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Newsline - August 24, 1999




YELTSIN TO BISHKEK

President Boris Yeltsin is scheduled to depart on 24 August for a meeting of the Shanghai Five in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. He is to meet with the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, who have committed themselves to confidence-building measures along the borders between their countries. The two-day session is expected to end with a declaration of continued cooperation but no new agreements. PG

YELTSIN PINS HOPES ON PUTIN

The Russian president admires Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "great firmness [of mind], independence in a broad sense, as well as decisiveness and consistence," presidential press secretary Dmitrii Yakushkin told Ekho Moskvy on 21 August, according to Interfax two days later. Yakushkin said that Yeltsin remains committed to ensuring that "the elections to the State Duma and of a new head of state be as civilized as possible." He added that Yeltsin's health remains satisfactory and that the president has not yet begun to focus on his post-presidential life. PG

LUZHKOV DEFERS TO PRIMAKOV ON PRESIDENCY

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 23 August that he will not run for the presidency if former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov decides to do so, Interfax reported. Luzhkov said that he intends to run for mayor because "Moscow has problems I want to solve in exactly four years." He added that those who hope to see him "squabble" with Primakov out of ambition "won't live long enough" to do so. PG

KIRIENKO TO TOP RIGHT-WING COALITION LIST

Former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, leader of New Force, Boris Nemtsov, former First Deputy Prime Minister and Young Russia chairman, and Irina Khakamade, a leader of Common Cause, will head the election list of a coalition to be called the Union of Rightist Forces, Interfax reported on 24 August. Kirienko commmented that Right Cause and New Force have both joined the new coalition. According to the news agency, Kirienko also said that Russia's Voice, led by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, has agreed in principle to join the coalition. JC

CHERNOMYRDIN HEADS NDR ELECTION LIST

Former Prime Minister and Our Home Is Russia (NDR) leader Viktor Chernomyrdin, NDR parliamentary faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, and one of several governors will head the NDR's electoral list, Ryzhkov told Interfax on 23 August. Among the governors on the list are Sverdlovsk's Eduard Rossel, Saratov's Dmitrii Ayatskov, and Samara's Konstantin Titov. PG

OTHER ELECTORAL MOVES

Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed told Interfax on 23 August that he "strongly objects" to "any union with NDR." Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov denounced as a "provocative lie" reports that Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev had been removed from his party's electoral list, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko said he has no plans to become a State Duma deputy, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. And former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said that it is no tragedy that he failed to create a center-right electoral bloc, but he promised that he will continue to talk with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Interfax reported. Stepashin denounced the Fatherland-All-Russia alliance as "a purely tactical" group intended only to "get as many votes in the Duma as possible." PG

'KOMMERSANT-DAILY' CLOSURE SPARKS CHARGES, DENIALS

The closure of "Kommersant-Daily," ostensibly for violation of fire safety regulations, has sparked charges and denials that Moscow Mayor Luzhkov or others took this step for political reasons. The newspaper's director-general, Leonid Miloslavskii, said he does not have proof that Luzhkov was responsible, but he added he is "totally sure" that people around the mayor were behind the move, Reuters reported on 23 August. Luzhkov responded that such claims are "absolutely absurd." But the temporary closure of the newspaper may already have had an impact on how it will act in the future. Andrei Vasilev, the new editor, said his news paper should report but not become part of "intramural media infighting," according to ITAR-TASS. PG

FEDERAL FORCES SAID TO LIBERATE THREE VILLAGES

Daghestani Security Council Secretary Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiev told journalists in Makhachkala on 24 August that over the past 24 hours, federal forces liberated the villages of Tando, Rakhata, and Ashino after heavy fighting, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Islamic militants retain control of Ansalta and Shodroda. The previous day, Russian military spokesman Colonel Yevgenii Ryabtsev rejected as disinformation militants' claims to have withdrawn their forces from all villages in Botlikh Raion on orders from field commander Shamil Basaev in order to regroup. Fifty wounded Russian army and Interior Ministry troops were evacuated by air from Daghestan to Volgograd on 24 August, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

RUSSIAN, DAGHESTANI LEADERS MEET

Meeting in Moscow on 23 August with Magomedali Magomedov, chairman of Daghestan's State Council, President Yeltsin expressed concern that the Russian government has not yet endorsed a relief program for the thousands of Daghestani civilians who fled from villages in the western regions of the country seized earlier this month by Islamic militants, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 August. Last week, the government of Daghestan drafted such a program, whose implementation will cost an estimated 300 million rubles ($12 million). Also on 23 August, Russia's human rights envoy Lev Mironov met at a Moscow mosque with Sheikh Ravil Gainutdinov, chairman of the Council of Muftis of the Russian Federation, to discuss the situation in Daghestan, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

STROEV SAYS PLANNED YELTSIN-MASKHADOV MEETING POINTLESS

Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev told Interfax on 23 August that the proposed meeting between the presidents of the Russian Federation and Chechnya is "absurd and useless" in view of what he termed "the flow of hatred" directed at Russia. Stroev was speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Putin and presidential Chief of Staff [Aleksandr] Voloshin to discuss the situation in the North Caucasus, which Stroev said the Federation Council will work actively to stabilize. LF

COURT CANCELS EXTENSION OF SKURATOV INVESTIGATION

A Moscow city court on 23 August ruled that Russia's chief military prosecutor acted illegally in extending his investigation into the case of suspended Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov. The court said that the prosecutor had no right to extend the investigation. This decision can be appealed within seven days. Observers suggested that this is a blow for Yeltsin and the Kremlin, which have actively sought Skuratov's removal, AP reported. Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman Stroev said that the legislature is prepared to honor acting Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika's request to be relieved of his responsibilities. Chaika was recently appointed justice minister. PG

RUSSIAN GENERAL TO RETURN TO NATO HQ

Colonel-General Viktor Zavarzin, the Russian military representative to NATO, who was withdrawn from that post by Moscow to protest the Western alliance's actions in Kosova, will return to NATO's Brussels headquarters "shortly," unidentified Russian "military- diplomatic sources in Moscow" told Interfax on 23 August. The agency said he will hold consultations with NATO only on matters concerning peacekeeping in Kosova and that his return does not indicate that Moscow is restoring military ties with the Western alliance. PG

RUSSIA SEEKS VOICE ON EU EXPANSION

Speaking in Paris on 23 August, the Russian official responsible for working with the G-8 said Moscow does not oppose the eastern expansion of the EU but wants a voice in the process so that nothing will be done that will "make anything worse for Russia," ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksandr Livshits said that EU expansion could mean the inclusion of countries that "have historically served as major markets for Russia" and that the West acknowledges that "there is a problem" if expansion proceeds in ways that fail to take Moscow's concerns into account. Livshits said talks between Russia and the EU must begin immediately. PG

G-8 TO CONSIDER SOVIET-ERA DEBT AT OKINAWA SUMMIT

Also on 23 August, Livshits said that the G-8 countries have agreed to consider "a comprehensive settlement" of Moscow's Soviet-era debt during the Okinawa summit in July 2000, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian minister said no formula has been agreed to but that he believes it should proceed from Russia's ability to pay its debts. PG

WORLD BANK REVISES RUSSIAN LOAN PORTFOLIO

Michael Carter, the head of the World Bank's Moscow office, said on 23 August that the World Bank has reduced the amount of resources promised to Russia by $228 million, ITAR-TASS reported. Carter indicated that the reduction is by mutual agreement and reflects decisions to end funding for ineffective projects. PG

POPKOVICH SAYS U.S. SEEKING TO OBSTRUCT START-2 RATIFICIATION

State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich of the NDR told Interfax on 23 August that the U.S. is "in essence putting obstacles in the way of [the Duma's] ratification of the START-2 treaty" by planning its own national ABM system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 August 1999). Washington, he said, seeks to portray Russia as a "kind of nuclear monster that does not want to disarm." Pointing to the fact that the shelf life of Russian missiles will expire some 15 years before their U.S. counterparts, Popkovich argued that "Russia needs START-2 more than the U.S. does." Washington's intention to amend the ABM treaty "casts doubts on ratification" of START-2 by the Duma since the danger of "disrupted balance" may arise, he stressed. JC

MOSCOW NOT PLANNING TO BUY GRAIN ABROAD THIS YEAR

Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak told Interfax on 23 August that the Russian government does not plan to make any centralized grain purchases abroad this year. But he noted that some regions may have to do so on their own because the 60 million ton harvest the authorities have projected will not meet all needs. Meanwhile, the U.S. has now delivered more than half of the 3.1 million tons of food aid to Russia, according to the news agency. This assistance has reached 60 of the country's regions. PG

NEW TAX CODE UNDER PREPARATION

The Finance and Tax Ministries are preparing draft income tax codes that would reduce the number of rates and raise the level of income at which the minimum tax rate would be applied, Interfax reported on 23 August. The two plans do not coincide but are very similar: the Tax Ministry is calling for four rates ranging from 12 percent to 35 percent, while the Finance Ministry wants three ranging from 12 percent to 30 percent. PG

LUKOIL OPPOSES EXPORT DUTIES

LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov told the Fuel and Energy Ministry on 23 August that the imposition of export duties on crude and fuel oil is unnecessary because bringing fuel to domestic customers during the winter is "our responsibility." Russia's Unified Energy Systems has been calling for just such a step. Meanwhile, the Fuel and Energy Ministry said that CIS countries owe Moscow 60 billion rubles ($2.2. billion) for fuel purchases during the first half of 1999 alone, while Gazprom reported that Russian gas production equaled 322 billion cubic meters over that period, 0.5 billion cubic meters less than planned but equal to last year's level. Energy shortages, however, continue in parts of Russia. On 23 August, ITAR-TASS reported that power cutoffs have lengthened in Arkhangelsk Oblast by another hour per day (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 August 1999). PG

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES MEET AS COURT CASE PROCEEDS

Some 15,000 Jehovah's Witnesses are meeting in Moscow this week as part of a country-wide series of sessions organized by the Christian group, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, however, a Moscow city court is considering a suit filed by the Committee for the Rescue of Young People to ban the group because of its intense missionary activities. The committee claims such activities are totalitarian in nature. PG

TULA MINERS SUSPEND MARCH ON MOSCOW

Miners from Tula Oblast have halted preparations to march on Moscow to protest wage arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1999), Interfax reported on 23 August. According to a local trade union official, that move follows the transfer to the oblast of some 32 million rubles ($1.3 million), which will cover back pay for the past three months. The total sum owed employees at the Tulaugol company is 115 million rubles. The official noted that during Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko's visit to the oblast last week an agreement was reached whereby consumers will pay part of their debts to the mining company by 15 September. JC

STEPASHIN GETS 'POLICE TO POLICE' MEDAL

The University of Illinois has awarded former Premier Stepashin a medal and certificate for his work in drafting a long-term "From Police to Police" program, which connects Russian and American higher educational institutions, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 August. Stepashin was given the award in St. Petersburg. PG




GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET

David Tevzadze held "consultative" talks in Moscow on 23 August with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, Russian agencies reported. The main topics of discussion were bilateral cooperation, the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in Abkhazia under a CIS mandate, and the future of the four Russian military bases in Georgia. Georgian parliamentary deputies have repeatedly demanded the closure of two of those facilities. A further bone of contention between the two sides are the conditions for Moscow's return to Georgian jurisdiction of 44 buildings previously used by Russian troops (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 25, 25 June 1999). LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT MEETS WITH SOUTH KOREAN, JAPANESE DIPLOMATS

Nursultan Nazarbaev met with South Korea's ambassador Lee Yen Minh in Astana on 23 August to discuss bilateral trade and economic ties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. It is unclear whether the alleged sale by Kazakhstan of MiGs to North Korea was also on the agenda. Nazarbaev held talks the same day with visiting senior Japanese diplomat Takemi Keizo on the ecological situation at the former nuclear testing ground at Semipalatinsk, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Japan is a major participant in a UN-funded program to clean up the territory adjacent to the site and will host an international conference on that problem next month. LF

TOP OIL OFFICIAL FIRED IN KAZAKHSTAN

President Nazarbaev fired KazakhOil State Oil Company President Nurlan Qapparov on 23 August for "exceeding his authority in deciding important strategic issues," AP reported. Qapparov's deputy, Uzaqbay Qarabalin, was appointed acting president. Also on 23 August, Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Toqaev confirmed that in order to plug an anticipated budget shortfall next year, Astana may be constrained to sell part of its 25 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture, which is developing the vast Tengiz oilfield, according to Interfax. A spokesman for Russia's LUKoil told Interfax on 20 August that his company is interested in increasing the 5 percent stake in Tengizchevroil owned by the U.S.-Russian joint venture LukArco. LF

KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTER SACKED AS TROOPS BATTLE GUERRILLAS

President Askar Akaev sacked Defense Minister Myrzakan Subanov on 24 August and appointed Chief of Staff General Nurdin Chomoev to replace him, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Late on 23 August, Kyrgyz forces attacked the group of guerrillas who took hostage Kyrgyz Interior Ministry forces commander Major-General Anarbek Shamkeev and four Japanese geologists in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier that day. According to unconfirmed reports, both sides incurred casualties during that fighting. A second group of guerrillas has seized control of two more villages, raising the number under their control to four. Parliamentary deputy Dosbol Nur Uulu told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that the guerrillas' strength exceeds 200. In Dushanbe, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov told Interfax that the guerrillas are loyal to ethnic Uzbek field commander Djuma Namangani, who refused to comply with the deadline to disarm issued by Tajikistan's National Reconciliation Commission. That deadline expired last month. LF

KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER EDITOR ARRESTED

Aleksandr Kim, editor of the independent and outspoken daily "Vechernii Bishkek," has been arrested on charges of tax evasion, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 August. LF

TAJIKISTAN HOSTS FRUITLESS AFGHAN TALKS

Representatives of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement and opposition Northern Alliance met for a second round of Pakistan-mediated talks in Dushanbe on 23 August, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. As at the 18 August round, no agreement was reached on adopting proposals made by Pakistan as a basis for ending the civil war. The North Alliance reportedly argued that Pakistan is incapable of acting as a disinterested mediator and called on Islamabad to stop interfering in the conflict, withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, and end its support for the Taliban. LF

UZBEKISTAN RELEASES JAILED CHRISTIANS

Under an as yet unpublished decree signed by President Islam Karimov on 20 August, one Jehovah's Witness and all five known Christians imprisoned in Uzbekistan have been freed, Keston News Service reported on 23 August. Three of the five were Pentecostalists serving sentences of 10-15 years. The Uzbek authorities are also reportedly preparing to register several local Baptist and Pentecostalist congregations. Observers believe the gesture of leniency is intended to improve the country's image before the U.S. State Department presents to Congress on 1 September its annual assessment of religious freedom worldwide. LF

HOSTAGES TAKEN, RELEASED IN UZBEKISTAN

Unidentified guerrillas seized control of a meteorological station in eastern Uzbekistan on 23 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The guerrillas released the staff of the facility and five local tourists after robbing them of documents, money, clothing, and food and fuel supplies. LF




DIM PROSPECTS FOR POLITICAL DIALOGUE IN BELARUS

Anatol Lyabedzka, head of the opposition delegation for talks with the authorities, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 23 August that the political dialogue in Belarus "may come to a halt even without having started." Lyabedzka was commenting on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's statement last week that the authorities want to talk with a broad spectrum of public organizations on holding parliamentary elections in 2000 in accordance with the 1996 constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). There has been no response from the OSCE Minsk group to Lukashenka's announcement. OSCE Minsk group head Hans Georg Wieck announced previously that the planned talks should aim at electing a parliament "with significant functions and powers" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NO RETURN TO SOVIET SYSTEM

On 23 August, the eve of the eighth anniversary of Ukraine's independence, President Leonid Kuchma said there can be no return to the Soviet political and social system, Reuters and AP reported. Kuchma called on the government to implement economic measures, including tax and agricultural reforms and restructuring of the country's foreign debt. He predicted that Ukraine's GDP will grow by 2 percent in 2000 and by 4-6 percent in the following years. He blamed the country's economic decline on the Soviet past and the parliamentary obstruction of key legislation. "The parliament's work must be formed on the basis of a responsible majority," Kuchma said without elaborating. JM

'PATRIOTIC FORUM' IN KYIV CALLS FOR SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

A forum of "patriotic, anti-corruption, pro- independence, and democratic forces" took place in Kyiv on 22 August, Interfax and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The forum was organized by the Open Politics association and attended by five presidential hopefuls: Yuriy Kostenko, Yuriy Karmazin, Volodymyr Oliynyk, Vasyl Onopenko, and Oleksandr Rzhavskyy. Hennadiy Udovenko, Yevhen Marchuk, and Vitaliy Kononov, all of whom also aspire to the presidency, failed to appear. Anatoliy Matviyenko, who heads the association and resigned the leadership of the Popular Democratic Party after it pledged support to Kuchma's re-election bid, urged all presidential candidates to agree on a single candidate to represent the right-wing in the elections. JM

FINLAND TO CONTINUE DEFENSE ASSISTANCE TO ESTONIA

Meeting with Finnish Defense Ministry officials in Helsinki on 23 August, Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik received assurances that Finland will continue to support Estonia's defense forces. The two countries plan to continue to cooperate in the training of naval specialists and the creation of command structures in the armed forces. Luik's meeting with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari focused on questions of European security and the latest developments in Kosova. AB

RIGA 'BALTIC WAY' CONFERENCE FOCUSES ON STRENGTH IN UNITY

Latvia's president and prime minister both emphasized the need for unity among the three Baltic countries at a conference in Riga on 23 August marking the 10th anniversary of the "Baltic Way," the 600 kilometer human chain that extended from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius. LETA quoted President Vaira Vike-Freiberga as saying that only by "taking each other's hand" will Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania achieve a better future in which "human rights, one law, one truth for all" are the primary values of society. Prime Minister Andris Skele noted that "if each [Baltic country] is considered separately, we are three little states, but together [we are] one of the most strategically important regions in the new Europe." MJZ

LITHUANIAN LEADERS UNANIMOUSLY AGREE ON BUDGET CUTS

Meeting on 23 August, Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis, and President Valdas Adamkus agreed that the spending in the current fiscal year should be cut by more than 51 million litas ($138 million). Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas and Economy Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis also attended the meeting. Lionginas has publicly urged the parliament to approve budget cuts in the range of 600 million litas. Paksas told reporters after the meeting that he hopes the parliament will soon agree to the cuts, which the government is expected to approve on 25 August. AB

MAZEIKIAI OIL COMPLEX FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHTER

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation will each buy 5 percent of the remaining government-owned shares in the Mazeikiai oil refinery complex. This is a major breakthrough for the Lithuanian government which has struggled for two years to privatize the complex. The EBRD and IFC plans are contingent on the completion of negotiations between Lithuania and the U.S. firm Williams International on the sale of up to 66 percent of the government's share in Mazeikiai. AB

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on August 23 incorrectly reported that Lithuania and Poland are the only two countries with consular representation in Kaliningrad. In fact, Sweden and Denmark have a joint representation there as well.

POLISH FARMERS CALL FOR NATIONWIDE PROTEST

A regional protest committee of farmers in Slupsk, northern Poland, has called on all farmers to hold a nationwide protest over the plight of the Polish agriculture, PAP reported on 23 August. Farmers' leader Wladyslaw Serafin said in Slupsk that only an immediate change in agricultural policy can prevent the current cabinet from being toppled. The Slupsk farmers also urged to refrain from holding harvest festivals this year in a sign of protest. Another meeting of farmers in Western Pomeranian Province appealed to farmers to begin paying taxes not in cash but through "products [valued] at profitable prices." JM

POLISH TEACHERS WANT MORE MONEY FOR SCHOOL REFORM

Polish teachers' unions warned on 23 August that more money is needed to support the education reform slated to begin on 1 September. The unions object to the government's plans to shut down some schools and lay off teachers while ensuring pay rises do not exceed the level of inflation, Reuters reported. The government intends to reduce spending on education next year to 3.02 percent of GDP from 3.2 percent in 1999. The left-wing Polish Teachers Union wants Education Minister Miroslaw Handtke to be sacked, while Solidarity blames the Finance Ministry for failing to provide more subsidies. Both unions said they plan protests unless the education sector is given more money. JM

BELARUS CITIZENS SEEK ASYLUM IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Three Belarus citizens--two men and a woman--have asked for political asylum in the Czech Republic, a spokesman for the Plzen foreigners' police told CTK on 23 August. The woman said she is a journalist and was persecuted in Belarus because she opposes Belarusian President Lukashenka's regime. MS

SLOVAK PRIVATIZATION SCANDAL APPROACHING SOLUTION

Representatives of the Slovak Property Fund (FNM) and Druha obchodna have signed a deal on the transfer of a 45.9 percent stake in Nafta Gbely to the FNM, SITA reported on 23 August. Druha obchodna is a subsidiary of Nafta Trade, which is controlled by the Arad joint-stock company owned by businessman Vladimir Poor. Under the deal, the FNM is to assume Druha obchodna's debts to Tatra banka and AG Banka. The deal is still subject to an agreement between the sides on the purchase of Nafta Trade by the state-owned SPP monopoly gas distributor. Arad is asking for 390 million crowns ($9 million), while the SPP says that price is too high, given Nafta Trade's debts. MS

SLOVAK POLICE VERSION OF ROM'S DEATH QUESTIONED

Vincent Danihel, government commissioner for Romany affairs, said on 23 August that he is dissatisfied with the official police version of how a Rom died after being in police custody, SITA and CTK reported. The Rom was questioned at the police station in Poprad on 13 August in connection with a bicycle theft. Police say he shot himself with the pistol of the policeman who was questioning him. Before his death in the hospital three days later, the Rom told a friend that the injury was caused by a policeman. Danihel said that even if the official police version is true, the policeman clearly violated regulations by questioning the Rom while he was alone with him and by keeping a gun within the detainee's reach. Danihel added he will travel to Poprad to monitor the investigation. MS

SLOVAK POLICE INDICT SKINHEADS

A police investigator in Bratislava on 20 August filed charges against three skinheads accused of assaulting the Chinese consul and two of his friends last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 1999), SITA and CTK reported. An 18-year-old was indicted for assault and racially-motivated crime, while two other youths, aged 16 and 18, were charged with hooliganism. If convicted, they could be sentenced to prison terms of between six months and three years. One of the skinheads is reportedly the son of a high-ranking Bratislava police officer. MS




RUSSIAN-ALBANIAN STANDOFF CONTINUES IN RAHOVEC

Hundreds of ethnic Albanians continued to block roads leading to Rahovec on 24 August, thereby preventing Russian peacekeepers from entering that town (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). The roadblock includes a long line of trucks, buses, tractors, and other vehicles. Dutch peacekeepers are scheduled to begin mediation between Russian officers and the Albanian protesters later in the day, AP reported. The protesters reject the deployment of Russian soldiers, claiming that Russian mercenaries committed atrocities in that area in March and April. The protesters also say they fear Russian KFOR will protect Serbian paramilitaries who are allegedly hiding in the Serb-dominated quarter of Rahovec. FS

KFOR'S JACKSON BACKS RUSSIANS...

KFOR commander General Sir Mike Jackson told Reuters in Prishtina on 23 August that the Russians are "doing a good job" in all the areas of Kosova that they currently patrol. He added that the Rahovec protests are "no more than a bump in the road." Elsewhere, Colonel-General Georgii Shpak, who is commander of Russian paratroop units, told Interfax in Moscow that "we have a peacekeeping mission in [Rahovec] and we will carry it out." FS

...CONFIRMS UCK DEMILITARIZATION ON SCHEDULE

At a joint press conference with General Agim Ceku, who is the chief of the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) General Staff, in Prishtina on 23 August, Jackson confirmed that the UCK handed in all its heavy weapons, all long- barreled weapons, and 60 per cent of all automatic small arms by 19 August, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. That day marked the end of the second phase of the UCK's demilitarization. Jackson stressed that the UCK must now concentrate on transforming itself into a non-military group. The UCK has committed itself to completing its demilitarization by 19 September. FS

SERBIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS TO BE TRIED IN PRIZREN

Three Serbs arrested on suspicion of war crimes by KFOR peacekeeping troops in Rahovec on 20 August will stand trial at a District Court in Prizren, rather than in The Hague, Reuters reported. UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) spokeswoman Nadia Younes said, however, that "although this will be a domestic war crimes trial, the [tribunal] takes great interest in this case. [This is] because the events in [Rahovec] are related to the indictment of [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic." Tribunal officials told Reuters on 23 August that they support the arrest and trial of suspected war criminals in local courts so long as the judiciary is "mature and democratic enough" to ensure that individuals receive a fair trial. FS

DID SERBIAN FORCES USE SARIN GAS IN KOSOVA?

London's "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 24 August that "the Serbs used Sarin nerve gas against ethnic Albanians before NATO intervened" in Kosova. A UN expert told "Jane's Defence Weekly" recently that Serbian forces used the gas against the Kosovar Albanians "since the early nineties.... The attacks affected some 4,000 people, including children," the London daily reported. Observers note that Kosovar spokesmen have long charged that the Serbian forces used poison gas against ethnic Albanians. Outside experts have confirmed that poisons were used in several incidents, but not that Sarin gas was one of the toxins involved. PM

ANNAN APPOINTS NEW DEPUTY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR KOSOVA

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed German environmental expert Tom Koenigs as deputy special representative in Kosova in charge of civil administration, on 23 August, AP reported. Koenigs, who is a member of the Green Party and a close colleague of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, will replace Dominique Vian of France, who is leaving after only two months in office. Koenigs will be one of four deputies to UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner. Since 1989, Koenigs has been the head of the Environmental Protection Department of Frankfurt, which also includes responsibility for sewage management, the fire department, and energy supplies. Between 1993 and 1997, he was treasurer of Frankfurt. AP noted that he has a reputation as a tough administrator focusing on increasing the efficiency of public services and modernizing the city administration. FS

MAJKO WANTS ALBANIANS TO MAKE DONATIONS FOR KOSOVA- ALBANIAN HIGHWAY

Prime Minister Pandeli Majko called on the Albanian people on 23 August to donate money for a highway linking Durres with Prishtina, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. Majko said in Tirana that "the Albanian government has decided that the construction of a road linking Tirana with Prishtina is one of its strategic priorities. That road will serve both ethnic Albanian entities in the Balkans.... It will serve the faster movement of goods, people, capital, and culture." Majko called the plan "a gigantic challenge for our nation" but stressed that "together we...can achieve wonders for our joint future.... This will be the Albanians' road and we Albanians will build it... We shall ask for help from our international partners, but initially we should demonstrate that we are able to help ourselves." FS

DJINDJIC SAYS MILOSEVIC RULE WILL LEAD TO CHAOS

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told AP in Belgrade on 23 August that Serbia will face serious problems if Milosevic remains in office much longer. Djindjic stressed that if the president "does not go by the end of October, we will have a humanitarian catastrophe and social unrest by hungry people." He added that there will also be "further territorial disintegration" if Montenegro declares independence in response to Milosevic's refusal to quit. The opposition leader argued that each unsuccessful attempt by the opposition to unseat Milosevic has been followed by war. Djindjic rejected charges by Milosevic's backers and the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic that his policies will lead to "civil war" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999), saying such accusations are "communist-style intimidation." PM

ARE SOME MILOSEVIC BACKERS ABANDONING HIM?

Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 23 August that Milosevic's supporters will not fight a "civil war" for him. Batic added that some key Milosevic backers have recently contacted U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). Batic said those individuals include prominent businessman Bogoljub Karic, Deputy Prime Minister Ratko Markovic, economics adviser Zoran Lilic, and others, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Batic stressed that Milosevic must resign and a transitional government must replace the present one. PM

UN EXPERTS CAUTIOUS ON SERBIAN CHARGES OF ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

Pekka Haavisto, who is chairman of the United Nations Environmental Program's (UNEP) Balkans Task Force, said in Belgrade on 23 August that he and his colleagues are continuing their investigation into environmental damage in Serbia as a result of the recent NATO air strikes. The team arrived several weeks ago to look for the presence of a wide variety of chemicals and other toxic waste in the environment. In response to Serbian charges that the air strikes led to radioactive fallout because some of the bombs allegedly contained depleted uranium, Haavisto said his team will proceed according to scientific evidence and not be swayed by "rumors." The experts expect to complete a preliminary study in September. They will then decide what to do next, Reuters reported. Officials of UNEP and NATO maintain that NATO used depleted uranium only in shells fired at tanks in Kosova and not in missiles or bombs used against Serbia proper. PM

PRESUMED SREBRENICA VICTIMS EXHUMED FROM MASS GRAVE

Representatives of the Muslim Commission for Missing Persons completed the exhumation of 23 persons from a mass grave near the Serbian-held town of Zvornik on 23 August, "Oslobodjenje" reported. The experts believe that the bodies are those of some of the 7,000 missing persons from Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1999). The forensic team will resume work in September. Survivors say that up to 1,000 Srebrenica victims may be buried in mass graves in that area. PM

CROATIAN MINISTER TELLS VETERANS NOT TO MAKE POLICY

Foreign Minister Mate Granic said in Zagreb on 23 August that Dubrovnik-area war veterans who recently blocked the border crossing to Trebinje should desist from such protests in the interest of promoting good relations with Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). He urged the veterans to let the Hague-based war crimes tribunal deal with Serbs who committed atrocities during the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik, including former Trebinje Mayor Bozidar Vucurevic. Obrad Gazda, who is that town's current mayor, told Rijeka's "Novi List" that the people of Trebinje have nothing to apologize for. He stressed that the former Yugoslav army alone is responsible for the shelling. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER WARNS PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES...

Before the parliament convened in an extraordinary session on 23 August, Radu Vasile urged parliamentary deputies to pass the government-proposed legislation on restitution of real estate and agricultural land to former owners or their heirs. Vasile said that if they fail to do so by September, the government will legislate such restitution by emergency regulation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania is threatening to boycott the debate on procedural grounds. It also says government- proposed restitution will increase the budget deficit by $50 billion. MS

...DISMISSES RUMORS ON QUITTING

Vasile dismissed rumors recently reported in the media that he intends to resign and accept an offer from the World Bank. He said that no such offer has been made and that if it were, he would turn it down. On 20 August, Education Minister Andrei Marga, whom the media tips as a possible successor to Vasile, told journalists that the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) needs to "urgently embark on [developing a] strategy of reconstruction," Mediafax reported. Marga said that reconstruction can take place at "a doctrinary, an organizational, and a personal" level and that he believes he "has solutions" for all three levels. He added that he does not intend to run for a party leadership post but would "think the offer over" if it were made to him. MS

ROMANIA TO CHANGE TAXATION SYSTEM

The government on 23 August approved a regulation changing the taxation system. Under the new system, Romanians will be taxed on "global income," which will include wages and earnings deriving from any other sources of income, either in Romania or abroad. The government also decided that the pensions and incomes of farmers are not to be taxed in the future. RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

RUN-OFF IN GAGAUZ-YERI ELECTIONS

A run-off will take place on 5 September between incumbent Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Region Governor Georgii Tabunschik, who placed second (20.6 percent) in the 22 August elections in the region, and Moldovan Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Dimitrii Croitor, who came first with 21.5 percent of the vote, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Turnout was 55.1 percent. Run-offs will also be held in 25 of the 35 constituencies where candidates for the People's Assembly were elected for the first time since 1994, when the region gained autonomous status, using a single-seat majority system. Tabunschik, who has virtually introduced a system resembling the one President Petru Lucinschi favors for the whole of Moldova, has a good chance of being re-elected. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT READY TO COMPROMISE ON PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM?

Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea told journalists on 23 August that Lucinschi is "ready to discuss various variants on amending the constitution." He said Lucinschi has initiated the debate on amending the basic law in order to get feed-back from citizens and international organizations and is "ready to discuss any constructive proposals." Golea said that "unfortunately, many representatives of parties are rejecting the draft [proposed by the presidential commission] without having even read it." In response to a question, Golea said the president regards the draft submitted by 38 deputies on instituting a full-fledged parliamentary system as "an attempt to monopolize public [opinion] and ignore people's will freely expressed in the [non-binding] referendum of 23 May." MS




WHEN FOUR TIMES FIVE MIGHT EQUAL ZERO


by Michael Shafir

Some 300 days after the four-party ruling Slovak coalition took over the helm, the cracks in that coalition are threatening the country's political stability. The presence of a "Romanian syndrome" of decision-making paralysis, mutual accusations among the coalition partners, and political cronyism is beyond dispute.

Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet was formed by four formations--the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), the reformed-communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), and the Hungarian Coalition (SMK)- -most of which have different social, economic, and political priorities.

Like the SDK, the SMK is a political product of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's midwifery. To circumvent an electoral law that raised the parliamentary hurdle for political alliances, three parties representing ethnic Hungarians merged to form the SMK before the 1998 elections. But unlike the SDK, the SMK currently shows few cracks. The cementing force is the coalition partners' failure to fulfill promises made before the elections. As in Romania, where the unity of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania is safeguarded by the struggle of its many wings and various ideological views on how to enforce ethnic Hungarian demands its on coalition partners, the SMK is already threatening to "review" its participation in the coalition.

In the first place, Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncos of the SDL refused to appoint an SMK party member as head of the Slovak Land Fund, ignoring what the SMK claims was a "verbal agreement" whereby it withdrew its demand for the agriculture portfolio. The SMK is suspected by the SDL--not to mention the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the xenophobic Slovak National Party--of intending to use the land fund to restitute to ethnic Hungarians land confiscated under the Benes decrees. Second, the SMK is dissatisfied with the law on the use of minority languages in contact with official authorities, which it considers too restrictive. Passed by the parliament on 10 July, that law was mainly the brainchild of Deputy Premier in charge of legislation Lubomir Fogas of the SDL. Not surprisingly, Slovak media reported that the SMK is demanding the dismissal of both Koncos and Fogas.

Set up on the eve of the 1998 elections by five center- right parties that, like the SMK, aimed at circumventing Meciar's new electoral law, the SDK is the major coalition partner. It is also the party most affected by the Romanian "coalition of coalitions" syndrome. The five "mother parties" of the SDK--the Christian Democratic Movement, or KDH, the Social Democratic Party, the Democratic Union, the Democratic Party, and the Green Party--agreed before the elections to separate again after the ballot. Following the ballot, however, Dzurinda opposed dismembering the SDK.

That stance put Dzurinda on a collision course with KDH leader, Justice Minister, and former Premier Jan Carnogursky, who, understandably, objected to seeing Dzurinda, a former KDH member, becoming the dominant personality in Slovak politics. But the Democratic Union and the Democratic Party have also advocated--though less emphatically than Carnogursky-- a return to a looser alliance formed by the "mother parties." Dzurinda says that option is "out of the question."

Carnogursky has led the campaign that ended on 9 August with the ousting of former Transportation Minister Gabriel Palacka, Dzurinda's most loyal minister. Palacka's ties with Dzurinda date back to their employment in the Czechoslovak railways company and were strengthened when he became the SDK treasurer. The premier was very disturbed about the forced departure of Palacka, who was held responsible for irregularities in appointments at the ministry and privatization tenders supervised by it. He openly attacked Carnogursky, admonishing him for causing "government instability."

Nor is Palacka the only ally of Dzurinda to have come under criticism. Economy Minister Ludovit Cernak, who managed the premier's 1998 electoral campaign, has been linked to the privatization scandal caused by businessman Vladimir Poor's sale of his shares in the Nafta Gbely refinery to the Cincinnati-based Cinergy Company. Whereas Carnogursky and the media blamed the deal on Cernak, Dzurinda deflected the blame on National Property Fund (FNM) chief Ludovit Kanik and his deputy, Ladislav Sklenar, demanding that both resign. He was able to have the government approve a resolution calling for their resignation but failed to have the parliament endorse it. Carnogursky and, above all, the Democratic Party, which had nominated Kanik, came to the FNM chief's defense. All of which made Czech journalist Peter Schultz wonder, in an article published in the 16 July "Lidove noviny," whether Dzurinda was not promoting a sort of "Meciarism without Meciar" by defending his own cronies and attacking those of his adversaries.

Dzurinda's conflict with the Democratic Party may have serious consequences. The most ardent promoter of the long- due economic reforms is Privatization Minister Ivan Miklos, who is a member of that party. Should his party leave the coalition, Dzurinda might find himself surrounded by strange bedfellows. The SDL, true to its origins, is refusing to back the Miklos-sponsored bill on the privatization of large state-owned companies, insisting that the state keep a majority stake in energy and gas distributors as well as a 34 percent stake in banks. The Romanian parallel is once more striking, but in Romania it is the Democratic Party that plays a role like that of the SDL in Slovakia.

Meanwhile, the HZDS is hinting that the SDL and the SOP may leave the coalition and help Meciar return to power. Is Dzurinda's four-party coalition multiplied by the SDK's five- party "coalition of coalitions" about to result in zero?


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