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Newsline - September 22, 1999




NEW REGIONAL BLOC FORMING?

Russian media reported on 21 September that an appeal signed by a group of 39 regional leaders is in fact a declaration of the formation of a new electoral bloc. According to "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by media magnate Boris Berezovskii, Berezovskii is backing the effort and a founding congress of the bloc will be held in the near future. According to "Tribuna" the next day, the new bloc is intended as a counterbalance to the Fatherland-All Russia alliance and should be perceived as pro-Kremlin. "Tribuna" is financed by Gazprom. Among those regional leaders who signed the appeal are the governors of Kursk, Kaliningrad, Belgorod, and Sverdlovsk Oblasts, Primorskii Krai, and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, according to the dailies. Chukotka head Aleksandr Nazarov told ITAR-TASS on 22 September that more than 50 members of the Federation Council have already joined the new bloc, whose tentative name is Unity (Edinstvo). According to Interfax, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu may lead the new group. JAC

REAL WAGES CONTINUE FALLING...

The backlog of unpaid wages in Russia totaled 55.12 billion rubles ($2.2 billion) as of 1 September, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 22 September. According to the government daily, the state owes only one quarter of this sum, the remainder being debts of private firms to their workers. At the same time, the real monthly average wage continues to fall each month, having slipped 3.2 percent in August. Russian Statistics Agency reported earlier that real wages fell 35.9 percent during the first eight months of the year, compared with the same period in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). Economics Ministry "experts" told Interfax on 21 September the situation with regard to the population's living standards is troubling since the average monthly wage in August of last year amounted to $156, compared with only $64 last month and $67 in July 1999. JAC

...AS UNEMPLOYMENT REMAINS HIGH

The total number of unemployed persons in Russia at the end of August was 9.12 million, up 10 percent on the 31 August 1998 level. According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" the next day, unemployment fell in August, compared with July, but only by 0.1 percent. Meanwhile, a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that labor productivity in Russia is low compared with the world's best performing economies. Productivity in Russia's most efficient sector, the steel industry, equals only one-third of U.S. labor productivity, according to Reuters on 22 September. JAC

TOP U.S. OFFICIAL FAVORS CONTINUED IMF ENGAGEMENT IN RUSSIA

Addressing the U.S. Congress during its 21 September hearings on the Bank of New York scandal, Treasury Secretary Larry Summers sounded a similar note to that expressed earlier by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999). He said that the U.S. presidential administration supports continued IMF engagement in Russia because "to quarantine, contain, or write off Russia as too corrupt would ill serve our national interest." Summers noted that Russia continues to experience problems associated with the "profound corruption problems [inherited] from the Soviet era," but "at the same time, the record also demonstrates that Russia today is in many ways a very different country than it was a decade ago." Meanwhile, several Swiss banks have frozen $26 million in Bank of New York assets as part of the Swiss government's investigation into money laundering, Swiss police announced on 21 September, according to Western agencies. JAC

IVANOV STRESSES MOSCOW'S POSITION ON ABM...

Addressing the 54th annual UN General Assembly in New York on 21 September, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged that body to support continued adherence to the 1972 ABM treaty. Alluding to U.S. plans to implement a limited national ABM defense system, Ivanov said that unilateral steps aimed at "undermining" that treaty are "fraught with the most serious consequences," according to ITAR-TASS and an RFE/RL correspondent in New York. Ivanov also praised UN peacekeeping efforts, which, he said, have proven important in ensuring global and regional stability. JC

...AND SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ

With regard to the continued UN sanctions against Iraq, Ivanov commented that those measures are "extreme" and "can be applied only when other means of political influence have been exhausted," RFE/RL's correspondent in New York reported. He advised the UN Security Council to adopt clear criteria for imposing and lifting sanctions and not to allow "any free interpretation of adopted decisions, much less their use by anyone for selfish political or economic ends." JC

FIRST-EVER RUSSIAN JUDGE APPOINTED TO EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council Europe on 21 September voted to approve Anatolii Kovler as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights. The 51-year-old Kovler, editor-in-chief of a law magazine, is the first Russian justice to be appointed to that body. JC

KREMLIN CHANGING ATTITUDE TOWARD DEFENSE, NEWSPAPER SAYS

In its 21 September issue, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argues that a "serious change" is evident in the Kremlin's attitude toward defense matters and that the administration is intent on "comprehensively strengthening" the armed forces and military-industrial complex. The newspaper puts this development in the context of incidents such as U.S. fighter jets' intercepting two Tu-95 Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Alaska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999), noting that the West, used to the "stupor" of the Russian armed forces over the past eight to 10 years, is trying to present any such maneuver in international air space as a "threat." It also sees as significant Vladimir Putin's recent trip to Arkhangelsk, where the prime minister attended the launching of a new submarine for the Northern Fleet and reportedly stressed that the "new priority" is the production of arms for Russia's own strategic needs. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is funded by media magnate Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JC

ANOTHER CONSPIRACY THEORY FOILED?

Central Election Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov appeared to pour cold water on State Duma deputy Aleksandr Shokhin's theory, outlined in a recent article, that Russian President Boris Yeltsin will resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). Veshnyakov said on 20 September that a candidate for the parliament has the right to simultaneously run for president. Shokhin had argued that Yeltsin would resign on 19 October so that his main opponents would have to choose between running in the presidential elections and in the parliamentary elections. Shokhin speculated that the commission and Russian courts would likely interpret articles of the law on basic suffrage guarantees and the right of Russian citizens to participate in referenda in such a way that a candidate would be barred from running twice in the same district. JAC

FORMER TRANSNEFT HEAD TO SEEK DUMA SEAT FROM NIZHNII

Dmitrii Savelev, the ousted head of the energy pipeline company Transneft, announced on 21 September that he will run for a seat in the State Duma in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, Interfax reported. Savelev worked in Nizhnii until 1998 when then Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko tapped him for the Transneft post. The previous day, State Duma Property Committee Chairman Pavel Bunich told reporters that three Duma committees studied Savelev's ouster and concluded that since the state owns only 75 percent of the company's shares, a new director should have been appointed under the law on joint- stock companies rather than under the law on privatization. Carnegie Moscow Center's Nikolai Petrov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that the Kremlin was behind Savelev's dismissal in order to secure the maximum number of the country's resources before the election. JAC

SOME STUDENTS' SUMMER VACATIONS EXTENDED EVEN LONGER

Teachers at about half of the schools in the Altai Republic decided on 21 September to extend their strike, which began on 1 September, until at least 1 October, ITAR-TASS reported. About 3,000 teachers from 103 schools are demanding payment of back wages. According to the agency, the republic owes teachers and other education workers 82 million rubles ($3.2 million). Meanwhile in Buryatia, teachers are threatening to go on strike in October if their economic situation worsens, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Earlier, they had decided not to disrupt the beginning of the school year on 1 September. The republic's government owes some 58 million rubles in unpaid wages. JAC

CHECHEN, NORTH CAUCASUS PRESIDENTS MEET

Ruslan Aushev and Aleksandr Dzasokhov, the presidents of Ingushetia and North Ossetia, met with their Chechen counterpart, Aslan Maskhadov, in the new Ingushetian capital, Magas, on 20 September to discuss measures to prevent further incursions by Chechen militants into neighboring North Caucasus republics, Reuters and dpa reported. Aushev told Russian television that the three presidents had agreed on the need for an immediate meeting between Maskhadov and Russian President Yeltsin at which Maskhadov would propose measures to stabilize the situation. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 September suggested that at his meeting with Yeltsin, Maskhadov might give Moscow carte blanche to launch a covert operation to annihilate the militants' leaders in return for a Russian undertaking not to send ground troops into Chechnya and to halt the bombing of Chechen villages. Maskhadov also agreed to the other two presidents' proposal to convene a meeting of North Caucasus presidents in Nalchik on 27 September, Interfax reported. LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS, CHECHEN MILITANTS PREPARE TO REPEL ATTACKS

Russian Defense Ministry sources told ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 21 September that some 13,000 Russian troops are currently deployed along Chechnya's borders with other federation subjects. But they denied that an additional 10,000 troops have been sent to Mozdok from the Moscow Military District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1999). The two agencies quoted Russian intelligence sources as saying that the Chechen militants concentrated at three locations on the Chechen side of the border between Chechnya and Daghestan are stepping up their attempts to monitor Russian troop movements in Daghestan. In Grozny, leaders of the militant Chechen forces, including Shamil Basaev, discussed preparations to counter an anticipated Russian ground invasion of Chechnya, according to Interfax. LF

U.S. SEEKS TO REASSURE RUSSIA OVER CASPIAN PROJECTS...

John Wolf, who is special adviser for Caspian energy issues to U.S. President Bill Clinton, said in Moscow on 21 September that he has told Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov that the U.S. is not trying to prevent implementation of the Blue Stream project to export Russian natural gas to Turkey, AP and Interfax reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry last month accused unnamed U.S. officials of systematically trying to prevent the implementation of that project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). The U.S. supports construction of an alternative Trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmenistan's gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia, but that project may be jeopardized by disagreement between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over how much gas the latter may export via that planned pipeline. Wolf told journalists in Moscow that numerous possibilities exist for Russian-U.S. cooperation in the Caspian. He did not say whether events in Daghestan will impact on U.S. policy in the Caspian and South Caucasus, according to Interfax. LF

...WHILE PUSHING FOR BAKU-CEYHAN PROJECT

Wolf told a press conference at Interfax's main office in Moscow on 21 September that the U.S. shares the view of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia that the main export pipeline for Caspian oil should be routed from Baku to Ceyhan. The president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the only international consortium that has begun exporting off-shore Caspian oil from Azerbaijan, told journalists in Baku the same day that the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will be profitable only if construction costs do not exceed $2.4 billion, according to ITAR-TASS. The AIOC would prefer to expand the capacity of the existing pipeline from Baku to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast, but Wolf said in Moscow on 21 September that the U.S. opposes that option. Interfax quoted Wolf as saying he finds the AIOC's attitude "strange." LF

RUSSIA SLAMS TURKMENISTAN'S CLAIMS TO CASPIAN...

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 September issued a statement expressing concern over a recent decree by Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov defining the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea as an "inseparable part of the state," Interfax reported. The statement noted that Russia has repeatedly warned that it "will not recognize any attempts by individual Caspian states to extend their sovereignty to any part" of the Caspian Sea. The deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral states are to meet in Tehran in October in a further attempt to resolve their differences over dividing the sea into national sectors. LF

...SEEKS TO REASSURE AZERBAIJAN

Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii told Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 21 September that the planned pipeline transporting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil to the Russian port of Novorossiisk and bypassing Chechnya will be completed within six to eight months, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Apologizing for this year's repeated disruptions to exports of Azerbaijani crude via the existing pipeline from Baku to Novorossiisk via Chechnya, Kalyuzhnii added that the new bypass pipeline will have an increased annual throughput capacity of 12 million tons. He also suggested that some Azerbaijani crude be refined in the North Caucasus, where there is a market for it. Aliyev affirmed his readiness for cooperation with Russia in the oil sector, describing that cooperation as "fundamental." He also hinted that Baku might modify its present insistence that not only the Caspian Sea bed but also its waters and surface area be divided into national sectors. LF

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 21 September cited an incorrect report in "The New York Times" stating that the name of the husband of Russian President Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, is Leonid Dyachenko. The correct name is Aleksei Dyachenko.




ARMENIA MARKS INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY

Thousands of Armenian troops, accompanied by tanks and new artillery systems, paraded through the streets of Yerevan on the eighth anniversary of the referendum on declaring the country's independence from the Soviet Union, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. It was the first such military parade since 1996, when the independence anniversary fell one day before the presidential elections. President Robert Kocharian said in an anniversary address that Armenia "is pursuing an active policy of economic reforms, promoting democracy and promoting regional and global cooperation," according to Interfax. Among the world leaders who sent messages of congratulation were Pope John Paul II and the presidents of the U.S., Russia, France, Poland, and Greece. Russian President Boris Yeltsin noted the importance of the "strategic partnership" between Russia and Armenia for stability in the South Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

NEW POLITICAL PARTY FORMED IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Murat Petrosian, a deputy to the parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told a press conference in Stepanakert on 21 September that a new nationalist political party, the Armenian National Democratic Party, will soon hold its founding congress, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Petrosian said the new party will strive to "consolidate" opposition forces in Karabakh and Armenia with a "pan-national" agenda. The party's tentative platform calls for an elected "pan-national parliament" representing ethnic Armenians from around the world. It is likely to oppose the policies of the enclave's present leadership. Petrosian is a key supporter of recently ousted Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. Like Babayan, he takes a harder line than either Yerevan or the Karabakh Armenian leadership over resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS DISCUSS SECURITY CONCERNS

Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh and Security Minister Astamur Tarba met with Georgian officials in Tbilisi on 21 September, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The talks were held at the initiative of Abkhazia's President Vladislav Ardzinba, who had expressed concern at the prospect of Georgian guerrillas' committing terrorist acts in Abkhazia in the runup to the 3 October Abkhaz presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze said after the talks that no such threat exists. He admitted that "certain forces" are interested in destabilizing the region prior to the Abkhaz poll and the 31 October Georgian parliamentary elections, but he said the Georgian authorities will do everything possible to preserve stability. A senior member of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia who attended the talks described them as "important." Bagapsh said they "proved that Georgia and Abkhazia can work out a constructive and civilized approach" to resolving problems. LF

FOUR ARRESTED IN GEORGIA FOR SMUGGLING RADIO-ACTIVE MATERIALS

Security officials apprehended four Georgian citizens on 21 September at the Sarpi border crossing between Georgia's Adjar Autonomous Republic and Turkey, AP and ITAR- TASS reported. The four were trying to smuggle 1 kilogram of a radio-active substance, possibly uranium, into Turkey. LF

CONTROVERSIAL KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER EDITOR STEPS DOWN

Aleksandr Kim, who is owner and editor of the independent daily "Vechernii Bishkek," has resigned as editor following disputes with the Kyrgyz tax police and other members of the newspaper's staff, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported on 21 September, quoting acting deputy editor Sergei Stepanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 August 1999). Stepanov said that the tax police continue to examine the newspaper's financial records and have begun a court case in which "Vechernii Bishkek" is accused of not paying a fair price for the purchase of its premises. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARETY APPLIES FOR RE-REGISTRATION

The Islamic Renaissance Party has applied to the Ministry of Justice to be re-registered, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 September. The party's deputy chairman, Muhammedsharif Himmatzoda, told the news agency that he was assured that provided the documents submitted are in order, the registration process will be completed within three or four days. Re-registration is a necessary precondition for the party to nominate a candidate for the 6 November presidential elections. The deadline for doing so is 6 October. LF

TAJIK, UZBEK PRESIDENTS SPAR

During a "traditionally frank" telephone conversation on 21 September, Imomali Rakhmonov and Islam Karimov discussed a recent statement by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry accusing the United Tajik Opposition of supporting the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas currently holding 13 hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported, citing unidentified "confidential sources." They also discussed bilateral economic and trade ties as well as possible joint measures to combat organized crime. In addition, Karimov reportedly affirmed his support for "Tajikistan's policy of democratic transformations," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF




U.S. CALLS ON BELARUS TO FIND MISSING DISSIDENTS

"The United States is greatly concerned about this pattern of disappearances of opponents to [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka's continued rule in Belarus," the U.S. State Department said in a 21 September statement. It was referring to the disappearances of Supreme Soviet Deputy Chairman Viktar Hanchar on 16 September, former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka on 7 May, and former National Bank Chairwoman Tamara Vinnikava on 8 April. The State Department called on the Belarusian government "to do everything in its power to locate" the missing persons and ensure their safety. JM

GAZPROM OPENS YAMAL-EUROPE PIPELINE SECTION IN BELARUS

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev and Belarusian President Lukashenka on 21 September opened a 209-kilometer section of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline stretching from the city of Nyasvizh to the Polish border. The new Belarusian pipeline stretch is connected to the existing inter-Belarus pipeline system and will allow Gazprom to export up to 30 million cubic meters of gas from Siberia to Poland. "We estimate that following the opening of this pipeline section we will improve solving our everyday problems by 60 percent," Lukashenka commented. "I want to say that we have never felt ill-will toward Belarus. We have always honestly and voluntarily done everything necessary for Belarus and for Russia," Belarusian Television quoted Vyakhirev as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET FAILS TO REPAY BACK WAGES, PENSIONS

The Finance Ministry said on 21 September that since the beginning of the year, the government has repaid only 5 percent of its 2.4 billion hryvni ($524 million) debt in pension and wage arrears, AP reported. President Leonid Kuchma has ordered the government to pay off the debt by October. The parliament recently made this task even more difficult by increasing the minimum pension from 24.9 hryvni to 55 hryvni (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). "If the decision takes effect, those paid 30 hryvni a month will be getting 60 and those paid 500 will be getting 1,000," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying on 20 September. JM

UKRAINE'S MARCHUK VOICES DOUBT OVER SURVIVAL OF ANTI-KUCHMA ELECTION ALLIANCE

Former Premier Yevhen Marchuk has voiced doubt whether his presidential election coalition with Oleksandr Tkachenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Volodymyr Oliynyk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1999) will field a single candidate against Kuchma in the 31 October elections, UNIAN reported on 20 September. Marchuk said the coalition may turn into a "group of three or even two" because "each member of the alliance is sure that he will be the candidate from the group." JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT CHANGES RULES ON RESIDENCE PERMITS, VISAS

The Estonian government on 21 September changed various rules on residence permits and visas that in part affect former Soviet military personnel deemed "dangerous" for Estonian independence, BNS reported. "Eesti Paevaleht" noted the next day that the 400 Soviet officers who were granted U.S.-funded apartments in Russia will not receive a permit to stay in Estonia. Estonia will also halt the issuing of visas at the border. Andres Kollist, director of the Citizenship and Migration Bureau, criticized that change, saying that "all European countries, including Russia, provide for the possibility of the issue of visas on the border." The changes are to go into effect on 1 October. MH

LATVIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH ALBRIGHT

Vaira Vike-Freiberga met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in New York on 21 September. Albright praised Vike-Freiberga for vetoing the controversial new language law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 1999). While appreciating Latvia's contribution to the peacekeeping forces in the Balkans, Albright stressed the need for Latvia to increase defense spending and capabilities, BNS reported. Vike-Freiberga was in New York to take part in 54th UN General Assembly. MH

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT HALTS RUSSIAN BORDER TREATY RATIFICATION

The parliament's National Security and Defense Committee on 20 September failed to approve the border treaty with Russia, thereby delaying the ratification process. Only six of the 13 members of the committee voted in favor, "Lietuvos Rytas" reported. The agreement, signed in 1997, remains in limbo both in Vilnius and Moscow. MH

POLISH CABINET IN CONFUSION OVER SACKING OF COMMANDO CHIEF

Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz said on 21 September that he thinks last week's firing of General Slawomir Petelicki, commander of the elitist Operational Mobile Response Group, was based on "shaky foundations," according to PAP. Special Service Minister Janusz Palubicki, who took charge of the Interior Ministry following the dismissal of Interior Minister Janusz Tomaszewski, took the decision to dismiss Petelicki. Deputy Interior Minister Bogdan Borusewicz, meanwhile, said he thinks that questioning Palubicki's decision could lead to a government crisis. Leszek Miller, leader of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, told Polish Radio on 21 September that Petelicki's sacking was a result of an "internal fight" between three coalition leaders: Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, Solidarity Chairman Marian Krzaklewski, and Tomaszewski. Meanwhile, Palubicki vowed that Petelicki's sacking did not have a political character, adding that he himself does not intend to resign. JM

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH HAVEL

Valdas Adamkus told Czech President Vaclav Havel in Prague on 21 September that although his country would like to join NATO at the same time as Latvia and Estonia, it is not insisting on that as a condition of its membership, CTK reported. Both presidents said their countries wished to become members of the EU and make a "meaningful contribution" to the process of unifying the continent. Their "outstandingly good relations" can be "an inspiration" to the content's integration, Havel and Adamkus said in a joint declaration. Adamkus also met with Premier Milos Zeman and discussed economic and military cooperation. MS

LATVIAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Janis Straum met with Czech Premier Zeman in Prague on 21 September and discussed economic cooperation and the role of the two countries' parliaments and governments in advancing EU integration. He also discussed with Senate Chairwoman Libuse Benesova the issue of national minorities, which, Benesova noted, "is one of the main problems" hindering the EU accession of both Latvia and the Czech Republic. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER MEETS WITH U.S. PRESIDENT

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists after meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in New York on 21 September that Clinton "confirmed [NATO's] open-door policy and clearly said Slovakia has the best chance of becoming the next member of NATO," CTK reported. Addressing the UN General Assembly the same day, Dzurinda said that the Council of Europe needs to undergo reform. In an obvious allusion to the Yugoslav crisis, he said the council must "learn the lesson of its failures in recent crises" and avoid being "marginalized and losing its role in ensuring world peace and security." He added that Slovakia supports a political solution in Kosova and wants to see the democratization of the region "based on respect of human rights regardless of ethnic origin and respect of Yugoslavia's territorial integrity." MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE ENDS MONITORING OF SLOVAKIA

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, meeting in Strasbourg on 21 September, unanimously decided to end its monitoring of Slovakia, TASR and CTK reported. The decision was prompted by the favorable report of the council's two rapporteurs, Juris Sinka and Goran Magnusson, who said Slovakia has made significant progress in all areas monitored. The assembly said that Slovakia must still implement reforms related to the judiciary, ethnic minorities, and regional self-rule. It also noted that monitoring might be resumed if no progress is made in these areas. And it recommended that Slovakia ratify the European Charter on Regional and Ethnic Languages. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION MOVES TO DISMISS ECONOMY MINISTER

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 21 September moved a motion to dismiss Economy Minister Ludovit Cernat, CTK and SITA reported. The motion must be debated within seven days. HZDS Deputy Chairman Rudolf Ziak said the HZDS will also support the government's demand to dismiss National Property Fund chief Ludovit Kanik and his deputy, Ladislav Sklenar. The chairmen of the Party of Civic Understanding and Democratic Party, both of which are members of the ruling coalition, have also demanded that Cernak be dismissed. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS VOTE AGAINST BUDGET

The cabinet on 21 September approved next year's draft budget without the support of any of the ministers representing the junior coalition Independent Smallholders. Agriculture Minister Jozsef Torgyan and Defense Ministry State Secretary Janos Homoki voted against the draft, while Environment Minister Pal Pepo abstained. Torgyan said the Smallholders will propose amendments to the budget draft. In other news, Laszlo Paszternak announced his resignation as chairman of the steel workers' union, after the Socialist Party recalled him as Employment Committee deputy chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1999). MSZ




THOUSANDS IN SERBIA DEMONSTRATE AGAINST GOVERNMENT...

Tens of thousands of people took part in protests on the evening of 21 September calling for the resignation of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some 20,000 people in Belgrade protested in the capital's Republic Square. Crowds of some 10,000 were reported in Novi Sad, Nis, and Kragujevac, and smaller crowds were reported in 14 other towns and cities. The Beta news agency reported that police blocked roads in Vojvodina in an effort to prevent people from traveling to the protest in Novi Sad. Earlier that day, the Association of Independent Trade Unions declared a general strike to protest Milosevic's rule. The union claims some 150,000 members in Serbia and invited other labor groups to join in the protest. PB

...AS DJINDJIC CALLS MILOSEVIC 'EVIL'

Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic told the crowd in Belgrade that "we must finish our task this time. Who is stronger: the people or evil? Is it Serbia or Milosevic?" Djindjic exhorted the crowd to encourage others to take part in protests, and he vowed to continue the daily demonstrations until Milosevic resigned. He said "if there are 2 million people on the streets of Serbia after 10 days, it will mean that Serbia has cured itself," B2-92 reported. Dragoslav Avramovic, former head of the Central Bank, who has been nominated by one opposition movement to lead an interim government, said a leadership change is needed quickly to avert power and heating shortages this winter. The protests were organized by Djindjic's Alliance for Change and the Alliance of Democratic Parties. Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement did not take part. PB

SERBIAN POLICE SEIZE COPIES OF WEEKLY PAPER, CLAMP DOWN ON INDEPENDENT RADIO

Serbian border police on 21 September confiscated a truck that was carrying copies of the independent Banja Luka weekly "Reporter," Beta reported. Perica Vucinic, the publisher of "Reporter," said the entire circulation for the Serbian market was on the truck, which is being held at the border crossing town of Sremska Mitrovica. She said this issue of the weekly, which is often critical of the Milosevic regime, included an article on Serbian tycoons that have allegedly robbed the country of state funds. In Belgrade, the Association of Independent Electronic Media in Yugoslavia reported that Radio Pancevo was asked by the Yugoslav Ministry of Communications to pay 800,000 dinars ($72,000 at the official exchange rate) to continue using its frequency. PB

MONTENEGRO SAYS SERBIAN REFUSAL TO HOLD TALKS 'UNACCEPTABLE'

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said on 21 September that his Serbian counterpart, Mirko Majanovic, has refused to hold direct talks with Podgorica on the nature of the two republics' relations, Reuters reported. Vujanovic, in a statement to the media, said Majanovic's decision to try to move the talks to the Yugoslav parliament because they may involve changes to the federal constitution is "unacceptable to us." He added that Montenegro is prepared to negotiate only "at the level of the two republics. Any agreement must be reached at that level." But he said the Montenegrin government is patient because "there is no need to increase tensions." Montenegro sent a proposal to Belgrade on 5 August requesting a new relationship between the two republics that would give Podgorica control over its economic, military, and foreign affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1999). Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has threatened to hold a referendum on independence if the republics' relationship is not redefined. PB

MOSCOW, BELGRADE DENOUNCE NEW KOSOVA CORPS

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 22 September that the transformation of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) into the civilian Kosova Protection Corps is a "thoughtless political act," AP reported. In a statement, the ministry said the arrangement "is a graphic attempt to legalize part of military attachments of Kosovo gunmen" and goes "against the spirit" of UN Security Council resolution 1244 on Kosova. The Yugoslav Justice Ministry said the agreement will "only serve to perpetuate...the Serb exodus from Kosovo...and jeopardize the integrity of Yugoslavia." It added that the agreement threatens peace in Yugoslavia and violates the part of resolution 1244 that calls for a demilitarization of the UCK. In the divided Kosovar town of Mitrovica, Serbs said on 21 September that they will organize their own defense force in response to the formation of the new Kosovar Albanian corps. PB

UN LEADER WARNS OF DESTABILIZATION ATTEMPTS BY SERBS

The UN's special representative in Kosova, Bernard Kouchner, said on 21 September that there are organized efforts by Serbs to destabilize Kosova, Reuters reported. Kouchner said "a lot of unofficial people are coming [to Kosova from Serbia]" and that some of the incidents "have been organized." He said "each attack, attempt, murder is a success for Milosevic." He added, however, that he has no proof of official Serbian or Yugoslav security personnel returning to Kosova. NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark said one of the three Serbs killed recently by Russian soldiers was carrying an identity card from the Serbian Interior Ministry police. PB

CHILDREN KILLED BY UNEXPLODED CLUSTER BOMB

NATO peacekeepers in Kosova said on 21 September that four children were killed and two wounded when an unexploded cluster bomb blew up in a field in eastern Kosova. The bomb had been dropped by NATO forces during its air strikes on Yugoslavia. PB

NATO MINISTERS AGREE TO CUT TROOPS IN BOSNIA

NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said at a 21 September conference of alliance defense ministers in Toronto that it will be possible to reduce NATO forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina by one- third, dpa reported. Solana said a vote on the proposal, under which 10,000 of the 30,000 troops in Bosnia would be sent home, would take place at a meeting in Brussels in December. In other news, the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the canton of Sarajevo confirmed on 21 September that an associate of wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden who was arrested in Turkey had been carrying a valid Bosnian passport issued in 1997. PB

CROATIAN PROSECUTORS SEEK 20-YEAR SENTENCE FOR CONCENTRATION CAMP COMMANDER

State prosecutors asked a Zagreb court on 21 September to sentence Dinko Sakic, a commander of a World War II concentration camp in Croatia, to 20 years in prison. Sakic, who was extradited from Argentina last year, is accused of crimes against humanity in his capacity as head of the Jasenovac camp from 1941-1945. Prosecutors said he was aware of the crimes being committed under his command and that he occasionally took part in the murders and torture of inmates. A verdict is expected by October. PB

ALBANIAN MINISTER PROPOSES SEPARATING POLICE, MILITARY

The Albanian minister for pubic order, Spartak Poci, proposed on 20 September that the country's police force no longer be part of the armed forces, ATA reported. Poci said a bill on the change will be sent to the cabinet as well as to the parliament. The move is seen as a main step in a program to reform the Albanian police. In other news, Albanian President Rexhep Meidani sent a letter to the president of the European Radio and TV Broadcasting Union, Albert Sharf, asking for greater technical and material assistance for Albanian Radio and Television as well as for broadcast media in Kosova. PB

IMF TEAM ENDS TALKS IN ROMANIA

The IMF team of experts will wrap up on 22 September its talks with Romanian officials on the implementation of the agreement reached earlier this year. The team will report its findings to the fund's executive board, which is to decide next month whether to release the second tranche of the $547 million stand-by loan. The Finance Ministry said the previous day that during the talks the team "appreciated some favorable results" achieved so far but noted that there are still "problems" deriving from wage policies and the restructuring of the banking system, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Media reports said the team refused to accept a Romanian request to raise the budget deficit from 3.9 percent to 4.9 percent of GDP. MS

HUNGARIAN CONSUL IN ROMANIA DENIES NATIONALIST ALLEGATIONS

Hungary's new consul in Cluj, Laszlo Alfoldi, told journalists on 21 September that Mayor Gheorghe Funar is "a very interesting personality" but his actions represent "only a fraction of the Cluj political spectrum," Mediafax reported. Alfoldi denied allegations by Funar and the Greater Romania Party that he had engaged in spying in the late 1980s and was declared "persona non grata" in 1988 for that reason. Meanwhile, Cluj Prefect Alexandru Farcas has extended until 27 September the ban on demonstrations in Cluj. The ban was prompted by Funar's intention to call mass protests against Alfoldi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999). MS

BULGARIA, MACEDONIA SLAM SLOW START OF BALKAN STABILITY PACT

Meeting in the southwestern Bulgarian border town of Blagoevgrad on 21 September, the premiers of Bulgaria and Macedonia, Ivan Kostov and Ljubco Georgievski, criticized the West for being slow in implementing the Balkan Stability Pact agreed on in July, Reuters reported. Georgievski said that Macedonia and Bulgaria "have several joint projects to be implemented under the pact" but they noted that the pact is not functioning yet. Kostov said "skepticism of the Bulgarian government over the pact's actual implementation is growing," adding that "if there are no new developments soon, skepticism will change into disappointment." The two premiers pledged to continue promoting understanding between their countries, and Kostov said that this policy "will be our reply to both nationalists and Bulgarophobes." BTA reported that on 21 September Bulgaria delivered the second shipment of decommissioned tanks and howitzers to Macedonia. MS

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS BULGARIA MAY SOON BEGIN ACCESSION TALKS

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, speaking on Fenix television on 20 September, said the EU could decide at its December summit in Helsinki to begin accession talks with Bulgaria, BTA reported the next day. Verheugen said that "politically, Bulgaria has recently registered very positive achievements," but he added that economic development has been held up by the conflict in the Balkans. That is why Bulgaria must be helped to overcome these consequences, "which is exactly what we are doing," he said. At the same time, Verheugen warned that even if a decision on starting accession talks with Sofia is made, the parleys "will be long." "It would not be right to raise hopes that Bulgaria will become a full member in three, four, or five years," he commented. MS




FLY THE SCARY SKIES


by Julie A. Corwin

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the reputation of Russian passenger air travel hit its nadir, but perhaps it was when the story first broke in the spring of 1994 about the downing of an Aeroflot passenger flight over Siberia. The 15-year old son of the plane's pilot was reported to have accidentally disengaged the plane's autopilot controls during a "lesson." Or, perhaps it was in March 1997 when the fuselage of a passenger jet was so rusted that it fell apart in the air over Stavropol. Also that year, the Tupolev-154, a mainstay of the Russian airline industry, was involved in five major accidents, and the International Airline Passengers Associations advised travelers to avoid flying to or within Russia.

More recently, Aeroflot has launched a new slick advertising campaign in major international cities and even banned smoking on short flights. But some recent news report suggest that a few kinks in airline safety remain. Last week, Russian Air Force Commander Colonel General Anatolii Kornukov declared that if more funding for the country's aging air traffic control system is not found, within 10 years flying in Russia could become four times more dangerous than in the West. Kornukov's comments followed advice from the U.S. State Department to avoid flying in Russia and other CIS countries around 1 January 2000 because of possible computer glitches caused by the so-called millennium bug.

My own recent experience flying on four of the baby flots that sprang up since the break-up of the USSR-- Donavia, Vnukovo, Domodedovo, and Pulkovo--suggests that safety culture on Russian airlines at least seems more laissez faire than on Western carriers. On four out of five flights, I observed during take-off some passengers' seatbelts remaining unfastened, trays unlocked, and seats tilted. Only on Pulkovo did I witness a flight attendant ask a passenger to adjust her seat before take-off or give instructions on where the emergency exits were located.

On Donavia, flight attendants continued selling food and drinks in the aisle during take-off. They kept one hand gripped on the back of a passenger seat and the other on the rattling metal cart. And they had to yell because of noise of the engines inside the cabin after take-off. In theory, smoking was prohibited on all of the flights I was on, but in practice--at least on the nine-and-a-half hour flight from Moscow to Vladivostok--smoking occurred but was confined to the bathrooms.

The safety issue aside, the good news about the baby flots was that the level of comfort was comparable to that on most Western airlines, the food better than anything I have ever eaten on KLM or Malev Airlines, and the cost remarkably cheap. For example, a one-way ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok cost only 4,900 rubles ($193), while a one- way ticket from Ulan Ude to Moscow, a six-hour flight, cost only 3,460 rubles. While 4,900 rubles is several times the average monthly wage in Primorskii Krai, for example, the fare nonetheless compares favorably with similar long distance hauls across Europe or North America.

The attendants, on the whole, were polite--sometimes even friendly--but always terse. It was probably just a coincidence, but it was on Vnukovo, the airline with the most serious labor problems, that I witnessed a stewardess sacked out during the flight from Ulan Ude to Moscow, stretched across several seats on which small black flight bags had earlier been placed. Curiously, my travel agent had told me some weeks earlier that I had gotten the last seat available on that flight. In mid-August, Russian media reported that a strike at Vnukovo was imminent because workers had not been paid for four months. At the beginning of the year, one of the workers' strike leaders was murdered.

Perhaps the real drawback to flying within Russia is not the airplanes but the airports, where seats are a relatively rare phenomenon and where having to pay to use the bathroom is no guarantee that it will be remotely clean. Adding to the discomfort is the screeching noise of packing tape being wound around each piece of luggage. Not everybody tapes up their bags. Some people wrap them in paper, like a package that is going to be mailed, with a flimsy string or thin rope handle attached; others have it encased in plastic wrap by a man at the airport who charges 60 rubles for the service.

But worst of all is the endless number of lines. First, there is one to check your luggage, one to get your ticket back, and then, if you're unlucky, one to pay a special airport tax. Then, once "boarding" begins, you must line up to enter one of the preliminary boarding areas, line up to go through security, line up to be herded to some area outdoors, and then line up for a bus to take you to the airplane, where you will line up to get on.

By that point, you're happy to finally sit down in any kind of seat regardless of whether the tray in front of you remains perpetually open at quarter-mast. And once you land safely--without the fuselage falling off somewhere over Stavropol, let's say--you happily conclude that overall the flight was a pleasant, repeatable experience.


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