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Newsline - August 31, 1999




SCANDAL CHARGES DENIED...

Boris Berezovskii, an oligarch close to President Boris Yeltsin, told Ekho Moskvy on 30 August that unless Moscow responds promptly to "false Western charges" about money-laundering, "all business in Russia will be represented as criminal," Interfax reported. He said that the scandal charges are being made by individuals both inside the country and beyond "who do not want Russia to be represented by its best components." Berezovskii concluded that those spreading such charges in the West include people "who are trying to obstruct" the construction of a democratic society in Russia. At the same time, he added that "there is no law that bans a Russian citizen, including the president, from holding accounts in foreign banks." PG

...CONFIRMED...

Georgii Chuglazov, the federal prosecutor who was removed from the Mabetex case last week, told Interfax on 30 August that "at least 90 percent of published material [about the case] is true, and investigators have the documents to support this." Various media outlets have reported that Mabetex paid $1 million into an account held in Yeltsin's name and paid off his daughters' credit card balances. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Lebedev, the president of Russia's National Reserve Bank and deputy head of the Our Home Is Russia movement, told Interfax that reports about money-laundering through the Bank of New York are probably true, although he said claims that IMF money was laundered through that bank are "absolutely false." PG

...AND MINIMIZED

IMF director Tom Dawson told journalists in Washington on 30 August that there is "absolutely no evidence" that any IMF funds were diverted through the Bank of New York. Former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also downplayed the charges. In comments to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 30 August, he said: "You can steal anything. But how do you steal an IMF loan?... It's improbable." Mikhail Khodorkovskii, a Russian industrialist who ran a bank now under investigation, said on Ekho Moskvy on 30 August that U.S. law enforcement agencies made a mistake because it is highly unlikely that Russians could move the amounts of cash specified during that period. And in an interview with "Newsweek", U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said "Calm down world" when he was asked about crime and corruption in Russia, adding that those phenomena have been known to Washington for a long time and will take "decades" to overcome. PG

SCANDAL REPORTING DRIVES MOSCOW MARKET DOWN

The charges and countercharges concerning money-laundering and other corrupt activities have driven the Russian stock market down, Interfax reported on 30 August. Most issues were off 3-7 percent on a volume of 170 million rubles ($6 million). Aleksandr Korchagin, an analyst at a Moscow brokerage, said the scandal could lead to a suspension of IMF lending to Russia. PG

RUSSIAN BUSINESSMEN IN U.S. SEEK TO AVOID EXPULSION

Some 13 Russian businessmen and their families have filed suit to avoid expulsion from the U.S. as a result of recent changes in U.S. immigration law, ITAR-TASS reported. Their lawyers said that they were participating in a "secret program" that allowed Russian and other immigrants who invest significant amounts of money in the U.S. to remain. One of their lawyers added that the 13 Russians have invested more than $20 million in the U.S. PG

MOSCOW PREDICTS TAXES TO FALL, REVENUES TO GROW

Tax collections will decline by more than 59 billion rubles ($2.3 billion) in 2000, but state revenues will increase as a result of tax simplification and better collection efforts, the government told the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. As a result, Moscow will be able to meet IMF targets and also increase social spending. But the Central Bank of Russia has cast doubt on one of the key assumptions of the budget now being considered by the parliament. A spokesman for the bank told Interfax on 30 August that the ruble will fall below the 32 to the dollar rate on which the budget numbers are based. He added that the government's prediction is already having a negative impact on the economy because firms are purchasing and holding hard currency as a result of uncertainties. PG

MOSCOW TO TREBLE COAL INDUSTRY FUNDING

After a 30 August meeting with President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told ITAR-TASS that Moscow will triple funding for the country's troubled coal industry over the next year. He said that Yeltsin specifically called for the involvement of mining unions in the disbursement of these funds. PG

STEPASHIN VIEWS PUTIN AS PLAUSIBLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said on RTR television on 29 August that he believes his successor, Vladimir Putin, is credible as a candidate for president next year, Interfax reported. "Putin is a strong political figure who has gotten off to a good start," Stepashin said, repeating his view that the current prime minister behaved "flawlessly" in his handling of Daghestan. PG

COMMUNISTS AIM FOR BROAD ELECTORAL BLOC

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told journalists in Moscow on 30 August that the KPRF will participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections as part of a "broad people's patriotic bloc, 'For Victory,'" Interfax reported. He said that this union will be an "association of the country's citizens rather than a group of two or three public and political organizations." And he added that "respected leaders and people famous in this country" will join it. Zyuganov criticized Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin for joining the Fatherland-All Russia bloc and suggested that "Lapshin is not the whole Agrarian Party." PG

PRESS MINISTRY WARNS ORT ABOUT CAMPAIGN COVERAGE

The new Russian Ministry for the Press warned ORT television on 30 August that it could be stripped of its broadcasting license for abusing "freedom of the mass media," ITAR-TASS reported. Minister Mikhail Lesin issued the warning after ORT aired footage of a mass demonstration by supporters of the Right Cause bloc in St. Petersburg. The minister insisted that this was not a question of censorship but simply of respecting existing legislation. PG

FEDERAL FORCES BATTLE MILITANTS IN CENTRAL DAGHESTAN

Backed by helicopters and armored vehicles, Russian federal forces and Daghestani Interior Ministry troops launched ground and artillery attacks on 30 August against some 300-500 guerrillas entrenched in the villages of Karamakhi, Chabanmahki, Kadar, and Durangi in Daghestan's Buinaksk Raion. Four Russian troops were killed in the fighting and 15 wounded. Four Karamakhi villagers were also killed. It is unclear how many of the "guerrillas" are members of the Chechen-led force that invaded Daghestan earlier this month and how many are devout Muslim residents of the villages in question, whom the Daghestani authorities have branded as "Wahhabis." Also on 30 August, Daghestan's Prosecutor-General Imam YarAliyev wrote to his Chechen counterpart to request the extradition of four residents of Daghestan who helped organize the attack on the republic, Interfax reported. LF

CHERKESS APPEAL TO YELTSIN TO RESTORE THEIR AUTONOMY

Supporters of defeated Karachaevo-Cherkessia presidential candidate Stanislav Derev have called on President Yeltsin to issue a decree on re-establishing the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast (abolished in 1957) and on prolonging the temporary appointment of Valentin Vlasov as head of executive power in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia until the new government of the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast is appointed, Caucasus Press reported on 31 August. Derev's supporters launched a protest demonstration on 27 August against the republican Supreme Court's ruling that the results of the 16 May presidential runoff are valid. According to official figures, ethnic Karachai Vladimir Semenov won more than 70 percent of the vote, while Derev, who is Cherkess, received only 20 percent. ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August that both Derev and Semenov proposed to Yeltsin a month ago that he defuse tensions in the North Caucasus by appointing Boris Berezovskii as presidential envoy to the region. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT MOVES AGAINST UDUGOV, FIRES SECURITY CHIEF

Aslan Maskhadov issued a decree on 29 August removing Movladi Udugov from Chechnya's National Security Council, Interfax reported. Presidential spokesman Selim Abdumuslimov said that Udugov "became a member of a large-scale ideological sabotage operation against the Chechen state" and "pushed the traditional friendship between the Daghestani and Chechen peoples to breaking point." Udugov is believed to be allied with Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, who coordinated the incursion into neighboring Daghestan earlier this month. ITAR-TASS reported on 31 August that Russian specialists have inactivated Udugov's Web site, which Daghestan Defense Ministry sources claim he used to spread false information about the Russian military operations against Chechen-led militants in Daghestan. On 30 August, Maskhadov also fired Ibragim Khultygov as National Security chief for concentrating on the oil sector rather than ensuring his agency performed its proper function. LF

MEETING OF NORTH CAUCASUS PRESIDENTS POSTPONED INDEFINITELY

A meeting of North Caucasus presidents in Magas, the new capital of Ingushetia, has been postponed indefinitely, Caucasus Press reported on 30 August, quoting a spokesman for Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev. The meeting was originally scheduled for 25 August and then postponed to 30 August. According to Aushev, Chechen President Maskhadov had planned to attend. The reasons for the postponement are unclear. LF

YELTSIN NAMES FIVE HEROES IN DAGHESTAN OPERATIONS

President Yeltsin on 30 August presented five Hero of Russia awards, including three posthumously, to soldiers who showed particular gallantry and heroism in the recent Daghestani fighting, Russian agencies reported. The Russian leader said that "Russian troops and Daghestani civilians have manifested the utmost courage and heroism while defending Daghestani territory from guerrilla aggression." PG

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS GUARANTEE PEACE

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the detonation of the first Soviet nuclear weapon, Russian Prime Minister Putin said that Russian nuclear weapons remain "the guarantor of national security and global peace in the current geopolitical setting," Interfax reported on 30 August. He said that the explosion of the first Soviet nuclear weapon "blew to smithereens any plans for an atomic war against Russia," adding that "it is impossible to win a nuclear war." PG

RUSSIAN GENERAL SAYS KOSOVAR PROTESTS WERE PLANNED

Lieutenant-General Nikolai Staskov, the chief of staff of Russian airborne units, told Interfax on 30 August that he is convinced that Kosovar protests against Russian peacekeepers in Orahovac were "a thoroughly-planned provocation." He said that he hopes that "reason will prevail and that our peacekeepers will enter Orahovac without incident." However, there was no progress reported toward that end on 30 August. PG

RUSSIAN GAS PRICES DOUBLED THIS YEAR

Gasoline prices in the Russian Federation have increased by 111.9 percent since the start of 1999, the Russian Statistics Agency told Interfax on 30 August. PG

RUSSIAN FAR EAST SEEKS JAPANESE INVESTMENT

The governors of Sakhalin, Primore, and Khabarovsk are scheduled to present a package of investment projects to Japanese officials in Tokyo on 31 August, Interfax reported. Their presentations are part of the intergovernmental Russian-Japanese commission on trade and economic and technological cooperation. Meanwhile, a Tokyo newspaper reported on 29 August that the Japanese government is considering a resumption of its loans to Russia, Reuters reported on 30 August. PG

MOSCOW APPEALS FOR HELP IN SAVING BOLSHOI THEATER...

The Russian Foreign Ministry has released a statement calling on other countries to respond to a UNESCO appeal to provide funds to reconstruct Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. The statement said that Moscow will not impose customs duties or other taxes on any contributions to this work. PG

...AND 'MIR'

Writing in the Berlin newspaper "Die Welt" on 30 August, Yurii Semenov, the president of the Russian Energiya concern, appealed to Germany and 25 other countries whose citizens have worked on the "Mir" space station to provide funding to keep it operational, ITAR-TASS reported. His appeal followed a statement by the last crew commander that the now unmanned craft may soon spin out of control. PG




ARMENIAN PREMIER OUTLINES PARLIAMENT'S TASKS

Vazgen Sargsian appealed to parliamentary deputies on 28 August to cooperate with the government in overcoming Armenia's current problems, Noyan Tapan reported on 30 August. Sargsian identified three factors contributing to those problems: "confusion" following the collapse of the USSR and the war with Azerbaijan; inappropriate policy decisions by previous governments; and the "criminal activities" of unnamed individuals whom he said should be brought to account. Sargsian proposed that the parliament appoint special commissions to assess controversial privatization deals and to supervise the implementation of credit programs. He also urged deputies to enact legislation on credits, audits, and the civil service. "Iravunk" on 27 August estimated that more than 100 of the 131 parliamentary deputies are either members of the Miasnutyun bloc, which unites Sargsian's Republican Party amd Karen Demirchian's People's Party of Armenia, or back the government's policies rather than risk falling out of favor with Sargsian. LF

GEORGIA OPPOSES RUSSIAN PROPOSAL TO LIFT ABKHAZ SANCTIONS

Speaking in Tbilisi on 30 August at his weekly press briefing, President Eduard Shevardnadze strongly criticized Russian Border Guards commander General Konstantin Totskii's proposal that Moscow might unilaterally lift the "economic blockade" imposed on Abkhazia in 1996. That proposal, Shevardnadze said, is "unjustified" and exceeds the general's sphere of competence, Caucasus Press reported. Totskii had argued that Russia is entitled to take its own decisions regarding controls and restrictions on its borders. Shevardnadze claimed that the ban on allowing residents of Abkhazia to cross the border into the Russian Federation or Russian citizens from bringing goods into Abkhazia does not constitute a blockade, but rather economic sanctions. He added that such statements create tensions in bilateral relations. Georgian Border Guards chief General Valerii Chkheidze said any unilateral attempt by Russia to raise the blockade would violate bilateral agreements. In a 30 August statement, the Georgian Border Guard Service condemned Totskii's statement as directed against Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT REDEFINES ROLE OF STATE OIL COMPANY

Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed a new law detailing the status and duties of the state oil company KazakhOil, Interfax reported on 30 August. The law has not yet been published, but a spokesman for KazakhOil told Interfax that the company has approved its content. The law defines KazakhOil as a state company in which the state owns 100 percent of shares. It assigns KazakhOil the duty of monitoring the work of foreign oil companies operating in Kazakhstan to ensure they comply with Kazakh law and the terms of their contracts. And it includes a provision requiring all oil companies to engage the services of local companies to provide goods and services. LF

KAZAKHSTAN DELAYS DECISION ON RESUMPTION OF PROTON ROCKET LAUNCHES

Kazakhstan has secured the indefinite postponement of a 30 August meeting between the Russian and Kazakh government commissions that assessed the damage caused by the July explosion of a Russian Proton rocket shortly after blastoff from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Interfax reported on 30 August, quoting Russian Space Agency Deputy Director Boris Ostroumov. Ostroumov said that Kazakh experts have found more debris from the rocket and sent it to Moscow to determine whether it is contaminated with toxic heptyl fuel. The government commissions were to have agreed at the 30 August meeting on lifting the Kazakh ban on further launches of Proton rockets from Baikonur. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S OPPOSITION POLITICIANS, PENSIONERS MARK CONSTITUTION DAY

Pensioners in Almaty gathered in the city's central square on 30 August, the anniversary of the 1995 adoption of Kazakhstan's Constitution, for their monthly demonstration to protest inadequate pensions, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported. Opposition leaders Madel Ismailov (Workers Movement), Seydakhmet Quttyqadam (Orleu Party), and Ghaniy Qasymov (an independent presidential candidate who failed in his bid for that office earlier this year) took advantage of the public holiday to engage in electioneering, trying to persuade voters not to support the pro-presidential Otan (Fatherland) Party in the upcoming parliamentary poll. LF

SECRET AMMUNITION CACHE DISCOVERED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Grenades, detonators, and two explosive devices have been discovered during the demolition of garages in Astana belonging to the Interior Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. It is unclear who owns the ammunition. LF

KYRGYZ TROOPS HALT MILITANTS' ADVANCE...

The office of Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev issued a statement on 30 August saying that earlier that day Kyrgyz troops engaged the guerrillas who had seized control of several villages in Osh Oblast and taken several dozen hostages, thereby preventing the guerillas from advancing further into Kyrgyz territory. The fighting took place in the Chon-Alai district. Also on 30 August, General Bolot Djanuzakov, who heads the Defense and Security Department within the presidential administration, told journalists that Kyrgyzstan has lodged an official protest with Uzbekistan over Uzbek bombing raids the previous day over Chon-Alai and Batken Raions, in which several civilians were killed. The raids were intended to target the guerrillas. LF

...AS OFFICIALS PONDER OPTIONS

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev said in Bishkek on 30 August that the Kyrgyz authorities are capable of localizing and neutralizing the guerrillas without outside help, Interfax reported. But the same day, Kyrgyzstan's First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silaev met in Moscow with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev to discuss the optimum tactics to use against the militants. In Almaty, Kazakhstan's acting Defense Minister Bakhytzhan Yertaev told Khabar News Agency that Kazakhstan will this week give Kyrgyzstan ammunition and some military hardware (but not armored vehicles) to combat the militant threat, Interfax reported. LF




BELARUS TO HAVE GOVERNMENT IN EXILE?

Exiled Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski, who is Belarusian head of state under the 1994 constitution, proposed on 30 August that the Supreme Soviet approve former Premier Mikhail Chyhir as head of a new government, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Chyhir remains in jail, having been arrested on charges of embezzlement in March. No Western country has so far taken a position on Sharetski's powers following the end of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's legitimate term as of 20 July. Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 30 August congratulated Lukashenka on his 45th birthday and assured him that Moscow opposes "all Western and certain neighboring countries' attempts to put pressure on Belarus," according to Interfax. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS SAY KUCHMA SHOULD NOT MEET LUKASHENKA

A group of prominent Belarusian oppositionists has appealed to Ukrainian political parties and organizations to "remind" Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma that Lukashenka is now a "usurper," Belapan reported on 30 August. The appeal calls Kuchma's planned meeting with Lukashenka in Belarus a "political and moral mistake. To support Lukashenka means to approve the restoration of the Russian empire," the Belarusian oppositionists conclude. JM

BELARUS'S 1999 HARVEST FAR BELOW TARGET

Belarus's harvest is "significantly lower than was planned," Belarusian Television reported on 30 August. According to the Agricultural Ministry, the country has harvested 3.7 million tons of grain, down from some 5 million last year and far below the 1999 planned target of 6 million tons. The average grain yield was 1.73 tons per hectare. JM

KUCHMA SAYS LEFTIST PRESIDENT SPELLS UKRAINE'S ISOLATION

Leonid Kuchma said in Simferopol on 30 August that Ukraine will find itself in "political and economic isolation" if a left-wing candidate wins this fall's presidential elections, Interfax reported. Kuchma argued that if a leftist president is installed in Ukraine, "the world will never agree to restructure or write off our debts, and we will become bankrupt and a default will be declared." He expressed the conviction that his re-election will make it possible for Ukraine to restructure its debts. "Poland had $15 billion of its external debt written off, and it is time to do the same for Ukraine," the "Eastern Economic Daily" quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

UKRAINE, GREECE SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION ACCORD

Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzpoulos and Ukrainian Industry Minister Vasyl Hureyev, meeting in Kyiv on 30 August, signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation, Interfax reported. Ukraine will soon supply two hovercrafts worth $100 million to the Greek navy. Tsohatzpoulos told journalists that Greece is also interested in buying tanks and transport planes from Ukraine. JM

RUSSIAN PARTIES JOIN FORCES FOR ESTONIAN ELECTION

ETA reported on 31 August that the Russian United Peoples' Party and the Russian Party in Estonia have announced they will set aside their past quarrels and combine forces for the upcoming local elections in the capital The new alliance is called the Peoples' Choice. The Peoples' Trust, which is composed of various Russian organizations and headed by parliamentary deputy Sergei Ivanov, has also declared its intention to run in the Tallinn local elections. AB

RUSSIAN ACTIVIST ORDERED TO LEAVE ESTONIA

BNS reported on August 30 that the Estonian Citizenship and Migration Department (KMA) has ordered Oleg Morozov, a leader of the Tallinn Russian Citizens' Union, to leave the country. Under that order, Morozov, a Russian citizen who has refused to apply for a residence permit, must leave the country by 20 January 2000. A spokesman for KMA told BNS that "Morozov was informed that he will have until then to legalize his stay in Estonia." AB

LATVIA'S SKELE SAYS 'CHEKIST' RUSSIAN PREMIER OBSTACLE TO IMPROVED RELATIONS

LETA reported on 30 August that Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele said on Latvian Independent Television the previous day that no major improvement in Latvian-Russian relations should be expected, given that the head of the Russian government, Vladimir Putin, is a former "chekist." While many Latvian lawmakers did not dispute Skele's analysis, a large number criticized him for speaking so candidly and running the risk of offending the Russian government. The Latvian Foreign Ministry reaffirmed on 30 August that, irrespective of Skele's statement, Latvia remains open to dialogue with Russia. It noted that it is a government priority to develop good relations with all neighboring countries. MJZ

LATVIAN PRESIDENT AGREES TO FIRST POST-1991 STATE VISIT TO ESTONIA

BNS reported on 30 August that President Vaira Vike- Freiberga has agreed to make the first state visit by a Latvian head of state to Estonia since independence was renewed in 1991. Vike-Freiberga agreed to the visit during a meeting with Estonian President Lennart Meri at Meri's summer residence at Paslepa. No date has been announced for the visit. Vike-Freiberga's predecessor, Guntis Ulmanis, never paid an official state visit to Estonia during his six-year tenure as Latvian head of state. MJZ

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT TAKES UP BUDGET CUT PROPOSAL

Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas has asked the parliament not to delay the passage of the adjusted 1999 Budget Law, ELTA reported on 30 August. The proposed cut to the total state budget is 537 million litas ($134.2 million). Lionginas noted that international finance organizations are watching the outcome of the parliament's deliberations because those debates will affect the country's investment ratings and ability to borrow. BNS reported that opposition leader Ceslovas Jursenas continued to criticize the government's proposed budget cuts as "unrealistic." AB

POLISH DEPUTY PREMIER TO BECOME LUSTRATION VICTIM?

Citing a "reliable source" at the Lustration Court, PAP reported on 31 August that Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Janusz Tomaszewski's statement denying collaboration with Communist-era secret services has been questioned by the lustration prosecutor and sent to the court for scrutiny. Tomaszewski, a member of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), was a Solidarity activist in the 1980s. The communist authorities arrested him during the 1981 crackdown on Solidarity. AWS official Jacek Rybicki said the previous day that an AWS member should resign his public post if his lustration statement has come under scrutiny by the court. JM

CZECH AUTHORITIES HALT CONSTRUCTION OF CONTROVERSIAL WALL

The Usti nad Labem regional authorities have rescinded the permission granted to a local company to erect a two-meter- high ceramic wall fencing off Roma from other inhabitants, Reuters reported on 30 August. That permission had been granted by a municipal district council, which said that the permit's withdrawal is "temporary." The decision to withdraw the permit was taken because the wall would violate "environmental and human rights," the agency reported, citing Czech Television. Construction of the wall was to have begun on 31 August. MS

CZECH PREMIER HINTS DEPUTY WILL BE SANCTIONED

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 30 August said he will make no exception in handling the case of Deputy Premier Egon Lansky, who is suspected of violating financial legislation, CTK reported. The law will apply "to a deputy premier as to any other citizen," Zeman told the Frekvence 1 radio station. Lansky, who is responsible for European integration, admitted he did not apply for a permit from the National Bank before he opened an account in Austria. He admitted that he "probably committed a misdemeanor." In 1996, the Finance Ministry allegedly transferred to Lansky's Austrian account 290,000 crowns (some $8,300) in partial settlement of a debt that the state owed a Luxembourg company whose head is one of Lansky's friends. MS

SLOVAKIA TO INTRODUCE VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR UKRAINIANS

Inspecting the Slovak-Ukrainian border on 30 August, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner told journalists that Slovakia will "probably" introduce visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens and nationals of other former Soviet countries by the end of 1999, CTK reported. He said he would have preferred the requirement to have been introduced a long time ago but noted that Slovakia wished to coordinate its visa policy with that of the Czech Republic and other Visegrad group countries. Pittner said that the Slovak government regards the border with Ukraine as being "the future eastern border of the EU" and that "Brussels views it the same way." MS

HUNGARIAN CHESS CHAMPIONS LEAVE FOR ISRAEL

The parents of three world-famous Hungarian chess players, the Polgar sisters, have decided to spend part of the year in Israel because of increasing anti-Semitic hate mail against the family, Laszlo Polgar, the sisters' father, told Hungarian and international media on 29 August. Letters addressed to the Polgars suggested that the family leave for Israel because "that's where you belong." "We have received such letters before, but it has gotten worse lately," Polgar explained. In other news, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest on 30 August denied a "Nepszabadsag" report that said Hungarian officials obstructed co-operation between Hungarian and U.S. law enforcement agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999). MSZ




U.S. WARNS UCK...

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke said in Prishtina on 30 August that "ethnic differences in this region really are...just racism. The Serbs of this region have a historic right to live here, too." The ambassador stressed that Kosova is the "ultimate test for the UN's capability and its potential." Speaking at the same press conference, U.S. Senator Joseph Biden warned the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) that it must meet its 19 September deadline to disarm completely: "If it appeared as though the very forces...and people we came to help were now not engaged on a path that was moving toward democratization, support from the U.S. Congress would evaporate overnight," Biden said. The senator warned against any attempts to partition Kosova on an ethnic basis. PM

...BUT ARE THE KOSOVAR GUERRILLAS LISTENING?

After meeting with Holbrooke, General Agim Ceku, who heads the UCK General Staff, said in Prishtina on 30 August that his organization will meet the deadline. He added, however, that "the UCK will transform in several directions.... One part will become part of the police, one part will become civil administration, one part will become the Army of Kosova, as a defense force. And another part will form a political party." Holbrooke refused to comment on Ceku's remarks. The June agreement between NATO and the UCK does not refer to any Kosova army. PM

RAHOVEC DEADLOCK CONTINUES

On 30 August, ethnic Albanians began their second week of protest aimed at preventing Russian KFOR troops from entering their town (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 1999). Russian officers called off a planned meeting with local Albanians when the Russians learned that General Wolfgang Sauer could not be present at the talks. It is unclear why the German commander was not available. PM

UN SECURITY COUNCIL WANTS END TO VIOLENCE

The UN's highest body said in a statement on 30 August that it condemns violence against civilians in Kosova, especially against members of ethnic minorities. The text also reaffirmed "the principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," AP reported. PM

UNMIK CALLS ON KOSOVA FIRMS TO REGISTER

Officials of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) called on import- export firms to register with UNMIK, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 30 August. UNMIK officials said that they want to introduce import-export permits to put an end to the current "chaos," which, they added, has been exploited by organized criminals from Albania. PM

'FIRST SHOCK WAVES' FROM SERBIA'S NEW REFUGEES

The school year is about to begin in Serbia, which for many communities has led to the first serious problems in conjunction with the 170,000 refugees from Kosova, Belgrade's "Danas" reported on 30 August. Many of the refugees are housed in schools, and alternative quarters are proving difficult to find. In Kraljevo, which is north of Kosova, there are 350 teachers and 3,500 school-age children among 26,000 refugees, but few of those children will be allowed to register for classes there. The Belgrade authorities insist that, wherever possible, refugee children return to schools in Kosova. Failing that, the children are to register in districts bordering the province. The only pupils who will be allowed to register elsewhere in Serbia are those whose parents were sent there by the government or their employer. PM

ALBANIAN LEADERS URGE VOJVODINA HUNGARIANS TO BE MORE ASSERTIVE

President Rexhep Meidani and Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Tirana on 30 August that Vojvodina should have a "new status." The Albanian leaders did not elaborate, dpa reported. Majko said that unnamed Serbian politicians are speaking more about Serbia and less about Yugoslavia. Vojvodina Hungarians should also "think more about themselves," the Albanian prime minister commented. PM

KFOR, MACEDONIA TRADE CHARGES

A KFOR spokesman said in Skopje on 30 August that a Norwegian peacekeeper being held by Macedonian authorities can be investigated or tried only by Norway in conjunction with a recent fatal traffic accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999). Macedonian media accused KFOR of "arrogant, violent, and insensitive behavior" since the peacekeepers arrived in the spring, Reuters reported. Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov demanded tighter controls by Macedonian authorities over the movements of KFOR forces. He called for a ban on helicopter flights over Skopje at night and for "regulation" of troop movements and soldiers' leaves. In Brussels, top NATO officials met with the Macedonian ambassador. The outcome of the talks is not known. PM

BATIC SETS CONDITIONS FOR SERBIAN ELECTIONS

Vladan Batic, who is one of the leaders of the opposition Alliance for Change, said in Belgrade on 30 August that the alliance will not take part in any elections in which there are candidates whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted. The alliance also insisted that persons whom the EU has banned from travel to EU states not be allowed to run for office. Observers note that these two conditions are tantamount to a rejection of any election in which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his top officials participate. Elsewhere, a spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party said that there is no need for foreign monitors to observe any elections in Serbia. He added that "the stories of electoral fraud are unreal and so are the [opposition's] demands for OSCE monitors," AP reported. PM

DODIK SAYS NO ELECTIONS IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA

Nikola Poplasen, whom the international community's Carlos Westendorp has sacked as Republika Srpska president but who refuses to step down, wrote caretaker Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and parliamentary speaker Petar Djokic that parliamentary elections must be held soon. He argued that early elections are the only way out of a deadlock that has left the Bosnian Serb entity without a government for nearly a year, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported on 31 August. Dodik replied that Poplasen is no longer president and has no right to seek new elections. Dodik added that Poplasen's move was instigated by unnamed persons in Serbia in order to destabilize the Republika Srpska. He did not elaborate, Reuters reported. PM

EXPERTS FIND MASS GRAVES IN BOSNIA

Forensics experts from the Muslim Commission for Missing Persons found a mass grave near Serb-held Teslic, in the Doboj region, Sarajevo's "Dnevni avaz" reported on 31 August. A commission spokesman said that the grave may contain the remains of more than 40 Muslims. Experts recently exhumed a grave containing 10 Muslims or Croats in the Serbian Sarajevo suburb of Grbavica. PM

CALL FOR ETHNIC SERBS TO VOTE IN CROATIAN ELECTIONS

Milorad Pupovac, who is a political leader of Croatia's ethnic Serbs, told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje novosti" of 30 August that he wants Zagreb to allow Croatian Serb refugees living in Serbia to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections. He added that he believes that the international community will support his efforts. Observers noted that prior to the dissolution of former Yugoslavia in 1991, ethnic Serbs formed some 12 percent of Croatia's population. They now form perhaps 2 percent. The Croatian authorities are unlikely to allow the refugees to vote lest they tip the political balance in many districts. PM

'TUTA' TO THE HAGUE THIS WEEK?

A leading Croatian legal expert told "Jutarnji list" of 31 August that the authorities might extradite indicted war criminal Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic to The Hague as early as 2 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999). On 30 August, a Zagreb court ruled that Tuta is well enough to stand trial, overturning an earlier ruling that he is too ill to do so. In The Hague, chief prosecutor Louise Arbour told the Zagreb daily that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman actively sought the partition of Bosnia during the 1992-1995 conflict. She added, however, that this in itself does not constitute a war crime. PM

MENINGITIS EPIDEMIC POSTPONES ROMANIAN SCHOOLYEAR

The start of the new school year has been postponed for at least one week in five Romanian counties and in Bucharest, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. Nearly 4,000 cases of meningitis have been registered so far. Health Minister Hajdu Gabor said school directors who ignore the order will be sent to prison. MS

ROMANIAN JOURNALIST SAYS HE WAS ORDERED TO WRITE ANTI-SEMITIC ARTICLES

Mihai Antonescu, told prosecutors that his former boss, publisher of "Atac la persoana" Dumitru Dragomir, ordered him to write anti-Semitic articles. Antonescu quit his job as the weekly's deputy chief editor last week and currently is being investigated on charges of incitement to racial hatred. Dragomir, who is one of the three deputy chairmen of the Romanian Soccer Federation (FRF), denies the allegation and claims Antonescu bears sole responsibility for the articles he wrote, Reuters reported on 30 August. The International Federation of Amateur Football has asked the FRF to investigate Dragomir's responsibility, following complaints by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). MS

MOLDOVA TO RESTORE BULGARIAN DISTRICT?

Petar Konstantinov, chairman of the Bulgarian National Committee for the Protection of Bulgarians Beyond Borders, told journalists in Sofia on 30 August that the Moldovan government has decided to restore the separate status of the Taraclia district, BTA reported. The district, whose population is 60 percent Bulgarian, was incorporated in the newly established Cahul County earlier this year. Konstantinov said this is the first time that the Bulgarian minority in Moldova has successfully protected its rights. He added that if the legislature rejects the government decision, the Bulgarians of Taraclia will hold elections on setting up a "self-governing authority." MS

BULGARIAN CHIEF OF STAFF CRITICIZES PLANNED CUTS

General Miha Mihov on 30 August criticized the government's plans for cuts in the military over the next four years, AFP reported. Mihov told the daily "Standart" that the plans are "increasingly demoralizing and infuriating" members of the armed forces, creating "tension" and "insecurity" among them. Under the government plans, the armed forces will have only 7,000 officers by 2004, instead of the current 15,000. The government, Mihov said, hopes this will improve Bulgaria's chances of joining NATO. Mihov also criticized the Defense Ministry for having no plans to help soldiers who are demobilized. MS

BULGARIAN COURT ORDERS REGISTRATION OF CONTROVERSIAL PARTY

The Supreme Administrative Court has overturned the 25 August decision of the Central Electoral Commission to refuse to register the Ilinden United Macedonian Organization-PIRIN. The decision is final and cannot be appealed, BTA reported on 30 August. PIRIN is the Bulgarian abbreviation for "Party of Economic Development and Integration of the Population" but is also the name of part of historical Macedonia that now belongs to Bulgaria. PIRIN was set up in 1998 and strives to preserve the traditions of Pirin Macedonians and refugees from Aegean Macedonia. The Constitutional Court has still to rule on an appeal by 61 deputies of various political stripes who want PIRIN outlawed on grounds of violating the constitutional provision that bans parties set up on ethnic or religious lines. MS




FISCHER WINS, KLAUS LOSES


By Victor Gomez

Something is stirring in the Czech Republic's political morass. The overwhelming victory of a travel agency owner in a Senate by-election has galvanized both the media and the public and shaken up the country's political power-brokers. Riding on the fame of his successful travel agency and a large amount of campaign spending, Vaclav Fischer has swept into the Senate with the support of more than 71 percent of those who voted in his Prague district. In so doing, he crushed seven candidates who were all supported by political parties.

However, it is easy to over-estimate the importance of high-profile by-elections. First, only 34 percent of eligible voters bothered to participate. The low turnout is in keeping with previous elections to the upper house and belies the ongoing public impression that the Senate is a useless and largely powerless public body. It should also be remembered that Fischer is by no means the first independent candidate to run in a Czech election. While Fischer may certainly have benefited from growing public frustration with politicians and parties, it should also be noted that few independent candidates have so much money and name-recognition. Thus, Fischer's success does not automatically mean that dozens of other Fischers will appear on the Czech political horizon in the near future.

That said, this particular by-election is important for at least two reasons--one practical and the other symbolic. First, the election means that the parties of Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus no longer have a constitutional majority in the Senate. This will make it more difficult for Klaus and Zeman to fulfill one of the key aspects of their so-called "opposition agreement." Under that agreement, the two parties are to use their constitutional majority to push through a package of constitutional and legal amendments designed to change the country's electoral system and alter the powers of certain state bodies. While the parties are still haggling over the electoral changes, they have come to a preliminary agreement on amendments that would limit certain presidential powers.

For his part, Fischer has made it clear that he is opposed to the "opposition agreement" between Zeman and Klaus, as well as to their decision to use their parties' combined majority in the parliament to pass constitutional amendments. While Fischer has also said he is not opposed in principle to changing the electoral system, his animosity toward the "opposition agreement" itself makes it unlikely that he would support any major constitutional changes initiated by Zeman and Klaus. Since four of the other five parties represented in the Senate have said they are opposed to the package of amendments, that leaves the four Communist senators. The Communists have sent out mixed signals on the issue. On the one hand, the party has been a vocal opponent of the "opposition agreement." On the other hand, it has voiced support for the idea of restricting the president's powers.

The issue appears to be a delicate one for the purveyors of the "opposition agreement." Neither Zeman nor Klaus will want to be seen making deals with Communist senators in order to pass changes to the constitution. Despite its recent success in public opinion polls, the Communist Party remains anathema to many Czechs and particularly within Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Aware of this problem, some ODS members have started emphasizing that constitutional changes require the support of only a three-fifths majority of all Senators present at the time the vote is taken. In other words, the ODS has been reduced to hoping that at least one senator takes ill on the day the upper house is to vote on major changes to the constitution. In sum, Fischer's victory seems to have thrown a wrench into the workings of the "opposition agreement."

However, this does not mean that Zeman and Klaus cannot go ahead with plans to change the electoral law. At present, the two parties are discussing the possibility of introducing "majoritarian elements" into the lower house's proportional representation system. Such changes would not require a constitutional amendment, and the two parties have a strong enough majority in both houses to pass any law they agree on.

This leads to the second key aspect of Fischer's election. The fact that Klaus's party was defeated in the heart of a city considered an ODS stronghold is significant in its own right. Nevertheless, the defeat would not have acquired as much symbolic significance as it did if Klaus had not become so actively involved in the election campaign. He personally pushed his party into accepting the actress Jirina Jiraskova as its candidate. He attended many of her rallies and exhorted voters to support her. And he signed his name under advertisements and posters that not only emphasized the crucial importance of the vote but also contained personal attacks against Fischer.

Thus, the result was not so much Fischer's victory as Klaus's defeat. Klaus staked his own popularity on a by- election that was supposed to result in a "comfortable" victory for his party--and lost. One wonders what voters might do if he forces through changes to the electoral system that are clearly designed to give his party a "comfortable" majority in the parliament.


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