIL CONSORTIUM PLANS TO DOUBLE OUTPUT

In a press release issued in Baku on 17 March, David Woodward, president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the only international consortium at present extracting off-shore Caspian oil, said the consortium plans to double output in 1999 to 5.2 million metric tons, Turan and Dow Jones Newswires reported. Woodward noted that the two existing export pipelines from Baku via Russia and Georgia have a combined throughput capacity of 10 million tons. The Main Export Pipeline, the optimum route for which he said the AIOC has not yet decided, will be economically viable only when other consortia or other countries (such as Kazakhstan), begin to export oil. That is unlikely to happen before 2003, Woodward predicted. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA DISCUSS DEFENSE COOPERATION

Proceeding on the assumption that the Baku-Ceyhan route will ultimately be chosen for the Main Export Pipeline, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev and Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze discussed in Tbilisi on 17 March creating a legal basis for cooperation between their two countries on protecting oil and gas export pipelines, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 17 March, Abiev said that the Russian military bases in Georgia pose a threat to Azerbaijan, according to Interfax. He also expressed displeasure that a Russian army facility in Tbilisi is engaged in repairing tanks for the Armenian army. Abiev has held talks with his Georgian counterpart, David Tevzadze, and with Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania. LF

FOUR SUSPECTS IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS ARRESTED IN UKRAINE

Ukrainian police have arrested four Uzbek nationals suspected of involvement in the Tashkent bombings last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February, 1999), Interfax reported. The four were apprehended in Kyiv. In a 16 March statement, Amnesty International names two of the detainees as Yusif Ruzimuradov and Muhammed Bekjon, both members of Uzbekistan's banned Erk Party. Bekjon is the brother of Mohammed Solih, whom Uzbek President Islam Karimov has named as an organizer of the bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). BP

KAZAKHSTAN NOT TO WITHDRAW BATTALION FROM TAJIKISTAN

Kazakhstan's border guard chief, Major-General Toktasyn Buzubayev, said at a press conference in Almaty on 17 March that his country will not withdraw its battalion from Tajikistan, Interfax reported. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have withdrawn their troops from the CIS peacekeeping force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998 and 23 February 1999), leaving only battalions from Tajikistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan guarding the Tajik-Afghan border. Interfax also reported that the size of Kazakhstan's battalion in Tajikistan has been reduced from 500 to 300 men. BP

NEW CHAIRMAN APPOINTED TO KAZAKHSTAN'S SUPREME COURT COUNCIL

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has appointed Igor Rogov as chairman of the Supreme Court Council, ITAR- TASS reported on 18 March. Nazarbayev had held that post for three years, but a constitutional amendment adopted last year forbids the president from holding this post. BP

TURKMENISTAN TO INTRODUCE VISA REGIME FOR MOST CIS CITIZENS

Turkmenistan is to require citizens of most CIS states to obtain a visa before visiting that country, Interfax reported on 17 March. Turkmenistan is the first country to announce it is withdrawing from the CIS Free Travel Agreement. A "source" told Interfax that one reason for the decision is that "mass migration and other travel are becoming increasingly uncontrollable." Another reason, according to the same source, is that Turkmenistan has become a haven for those wanted for crimes elsewhere in the CIS. Citizens from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are exempt from the new requirement, which is expected to go into effect beginning 9 June. BP

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES UZBEK GAS SUPPLIES

Lawmakers on 17 March discussed purchasing natural gas from Uzbekistan, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Sagyn Ainakulov, the director of the state gas company, Kyrgyzgaz, said that as of 1 March Kyrgyzstan owes Uzbekistan more than $6 million for gas supplies. Several deputies said they have reviewed the contracts with Uzbekistan for gas supplies and have objections to its terms. They noted that Kyrgyzstan pays $50 per 1,000 cubic meters and has resorted to settling its debt through shipments of flour. That flour sells for $220 per ton, but the deputies claimed that the world price for 1,000 cubic meters of gas is $38 and for 1 ton of flour $320. They argued that the government and state gas company are criminally negligent for agreeing to such conditions. BP

MORE TAJIK OPPOSITION MEMBERS RECEIVE GOVERNMENT POSTS

Another five members of the United Tajik Opposition have been given government positions in line with terms of the Tajik Peace Accord signed in June 1997, ITAR-TASS and AP reported on 17 March. Abdunabi Sattarov from the democratic wing of the UTO was appointed deputy premier. The other posts given to the UTO are the deputy heads of the Health Ministry, the State Statistical Board, and the Special Property Committee as well as the head of the Geological Board. However, no decision has been taken on the UTO nominations for defense minister and head of the State Committee for Industry. BP




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REINTRODUCES BAN ON UTILITIES PRICE HIKES

A week after Ukraine's Constitutional Court revoked a parliamentary ban on price increases for utilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1999), the Communist-dominated Supreme Council on 17 March voted by 232 to 18 to reinstate the ban as an amendment to the law on prices and pricing. The amendment obliges the cabinet to seek the parliament's approval to raise the prices of water, heating, and electricity supplies. It also prohibits the cabinet from seeking such price hikes before all wage and pension arrears have been paid. Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy said the ban is "politically motivated. We need a pragmatic approach-- everything that is consumed must have an appropriate price," Ukrainian Television quoted him as saying. JM

UKRAINE'S INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT FALLS, UNEMPLOYMENT GROWS

The State Statistics Committee has reported that Ukraine's industrial output fell by 2.1 percent in the first two months of 1999, compared with last year. Ukraine's GDP decreased by 4.2 percent over the same period, while the official unemployment rate increased to 4 percent. Currently, there are 1.12 million people officially registered as jobless, but the actual figure is believed to be much higher. According to AP, many Ukrainians either do not formally register as jobless or are forced by their companies to take unpaid vacations. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE ARREST SEX TRADE GANG

Police in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea, have arrested two men and a woman suspected of selling some 200 females aged 13 to 25 years to individuals engaged in illegal sex business abroad, UNIAN reported on 17 March. The three allegedly received $2,000 for each woman sent to night clubs in Turkey, Greece, or Cyprus, where the women were subsequently forced to become prostitutes. The International Organization for Migration estimated last year that more than 1 million Ukrainian women seeking work abroad are in danger of becoming ensnared in the illegal sex business. JM

GAZPROM RESUMES FULL GAS DELIVERIES TO BELARUS

Gazprom on 15 March resumed gas deliveries to Belarus totaling 44 million cubic meters a day, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March. The Russian gas company reduced its supplies to 32 million cubic meters a day at the end of February to pressure Belarus into paying its $250 million gas debt to Russia and concluding an agreement on this year's gas supplies. Belarus insists that the price of Russian gas should be $35 per 1,000 cubic meters (the current price on the Russian market), instead of $50 (last year's price). The resumption of the full supplies followed Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev's visit to Minsk last week. There have been no official comments on the results of that visit. JM

LUKASHENKA DECREES 'STRICT RULES' FOR BUSINESSES IN BELARUS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 16 March signed a decree on "regulating the state registration and liquidation of economic entities" in Belarus. According to Belarusian Television, the decree establishes "strict rules of behavior in the domestic economy," including legal responsibility for businesses that "have done harm to state and public interests." Uladzimir Karahin, head of an organization representing Belarusian private entrepreneurs, predicted that the decree would entail a "colossal change in ownership" in Belarus. Many businessmen will find themselves on a "black list" of those prohibited from setting up new businesses for several years because of failing to comply with the decree. JM

OSCE PROPOSES NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN LUKASHENKA, OPPOSITION

Referring to an unidentified source in the presidential administration, the 17 March "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported that OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck has proposed a meeting between President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and four opposition figures to discuss a "new constitutional consensus" in Belarus. According to Wieck's plan, the opposition should be represented at the meeting by Syamyon Sharetski, head of the Supreme Soviet, Viktar Hanchar, head of the Central Electoral Commission, and Zyanon Paznyak and Mikhail Chyhir, candidates in the presidential elections scheduled by the opposition for 16 May. JM

ESTONIAN RIGHT-WING PARTIES SIGN COALITION AGREEMENT...

The Reform Party, the Moderates, and the Fatherland Union on 17 March signed a coalition agreement naming Mart Laar, chairman of the Fatherland Union, as their candidate for prime minister. The three parties pledge to continue pursuing the country's foreign-policy goals of admission to the EU and NATO as well as a "stable and reliable" monetary policy, ETA reported. Beginning in January 2000, the 26 percent corporate tax will be abolished--a major provision of the Reform Party's platform. Another goal of the alliance is to gradually increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP. The three right-wing parties have a combined total of 53 seats in the 101-strong parliament. JC

...WHILE COALITION PARTY GOES INTO OPPOSITION

Also on 17 March, the former ruling Coalition Party announced that it will go into "constructive opposition" with the Center Party, the Country People's Party, and the United People's Party, ETA reported. Earlier, some members of the right-wing alliance had hinted of the possible inclusion of the Coalition Party in the ruling coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1999). JC

LATVIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR TACKLING UNEMPLOYMENT

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the Free Trade Unions association, Vilis Kristopans said that unemployment has reached a level where it is necessary to seriously tackle the problem, BNS and LETA reported. Stressing that there is no reason to "panic," he said that he will declare war on the "black" labor market, vowing to find out how many registered unemployed have unofficial jobs. On 16 March, the Central Statistics Office revealed that unemployment in Latvia has reached 10 percent, up from 9.7 percent at the beginning of the month. JC

EUROSKEPTICS GROWING IN NUMBER IN LATVIA

According to a poll conducted by the SKDS polling company and the European Integration Office last month, 36.6 percent of Latvians are in favor of the EU membership, down some 10 percent compared with last November, BNS and LETA reported on 17 March. Some 30.4 percent are opposed to EU membership and 33 percent undecided (compared with 26.8 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively, in November 1998). Fifty-four percent said they had a positive attitude in general toward the EU, compared with 63.5 percent three months earlier. JC

LITHUANIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ABOUT WTO MEMBERSHIP

Gediminas Vagnorius, wrapping up a three-day visit to the U.S., said that he believes Lithuania will complete negotiations for membership in the World Trade Organization by the end of this year. He was speaking after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky in Washington on 17 March. The U.S. is leading the WTO accession negotiations with Lithuania. In an interview with RFE/RL, Vagnorius said a "major but unrecognized problem" has been the incompatibility of membership requirements for the EU and the WTO. He said that he and Barshefsky discussed "compromises that would "balance" the requirements of the two organizations. JC

BALCEROWICZ SURVIVES VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE

The Polish parliament on 18 March voted by 228 to 180 with four abstentions to defeat the no confidence motion in Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz. Balcerowicz was supported by deputies from the Solidarity bloc and his own party, the Freedom Union. The opposition Peasant Party proposed the motion. That group blames Balcerowicz's policy of lowering the budget deficit for a rise in unemployment and the impoverishment of many social groups. Peasant Party leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski told the parliament the previous day that the no confidence motion reflects the opinions of millions of ordinary Poles. "We must not allow Poland to be pushed toward the policy of printing money to pay for welfare," Balcerowicz commented before the vote. JM

CHILE PRESIDENT WARNS PRAGUE NOT TO INTERFERE IN PINOCHET AFFAIR

Eduardo Frei said in Prague on 17 March after meeting with President Vaclav Havel that "foreign legal systems" have no right to interfere in the case of former dictator Augusto Pinochet and that "what happened in Chile must be dealt with by a Chilean court," CTK reported. Frei said that his country underwent a transition from dictatorship to a democratic system but claims no right to "evaluate how this transition proceeded in Czechoslovakia and how it is now proceeding in the Czech Republic." Foreign Minister Jan Kavan the same day dissociated himself from the praise for Pinochet voiced by opposition Civic Democratic Party Senator Vaclav Benda at a meeting with Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza. Benda said Chile's current stability and prosperity proves Pinochet's methods "were justified." and that he "saved Chile from terror and communist dictatorship." MS

CZECH ARMY TO GET NEW FIGHTER PLANE BY END OF 1999

The Czech air force will "probably" get the first five of its new L-159 fighter combat planes in December 1999, Adam Stranak, director of the Aero Vodochody company, which produces the plane, told chief of staff General Jiri Sedivy on 17 March. The air force has ordered 72 L-159s, CTK reported. Stranak said that his company "has been contacted" by several NATO states showing an interest in the purchase of the L-159, adding that NATO countries could start using the fighter in 2007. Sedivy confirmed that he "has often discussed the project during his trips abroad." But the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 18 March writes that Czech pilots will not be able to "effectively use" the L-159 because the Defense Ministry has failed to order special simulators necessary for pilots to familiarize themselves with the new aircraft. MS

HUNGARIAN MINISTER DENIES SLOVAK INVOLVEMENT IN BUDAPEST BOMBINGS

Secret Services Minister Laszlo Kover told journalists on 17 March that the Hungarian national security authorities have found no evidence that the Slovak secret services had anything to do with a series of bombings in Budapest in 1997-1998. Kover confirmed that the Slovak operation "Omega" was designed to slow down Hungary's Euro- Atlantic integration but denied reports that the Slovak secret services were successful in harming Hungary's national interests. Meanwhile, national police spokesman Laszlo Garamvolgyi said on 17 March that no laws were broken during the neo-Nazi Hungarian Welfare Federation's 15 March demonstration in Budapest. He said video recordings of the event were sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office for further investigations. Gusztav Zoltai, executive chairman of the Hungarian Federation of Jewish Communities called the statement "strange," saying that remarks made at the demonstration constituted "openly racist incitement." MSZ




RUGOVA SAYS TALKS 'OVER' FOR KOSOVARS

Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 17 March in a telephone interview from Paris that the conference on the political future of Kosova "ended successfully" for the Kosovars when they agreed to sign the Rambouillet agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). He stressed that the outcome of the meeting now depends on the international mediators. Rugova added that he is confident that the international community and NATO are serious about their possible intervention against Serbia. He noted that the Kosovar delegation's top priority is to "end the massacres in Kosova as quickly as possible." In Prishtina, his Democratic League of Kosova issued an appeal to NATO to intervene to prevent further attacks by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanian civilians. PM

CONFERENCE TO END SOON?

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, will meet in Paris on the evening of 18 March to decide whether to continue the conference. Kosovar delegation member Veton Surroi said that he and his colleagues are ready to sign the Rambouillet accord and "pack our bags and go home." U.S. envoy Chris Hill told reporters that the Kosovars have done all that mediators could expect of them. He added that Serbian representatives remain intransigent and that he sees little hope for a breakthrough. Russian negotiator Boris Mayorskii, however, said that hope for progress remains as long as the talks continue. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on 18 March that "we appeal to Belgrade to sign" the Rambouillet accord, Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN BUILDUP CONTINUES

Surroi also said in Paris on 18 March that "the Serbs...have not participated in negotiations here but, as we have seen with the troop [increase] in Kosova, they are 'negotiating' on the ground and [in effect] saying 'no, we don't want to [talk], we actually want to resolve this by war,'" Reuters reported. The London "Independent" quoted NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark as saying in Washington that Serbian forces are preparing to "resume the conflict on a very large scale." Unnamed Western officials in Prishtina told the "International Herald Tribune" that the Serbian forces' goal is to secure the rail line running through Kosova to the Macedonian border. One official added that the Serbs "may also be testing the threshold of Western tolerance for their actions." PM

ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SERBS 'PREPARING NEW MASSACRE'

Paskal Milo, speaking to Albanian Television on 17 March in Paris, said the recent concentration of Serbian security forces within Kosova means that Belgrade is preparing for a military offensive against the ethnic Albanian civilian population. Milo stressed that "there are clear signs that they are preparing for a new large-scale massacre." He appealed to "the international community, the Contact Group countries, [and] NATO... to take urgent measures to prevent the Serbian authorities from repeating their previous massacres," dpa reported. FS

ALBRIGHT INVITES KOSOVARS TO WASHINGTON

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has invited Hashim Thaci and other members of the Kosovar delegation to the Paris talks to discuss their political goals with her in Washington, AP reported on 18 March. Thaci and his colleagues have accepted. State Department spokesman James Foley told reporters that "we want to develop a good relationship with [the Kosovar leaders] as they transform themselves into a politically- oriented organization" in a peace-time environment. PM

COVER-UP OF RECAK MASSACRE?

"A row has erupted over the long- awaited report of a Finnish [team of pathologists'] investigation into the killing of more than 40 ethnic Albanians" in the Kosovar village of Recak in January," London's "Daily Telegraph" reported on 18 March. The newspaper added that "Helena Ranta, head of the Finnish team, refused to label the killings a 'massacre,' saying that such a conclusion lay outside her competence. But she later admitted that the killings had been 'a crime against humanity.'" She also refused to say who she believes shot the civilians. The "International Herald Tribune" wrote that unnamed EU officials "had asked the forensic team to withhold from the press and public some of its most potentially inflammatory findings." The daily noted that unnamed officials of Germany, which holds the rotating EU chair, "ordered the Finnish team not to release a summary of its investigation, which includes details about how some of the victims appeared to have died." PM

SERBIA BANS KOSOVAR DAILY

Serbian police on 17 March confiscated from kiosks in Prishtina and other towns copies of the mass-circulation daily "Kosova Sot." The action followed a Prishtina district court decision to "ban" the paper and fine it some $150,000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 March 1999). The staff of "Kosova Sot" said in a statement that they intend to ignore the ban and continue to publish. PM

BELGRADE COURT RAPS MONTENEGRO

Meeting in Belgrade on 17 March, the federal Constitutional Court called "unconstitutional" a recent resolution of the Montenegrin parliament stating that Montenegrin conscripts are not obliged to serve in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ALBANIAN POLICE BREAK UP BIG COFFEE SMUGGLING NETWORK

Albanian police have arrested 12 suspects in a major coffee- smuggling ring, including seven customs officers and three policemen, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 18 March. Police seized more than 270 tons of coffee with a market value of $900,000 in a warehouse in the village of Sauk, near Tirana. Among those arrested was Janaq Murati, the owner of the major coffee importing company Murati do Brazil, and his brother. An unnamed police source told the newspaper that "top government officials" were involved in the smuggling network. He did not name those officials on the grounds that any disclosure at this time could adversely affect ongoing investigations. Secret Service Chief Agim Tirana told dpa that "we are encouraged by this success and want to keep up our operations against all kinds of smuggling activities in Albania." FS

HERZEGOVINIAN POLICE ON STRIKE

Ethnic Croatian members of the police force in Mostar-Neretva County walked off their jobs on 16 March and did not report for work the next day in protest over the assassination attempt on Jozo Leutar, who is the Bosnian federation's deputy interior minister (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 March 1999). In Zagreb, Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said that Croatia expects the Bosnian authorities to "respond firmly" to the bombing. He did not, however, repeat charges made by Herzegovinian leader Ante Jelavic that the attack was linked to the Muslim political leadership, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. PM

CLINTON TO VISIT SLOVENIA

A White House spokesman said on 17 March that President Bill Clinton will visit Slovenia in June after he attends the summit of the Group of Seven industrialized countries in Cologne, Germany. PM

ROMANIAN NATIONAL CURRENCY DROPS SHARPLY

As the leu dropped sharply on 17 March, Premier Radu Vasile met with National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu to discuss the issue, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Mircea Ciumara, deputy chairman of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, said the bank is likely to intervene to stop the trend. The official rate dropped from 14.040 lei to $1 early on 17 March to 14,900 lei at closing, while authorized dealers charged 15,000-20,000. Also on 17 March, the four largest trade union confederations, which plan to launch a general strike in the second half of April, met with the Standing Bureau of the Chamber of Deputies to submit their demands. Those demands range from amending the budget to allow for salary indexation to curtailing the prerogatives of the State Property Fund in the privatization drive. MS

ROMANIAN CUSTOMS CHIEF UNDER INVESTIGATION

Police are investigating Nini Sapunaru, chief of the General Customs Directorate, who is suspected of having failed to forward to the Finance Ministry a license for a duty-free company operating at Bucharest airport and of causing the company losses totaling 1 billion lei ($71,000), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The company was temporarily closed in 1998 under suspicion of defrauding the state, but later a court allowed it to resume operating. Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, chairman of the coalition National Liberal Party (of which Sapunaru is a member), said he is convinced Sapunaru is "innocent." Ionescu-Quintus added, however, that he will not intervene in the investigation. MS

WORLD BANK OFFICIAL MEETS LUCINSCHI, STURDZA

Robert Grawe, World Bank regional director, met with President Petru Lucinschi and Premier Ion Sturdza in Chisinau on 17 March, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Grawe said that lending to Moldova may resume "within weeks," following a visit to Moldova by a group of experts from the bank to assess the situation. He said the resumption of lending depends on whether the new government will honor the obligations assumed by its predecessor. Lucinschi assured Grawe that "there is no continuity problem" and that "reforms have become irreversible." The same day, Sturdza and Grawe signed an accord for a $15 million World Bank credit aimed at restructuring public administration. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS DEBATE ON KOSOVA

Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov on 16 March said that Premier Ivan Kostov's statements in the parliament earlier that day about the cabinet's position on the conflict in Kosova "do not comply with the national interest"(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). He added that his party will demand a debate in the parliament. Parvanov said the government has been conducting negotiations with NATO "behind the back" of the legislature and "in violation of the constitution." It has also been "making commitments that may have fatal consequences for Bulgaria's national security," he argued. MS

CZECH PREMIER IN BULGARIA

Milos Zeman and his Bulgarian host, Ivan Kostov, have signed an agreement on combating organized crime and terrorism, AP reported on 17 March. The same day, Finance Ministers Ivo Svoboda and Muravei Radev signed an accord on mutual protection of investments. Zeman told Kostov that Prague has suspended a plan to introduce entry visas for Bulgaria and Romania. He also expressed support for Bulgaria's bid to join NATO and the EU. MS




FEDERATION COUNCIL VOTES TO KEEP SKURATOV


by Floriana Fossato

The surprise 17 March vote in Russia's Federation Council to overwhelmingly reject the resignation of Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has added a new element to a story ripe with political intrigue and economic implications.

Skuratov abruptly tendered his resignation to President Boris Yeltsin last month, citing health reasons. For weeks, he was hospitalized at Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital. His resignation, however, came just one day after he had revealed that Russia's Central Bank had been channeling billions of dollars in reserves through an obscure off-shore company. Shortly after Skuratov's resignation, security forces raided companies owned by businessman-turned- politician Boris Berezovskii, known for his powerful Kremlin connections.

Yeltsin immediately accepted Skuratov's resignation. Speaking by telephone with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 16 March, Yeltsin stressed the need to quickly appoint Skuratov's successor. The Russian Constitution states, however, that accepting the prosecutor-general's resignation is the prerogative of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.

The next day, a healthy-looking Skuratov appeared before the Council and told senators that he is ready to continue his work if "you extend your trust and support to me." The vote was 142 to six to keep Skuratov in his job.

Skuratov acknowledged that health was not the reason behind his resignation. Without naming names, he said powerful forces had driven a wedge between him and Yeltsin, forcing him to resign. His revelations lend credence to rumors widespread in Moscow in the last few weeks that he was being blackmailed. Gennadii Seleznev, the Communist speaker of the State Duma--today confirmed those rumors, saying there have been "direct threats from the mass media" to reveal compromising information about Skuratov.

"A big contribution to the resignation process came from well-known oligarchs, who have their own interest in criminal cases linked with corruption in top power posts," Skuratov told the upper house of parliament. "Among those cases are, above all, facts concerning [airline] Aeroflot, [car dealer] Avtovaz, private security company Atoll, and others. At the time [of the resignation], my personal contacts with the president also ceased. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I made mistakes; but I was under the impression that I lost the president's support. In the end, facts surrounding my personal life were released. They were obtained by illegal methods, in order to put pressure on me. When I sent my [resignation] letter to the president, I hoped to attract the attention of the head of state to the facts taking place around me and the Prosecutor-General's Office."

All the Federation Council members who took the floor on 17 March called for a vote in an effort to keep Skuratov in his job. Some--like Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev--went so far as to tell colleagues that the upper house was about to vote, not only on Skuratov's future, but on the very values its members support. They argued that senators would vote "for the victory of criminals or for the victory of the law."

Sources in the Federation Council noted, however, that most of the governors taking the floor in support of Skuratov are close to the Communist Party and that some are themselves under investigation for financial wrongdoings, such as Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev. According to those sources, this signals a possible alliance between Skuratov and Yeltsin's communist foes.

Skuratov's resignation unleashed an outpouring of speculation in Russia's media and political circles. Virtually no one in Moscow believed failing health was the real reason behind Skuratov's resignation. Moscow's leading newspapers on 17 March ran front-page articles predicting that the Federation Council--after listening to Skuratov's reasons for his move--would quickly vote to accept his resignation.

Following a meeting of leading television and media executives on 16 March, the director of Russian Public Television (ORT), Igor Shabdurasulov, said senators should accept Skuratov's resignation immediately and without discussion. ORT is only partly under the control of its major shareholder, the state. Its management is reportedly controlled by Berezovskii, who is fighting with the government and parliament to maintain his grip on the network, which is Russia's largest.

Political analysts say the Federation Council 17 March vote--openly contradicting Yeltsin's approval of Skuratov's resignation--indicates that a new conflict between the president and the parliament could be in the making.

According to influential Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, the vote "creates a precedent for the independence of the Prosecutor-General's Office from the Kremlin. The consequences could be positive, but also negative. We'll see."

Yeltsin's representative in the Federation Council, Yurii Yarov, said Skuratov's decision to remain in his job with the support of the Federation Council is "strange and surprising."

Sergei Markov, director of Moscow's Institute of Political Studies, told RFE/RL that "it is absolutely clear that a new, serious conflict is brewing. Yeltsin did sign Skuratov's resignation letter and the Federation Council has just voted against his decision."

Markov noted that "what happens next is unclear. The constitution gives no indication in this regard because the law usually includes only rational developments. It is possible that a special commission will be appointed to find a compromise and will try to solve the controversy with political methods." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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