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Newsline - May 3, 1999


Two bombs exploded near two synagogues in Moscow on 1 May. Neither synagogue was damaged and no injuries were sustained, Interfax reported. Russia's Chief Rabbi, Adolf Shaevich, suggested that the explosions were linked with the recent court ban on the Moscow branch of Russian National Unity (RNE). Shaevich added that he does not think the incidents had anything to do with the approaching Jewish holiday of Lag Ba-Omar, although a bomb exploded near one of the synagogues last year on that day, causing some damage. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin also suggested that the bombs were planted by neo-Nazi groups. He told NTV on 2 May that for "the past two or three months, all authorities and the government in Moscow have been actively working to suppress the RNE and other pro-Nazi groups" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1999). He also announced that his ministry has formed a task force to investigate the incidents. JAC


The State Duma's first reading of legislation drafted to meet the IMF's conditions for new loans will take place after 20 May, Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told reporters on 30 April. Zhukov based his prediction on the assumption that the cabinet will submit the bills in early May. The committee will then need at least 10 days to discuss the legislation, he noted. Leader of the Duma's largest faction, Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov, hinted that he is not completely in favor of the bills, saying that the legislation would double oil and gasoline prices, make food at least 40 percent more expensive, and thrust another 10 million people below the poverty line. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, on the other hand, said the bills contain "nothing surprising" and "will not turn us into slaves of the IMF." JAC


Our Home Is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov told Interfax on 30 May that Maslyukov "finds himself in a terrible situation," since as a Communist, he will be put forward to push the bills through the Duma. According to Ryzhkov, Valentin Kuptsov, deputy chairman of the Communist faction, recently refused to rule out that Maslyukov might be recalled from the cabinet, which Ryzhkov called an indication that the Communists are considering the possibility of breaking with the cabinet. JAC


Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters on 30 April that Russia might miss payments in May and June on Soviet-era debt, Interfax reported. Earlier, the Finance Ministry had announced that Russia is unlikely to be able to make a $1.2 billion payment on Ministry of Finance bonds maturing on 14 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). These particular bonds are debt incurred by the Soviet Union. Vneshekonombank Chairman Andrei Kostin said on 27 April that overdue payments on Soviet-era debt to the London and Paris Clubs total $2 billion. JAC


President Boris Yeltsin's envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin said in Moscow on 1 May that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed in Belgrade the previous day to an unspecified international peace-keeping force for Kosova. Chernomyrdin told ITAR-TASS that "Belgrade shows concrete and constructive intentions, which can become a basis for further progress." Meanwhile, Yeltsin met with six senior advisers on 2 May to discuss the Kosova conflict and talked on the telephone with U.S. President Bill Clinton for 15 minutes. Chernomyrdin left the next day for Washington, where he will hand over a personal message from Yeltsin to Clinton, AP reported. Chernomyrdin said that the message outlines "concrete suggestions for solving the conflict," but he gave no details. Chernomyrdin also plans to meet with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Vice President Al Gore. He added that another visit to Belgrade will "depend on the results of our negotiations." FS


Trade union members, Communists, nationalists and other groups organized street rallies on the 1 May holiday across Russia. An estimated 35,000 people gathered in Moscow, 12,000 in St. Petersburg, 19,000 in Yakutia, 6,000 in Chita and 2,000 in Saransk, ITAR-TASS and Interfax-Eurasia reported. A new theme appeared to commemorate worker solidarity: anti-NATO condemnations. Speaking at one rally, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov condemned "NATO's genocide against the people of Yugoslavia." Communist leader Zyuganov, addressing another demonstration, said that "the U.S. sees a united Europe as a rival and that's why it is waging this war in Central Europe." JAC


The federal government agreed on 30 April to transfer 19 million rubles ($790,000) to Sverdlovskmetrostroi, the construction company for the rapid transit system in Ekaterinburg, whose workers have staged various strikes for a number of months. According to ITAR-TASS, Finance Minister Zadornov described the transfer as "merely a gesture of the government's good will toward the municipal government in Ekaterinburg, for whom the metro's construction is a mayor expenditure." The previous day, Interfax-Eurasia reported that 48 workers have stepped up their hunger strike by refusing not only food but also water. At the same time, 157 of their striking co-workers were continuing with the more "usual" form of hunger strike. "Izvestiya" reported earlier that the total debt to the metro workers is 34 million rubles, which is the equivalent of 11 months of arrears (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 March 1999). JAC


Anonymous specialists at the Ministry of Agriculture told ITAR-TASS on 30 April that a number of farmers are being forced to slaughter cattle so that they can raise the money to buy fuel to run equipment for spring sowing. The agriculture officials blamed the Finance Ministry for not transferring funds in time for the spring sowing season. According to the agency, the governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast was forced to outlaw the slaughter of cattle. JAC


The Office of Russia's Prosecutor-General has lifted the travel ban on business tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who is being charged with money laundering and "illegal entrepreneurship," Interfax reported on 30 April. Berezovskii was earlier ordered not to leave Moscow pending the conclusion of the investigation of the case against him. On 1 May, Berezovskii told Interfax he was leaving for France but would return to Moscow after the May holidays. JAC


Meeting in Moscow on 29 April, Tatarstan's Prime Minister Rustan Minnikhanov and Iraqi Oil Minister Mukhammad Rashid discussed the possibility of Tatneft's participation in the consortium of Russian oil companies being formed to exploit Iraq's West Qurna oil field, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 30 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 1999). Minnikhanov said Tatarstan could provide Iraq with drilling equipment and spare parts. Rashid expressed an interest in purchasing KamAZ trucks and in Tatarstan's aviation and petrochemical industries. LF


Hovannes Ohanian, an Armenian senior executive of Russia's Sukhoi Production Company, said in Yerevan on 29 April that the company may begin manufacturing light sport aircraft in Armenia, provided a tax exemption agreement is reached with the Armenian government, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Ohanian said Sukhoi wants the present, three-year exemption from profit tax for foreign companies extended to five years. He said Sukhoi would then invest some $7 million in Armenian production facilities, enabling it to produce 40 planes in 2000 and 80 the following year. LF


The 17 opposition parliamentary deputies aligned in the Democratic Bloc issued a statement on 30 April protesting the refusal of the parliamentary majority to discuss a draft bill on municipal elections prepared by three opposition groups, Turan reported. The bloc argued that the parliament's decision to proceed with discussion of its alternative draft law in the absence of opposition deputies is a violation of parliamentary procedure. The Democratic Bloc announced a boycott of parliamentary sessions last month to demand a debate on the performance of the legislature and its speaker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999). Lawyer Vidadi Makhmudov told Turan on 1 May that the parliament's draft bill on municipal elections is "unprogressive," as it does not provide for the allocation of seats under the proportional system or envisage municipal elections in the capital, Baku. LF


The Georgian Supreme Court has a rejected an appeal by the lawyer of Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani to review the latter's 11-year sentence, Caucasus Press reported on 1 May. Ioseliani was sentenced in November 1998 on charges of attempting to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995 as well as of treason and robbery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Lodging the appeal earlier this year, Gabunia argued that Ioseliani's trial was illegal, since at the time of his arrest in November 1995 he was a parliamentary deputy and therefore immune from prosecution. He said at that time that if the Supreme Court rejected his plea, he would appeal to the International Human Rights court in Strasbourg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). Ioseliani has been hospitalized with tuberculosis of the bone marrow, according to "Rezonansi" of 3 May. LF


The municipal council in Zugdidi, the capital of the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia's home region of Mingrelia, has renamed the town's central street after the deceased president, Caucasus Press reported on 1 May. The council also presented a house in the town to Gamsakhurdia's widow, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia. LF


On arriving at Almaty main station from Astana last week, Armial Tasymbekov was arrested by National Security Committee officials and taken to a psychiatric clinic, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 30 April. Tasymbekov is suspected of involvement in daubing slogans on buildings and fences in Astana that denounced President Nursultan Nazarbaev and lauded former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 21 April 1999). LF


Beginning this year, university students in Kazakhstan will be required to pay fees ranging from $700-$1,000, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. Young people from low-income families will have access to interest-free loans to finance their studies, while some 19,000 exceptionally gifted high-school graduates will retain the right to continue their education free of charge. LF


The Bishkek City Court on 1 May approved the fines that a district court handed down one month earlier on the independent weekly "Res Publika," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The court had fined the paper 200,000 som ($6,670) for insulting the honor and dignity of Amanbek Karypkulov, president of Kyrgyzstan's National Television and Radio Corporation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1999). On 12 January, the newspaper published an open letter from 20 employees at the corporation to President Askar Akaev, Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov, and the speakers of both chambers of the parliament protesting that Karypkulov, in his capacity as ideological secretary of the Kirghiz SSR Communist Party in the early 1980s, had repressed media freedom and continues to do so now. The newspaper's editor, Yuri Maksimov, is to appeal to the country's Supreme Court. LF


The Legislative Assembly--the lower chamber of the parliament--passed the new election code in the second reading on 29 April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The code provides for 15 of the 60 seats in the new parliament to be allocated to political parties under the proportional system. The parliament had earlier rejected that provision. Only those political parties that registered with the Ministry of Justice one year before the election date (23 March 2000) are eligible to contest those seats. LF


"As a gesture of unilateral good will in the name of peace," opposition field commander Mansur Muakalov released on 1 May three of the six police officers his subordinates had abducted two days earlier, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April, 1999). But Muakalov said he will continue to hold the other three men until the Tajik authorities comply with his demand for the release of five opposition fighters held on murder charges. LF


Saparmurat Niyazov told the parliament on 30 April that he will transfer some of his oversight powers to the parliament, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. A special commission, chaired by the president, will formulate the necessary constitutional amendments, which must be endorsed by the People's Council at its next meeting in December, according to Interfax. Also on 30 April, the parliament passed legislation on the conduct of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 12 December, which for the first time will be held on an alternative basis. LF


Some 5,000 people participated in a Labor Day rally staged by the city authorities and the Federation of Trade Unions in Minsk, Belapan reported. The demonstrators adopted a resolution condemning the NATO action in Yugoslavia and dispersed after 20 minutes. Meanwhile, an alternative demonstration organized by the opposition Social Democratic Party "Narodnaya Hramada" and other groups resulted in arrests. Some 300 opposition demonstrators who sought to disrupt the official rally demanded the release of political prisoners and protested President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's efforts to form a union of Belarus, Russia, and Yugoslavia. The police arrested "Narodnaya Hramada" leader Mikalay Statkevich and 18 other protesters. JM


Viktar Hanchar, chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, which is organizing the opposition presidential elections, said on 30 April that the early voting procedure adopted the previous day is "optimal" in the current political situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 1999), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Hanchar, some 14,000 members of the 2,300 regional electoral commissions will visit voters in their homes from 6-16 May to ask them to cast ballots in the opposition presidential elections, in which there are two candidates: Mikhail Chyhir and Zyanon Paznyak. The elections will be deemed valid if turnout exceeds 50 percent (or 3.5 million voters). Hanchar criticized Paznyak for demanding that the elections take place on 16 May only. Such a demand, he said, is "cut off from reality" and "threatening to disrupt the elections." JM


A total of some 200,000 people took part in Labor Day rallies and demonstrations, primarily in eastern Ukraine (100,000 in Donetsk Oblast) and Crimea, Ukrainian Television reported on 1 May. In a 4,000-strong demonstration in Kyiv, Communists carried flags of the former USSR and Ukrainian SSR as well as Joseph Stalin's portraits, calling on President Leonid Kuchma to step down. "The authorities are leaving our children with no future whatsoever," Communist leader Petro Symonenko told the rally. AP quoted parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko as saying that "the fight for the good of the people must determine the outcome of [presidential] elections." Ukrainian Television reported that at the rally, Tkachenko "hinted for the first time" at his willingness to run in the presidential elections. JM


The government has increased tariffs for public utilities by an average of 20-30 percent in "most Ukrainian regions," Ukrainian Television reported on 1 May. The same resolution canceled all subsidies for public utilities, except those to housing. Lifting the parliamentary ban on increasing public utilities tariffs is one of the IMF's requirements for resuming the fund's cooperation with Ukraine. An IMF mission is currently in Kyiv to discuss with government officials boosting financial aid to the country. Kuchma's aide Valeriy Lytvytskyy said last week that Ukraine is requesting a new $300 million loan from the fund and will also ask it to "double or even triple" the monthly installments of the resumed $2.2 billion loan. Those installments currently average $70 million, AP reported on 30 April. JM


Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, was physically attacked on 30 April by a group of members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Interior Ministry reported that some 80 followers of the Moscow- subordinated Church attacked Filaret and his retinue while the former was consecrating the site where a cathedral in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, is to be constructed. Five of Filaret's supporters and four of his opponents were injured, but none was hospitalized, according to the ministry. The scuffle highlighted the continued conflict between the larger Moscow-affiliated Church and the one led by Filaret. Filaret's Church split from Moscow in 1992. JM


At its party congress on 2 May, the Coalition Party elected former Defense Minister Andrus Oovel as its chairman, ETA reported. Oovel, who was the only candidate for the post, replaced former Prime Minister Mart Siimann, saying his task as new party leader is to stop infighting. The former ruling Coalition Party won only seven parliamentary seats (7.5 percent of the vote) in the March general elections. JC


A group of members of the Russian Party in Estonia has announced its intention to call a general meeting to discuss dismissing chairman Nikolai Maspanov, ETA reported on 3 May, citing "Eesti Paevaleht." Maspanov allegedly held secret negotiations recently over forming a new coalition in the Tallinn City Council. The group claims that rank-and-file members of the party are dissatisfied with the current leadership, which it blames for the party's failure to win any seats in the March elections. JC


Speaking on nationwide television on 30 April, 11 days after President Valdas Adamkus had expressed no confidence in him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1999), Gediminas Vagnorius announced he will hand in his resignation to Adamkus on 3 May, ELTA and BNS reported. Without elaborating, the outgoing premier said that "political motives," rather than "personal discord," were behind the recent tensions between the government and the president. "I have to assume part of the responsibility for failing to curb these unfavorable political circumstances," he said. He also commented that in seeking to make the country more stable financially, his government may have been "excessively demanding" and have sought to "impose stricter order too quickly," thus accounting for its low popularity ratings. Vagnorius first held the post of prime minister from January 1991 to July 1992, when he resigned following a split within the ruling Sajudis movement. JC


Meeting one day after the premier's announcement, the board of the ruling Conservative Party made clear that it does not want to head the next government, ELTA and Reuters reported. "A Conservative could not accept an offer by the president to lead a future government," Andrius Kubilius, a board member, later told reporters. At the same time, he stressed that the Conservatives, which together with their Christian Democratic allies have 81 of the 138 filled parliamentary seats, will confirm a cabinet "formed by the president and [designated] prime minister." Meanwhile, parliamentary chairman and Conservative Party chairman Vytautas Landsbergis welcomed Vagnorius's decision. Landsbergis has expressed opposition to the Conservatives' earlier proposal that the president take the lead in forming a minority government, as have both the president and the opposition parties. Under the constitution, the president must nominate a new premier within 15 days of receiving Vagnorius's resignation. The parliament must then approve that candidate. JC


Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder held talks in Gdansk on 30 April, Polish and German media reported. Other members of the Polish and German cabinets attended that meeting. Buzek stressed there is no difference of opinions between the two sides on the Kosova crisis. Schroeder pointed out that both NATO's military action and the efforts to seek a political solution to Kosova must be continued. He supported Poland's "ambitious" bid to join the EU by early 2003, noting "the strength of Polish reforms." Schroeder also assured Buzek that Polish slave laborers in Nazi-era Germany will receive the same treatment as citizens of other countries with regard to their compensation claims. He added that the slave labor issue should be decided not by governments but by German companies. JM


Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan met with President Vaclav Havel on 2 May to discuss their diverging opinions on the crisis in Kosova, CTK reported. Kavan said that both he and Havel agree that Czech troops should participate in any eventual peacekeeping mission in Yugoslavia, but he noted that they disagree over whether Czech forces should take part in any ground offensive there. Havel said last week that he is embarrassed that Kavan has rejected such participation outright, even before NATO has considered such a plan. Kavan said this is a disagreement over "tactics" and "formulation" that is "completely unimportant." He added that Havel has approved of Kavan's peace plan for Kosova, which he said he will reveal when it wins "broader consensus." PB


Kavan said on 2 May that some U.S. politicians erroneously thought they could quickly defeat Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with air strikes, CTK reported. Kavan, speaking on nationwide television, said this opinion was "proud [and] naive" and not based "on a completely accurate analysis." In Prague, government officials criticized city officials for allowing a skinhead demonstration to take place on 1 May. A few hundred skinheads rallied on a small Prague island that is traditionally the site of left-wing and anarchist demonstrations on that day. A few dozen people were arrested in the incident. PB


Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on 2 May that the public needs to be better informed about why cooperation with NATO and eventual accession to the alliance are in Slovakia's best interests, TASR reported. Kukan was responding on Radio Twist to nationalist Jan Slota's charge that Bratislava is submissive to NATO. Kukan asked whether politicians that make such statements want to turn Slovakia into a "skanzen" (an open-air museum in which traditional Slovak wooden houses are exhibited). Kukan said the Kosova conflict would probably be abused during the presidential campaign, and he urged candidates to be objective about the issue. In other news, Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, the chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement, said at a party convention in Liptovsky Mikulas that the party will continue to act like a "normal right-wing party." PB


The opposition Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) wants to modify the text of a parliamentary resolution allowing NATO to use Hungarian air space and airports for its actions against Yugoslavia. It proposes adding a clause to the document saying that no attack can be launched on Serbia from Hungarian territory. Ferenc Juhasz, the Socialist deputy chairman of parliament's Defense Committee, said a new situation arose when Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced at the NATO summit in Washington that NATO aircraft taking off from Hungary might bomb Yugoslavia, Hungarian media reported on 3 May. MSZP chairman Laszlo Kovacs accused the government of "increasingly losing control over the situation." MSZ


Fifty prominent Hungarian intellectuals and politicians have published an appeal to end the war in the Balkans, Hungarian media reported on 3 May. The appeal calls on the governments of NATO countries to suspend bombing in Yugoslavia and begin negotiations. It urges Hungary to exercise its veto right provided by NATO membership, engage in "constructive abstention," and exert pressure on its allies to ensure that the war does not spread to neighboring countries. MSZ


Some 11,000 Kosovars are waiting to enter Macedonia at the Blace border crossing, Reuters reported on 3 May. Paula Ghedini, who is a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the previous day at Cegrane that some 7,000 Kosovars arrived in Macedonia on 1 May. She added that only 600 Kosovars were able to proceed to third countries the same day. Ghedini noted that in various parts of Macedonia, some 80,000 refugees are packed into nine camps designed for only a fraction of that number. The newly-opened Cegrane camp was planned for 4,000 people but currently houses 14,000. German soldiers are working round the clock to put up tents but cannot keep pace with the influx of new arrivals. Thousands of refugees at several of the camps sleep on plastic sheets in the open. Ghedini described sanitary conditions as "horrendous." More than 90,000 Kosovars are staying with private families. PM


Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told "The Daily Telegraph" of 3 May that "either we will be ruined as a state [by the refugee influx] or we will have to close our frontiers." He stressed that "Europe must give us a safety valve" by providing more aid and by taking greater numbers of refugees. Georgievski suggested that his country would be unable to accommodate a possible new wave of refugees of up to 50,000 people. Georgievski also said that Macedonia might reconsider its decision not to allow its territory to be used to launch a land invasion of Serbia, but he stressed it would do so only if the parliament approved the change and received "assurances on the aims of such an offensive and the involvement of other Balkan states." PM


Georgievski also told "The Daily Telegraph" of 3 May that he is disappointed that unnamed European countries, which he said, have taken in fewer than 1,000 refugees each, criticize his country, which could soon be home to some 200,000 Kosovars. The London- based daily suggested that he was referring primarily to the U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair is slated to arrive in Macedonia on 3 May. Two days earlier, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin visited Macedonia and pledged a supplementary aid package for that country amounting to $26 million. France previously pledged some $160 million for Macedonia and Albania together. Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy told Macedonian officials that Ottawa will provide $24 million for refugee relief and $6 million in economic assistance. In Bonn on 3 May, Interior Minister Otto Schily said Germany, which is currently home to 10,000 Kosovar refugees, will take in another 10,000. PM


Macedonian police arrested four suspects in Kumanovo on 1 May in connection with a recent grenade attack on a French sentry post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1999). The suspects had bought grenades in Yugoslavia and were drunk when the attack took place, Reuters reported. Kumanovo is a center of Macedonia's small ethnic Serbian minority. PM


Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighters recently took control of the road from Bajram Curri to Koshara and occupied Yugoslav army barracks there, Reuters reported on 2 May. The UCK can now transport weapons and ammunition from Albania into Kosova and bring wounded guerillas back. UCK guerillas told Reuters that the capture of Koshara marked a "turning point" for them, adding that more than 200 Serbian soldiers and paramilitaries were killed in the fight for the town, which is near the border. Currently, the front line is at Batusha near Junik, overlooking the plains of Gjakova and Decani. UCK soldiers, however, noted that the Yugoslav army still frequently shells the route between Bajram Curri and Koshara. The guerrillas said they aim to link up with UCK units operating inside Kosova. FS


Serbian and Albanian forces exchanged fire in the villages of Vlahen and Letaj in the Has Mountains, while Serbian forces fired several mortar shells into villages near Tropoja and Morina over the weekend, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana on 2 May. No casualties were reported. Meanwhile, NATO planes attacked Serbian artillery near Morina on the border. FS


Serbian forces expelled more than 20,000 Kosovars to Albania over the weekend. Most of the refugees came from Prizren. Reuters quoted them as saying that the city has become a "depopulated wasteland." Refugees arriving on 2 May said Serbian forces close to the Morina border crossing separated women and children from the men and sent the women and children back into Prizren as human shields. Others told BBC Television of 3 May that during their flight, they saw Serbian forces killing civilians. There are currently more than 120,000 Kosovar refugees in Kukes. The UNHCR and Albanian authorities continued evacuations from Kukes to other parts of Albania. Albanian President Rexhep Meidani said in Bonn on 1 May that Albania will need aid totaling $600 million this year to cope with the refugee influx, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. FS


Pandeli Majko told Kosovar shadow-state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi on 2 May that the Albanian government wants to bring the rival Kosovar groups together at a round table, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. The UCK does not recognize Bukoshi and has named Hashim Thaci as premier. Majko called for a "spirit of dialog." Bukoshi is a member of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the party of Ibrahim Rugova, who is under Serbian house arrest in Prishtina. Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo appealed to the rival groups to coordinate their actions, dpa reported. He stressed that "there is no time to lose [over] who will be the prime minister and who will be ministers." He added that "it is important to set up a government representing all [ethnic] Albanians in Kosova." FS


Mary Robinson, who is the UN's chief official for human rights, said in Blace, Macedonia, on 2 May that the Serbian policy of ethnic- cleansing is "deliberate and unacceptable." She stressed that those responsible must be held to account and that "we cannot have impunity." Robinson described the accounts she heard from Kosovar refugees as revealing "savagery and a total lack of respect for human beings" on the part of the refugees' tormentors. In Belgrade, Yugoslav Assistant Foreign Minister Nebojsa Vujovic denied that Serbian forces have committed atrocities. He suggested that reports of atrocities were invented by NATO. PM


Atlantic alliance spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels on 2 May that NATO is pleased that U.S. civil rights leader Jessie Jackson obtained the release of three U.S. soldiers from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Shea added, however, that the alliance will not "reward" the Yugoslav leader for the gesture and that Serbian forces should not have taken the men prisoner in the first place. In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton said that "as we welcome our soldiers home, our thoughts also turn to the over one million Kosovars who are unable to go home because of the policies of Belgrade. Today we reaffirm our resolve to persevere until they too can return with security and self-government." Defense Secretary William Cohen noted: "We will not stop the bombing but intensify the bombing" of Serbia. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot called Milosevic "a master manipulator" and dismissed a letter Milosevic gave Jackson for Clinton as a "stunt," AFP reported. PM


The Atlantic alliance hit Serbia's five main power-generating facilities during the night of 2-3 May, Shea said in Brussels. He noted that "what we have done is demonstrate our ability to shut off the power system whenever we want it. ... [When the power is] shut off for a significant period of time, the Yugoslav army has to go through enormous trouble to try to restore that power." The previous day, NATO spokesman Conrad Freytag expressed regret that NATO aircraft hit a bus on the Nis- Prishtina road on 1 May, killing at least 40. Freytag noted that the bus had been crossing a bridge, which he called a legitimate military target. PM


Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said in Podgorica on 1 May that his government condemns a recent NATO attack that killed four civilians in the village of Murino. Burzan stressed that the attack had no legitimate military purpose and that attacks on civilian targets in Montenegro only serve to "encourage Milosevic and his policies" there. The following day, Clinton announced that the U.S. is joining the EU in imposing further economic sanctions on Serbia but that the sanctions do not affect Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Podgorica, the command of the Yugoslav Second Army issued an order prohibiting ships and boats from using the civilian harbor at Bar. The mountainous republic now has no air, sea, or rail links to the outside world, AP reported. Elsewhere, an Information Ministry spokesman said that the army released a French television cameraman the previous day. Soldiers had arrested the Frenchman on 20 April. PM


Victor Babiuc said on 30 April that NATO planes are "implicitly" allowed to use Romanian airports because of the parliament's approval for alliance planes to use Romanian air space, Reuters reported. Babiuc said "this right obviously applies to those airports close to the Yugoslav border." He added that "we believe the NATO intervention is fully justified. It is in no way aggression but rather a means of persuading Milosevic to return to the negotiating table." Hundreds of car drivers continued to line up along the Romanian-Yugoslav border to travel to Serbia to sell most of the gasoline in their tanks for a profit (see also below). And in Bucharest, several hundred people demonstrated on 1 May against the NATO air strikes. PB


Transport Minister Traian Basescu on 1 May dismissed Bulgarian claims that Romania is processing crude oil from Serbian tankers along the Danube River, Reuters reported. Basescu said "none of Romania's ports on the Danube can unload crude from barges. We can only load ships with oil products." A Bulgarian customs chief said the previous day that Serbian tankers are carrying crude oil to Romanian terminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 1999). PB


Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov informed the parliament on 30 April about the errant NATO missile that destroyed a home in a Sofia suburb two days earlier, Reuters reported. Kostov said that the government will work closely with NATO to ensure that such an incident does not occur again. He said Bulgaria's western border will be marked electronically and that Sofia has asked NATO for "friend or foe" radar equipment that would allow Bulgarian security forces to identify foreign aircraft. Kostov hailed the government's air corridor accord with NATO, which he said no other country was able to secure. The National Assembly is to vote on the accord as early as 4 May. Since Kostov's Union of Democratic Forces has a majority in the legislative body, the accord is expected to pass, even though polls show that a majority of Bulgarians oppose it. PB


Petar Stoyanov said on 30 April that Yugoslavia is "isolating" Bulgaria from Western Europe, AP reported, citing an interview in the French daily "Le Monde." Stoyanov said that "despite all our efforts, foreign investors are wary." He added that "the Serbs must not think they can count on our help because we are fed up with being hostages for the last seven years to the policies of Milosevic." Stoyanov also repeated a call for a Balkan version of the Marshall Plan because "after 45 years of Communism, we cannot get out of this alone." In Sofia, some 8,000 people rallied on 1 May against NATO and the Bulgarian government. Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov said "we are against this illegal war." PB


The Interior Ministry said on 30 April that it will close all five of its border crossings with Serbia and allow only passage of goods and people for humanitarian reasons, BTA reported. The measure is aimed at preventing citizens from crossing the border and selling their gas to Yugoslavs at a large profit, as hundreds of them have been doing recently. PB


By Michael Wyzan

To all appearances, Azerbaijan seemed to feel the effects of the decline in world oil prices and the Russian crisis relatively little last year. However, there are a number of indicators of economic problems, especially in the external sector. Foreign investment and oil exports are declining, and there is a net outflow of foreign businessmen.

The country's 10 percent GDP growth in 1998 was the highest in the CIS; indeed, such growth accelerated during the fourth quarter to 13.1 percent, led by a booming construction industry and, to a lesser extent, the transport and communications sectors. Industry and agriculture grew more slowly, however. The 2.2 percent growth in industrial production was the highest since independence, but this conceals the fact that non-oil industrial production fell last year by 4.1 percent.

Developments in the Azerbaijani oil sector were both positive and negative. Crude oil production reached 11.4 million metric tons in 1998, up from 9.0 million tons the previous year and the highest since 1991, as new offshore wells of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) came on line. On the other hand, the price received for that oil fell by 18.1 percent.

Largely as a result of that decline, exports during January-September 1998 fell by 11 percent relative to the same period in 1997, with oil exports down by 36 percent and those of semi-processed cotton (the second most important export good) down by 67 percent. From January to September, imports were up by 22 percent and the trade deficit reached $740 million, compared with $448 million during the same period in 1997.

As expected in a country experiencing a major inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into its oil sector, while new oil production and exports are slow to appear, Azerbaijan has had enormous current account deficits. In 1998, the shortfall was about 35 percent of GDP, a figure that the IMF projects will increase in the coming years.

With investment in the oil sector leveling off, FDI in January-September 1998--of which the oil sector accounted for 81 percent--decreased to $674 million from $724 million during the same period in 1997. However, oil bonuses during January-September 1998 were $73 million, up from $64 million in 1997 as a whole.

Another area where problems have arisen owing to the decline in oil export revenues is the state budget: the general government deficit was 4.3 percent of GDP in 1998, up from 3.6 percent the year before. Oil-related revenue was 47.5 percent of total budget revenue in 1997 but fell to 31.7 percent in January-June 1998.

Overall, the Azerbaijani economy seems to have suffered less contagion from Russia's economic crisis than other CIS lands. The manat closed 1998 at 3,886 to the dollar, almost exactly where it was at the end of 1997 (and down from 4,440 at the close of 1995). Not surprisingly, in the face of such stability, consumer prices declined by 3.5 percent last year (December-to-December). However, the standard of living has benefited little from such stability, as average monthly wages--both in dollars and in constant manats--grew more slowly last year than in 1997. The average dollar wage was only $44.8 in the final quarter of 1998.

This year's prognoses suggest that economic performance will be somewhat weaker than in 1998, with the government program envisioning 7 percent GDP growth and average annual inflation of 4 percent. Among the worrying indicators are cutbacks by international oil consortia operating in the country. The AIOC, for example, announced in February that it would cut costs by 20 percent and lay off 25-30 expatriate staff. The numbers of foreigners working in Baku is declining, having peaked at 6,000.

This outflow reflects more than the downturn in the oil sector: it was reported in late March that 110 Turkish companies left Azerbaijan last year, pointing to arbitrariness and corruption among government officials as well as an unclear and frequently changing tax policy. In another harbinger of a downturn, the boom in housing construction has ended, with apartment prices falling for the first time in recent years.

In granting the country a $112 million loan in late January ($79 million of which was a special loan to cope with low oil prices and the Russian financial crisis), the IMF pointed to the need to strengthen and streamline the public sector, restructure the banks, improve the privatization process, and reform public enterprises. This is a standard set of desirable reforms for transition countries.

However, world experience suggests that countries specializing in oil are particularly likely to be burdened with a corrupt and inefficient government that is easily swayed by interest groups. Thus, Azerbaijan's task is especially difficult, suggesting that high priority must be given to economic diversification.

The author is a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.