Accessibility links

Newsline - June 30, 1999


Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 30 June was named chairman of the board of Gazprom, the company that he earlier headed, AFP reported, citing the company's press service. Press coverage leading up to his expected election to the post predicted that Chernomyrdin's return would have consequences not only for the company but for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. According to "Novye Izvestiya" on 24 June, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev is reportedly inclined to back the governor-led movements Vsya Rossiya (All Russia) and Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), which the Kremlin also wants to back, but is wavering. Chernomyrdin, the newspaper argued, has been installed to force Vyakhirev's cooperation on that and a number of other issues. JAC


In an interview with "Delovoi Vtornik" on 29 June, Perm Deputy Governor Igor Shubin said the government's recent attempt to get the company to remit its taxes only in real money is obviously part of a pre- election struggle. "Several [parties] would like to enlist Gazprom's powerful support during their campaigns," he added. Commenting on the same issue, Konstantin Titov, the informal leader of Golos Rossii and governor of Samara Oblast, told the publication that "We all live on credit from Gazprom. We pay our accounts poorly, trying to settle everything with them by barter." He added that "any attempts at reconstructing [the company] must be undertaken with extreme caution, because breaking up the company quickly and easily will only create new problems." JAC


The Central Bank on 29 June announced it is withdrawing the licenses of four large banks, Oneksimbank, Mosbiznesbank, Promstroibank and Mezhkombank. A senior banking expert told Interfax that the licenses were pulled "under unprecedented pressure from the IMF and World Bank, which were unwilling to hear any arguments." According to the source, the Central Bank tried to persuade the institutions' officials that the banks were nearing the completion of restructuring. However, other Cabinet officials failed to support the Central Bank's position. The decision to pull Promstroibank's license comes only two weeks after the Agency for Restructuring Credit Organizations announced that it will devote its scarce resources to restructuring the bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1999). JAC


In a banking sector survey published on 27 June, Interfax-Vremya reported that of Russia's top 100 banks, 29 operated at a loss in the first quarter. That is an improvement over last year, when 36 out of the 100 were in the red. Individual depositors' trust in banks is showing some signs of reviving, as ruble deposits of individuals increased by 9 percent in the first quarter, compared with the post-crisis period from August-December 1999. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced that the government will establish a special working group composed of experts from the Tax, Finance, and Interior Ministries and Central Bank to prevent any abuse of power by commercial banks with regard to customers' deposits and mandatory budget payments to all levels of the government, "Segodnya" reported on 23 June. JAC


Russia's federal budget deficit during the first four months of 1999 at 26.2 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) was 7 percent lower than during the same period the previous year, according to the Russian Statistics Agency, formerly called the State Statistics Committee, Interfax reported on 29 June. Revenues during the same period were 12 percent higher, at 133.9 billion rubles, while expenditures totaling 160.1 billion rubles were 44 percent lower. Foreign trade turnover dropped 28.5 percent as exports slipped 10.3 percent and imports 46.9 percent. Meanwhile, GDP in the first quarter was 3 percent lower measured in constant prices, according to the statistics agency. JAC


First Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko told TV-Center on 27 June that of the some $69 million required to support Russian peacekeepers in Kosova, $36 million will come from the 1999 budget and $32 million from the 2000 budget. More specifically, he noted that the funds will be taken from the government's reserves, which "do not amount to that much," from a redistribution of budget items related to international activities, and from non-budget sources in the Ministries of Defense and Finance. When asked by the interviewer whether the Kosova contingent will be funded from sums set aside for state sector employees, Khristenko answered "it certainly will." JAC


Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said in Moscow on 29 June that Russia will send most of its military hardware, including armored vehicles, to Kosova by ship, Interfax reported. An unnamed Russian navy official said that the first vessels will leave Sevastopol on 10 July bound for Thessaloniki. Meanwhile, State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin and the chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee, Aleksei Arbatov, arrived in Belgrade on 29 June to assess conditions for the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. The legislators are scheduled to travel to Kosova on 30 June. Colonel-General Georgii Shpak told "Vremya MN" of 29 June that 70 percent of the Russian force in Kosova will come from elite airborne troops and the remainder will be former soldiers. FS


Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told senior researchers at the Moscow State University on 29 June that NATO should "be forced to extend its membership to Russia" and include Russians in its military command, Interfax reported. NATO "must hear the breath of Russian soldiers," he commented. Zhirinovskii also proposed sending 10,000 Russian peacekeepers to Kosova rather than the planned 3,600, arguing that "Serbia will pay for the Russian army to stay on its territory and guarantee a peaceful life to its population." Referring to next year's Russian presidential elections he said voters "will have to choose between democracy and dictatorship, that [means] between dirt and blood." FS


Some 300 Kurds gathered in Moscow on 29 June to burn the Turkish state flag in protest at the death sentence handed down on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, Interfax reported. Speaking at the demonstration, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Chairman Zhirinovskii accused former Premier Yevgenii Primakov of betraying Ocalan to the Turkish authorities, which he predicted will commute the death sentence for fear of reprisals by the PKK. A spokesman for the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan in the CIS told Interfax that any protests by Kurds living in CIS member states would be held in conformity with the laws of those countries. But he also warned that the front cannot guarantee that such protests will not turn violent. In Tbilisi, the opposition National Ideology Party of Georgia issued a statement protesting the death sentence as "inhuman" and a violation of international law and calling for Ocalan's release, Caucasus Press reported on 30 June. LF


Around 1,500 teachers in Borzinskii Raion in the Chita Oblast announced on 29 June a protest action to demand payment of an 11-month salary backlog, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The head of the oblast's education workers union said that the teachers in Sherlovogorsk are ready to block the railway to draw attention to their plight. Meanwhile, in Sverdlovsk Oblast, 32 teachers spent the night in sleeping bags in front of the local administration building to protest 12 months of unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 June. The teachers said they will camp in front of the building until they are paid in full. On 17 June, the government ordered the transfer of 1.96 billion rubles ($81 million) to the regions to pay teachers' wages over the summer holidays (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 June 1999). JAC


In the latest of a series of articles picking up on speculation that the Kremlin is working to keep Russian President Boris Yeltsin in an executive position as head of a Belarus-Russia confederation, "Segodnya" on 29 June argues that the union of the two countries' armies presents the ideal vehicle for strengthening such efforts. According to the daily, attempts to unite Belarus and Russia have failed because of the "complete incompatibility of the economies and administrative systems of the two countries," but "joining the two slivers of the former Soviet Army seems more promising." Defense Minister Marshall Sergeev last week called for the command systems of the two armies to be united (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1999). The daily asserted that Minsk's reaction to this initiative is likely to be positive if only because the presidency of Alyaksandr Lukashenka expires on 20 July 1999 under the old Belarusian Constitution and with it much of his legitimacy. JAC


Scholars attending a roundtable in Vladivostok on 28 June about the problems of the Chinese emigrants to Russia concluded that the emigrant Chinese population will constitute the second-largest national Diaspora in Russia in the 21st century, Interfax- Eurasia reported. Currently, around 2.5 million Chinese reside within Russia's borders. In the opinion of the scholars, none of whom was identified by name, China is "quietly expanding into our country" because of the absence of a well-thought-out migration policy. The next day, the Russian Statistics Agency reported that the population of Russia shrank by 265,800 or 0.18 percent during the first four months of the year and totaled 146.1 million as of 1 May. That decline was considerably steeper than the 159,700 dip recorded during the same period last year. JAC


The Union of Unemployed Engineers of the Tula Cartridge Factory has sent a letter to business magnate Boris Berezovskii asking him compete in the State Duma elections from the Tula Electoral District No. 176, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 June. The engineers believe that as a successful businessman and effective manager, Berezovskii would be able to revive the Tula economy and improve the lives of the oblast's residents. So far, there has been no reply to the invitation. "Izvestiya" points out that in the past, two prominent political figures took advantage of similar invitations to win election to the Duma from Tula Oblast: Aleksandr Lebed, currently governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Aleksandr Korzhakov, former longtime bodyguard of President Yeltsin. JC


Missionary Herbert Gregg returned to Moscow on 29 June after Russian and Ingush Interior Ministry troops secured his release, Russian agencies reported. Gregg had been abducted in Makhachkala in November 1998. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev said the process of negotiating Gregg's liberation was similar to the one used in earlier cases such as that of UN relief coordinator Vincent Cochetel and Russian envoy Valentin Vlasov. Aushev also said that operations are continuing to secure the release of Russian Interior Ministry officials Gennadii Shpigun, who was abducted in Grozny in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). LF


Meeting in Moscow on 29 June, Vladimir Rushailo and Abdol Vahed Musavi-Lari agreed to an exchange of data on developments in the North Caucasus, Interfax reported. Rushailo told journalists after the meeting that Tehran has "a full understanding" of the problems in the region, which he characterized in terms of criminal gangs operating under religious slogans. Observers believe Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are financing extremist Islamic groups operating in Chechnya and Dagestan. LF


Garegin I died in Echmiadzin on 29 June after a long struggle against cancer, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Garegin, who was born in Syria in 1932 and studied theology there and in Oxford, was ordained bishop in 1964. He had served in Iran, the U.S., and Lebanon before his election as Catholicos in April 1995. President Robert Kocharian has canceled his participation in the World Economic Forum in Salzburg, Noyan Tapan reported on 30 June. Kocharian has decreed a three-day period of national mourning from 6-8 July, the date set for Garegin's state funeral. LF


Speaking at a press briefing in Yerevan on 29 June, Vahe Gabrielian said the installation of a surveillance device in the office of the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is "disgraceful" and that those responsible should be punished. He affirmed the support of the Armenian president and leadership for Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian, Noyan Tapan reported. LF


Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry issued a statement on 28 June claiming that Rasul Guliev plans to visit Iran next month with the aim of organizing acts of terrorism directed against Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev and other leaders, Turan reported. The statement added that Guliev's business partner Sheri Shahnavaz, who is of Iranian origin, traveled to Tehran in May to arrange Guliev's visit with Iranian security services officials. Guliev, who has lived in the U.S. since resigning as parliamentary speaker in 1996, and Shahnavaz have both denied the allegations. A secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baku told Reuters that the statement was "absolute lies." The Azerbaijani National Security Ministry and Prosecutor- General's Office accused Guliev last year of large-scale embezzlement and planning a coup in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). LF


The World Bank on 9 June approved a $114.9 million credit to finance four projects in Georgia, dpa and Caucasus Press reported. The first $60 million tranche, to be released on 1 July, is to support structural reforms, including privatization. The remaining credits of $16.5 million, $25 million, and $13.4 million are earmarked for support for private sector development, public sector reform, restructuring of Georgia's hospitals, encouraging investment in the energy sector, and judicial reform. LF


Boris Tarasyuk held meetings in Tbilisi on 28-29 June with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, senior energy sector officials and his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking at a joint press conference on 29 June, Menagharishvili said they had discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and reached "complete understanding" on all issues. Tarasyuk repeated Kyiv's willingness to participate in resolving the Abkhaz conflict, offering to supply peacekeepers to serve under the aegis of the UN or OSCE. He added that Ukraine may participate in the economic reconstruction of Abkhazia once a formal settlement of the conflict is reached. Tarasyuk also unveiled proposals for creating special coordinating bodies in each of the GUUAM member states to enhance the effectiveness of that alignment, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 June. LF


On an official visit to Moscow on 28-29 June, Kasymzhomart Toqaev met with top Russian government officials, including Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Talks focused on all aspects of bilateral cooperation, and both Toqaev and Ivanov said progress was made toward resolving outstanding problems. Specifically, Toqaev noted that talks are continuing on the delimitation of the Russian and Kazakh sectors of the Caspian Sea on the basis of an agreement signed 11 months ago by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev. Under that agreement, the seabed is divided into national sectors while the waters remain the common property of all littoral states. Toqaev said talks on the Baikonur space complex were likewise "positive" and focused on an inventory of its property and social guarantees for its employees. Under a 1998 agreement, Moscow agreed to pay $115 million annually for the use of the Baikonur complex. LF


President Nazarbaev has signed a decree transferring the country's border troops from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of National Security, RFE/RL correspondents reported from Astana on 30 June. LF


The independent Russian-language weekly "Nachnem s ponedelnika" has resumed publication in Almaty after being forced to close temporarily, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported on 30 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1999). Following a letter from Minister of Information and Social Accord Altynbek Sarsembaev to the Almaty City Prosecutor's Office, the Almaty City Court's decision to freeze the newspaper's bank account has been rescinded. LF


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin expressed concern on 29 June at what he termed increasingly frequent attempts by the leadership of the United Tajik Opposition to present ultimatums to the government, including on issues not covered in the 1997 peace agreement, ITAR-TASS reported. He said only "full compliance" with that agreement can guarantee a "comprehensive" settlement and provide for stability in Tajikistan. UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri warned on 26 June that he may resign as chairman of the Commission for National Reconciliation because of the Tajik leadership's ongoing refusal to appoint opposition field commander Mirzo Zieyev to the post of defense minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 1999). LF


RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 29 June that Belarus is suffering from an acute shortage of gasoline at filling stations. The authorities have so far not commented on the problem. According to independent experts, the lack of gasoline is caused by reduced Russian oil supplies. The Belnaftakhim concern, which has a monopoly on the country's fuel market, is unable to pay Russian oil suppliers and currently owes them some $80 million. Also, Belnaftakhim is obliged by the government to provide fuel to the agricultural sector, which has no money to pay for those supplies. Another reason for the fuel shortage is the relatively low price of gasoline in Belarus. Independent experts say that the government maintains the current low prices for gasoline for fear of triggering another spiral of inflation. JM


Speaking on nationwide television on 28 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1999), Leonid Kuchma said he has signed 13 economic decrees to generate budget revenues and cut expenditures. In signing them, Kuchma used special powers granted to him by the previous parliament; the term of those powers expired on 28 June. The "Eastern Economic Daily" reported that the decrees address the privatization of the UkrTeleKom communications giant, the promotion of foreign investments, support for the pharmaceutical industry, and special custom and tax regimes for the Mykolayiv shipyard and the Odesa port. Kuchma also imposed a 5 percent tobacco tax, a 1 percent tax on real estate transactions, and a 6 percent tax on owners of mobile phones. Money generated by the decrees will be used to pay wage and pension arrears and to compensate the elderly for their lost savings. JM


On 29 June, the Supreme Council amended and enacted a number of bills altering the 1999 budget, increased funds for social welfare programs, and obliged the cabinet to find money for the ailing coal-mining industry. The parliament prohibited the cabinet from reducing budget outlays without legislative approval and earmarked 500 million hryvni ($126 million) to finance education. It also suspended the cabinet's right to offer guarantees for companies seeking foreign credits. The Supreme Council increased the government's monthly contribution to the Pension Fund from the current 16 million hryvni to 88 million hryvni. JM


Anatoli Paal, the head of Narva Power Plants, was found dead in his residence on 29 June with a bullet wound in the back of the head. Police are investigating the incident as a homicide. Colleagues in the power sector and local politicians all praised Paal for his dedication and work. Paal also served as the chairman of the Narva City Council until recently, when he resigned to concentrate on his work in the energy sector. Narva Power Plants is the joint company that operates the two large oil shale-firing plants that provide more than 90 percent of Estonia's electricity. MH


According to the Latvian Central Statistics Department, the country's GDP fell by 2.3 percent in the first quarter of 1999. Coupled with a drop of 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 1998, this indicates that Latvia is technically in a recession. Attributing the drop to the Russian economic crisis and the slow redirection of some exports, the Statistics Department indicates that growth should resume for the second quarter and that GDP should rise by 2 percent this year, LETA reported. The IMF recently predicted that Latvia's GDP will rise by 4 percent in 1999 and 5 percent in 2000, while inflation will drop to 3 percent for both years. MH


On his first trip abroad as Lithuanian prime minister, Rolandas Paksas was in Moscow on 29 June to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Stepashin, Russian and Baltic agencies reported. The two leaders signed agreements on, among other things, the prevention of double taxation, the protection and promotion of investments, and long-term cooperation between Lithuanian regions and Kaliningrad Oblast. They also agreed to begin talks on Russian oil supplies to Lithuania, which have been interrupted twice this year, causing major losses to Lithuania's oil sector. Stepashin was quoted as saying that he and Paksas agreed to resolve that issue by the end of the summer. JC


The Nurses and Midwives Trade Union on 29 June notified the Prosecutor-General's Office that Labor Minister Longin Komolowski, Wojciech Maksymowicz and Franciszka Cegielska, former and current health ministers, as well as Teresa Kaminska and Anna Knysok, the government's plenipotentiaries for reforms, have violated employees' rights. According to the union, the ministers reneged on their January agreement to increase nurses' wages. "Unless we reach an agreement with the government by 10 July, it is not ruled out that we will stop working and abandon the sick," the 30 June "Rzeczpospolita" quoted trade union leader Bozena Banachowicz as saying. JM


Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz on 29 June confirmed earlier reports in the Polish media that Russian military helicopters entered Poland's airspace near the border with Kaliningrad Oblast in mid-June, PAP reported. Onyszkiewicz added that the machines were flying low and escaped radar detection. The Polish Foreign Ministry has sent a note about the incident to the Russian government. JM


According to Poland's leading public opinion research centers, CBOS and OBOP, the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) would easily win parliamentary elections if that vote were held in June. According to CBOS, the SLD is supported by 31 percent of voters; OBOP puts support for the SLD at 34 percent. The second-most popular party is the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action: CBOS estimates its backing at 24 percent and OBOP at 25 percent. JM


Leos Nergl, chairman of the Usti nad Labem City Council, has revoked the council's 17 June decision allowing the construction of a wall separating Romany inhabitants from other residents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1999). Nergl sent a letter to the Chamber of Deputies asking the legislature to decide whether the measure is lawful, CTK reported on 29 June. In related news, a public opinion survey conducted by the Institute for Social Research found that nearly three out of four Czechs (73 percent) are of the opinion that police and local authorities are not emphatic enough in fighting fascist groups. Ninety-one percent consider fascist groups to be dangerous, while 6 percent said those groups pose no threat, according to CTK. MS


Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 28 June dismissed Ludovit Kanit as head of the Slovak National Property Fund (FNM). Several members of the ruling coalition last week had accused the FNM of negligence, after Vladimir Poor, owner of the Nafta Gbely oil refinery, sold 45.9 percent of that company's shares to the U.S. Cinergy firm. Poor, a member of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, had acquired the shares in a deal questioned by the then opposition and now ruling coalition. After the current coalition took over in September 1998, Poor agreed to return his shares to the FNM, but last week he sold them to the U.S. company. An investigator said the damage caused to the FNM totaled some 3 billion crowns (more than $68 million). On 29 June, Cinergy representatives failed to appear at a meeting with Kanit, which had been scheduled before his dismissal. MS


A Finnish Foreign Ministry official cited by AP on 29 June said that his country is expecting a new wave of Slovak Roma to arrive in Finland over the next few days, CTK reported. Matti Saarelainen, head of Finland's Immigration Office, told Reuters the same day that almost 400 Slovak Roma have asked for asylum since 24 June. Gejza Adam, chairman of the Slovak Romany Civic Initiative and a member of the governmental Council for Nationalities and Ethnic Groups, said the mass emigration to Finland has been prompted by economic rather than political reasons. Adam told Slovak Radio that although Roma sometimes come under attack by skinheads, mass unemployment, rather than fear of these attacks, drives them to seek asylum in other countries. MS


The Constitutional Court on 29 June voted by six to five that the the board of trustees of Hungarian Television as set up the government is constitutional. In its verdict, the court said that a "truncated board" is less threatening to freedom of information than the absence of such a board would be. The opposition, which appealed to the court, refused to nominate candidates to the board because one of the government representatives is a extra-parliamentary party member. The court said that the imbalance among the board members is due to the failure of the opposition groups to make use of their right to field candidates. Szilard Vasvari, parliamentary member of the major coalition party, FIDESZ, said the decision is a "total victory" for the ruling coalition. MSZ/MS


Some 10,000 persons defied a police ban and attended a demonstration organized by the opposition Alliance for Change in Cacak on 29 June. Police set up roadblocks outside the town to prevent the arrival of busses bringing in demonstrators from elsewhere. Mayor Velimir Ilic, who has been in hiding from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's police for several weeks, told the crowd that Milosevic's regime had "made Serbia ashamed of its own name. They made us into monsters and God punished us," the London-based daily "The Independent" quoted him as saying. Balkan studies expert Milan Protic added: "This government has shamed us in front of ourselves, in front of God, and in front of the whole world," "The New York Times" reported. Alliance leader Vladan Batic said: "We'll go from town to town, house to house, man to man and light the torch of democracy in Serbia," according to the "Financial Times." It was the first large opposition political rally in Serbia since NATO ended its bombing campaign earlier in June. PM


Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic said at the historical seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate in Peja on 29 June that Milosevic is a "monster." The son of Yugoslavia's last king added: "Milosevic must go for the sake of Yugoslavia." Aleksandar joined Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle in urging Serbian civilians not to leave Kosova. The prince said the purpose of his trip is to promote democracy in Serbia. He visited Montenegro on 28 June. The British-born prince does not openly seek to restore the monarchy but has repeatedly said he will serve if asked by the Serbian people. The "Los Angeles Times" reported on 30 June that Aleksandar's portrait hangs in place of Milosevic's in many city halls in Serbia and that some protesters in Cacak carried pictures of the royal family. PM


Milosevic said in a statement reported by the official Tanjug news agency on 29 June that "reconstruction and reforms, reestablishment of economic and cultural ties with all [countries]--above all with the progressive and democratic countries--on an equal footing, as well as affirmation of an open system of market economy, are our top goals in this period." PM


A spokesman for the UNHCR said in Prishtina on 29 June that many refugees have returned to Kosova only to find that their homes have been destroyed. He estimated that some 40 percent of the houses in the Gjakova- Peja area are no longer standing, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported. The spokesman stressed that providing accommodations for the homeless is a major problem for the UNHCR. PM


Both the Kosova shadow-state government of Bujar Bukoshi and the provisional government of Hashim Thaci held cabinet meetings in Prishtina on 29 June. Bukoshi's government agreed to pay teachers' salaries for June and July, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. That cabinet also decided to provide some money as compensation to war invalids and families who lost all their possessions during the recent Serbian campaign. Thaci's spokesman Jakup Krasniqi told AFP that the provisional government is willing to cooperate with the shadow state's leader Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). Krasniqi made the remarks after Thaci met with representatives from 13 out of Kosova's 17 political parties. The LDK did not participate in that session. It recognizes only Bukoshi's government as legitimate. FS


Albanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sokol Gjoka on 29 June denied a report in "The New York Times" four days earlier claiming that Albanian police were involved in the murder of a rival of UCK leader Thaci (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 1999). Gjoka told an RFE/RL's South Slavic Service correspondent in Tirana that the New York daily's sources were not reliable, and he claimed that the Albanian government has never interfered in internal conflicts on the Kosovar political scene. Sabri Godo, who is the chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee and belongs to the small opposition Republican Party, told the correspondent that "the UCK leaders must answer these accusations themselves. I agree [with Gjoka] that the Albanian state is not involved in such things." He acknowledged, however, that "mysterious killings happened here." Opposition leader Sali Berisha declined to comment on the "The New York Times" report. FS


A senior official in the German Defense Ministry told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 30 June that there are indications that criminal gangs from Albania are systematically looting houses in Kosova. He said that German troops will not be able to stop the looting in their sector even if their numbers are doubled because they can not monitor all small villages there. FS


NATO specialists took over operations at Tirana's airport on 29 June following a strike by Albanian ground personnel (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 29 June 1999). Officials from the Albanian Ministry of Transportation told dpa that "work at the airport cannot be stopped at this moment as we are expecting more humanitarian aid for the Kosovar refugees." The airport staff demands a 50 percent wage increase. Negotiations between the strikers and government officials have produced no results. FS


EU heads of government meeting in Rio de Janeiro have agreed to accept German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's controversial nomination of Bodo Hombach to be the EU's coordinator for the Balkan stability pact (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 1999), the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 30 June. Hombach was approved after the Austrian government withdrew its nomination of Balkan expert and former Deputy Chancellor Erhard Busek. PM


Austrian Balkan expert Wolfgang Petritsch will soon replace Carlos Westendorp as the international community's chief representative in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Austrian Radio reported on 30 June. Westendorp returns to his political career in his native Spain. Petritsch is a member of Carinthia's Slovenian minority and has repeatedly said that he is therefore able to understand the concerns of ethnic minorities in the Balkans. He first attracted public attention in his role as the press spokesman of Chancellor Bruno Kreisky in the 1970s. Petritsch most recently served as an EU negotiator during the Kosova crisis. Westendorp's two deputies--the U.S.'s Jacques Klein and Germany's Hanns Schumacher--will soon be replaced by people of the two men's respective nationalities. PM


The Interior Ministry issued a statement on 29 June calling upon farmers to remove roadblocks on many important roads throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1999). The statement warned that the roadblocks are illegal. Elsewhere, Agriculture Minister Ivan Djurkic said the farmers' demands are unrealistic and that negotiations have proven fruitless, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb. Finally, the National Security Council condemned the protest on the grounds that the farmers have blocked several border crossings. President Franjo Tudjman chaired the meeting. PM


U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen on 29 June thanked Romania for supporting the NATO strikes in Yugoslavia but told his visiting Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, that while NATO's door remains open, "the steps leading to that door are very high," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Cohen said that Romania must cut the size of its military forces and improve training. The U.S. has presented Romania with a study recommending actions that will strengthen its case for membership. Babiuc said that he and Cohen will examine "modalities of strengthening the defense of Romania's eastern border, making it militarily impenetrable." AFP, cited by Mediafax, said that Babiuc's statement is linked to the recent violation of Romanian air space by Russian planes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 1999). MS


The government on 29 June announced it is extending by 30 days the deadline for receiving an offer from Bell Helicopters Textron for the privatization of the IAR Ghimbav aircraft company. One day earlier, Romanian media reported that the U.S. company no longer makes buying a majority stake in the company conditional on government guarantees for the purchase of 92 military helicopters produced there. Babiuc said in the U.S. that Bell has presented "eight or nine proposals" for "future collaboration," which are now being examined. Premier Radu Vasile has on several occasions indicated that he now expects a more advantageous offer to be made by the German-French Eurocopter consortium. MS


The Chamber of Deputies on 29 June passed a law on the status of the civil service. The new law stipulates that members of the service whose duties involve direct contact with the public in localities where ethnic minorities make up 20 percent or more of the population be able to speak the language of those minorities, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Senate had approved the bill last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). MS


Aleksei Lazarov, who works for the independent weekly "Kapital," was attacked by unidentified assailants near his home in Sofia on 28 June, AP reported the next day, citing the daily "Demokratsia." Lazarov was stabbed and badly beaten. Police were unable to specify the reason for the assault but said Lazarov was not robbed. Lazarov's father heads the information department of the Foreign Ministry. He is the second journalist to fall victim to violence in recent years. A man accused of throwing acid last year into the face of a popular "Trud" journalist specializing in criminal investigative reporting is currently on trial in Sofia. MS


by Martins Zvaners

Latvia's presidential election, which took place in the parliament on 17 June, has been hailed by many observers as a turning point in the country's political development. Not only was a returned emigre, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, elected as Latvia's head of state--the country's first-ever woman in that post and one of only four worldwide. Latvia's political establishment was also turned on its head by the failure of the center-right "party of power," Latvia's Way (LC), to have its own very popular candidate, Anatolijs Gorbunovs, elected. Gorbunovs's defeat, LC's petulant reaction, and accusations of attempted vote-buying by persons close to the party all threaten LC's dominant role in Latvian politics as well as the stability of the LC-led three-party minority government.

Five hopefuls took part in the presidential race: Gorbunovs, well-known Soviet-era pianist and composer Raimonds Pauls, People's Party (TP) deputy chairwoman Vaira Paegle, Latvian UN Ambassador Janis Priedkalns, and parliamentary deputy Arnis Kalnins. Gorbunovs, along with Pauls, was considered a favorite. However, he suffered from handicaps that his party, LC, could not overcome.

Gorbunovs had earned credit for helping Latvia renew its independence in 1991. He also helped LC dominate the country's post-independence political scene. But many in Latvia could not forget his Soviet-era post as the ideology chief of the Latvian Communist Party and were horrified that a former senior Communist official might again rise to the top of the political pyramid, this time in a Latvia freed from Communist occupation. Not least on account of his "on- again, off-again" presidential aspirations, Gorbunovs was seen as an unwilling front-man for party members and supporters who want total control over Latvia's political and economic structures.

When voting began, Gorbunovs was still considered an odds-on favorite to become Latvia's next president. But by the end of the first round of five votes, he had been eliminated, having received the lowest vote total in the fourth vote. The candidates remaining at the end of the round, Pauls and Paegle, withdrew when it became clear they would not win. New candidates were sought, and a coalition of three parties--the left-center Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDSP), the right-center For Fatherland and Freedom" (TB/LNNK), and center-right TP, with a combined 55 deputies--agreed on a winning compromise: Vaira Vike- Freiberga.

However, even before deputies stopped congratulating the newly-elected president, LSDSP leader Juris Bojars announced that an unnamed businessman with ties to LC had offered his party 70,000 lats ($116,200) to back Gorbunovs. Before the second round of votes began, the same businessman called to offer Bojars "anything you want" to secure LSDSP support for LC's new candidate, Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs.

Dubbed "Bojargate", the LSDSP leader's charges gained credibility when TB/LNNK deputy Juris Dobelis revealed that he, too, had received several offers from businessmen of money in exchange for not supporting Vike-Freiberga. As a result of Dobelis's revelations, the parties backing Vike- Freiberga agreed to use colored-ink pens to mark their secret ballots during the first vote of the second round, in order to prevent violations of party discipline.

Both Bojars and Dobelis have provided information to the Latvian Prosecutor-General's Office to support their charges. According to "Diena" on 26 June, acting Prosecutor-General Olgerts Sabansks doubts whether any bribery charges will ever be filed. The accusations have, however, further tarnished the image of LC at a time when it is already perceived as playing a much too dominant role in Latvian politics.

Commentators in Latvia reacted positively to the election of the 62-year-old Vike-Freiberga, who was born in Latvia but lived in exile in Canada during the Soviet occupation. A psychologist and linguist who has held high academic, government, and NGO posts in Canada, Vike-Freiberga is considered intelligent and honest, unencumbered by domestic Latvian political entanglements, and able to offer Western know-how and the experience of working in a multiethnic democracy. Some, however, expressed reservations about the President-elect's lack of political experience and unfamiliarity with political processes in Latvia.

Most of the commentary, however, was devoted to what "Diena" journalist Aivars Ozolins called on 22 June "the fundamentally different political landscape" that resulted from "the first decision of national import to have been made against the will " of LC since the first post-occupation parliament was elected in 1993. No one in Latvia predicts any deviation from the country's pro-NATO and pro-EU orientation. However, the presidential election and its fallout have led to a situation where, according to "Neatkariga Rita Avize" on 19 June, LC can "no longer dictate the rules of the game to its coalition partners."

The result, according to "Diena's" Ozolins, will be the eventual fall of the current government--either when agreement is reached on a new one or when it becomes clear that no agreement is possible. The election will also force LC to deal more openly and honestly with its coalition partners and other political forces in the parliament. "LC earned the support of a little less than one-fifth of the electorate [during last fall's parliamentary elections], and it is doubtful that it will any longer be able to manipulate national politics, divide up jobs, appoint and remove prime ministers as it sees fit," Ozolins wrote. "This time [I] have to agree with [Prime Minister Vilis] Kristopans--the government is stable, it is sitting on a powder keg." The author is assistant director of RFE/RL Communications Division.