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Newsline - October 5, 1999




TWO RUSSIAN PLANES DOWNED IN CHECHNYA

Russia lost two unarmed reconnaissance planes that were shot down over Chechnya on 3 and 4 October, ITAR-TASS reported. The pilots of both aircraft are presumed killed. Meanwhile ITAR-TASS quoted an unnamed Russian military source as saying that Russian forces have established "full control" over Nauri and Shelkovskii Raions in northern Chechnya. But a second Russian military source claimed that groups of between five and 10 Chechen fighters are engaging the advancing Russian troops in order to allow larger groups to retreat safely. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 October said that, as in spring 1996, the Russian forces are negotiating agreements with local leaders in the two raions that they will not enter towns and villages provided that the inhabitants undertake not to shelter Chechen fighters. The commander of the Russian forces in Daghestan, Lieutenant General Gennadii Troshev, told journalists on 4 October that two Russian soldiers were killed and eight injured in fighting with Chechen volunteers near Dubovskaya the previous day, Interfax reported. LF

RUSSIA RULES OUT MEDIATION WITH CHECHEN LEADERS

Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov told Interfax on 4 October that Moscow does not need mediators in order to conduct talks with members of the Russian Federation, as Chechnya "is Russia's internal problem." Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had asked Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 1 October to act as mediator in talks with Moscow. Shevardnadze had responded three days later that he was prepared to do so if Russia agreed to such mediation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 4 October 1999). LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS IMPATIENT

In Grozny on 4 October, former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev rejected the idea of talks with Russia, calling instead for fierce resistance against the advancing Russian forces, Interfax reported. Yandarbiev, together with unnamed field commanders, called on Maskhadov to impose martial law, which the Chechen president refused to do. Presidential Press spokesman Selim Abdumuslimov said that Maskhadov still hopes to prevent an all-out war. Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev told Interfax that no regular Chechen army troops have yet joined the Chechen field commanders and volunteer forces resisting the advancing Russian troops. LF

BASAEV, KHATTAB DENY INVOLVEMENT IN TERRORISM

Field commander Shamil Basaev has told "Jane's Defence Weekly" that responsibility for the bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities last month lies not with him but with Russian intelligence, Reuters reported on 4 October. The next day, Reuters quoted Saudi-born field commander Khattab as telling the London-based Arabic-language newspaper "Asharq al-Awsat" as denying receiving any financial aid from or maintaining any contacts with Saudi millionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden. Khattab, too, denied any involvement in the Russian apartment bombings. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, however, has again affirmed that "serious grounds" exist for suspecting that both Chechens were responsible for the terrorist bombings, Interfax reported on 4 October. He added that they should both be apprehended and brought to trial. LF

SOME RUSSIAN REGIONS REJECT FUGITIVES

Local authorities in the village of Galyugaevskaya in Stavropol Krai, are opposing efforts of the Federal Migration Service to set up a refugee center there, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 October. According to the agency, the village is separated from Chechnya by the Terek River, which runs narrow and shallow in that area. A spokesman for Kursk Raion, in which the village is located, said that there is no room in the village for fugitives from Chechnya and that the villagers are concerned for their safety. The next day, "Izvestiya" reported that atamans in the Cossacks' Greater Don Army have adopted an appeal to the Russian president, the "chairman of the government," Rostov Oblast's government, and residents of southern Russia to strengthen controls on immigration into the Don region and to prevent interethnic conflict between the fugitives from the Caucasus and the local population. JAC

RUBLE SLIPS...

The ruble lost 1.6 percent in value against the dollar in morning trading on 5 October, closing at 25.9024 rubles to $1, compared with 25.487 rubles to $1 the previous day, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, the ruble slipped 1.1 percent on 4 October. The Russian Statistics Agency reported the same day that inflation in September stood at 1.5 percent, compared with 1.2 percent in August, 2.8 percent in July, and 1.9 percent in June, according to Interfax (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1999). JAC

...AS INFLATION TICKS UP

In an interview with "Argumenty i Fakty" (No. 39), Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko dismissed predictions that the ruble may collapse as suddenly as it did last year. He argued that there are no reasons for the ruble to collapse, provided that the public does not go on a dollar buying spree. He said this is unlikely because Russians' purchasing capacity has declined by 30 percent. The Central Bank predicted earlier that the ruble would keep appreciating in real terms until the end of the year. Some economists believe that if the ruble does not fall below 27 rubles to $1 by December, it will have to be devalued by at least 5 rubles in mid-2000 to put it in line with the budget target of 32 rubles to $1, "The Moscow Times" reported on 25 September. JAC

PRIME MINISTER PROMISES IMPROVEMENTS IN INVESTMENT CLIMATE

In his address to the Consultative Council for Foreign Investments on 4 October, Prime Minister Putin pledged that the Russian government "will respond to the worries of foreign investors," adopt resolutions "that will facilitate the implementation of tax laws already in force," and actively cooperate with the Central Bank in restructuring the banking system, according to Interfax. Putin said that the volume of accumulated foreign investments in Russia now totals $27.8 billion, including $11.7 billion worth of direct investments. The Anti-Monopoly Ministry earlier put the share of foreign direct investment in total investment much lower, reporting that it fell to 33 percent in 1998, compared with 36 percent from 1996-1997 and 70 percent from 1991-1995 (see ''RFE/RL Newsline," 28 September 1999). Putin added that drawing investments to regional economies is important, since 49.4 percent of the volume of foreign investments remain in Moscow. JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN CALLS UNITY A BEREZOVSKII CREATION

After saying the previous day that negotiations with the interregional movement Unity are still continuing, Our Home Is Russia (NDR) leader Viktor Chernomyrdin slammed the movement in remarks to reporters on 4 October, noting that Unity "does not have any ideology whatsoever. [It] has only [media magnate] Boris Berezovskii." He added that the NDR cannot "accept the conditions" that Unity has offered. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 October, Unity head Sergei Shoigu denied that Berezovskii played a role in the movement's creation and insisted the original authors of the idea were himself, the presidents of Ingushetia, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan, and the governor of Irkutsk. He went on to say that Samara Governor Konstantin Titov stole the idea and then "rushed off to collect signatures," later founding the Voice of Russia. Interfax reported on 4 October that Shoigu has taken vacation as Emergencies Minister in order to concentrate on the campaign for the upcoming State Duma elections. JAC

ONE MORE ELECTION BLOC JOINS THE RACE...

A new election alliance called the Bloc of General Andrei Nikolaev and Academician Svyatoslav Fedorov has been formed, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 5 October. The bloc, which held its constituent congress in Moscow on 2 October, is composed of seven organizations: Nikolaev's Union of People's Power and Labor, Fedorov's Party of Workers' Self-Rule, the Union of Realists, the Workers' Socialist Party, Russia's Hope, Russia's Engineering Progress, and Power (Derzhava). JAC

...AS ENVIRONMENTALISTS LINE UP PASKO, BUSINESSES

Meanwhile, the environmental movement, Kedr (Cedar), has announced that it will run independently in State Duma elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 October. Military journalist Grigorii Pasko, whose trial on charges of espionage recently concluded, will run on the party's slate. Pasko had been accused of divulging secrets about the Pacific Fleet's environmentally hazardous waste practices. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko turned down an offer from the movement to run as their candidate for president, ITAR- TASS reported. Kedr's press spokesman denied a report in "Moskovskii komsomolets" that the party is funded by aluminum magnate Lev Chernoi, saying the party is supported by "regional businesses," "The Moscow Times" reported on 5 October. However, he said he did not know which businesses provide funding for the party. JAC

COMMUNISTS LOSE GROUND IN VOLGOGRAD

Incumbent Mayor of Volgograd Yurii Chekhov, who is also head of the local branch of Fatherland (Otechestvo), has been re-elected, winning some 38 percent of the vote in the 3 October mayoral ballot, Russian media reported. Yevgenii Ishchenko, a 26-year-old State Duma deputy, garnered 29 percent support, beating into third place the Communist Party of the Russian Federation candidate, Sergei Agaptsov (20 percent). In elections to the city council, which took place the same day, the Communists saw their share of seats reduced by half, thereby losing their 17-seat majority in the 24-seat council. According to "Izvestiya," a large group of independents have won seats in the municipal legislature. JC

KREMLIN SAYS DENIALS OF ANTI-CONSTITUTIONAL MANEUVERS FABRICATED

Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin on 4 October said that an interview with Tatyana Dyachenko, President Boris Yeltsin's daughter and adviser, published by Britain's "Sunday Times" was "fictional," adding that the "statements attributed to her are invented." In the interview, which ran the previous day, Dyachenko said that "sooner or later my father will leave political life, but not in any unconstitutional way." She called speculation to the contrary "a crude hoax." On her own role in the government, she said "I know full well that the president did not appoint me because I'm so smart and talented." She added that "in some situations I can overcome some conventionalities. And there are some unpleasant things that are easier for me to tell him." Yakushkin said the purpose of the alleged interview was to stir up rumors that the Kremlin plans imposing a state of emergency and canceling the elections. JAC

MOSCOW DENIES CONDUCTING NUCLEAR TESTS ON NOVAYA ZEMLYA

Responding to a 3 October "Washington Post" article, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy told ITAR-TASS the next day that Russia strictly adheres to international agreements and has not conducted nuclear weapons tests on Novaya Zemlya. The spokesman added that the article is a "political act," which he put into the context of the "complicated struggle" in the U.S. over the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. "The Washington Post" had quoted U.S. senior officials as saying that Moscow carried out two tests last month in the Arctic but that U.S. monitoring equipment could not determine the exact nature of those tests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). It also reported, however, that U.S. surveillance satellites have recently observed at Novaya Zemlya the kind of activity that usually precedes and then follows a low- level nuclear test. JC

BOSNIAN SERB PREMIER IN MOSCOW

Meeting with acting Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik in Moscow on 4 October, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov commented that events in Kosova have "complicated a settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Interfax reported. The situation, he continued, could be improved by "appropriate" UN Security Council decisions and by "due respect" for Bosnia's territorial integrity. Dodik also met with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to discuss trade relations. JC




ARMENIA TO DONATE CONCRETE TO TURKEY

Armenia will send two trainloads of concrete to Turkey for reconstruction in the town of Izmit, devastated by an earthquake in mid-August, Interfax reported on 4 October. Immediately after that disaster, Armenia said it would to send rescue teams to Turkey if asked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). LF

INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH OF ARMENIAN INTERIOR TROOPS COMMANDER COMPLETED

State prosecutors have completed their investigation into the death last February of Interior Troops commander Artsrun Markarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 October. No date has been set, however, for the trial of the three men originally charged with Markarian's murder. His two bodyguards, who were arrested and charged with the crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 February 1999), were released from custody in July. LF

RUSSIA AGAIN ACCUSES AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA OF ABETTING TERRORISTS

In a live interview on Russian Television on 3 October, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov argued that it is in the interests of both Georgia and Azerbaijan to cooperate with Russia to prevent Chechnya becoming a hotbed of international terrorism, Turan reported. Ivanov added that Moscow has proof that terrorist groups used Georgia and Azerbaijan for their own purposes." Ivanov said he has informed the governments of the South Caucasus Republics that Russian border services are prepared jointly to resolve the existing problems. On 4 October, Turan cited an article in "Obshchaya gazeta" quoting Federal Security Service sources as claiming that Stinger anti-air missiles were transported via Georgia to Chechnya and portable anti-air systems via Azerbaijan to that republic in late August. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told Turan on 3 October that the report is untrue. He said Chechnya needs Stingers but does not have any. LF

SOME GEORGIAN CLERGY OPPOSE POPE'S PLANNED VISIT

Caucasus Press on 4 October quoted an unnamed representative of the Georgian clergy as saying that several of his colleagues disapprove of Pope John Paul II's proposed visit to Georgia next month. In particular, he said, they oppose the plans for the pontiff to conduct an open-air mass in Tbilisi. A spokesman for the Georgian Patriarchate told the disaffected clergymen that the Patriarchate has no power to change what he termed the "political decision" to invite the pope to visit Georgia. Also on 4 October, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told a news conference in Tbilisi that preparations are under way for the pope's visit, which he termed "a historic event" for Georgia, Interfax reported. LF

ABKHAZ ELECTION, REFERENDUM RESULTS ANNOUNCED

Incumbent President Vladislav Ardzinba was re-elected for a second five-year term on 3 October, garnering 99 percent of the vote, RIA Novosti reported the following day quoting the Abkhaz Central Electoral Commission. There were no other candidates in the ballot. In the referendum on constitutional amendments, which was held simultaneously, 97 percent of the 87 percent of the electorate who participated endorsed the breakaway republic's 1994 constitution. That document defines Abkhazia as an independent, democratic republic. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has lodged an official protest with the Russian State Duma, whose Council sent seven observers to monitor the poll, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking in Tbilisi on 4 October, Georgian President Shevardnadze said that the international community "was not impressed" by the Abkhaz elections. He warned that although Georgia will make every effort to resolve the Abkhaz conflict peacefully, it could still resort to military means to achieve that goal, according to Interfax. LF

SALE OF KAZAKHSTAN'S STAKE IN TENGIZCHEVROIL STILL UNDECIDED

Kanat Bozumbaev, a senior official at the Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Trade, told Interfax on 4 October that the proposed sale of part of the Kazakh government's 25 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture is "a political issue" contingent on implementation of the state budget. Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Toqaev had said in August that Astana might be forced to sell part of its share in that project, but several senior officials had argued that it would be foolish to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August and 3 September 1999). LF

MORE ELECTION-RELATED VIOLENCE IN KAZAKHSTAN...

The office of Daulet Qazybekov, who is a candidate in the 10 October elections to the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, was badly damaged by a Molotov cocktail on 4 October, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. No one was injured. Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission has registered 109 cases of election-related violence since the beginning of the election campaign. LF

...AS INDEPENDENT MEDIA FACE PRESSURE

Police entered the Almaty editorial offices of the independent newspaper "21 vek" on 4 October in what they said was an investigation of the newspaper's tax record, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. The newspaper's bank account has also been frozen. Journalists believe that the move was intended to intimidate editor-in-chief Bigeldy Gabdulklin, who is running as an independent candidate in the 10 October elections. A second journalist who is also contesting that poll, "DAT" editor Sharip Quraqpaev, told RFE/RL that he is encountering problems in getting access to the state-run media. LF

KYRGYZ TROOPS TAKE TWO GUERRILLA BASES...

Kyrgyz government forces on 4 October took the villages of Zardaly and Korgon, the bases of the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas who have been holding 13 hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan since late August, ITAR-TASS reported. The guerrillas retreated toward Tajik territory. Meeting in Bishkek on 4 October with UN Drug Control Program Executive Director Pino Arlacchi, Kyrgzstan's President Askar Akaev said that the guerrilla incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan are the result of closing the road from the Kyrgyz city of Osh to Khorog in neighboring Tajikistan to drug smugglers, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Drug traffickers have been forced to seek alternative routes through Kyrgyz territory. Kyrgyz Security Council Deputy Secretary Askarbek Mameev similarly told Interfax on 4 October that Islamic militants operating in Osh control up to 70 percent of the drugs smuggled through Kyrgyzstan. LF

...AS TALKS ON HOSTAGES' RELEASE CONTINUE

Kyrgyz parliamentary deputy Tursunbai Bakir Uulu told RFE/RL on 4 October that he has met in Afghanistan with leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to which the hostage-takers belong. Those leaders said they are ready to release the 13 hostages held by the guerrillas on condition that Bishkek halts all military action against the guerrillas. Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee Chairman Tursunbek Akunov, who has mediated between the Kyrgyz leadership and the guerrillas, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau by telephone from Pakistan on 2 October that he too is trying to travel to Afghanistan to meet with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to discuss conditions for the hostages' release. LF

TALIBAN ACCUSE TAJIKISTAN OF PROVIDING ARMS TO NORTHERN ALLIANCE

The Taliban Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Kabul on 4 October warning of reprisals against neighboring Tajikistan for its alleged opening of a new route to supply arms to the Northern Alliance of Ahmed Shah Massoud, Reuters reported. The statement claimed that in return for those weapons and other logistical support, the Northern Alliance is channeling vast quantities of drugs into Tajikistan. LF

UZBEKISTAN DENIES ITS PLANES BOMBED TAJIKISTAN

An Uzbek Foreign Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 4 October that the Uzbek government knows nothing about the 2 October incident in which unmarked planes dropped bombs and opened fire on villages in Tajikistan's Djirgatal and Tajikabad regions. At least three people were killed in the attack on Tajikabad; earlier reports had said no one was injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). On 4 October, Kyrgyz presidential press spokesman Kanybek ImanAliyev told RFE/RL that the air raids were undertaken by both Kyrgyz and Uzbek aircraft. LF




REGISTRATION OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER REVOKED

Belarus's State Press Committee has revoked the registration of nine periodicals, including "Nasha svaboda," the successor to the opposition newspaper "Naviny," which closed down following the imposition of a heavy fine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1999), Belapan reported on 4 October. The committee said the registration was revoked because the periodicals failed to produce documents confirming that the appropriate local authorities had approved the location of their offices. Mikhalay Khalezin, deputy chief editor of "Naviny"/"Nasha svaboda," told Belapan that the move is "a pretext to prevent our newspaper from coming out, and one should not look for any legal motive here." JM

GERMAN JUDGES AWARD BELARUSIAN LAWYER HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE

The German Association of Judges on 4 October awarded its human rights prize to Belarusian lawyer Vera Stremkouskaya for "her courage in supporting politically persecuted persons," dpa reported. Stremkouskaya is one of a handful of Belarusian lawyers who defend Belarusian dissidents and oppositionists in court. The Belarusian Justice Ministry has threatened to bar Stremkouskaya from practicing law, while the Belarusian Lawyers' Association has reprimanded her for what it calls her political involvement. JM

BELARUS FAILS TO AGREE ON MONETARY MERGER WITH RUSSIA

Belarusian National Bank head Pyotr Prakapovich said on 4 October that negotiations with Russia's Central Bank on the unification of the Belarusian and Russian monetary systems have failed to yield results, Belapan reported. Belarus had proposed setting up a Currency Council (composed of Russia's and Belarus's Central Banks as well as their Finance and Economy Ministries) as a joint issuing center and gradually making the "Russian non-cash ruble" the union's currency. Russia proposed to make its central bank as the only issuing center and to switch "overnight" to the "Russian non-cash ruble" "within three to five years from now." Prakapovich noted that "it will be very difficult to find a compromise...because there is anarchy in Russia right now and it is difficult for the Central Bank to adopt fundamental decisions." JM

UKRAINE'S PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS SEE ATTACK ON VITRENKO AS THEATENING ELECTIONS...

Following the attempt on Natalya Vitrenko's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999), other presidential candidates have commented on the incident and its possible consequences. Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz rejected allegations that he had anything to do with the attack, saying the incident was linked to "plans of the present regime to introduce a state of emergency and thwart the elections at any cost." Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said the attack was intended to "intimidate people" in order to dissuade them from attending campaign meetings. According to Tkachenko, the attack is "advantageous" only for President Leonid Kuchma. Yuriy Kostenko, one of Rukh's two presidential candidates, said the attack will boost Vitrenko's popularity and reduce Moroz's election chances. JM

...BUT KUCHMA VOWS THEY'LL TAKE PLACE AS PLANNED

President Kuchma commented on 4 October that the attack on Vitrenko was a "well-planned provocation" ordered by someone who wants to "exacerbate the social and political situation and derail the presidential elections." He stressed that the presidential ballot will be held on 31 October, as planned. Interior Ministry Yuriy Kravchenko confirmed the same day that the police are searching for Serhiy Ivanchenko, head of Moroz's regional election staff in Kryvyy Rih, who is suspected of masterminding the attack. Meanwhile, doctors at the hospital at which Vitrenko is receiving treatment said on 3 October that her life is not threatened (see also "End Note" below). JM

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN ESTONIA

During his state visit to Estonia on 4-5 October, Valdas Adamkus focused on improving bilateral ties and promoting Baltic cooperation at meetings with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, and parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi, ELTA and ETA reported. During a press conference held by the two presidents, Adamkus stressed that there is "healthy competition" between the two states, while Meri said that the three Baltic countries are integral parts of Europe and should become equal members of "the European community." Meri also suggested that "Eastern Europe begins at the eastern border of Estonia." MH

LITHUANIAN EX-PRESIDENT LEADS ANTI-WILLIAMS CAMPAIGN

Former President Algirdas Brazauskas, along with a group of scientists and left-leaning politicians, has called on the government to cancel the deal to sell a majority stake in Mazeikiai Oil to the U.S. company Williams International. In an open letter to the government, Brazauskas and the other signatories stressed that the deal may cause "huge damage to Lithuania," ELTA reported. Among the signatories were members of the opposition Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party and the Women's Party, former Energy Minister Leonas Asmontas, Vilnius University rector Rolandas Pavilionis, and head of the Lithuanian Energy Institute Jurgis Vilemas. The Lithuanian government and Williams are continuing negotiations, having frequently postponed reaching a final agreement. MH

EU COMMISSIONER BACKS POLAND'S ENTRY IN 2003

Guenther Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, said after his meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek in Brussels on 4 October that the EU will take enlargement decisions in 2002, PAP reported. "I fully support the Polish intention [and] the Polish ambition to become a member of the EU in 2003," Verheugen told reporters. He called Poland's desire to become a full-fledged EU member at the beginning of 2003 a "very ambitious but not unrealistic goal." JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER ANNOUNCES GENERAL PROTEST

Andrzej Lepper, head of the radical farmers' union Self- Defense, said on 4 October that a general protest involving "all social groups" and a "total blockade" of the country will take place in mid-November, PAP reported. According to Lepper, the goal of the protest is the dissolution of the parliament and early elections. He is currently organizing a new political alliance--the Peasant National Bloc "Self- Defense"--as an alternative to Solidarity Electoral Action and the Left Democratic Alliance. With regard to Poland's integration into the EU, Lepper stressed it must be based on partner-like relations. Poland must not be transformed into a "market for the West's production surplus," he added. JM

CZECH TOWN BEGINS PREPARATIONS FOR ANTI-ROMA WALL

A metal fence separating Roma residents from their neighbors was dismantled in the northern Czech town of Usti nad Labem on 4 October to make way for a planned ceramic wall, AP reported, citing local newspapers. The wall is to be completed by the end of October. CTK quoted Roma representatives as saying that the wall is a "concrete expression of the clear persecution of Roma" and "a conscious and planned escalation of tension and confrontation." The regional Board of Romany Representatives said that many Roma are abandoning their homes and emigrating, adding that "it is essential to mobilize all Romany [forces], both at home and abroad, to collectively fight for human and civic rights." MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS AUSTRIAN ELECTION RESULTS "FOOD FOR THOUGHT'

Milos Zeman on 4 October said that the success of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party in the 3 October parliamentary elections demonstrates that a party representing "xenophobic and racialist thinking" can garner serious support even in one of the most [economically] prosperous EU countries. This, he added, must be "food for thought" for all democratic politicians, CTK reported. Parliamentary chairman Vaclav Klaus said that the Austrian "grand coalition" has lasted for too long. "The Austrians wanted a change and they implemented it," he said. Freedom Union deputy chairman Petr Mares said the attempt in Austria to "limit the electoral system to a two-party system...pushed 27 percent of Austrian voters" to the far- right. This should be "a warning" for the Czech Republic, where a similar process is ongoing and where "we have the Communist chairman Miroslav Grebenicek instead of [Joerg] Haider," he noted. MS

MECIAR'S SECRECY OATH ABROGATED

Slovak Counter Intelligence (SIS) chief Vladimir Mitro has annulled former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's secrecy oath, thereby enabling him to give testimony on the role played by former SIS chief Ivan Lexa in the 1995 abduction of ex-President Michal Kovac's son, CTK reported on 4 October. Meciar has repeatedly said that the investigation into the abduction is illegal and unconstitutional and that he will begin a hunger strike if forced to testify. Lexa's former deputy, Jaroslav Svechota, who confessed to involvement in the abduction, said earlier this year that Meciar was the "architect" of the abduction. MS

BELGIAN AUTHORITIES TO DEPORT SLOVAK ROMA

As of 5 October, the Belgian authorities are to deport Slovak Roma whose applications for political asylum have been rejected, SITA reported. Deputy Prime minister in charge of minority issues Pal Csaky said on 4 October that the cost of flights from Brussels will be covered by a Slovak fund supporting Roma. He said transportation by land would not be cheaper because "escorts" would have to be provided and "some Roma could get lost on their way home, which would be embarrassing." Csaky rejected human rights organizations' criticism of the decision to deport the Roma, saying that the step is in line with Belgian laws and international conventions. MS

HUNGARIAN PARTIES REACT TO AUSTRIAN ELECTIONS

The opposition extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) has expressed satisfaction with the Freedom Party's success in the 3 October Austrian general elections. MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori said that Joerg Haider's party deals with genuine problems, such as globalization and international migration, and that MIEP's answers to these questions are very similar to those offered by the Austrian party. Istvan Simicsko of FIDESZ said the Austrian right- wing success "gives pause for thought from the point of view of Hungary's accession to the EU." Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs expressed concern over Austria's reputation abroad and said he doubts the country will have a stable government. MSZ




TRUCK DRIVER FROM FATAL ACCIDENT IN SERBIA FOUND

The driver of the truck involved in the 3 October road accident involving members of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has been found, Reuters reported on 5 October. SPO leader Vuk Draskovic was slightly injured while the other four passengers in the two cars involved all died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). Draskovic and other party members have called the accident an assassination attempt. Draskovic's lawyer, Borivoje Borovic, said no details about the driver are known. He said an investigation will determine if the incident was "an attempted murder or a traffic accident." Memorial services are to be held on 5 and 6 October for those killed in the accident, including Draskovic's brother-in-law. Draskovic called on Serbs to turn out for the funerals. Some observers speculate that the accident was an attempt by the government to silence Draskovic's Studio B TV station, which has been showing extensive footage of the police actions against demonstrators in Belgrade. The station has been jammed continuously over the last month, Assistant Director Milos Rajkovic told the Beta news agency. He said that at times, the signal can be received by only one-third of Belgrade. PB

SERBIAN POLICE AGAIN BLOCK PROTEST MARCH

Serbian riot police once again blocked the route of some 10,000 protesters taking part in an anti-government demonstration in Belgrade on 4 October, Radio Index reported. It was the 14th consecutive day of demonstrations around the country organized by the Alliance for Change (SZP). About 10,000 people were reported to have demonstrated in Nis and some 5,000 in Novi Sad. The Beta news agency reported that 25,000 rallied in the central town of Kragujevac, where SZP leader Zoran Djindjic told the crowd that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "wants to stay in power at any cost and we want to expel him at any cost." In the eastern Serbian town of Bor, the local branch of Draskovic's SPO joined an SZP protest for the first time. Draskovic has called the protests ineffective. PB

UN HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY TO PROPOSE LIFTING OF SANCTIONS

Special UN Human Rights Rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier said in Nis that he will propose that economic sanctions against Yugoslavia be suspended, Beta reported on 4 October. Dienstbier said that "the countries that introduced sanctions against the former Republic of Yugoslavia and bombed it will be responsible for deaths from exposure and starvation" if the sanctions continue. He added that "Milosevic and others [in power] will have enough food and heating." Dienstbier said he will make his recommendation to the UN General Assembly. He also condemned the police actions against demonstrators in Belgrade. PB

SERBIAN DAILY RESUMES PUBLICATION

Following a two-day ban, the Belgrade independent daily "Glas javnosti" reappeared on newsstands on 4 October, Radio B2-92 reported. But Director Slavoljuib Kacarevic said that the newspaper's problems "are not over." He revealed that members of the state "financial police" were stationed in the editorial department and claim to be conducting a secret investigation. Kacarevic added that he signed a police statement declaring he was aware of his responsibility "regarding any possible and existing objection to our work." In other news, Yugoslav Telecommunications Minister Ivan Markovic said the state will take steps against media "aggression" in Yugoslavia. He said the rebroadcasting of foreign programs by domestic radio stations is part of this aggression. PB

SERBIA FREES 54 KOSOVAR PRISONERS

The International Red Cross said on 4 October that Serbia released 54 ethnic Albanian prisoners who were arrested in Kosova, AP reported. The prisoners were being held in the Sremska Mitrovica prison in Vojvodina. The chairman of the Serbian Bar Association, Milan Vujin, said that the prisoners were released because "it had been established during the investigation...that there were no conditions for initiating criminal procedures (against them)." The Red Cross said it has access to some 1,900 prisoners who were arrested by the Serbs in Kosova but are now held outside the province. PB

NATO PEACEKEEPERS REMOVE BARRICADES IN KOSOVAR TOWN

International peacekeepers in Kosova (KFOR) removed a barricade on a highway near the town of Kosova Polje on 5 October, Reuters reported. KFOR said it had met all Serbian demands--including the doubling of the number of troops in the mostly ethnic-Serb town and stationing more police there- -before removing the blockade. KFOR also removed a blockade set up by ethnic Albanians some 300 meters from a Serbian blockade. It had warned both sides the previous day that it would remove the blockades if they were not taken down voluntarily. PB

KFOR SPOKESMAN CRITICIZES THACI

KFOR spokesman Roland Lavoie said on 4 October in Prishtina that remarks made by Kosovar Albanian leader Hashim Thaci were "factually incorrect" and "inflammatory," AP reported. Thaci had said the previous day that the newly formed Kosova Protection Corps will be headed by leaders from the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army and will eventually run a military academy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). Lavoie said that the corps must be apolitical, that Thaci will have no influence over the group, and that it will not have a military training academy. In other news, Tanjug reported that some 80 people returned to Kosova from Nis on 4 October. PB

SAKIC TO APPEAL VERDICT

Defense attorneys for convicted war criminal Dinko Sakic said on 4 October that they will appeal the verdict against him, Hina reported. The lawyers said the verdict delivered by the presiding judge, Drazen Tripalo, was "vague and too general." Tommy Baer, the honorary chairman of the B'nai B'rith organization, commended the guilty verdict. He said Croatia has shown "that it does not fear facing its past and learning the lessons from a painful chapter in its history." Baer was invited by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to attend the trial as an international observer. The U.S. State Department also praised the decision, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. PB

SLOVENIA CONCERNED ABOUT MINORITY IN AUSTRIA AFTER ELECTIONS

Slovenian Foreign Minister Boris Frlec said on 4 October that the success of Austria's nationalist Freedom Party in the 3 October elections could cause concern among the Slovenian minority living in Austria's Carinthia region, the Slovenian agency STA reported. Frlec said, however, that he is hopeful that good relations between Ljubljana and Vienna will continue and that the Freedom Party's opposition to further expansion of the EU will not hurt Slovenia's chances of joining the union. PB

DISCORD OVER ROMANIAN-HUNGARIAN 'RECONCILIATION PARK'

Romanian Premier Radu Vasile will not attend the inauguration of the Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation park in Arad on 6 October and has delegated Deputy Premier and Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica to represent him, Romanian Radio reported on 5 October. No reason for this change of plan was given. Hungarian Radio reported that Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who was also to attend the ceremony, will decide on 5 October whether to be present in view of Vasile's decision. Meanwhile, the Arad local council on 5 October voted against making available the land earmarked for the projected park. MS

ROMANIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC LEADER STEPS DOWN

Sergiu Cunescu, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR), will not seek re-election at the party's congress scheduled for 16 October, Mediafax reported on 3 October. The two main candidates for that post, Labor and Social Protection Minister Alexandru Athanasiu and PSDR first vice chairman Emil Putin, submitted their electoral platform to the party's National Council on 3 October. Putin wants the PSDR to withdraw from the ruling coalition and to resume talks on a merger with the Alliance for Romania and the Socialist Party. Athanasiu opposes forming any alliance before the 2000 local elections and is in favor of the PSDR's continuing membership in the coalition. MS

MOLDOVA TO SET UP ETHNIC BULGARIAN COUNTY

The government on 4 October announced the setting up of a Taraclia county, thereby approving the recommendations of a commission headed by Deputy Premier Nicolae Andronic, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The former Taraclia district became part of Cahul county following the recent local administration reform, prompting protests by its mostly ethnic Bulgarian residents and causing tension in relations with Sofia. Government spokesman Nicolae Chirtoaca said that Premier Ion Sturza is "aware" that the decision will trigger "negative reactions" from some "political formations" wanting to make election capital out of the decision and intending to "use radicalism" for this purpose. He said the new county cannot be viewed as "setting a precedent" because it will not enjoy any sort of "administrative, territorial, cultural, or other form of autonomy." MS

BULGARIAN VICE PRESIDENT THREATENS TO LEAVE RULING COALITION

Vice President Todor Kavaldzhiev says his small Agrarian National Union (BANU) may pull out of the ruling coalition because it is dissatisfied with the role its senior partners have assigned it in the upcoming local elections, AP reported on 4 October, citing BTA. Kavaldzhiev said BANU representatives were placed at the bottom of candidate lists for the 16 October elections and were not included in the electoral commissions that will monitor vote counting. BANU has eight seats in the United Democratic Forces parliamentary group. MS




GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE?


by Jan Maksymiuk

At about 8:00 p.m. on 2 October, two assailants threw two hand grenades into a crowd surrounding presidential hopeful Natalya Vitrenko following a campaign meeting in Inhuletsk, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The blast reportedly injured more than 30 people, including Vitrenko and her aide Volodymyr Marchenko. The motives for the attempt on 48-year- old Vitrenko's life remain unknown. Meanwhile, the incident may have an impact on the election campaign as a whole as well as voters' preferences in the 31 October ballot, given that the public tends to sympathize with the assailed, rather than the assailants.

Vitrenko, the only woman candidate in the 31 October elections, heads the Progressive Socialist Party. In 1996, she quit Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party, accusing Moroz of "bourgeois views." She went on to launch her own party and win 14 parliamentary seats in the March 1998 elections.

Vitrenko's platform for the presidential elections combines fierce populism, nostalgia for the Soviet era, and strong anti-Western sentiments. Polls in Ukraine, which many believe to be unreliable and biased, consistently put her in second or third place, after President Leonid Kuchma and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko. In the mock presidential elections held among more than 100,000 Ukrainian students on 28 September, Vitrenko won 12.57 percent backing to come in second after Kuchma.

It appears that Vitrenko's election appeal is not limited to any specific social or professional group. As the support she won among students shows, her rhetoric is appealing to various social strata. And all press reports about her campaign meetings--regardless of whether reporters are favorable or hostile toward her--underscore the fact that those meetings are usually well attended and animated. Vitrenko is not only a populist but also a popular candidate.

Many Ukrainian commentators have suggested that the presidential administration initially supported Vitrenko's political career and her current presidential bid in an attempt to split Ukraine's leftist electorate--especially that of Moroz--and pave the way for Kuchma's re-election. To support that argument, those commentators note that several months ago Vitrenko was seen on Ukrainian state-controlled television almost every day, while other left-wing leaders were granted only rare coverage. They also believe that in exchange for those official favors, Vitrenko's parliamentary caucus has on several occasions blocked anti-Kuchma legislation in the parliament.

It is revealing that Vitrenko has now virtually disappeared from the state-controlled electronic media. In fact, if the Kuchma-Vitrenko collaboration theory holds water, her disappearance from that media may mean she has already fulfilled her mission of splitting the leftist vote. It may also mean, however, that the presidential entourage senses an "electoral danger" to Kuchma from Vitrenko herself. Some observers have already voiced the opinion that by promoting Vitrenko's political career, Kuchma has let the genie out of the bottle and may now face a powerful challenge from the candidate he apparently wanted to use as a mere tool against his political foes.

The case of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus provides an interesting parallel to that of Vitrenko in Ukraine. In 1993, then Prime Minister Vyachaslau Kebich used Lukashenka, an unknown lawmaker at that time, in the power struggle against Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich. Kebich gave Lukashenka the go-ahead to deliver a parliamentary report on corruption, which resulted in Shushkevich's ouster. But that report simultaneously placed Lukashenka in the nationwide spotlight and made him a popular hero. In July 1994, Lukashenka won a landslide victory on an extreme populist ticket in the country's first presidential elections. Among the losers were both Shushkevich and Kebich.

Moreover, during the 1994 presidential campaign in Belarus, Lukashenka's election team claimed that someone had made an attempt on Lukashenka's life by shooting at him when he was travelling by car to a campaign meeting. Investigators found neither assailants nor convincing evidence that Lukashenka's life had been threatened, but the incident was widely reported. Some commentators continue to assert that Lukashenka staged the assassination in order to boost his popularity. In any case, Lukashenka garnered almost 80 percent support in the 1994 ballot.

The 2 October grenade attack on Vitrenko will likely reinforce her already relatively strong standing as a presidential hopeful and within the political arena as a whole. Simultaneously, it may weaken the position of the incumbent president and, possibly, some other hopefuls. There have already been many allegations and complaints that during the presidential campaign in Ukraine, the authorities have violated election legislation and harassed Kuchma's rivals. The armed attack against one of the candidates will only add to the general atmosphere of distrust, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction in a country plagued by economic inefficiency and endangered by political authoritarianism.


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