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Newsline - August 19, 1999




YELTSIN WANTS NEW GOVERNMENT TO FOLLOW ORDERS

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with three of his predecessors on 18 August: Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergei Kirienko, and Sergei Stepashin. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais also participated in the meeting. When asked by reporters about the goal of the meeting, Stepashin quipped "the main thing is for Putin to stay in his job for more than three months." Kirienko, for his part, said the main issues to be discussed were ensuring continuity and "helping Putin," according to RIA-Novosti. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the same day that Russian President Boris Yeltsin wants this cabinet to coordinate its activities more closely with the presidential administration. It cited Yeltsin as saying on 17 August that "We must establish such discipline that the president's decision can never be stopped anywhere in the government; those who try to do this must be removed from their posts at once." On 19 August, Putin announced that he and the president had reached agreement on his cabinet's composition. JAC

OVR'S TOP DUMA CANDIDATES NOT TO SERVE IN DUMA

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov announced on 18 August that the top three candidates on the party list for the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance will not take up seats in the State Duma if elected, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Luzhkov "the first three names on the list are mainly symbols" for the electorate. Andrei Pointkovskii, director of Moscow's Center for Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL that former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov who tops the list is instead aiming for the Russian presidency. Primakov will run for president, while Mayor of Moscow Yurii Luzhkov "would become prime minister and enjoy broad new powers," Pointkovskii added, noting that Primakov recently suggested "constitutional changes in this direction" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). The third top candidate is St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. Writing in "Izvestiya," Maksim Sokolov noted that the Duma elections take the form of a "plebiscite, in which citizens have the opportunity to express their opinions on different groups of leaders." JAC

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS DAGHESTAN...

Addressing a session of Daghestan's State Council on 18 August during a one-day visit to Makhachkala, Igor Sergeev expressed confidence that the combined Russian forces will eliminate the Islamist militants "within a very short period," Interfax reported. He added that the Russian units have enough manpower and arms to do so. But Interfax also cited unnamed Russian military sources in the North Caucasus as predicting that a final victory over the militants could take months. Those sources said they expect the number of Russian troops in Daghestan to be increased to 10,000-15,000, including five airborne battalions and special units. They estimated the guerrillas' strength at 2,000. LF

...AS RUSSIA INCURS LOSSES IN FAILED ASSAULT ON TANDO

Eight Russian servicemen were killed and 20 injured in a repeat attempt to storm the strategically located village of Tando in western Daghestan, Daghestani Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov told the State Council meeting in Makhachkala on18 August, Russian agencies reported. But the Russian Interior Ministry issued a statement the same day claiming that federal forces had succeeded in taking control of the Kharami pass, on the border between Daghestan and Chechnya, and thus cutting an important supply route for the Islamists. LF

INGUSH GIVE ISLAMIST EMISSARY COLD SHOULDER

Ingush residents of a village in North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion expelled an emissary sent by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev on 11- 12 August to assess the degree of support they could be counted on to give to an incursion by Islamist militants into North Ossetian territory, Russian agencies reported on 18 August. Also on 18 August, the presidents of Ingushetia and North Ossetia, Ruslan Aushev and Aleksandr Dzasokhov, issued a joint statement warning that unnamed "destructive forces" are reportedly planning to provoke new tensions between the Ossetian and Ingush peoples. The two leaders called on the populations not to yield to such provocations, Interfax reported.

LUKIN SAYS START-2 RATIFICATION DEPENDS ON COMPROMISE OVER ABM

State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin told ITAR-TASS on 18 August that the Duma will ratify the START-2 treaty only if a compromise is reached on modifying the ABM treaty. Lukin, a member of Yabloko, was commenting on the U.S.-Russian disarmament talks that began in Moscow earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). He noted that the talks focused on the "preparation of the START-3 treaty and therefore the chances for ratification of the START-2 treaty." "The Russian side made it clear that ratification will be possible only if a mutually acceptable position is reached on the adaptation of the 1972 ABM Treaty," he stressed. JC

RUSSIA ACCUSES U.S. OF SABOTAGING GAS PROJECT

In an 18 August statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused unnamed U.S. officials of systematically trying to prevent the implementation of the Russian-Turkish "Blue Stream" project to build a gas pipeline under the Caspian Sea, Russian agencies reported. The ministry expressed incomprehension over U.S. arguments that Russian fuel deliveries could reduce the political and economic independence of unnamed countries in the region, noting that the U.S. has expressed support for regional cooperation with Russia in exporting hydro-carbons. Russia and Turkey signed an agreement in 1997 on the 400 kilometer Blue Stream pipeline from Djubga, on the Russian Black Sea coast near Novorossiisk, to Samsun. On completion in 2001, the pipeline would have an initial throughput capacity of 5 billion cubic meters a year. LF

RUSSIA, GERMANY TO MODERNIZE EASTERN EUROPE'S MIG-29S

Russia's MAPO aircraft manufacturer and the Rosvooruzhenie state arms-trading company have signed a cooperation memorandum with Germany's DASA aerospace concern on jointly modernizing MiG-29 fighter planes serving with the air forces of Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia, Interfax reported on 18 August. Under the agreement, the planes' service life will be extended to 2015 and operating costs reduced. A working group is now considering ways in which Central and East European factories can participate in the program. The German air force has 24 MiG-29s, which Russia earlier helped modernize. JC

RUSSIA SENDS BORDER GUARDS TO KOSOVA

Unidentified sources in the Russian Defense Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 18 August that Russia will send 30 border guards to Kosova. Those troops will become part of the 210-strong Russian contingent within the international police force, Meanwhile, Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic welcomed the appointment of Vladimir Putin as Russian premier and expressed confidence that "Yugoslavia will continue to develop traditionally close cooperation with Russia." FS

RUSSIAN GENERAL WANTS BETTER AIR DEFENSE AFTER KOSOVA WAR

Colonel-General Gennadii Vasilev, who is the commander of air defense in Moscow and central Russia, told ITAR-TASS that his office has sent a detailed report to the Security Council suggesting improvements to the national air defense network. He added that the plans are based on lessons learned from this year's NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Vasilev acknowledged, however, that Economy Ministry officials have raised unspecified objections to the plans. FS

GOVERNMENT SET TO HAGGLE WITH IMF OVER 2000 BUDGET SURPLUS...

The primary surplus of the draft budget for 2000 may be raised from 3 percent to 3.5 percent in line with demands from the IMF, a well-informed source told Interfax on 18 August. The next day, acting Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced that the government has raised the primary surplus to 3.18 percent. According to the current draft, revenues will total 743.6 billion rubles ($30 billion), expenditures, 801.4 billion rubles, with a resulting deficit of 57.8 billion rubles, which is 1.13 percent of GDP, Interfax reported. First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the previous day that expenditures totaling 220 billion rubles (4.32 percent of GDP) are earmarked for debt servicing, while defense spending is planned at 119 billion rubles (2.34 percent) and spending on law enforcement and security at 77 billion rubles (1.51 percent). JAC

...AS FINANCE MINISTER ADMITS LIVING STANDARDS TO REMAIN LOW

Kasyanov said earlier that while the 2000 budget is "strict," it should help overcome the situation that resulted from the economic crisis in August 1998, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 August. However, Kasyanov added, even if the 2000 budget is fully implemented, the country will not be able to return to the living standards of 1997 for another three or four years, according to the daily. Prime Minister Putin said on 16 August that the government will submit the budget to the Duma by 25 August. JAC

PROTESTING COAL MINERS BACK UP LEBED IN FIGHT WITH MOSCOW, WORLD BANK

Thousands of miners in the towns of Borodino, Nazarovo, and Sharypovo in Krasnyarsk Krai stopped work on 18 August to protest plans to privatize the local coal company, Krasugol, "Tribuna" reported on 19 August. The miners are appealing to Prime Minister Putin to reverse the decision. Strike leaders said the planned privatization will lead to drastic job reductions and lower revenues for cities whose economies depend on the company's coal production, ITAR-TASS reported. Krasugol is scheduled to be privatized under a coal sector restructuring program financed by the World Bank. Prime Minister Putin recently criticized Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed's attempt to retain control over Krasugol, noting that the region's retention of a controlling stake in the company would not represent an increase in the coal industry's effectiveness "from the point of view of international financial organizations" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 August 1999). JAC

BEREZOVSKII EXPERIENCING CASH FLOW PROBLEMS?

A spokesman for Switzerland's federal prosecutor's office told reporters on 18 August that Swiss authorities have frozen bank accounts for certain individuals following a request from Russian law enforcement officials. The spokesman declined to comment on a recent report in the Swiss magazine "Facts" that accounts worth 100 million Swiss francs ($66 million) belonging to media magnate Boris Berezovskii have been frozen on suspicion of fraud and money-laundering. Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta" reported in its most recent issue that companies and structures close to Berezovskii owe an estimated combined total of $3 billion. According to the publication, last year's economic crisis hit hardest those banks owned by Berezovskii: according to preliminary estimates, Avtobank and United Bank lost almost $180 million. "Novaya gazeta," which is reportedly financed by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group, concluded that "Berezovskii's whole empire lives on borrowed money" that flows from one structure to another and makes new loans and new purchases possible. JAC

SIBERIANS APPLYING PRESSURE FOR BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION

Governors belonging to the interregional association Siberian Accord have decided to launch a campaign to gather signatures for a referendum on the unification of Belarus and Russia, "Segodnya" reported on 18 August. One Siberian Accord official told the daily that the necessary signatures will be gathered no later than early October. "Vremya MN" reported on 19 August that in Novosibirsk entire workers collectives are being threatened that if they do not sign, their gas will be turned off. According to the daily, each governor is personally responsible for overseeing the signature drive and will be embarrassed before his fellow members of Siberian Accord if his region fails to deliver the agreed number. For example, Novosibirsk must supply 100,000 signatures. JAC

LEARNING THE HARD WAY IN SIBERIA

Under a program initiated by a German social pedagogue, juvenile delinquents from Germany are being sent to a special settlement in Omsk Oblast, rather than detention centers in their home country, to be reformed, "Vremya MN" reported on 17 August. The aim of the program is to seek to change the youths' attitude toward life and other people--in an environment that it is much harder than in Germany. The program is financed partly by the delinquents' parents and partly by the German government. As the newspaper points out, keeping the youths in a detention center would cost the German state several times more than sending them to Siberia under the reform program. JC

LINGUISTS ARE STANDING BY

The Russian Language Institute in Moscow offers callers free-of-charge assistance with knotty grammar, composition, and even pronunciation problems, "The Moscow Times" reported on 19 August. One recent caller asked for help with an extremely long sentence with four consecutive uses of the genitive case, while another wondered which syllable in the past tense feminine form of the verb "zadat" should be stressed, according to the daily. While the service is free, callers will be responsible for any long- distance charges. The Russian Language Hot Line operates from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Moscow time on 7095-202-6543. JAC




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE DISCUSSES PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS

Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian on 18 August urged the parliament's economic committee to endorse his proposed measures to overcome the 31 billion dram ($58 million) budget shortfall, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Those measures include tax hikes, cuts in "non-essential" expenditures in the social, education, and health sectors, and increased excise duties on gasoline and cigarettes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 1999). At the same time, under pressure from the IMF and World Bank, the government must find 17 billion drams to compensate for consumers' unpaid debts to the energy sector. The parliament is expected to convene an emergency session on 23 August to discuss the proposed measures. LF

U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY VISITS AZERBAIJAN...

Bill Richardson held talks with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, Prime Minister Artur Rasi-zade and with Natik Aliev, president of the state oil company SOCAR, in Baku on 18 August, Turan reported. Richardson defined the purpose of his visit as strengthening and stabilizing bilateral relations, noting that the U.S. wants to cooperate with Azerbaijan on issues "going beyond the Caspian region." He reaffirmed Washington's support for the proposed Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, adding that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan should also use that facility. Turkish and Azerbaijani government working groups are due to meet in Washington on 22-23 August with U.S. and international financial institutions in an attempt to finalize funding for that project, the estimated cost of which is at least $2.7 billion. The Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the largest international oil consortium operating in Azerbaijan, is reluctant to contribute to the Baku-Ceyhan project and would prefer to expand the existing export pipeline to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast. LF

...AND TURKMENISTAN

Meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 19 August in Ashgabat, Richardson affirmed his support for the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline to transport Turkmenistan's natural gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's correspondent in the Turkmen capital reported. Noting that Shell has recently joined the consortium to build that pipeline as the upstream partner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 1999), Richardson said that negotiations have begun on the financing and route of the pipeline. Richardson expressed the hope, as he had done the previous day in Baku, that the Trans-Caspian pipeline will promote cooperation, not rivalry, between the countries of the region. John Wolf, who is adviser on Caspian issues to the U.S. president and secretary of state, had said in Baku on 18 August that the Trans-Caspian pipeline is not intended as competition with Russia's "Blue Stream" project (see above). LF

AZERBAIJAN CREATES WORKING GROUP ON GAS EXPORT

President Aliyev has decreed the creation of a working group composed of senior Azerbaijani officials and representatives of international oil companies engaged in Azerbaijan to determine the choice of route for and the construction of gas pipelines to transport gas from the Shah Deniz offshore Caspian field to world markets, Turan reported on 18 August. The creation of such a group suggests that Azerbaijan will be able to use the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline to export only part of its gas. LF

GEORGIA SATISFIED WITH RUSSIAN APOLOGY FOR BOMBING

State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 18 August that the Georgian leadership has no reason to doubt the sincerity of the official apology received earlier that day from Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for the 9 August incident in which Russian planes dropped mines on the village of Zemo Omalo, close to the Georgian border with Daghestan, Interfax reported. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania similarly commented that Moscow's acknowledgment of responsibility indicates a desire for "new neighborly and civilized relations with Georgia," according to Caucasus Press. A bilateral commission will be established to estimate the extent of the damages caused by the bombing, in which four people were injured and several homes destroyed. Moscow has expressed its readiness to pay compensation for the damage. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY OUTLINES ELECTION PROGRAM

Meeting in Almaty on 18 August, the People's Republican Party of Kazakhstan selected 10 candidates to contest the part list seats in the 10 October election to the lower chamber of the parliament, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Party chairman and former Premier Akezhan Kazhgeldin heads the list. Another 20 candidates will run in single-candidate constituencies, according to Interfax. Party Deputy Chairman Gazis Aldamzharov said the party believes that improvements in social and economic conditions will be possible only if the country's leadership structure is radically changed. He therefore advocated a referendum on amending the constitution in order to remove President Nursultan Nazarbaev from office. The powers of the government and parliament would then be strengthened at the expense of the president. Aldamzharov also said his party wants to annul the 1998 border agreement under which Kazakhstan ceded part of its territory to China. LF

HOSTAGE-TAKERS BELIEVED TO HAVE LEFT KYRGYZSTAN

An anonymous Osh Oblast administration official told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 18 August that the 21 guerrillas who held four Kyrgyz officials hostage in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier this month have probably already left the country. He said that Kyrgyz troops have combed the mountains where the guerrillas were entrenched but have failed to locate them. The Kyrgyz authorities have released no new information on the hunt for the guerrillas for two days. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CHAIRS CABINET SESSION

Saparmurat Niyazov chaired a cabinet session to discuss agriculture and the development of the textile industry on 18 August, Interfax reported. The previous day, Niyazov was scheduled to undergo a medical checkup by the German cardiologist who performed heart bypass surgery on him two years ago. Also on 18 August, Niyazov announced that Turkmenistan will donate $100,000 to victims of the Turkish earthquake and is prepared to send a team of doctors to the devastated area, according to Interfax. LF

UZBEK COURT SENTENCES ANOTHER SIX IN CONNECTION WITH TASHKENT BOMBING

A provincial town court on 18 August handed down sentences ranging from eight to 15 years imprisonment on six men accused of participating in the 16 February bomb attacks in Tashkent, RFE/RL's bureau in the Uzbek capital reported. Two of the accused are brothers of Mohammed Solih, one of the leaders of the banned Erk opposition party, whom Uzbek President Islam Karimov has accused of masterminding the bomb attacks. Western journalists and diplomats and OSCE representatives were barred from the trial, but Reuters quoted an OSCE representative as saying that some of the accused pleaded guilty to charges of insulting the president and organizing criminal groups. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations had expressed concern that at least one of the defendants, prominent writer Mamadali Mahmudov, was systematically tortured during the pretrial investigation. Six men were sentenced to death in June for their alleged role in the bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1999). LF




BELARUS AGAIN LOSES 'BATTLE FOR HARVEST'

Premier Syarhey Linh on 18 August informed President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that this year's harvest will be smaller than last year's because of "unfavorable weather and other objective reasons," Belarusian Television reported. Belarus will thus be forced to buy grain abroad. The report gave no figures. Last year, Belarus harvested some 5 million tons of grain, down from 6 million tons in 1997. Linh and Lukashenka noted that the lower grain yield means that budget expenditures will have to be reduced in all areas, except the social sphere. JM

MINSK OSCE MISSION HEAD OUTLINES POLITICAL DIALOGUE GOALS

Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE monitoring and consultative group in Minsk, published an article in the 18 August "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" outlining the OSCE's expectations of the planned talks between the authorities and the opposition in Belarus. According to Wieck, the talks should aim at "seeking sufficient common grounds for the adoption of a law on holding free and fair elections, ensuring access of the opposition to the media, and creating a parliament with significant functions and powers." JM

UKRAINE, MOLDOVA SIGN BORDER TREATY

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Moldovan counterpart, Petru Luchinschi, meeting in Kyiv on 18 August, signed a treaty defining the border between the two countries. Under a protocol attached to the treaty, Ukraine will control an 8 kilometer section of the Odesa-Izmail road as well as the strip of land on which that part of the road crosses Moldovan territory. In exchange, Moldova will receive a 100-meter strip of land along the Danube River, thus obtaining access to the Black Sea and the possibility of building an oil terminal. The two sides also signed agreements aimed at boosting trade and customs cooperation. JM

OFFICIAL CASTS DOUBT ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS' VALIDITY

Mykhaylo Ryabets, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said on 18 August that the Supreme Court's order to register the six presidential candidates who were originally rejected by the commission may threaten the validity of the entire ballot. The court ruled that the commission had violated procedures while checking voters' signatures. However, it did not comment on the validity of signatures submitted by the six candidates. Since those candidates did not produce the required number of signatures (at least 1 million), presidential hopefuls who lose the 31 October vote will be able to appeal the election results and have the elections invalidated, Ryabets argued. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES WTO MEMBERSHIP

Lawmakers on 18 August gave preliminary approval to legislation ratifying the country's decision to join the World Trade Organization, ETA reported. In the fall session, the parliament will continue work on the bill as well as other legislation aimed at bringing Estonia into compliance with WTO rules. According to the news agency, if Estonia does not become a member of the international trade body "before October 30, [its] membership may be postponed for years." MJZ

ESTONIA WILLING TO GRANT RESIDENCY TO JAILED RUSSIAN ACTIVIST

The Estonian Citizenship and Migration Department is willing to issue a residence permit to jailed Russian activist Oleg Morozov, BNS reported on 18 August. The Russian citizen is due to be released from jail on 19 August after serving a 20-day sentence for violating the country's aliens law. Morozov refuses an Estonian residence permit, as required by the aliens law, on the grounds that he was born and raised in the country while it was occupied by the Soviet Union. MJZ

LATVIAN COALITION PARTNERS DISAGREE ON STATE LANGUAGE LAW

The three ruling coalition parties disagree over when the vetoed state language law should be reconsidered by the parliament. According to LETA, the head of the People's Party parliamentary faction, Gundars Berzins, said on 18 August that the parliament should adopt an amended law in November because "it is important [for Latvia] to demonstrate an ability to act." Fatherland and Freedom and Latvia's Way, on the other hand, want to see consideration of any new amendments delayed until early next year. MJZ

LATVIA'S RESIDENTS GENERALLY SATISFIED WITH INTERETHNIC RELATIONS

BNS reported on 17 August that 56.5 percent of Latvia's residents believe that relations among Latvia's various ethnic groups are good or very good, while just under 12 percent think they are bad or very bad. According to a Latvijas Fakti opinion poll, slightly more than 50 percent of those questioned said that fears about losing ethnic identity as a result of social integration are unfounded and that such integration is necessary for Latvia to develop a unified civil society. Ethnic Latvians were much more positive concerning interethnic relations than non-Latvians: 17 percent of non-Latvians thought those relations were bad or very bad, while only 7.5 percent of ethnic Latvians concurred with that assessment. MJZ

POLISH FARMERS THREATEN TO DESTROY IMPORTED GRAIN...

Marian Zagorny, head of the Farmers Solidarity national protest committee, has presented Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek with an ultimatum, Polish Radio reported on 18 August. The committee threatens that unless the prime minister halts grain imports and explains the principles of his grain importing policy to farmers, it will destroy shipments of imported grain at rail and road border crossings. JM

...WHILE POLICE DEMAND WAGE HIKES

Police trade union activists on 18 August demanded wage hikes and punctual wage payments, PAP reported. "This is not an actual threat, but we will ask our unions to start protests if our demands are not met," police union leader Andrzej Szary commented. JM

INVESTIGATION OF CZECH EX-FINANCE MINISTER TO 'TAKE MONTHS'

Police investigator Vaclav Kutilek told CTK on 18 August that the investigation of former Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda and his adviser Barbara Snopkova will "take several more months, owing to the complexity of the investigation." Svoboda, Snopkova, and her son, Stanislav Kratochvil, are suspected of causing losses to creditors of the Liberta company, which manufactures baby-strollers. Snopkova is also being investigated for "breach of duties." Svoboda and Snopkova are alleged to have ordered all money belonging to the loss- making company to be sent to a bank account before all claims of Liberta's creditors were met. Before opening bankruptcy procedures, they allegedly split the company into two parts-- a profit-making company owned by Svoboda and Snopkova, which was later sold to Kratochvil, and a loss-making one, which was then liquidated. MS

ROMA LEAVING CZECH REPUBLIC

Some 50 families from Plzen left the Czech Republic this year because of their economic situation and racial discrimination, Jan Puska from the Plzen branch of the Romany Civic Initiative told CTK on 17 August. He said another two families are about to leave the town and others are making preparations to do so. Puska said their destination is the U.K. or Canada, where "they gain in six months more than what they would earn in the Czech Republic in a lifetime." He warned that all Roma might leave the country unless the government takes steps to secure their existence. MS

SLOVAKIA LAUDS FINNISH DECISION ON ROMA ASYLUM-SEEKERS

A spokesman for Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of minority issues, said on 18 August that Bratislava "welcomes" Finland's decision to return unsuccessful Roma asylum-seekers from Slovakia to those countries from which they flew to Helsinki, CTK reported, citing a Czech Foreign Ministry official. TASR reported the same day that asylum- seekers who flew from Prague will be returned to the Czech Republic. But Czech police sources said that it would be "logical" for the Finnish authorities to send the Roma directly to Slovakia. The sources said that if the Roma are flown to Prague, they will not be allowed to leave the airport's transit area and will be sent on to Bratislava. If they ask for refugee status in the Czech Republic, they will be placed in refugee camps until their request is processed. MS

SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS LEXA APPEAL

The Constitutional Court on 18 August rejected an appeal by Ivan Lexa, former head of the Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service, against his prosecution for participating in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son and other crimes, CTK reported. Lexa's appeal follows a court ruling that Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's annulment of the amnesty granted by his predecessor, Vladimir Meciar, to Lexa and others was unconstitutional. The prosecuting authorities has said that court's ruling has no "retroactive validity." MS

SLOVAK COMMUNISTS CRITICIZE JUSTICE MINISTER

The Slovak Communist Party (KSS) on 16 August criticized Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky for his intention to set up a Bureau for the Crimes of Communism. Carnogursky said the bureau will be established through a law passed by the parliament or through a Justice Ministry order. The KSS said that a lawyer of Carnogursky's reputation should know that communism was never established in Czechoslovakia, which had "only reached the stage of building socialism." The KSS added that at a time when crime is thriving in the country, Carnogursky wants to "feed parasites...to examine the so-called crimes of communism," SITA reported. MS

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS KOSOVA CRISIS PROVES NEED FOR ARMY REFORM

Janos Szabo told MTI on 18 August that the Kosova crisis "highlighted the fact that the [Hungarian] army does not have the necessary capabilities to handle the country's present and future challenges." He said that a "strategic re-examination" of the army's needs and capabilities is now under way and will reflect the "radically altered circumstances arising from Hungary's NATO membership and the lessons drawn from how the Kosova crisis was handled." Szabo said that the purpose of the examination is to "create an army that can be financed in the long-term and that reflects the demands of the times." MS




KEY BOSNIAN TOWN TO REMAIN UNDER JOINT CONTROL

International mediators have decided that Brcko will remain permanently under the joint administration of the Republika Srpska and the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation, AP reported on 19 August. The decision makes permanent an interim ruling in March. The Serbs want to keep control of the town, which is a key transportation link between the eastern and western halves of the Republika Srpska. The Muslims and Croats also want access to Brcko's rail and river port facilities. The Muslims and Croats stress that they constituted the majority in the town before the 1992-1995 war and that to assign it to the Serbs would make permanent the results of wartime ethnic cleansing. Brcko was the one territorial issue so thorny that negotiators could not resolve it at the 1995 Dayton peace conference. PM

HIGH TURNOUT AT SERBIAN OPPOSITION RALLY

Some 25,000 people attended a protest meeting in Nis against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 18 August, Reuters reported. This was the largest turnout at any of the recent opposition rallies in Serbia. Zoran Zivkovic, who is the mayor of that city, told the crowd: "We cannot keep suffering any longer." Social Democratic leader Vuk Obradovic said unidentified persons tried to force his car off the road while he was en route to Nis. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic appealed to those present to attend the major opposition rally slated for 19 August in Belgrade. He added that Kosovar Serb leaders Momcilo Trajkovic and Bishop Artemije will be there. The news agency reported that cheap gasoline and basic foodstuffs have "suddenly reappeared" in Nis after months of shortages. PM

U.S. CALLS ON SERBIAN OPPOSITION TO UNITE

State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 18 August that "the more unified [the Serbian opposition] acts, the quicker the chances are that Milosevic will leave the scene, and the quicker therefore the chances are that the people of Yugoslavia and Serbia will be able to live the life they deserve to.... We are under the impression that the vast majority of the Serbian people believe that President Milosevic must go and that the time has come for him to go," Rubin added. Observers note that the Serbian opposition is highly fractious and that one of the key problems is personal rivalries between prominent leaders. PM

WARNINGS OF 'PROVOCATIONS' AT SERBIAN OPPOSITION RALLY

Nebojsa Covic, who heads the Democratic Alternative party, said in Belgrade on 18 August that the regime is preparing to stage "provocations and incidents" at the rally slated for the following day, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, a spokesman for Belgrade police said that police arrested an unidentified man "with a highly explosive device." The spokesman warned of possible bomb attacks at unspecified "mass public gatherings," AP reported. PM

SERBIAN REGIME TO OFFER EARLY ELECTIONS?

Ivica Dacic, who is a spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, said in Belgrade on 18 August that the government is willing to hold early elections "if that's what the opposition wants." Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj added: "Whenever [the opposition] want, we can discuss the terms and the date" of the vote. It is unclear what offices would be voted on in the elections. A recent poll suggests that Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) would get 18 percent of the vote and the opposition umbrella group Alliance for Change 15 percent. Milosevic's backers would take 14 percent and Seselj's party 8 percent, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

WHAT IS DRASKOVIC'S ROLE?

A spokesman for Draskovic told the BBC on 19 August that a report by the private Beta news agency that Draskovic recently met with Milosevic to plan early elections is "a joke." Observers note that early elections would benefit Draskovic's party more than most other opposition groups, many of which are smaller and less well organized than the SPO. Early elections would also give Milosevic an opportunity to divide the opposition by playing the parties off against each other. And they would benefit the regime by distracting attention from opposition calls for Milosevic to resign. Most opposition parties insist that Milosevic must go before new elections can be held. The opposition also wants a new election law, fair access to the media for all parties, and a large-scale presence of foreign election monitors. PM

ANTI-MILOSEVIC CHANTS AT KEY SOCCER MATCH

Electric flood lights went out for 45 minutes at a Belgrade stadium on 18 August during the Yugoslavia-Croatia match of the Euro 2000 qualifiers. Crowds began to chant "Slobo go" and "you sold out" Kosova. They also voiced anti-Croatian slogans, including "kill Ustashe," which is a Serbian pejorative for Croats. The BBC reported that the players were aware of the potentially politically explosive nature of the match between the sportsmen from the two rival countries "and played to an uninspired 0-0 draw." PM

VALJEVO PROTEST LEADER BADLY BEATEN

Serbia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said in a statement on 18 August that it is "deeply concerned" over the recent arrest and beating of Bogoljub Arsenijevic by Belgrade police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). Arsenijevic is in a prison hospital in Valjevo with a broken jaw and shoulder. PM

PESIC FLEES TO MONTENEGRO

Veteran Serbian opposition leader Vesna Pesic, who arrived in Podgorica on 18 August, said she wants to "remove [herself] from what is happening in Serbia." Pesic denied recent charges by several prominent Milosevic supporters and the Pancevo public prosecutor's office that she has called for the violent overthrow of the regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 1999). She added that she has largely withdrawn from active participation in politics in recent months. In Pancevo, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said that he is not sure if that office will press charges against Pesic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. If convicted, she could face up to 20 years in prison, AP noted. PM

NGOS SAY MILOSEVIC REGIME BLOCKS AID TO SERBIAN REFUGEES

Officials of Yugoslav Action, which includes the confederation of independent trade unions and some 50 NGOs, said in Belgrade on 19 August that the authorities are preventing aid collected abroad from reaching Serbian refugees from Kosova. One spokeswoman said that the regime does this to force the refugees to go home. She noted that the authorities followed a similar policy in regard to Serbian refugees from Croatia. PM

UNHCR ESTIMATES THAT 180,000 SERBS HAVE LEFT KOSOVA

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told Reuters in Prishtina on 18 August that so far around 180,000 Serbs have fled Kosova. He added that attacks on those who remain are still commonplace. And he estimated that fewer than 50,000 Serbs have stayed in the province. "We have no intention of conducting any large-scale evacuations. Sometimes, however, we have little or no choice but to take some vulnerable individuals to safety and we will continue to do so when necessary," he said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 1999). FS

ITALIAN PEACEKEEPERS WOUNDED WHILE GUARDING CHURCH

Unidentified attackers shot and wounded two Italian soldiers guarding a Serbian Orthodox church building in Gjakova, a KFOR official told AP on 19 August. The previous day, KFOR soldiers seized 50 rifles and ammunition in two separate raids in Gjakova and Prizren. FS

UNMIK, KFOR URGE ALBANIANS TO COOPERATE

UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner and KFOR commander General Sir Mike Jackson issued a joint statement on 18 August in Prishtina calling on ethnic Albanians to cooperate with the peacekeepers and the civilian UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK). The statement condemned "the illegal and threatening activities that have been taking place," referring to crimes committed by ethnic Albanian thugs against ethnic minorities. It stressed that "we will...only succeed in generating a secure environment with the full cooperation of the local population." Jackson and Kouchner expressed understanding for the fear of many Kosovar Serbs and Roma. The two men stressed: "We are dealing with the situation.... We are providing extensive protection for Serb and other minority communities and individuals." FS

ALBANIA, CROATIA PLEDGE TO INCREASE COOPERATION

Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic and his Albanian counterpart, Paskal Milo, agreed in Tirana on 18 August to increase bilateral cooperation in the fields of agriculture, transport, telecommunications, tourism, and education, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko also met with Granic and proposed a meeting between the two countries' leaders and those of Montenegro to draw up joint projects within the framework of the Balkan stability pact. FS

BELGRADE RECRUITING 'FEDERAL POLICE' IN MONTENEGRO

Unidentified people sought to recruit Montenegrins in Bijelo Polje for an unspecified Yugoslav "federal police force," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 18 August. The new recruits are almost all supporters of Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who is Milosevic's chief backer in Montenegro. Observers note that police functions are a republican and not a federal prerogative. The Montenegrin police are generally loyal to President Milo Djukanovic, who is Bulatovic's arch-rival. PM

ROMANIA, RUSSIA AGREE ON DEBT SETTLEMENT

Returning from Moscow on 18 August, Finance Ministry State Secretary Gheorghe Banu said he and his Russian counterpart, Alexei Kutrin, have signed an agreement on settling Russia's $21.7 million debt to Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the agreement, Russia will deliver machinery by 31 December 2000. Banu noted, however, that no agreement has been reached on the dispute concerning Romanian investments in Ukraine's Kryvyy Rih mineral extraction complex. Bucharest says it invested some 93.4 million transferable rubles before the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The Russian side insists on tripartite negotiations involving Ukraine. According to Banu, a trilateral meeting might take place by the end of next month. MS

ROMANIAN NATIONALIST PARTY TO SUE PRESIDENT

Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) chairman Valeriu Tabara said on 18 August that his formation will sue President Emil Constantinescu for calumny, Mediafax reported. Tabara was responding to Constantinescu's interview with CNN earlier this month, in which he said "extremist parties" such as the PUNR are unlikely to pass the electoral hurdle in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2000. Tabara said he expects the PUNR to win at least 10 percent in those elections. He also announced he accepts his party's nomination as its presidential candidate in the 2000 ballot. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

President Petru Lucinschi has asked the Constitutional Court to rule that the parliament's 2 July decision to amend the election law was unconstitutional, Infotag reported on 18 August. Under the amendment, the president's right to call a referendum was curtailed to three times during his four-year mandate. Lucinschi is also challenging the provision that the parliament must approve holding a plebiscite and that the Central Electoral commission must declare a plebiscite invalid if less than three-fifths of registered voters participate. MS

GERMANY EXTRADITES BULGARIAN AIRLINE OFFICIAL

Vesselin Kalaydzhiev, manager of the Balkan Airlines Berlin office, has been extradited from Germany at the request of the Bulgarian Prosecutor-General's office, BTA reported on 17 August. Kalaydzhiev has been charged with embezzlement and use of falsified documents. MS




WHO GETS WHAT, WHEN, AND HOW


By Michael Shafir

When voters in a Prague electoral district go to the polls later this month to elect a replacement for the late Vaclav Benda, a lot more will be at stake than just another by-election.

Benda represented the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the upper house. Should the mandate go to one of the minor parties represented in the house, the ODS and the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) may be unable to secure the constitutional changes they agreed to pursue when they concluded the so-called "opposition pact," whereby the minority cabinet of the CSSD rules in exchange for the ODS's control over the chairmanships of the two parliamentary houses. To ensure passage of the constitutional amendments, a three-fifths majority is required in each house. The combined CSSD-ODS forces command that majority in the Chamber of Deputies (137 out of 200 deputies), but should Benda's mandate be lost to any formation outside the "opposition pact," the CSSD-ODS will not have the 49 (out of 81) senatorial votes necessary to implement those changes.

Safeguarding Benda's seat, however, is only the first hurdle that the two political rivals-turned-partners have to overcome. A considerably higher hurdle is agreeing on the scope of those constitutional changes. The first objective is to limit the presidential prerogatives, making it impossible for Vaclav Havel or any of his successors to repeat the 1997 appointment of a non-party figure as premier. Rather, the president would be obliged to appoint as premier the head of the strongest party that can garner a parliamentary majority. But while Prime Minister Milos Zeman and ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus still see eye to eye on this goal--as well as on curtailing other presidential prerogatives--they have disagreed over the second objective, namely reducing the parliamentary representation of smaller political formations. A joint commission of the two parties set up after the 1998 elections has been unable to come up with a formula satisfying both sides, and a new commission embarked upon that task earlier this month.

The ODS and the CSSD are determined to change the existing Hagen-Bischoff system of the proportional distribution of seats, which is one of the systems more friendly toward small parties, though not the friendliest. The ODS wanted to introduce a majority system, but in the face of CSSD opposition, it agreed to maintain the proportional system. To reduce the parliamentary weight of minor parties, the CSSD and the ODS agreed to implement what political scientists call "reducing district magnitude"--in other words, increasing the number of electoral districts while cutting the number of representatives elected from each of these districts. That change would obviously put larger parties at an advantage. While it has been agreed that 35-36 districts are to replace the existing eight, disagreement emerged over the system to replace the Hagen-Bischoff one, as well as over when the change would go into effect.

The ODS wants the Hagen-Bischoff formula replaced by the "Imperial system." The latter is rarely encountered in post- World War II democracies--for a very good reason: the system gives a kind of bonus to the large parties, producing parliamentary majorities where they do not exist in the electorate. Of all systems, the Imperial most resembles what Douglas W. Rae termed the "manufactured majority."

Moreover, the system encourages political corruption, as the case of pre-1938 Romania demonstrates. In that country, as one observer put it, it was not electorates that changed governments, but governments that changed electorates. Why the ODS would prefer that system is obvious: while enjoying around 30 percent of support at present, the ODS would benefit under an Imperial system in that it would not only be the strongest party in the parliament but, given the bonus, would be sufficiently strong to form a government by itself.

Precisely for this reason, the CSSD--aware that its popularity is at low ebb and that its chances of emerging as the strongest formation in the next elections are slim--would prefer to replace the Hagen-Bischoff system with the d'Hondt system of proportional distribution. Considerably more widespread than the Imperial, the d'Hondt favors larger parties but distorts electoral support less than does the Imperial and provides for the reduced representation of small parties.

Czech political scientist Rudolf Kucera calculated that under the d'Hondt system, the CSSD last year would have gained 90 (instead of 74) mandates in the Chamber of Deputies and the ODS 74 (instead of 63). The small Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Union would have had 10 (instead of 20) and five (instead of 19) mandates, respectively. In other words, even if the CSSD does not emerge as the strongest party in 2002, it could still hope to form a coalition with one of the minor parties.

The disagreement over the timing of implementing the change of system again reflects opposing calculations. The ODS wants the new election law, which necessitates amending the constitution, to go into effect one year after its approval. The CSSD, on the other hand, fears that this would terminate the "opposition agreement" and the ODS would opt for early elections. It therefore wants the changed electoral law to become effective only as of 1 January 2002. That is hardly surprising, particularly when one bears in mind Harold Laswell's definition of politics as "who gets what, when, and how."




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