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Newsline - August 12, 1999




RUSSIAN PREMIER, FEDERATION COUNCIL AT ODDS OVER DAGESTAN...

Acting Premier Vladimir Putin said after meeting on 11 August with members of the Federation Council that there is currently no need to impose a state of emergency on parts of the border between Chechnya and Dagestan, Interfax reported. He added that Russian attempts so far to "stabilize" the situation in Dagestan have been successful. Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev, however, told Interfax that senators think the Russian government is not acting resolutely enough to stabilize the situation in Dagestan. In Makhachkala, People's Assembly chairman Mukhu Aliyev told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of 12 August that the situation is "tricky, but under control." LF

...WHILE REPORTS OF MILITARY SITUATION UNCLEAR

Russian First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov told journalists in Makhachkala on 11 August that Russian forces have taken full control of Tsumadin Raion and will seek to remove the Islamic militants from Botlikh Raion on 12 August. He said that Russian casualties to date are 10 killed and 27 wounded, while "dozens" of militants have been killed and more than 100 wounded. Vyacheslav Ovchiknnikov, who commands the Russian Interior Ministry forces deployed in those two districts, estimated the Islamic militants' strength at around 1,200. In Moscow, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said that the situation in Tsumadin is "stable" and the militants are surrounded in Botlikh Raion, where reinforcements from Chechnya are attempting to join them, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile Chechen commander Shamil Basaev told Interfax in an exclusive interview late on 10 August that the militants now control a total of 14 villages. He said his men have destroyed four Russian helicopters and nine armored vehicles since the start of hostilities. LF

GENERAL'S APPOINTMENT AUGURS CHANGE IN ARMY LEADERSHIP?

President Boris Yeltsin has appointed Colonel-General Viktor Chechevatov, until now commander of the Far East Military District, as head of the General Staff Academy. "Kommersant- Daily" on 11 August speculated that this move may foreshadow changes within the army elite. By bringing Chechevatov to Moscow, Yeltsin may be lining up the general, whom he reportedly trusts "unconditionally," to take over from Anatolii Kvashnin as chief of the General Staff. The newspaper points out that the federal forces' failure in Dagestan would probably result in Kvashnin's dismissal, while success would likely give him a ministerial post. Chechevatov, moreover, is the kind of the general that the Kremlin needs, "Kommersant-Daily" argues, if it opts for a state of emergency and the cancellation of the Duma elections and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev or Kvashnin begins to "waver." JC

PRIMAKOV TO HEAD POWERFUL ALLIANCE?

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev told Interfax on 12 August that former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov has agreed to lead the Fatherland-All Russia alliance in elections for the State Duma scheduled for 19 December. Yakovlev is a member of All Russia. Fatherland is headed by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev is All Russia's informal leader. Primakov is expected to make some kind of announcement very soon: Vladimir Medvedev, deputy head of election headquarters for the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, told "Segodnya" the previous day that the question of whether Primakov will head the bloc should be cleared up by next week or "10 days maximum." Political analysts generally consider the combination of Primakov and Fatherland-All Russia almost unbeatable. JAC

FATHERLAND-ALL RUSSIA WINS ANOTHER FOLLOWER?

Former Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told reporters on 11 August that the Agrarian Party's Central Council has decided that the party should enter into an alliance with Fatherland-All Russia. However, Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin noted that the party leadership will not begin official negotiations on joining until the council has specified the necessary preconditions. Lapshin also noted that "an entire year of continuous talks with the Communist Party has led us nowhere." JAC

DESPITE PUTIN'S PLEDGE, CABINET SHIFTS EXPECTED

Acting Prime Minister Putin said on 12 August that the public "should not be expecting any changes or new cabinet selections," ITAR- TASS reported. He added that he will also fulfill all his predecessor's plans. The previous day, "Komsomolskaya pravda" predicted that Putin would follow many of former Premier Sergei Stepashin's policies, particularly with regard to the economy, but that many of Stepashin's "proteges" will lose their positions. Both "Komsomolskaya pravda" and "Izvestiya" echoed "Kommersant-Daily" in predicting that First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, along with presidential envoy to international financial institutions Mikhail Zadornov, will be booted. According to "Komsomolskaya pravda," other officials who might want to ready their resumes are Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, who opposed some personnel decisions favored by the presidential administration, and Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnkov, who "couldn't find a pretext to outlaw the Communist Party and registered Fatherland." JAC

STEPASHIN BESEIGED WITH JOB OFFERS

Former Prime Minister Stepashin has reportedly spoken with more than 30 regional leaders over the last 24 hours, according to Interfax on 11 August, citing a source close to Stepashin. According to this source, Stepashin will also meet with former Prime Ministers Primakov and Sergei Kirienko as well as Moscow Mayor Luzhkov before the end of the week. Stepashin has already met with Right Cause's leader Anatolii Chubais, who, according to some press accounts, had pleaded with President Boris Yeltsin not to dismiss Stepashin. JAC

BEREZOVSKII SAYS GAZPROM HEAD MUST RESIGN

Media tycoon Boris Berezovskii told "Le Monde" on 12 August that the departure of Rem Vyakhirev "as head of Gazprom is imminent." According to Berezovskii, Vyakhirev "has behaved in an unacceptable manner by supporting [Moscow Mayor Yurii] Luzhkov." He added that "the state is the majority shareholder in Gazprom and it is not normal for its financial muscle to be used against the president and the government." "Obshchaya gazeta" reported in its most recent issue that United Bank, which is controlled by Berezovskii, owes Gazprom $28 million and that Vyakhirev has been badgering the bank to pay up since 1997. According to the weekly, Berezovskii wants to replace Vyakhirev with "a more controllable manager." "Obshchaya gazeta" has received financial backing from the Media-Most Group, an ally of Luzhkov and Gazprom. JAC

ANOTHER LEGISLATOR CALLS START-II RATIFICATION UNLIKELY

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said on 11 August that the lower legislative chamber is unlikely to ratify the START-II treaty any time soon, despite President Yeltsin's inclusion of the treaty in a package of high-priority bills for the Duma's fall session, Interfax reported. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko said earlier that Duma members are unlikely to support the treaty in an election year, since leftist legislators would have difficulty explaining such a move to their electorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 1999). JAC

RUSSIA PLANS TO CUT IMPORT DUTIES...

The Trade Ministry will cut import duties on 300 kinds of commodities by 20-30 percent before year's end, Interfax reported on 10 August. Yurii Dmitriev, deputy director of tariff policy at the ministry, said duties on imported goods will not be lowered if such an action would hurt domestic producers. He added that duties on tobacco might even be increased. "Vremya MN" reported the next day that slashing import duties is intended to accelerate Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. JAC

...AS U.S. FAILS TO BACK RUSSIAN ENTRY INTO WTO...

"Izvestiya" reported on 12 August that the U.S. is not officially supporting Russian candidacy in the WTO, despite having done so for five former Soviet bloc countries--namely, Georgia, Armenia, Estonia, Moldavia, and Lithuania. The newspaper links this lack of support to disputes between Russia and the U.S. over Russian steel imports, noting that "if Russia were to become a member of WTO, the Americans could not then accuse Russian steelmakers of dumping" and would have to resolve the dispute through arbitration within the WTO. JAC

...AND RUSSIA SUGGESTS U.S. CUT ITS OWN STEEL PRODUCTION

The previous day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that U.S. President Bill Clinton intends in the near future to publish a plan "that envisages measures aimed at reducing steel production in many countries." According to the daily, the administration intends to pressure world financial organizations, such as the World Bank, to refuse to fund programs that might result in an increase in world steel production. The Trade Ministry told the daily it opposes such moves: "In Russia, there has already been a 50 percent reduction in steel production since [the breakup of the] the USSR, and therefore it is now the turn of other countries to reduce their output, including the U.S." JAC

RANKS OF BANKS CONTINUE TO DEPLETE

The number of Russian banks inched down by 11 last month, according to Central Bank statistics, "Vremya MN" reported on 11 August. As of 1 August, the number of Russian credit organizations slipped to 1,390 from 1,476 on 1 January. The daily reported that the number of banks with authorized capital exceeding 40 million rubles ($1.6 million) increased from 201 to 242, while the ranks of those with smaller authorized capital shrank. At the end of July, a Central Bank official asked a Moscow court to declare bankrupt Menatep, formerly one of Russia's largest banks. The Central Bank pulled that bank's operating license back in May. "Vremya MN" reported on 2 August that foreign creditors, along with officials from the World Bank and IMF, support declaring SBS-Agro bankrupt, since the bank has made little progress toward restructuring its debts. JAC

RYZHKOV MEETS MILOSEVIC

Nikolai Ryzhkov, who is former chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers and current head of the Duma commission for collecting information on alleged NATO war crimes against Yugoslavia, met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 11 August in Belgrade. Milosevic said later that the Duma has given "great support to our people in their efforts to prevail against constant pressures" from the West. His office issued a statement saying that "the dictate of force" used by NATO "represents the greatest threat to the future of mankind and to the equality of all nations." Ryzhkov said his commission will "unveil crimes committed against the people of Yugoslavia during the bombing campaign and help bring the perpetrators to justice." FS

YELTSIN INVITES G-8 TO MOSCOW

The Russian presidential press service told Interfax on 11 August that Yeltsin wants the next G-8 summit to be held in Moscow from 19 to 20 October. The officials said that topics to be discussed, include "drug trafficking, corruption, illegal migration, slave trade, and international crime." FS

RAISA GORBACHEV GOING THROUGH 'CRITICAL PHASE' OF CHEMOTHERAPY

Doctors at the University Hospital of Muenster, Germany, issued a statement on 11 August saying that Raisa Gorbachev is going through a "critical phase" of chemotherapy, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. The 67-year-old wife of the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has been diagnosed with acute leukemia. The doctors said that several specialists are fighting to save her life. JC

ASK CHUBAIS

Anatolii Chubais, former first deputy prime minister and head of the one of the most important companies in Russia, Unified Energy Systems, launched his own website on 11 August. By late morning the next day, the site had registered more than 6,000 visitors. Much of the site is devoted to dispensing information about Chubais's movement, Right Cause; however, some personal information is available. For example, Chubais prefers the "democratic" pastime of table tennis to the elite game of tennis, the favorite sport of most Russian politicians. Chubais, who is sometimes called the father of Russian privatization, is also available to answer questions (http://www.chubais.ru/feedback/ask.html). JAC




KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS GOVERNMENT CRISIS OVER

General Seyran Ohanian, who was named defense minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic last week, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 11 August that his appointment marked the end of a serious government crisis in Stepanakert. He said his candidacy was acceptable to both rival factions in the Karabakh government, including that of his powerful predecessor, General Samvel Babayan. He added that the political situation in Karabakh is "quiet" at the moment and will remain so. Ohanian rejected speculation that Yerevan sought to weaken Babayan's influence in a bid to neutralize his hard line on how to settle the conflict with Azerbaijan. LF

ARMENIAN, GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET

Vagharshak Harutiunian and David Tevzadze held what was described as a "secret" meeting in Akhalkalaki on the evening of 10 August, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. No details of the talks were divulged. LF

AZERBAIJAN TIGHTENS SECURITY ON BORDER WITH DAGESTAN...

Azerbaijan National Security Ministry spokesman Araz Gurbanov told Interfax on 11 August that Azerbaijan is introducing unspecified additional security measures on its border with Dagestan. The previous day, National Security Minister Namig Abbasov told Reuters that the Lezgin separatist movement Sadval is taking advantage of the destabilization in Dagestan to intensify its operations in Azerbaijan. Nasyr Primov, leader of the radical wing of Sadval, which is campaigning for an independent Lezgin state composed of northeastern Azerbaijan and southern Dagestan, was arrested in southern Dagestan last month, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LF

...AS GEORGIA PREPARES TO ADMIT UNARMED REFUGEES

Lieutenant- General Valerii Chkheizde, the head of Georgia's border guard service, said in Tbilisi on 11 August that orders have been given to allow refugees fleeing the fighting in western Dagestan to enter Georgia provided they are unarmed, Reuters reported. LF

FIRST KURDISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED IN GEORGIA

The first issue of a monthly newspaper for Georgia's 60,000 strong Yezidi Kurdish community was published on 12 August, Caucasus Press reported. For decades, Georgia has provided Kurdish-language education for that minority, primarily in Tbilisi. LF

MORE FALLOUT FROM KAZAKH ARMS SALE SCANDAL

Kazakhstan's National Security Committee appointed a special commission on 11 August to investigate the circumstances of the controversial sale of obsolete MiG fighters, Interfax reported. The scandal resulting from that botched deal prompted President Nursultan Nazarbaev to dismiss Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev and National Security Committee Chairman Nurtai Abykaev earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1999). Altynbaev told the press the following day he had been "called to account for someone else's mistakes." President Nursultan Nazarbaev also issued a decree removing the Defense Industry Committee from under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense and subordinating it to the Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Trade, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 August. LF

FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER TERMED ELIGIBLE ELECTION CANDIDATE

At a press conference for foreign journalists in Almaty on 11 August, Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Zaghipa Balieva said that the new election law does not prohibit persons found guilty of an administrative offense from contending the upcoming parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. Former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin was barred from participating in the January 1999 presidential elections because of such an offense. But Balieva added that persons convicted of a criminal offense, including tax evasion, may not run for election. Kazhegeldin, who is currently abroad, has been charged with tax evasion. His lawyer said Kazhegeldin will return to Kazakhstan only if President Nazarbaev guarantees his personal safety and only after he has registered as an election candidate. Balieva said she believes the new election law is acceptable to the OSCE, which criticized the January presidential poll as undemocratic. LF

RUSSIA MAKES FIRST CASH PAYMENT FOR BAIKONUR RENT

Kazakhstan's Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Oraz Dzhandosov told journalists in Astana on 11 August that the previous day Russia paid the first $12.5 million installment of the $165 million annual fee for the lease of the Baikonur cosmodrome, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Dzhandosov said Russia will pay a further $50 million in cash in November and the balance in commodities. Since the signing in 1994 of a bilateral agreement allowing Russia continued use of the Soviet-era facility, Moscow has not paid a single penny for the lease. That failure and the explosion last month of a Russian Proton rocket launched from Baikonur led the Kazakh government to threaten to ban future launches from Baikonur. LF

KAZAKH DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS NEW TALKS WITH IMF DUE IN SEPTEMBER

Dzhandosov also said on 11 August that an IMF delegation will visit Kazakhstan in September to discuss the terms for a new three-year loan, RFE/RL's Astana correspondent reported. The fund recently expressed regret that the Kazakh government has refused to meet its demand to expedite reforms and reduce the current 3.7 percent budget deficit in order to qualify for a new Extended Fund Facility loan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1999). But Interfax on 11 August quoted Dzhandosov as saying that no further budget cuts will be made. LF

NO PROGRESS IN KYRGYZ HOSTAGE CRISIS

Negotiations are continuing on securing the release of four Kyrgyz officials taken hostage in southern Kyrgyzstan last week by ethnic Uzbek guerrillas, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 11 August. Members of the Kyrgyz presidential administration declined on 11 August to comment on unconfirmed reports that the guerrillas are demanding a ransom. LF

TAJIK COURT LIFTS BAN ON OPPOSITION PARTIES

In compliance with the 1997 agreement that ended the civil war in Tajikistan, the Tajik Supreme Court on 12 August lifted its 1993 ban on four opposition parties, ITAR-TASS reported. Those parties are the Democratic Party, the Islamic Revival Party, and the Rastakhez and Lali Badakhshan movements. The lifting of the ban was conditional on the disarming of military formations subordinate to the United Tajik Opposition. That process was completed last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1999). LF




OSCE OKAYS BELARUSIAN SUPREME SOVIET AS OPPOSITION MOUTHPIECE

Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE monitoring and consultation group in Minsk, has approved the Belarusian opposition parties' decision to empower the Supreme Soviet to form an opposition delegation and to hold negotiations with the regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1999), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 11 August. Supreme Soviet deputy Anatol Lyabedzka told RFE/RL that the opposition delegation will have six members and will be officially approved at a Supreme Soviet session in September. According to Wieck, the government has already formed its delegation to the talks with the opposition. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST BARRED FROM GOING ABROAD

The Minsk City Executive Committee has revoked the permit to travel abroad included in the passport of Viktar Hanchar, first deputy speaker of the opposition Supreme Soviet, Belapan reported on 11 August. Hanchar told Belapan that this decision is connected with a lawsuit brought against him this spring for "usurping official powers." Hanchar organized the shadow presidential elections in Belarus as the head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission. Now he is involved in organizing negotiations between the opposition and the authorities on the 2000 parliamentary elections. "The authorities are very afraid of the preparations for my official visits to a number of countries and...do everything possible to prevent those visits," Hanchar commented. JM

BELARUSIAN ECONOMY GROWS, ACCORDING TO OFFICIAL DATA

The Ministry of Statistics and Analysis has reported that GDP in January-July 1999 increased by 1 percent, compared with the same period last year, Belapan reported on 11 August. The industrial production in this period increased by 6.5 percent, while the agricultural production shrunk by 9.9 percent. Inflation in the first seven months of this year reached 97.2 percent. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS STEPASHIN'S OUSTER AFFECTS KYIV

Valeriy Pustovoytenko told a cabinet meeting on 10 August that the dismissal of Sergei Stepashin's government "in one way or another" affects the social, economic, and financial situation of Ukraine, Interfax reported on 11 August. Pustovoytenko added that the Russian government's ouster poses "difficult questions" for Kyiv. On 11 August, Pustovoytenko spoke by telephone with new Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, with whom he agreed to meet in Moscow in late August. Pustovoytenko's spokeswoman told Reuters that their meeting will focus on economic and trade issues. JM

ONE MORE CANDIDATE TO JOIN UKRAINE'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

Ukraine's Supreme Court has ordered the Central Electoral Commission to "reverse" its earlier decision and register Oleksandr Bazylyuk as a presidential candidate," ITAR-TASS reported on 12 August. Bazylyuk is leader of the Slavic Party and head of the Congress of Russian Organizations of Ukraine. If registered, he will become the 13th presidential hopeful. JM

ESTONIAN FARM BILL DELAYED

The Estonian parliament on 11 August suspended debate over a controversial bill to support agriculture. The government has already announced it is opposed to the draft law, which provides for a larger rural budget and the imposition of tariffs--partly in violation of existing free-trade agreements, BNS reported. The debate is now scheduled to take place next month. Before the parliamentary session, several hundred farmers protested outside the parliament building. MH

POLLS SHOW LATVIANS SUPPORT SKELE

A poll conducted by Latvijas Fakti showed that Prime Minister Andris Skele is the third most popular member of the Latvian cabinet. The same poll showed that his People's Party has enlarged its lead over the other parties, garnering the support of 30 percent of respondents. Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs remains the most popular minister, although his Latvia's Way has seen its popularity drop to about 10 percent. Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs is the least popular minister. Before taking over the economics portfolio, he was rated as one of the most popular cabinet ministers in his capacity as welfare minister. MH

LITHUANIAN TRADE SLUMPS IN FIRST HALF OF 1999

The Lithuanian Statistics Department on 11 August unveiled trade figures for the first half of 1999. The trade deficit stood at 3.541 billion litas ($885.25 million), down 457.8 million litas from the same period last year. However, this reduction is the result of a massive slump in trade: exports dropped by 23.5 percent and imports by 19.4 percent. Germany remains the largest single trade partner, accounting for 16.3 percent of exports and 17 percent of imports, followed by Latvia and Belarus. Exports to Russia stood at 6.7 percent and imports from that country at 19.6 percent. The report also shows that imports from the CIS dropped by 26.8 percent and exports to those countries by a drastic 66.6 percent. MH

ANOTHER POLISH LEFTIST LEADER TO FACE LUSTRATION

Parliamentary deputy Andrzej Slomka of the Confederation for an Independent Poland-Fatherland (KPN-O) has asked the Lustration Court to lustrate former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), PAP reported on 11 August. Slomka urged that Oleksy, who was publicly accused in mid-1990s of cooperating with Polish and Soviet special services, be lustrated as a priority. Earlier, Slomka's party colleagues requested that the Lustration Court lustrate three other leftist leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1999). SLD spokesman Andrzej Urbanczyk commented that Slomka and his colleagues "are holding up the entire lustration institution to ridicule." Urbanczyk said that by accusing Oleksy, the KPN-O wants to "balance out" its attacks on Premier Jerzy Buzek in April and May, when a KPN-O deputy accused Buzek of cooperation with Communist-era secret services. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRAT DEPUTY EXPLAINS COMMUNIST POPULARITY

Zdenek Jicinsky, in an article published in the daily "Pravo" on 11 August, said recent polls indicating an increase in the popularity of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) provoked "reactions bordering on hysteria," for which there is no justification, CTK reported. He said the KSCM is a "parliamentary party that respects the constitution" and that viewing it as "extremist and anti-reform" is "biased." Jicinsky also said that attempts to isolate the KSCM are "not conducive to the development of Czech society." The KSCM, he argued, finds itself in a "paradoxical situation in which, the stronger it grows, the more isolated it becomes." He said the KSCM's popularity cannot be explained simply by the failures of the Social Democratic government. The NATO war in Yugoslavia contributed to that increase, according to the deputy. MS

CZECH HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER SAYS ROMANY PROBLEM IS EUROPEAN PROBLEM

Petr Uhl, visiting Kosice, Slovakia, on 11 August, said the "Romany problem" in the Czech Republic and Slovakia has many common features and that the comparison could be extended to Hungary. Uhl told Slovak Radio that the Visegrad group of countries must devise joint projects that would be financed by the EU. He said the problem is a European one and that he feels free to speak about the situation in the Czech Republic and Slovakia because he is a citizen of both countries. Uhl said the Romany problem "cannot be solved through assimilation but only through emancipation leading to complete integration" of Roma in the societies where they live, Slovak Radio and SITA reported. MS

MECIAR TO TESTIFY IN SLOVAK ABDUCTION INVESTIGATION?

Chief investigator Jaroslav Ivor told Radio Twist on 11 August that former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar will be asked to testify in the investigation now under way over the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son, CTK reported. Ivor said he believes Meciar will decide to testify because "it is in his interest to do so, as well as in the interest of society." Recently former Slovak Counter-Intelligence (SIS) deputy chief Jaroslav Svechota said the abduction was carried out by former SIS chief Ivan Lexa and masterminded by Meciar. MS

HUNGARY POSTPONES TAX SYSTEM REFORM

"Now that we have survived difficulties such as natural disasters and the Yugoslav war, no one is prepared to see large-scale tax and social insurance reforms," Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio on 11 August, defending his cabinet's decision the previous day to postpone the planned reforms for 2001. Imre Szekeres, the Socialist Party chairman of the parliament's Budget Committee, responded that the cabinet has chosen the "courage of inaction" and that the decision to postpone the reforms means that those with low and medium-sized incomes will continue to be disadvantaged, the daily "Nepszava" reported on 12 August. Data released on 11 August by the Central Statistics Office show annual inflation has returned to double figures: prices last month were up 10.1 percent on the July 1998 level. MS

HUNGARIAN OMBUDSMAN URGES MEDIA CODE OF ETHICS

Data protection ombudsman Laszlo Majtenyi has recommended that television stations be prohibited from broadcasting personal data without the prior agreement of the persons concerned. Majtenyi made the recommendation on 10 August after studying news and crime stories broadcast by five television stations between 11 and 16 January. He said it cannot be in the public interest to release the names and addresses of victims of crimes or of those suspected to have committed them. He also said that the media should be required to obtain the written consent of those affected before releasing information on racial origin, nationality, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and state of health. Majtenyi called on professional journalists organizations to help harmonize press freedom and the protection of privacy rights by drawing up a code of ethics. MS




U.S. SOLDIERS RESCUE RUSSIANS FROM ANGRY KOSOVARS

A crowd of ethnic Albanians armed with rocks and sticks attacked Russian peacekeepers in a village near Gjilan on 11 August, Reuters reported. The Russians needed help from U.S. troops to fend off the mob, but no injuries were reported. U.S. Brigadier- General John Craddock suggested that the protests were in response to the 9 August murder of an ethnic Albanian man in the nearby village of Koretin. Craddock said that local ethnic Albanians earlier spread the rumor that the killers were Russians, but he stressed that there is no evidence to support the charge. He added that "there appears to be a significant disinformation campaign against the Russian unit. There is a preconceived Albanian notion that the Russians will favor the Serbs." Craddock stressed that the Russians "have shown restraint and control. They have been executing their duties in a...professional way." FS

KOSOVARS PROTEST ARREST OF ARMED UCK SOLDIERS

About 200 ethnic Albanian protesters confronted U.S. soldiers in Gjilan on 11 August and demanded the release of 10 men whom KFOR had arrested the previous day, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The protest ended peacefully. Those arrested belonged to a group of 60 ethnic Albanians whom U.S. soldiers rounded up in a school where peacekeepers found an arms cache. Some of those arrested were armed and wearing uniforms of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). On 10 and 11 August, KFOR arrested a total of 78 crime suspects throughout Kosova. FS

KFOR KEEPS MITROVICA BRIDGE SHUT

A KFOR spokesman told an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent in Prishtina on 11 August that "KFOR soldiers prevented in a very professional way an escalation [of tensions in Mitrovica] by closing the main bridge to all traffic. They thereby prevented 200 Albanians from crossing over to [confront] the 200 waiting Serbs on the other side." A spokeswoman for the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said that "it is clear...to us that extremists and outsiders are playing a dangerous role in Mitrovica." FS

LDK COUNCIL PLEDGES REFORMS

The General Council of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the highest body of that party between party congresses, met on 11 August in Prishtina after a break of more than a year. Spokesman Melazim Krasniqi told an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent that the council decided that the LDK "must consolidate [and] develop a profile as a political party [rather than] that of a movement." He added that the delegates pledged to "cooperate with UNMIK and KFOR at all levels [to help] rebuild Kosova." They also agreed to "cooperate with all political and military factors in Kosova," a formulation referring to the rival UCK and its provisional government. The correspondent noted that some party members harshly criticized the leadership for doing little during the recent conflict. The correspondent added that the LDK will organize a party congress in October. FS

UCK MINISTER PLEDGES TO RESPECT KFOR

Rexhep Selimi, who is interior minister in the UCK's provisional government, issued a statement in Prishtina on 11 August saying that his government "will not stand in the way of KFOR." He declared void the illegal permits he had given some UCK officials to carry out arrests, confiscate property, and carry arms. Selimi said that "we recognize the need to revise our identification permits." Last week, KFOR seized an arms cache at Selimi's headquarters. Peacekeepers also confiscated illegal identity cards stating that the holder of the card has the right to make arrests and confiscate property (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 1999). FS

ARTEMIJE CHARGES THACI WITH HYPOCRISY

Bishop Artemije, who is the leading Serbian Orthodox cleric in Kosova, said in Gracanica on 11 August that UCK leader Hashim Thaci is encouraging the ethnic cleansing of Serbs. Artemije said that Thaci "tells one story for the international public, while he has another story for his followers. When speaking publicly, he says he is for a multi-ethnic [Kosova], while at the same time he has another message for his followers. [That message is] to continue with ethnic cleansing," AP reported. Following Artemije's remarks, UN Balkan envoy Carl Bildt said that if Thaci is unable to control his followers, then the international community should reconsider whether he is "the right person to talk to." PM

U.S. GENERAL CALLS VIOLENCE AGAINST SERBS 'ORGANIZED'

General Craddock also said in Prishtina on 11 August that "rogue elements" of the UCK or "disaffected former members" of that organization have been at the center of recent violence against Serbs. He added that "there appears to be a pattern [of intimidation]. It is organized. It's more than just the neighbors...getting upset at each other," Reuters reported. He noted that the UCK is meeting its disarmament deadlines but only with KFOR prodding. Craddock added: "There is another element out there among the [UCK] and other parties and factions we deal with. It may be criminal, political, or military, we're not sure. We know there are disaffected people who have left the [UCK and insist on] bearing arms." He noted that the UCK has sometimes sought to acquire police prerogatives for itself in violation of the June peace agreement. Craddock added, however, that it is not his soldiers' job to carry out police duties until the UN police arrive. PM

UNHCR CRITICIZES 'TERROR' AGAINST KOSOVA SERBS...

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent in Prishtina on 11 August that some ethnic Albanian Kosovars are systematically intimidating local Serbs. He said that most Serbs who stayed in Kosova are elderly or handicapped, adding that "it is highly unlikely that these people were involved in the persecution of Albanians. But that does not seem to matter to the thugs who are now terrorizing them." Redmond said that many Serbs received anonymous letters ordering them to leave their homes. Later, ethnic Albanians intimidate them personally and sometimes kill them, he noted. "We are sure that the vast majority of the Albanian population...wants nothing to do with those who terrorize and shoot old women and employ some of the same disgusting tactics that were used against the Albanians themselves just a few weeks ago," he concluded. FS

...SAYS MOST KOSOVAR SERBS HAVE LEFT

UNHCR spokesman Dennis McNamara said in Prishtina on 11 August that only about 2,000 Serbs remain in Kosova out of the 40,000 or so who lived there before the recent conflict. He added that about 170,000 Serbs have fled Kosova in recent months. Serbia is now host to some 700,000 people who fled their homes as a result of Milosevic's wars in Croatia, Bosnia, or Kosova, Reuters reported. PM

DJINDJIC PREDICTS SERBIAN GENERAL STRIKE

Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 12 August that the Serbian Renewal Movement's "Vuk Draskovic expects that after [the planned demonstration in Belgrade on] 19 August, Milosevic's Socialist Party, or important elements of this party, will be prepared to accept our transition government." Should that fail to happen, Djindjic added, he will lead a second phase of the protest to force Milosevic from office. The opposition's tactics will include a general strike as well as protests and acts of civil disobedience, Djindjic added. PM

CALL UP OF SERBIAN STUDENTS?

Many university students in Serbia have recently received letters ordering them to report for military duty, VOA's Croatian Service reported on 12 August. Yugoslav students are normally exempt from military service until they have finished their studies. PM

SERBIAN TELEVISION BLASTS U.S. 'MEDIA TERRORISM'...

State-run television (RTS) said on 11 August that the U.S. jams its broadcasts and seeks to "enslave Serbia and its people" by installing a "puppet government." According to RTS, "NATO countries, led by the U.S., have prepared a project called Ring Around Serbia in order to jam RTS's programming and broadcast Western Serbian-language programs in their place." RTS added that the alleged U.S. plan violates international norms in telecommunications and constitutes a "classic form of state terrorism." Observers note that Ring Around Serbia is a Western response to Serbia's restrictive media laws that date from October 1998. Transmitters in several countries bordering Serbia broadcast programs of RFE/RL, VOA, BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France International. PM

...WHILE WASHINGTON REJECTS CHARGES

State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 11 August that RTS's charges are false. "In the future we may expand transmissions using new wavelengths," he commented. "If we do so, we will do so only if we can identify frequencies not officially registered by public and private entities in Serbia. We have taken great care not to jam [Serbian] broadcasts and will continue to do so." Rubin observed that "if the Serbian authorities were to overturn their draconian media law and allow real independent media inside Serbia, there would be much less of a need for the international community to broadcast into Serbia from adjoining areas. I think the Serbs would probably do well to focus a little bit more on what's going on inside of Serbia," he added. PM

SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES DEL PONTE

The UN's highest body unanimously approved Switzerland's Carla del Ponte to succeed Louise Arbour as the Hague court's chief prosecutor. Del Ponte takes up her duties on 15 September. PM

OSCE CONCERNED OVER KILLING OF SERB IN CROATIA

A spokesman for the OSCE said in Zagreb on 11 August that his organization is concerned about several "politically motivated incidents" in the village of Berak in eastern Slavonia in recent months. On 9 August, he noted, a group of four or five Croats beat a Serb to death there. The spokesman stressed that the OSCE expects the Croatian police to arrest those responsible and thoroughly investigate the incidents. PM

ROMANIAN ANTI-TRUST COUNCIL PROBING RENAULT DEAL

The Anti- Trust Council on 11 August said it is probing the terms under which the government granted the French Renault company tax breaks and other advantages that may unfairly strengthen the company's position on the Romanian car-maker market, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Renault had demanded such advantages in the July deal whereby it acquired a 51 percent stake in the Pitesti Dacia car maker. The Daewoo company, which took over the Craiova Olcit car maker, last week demanded that it be granted the same advantages as Renault, threatening to otherwise terminate its activity in Romania. The council said the government did not consult it over the Renault deal. The council has 30 days to examine the terms of the deal. MS

EXTREME NATIONALIST ROMANIAN SENATOR INDICTED AGAIN

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 11 August said it has indicted Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor for "offending the authorities" and the spread of libelous information, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The indictment, which is the latest in a series of accusations that Tudor has faced since being deprived of his parliamentary immunity, follows Tudor's allegation on a television program that President Emil Constantinescu was a U.S. agent during communist rule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 1999). MS

ROMANIAN SOCCER OFFICIAL DENIES ACCUSATION OF ANTI- SEMITISM

Dumitru Dragomir, deputy chairman of the Romanian Soccer Federation, has denied allegations that he is involved in anti-Semitic activities as publisher of the "Atac la persoana" weekly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1999). In an interview with the daily "Cotidianul" of 11 August, Dragomir said he could not be involved in the activities of anti-Semitic groups in Romania "for the simple reason that such groups do not exist" there. Dragomir also said "Atac la persona" was "not an anti- Semitic but a scandal publication." He also commented that "no one can touch me" because "to convict me of anti- Semitism could take up to eight years" owing to lengthy court procedures preceding a final verdict. MS

ECLIPSE BLACKS OUT TV SCREENS IN BULGARIA

Bulgarian Television on 11 August failed to broadcast live pictures of the total eclipse owing to a technical fault. Faced with a black screen at the crucial moment, astronomy experts were asked to describe what the event normally looks like, while producers hurriedly dug out pictures of the last eclipse in Bulgaria, in 1961, AFP reported. For several weeks, the television network had urged Bulgarians to watch the eclipse "in the safest possible way, on your television screen." MS




HOW WILL MACEDONIA'S PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT AFFECT THE RULING COALITION?


by Stefan Krause

Earlier this year, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the presidential elections scheduled for this fall would hold few surprises. The ruling coalition reportedly intended to field a joint candidate who, it was believed, would win hands down. But strife within the coalition has made this scenario increasingly unlikely, raising questions about the consequences for the coalition itself.

When the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA) formed an electoral alliance ahead of last year's parliamentary elections, the parties' leaders were thought to have struck a far-reaching deal. It was believed that VMRO-DPMNE leader Ljubco Georgievski would become prime minister and DA chairman Vasil Tupurkovski the parties' joint presidential candidate. While Georgievski went on to became prime minister of a coalition of those two parties and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), Tupurkovski's chances to succeed veteran politician Kiro Gligorov as the country's president look increasingly slim.

Tupurkovski, Macedonia's last representative on the collective presidency of socialist Yugoslavia, reemerged on the political scene in March 1998 when he formed the DA. Ostensibly a centrist party with a civic orientation, the DA is primarily a vehicle to promote its leader's presidential ambitions. Its platform for the 1998 parliamentary elections was little more than a plan for distributing the $1 billion in foreign aid and investment that Tupurkovski assured would be forthcoming if his party went into government. When he masterminded the diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in January 1999, it was assumed that this would be the source of "Cile's billion" (Cile is Tupurkovski's nickname). But thus far, little money from Taipei has reached Macedonia, and Taiwanese officials have made it clear that their government never pledged to give Macedonia such a huge sum with no strings attached. Sizeable foreign investment, they argue, depends mostly on whether the Macedonian government creates favorable conditions for investors, something it has so far failed to achieve.

As a result, Tupurkovski's rating plummeted. The poor performance of some of his party's cabinet ministers, his absence from Macedonia during the Kosova crisis, and a host of minor political blunders also contributed to the weakening of his position. According to the latest opinion polls, Tupurkovski would lose against almost any other potential presidential candidate.

But an even more serious threat to Tupurkovski's presidential ambitions is posed by the VMRO-DPMNE's attitude toward him. Although Georgievski may still be keen to contest the elections with a joint coalition candidate, his party is less than enthusiastic about Tupurkovski. At a meeting of the party's Executive Committee in late July, all members except for Georgievski reportedly wanted the party to field its own candidate. Georgievski has the final say within the VMRO- DPMNE, and he is expected to announce later this month who his party will support. Under the current circumstances, the lesser evil for Georgievski would be to alienate Tupurkovski rather than his own party.

Thus, all the indications are that VMRO-DPMNE will field its own candidate. That candidate will most likely be Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Trajkovski, who is popular among the public and gained prominence during the Kosova crisis. According to opinion polls, Trajkovski has the best chance of all presidential hopefuls to win the presidency.

The main question is what Tupurkovski will do if he fails to get the support of VMRO-DPMNE. With regards to the presidential elections, he has three options, none of which is very attractive for him. First, he could run without the backing of his bigger coalition partner. In such a case, he would almost certainly fail to reach the second round since no other major party is likely to support him. Second, he could support the VMRO-DPMNE candidate, but he would then have to write off his ultimate political ambition of becoming Macedonian president. Third, he could decide neither to run in this year's presidential elections nor endorse any candidate. Again, this would probably spell the end of his presidential ambitions.

Equally interesting, however, is what the impact will be on the ruling coalition. If Tupurkovski decides to keep his party in the government, little will change superficially, although the DA and its leader will doubtless lose political influence and frictions will mount. Tupurkovski could threaten to pull his party out of the government, but his partners would remain largely unimpressed by such threats for a number of reasons. First, VMRO-DPMNE and the DPA alone hold 60 of the 120 seats in the parliament. Second, the Liberal Democrats, who are represented in the government although they are not a formal part of the coalition, have already nominated former speaker of parliament Stojan Andov as their presidential candidate. Nonetheless, they could decide to continue supporting the government, which would then command 64 seats in the assembly. And third, VMRO-DPMNE has a good chance of winning over some of the DA's deputies if that party leaves the government. Such a development would also secure a parliamentary majority for what would be left of the coalition.

Meanwhile, all that would be left to Tupurkovski would be the one presidency he currently holds, namely that of the Macedonian Olympic Committee. The author is a Skopje-based political analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG).


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