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Newsline - August 20, 1999




YELTSIN RETAINS MOST OF STEPASHIN'S CABINET...

Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 19 August reappointed Deputy Prime Ministers Valentina Matvienko and Vladimir Shcherbak as well as the ministers for fuel and energy, federal affairs and nationalities, CIS, media, railways, trade, transportation, labor, atomic energy, health, culture, sports, science, and education. The only new faces are Minister for Natural Resources Boris Yatskevich, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev, and chief of government staff Dmitrii Kozak. Gordeev was most recently former first deputy agriculture minister; he replaces Shcherbak, who will now occupy only the post of deputy prime minister. Yatskevich was former first deputy natural resources minister and replaces his superior, Viktor Orlov. Kozak was first deputy chief of the government staff, and like Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, came to Moscow from St. Petersburg. There, he served as deputy governor of St. Petersburg from 1994-1998, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

...KEEPS ECONOMIC TEAM INTACT

Analysts had expected President Yeltsin to retain most of the country's economic policy-making team, although the fate of First Deputy Prime Ministers Nikolai Aksenenko and Viktor Khristenko and presidential envoy to international financial institutions Mikhail Zadornov had been the subject of much speculation. But Aksenenko, Khristenko, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Economics Minister Andrei Shapolyants, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok, Anti-Monopoly Minister Ilya Yuzhanov, State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin, and Aleksandr Livshits, presidential envoy to the G7 countries with the rank of minister, were all renamed to their positions. "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 20 August that Zadornov has resigned, but Interfax said that he will meet Putin on 21 August to discuss "future work" in the same capacity. JAC.

MOSCOW PROPOSES BIGGER ARMS CUTS UNDER START- 3...

Unnamed diplomatic sources told Interfax on 19 August that at the U.S.-Russian disarmament talks that concluded in Moscow the same day, Russia proposed slashing the number of nuclear warheads each side would be allowed under START-3 from 2,500-2,000 to 1,500 or fewer. Those sources suggested that the "more radical cut [is] sufficient for the continuation of mutual stable deterrence." "The Washington Post" on 20 August reported that many experts believe Russia's nuclear arsenal will decline to fewer than 1,000 warheads in the next decade owing to a lack of funds to build new systems. In a statement released at the end of the talks, the two sides expressed their readiness to begin START-3 talks immediately after the State Duma ratifies START-2. Undersecretary of State John Holum, who headed the U.S. delegation to the talks, told Reuters that the atmosphere during the negotiations was "businesslike and productive." JC

...STRESSES OPPOSITION TO ABM TREATY REVISION

While the official statement released after the talks stresses that the U.S. and Russia affirm that the 1972 ABM treaty is the "cornerstone of strategic stability," the head of the Russian delegation made it clear that Moscow remains opposed to any modifications to that treaty. Grigorii Berdennikov, director of the Department for Security and Disarmament at the Foreign Ministry, warned that the U.S. plans to implement a national ABM system "might renew the arms race," according to Interfax. He stressed that Russia sees "no reasons, practical needs, or possibilities" for changing any key aspects of the ABM treaty. And he added that if the U.S. were to deploy such a system, Moscow would "be forced to raise the effectiveness of its strategic nuclear armed forces and take several other military and political steps to guarantee its national security under new strategic conditions." He did not specify what those steps might be. JC

RUSSIAN FORCES CONTINUE STRIKES IN DAGHESTAN

Russian federal forces on 19 August continued their air and artillery bombardment of Islamist guerrillas' position in Botlikh Raion, Interfax reported. In Moscow, Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov told journalists that Russian losses stand at 40 killed and some 160 wounded, most of those killed being members of the Daghestan Interior Ministry troops. Eighteen Russian servicemen were said to have died over the previous 24 hours. Echoing earlier Russian pronouncements, Zubov denied that there is any need to impose a state of emergency in Daghestan, adding that the federal forces have already achieved a partial victory by splitting the guerrilla forces into isolated groups. Also in Moscow, unnamed Russian power ministry sources told Interfax that Moscow is prepared to deploy its newest military hardware against the Islamists should the latter attempt to broaden the area they currently control. The weapons that could be used include cruise missiles and high-yield gas bombs, those sources said. LF

RUSSIAN MEDIA URGED NOT TO BROADCAST FOOTAGE OF ISLAMIST MILITANTS

Russia's Press Ministry has officially warned the heads of central television companies that they should avoid broadcasting footage of inflammatory statements by Chechen field commanders fighting in Daghestan. It added that such coverage could be construed as propagandizing war and violence, which constitutes a violation of existing legislation on the media. Meanwhile, the kidnappers of ITAR-TASS photographer Vladimir Yatsina, who disappeared shortly after flying from Moscow to Nazran on 19 July, have demanded a $2 million ransom for his release, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 August. LF

GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET...

The Russian government approved the draft 2000 budget on 19 August, Interfax reported. The budget, which anticipates a 57.87 billion ruble ($2.4 billion) deficit, is based on the following assumptions: 18 percent annual inflation, a 32 ruble per dollar exchange rate, industrial output growth of 3-4 percent, and GDP growth of 1.5 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). Sergei Prudnik, macroeconomic adviser to Troika Dialog, told "The Moscow Times" on 20 August that the government is trying to understate real revenues in the 2000 budget so that it can spend additional proceeds as it likes. This year's GDP could wind up well above 4.5 trillion rubles instead of the forecasted 4.1 trillion rubles, he added. JAC

...AS IMF OFFICIALS ARRIVE IN CAPITAL

IMF officials landed in Moscow on 19 August in advance of the arrival of the formal mission early next week, Interfax reported. The mission will discuss with the Russian government the 2000 budget, among other things. Finance Minister Kasyanov announced on 19 August that in 2000, Russia will borrow $2.6 billion from the IMF, more than $1 billion from the World Bank, and $500 million from the Japanese government, in addition to tied loans worth $1.65 billion, Interfax reported. State Duma Budget Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov's figures were a little different. He said that the government will borrow $5.9 billion from abroad, including $4.3 billion from the World Bank and IMF, according to Prime-Tass. Kasyanov noted that his foreign and domestic borrowing figures are only provisional and will be fine-tuned after negotiations with the IMF. JAC

IMPORTS PLUMMET DURING FIRST HALF

Foreign trade turnover sank 25.4 percent during the first six months of the year, compared with the same period last year, according to the State Customs Committee and Russian Statistics Agency. Exports to all countries slipped 12.1 percent in the first half of 1999, while exports to other CIS members plummeted 37.8 percent. Meanwhile, imports slid 43.5 percent. The country's resulting trade surplus was $16.7 billion, Interfax reported. JAC

STEPASHIN, YABLOKO TO TAKE SEPARATE PATHS FOR NOW

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin failed to reach an agreement with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii about joining that party's election list for the State Duma. Yavlinskii told reporters on 19 August that Stepashin, as an officer, would feel behooved to withdraw from an election race if ordered or pressured to do so by President Yeltsin. Such an outcome would be too costly for Yabloko, since the election law requires a party to drop out of a race if one of its top three leaders withdraws. Yavlinskii added that "if Stepashin is successful in the State Duma elections, we will consider possible cooperation in presidential polls." JAC

FIRST BLOC OFF THE BLOCK WANTS TO BE THE ONLY VOICE

The Voice of Russia (GR) on 18 August became the first election bloc to be registered for the State Duma elections, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. The group's registration follows the decision of six of the eight movements that had comprised the GR to leave that bloc and join the Fatherland-All Russian alliance under the name of Voice of Russia (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 August 1999). At a press conference on 19 August, members of the two remaining movements within the original Voice of Russia vowed to defend their exclusive right to use that name. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov was the informal leader of the original GR and was recently elected the official leader of the new, slimmed-down bloc that has been registered by the election commission. JAC

LEBED CALLS WORLD BANK-SPONSORED PLANS DESTABILIZING

Addressing a meeting of 300 striking coal miners, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said on 19 August that the planned privatization of the local coal company, Krasugol, is an attempt to destabilize the situation in his region, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Thousands of miners in the krai had stopped work the previous day to protest plans to privatize Krasugol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). Lebed continued that the company is the only energy base in Siberia, excluding the Kuzbass, and that its sale should therefore be prohibited. Other participants in the meeting said that if Krasugol is turned over to private owners, there is no guarantee that they will observe the interests of the region, make new investment in the company, or reduce the backlog of unpaid wages, which has reached 35 million rubles ($1.4 million). Krasugol is scheduled to be privatized under a coal sector restructuring program financed by the World Bank. JAC

PEOPLE'S POWER RULES OUT NATO COOPERATION

The Presidium of Nikolai Ryzhkov's People's Power party issued a statement on 19 August saying that Russia must not restore relations with NATO, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the statement, Ryzhkov, who was in Yugoslavia last week, has collected evidence of "mass killings of non-Albanians and their expulsion [from Kosova] with the connivance of NATO peacekeepers and under actual political cover by the UN" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1999) The statement demanded a special UN Security Council session to discuss "the non- fulfillment of Resolution 1244 [and] NATO aggression against Yugoslavia." FS

RUSSIAN DEPUTY UN AMBASSADOR SAYS KFOR FAILS TO STEM 'TERROR'

Gennadii Gatilov told ITAR-TASS in New York on 19 August that KFOR is "not coping with the wave of terror that has gripped [Kosova]." Gatilov warned that "there is a risk that the agreement on disarmament of the Albanian extremists...will not be fulfilled by deadline.... We call on the international community to take energetic measures to straighten the dangerous tendencies in the development of the situation." Gatilov also urged a "political settlement with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." FS

KRASNOYARSK JOURNALIST VICTIM OF ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Sergei Zhabinskii, a journalist in Achinsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, found a grenade under the bumper of his car that would have exploded as soon as the car moved, ITAR-TASS reported. Zhabinskii started receiving death threats following his broadcasts on local television station that were critical of the Achinsk Alumina Plant, according to the agency. JAC

CANDIDATES GALORE IN LENINGRAD GUBERNATORIAL BALLOT

A total of 20 candidates will run in the 19 September gubernatorial elections in Leningrad Oblast, ITAR- TASS reported on 19 August, the final day for registration of candidates. Thirty-six people had originally applied to take part in the ballot, but only 20 of them met the criteria to be accepted as candidates. That figure, however, is twice the number of candidates who ran in the 1996 elections, according to the news agency. Currently ahead in the opinion polls is former Leningrad Governor and ex-Russian First Deputy Premier Vadim Gustov. The incumbent, Valerii Serdyukov, is also taking part in the vote. JC

FORMER FIRST LADY MAY HAVE BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT

Raisa Gorbachev, who is currently being treated for leukemia at a Germany hospital, may soon undergo a bone marrow transplant. "The Moscow Times" on 20 August cited Russian Public Television as reporting that the sister of the patient, the wife of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, will be the donor. Raisa Gorbachev is reported to be feeling "slightly better" after the initial phase of chemotherapy but will continue that treatment for two to three weeks, dpa quoted her doctor as saying. Meanwhile, "Moskovskie vedomosti" reported in its No. 32 (August) issue that her sickness may be attributed to radiation exposure during her youth. Raisa Gorbachev was born and spent almost 20 years in Rubtsovsk, Altai Krai, just 100 kilometers from a site where the Soviet Union began nuclear testing in the 1940s. Radiation levels there were the same as those in the "alienation zone" following the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident, according to the publication. JC




ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS TO HOLD FURTHER TALKS

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev will meet his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, in Geneva on 22 August for a second round of confidential talks aimed at trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Reuters and ITAR- TASS reported on 19 August. Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade told RFE/RL's Armenian service on 19 August that the meeting bodes well for peace in the disputed enclave. Following an earlier meeting in Geneva in mid-July, President Aliyev said both sides should be prepared to compromise in order to achieve a settlement of the conflict. LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST MURDERED

Telman Didirov, a journalist with the independent television station DM in Balaken Raion, was stabbed to death on the station's premises by unknown persons on 17 August, according to a press release issued two days later by Reporters sans Frontieres. That organization has called on Azerbaijan's Justice Minister Sudabah Hassanova to launch an investigation into the crime and determine whether the murder was directly related to Didirov's journalistic activities. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR SECOND TERM

Vladislav Ardzinba has agreed to run as a candidate in the 3 October presidential elections, Caucasus Press reported on 20 August, quoting Central Electoral Commission chairman Vyacheslav Tsugba. Ardzinba's candidacy has been proposed by numerous public organizations in the unrecognized breakaway republic. No other challenger has yet been registered for the poll, the legality of which is not internationally recognized. The deadline for registration is 24 August. Candidates must have lived in Abkhazia for five years prior to the poll. LF

A GEORGIAN POLICEMAN'S LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE

Police in several districts of western Georgia continue to perform their constabulary duties without being paid. Policemen in Terjola and the town of Kutaisi have not received wages for one year, while their colleagues in Sachkhere Raion have not been paid for 42 months, according to "Rezonansi" on 19 August. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY CONFIDENT OF VICTORY IN PARLIAMENTARY POLL...

Leading members of the Otan (Fatherland) Party, which was formed shortly after the January 1999 presidential elections to support Nursultan Nazarbaev, told journalists in Almaty on 19 August that they are confident Otan will win a majority in the parliamentary elections on 17 September and 10 October, Reuters reported. OTAN plans to field 10 candidates to contest the 10 seats allocated under the proportional system. It will also field 55 candidates in the 67 single- mandate constituencies. Otan's election campaign is spearheaded by parliamentary speaker Marat Ospanov, who has consistently criticized the cabinet of Nurlan Balghymbaev. Ospanov said on 19 August that Balghymbaev's cabinet has "failed miserably" and "turned the majority of the people against economic reform." He added that Otan advocates radical changes to the government's present economic policy. LF

...WHILE OPPOSITION PARTY THREATEN TO BOYCOTT BALLOT

Vitalii Voronov, who heads the election campaign staff of former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin's People's Republican Party of Kazakhstan, told journalists in Almaty on 19 August that the party will boycott the poll if Kazhegeldin is not permitted to register as a candidate, Interfax reported. Kazhegeldin was barred from running in the January presidential poll because earlier he had been found guilty of an administrative offense. Under the new election law, such offenses do not disqualify potential candidates, but it is unclear whether Kazhegeldin's conviction for contempt of court makes him ineligible. Voronov said the new election law is inconsistent with international democratic standards. Meeting with President Nazarbaev in Astana on 18 August, U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones expressed approval of the amendments to the election law and said he hopes that all political parties will be granted an equal opportunity to participate, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. LF

KAZAKH OFFICIAL CASTS DOUBT ON RESUMPTION OF BAIKONUR LAUNCHES

Kazakhstan's Aerospace Agency Director Meirbek Moldabekov told Interfax on 19 August that he doubts whether Kazakhstan will lift by 31 August the current ban on launches of Russian Proton rockets from the Baikonur cosmodrome. Kazakhstan imposed the ban last month after a Proton rocket exploded shortly after blast-off (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 1999). On 18 August, Russian Space Agency First Deputy Director Valerii Alaverdov predicted the imminent lifting of the ban. But Moldabekov said that prediction reflects only Alaverdov's "personal prognosis." Moscow made the first $12.5 million payment last week toward its annual $165 million lease for the Baikonur facility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP INDIA VISIT

Visiting New Delhi on 17-18 August, Kasymzhomart Toqaev met with Indian Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee and with senior government officials to discuss expanding and economic trade cooperation, including in the oil and gas sector, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 19 August. The two sides signed several agreements including one on cooperating to fight international crime. LF

KYRGYZSTAN BOMBS GUERRILLAS' ASSUMED POSITIONS

Kyrgyz military helicopters on 18 August bombed the region of southern Kyrgyzstan where Uzbek guerrillas had held four Kyrgyz officials hostage earlier this month, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 19 August, quoting Presidential Administration official Bolot Dzhanuzakov. It is unclear whether the guerrillas remain in the region or whether any of them were injured in the bombing raids. LF

KYRGYZSTAN RE-REGISTERS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

Ramazan Dyryldaev, who is chairman of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR), told a press conference in Bishkek on 19 August that the Justice Ministry has finally re- registered his committee, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The committee's registration was revoked in September 1998 after its members had criticized the planned referendum on amendments to the country's constitution. Dyryldaev said the Justice Ministry also withdrew the registration certificate issued to a body formed by members who broke away from the KCHR and registered a rival body with the same name in April 1999. Dyryldaev and his supporters have been campaigning since then for the re- registration of their committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May and 2 June 1999). LF

U.S. CALLS FOR FOUR-WAY AGREEMENT ON TRANS- CASPIAN PIPELINE

Speaking to journalists in Ashgabat on 19 August following his talks with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson urged Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to sign a legal agreement committing their support for the planned Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline, ITAR-TASS reported. Richardson said the swift signing of such an agreement would expedite the solution of financing problems. A protracted dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over ownership of Caspian oilfields is perceived as an obstacle to such an agreement. Richardson also told journalists that Niyazov had agreed that Azerbaijan should be entitled to an unspecified amount of the pipeline's estimated annual throughput capacity from its recently discovered Shah Deniz reserves, according to Interfax. Also on 19 August, the U.S. Agency for Trade and Development gave Ashgabat a $150,000 grant toward consulting services for drafting the legal foundations for the pipeline project, AP reported. LF

UZBEKISTAN SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY, PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

President Islam Karimov told journalists on 19 August that a new parliament and local councils will be elected on 5 December and presidential elections will take place on 9 January, Reuters and Interfax reported. The parliament, which reconvened on 19 August following the summer recess, must endorse those dates. Karimov did not confirm that he will run for re-election. He was elected to that post in 1991, and his mandate was prolonged in a 1995 referendum. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS TAJIK AUTHORITIES CANNOT CONTROL SITUATION...

During a break in the 19 August parliamentary session, President Karimov criticized the government of neighboring Tajikistan, which, he said, is unable to control the situation in the eastern part of the country. Noting that states are obliged to ensure the safety of their borders, Karimov blamed the Tajik authorities for permitting a group of armed militants, including ethnic Uzbeks, to cross into neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where they took four Kyrgyz officials hostage. Also on 19 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its regret at the 15 August bombing by Uzbek combat aircraft of border districts in Tajikistan, describing that action as a violation of Tajikistan's sovereignty. The Russian statement expressed the hope that the raid will not adversely affect relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz authorities had asked Uzbekistan to bomb the region of southern Kyrgyzstan where the guerrillas were entrenched (see above). LF

...SAYS ETHNIC UZBEKS FIGHTING IN DAGHESTAN

President Karimov also said that his government knows that an unspecified number of young Uzbeks are currently fighting in Daghestan on the side of the Islamists, Interfax reported. He said the young men concerned had been trained by Jordanian-born field commander Khottab. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION CONDEMNS UZBEK SENTENCES

Human Rights Watch on 19 August accused Uzbekistan of torture and political persecution following the sentencing the previous day of six men accused of participating in the February bombings in Tashkent, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). Five of the six were members of the Erk Party, which was banned in 1992. All had been repeatedly tortured during the pre-trial investigation. According to Human Rights Watch, their only transgression was ownership of a banned newspaper and their political convictions. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION WANTS SECURITY GUARANTEES FOR RETURNEES

The Belarusian opposition parties involved in the preparation of a political dialogue with the authorities are to create four experts groups. The parties pledged on 19 August to propose candidates for the opposition negotiation team by the end of this month. They also made the talks conditional on the authorities' providing security guarantees to political refugees who left Belarus from 1996- 1999 and decide to return home now. Another condition, laid down by the opposition a week earlier, is that the opposition be given access to the state media. JM

UKRAINIAN INCUMBENT PRESIDENT STARTS RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN

"I can say only today that I have started working for the future election," President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 19 August, after visiting Ukraine's famous Sorochynskyy Fair in Myrhorod, Poltava Oblast. Kuchma, who was accompanied by Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, noted that the presidential campaign is "becoming a negative factor in Ukraine's life," primarily because of the "frenzied, dirty" criticism by other presidential candidates of the incumbent, the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported. "They resort to methods originally used by the KGB," Kuchma commented (see also "End Note" below). JM

UKRAINE'S TALKS WITH IMF UNSUCCESSFUL?

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko said on 19 August that he "cannot regard the recent talks with the IMF a success," the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported. Tyhypko added that Ukraine complied with all but one of the IMF requirements for obtaining the next IMF loan tranche. The exception is the increase in tariffs on public utilities. According to Tyhypko, the IMF has approved the Ukrainian cabinet's effort to balance the budget, which was the key issue in negotiations with the IMF mission in Kyiv last month. The fund is to decide on releasing its next tranche to Ukraine in September. JM

WHO'S PROUD TO BE UKRAINIAN?

The Social Monitoring Center has conducted a poll in eight oblasts--Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Khmelnytskyy, Kyiv, Luhansk, Lviv, Odesa, and Simferopol--on the attitude of Ukrainians toward their country's independence, UNIAN reported on 19 August. The poll showed that 46 percent of respondents were positive about Ukraine's independence, 38 percent were negative, 8 percent remained indifferent, and 8 percent could not make up their minds. In addition, 46 percent or respondents were proud to be citizens of independent Ukraine and 40 percent were not. JM

ESTONIAN RULING COALITION TO ABOLISH CORPORATE INCOME TAX

"Postimees" and "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 19 August that the three-party governing coalition has agreed to abolish the corporate income tax, effective 1 January 2000. In order to fill the resulting shortfall in the 2000 state budget, which Finance Minister Siim Kallas estimates at 800-900 million kroons ($54-60 million), the government plans to step up collection of other taxes and introduce protective tariffs on all food imported from non-EU countries. Abolition of the corporate income tax is a major political victory for Kallas's Reform Party. It was originally opposed by the other coalition members, the Moderate Party and Fatherland Union. MJZ

LATVIANS ABROAD TO BE ABLE TO SIGN PENSION REFERENDUM PETITION

Latvia's Central Election Commission announced on 19 August that Latvian citizens in 28 countries other than Latvia will also be able to take part in the upcoming petition for a referendum on the highly unpopular pension reform recently adopted by the Latvian parliament, according to LETA and BNS. The pension reforms, adopted as part of Prime Minister Andris Skele's austerity budget, would make it illegal for Latvia's 640,000 pensioners to hold jobs while receiving a pension and would raise the minimum pension age for all Latvian residents to 62 from the current 55 for women and 60 for men. The petition drive will take place from 6 September through 5 October. MJZ

LATVIA, WORLD BANK SIGN EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT LOAN

Latvian government and World Bank officials on 19 August signed a loan agreement to help fund a nearly $40 million program to repair Latvia's run-down schools, develop content and performance standards, and establish systems for controlling costs at both the national and local levels, according to LETA and BNS. The World Bank is providing $31.1 million in long-term, low-cost financing to support the program. MJZ

LITHUANIA'S LANDSBERGIS IN TROUBLE OVER LAND SALE

Lithuanian parliamentary leader Vytautas Landsbergis may face a criminal investigation into the alleged falsification of his 1998 property and income declaration, ELTA and BNS reported on 19 August. Landsbergis is alleged to have bought property in a prestigious residential district in Vilnius at a price below the market value. He says he bought the property in accordance with a law granting signatories of Lithuania's 1990 Independence Restoration Act the right to buy land at significantly reduced prices. His purchase of the 9 acre plot does not appear, however, in a version of Landsbergis' income declaration published in the government newspaper "Valstybes Zinios." The opposition Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party is calling for Landsbergis to resign from the parliament. MJZ

POLISH, SLOVAK PRESIDENTS TO BE 'PATRONS' OF COOPERATION

Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Slovak counterpart, Rudolf Schuster, pledged in Warsaw on 19 August to assume the "patronage" of cooperation between the two countries as well as between small and medium-sized firms, PAP reported. Schuster, who proposed the patronage initiative, said the Slovak-Polish border should be open in line with the Schengen agreements. Kwasniewski assured Schuster that Poland will support Slovakia's bid for NATO and EU membership and share with Bratislava its experience in European integration. JM

SLOVAK PRIVATIZATION SCANDAL SETTLED OUT OF COURT?

Lawyers representing businessman Vladimir Poor have submitted to the National Property Fund (FNM) a written statement in which Poor says he has canceled all contracts for the sale of the Nafta Gbely refinery to Konsorcium IPB-All, which represents the Cincinnati-based Cinergy Company, SITA reported on 19 August. The lawyers and the FNM agreed that Poor's 45.9 percent stake in Nafta Gbely will be transferred back to the FNM in an out-of-court settlement. SITA reported that the settlement will be sealed on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1999). MS

SLOVAK JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS NO AMNESTY FOR BILAK

Jan Carnogursky on 19 August said he "doubts" that the amnesty announced by President Schuster at his inauguration can apply to former Czechoslovak Communist Party chief ideologist Vasil Bilak. Carnogursky said the amnesty applies to those who committed crimes punishable by up to one year in jail, whereas Bilak is charged with high treason. He commented that Schuster may, however, grant Bilak an individual pardon. Bilak's lawyers say the amnesty applies to their client because it extends to those aged 65 and over. The Prosecutor-General's Office has not yet decided whether to recommend that Schuster pardon Bilak (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"18 August 1999). MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS MAGYARS EVERYWHERE ARE 'ONE NATION'

Viktor Orban, speaking at the 19 August inauguration of the new Office for Hungarians Beyond Borders, said that his government "cannot accept anything less than a guarantee that Hungarians living beyond our borders are granted the full opportunity to education and cultural fulfillment" in their mother tongue. Orban said that "all the citizens of Hungary and the Hungarians beyond its borders are members of a single and indivisible nation," MTI reported. MS




MASSIVE TURNOUT FOR BELGRADE RALLY...

Some 150,000 people attended a demonstration in Belgrade on 19 August to demand the resignation of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Several opposition leaders, academics, and Serbian Orthodox clerics addressed the gathering. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told enthusiastic listeners that the opposition will hold daily street protests if Milosevic does not resign within two weeks. Observers noted that the Yugoslav leader is unlikely to bow to his opponents' demands. The opposition's main hope is to encourage Milosevic's colleagues and supporters to abandon the Yugoslav leader and join the opposition in daily displays of "people's power" on the streets of Serbia's main cities and towns. PM

...INCLUDING DRASKOVIC

Vuk Draskovic, who is the mercurial leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, unexpectedly turned up at the 19 August Belgrade gathering. He told listeners that no one should attempt to "take power from the streets," calling instead for early elections to be held by the end of November. Draskovic said recently that he would not attend the meeting. One of his spokesmen told the BBC on 20 August that Draskovic "happened to be in the center of Belgrade" and was "compelled" by supporters to speak to the crowd. Observers suggested that he may have intended to address the gathering all along but did not make his intentions known until the last minute in order to increase the dramatic effect. He may also have wanted to reaffirm his standing as an opposition leader in the wake of rumors that he recently made a deal with Milosevic to hold early elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). PM

CEKU SAYS UCK MEETS DISARMAMENT DEADLINE...

General Agim Ceku, who is chief of the General Staff of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said in Prishtina on 19 August that the UCK has met NATO's second deadline for its disarmament, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. Ceku pledged to complete the UCK's demilitarization by 19 September, which is the scheduled end of the third and final phase of disarmament. An unidentified KFOR official told Reuters "I don't think there will be any problem with our saying that they have met the deadline, but we can't announce it officially yet." In June, the UCK pledged to hand in by 19 August all heavy weapons, all long-barreled weapons, such as Kalashnikov rifles, and 60 percent of all automatic small arms. FS

...CRITICIZES UN POLICE RECRUITMENT

Also on19 August, Ceku criticized the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) for including only a small number of former UCK members among the first group of local police recruits. According to dpa, only three UCK members have been accepted in the initial recruiting stage for the force. Some 200 people have been recruited during this first stage. The recruits will undergo five weeks of training at a police academy scheduled to be inaugurated on 21 August. Ceku stressed that "since it was founded, the Kosova Liberation Army has made it very clear that it is determined to achieve a democratic society in Kosova, which will be multi-ethnic and based on tolerance and respect for diversity," Reuters reported. FS

KOSOVARS DISCOVER MORE MASS GRAVES

Ethnic Albanians discovered a mass grave site near Dragodan on 19 August, AP reported. Fadil Batalli, director of Prishtina's Forensic Institute, said that the bodies of up to 200 ethnic Albanians may be buried there. KFOR spokesman Roland Lavoie said KFOR troops will notify the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia about the site. FS

ALBANIAN TELECOM TO EXTEND LINES INTO KOSOVA

Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said in Tirana on 19 August that the state-owned Albanian Telecom will invest $200,000 to establish a microwave telephone link between Albania and Kosova and to install 30 pay phones in Gjakova, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. Majko made the remarks after a meeting of Telecom's board of directors. Majko recalled that in late July the governments of Albania and Montenegro agreed to link Shkodra and Podgorica with a fiber-optic telephone cable. He expressed hope that the two projects will promote regional integration. The Albanian government is planning to build similar links with Macedonia and Greece, Reuters reported. FS

OVER 1,000 KOSOVAR ROMA ARRIVE IN ITALY

A fishing- boat carrying more than 1,100 Roma refugees, mostly from Kosova, arrived at Italy's southern coast on 19 August. The boat contained mostly women and children. FS

STATE DEPARTMENT OBJECTS TO BOSNIAN CORRUPTION REPORT...

State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 19 August that a recent report in "The New York Times" on corruption in Bosnia-Herzegovina exaggerated the extent of the problem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 1999). He added: "It's hard enough to get support in this country for foreign assistance as it is. To have a false and unjustified and unsubstantiated perception that a billion dollars in foreign aid money has been stolen by the Bosnians...harms that cause.... We would like to see corrective measures taken that create the truth and not this false perception," Rubin noted. PM

...BUT 'NEW YORK TIMES' STANDS ITS GROUND

"The New York Times" Foreign Editor Andrew Rosenthal told Reuters on 19 August that, after talks with Rubin, the newspaper will publish corrections to three "details" of its story. Rosenthal stressed, however, that its story is largely correct. "We have reviewed all of [Rubin's'] complaints and found a couple of minor points on which we think we made factual errors, which we are going to correct in the paper tonight. The basic premise of the story is completely sound," the foreign editor noted. The previous day, the paper wrote that all of the "lost" $1 billion was international aid. U.S. government spokesmen have said that the aid component of the money embezzled is a tiny proportion, perhaps less than 2 percent. A spokeswoman for the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said recently in Sarajevo that most of the stolen funds were Bosnian public money. PM

CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER BOSNIAN CORRUPTION

Chris Hedges, who wrote the article on corruption for 'The New York Times," said that he stands by his story, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 20 August. He rejected recent charges by Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic that the article constitutes a "witch hunt against the Bosnian authorities." In Banja Luka, Republika Srpska Deputy Prime Minister Ostoja Kremanovic said that "corruption does not exist" in the Bosnian Serb entity. He acknowledged, however, that there may be "isolated cases" in which individuals have used their public office for personal gain. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS 'NO ALTERNATIVE' TO ECONOMIC POLICY

In an interview with RFE/RL on 19 August, Prime Minister Radu Vasile said there is no alternative to the government's austerity program. He noted that the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) may have to pay the political price for the austerity program but added that any government formed after the 2000 elections will have to pursue the same policy and respect the conditions the IMF has imposed on Romania. Vasile added that the PNTCD must "take into consideration the country's realities." If it wants to stay in power after 2000, the PNTCD cannot ignore the political strength of social democracy, he said. He explained that this does not "necessarily" mean, however, that the PNTCD must form a coalition with the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, which, he said, many had understood him to be advocating. MS

ROMANIAN MENINGITIS EPIDEMIC CONTINUES SPREADING

Some 200 new cases of meningitis are registered in Romania every day, according to data released by the Health Ministry, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The number of registered cases now totals 2,160, of which 77 percent are under the age of 19. Meanwhile, an epidemic of chronic conjunctivitis has broken out, with most cases being registered in Bucharest. MS

MOLDOVAN HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS MAY RECEIVE COMPENSATION

Moldovan Jews and Roma who survived the Holocaust may become eligible for compensation under the $1.25 billion collective suit filed in the U.S. against Swiss banks, according to Olga Tichovskaya, coordinator of the compensation information program for Roma. Flux on 18 August reported her as saying that her task is "extremely difficult" because about one-third of Moldovan Roma are illiterate. Therefore, the information will also be disseminated by enlisting the help of the four Moldovan Roma ethnic organizations. According to unofficial estimates, about 100,000 Roma live in Moldova. MS

BULGARIA COUNTS ON NATO MEMBERSHIP BY 2004

Bulgaria believes it will be invited to begin NATO membership talks in 2001 and that the negotiations will be successfully concluded by 2004, Deputy Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov said on 19 August, according to ITAR-TASS. The same day, the Bulgarian Defense Ministry released an "action plan for NATO membership," in line with U.S. suggestions for countries seeking NATO admission. The plan is divided into five sections that deal with political, economic, defense, legal, and security issues. Shalamanov said a program will be worked out next year that includes specific target dates and how the funds will be provided to meet those dates. He added that the goal of the plan is to demonstrate the irreversibility of military reforms in line with the NATO principles of civilian control over the army and of operational capability. MS




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: SEEKING A DISTINCTIVE IMAGE


by Jan Maksymiuk

By the 1 August deadline, Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission had registered nine candidates for the 31 October presidential elections: President Leonid Kuchma, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Progressive Socialist Party chairwoman Natalya Vitrenko, former Premier Yevhen Marchuk, Cherkasy Mayor Volodymyr Oliynyk, as well as Hennadiy Udovenko and Yuriy Kostenko, leaders of the two splinter groups of the Popular Rukh.

Following complaints by six other aspirants, the Supreme Court ordered the commission also to register Social Democratic Party leader Vasyl Onopenko, Mykola Haber of the Patriotic Party, Oleksandr Rzhavskyy of the Single Fatherland party, Oleksandr Bazylyuk of the Slavic Party, Vitaliy Kononov of the Green Party, and Yuriy Karmazin of the Party of the Fatherland's Defenders.

The sheer number of presidential hopefuls makes an analysis of their election prospects a complicated task. Moreover, virtually all of the incumbent president's main rivals come from the left of the political spectrum, as a result of which their election programs are frequently similar, if not identical, on a variety of issues. But this state of affairs is problematic not only for analysts. The candidates themselves are experiencing difficulties forging their own distinctive political identity among the dozen or so competitors. For this reason, the main candidates are not only presenting their political platforms but are also seeking to project a "mythologized" image. Such images are usually limited to a handful of slogans, but it seems that such devices may be at least as important as official programs in mustering votes on 31 October.

Incumbent President Kuchma is constantly present in the Ukrainian media and therefore has no need to seek to project his image in any special way. His re-election bid is handicapped, however, by Ukraine's disastrous economic situation. While keeping silent on economic issues, Kuchma's image-makers advertise him as a world statesman and the only Ukrainian politician who has some clout in the West. According to them, Kuchma is the only guarantor of Ukraine's transformation, and his re-election would mean the continuation of current reforms.

Communist Party leader Symonenko lacks luster as a politician, but his assets include the unwavering support of the largest caucus in the parliament as well as that of disillusioned pensioners and the unemployed, who are openly nostalgic for the Soviet era. Symonenko promotes himself as the defender of the "ordinary people," an enemy of international financial organizations, and a proponent of Ukraine's integration with Russia and Belarus.

Progressive Socialist Party chairwoman Vitrenko is the most radical and populist presidential candidate among those on the left wing. While earlier she had vehemently promoted herself as the only "true Marxist" in Ukraine, she now prefers to underscore her economic education and doctorate. Her "reform" program advocates reintroducing a command economy, halting privatization, and breaking all relations with the IMF and the World Bank. She sharply criticizes both Communist Symonenko and Socialist Moroz as "opportunists" and "betrayers" of the socialist idea.

Socialist Party leader Moroz trails far behind Symonenko and Vitrenko in the polls, but this has not stopped him from asserting that he is the only leftist candidate able to defeat Kuchma. (It is expected that no candidate will win the first round of elections on 31 October and that Kuchma will face a left-wing rival two weeks later.) Moroz claims to be a moderate leftist who can attract communist, socialist, and social democratic votes. His party's newspaper, "Tovarysh" (Comrade), promotes him as an "intelligent" and "decent" man.

Former Premier Marchuk is presented--especially by the newspaper "Den," which he sponsors--as a "strongman," a kind of Ukrainian General de Gaulle, whom the country urgently needs as it sinks into socio-economic chaos and is plagued by widespread corruption. Marchuk's campaigners make much of his former capacity as Ukraine's Security Service chairman--with the rank of general, no less--as proof that he is able to do away with corruption. (By the same token, they fail to mention his Soviet KGB activities). His main election slogan affirms that Ukraine can overcome the current crisis "on its own." He also tries to pose as a centrist equally suited to representing both the western ("nationalist") and eastern (more Russia-oriented) parts of Ukraine.

While Tkachenko emphasizes his grass-roots origins and political career (he was born into a peasant family and ascended all steps of the Soviet state and party hierarchy, from raion party secretary to first deputy prime minister), he projects the image of the people's savior (who has a program of economic revival until 2015) and of a statesman equal in rank and importance to the incumbent president. "I am not the first person in Ukraine, but neither am I the second" is his well-publicized self-appraisal. Tkachenko is also another staunch supporter of Ukrainian integration with Russia and Belarus.

Other candidates appear less outspoken than the six "heavyweights" listed above. However, their role in the overall distribution of votes on 31 October should not be underestimated. While lacking significant electoral support and/or distinctive media images, they may nonetheless have an influence on the final tallies of those leading the polls. And by voicing their preferences for the anticipated second round, they may tip the election balance in favor of one of the two final candidates.


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