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Newsline - September 21, 1999




ARE SWISS, U.S. INVESTIGATORS GETTING CLOSER TO KREMLIN?

An unidentified U.S. presidential administration official told "The New York Times" on 21 September that the FBI has found Bank of New York transactions involving Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, and Leonid Dyachenko, the husband of Tatyana Dyachenko, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's daughter. According to the official, while earlier there had been only rumors and suspicions, "now U.S. investigators are saying it." Meanwhile, Geneva investigating magistrate Daniel Devaud told Reuters on 20 September that his team has detected ties between bank accounts in the Bank of New York case and accounts frozen in Switzerland as part of a Swiss probe into alleged kickbacks to the Kremlin by the Swiss construction firm Mabetex. Borodin has denied any wrongdoing with regard to Mabetex or having a bank account in Switzerland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 1999). JAC

U.S. HEARINGS ON RUSSIAN FINANCIAL SCANDAL OPEN...

After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in New York on 20 September, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters that Russia "has an interest no less than the U.S.'s" in getting to the bottom of the financial scandal involving the Bank of New York, AP reported. Ivanov's declaration comes the same day as hearings into the matter are scheduled to begin in the U.S. Congress. Aleksandr Kulikov, head of the State Duma's delegation to the hearings, told Russian Television on 20 September that delegation members hope to gather documents or information proving corruption. JAC

...BUT SKURATOV, KHODORKOVSKII NOT EXPECTED TO APPEAR

A number of top Russian officials have been invited to the hearings, including suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov. According to Interfax, Skuratov, who has declined the invitation, said that his "status as Russian prosecutor- general makes it impossible to attend hearings in another country." Another invitee, Rosprom head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, notified the U.S. House of Representatives' Banking Committee last week that he is not prepared to appear yet, a committee spokesman told RFE/RL's Washington bureau. Russian investigative journalist and State Duma deputy Yurii Shchekochikhin of Yabloko is expected to testify. JAC

'HE SAID, HE SAID' CONTINUES WITH REGARD TO ALLEGED CENTRAL BANK MISDEEDS

Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko told Interfax on 20 September that there is "not a single ounce of real fact" in mass media accusations that the Central Bank misused IMF funds in summer 1998. According to Aleksashenko, all transactions selling more than $4 billion from the IMF loan to 18 major domestic banks "were fully documented" and took place at market rates. Andrei Illarionov, director of the Institute for Economic Analysis, told "Ekonomika i zhizn" in September that former Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin "lied" when he said the Central Bank spent $9 billion in summer 1998 supporting the ruble. According to Illarionov, "$6.9 billion was given directly to some private banks when it became clear that the 6 rubles to $1 exchange rate was unsupportable." "In the long run, these operations resulted in the collapse of the ruble and disintegration of the financial system," he added. JAC

GOVERNMENT DECLARES PENSION BACKLOG CLEARED

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced on 21 September that the federal government has paid all pension arrears in full. First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin explained the same day that sufficient funds were transferred by 20 September to pay off all debts owned to pensioners by 1 October, according to ITAR-TASS. The pension backlog totaled 1 billion rubles ($39 million) at the beginning of September, according to Pension Fund head Mikhail Zurabov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 1999). With this declaration, the Putin government appears to have made good on an earlier pledge by then Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin to wipe out the debt by September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1999). JAC

NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET MEETS WITH MORE RESISTANCE

State Duma Budget Committee head Aleksandr Zhukov announced on 20 September that his committee will recommend rejecting those provisions of the tax laws submitted with the 2000 budget that would raise levies on tobacco and alcohol and streamline personal income tax regulations, according to ITAR-TASS. The Duma will consider the budget on 28 September and the tax laws on 24 September, the agency reported. Last week, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said the lower house is unlikely to approve the 2000 budget because one-third of the budget will be used to pay foreign debts and "there is no hint that real living standards will improve." Earlier, regional leaders in the Federation Council rejected the budget, objecting in particular to its uneven split of revenues between the center and regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1999). JAC

DEFENSE MINISTRY KEEPS ALL OPTIONS OPEN IN CHECHNYA...

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 20 September, Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov said Moscow will resort to any methods to neutralize terrorist bases in Chechnya, thereby not excluding a ground invasion against Chechnya, which Prime Minister Putin had ruled out last week. Manilov said the "second stage" of the operation to eliminate the threat of a new Chechen incursion into Daghestan would entail deploying two or three lines of troops along the border between Daghestan and Chechnya. Those troops would control all cross-border movement. Manilov estimated the Chechen forces' strength at some 6,000, adding that it could be increased to 10,000. The Chechen forces are equipped with several armored vehicles, 15 air defense systems, and large numbers of grenade launchers and mortars, Manilov added. LF

...AS TROOP BUILDUP CONTINUES ON CHECHEN BORDER

Reuters on 20 September quoted a Russian Defense Ministry source as saying that another 10,000 troops are being brought to the North Caucasus to help "seal" Chechnya's 540-kilometer border with other federation subjects. The number of Russian troops currently deployed in Daghestan alone is estimated at 30,000. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER ANNOUNCES CREATION OF ISLAMIC SUICIDE SQUAD

Shamil Basaev, who is believed to be coordinating the actions of the Chechen forces in Daghestan, announced in Grozny on 20 September that he will create a squad of 400-500 men to undertake suicide terrorist missions in Russia if Moscow continues its bombing of Chechen territory, ITAR-TASS reported. The ultimate objective of that squad will be the "liberation of the Caucasus," Basaev added. ITAR-TASS also quoted unnamed Russian security officials as saying that some 100 Arab militants are to be sent to Chechnya from a training base in Afghanistan in response to an appeal to Saudi-born terrorist Osama Bin Laden by Chechen field commander Khattab. In Riyadh, the state-run Saudi Press Agency on 20 September issued an official denial of Russian claims that Saudi Arabia is financially supporting the Chechen militants, Reuters reported. LF

RAISA GORBACHEV LIONIZED AFTER DEATH

The death of Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, has triggered an outpouring of sympathy from the formerly critical Russian press as well from top foreign officials. "Izvestiya" on 21 September called her the woman "who changed the world" and "who ennobled our motherland." The daily suggested that "she provoked respect and irritation in equal measure" because "the Gorbachevs had accomplished their own mini-counterrevolution, but we, the masses, had not." German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he was "devastated" by the death, noting that for Germany, the Gorbachevs represented "the opening of a new world and a new future of cooperation between our two states." Nancy Reagan, the wife of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, called Raisa Gorbachev "an important voice in the friendship that our two countries established." JAC

MORE MOVEMENTS REGISTERED...

The Central Election Commission has authorized nine political movements and election blocs to collect signatures in support of their candidates for upcoming State Duma elections, Ekho Moskvy reported. These groups include Yabloko, Our Home Is Russia, the Communist Party, Peace and Unity, the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, the Stalin's Bloc, the National Salvation Front, Officers of the USSR, and Communists of Working Russia for the Soviet Union. According to commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, the commission is now processing documents for the Liberal Democratic Party, Spiritual Heritage, and the Movement in Support of the Army. Fatherland-All Russia coordinator Oleg Morozov announced on 21 September that 525,000 signatures have already been collected, well above the 200,000 needed for registration. Morozov added that the region with the highest number of signatures is Saratov Oblast, whose governor, Dmitrii Ayatskov, supports another party, Our Home Is Russia. JAC

...AS WOMEN CHOOSE OWN CANDIDATES

Delegates to the congress of Women of Russia approved a list of candidates on 20 September, according to ITAR-TASS. Movement leader Alevtina Fedulova said the party's federal and regional lists are composed primarily of candidates from the regions because the movement does not want to use the regions as an instrument to bring Moscow activists to the State Duma. Women of Russia left the Fatherland-All Russia alliance on 1 September partly because very few women have been included on that alliance's list, according to Fedulova. Those women who were included on the list have poor prospects of being elected, she added. JAC

NEMTSOV TO RUN FROM NIZHNII

Boris Nemtsov, former first deputy prime minister and currently a leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, has announced his decision to run in the State Duma elections from a single-mandate district in Nizhnii Novgorod, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 September. Nemtsov was governor of Nizhnii Novogorod Oblast from December 1995 to March 1997. JC

ACTING GOVERNOR RE-ELECTED IN LENINGRAD OBLAST...

Valerii Serdyukov won the 19 September gubernatorial ballot, garnering some 30 percent of votes, ITAR-TASS reported the next day, citing the Leningrad Oblast Election Commission. Under oblast election regulations, a candidate must gain 25 percent plus one vote to be elected in the first round. Vadim Gustov, who had been head of Leningrad Oblast before quitting that post last year to become deputy prime minister in Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet, received some 23 percent of the vote. A total of 16 candidates contested the ballot. Turnout was estimated at 42 percent. JC

...WHILE TOMSK HEAD WINS HANDS DOWN

Governor Viktor Kress has succeeded in holding on to his post, gaining some 73 percent of the vote in the 19 September ballot to easily beat the five other candidates, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported the next day, citing preliminary data. Turnout was put at 49 percent. Kress, who has been Tomsk Oblast head since 1991, is chairman of the interregional association Siberian Accord and a member of Our Home Is Russia. JC

CENTER AGREES TO REDEPLOY TATAR SOLDIERS FROM CONFLICT ZONE

Tatarstan parliamentary speaker Farit Mukhametshin told reporters on 20 September that Prime Minister Putin and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev have given Tatarstan's government assurances that soldiers from the republic will be re-deployed from Dagestan to other areas, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Tatarstan's parliament on 15 September issued a decree suspending conscription to the Russian armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1999). Mukhametshin added that this decision may be overruled at an upcoming session on 23 September. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Valerii Astanin, deputy chief of the armed forces' mobilization and organization board said that military recruitment in Tatarstan will be resumed. According to ITAR-TASS, Astanin said the Defense Ministry would "happily satisfy" Tatar parliamentary deputies' request not to send Tatarstan's soldiers to fight in armed conflicts if those soldiers have been in the army less than six months. JAC

INITIAL GRAIN HARVEST FIGURES SHOW IMPROVEMENT OVER LAST YEAR

Farmers had gathered 42.7 million metric tons of grain as of 13 September, up 14.2 percent on the same period last year, Russian agencies reported. Farmers have cleared 28.2 million hectares or 68 percent of the planned area. The Agriculture Ministry forecast earlier that the grain harvest would reach 60 million metric tons. JAC




NEW LEFT-WING ALLIANCE FORMED IN ARMENIA

Nine political parties that failed to win representation in the parliament elected last May announced on 20 September their plans to form a bloc named Artarutyun (Justice), which is intended to fight for "social justice," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The parties in question include the Democratic Party of Armenia, the Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union, and the social- democrat Hnchakian Party, one of the three oldest Armenian political groups represented both in Armenia and within the diaspora. The bloc will hold its founding congress in October, but it is not known whether it will field candidates in local elections later this fall. LF

BUDGET COMMITTEE LAMBASTES ARMENIAN CENTRAL BANK

In a 20 September statement, the Armenian parliament's office on budgetary oversight claimed that the Central Bank's 1998 report to the National Assembly is flawed and full of statistical discrepancies, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Oversight Chamber also said that the Central Bank last year exceeded some quotas set by the legislature: in particular, it spent 454 million drams ($857 million) on its employees' salaries instead of the planned 394 million drams. Central Bank chairman Tigran Sarkisian rejected that criticism, explaining that the extra payments to the staff were made after the bank slashed other expenditures. LF

AZERBAIJAN MARKS FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF 'DEAL OF THE CENTURY'

Representatives of 10 governments and 24 international oil companies congregated in Baku on 20 September to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the signing of a $10 billion contract, the first of 18 Azerbaijan has concluded with international consortia, to extract off-shore Caspian oil, AFP and Reuters reported. After numerous delays, that first consortium, the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), began exporting crude via Russia in late 1997 and via Georgia in spring 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1997 and 19 April 1999). Addressing participants in the celebrations, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev said that a cornerstone of future oil strategy is construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline. The AIOC is not convinced of the viability of that project. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE PREVENT THIRD DEMONSTRATION

Police in Baku on 20 September prevented members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party from picketing the Mayor's Office to demand a response to their request for permission to hold a demonstration on 25 September, Turan reported. It was the third time within five days that police have thwarted an opposition action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS UN APPROACH TO ABKHAZ CONFLICT

Addressing the UN General Assembly on 20 September, Eduard Shevardnadze slammed what he termed the world community's "gross indifference" to the plight of displaced persons forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war, Caucasus Press reported. Last March, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba declared that those displaced persons may return to Abkhazia if they wish to do so. Shevardnadze expressed disappointment that UN resolutions on the Abkhaz conflict fail to condemn explicitly what he termed genocide and ethnic cleansing by the Abkhaz. Stressing his support for the NATO intervention in Kosova, Shevardnadze suggested that the UN should condone a similar peace enforcement operation in Abkhazia. A NATO official said in Tbilisi last week that NATO is unlikely to do so as Abkhazia does not constitute a threat to European security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). LF

IS GEORGIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTRY TO BLAME FOR ANTHRAX EPIDEMIC?

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 16 September, city council member Djondo Baghaturia accused the Agriculture Minister Bakur Gulua and the head of the veterinary department within the Ministry of Agriculture of embezzling funds allocated for vaccinating cattle against anthrax over the past two years, Caucasus Press reported two days later. Baghaturia said he will ask the prosecutor-general to open criminal proceedings against the two men. Dozens of people have been hospitalized with anthrax in Tbilisi after eating contaminated beef (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 16 September 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN AGAIN HOPING TO SELL ARMS ABROAD

Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, who accompanied President Nursultan Nazarbaev to Bulgaria and Ukraine last week, told Interfax in Kyiv on 17 September that Astana hopes to sell with Ukraine's help almost 1,500 pieces of heavy military equipment formerly deployed by the Soviet Army in East Germany. Those vehicles are primarily tanks, which would be sent to Ukraine for repairs. Ukraine would keep three or four and sell the rest to foreign buyers, Toqaev explained. He added that Ukraine could also help to find a market for the output of the Uralsk Small Arms Plant. At an arms fair in Almaty in April 1998, Kazakhstan exhibited former Soviet military hardware, including MiG-21 fighters, for which the asking price was $150,000-$180,000 each. Kazakh government officials have denied any knowledge of the sale of those aircraft to North Korea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August and 13 September 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN SUSPENDS EXPORTS OF FUEL OIL

Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev signed a decree on 18 September halting exports of fuel oil for three months beginning 25 September, Interfax and AP reported. That measure is intended to ensure that the country has adequate supplies of fuel for domestic heating. The city authorities in Astana and Almaty will be required to report at 10-day intervals on the level of fuel oil reserves. LF

MILITANTS KILL MORE KYRGYZ TROOPS...

Five government troops were killed and another five wounded on 20 September when guerrillas opened fire on their truck in Osh Oblast, dpa reported. The previous day, one officer was killed and two servicemen wounded when their armored personnel carrier hit a land mine laid by the militants, according to ITAR-TASS. In Bishkek, Security Council Secretary Bolot Djanuzakov told journalists on 20 September that the 13 hostages, including four Japanese geologists, who are currently being held by the guerrillas are alive and well. But he added that the guerillas are constantly moving the hostages from one location to another. Meanwhile, the number of fugitives from the fighting gathered in the raion center of Batken has reached 4,200, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 20 September. LF

...AS RUSSIA PROMISES ARMS

The Russian Defense Ministry will send several war planes and two trainloads of ammunition and arms, including sub-machine guns and grenade launchers, to Kyrgyzstan within a week, an unidentified Kyrgyz military source told ITAR-TASS on 20 September. That decision was taken at a meeting of CIS defense ministers in Moscow last week. Armenia has already sent a plane-load of technical equipment to Bishkek. Kyrgyz parliamentary deputy Dos Bol Nur Uulu told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 20 September that the government forces deployed in the south of the country are short of ammunition. LF

ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS ARRESTED IN TAJIKISTAN

Several members of an underground radical Islamist party allegedly founded by Uzbek fundamentalists were apprehended in Tajikistan's Leninabad Oblast on 19 September, ITAR-TASS reported the following day, citing the Tajik Security Ministry. In the town of Khojend, the activists were reportedly handing out leaflets calling for the creation of an Islamic state in Central Asia. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES BANKING OFFICIALS

Meeting on 17 September in Ashgabat with banking sector officials, Saparmurat Niyazov criticized the work of both the Central Bank and the Foreign Trade Bank and fired the latter's chairman, Deputy Prime Minister Yula Gurbanmuradov, Interfax reported three days later. Niyazov criticized the Foreign Trade Bank for failing to repay loans on schedule. He added that the information supplied by the Turkmen government to international financial institutions is frequently incorrect, and he called for a review of data on the country's foreign debt. Meanwhile, German Ambassador to Ashgabat Hans-Jurgen Keilholz told businessmen on 20 September that bilateral trade fell by 10 percent over the first eight months of this year, compared with 1998. LF




BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES TO PROBE OPPOSITIONIST'S DISAPPEARANCE

The Minsk City Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation into the 16 September disappearance of Viktar Hanchar, deputy speaker of the opposition Supreme Soviet, and his friend Anatol Krasutski, Belarusian Television reported on 20 September. The station echoed allegations made by Ivan Pashkevich, deputy head of the presidential staff, that Hanchar staged his own disappearance to get more public attention. Earlier the same day, a group of Supreme Soviet deputies marched to the presidential administration building with a placard reading "Lukashenka! Bring back Hanchar!" Amnesty International, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that Hanchar and Krasutski "may be in solitary confinement where they will be at risk of torture, ill-treatment, or possible 'disappearance.'" JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS TO SEEK FAIR BALLOT

Nine presidential candidates--Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Oleksandr Tkachenko, Petro Symonenko, Volodymyr Oliynyk, Oleksandr Rzhavskyy, Mykola Haber, Yuriy Karmazin, and Oleksandr Bazylyuk--have signed an agreement on setting up an independent center for counting votes in the 31 October presidential elections. In a 20 September statement, the signatories said they fear the current administration of President Leonid Kuchma will rig the elections. Under the agreement, a computer network will collect voting figures from polling stations and compare it with official data released by the Central Electoral Commission. JM

RUSSIAN EXTREMIST GROUP FOUNDED IN LATVIA

Some 20 people attended the 19 September founding meeting of the organization Limonka, named after leader of the Russian National Bolsheviks Eduard Limonov. The organization aims to assist the needy, arrange self-defense courses for its members, and campaign against bankers, state officials, and the U.S., according to LETA. The leader of the organization, Konstantin Mauzer, estimates that the new part has 70-80 members throughout the country. Latvian officials are currently considering the registration applications of Limonka as well as Kolovrat, founded by alleged members of the rival extremist Russian National Unity party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 1999). MH

LITHUANIAN POLITICIANS ASSESS CABINET'S FIRST 100 DAYS

Commenting on the first 100 days of Rolandas Paksas's government, Deputy Chairwoman of the Conservative Party Rasa Jukneviciene, of which Paksas is a member, described the cabinet's achievements as "moderate," ELTA reported on 20 September. Parliamentary deputy Ceslovas Jursenas of the opposition Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) criticized the government for indecisiveness, while admitting that it treated the country's problems "more soberly" than had Gediminas Vagnorius's cabinet. Vagnorius, who is a member of the Conservative Party, criticized Paksas's government for "perilous financial populism," while President Valdas Adamkus commented that "the government is realistic about the current situation and looks for solutions." Paksas himself commented that his government's goal is to promote a liberal business environment and say "'no' to new taxes." MH

MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER IN LITHUANIA

During his visit to Lithuania on 20-21 September, Ion Sturza met with President Valdas Adamkus and discussed bilateral ties, especially economic ones. Bilateral ties also featured prominently in the meeting between Sturza and Prime Minister Paksas. The two premiers signed an agreement on investment promotion and protection, while the two countries' agricultural ministers signed a cooperation agreement. Lithuanian exports to Moldova in the first half of 1999 totaled 10 million litas ($2.5 million) and imports from that country 14 million litas. The Moldovan delegation will continue its Baltic tour in Latvia later this week. MH

POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY URGES COALITION TO RESIGN

Leszek Miller, leader of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), has called on the ruling coalition of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) "to acknowledge its incompetence and give up clinging to power at any price," PAP reported on 21 September. Miller's appeal came after a September poll showed a record 40 percent backing for his party. Jacek Rybicki, deputy head of the AWS caucus, commented that the "cynical methods of political struggle demonstrated by Mr. Miller may turn against him." UW Secretary Miroslaw Czech said the coalition will not give up power, adding that the "SLD black propaganda" misrepresents Poland's economic situation. JM

ANOTHER CZECH TOWN WANTS ANTI-ROMA WALL

The residents of an apartment block in Vsetin, north Moravia, are considering building a wall to separate them from a nearby block inhabited by Roma, CTK reported on 19 September, citing Nova television. The Roma oppose the move. Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said he would consider such a development "unfortunate." He added that the planned wall in Usti nad Labem has harmed Czech EU integration efforts. However, unlike in Usti nad Labem, the Vsetin town council opposes building the wall, CTK reported on 20 September. Also on 20 September, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo visited Usti nad Labem and talked to supporters and opponents of the wall. He said that he will submit a report to the UN Commission on Human Rights in March. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS' REGIONAL BRANCH CALLS FOR MINISTER'S RESIGNATION

The Central Bohemian Committee of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 20 September called for the resignation of Deputy Premier Egon Lansky in connection with his illegal bank account in Austria and his "inadequate performance" in the cabinet, CTK reported. Prime Minister Milos Zeman responded that the demand amounts to "criticism from just one of the CSSD's many regional branches." He stressed that he will take a decision after he sees the EU's annual assessment of the Czech Republic's performance as well as the report of the National Bank commission that is investigating Lansky's illegal account. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES DEFICIT BUDGET

The cabinet on 20 September approved a second version of the 2000 draft budget, which is based on a deficit of 39.8 billion crowns ($1.1 billion), revenues totaling 594 billion crowns, and expenditures of 633.8 billion crowns. The draft foresees that GDP will grow by 1.4 percent, compared with 1 percent in the first version, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT DECLINES TO RULE ON MECIAR'S SECRECY OATH...

The parliament's Constitutional Committee on 20 September turned down the request of chief police investigator Jaroslav Ivor to relieve former Premier Vladimir Meciar of his secrecy oath, SITA reported. Ivor wants Meciar to testify about the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son and other infringements of the law by the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). The committee ruled that it is not within the parliament's prerogatives to relieve Meciar of his oath; it proposed that the police apply to the "relevant state authority." Ivor said he will turn to SIS chief Vladimir Mitro. Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner responded that "the hunger strike is under way," referring to Meciar's 17 September threat to begin a hunger strike if forced to testify. MS

...WHILE MECIAR SUPPORTERS APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVER REFERENDUM

The organizers of the referendum drive against the law on the use of minority languages in contacts with the authorities and against the privatization of "strategic enterprises" have asked the Constitutional Court to overrule President Rudolf Schuster's decision not to call a plebiscite on these laws, CTK reported. The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, the Slovak National Party, and the Matica slovenska cultural organization accused Schuster of having violated the basic rights and freedoms of the nearly 500,000 signatories in support of a referendum. MS

SLOVAK COALITION PARTNER WANTS NEW AGREEMENT

Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik said on Slovak Television on 19 September that it is necessary to draw up a new coalition agreement and replace some ministers, CTK reported. Hamzik, who heads the Party of Slovak Understanding, said that the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) "no longer exists" and that SDK chairman and Premier Mikulas Dzurinda cannot rely on any parliamentary group for support. The next day, Hamzik joined critics of Economy Minister Ludovit Cernak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 September 1999). He told Radio Twist that he intends to raise in the coalition council the issue of Cernak's continued presence in the cabinet, which he called "untenable." Also on 20 September, Democratic Party Chairman Jan Langos commented that the time is "ripe" for Cernak's dismissal. MS

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS RECALL DEPUTY FROM COMMITTEE

The parliamentary group of the opposition Socialist Party has decided to recall Laszlo Paszternak as deputy chairman of the parliament's Employment Committee because of involvement in "unethical business deals," Hungarian media reported on 20 September The committee's Socialist chairman Laszlo Sandor, who is also head of the National Trade Union Federation, announced the same day that he will submit his resignation. Paszternak bought land in his children's names at a resort owned by the miners union, while Sandor was implicated in Postabank's "VIP loans" scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1999). MSZ




KOSOVA LIBERATION ARMY ACCEPTS CIVILIAN ROLE

Following tense negotiations with UN and NATO officials in Prishtina on 20 September, leaders of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) agreed to transform their force into a Kosova Protection Corps, Reuters reported. NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark flew to Kosova to help forge the deal, which had been held up by disagreements over the role of the corps and the kind of weapons to be kept by its members. UCK political leader Hashim Thaci and UN Kosova chief Bernard Kouchner signed the agreement, along with UCK Chief of Staff General Agim Ceku and Kosova Force (KFOR) commander General Mike Jackson. Under the agreement, the KLA will become the 5,000-member Kosovo Protection Corps, and Ceku will be its commander. Only 200 members of the corps will be allowed to carry weapons. A new insignia will also be worn on the uniforms of the corps, replacing the UCK emblem. The corps will operate under the supervision of the KFOR commander. PB

SOLANA HAILS AGREEMENT, MOSCOW FEELS IGNORED

NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in Toronto on 21 September that the agreement marks "a milestone for the ongoing peace implementation efforts" in Kosova, AP reported. He warned, however, that anyone violating the weapons ban in the province "willl be dealt with severely." Kouchner said "we have to work all together to achieve not only the corps' transformation but offering services to the people of Kosovo." Belgrade strongly opposes the continued role of any aspect of the UCK in Kosova. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it has negative views on the "creation of paramilitary or semi-military formations under any name on the basis of the UCK," ITAR-TASS reported on 21 September. It added that Moscow's position on the issue was "ignored." PB

SOME UN OFFICIALS SKEPTICAL OF NEW CORPS, AGREEMENT

While many hailed the formal end of the UCK's existence as a structured paramilitary organization, others voiced skepticism. One unidentified UN official told AFP on 20 September that "we are satisfied that the UCK has handed in 10,000 arms even if we know they still have 100,000." There were several reports of broken or very old weapons being turned over to KFOR troops during the demilitarization. Another UN source said "we know that some radical commanders will not accept the new agreements." AFP also reported that there is some friction between UCK political leader Thaci and the head of the new corps, General Ceku. Thaci reportedly opposed the idea of Ceku leading the civilian force. PB

PROTEST RALLIES PLANNED IN SERBIA, AS ACTIVISTS DETAINED IN CENTRAL TOWN

Police arrested 12 members of the student organization Otpor (Resistance) on 20 September in the town of Kragujevac, Belgrade's Radio B2-92 reported. The students were detained for organizing a protest against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and were later released. In Novi Sad, Gordana Comic, leader of the Together caucus in the Vojvodina parliamentary assembly, said a protest outside the assembly building will be held on 21 September. She said the people gathered there will "indict all those who have mutilated Novi Sad and Vojvodina," BETA reported. In Leskovac, the opposition coalition Alliance for Change said it will begin daily protests on 21 September in the town's main square. It added that the highlight of those protests will be a mock trial of Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic. Zoran Djindjic, a leader of the Alliance for Change, said protests in 17 cities will be staggered and will be aimed at reminding citizens of the damage Milosevic has inflicted on the economy, the health care system, and agriculture. PB

BOSNIAN SERB PREMIER MEETS WITH MILOSEVIC

Milorad Dodik, the acting prime minister of the Republika Srpska, met with Yugoslav President Milosevic in Belgrade on 20 September, the Onasa news agency reported. No details of the meeting are known. The meeting came a few days after Milosevic met with ousted Srpska President Nikola Poplasen and the former Serbian member of the Bosnian presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik. PB

MONTENEGRO CHARGES YUGOSLAV PREMIER WITH PLANNING COUP

Montenegrin Prosecutor-General Bozidar Vukcevic on 20 September filed criminal charges against Momir Bulatovic for allegedly planning a military coup against Podgorica, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Vukcevic said in a statement that the Yugoslav premier had proposed at an April government meeting that the Yugoslav army "occupy" all media institutions in Montenegro. Vukcevic said the idea had been "tantamount to a putsch" and had jeopardized "state order" and the constitution. Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic has also said that Milosevic and his allies had planned a coup in Montenegro. PB

SERBIAN BUSINESSES MOVING TO MONTENEGRO

Predrag Drecun, Montenegro's labor minister, said on 20 September that more than 1,000 Serbian businesses have relocated to his republic in the last few months, Radio B2-92 reported, citing "Glas Javnosti." Drecun said the companies moved because of "more favorable trading conditions." He added that their total value was some $70 million. PB

U.S. TEAM IN BOSNIA TO INVESTIGATE CORRUPTION

A delegation from the U.S. arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina on 20 September to investigate allegations of widespread corruption, AP reported. Robert Frowick, one of the heads of the delegation, met with Bosnian co-Premier Haris Siljdzic upon arriving in Sarajevo. Frowick said the mission is a fact-finding trip on behalf of the U.S. congress. He said the group would also look into reports on the failure of the government to collect taxes and customs revenues. In other news, 15 bodies were exhumed from a mass grave near Sarajevo on 19 September. They are believed to be Muslims killed by Serbian soldiers in June 1992. More than 24,000 people are still missing from the Bosnian wars. PB

TUDJMAN DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM BOSNIAN CROAT WAR VETERANS

The office of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said on 20 September that the president was unaware that he was to be awarded a medal from a Bosnian Croat army branch, AP reported. The Association of Homeland War Volunteers and Veterans issued "medals of gratitude" to Tudjman and late Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak at a ceremony in Siroki Brijeg on 18 September. Also given an award was Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic, currently wanted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He is being held in Zagreb. Tudjman's office added that no one was sent on the president's behalf to accept the medal. PB

ISRAELI ARMS SMUGGLER INDICTED IN ROMANIA

The Prosecutor- General's Office on 20 September said it is indicting Shimon Naor for smuggling arms to two unnamed African countries that are on the UN embargo list, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Naor, who is of Romanian origin, had faked orders from the Sudanese embassy in Bucharest. Naor's accomplices, two Romanians and one Moldovan, will also be indicted. The Burundi honorary consul in Romania is being investigated under suspicion of involvement in the ring. MS

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE TO PREDOMINATE IN MOLDOVAN ELECTRONIC MEDIA

As of 1 January 2000, 65 percent of all programs broadcast by all Moldovan radio and television companies must be in the official state language, Infotag reported on 20 September, quoting Alexei Chubashenko, chairman of the National Board for the Electronic Media. Violators of that regulation will receive punishments ranging from a warning to loss of their broadcasting license. The regulations will not apply to foreign broadcasters, cable and satellite television, or media outlets in areas that have large ethnic minorities. MS




MORALITY AND LOCAL POLITICS: THE CASE OF BULGARIA


By Michael Shafir

With no fewer 96 parties competing in next month's local elections, observers who are unfamiliar with politics in Bulgaria might be misled into concluding that the ballot's stakes are high. Those more familiar with Bulgarian reality see it otherwise.

Take Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. Addressing journalists in Pernik on 12 September, he described the upcoming elections as "a political flea market." What Kostov "forgot" to mention was that his Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), as the strongest parliamentary group represented in the legislature, is responsible for the abundance of parties. Having postponed until this fall the passage of a new law on political parties that might have cut the number of formations eligible to compete to around 10, Kostov's party unwittingly brought about the current state of affairs.

Many see the current contest as one between the ruling United Democratic Forces (ODS) and the opposition, among which the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is the most prominent formation. Apart from the SDS, the ODS includes the Bulgarian Agrarian Union, the People's Union, and the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party. This alliance won the 1997 parliamentary elections but has since been weakened by the late 1998 split in the Social Democratic Party, a wing of which--led by Petar Dertliev--left the ODS and joined the opposition.

That rift, however, is unlikely to play a major role in the local elections, since Dertliev has almost no followers. More significant was the departure from the ODS of the ethnic Turkish Initiative Committee for Renewal, which was recently renamed National Movements for Rights and Freedom (NDPS). But the NDPS will mainly be competing against the rival Movement for Rights of Freedom (DPS), headed by Ahmed Dogan, for the Turkish vote. Furthermore, NDPS leader Gyuner Tahir has already said that in those constituencies where his party is not fielding candidates, it will support the ODS.

The ODS's goal is clear: to repeat its success at the 1997 parliamentary ballot. Local elections were last held in Bulgaria in 1995: at that time, the BSP won 194 mayoralties, the DPS 26, independents 17, the ODS 15, and the Business Bloc two. Viewed from this perspective, the slogan chosen by the BSP for the local elections "It Is Our Turn [to Win]" is undoubtedly misleading. In fact, the slogan makes sense only if seen against the background of the BSP's defeat in the 1997 parliamentary elections.

But local elections are never a mirror of general elections; rather, they are often decided by strictly local issues and by local politicians who opt to ignore the interests of the "center" and to form alliances that may not conform with what the "center" would like to see. Moreover, local government is still weak in Bulgaria. Whatever the outcome of the October contest, it will have virtually no impact on the central government.

According to a survey conducted by the MBDM polling institute and published in the daily "24 Chasa" on 9 September, the ODS will gain 27 percent backing and the BSP just 16 percent. Three days later, "Demokratsiya" published a poll by the Alpha Research Institute suggesting that the ODS will receive 32 percent of the vote and the BSP 17 percent.

This is good news for the ruling alliance, although not as good as it might have wished. The Alpha poll had the ODS winning six out of the Bulgaria's 10 largest towns. SDS Chief Secretary Hristo Bisserov, speaking to journalists on 7 September, said the BSP "stands no chance in any of the large towns" and that the party will be "marginalized."

Should that prove the case, the question would arise as to what extent it reflects pre-electoral maneuvering. In June, the ODS amended the law on local elections to stipulate that in localities with a population of less than 500, mayors will no longer be elected but appointed by the local district council. Depriving some voters of the right to exercise their democratic privilege is quite unacceptable, even if it is justified by budgetary constraints, as the ODS claims. Even Vice President Todor Kavaldjiev criticized the amendment. For all its drawbacks, however, the measure cannot be viewed as disadvantageous for the opposition.

The BSP contested the amendment at the Constitutional Court and lost. It also challenged the provision obliging candidates to state whether they were informers for, or on the payroll of, the communist secret police. That requirement, the BSP claimed, infringes on constitutional rights. But the court did not support that view, arguing that the provision does not disqualify former informers or members of the secret police from running and stating that its "essence" was to be found its "moral character."

Indeed, when it comes to morality, the BSP does have a problem. Whether many Bulgarians care about morality nowadays, having long suffered the economic hardships of a legacy with which the BSP itself is identified, is another question--one that for the time being remains unanswered.


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