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Newsline - October 15, 1999




CONTROVERSY OVER KREMLIN CREDIT CARDS CONTINUES

A Swiss bank official confirmed earlier press reports that his bank provided a guarantee for three credit cards on the order of the construction firm Mabetex for Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his two daughters, AP reported on 14 October. However, the official said that he does not know whether the credit cards were ever issued. Mabetex director Bedget Pakolli told "Moskovskii komsomolets" the previous day that his firm is being used as a "an instrument in a political fight." When asked why documents about the Yeltsins' credit cards were found on his firm's premises, he said that he "has a few theories" but does not want to accuse anyone until he has proof. The Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera" reported earlier that Mabetex provided kickbacks through the credit cards. The presidential press service released a statement on 14 October saying that the president "has never opened any foreign bank account" and "owns no property abroad, nor has he ever owned any." JAC

DEMONSTRATORS IN GROZNY CALL FOR PEACE TALKS...

Some 25,000 people staged a march in the Chechen capital on 14 October to call on the leaderships of both Chechnya and Russia to begin talks on a peaceful settlement of the conflict, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. They adopted an appeal to the UN, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe to "make every effort to prevent the approaching catastrophe," which they said could cost the lives of tens of thousands of people. Speaking in Moscow on 14 October, Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev similarly called for uninterrupted negotiations, pointing out that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov "is facing the armed opposition single-handed." Aushev said that both he and the Ingush people oppose the restoration of the single Chechen- Ingush administrative territorial unit that existed before the summer of 1992. LF

...BUT IVANOV SPELLS OUT CONDITIONS

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in St. Petersburg on 15 October following talks with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer that Moscow is still prepared for dialogue with Maskhadov even though the latter was not elected under Russian law. But Ivanov stressed that the Chechen leadership must first demonstrate its good will by halting combat operations and extraditing terrorists, ITAR-TASS reported (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 41, 14 October 1999). LF

MOSCOW NAMES VICEROY IN CHECHEN LIBERATED ZONE

Russian Deputy Railways Minister Nikolai Koshman, who headed the pro- Moscow Chechen puppet government in 1995-1996, told ITAR-TASS on 15 October that he has accepted the post of Moscow's representative in the "liberated" areas of Chechnya, ITAR- TASS reported. Koshman said his priority is "to inspire faith in people that Russia remembers them [and] to put things in order." He said he will extend assistance to the pro-Moscow Chechen State Council headed by Malik Saidullaev. Saidullaev, for his part, told ITAR-TASS on 14 October he and other council members will leave for Chechnya "soon," once they have received from the Russian government documents confirming the powers of the 1996 parliament. That body's mandate expired in the summer of 1998. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS BLAME CHECHEN MILITANTS FOR EXODUS

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko on 14 October accused the Chechen forces of coercing the civilian population to leave Chechnya in order to create a humanitarian catastrophe, ITAR-TASS reported. Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich on 14 October similarly said that the Chechens are forcing civilians to leave the republic in order to depict federal actions as "barbarous," according to Interfax . LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS CONSOLIDATE CONTROL OF GORAGORSKY

Russian military spokesmen said on 15 October that federal forces have consolidated their hold on the strategic village of Goragorsky, west of Grozny, which Chechen forces abandoned two days earlier. The village commands the main highway from Grozny to Ingushetia. Russian artillery continued its bombardment of Urus Martan, Achkhoi Martan, Assinovskaya, and Bamut on 14 October but did not target the capital. AFP on 14 October quoted Chechen officials as saying that more than 2,000 civilians have been killed since the Russian bombing raids began six weeks ago. LF

YELTSIN DISCUSSES NORTH CAUCASUS WITH MAGOMEDOV, SERGEEV

President Yeltsin on 14 October telephoned Daghestan's State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov to discuss the situation in that republic and in the North Caucasus in general, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, Yeltsin had discussed the situation in the North Caucasus with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. LF

WORLD BANK CHIMES IN ON DEFENSE SPENDING...

The World Bank's Country Director for Russia Michael Carter told Ekho Moskvy on 14 October that a very sharp increase in military expenditure would destabilize the budget and prompt the bank to discontinue disbursements of adjustment loans. Carter added that the bank has found no violations in the use of bridge loans that it has granted Russia. Meanwhile, "Vedomosti" reported the same day that IMF officials are unlikely to be pleased that the government is resorting to mutual offsets in order to clear debts owed to the government by state-controlled enterprises. The IMF demanded earlier that the government resist writing off enterprises' tax debts. The daily noted that "the treasury owes money to enterprises, which, in turn, owe money to the budget--so why not come to terms?" The daily added that because military expenditures are increasing, it is becoming harder "to 'earmark' real money for other affairs." JAC

...AS REPORTS FILTER IN ABOUT SOLDIERS' PAY

Some analysts believe that the costs of the Chechen conflict will not be excessively high. Mikhail Delyagin of Moscow's Institute for Globalization Problems told RFE/RL that "the Russian armed forces will just do what they know how to do--scrimp and save on the backs of Russian soldiers." Delyagin wrote earlier that soldiers in Chechnya have not been paid for a month. Colonel General Georgii Oleinik told "Krasnaya zvezda" on 14 October that pilots who have been flying bombing missions over Chechnya have received their pay neither regularly nor on time. However, Oleinik, who is head of the Defense Ministry's military budget and finance department, pledged that "from this month pilots will receive everything they should get on time." JAC

GOVERNMENT LOOKING TO OIL SECTOR TO HELP WITH CHECHNYA?

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called on the government to increase its oversight of the country's oil and gas sector. Addressing the cabinet on 14 October, he said that "it is impossible to explain to any reasonable person why Russia, an oil-producing country, is witnessing a 50 percent growth in petrol prices this year," according to ITAR-TASS. Putin also noted that fuel deliveries to security agencies have been reduced five-fold, according to Russian Public Television. "Under the current circumstances, our military group in the North Caucasus has to suffer, while it is honorably fulfilling its duty before the country," he said. "Vremya MN" noted earlier that the government may try to raise revenues for military spending by increasing taxes on oil exports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1999). JAC

VASILIEV RESIGNS FOR GOOD

Dmitrii Vasiliev, head of the Federal Securities Agency, told reporters on 15 October that he has tendered his resignation to the president and Yeltsin has accepted it. Vasiliev resigned earlier this year to protest what he saw as errors in the way the government of former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov government was handling the country's economic crisis, but his resignation was not accepted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1998). Vasiliev said he plans to set up a non-governmental system for protecting investors on Russia's stock exchange. He added that the system would include legal representation and organizational support, according to Interfax. JAC

COMMUNISTS SAIL THROUGH REGISTRATION...

The Central Election Commission on 14 October registered the party list of the Communist Party (KPRF) for the upcoming elections to the State Duma. According to "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 15 October, the list contains 255 names; the commission crossed nine names off the list for providing false information about their property, including that of actress Elena Dropenko. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that some of the candidates of the "party of the people" seemed to have cars of people with means. For example, Nikolai Laikhes, a candidate on the Volga-Caspian list, owns two Zhigulis, one Volga, and one Jeep Grand Cherokee, while Yevgenii Marchenko, a candidate from the Kuban-Don group, falsified sale documents for his Mercedes-500. JAC

...AS YABLOKO PREDICTED TO HAVE PROBLEMS

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 14 October that questions have been raised about the information provided on vehicle declaration forms by candidates on Yabloko's list--even among the top three candidates, according to ITAR-TASS. Our Home Is Russia leader Viktor Chernomyrdin predicted the same day that the commission will not delete one name from his party's list since that list had been prepared with great care. JAC

NIZHNII NOVGOROD FAILS TO MAKE EUROBOND PAYMENT

The city of Nizhnii Novgorod has technically defaulted on an interest payment on its Eurobond, after failing to persuade bondholders to approve a debt restructuring plan, Russian media reported on 14 October. This is the first case of a Russian municipal government's default, technical or otherwise, on a Eurobond payment. The interest payment on Nizhnii Novgorod's five-year, $100 million bond had been due on 3 October, after which the city had a 10-day grace period to make the payment (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 6 October 1999). However, at a meeting in London on 13 October, support for the Nizhnii restructuring plan among creditors fell just short of the required 75 percent, according to Interfax on 14 October and "The Moscow Times" the next day. Talks between the region's representatives and bondholders are to continue on 21 and 22 October. JC

NEW CANDIDATES TO VIE FOR POSTS IN MOSCOW

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 14 October that he will run for the post of governor of the Moscow region instead of seeking a seat in the Duma from a single-mandate district in St. Petersburg. Seleznev, who is number two on the KPRF's party list, would have had to compete in St. Petersburg against former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who is number two on Yabloko's party list. Duma Deputy and former head of the Our Home Is Russia faction Aleksandr Shokhin told "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 October that Seleznev had analyzed his falling ratings and realized that he could lose against Stepashin. The same day, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko submitted the necessary documents to run for mayor of Moscow. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak has decided to run again for his old post and not for a seat in the Duma. JAC

STAND-OFF ENDS AT VYBORGSKII PAPER MILL

Justice Ministry troops left the premises of the Vyborgskii paper mill in the late afternoon of 14 October, some 15 hours after they had stormed the administration building and held eight members of the factory's strike committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October). Before their release, the eight were charged with resisting the authorities, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported the next day. According to the newspaper, Aleksandr Sabadash, who was appointed by the mill's British owners as director of the factory, was beaten up by workers who had rushed to the scene when the Justice Ministry troops entered the mill. ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 14 October that the Leningrad Oblast Prosecutor's Office has launched criminal proceedings over the strike committee's failure to comply with a May 1998 ruling that the mill's British owners be allowed to assume control of their property. JC

MOSCOW, TRIPOLI SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Citing Libyan state television, AFP reported that Libyan Energy Minister Abdullah al-Badri and visiting Russian Deputy Minister Ilya Klebanov signed an economic and trade cooperation agreement in Tripoli on 14 October. The news agency gave no further details of that accord. The previous day, Klebanov handed over to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi a message from President Yeltsin stressing Russia's desire to resume relations with Libya and create new opportunities for cooperation. Klebanov is in Libya until 16 October on a visit that ITAR-TASS, citing Russian Defense Ministry sources, reported is aimed at boosting military-industrial relations between the two countries, particularly in aviation. JC




ARMENIAN NATIONALIST PARTY WARNS AGAINST KARABAKH CONCESSIONS

Hrant Khachatrian, one of the leaders of the hard-line Right and Accord parliamentary bloc, warned Armenian President Robert Kocharian on 14 October not to agree to any peace deal that does not provide for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to become fully independent or be unified with Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Khachatrian warned that if Kocharian does agree to major concessions he may share the fate of his predecessor, Levon Ter-Petrossian, who was forced to resign in February 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1998). Right and Accord, which has eight seats in the parliament, is backed by former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. LF

MOVEMENT IN SUPPORT OF FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT GAINS MOMENTUM

The committee to protect the rights of exiled former President Ayaz Mutalibov has collected 150,000 signatures in support of its demands to allow him to return to Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 14 October, citing the daily "Yeddi gun" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 35, 2 September 1999). Committee chairman Abdul Mahmudov said that on average its members collect an additional 10,000 signatures a day. The present Azerbaijani authorities have accused Mutalibov of theft of arms and ammunition, instigating and participating in mass public disturbances, and complicity in the alleged coup attempts against President Aliyev in October 1994 and March 1995. LF

FOUR UN HOSTAGES RELEASED IN WESTERN GEORGIA

The unidentified gunmen who seized six UN observers and their interpreter in the Kodori gorge on 13 October upped their ransom demand from $200,000 to $250,000 on 14 October and threatened to shoot one of their captives. Later, however, they unconditionally released four of the hostages. Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania said on 15 October that no ransom had been paid and that he is sure the remaining hostages will soon be freed. He added that the gunmen are negotiating security guarantees with the Georgian leadership, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION QUERIES OFFICIAL POLL RETURNS

Opposition candidates continue to complain to the OSCE monitoring mission of irregularities during the 10 October election to the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, Reuters reported on 14 October. The agency quoted an OSCE spokesman as saying the mission has "serious concerns" about the validity of the results in the three districts of Almaty. Petr Svojk, who heads Kazakhstan's opposition Azamat (Citizen) Party, told Reuters that the preliminary results are "a catastrophe for democracy in our country." According to the outcome of the party list vote, Azamat failed to overcome the 7 percent threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation. Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin said the voting procedure was more democratic than during the January presidential poll but that the voting tallies are being revised to ensure that the leadership's "favorite" candidates receive parliamentary mandates. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT COMPLETES CABINET RESHUFFLE

Nursultan Nazarbaev on 14 October appointed Vladimir Shkolnik as minister of industry, trade and energy, and Nikolai Radostovets as minister of labor and social protection, Interfax reported. The agriculture, justice, and interior ministers retained their posts in the new cabinet. Nazarbaev began a short vacation later the same day. LF

NEGOTIATOR SAYS ONE KYRGYZ HOSTAGE KILLED...

Kyrgyz parliamentary deputy Tursunbai Bakir Uulu, who recently secured the release of five of the 13 hostages seized by guerrillas in southern Kyrgyzstan in late August, told journalists in Bishkek on 14 October that the guerrillas had killed one of the Kyrgyz hostages before 4 October, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He did not give the name of the hostage allegedly killed. Bakir Uulu advocated talks between the Uzbek government and the opposition Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, to which the hostage-takers reportedly belong. He also said that the Japanese government should accede to the kidnappers' demand to send a representative to negotiate terms for the release of the four hostage Japanese geologists, whose lives he said are in danger. LF

...AS GUERRILLAS' LEADERS THREATEN REPRISALS

Bakir Uulu brought a further message, dated 6 October, to the Kyrgyz authorities from the leadership of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan announcing its decision to release the hostages in stages and to declare a unilateral cease-fire. The statement threatened reprisals against Kyrgyz leaders who cooperate with the "dictatorial regime" of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. LF

DEMANDS ON KYRGYZSTAN'S BUDGET MULTIPLY

In his annual address to the parliament on 14 October, Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev vowed that the government will pay all wage and pension arrears before the end of 1999, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. He said that the guerrilla incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan over the past two months and the military response to that threat have cost a total of 200 million soms (about $5 million) and that 1.5 billion soms must be spent on national security over the next four years. The previous day, Finance Minister Sultan Mederov told a cabinet meeting that the draft budget for 2000 must be amended to provide an additional 200 million soms for the newly created Batken Oblast. He estimated wage costs for the region's 160 administrators alone at 12 million soms. In addition, Kyrgyzstan must repay some $80 million next year on loans from Russia and international financial organizations. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION MAY SUSPEND COOPERATION WITH GOVERNMENT

United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri told journalists in Dushanbe on 14 October that the UTO may suspend its participation in the work of the National Reconciliation Commission to protest the authorities' restrictions on opposition activities, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Nuri said that at a meeting the previous day, he had handed to President Imomali Rakhmonov documentation proving that local administrators had violated the election law by preventing three opposition politicians from collecting the required number of signatures to register their candidacy in the 6 November presidential poll (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 October 199). Nuri urged Rakhmonov to ensure that the poll is democratic. Also on 14 October, a group of investigators from the Dushanbe branch of the Tajik Interior Ministry were subjected to artillery fire in the capital, ITAR-TASS reported. Six police officers were wounded in the ensuing shootout. LF




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ALLIANCE PICKS TWO CANDIDATES

The presidential election alliance of Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko agreed on 13 October that Oliynyk and Tkachenko will support Moroz in the 31 October ballot and that Marchuk will run independently, Interfax reported on 14 October. However, it is unclear from that agreement whether the four will eventually pick a single candidate. According to Tkachenko, the alliance wants to ensure greater security for its members and will make a "final decision" on a single candidate closer to the election day. Tkachenko expressed the view that three candidates will "doubtless" withdraw from the race. And according to Marchuk's aide Anatoliy Murakhovskyy, "there is hope" that the four will field a single challenger against incumbent President Leonid Kuchma. JM

OCTOBER POLLS SHOW KUCHMA, VITRENKO IN THE LEAD

In a poll conducted by Socis Gallup from 30 September to 12 October among 1,200 Ukrainians, 43 percent of respondents said they will vote for Leonid Kuchma. Natalya Vitrenko received 20.9 percent support, Petro Symonenko 14.8 percent, Oleksandr Moroz 8.1 percent, and Yevhen Marchuk 5.2 percent. In a poll carried out from 1-8 October by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies and the Social Monitoring Center among 3,076 Ukrainians, Kuchma received 33.6 percent support, Vitrenko 15.8 percent, Symonenko 13.6 percent, Moroz 8.2 percent, Marchuk 5.2 percent, and Tkachenko 4.9 percent. JM

UKRAINE CRITICIZES PACE REPORT ON ELECTION CAMPAIGN

The Foreign Ministry on 14 October criticized a report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the presidential campaign in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1999), Interfax reported. "Perhaps the conclusions of the PACE rapporteurs would have been more consistent and objective if [the rapporteurs] had stayed in Ukraine for a longer period and not turned down proposed meetings with the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the State Tax Administration," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. JM

UKRAINE REPORTS SLOWER RATE OF ECONOMIC DECLINE

The State Statistics Committee on 14 October reported that Ukraine's GDP shrank 1.7 percent in January-September 1999, compared with the same period last year. The country's GDP fell 2.9 percent in the first eight months of 1999, but in September it was up 4.6 percent, compared with September 1998. JM

OSCE CHAIRMAN URGES DIALOGUE IN BELARUS

OSCE rotating Chairman Knut Vollebaek has called on the Belarusian authorities to take the necessary steps to resume talks between the government and the opposition, Belapan reported on 14 October. According to Vollebaek, the authorities should meet the following conditions for continuing a dialogue with the opposition: clarify the disappearance of opposition activist Viktar Hanchar, release former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, and stop oppressing the independent press. Meanwhile, the opposition is preparing a "freedom march" in Minsk on 17 October as a show of popular support for political dialogue in Belarus. The authorities have refused to allow the opposition to hold the march in downtown Minsk. Instead, the march will take place at a location far removed from the city center. JM

TURNOUT HIGH IN EARLY VOTING FOR ESTONIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS

Officials have announced that from 11-13 October, the period of early voting for the local elections, 9.3 percent of voters cast their votes. Over those three days, 85,829 citizens (representing 10 percent of eligible voters who are citizens) and 11,370 non-citizens (representing 5.8 percent of eligible voters who are not citizens) cast their votes. Non-citizen permanent residents are allowed to vote in the local elections. The main voting day is 17 October. Meanwhile, a Tallinn court is planning to fine 13 parties for failing to provide required documentation on contributions they received Those parties could be fined up to 100,000 kroons ($6,943) each, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. MH

LITHUANIAN BUDGET CUTS APPROVED

The Lithuanian parliament on 14 October voted by 72 to 18 to cut this year's budget by 450 million litas ($112.5 million) to a total of 6.76 billion litas. Opposition Social Democratic parliamentary deputy Aloyzas Sakalas said that "the budget reduction cannot wipe out the principal problems that led the state to [its] current plight," ELTA reported. Other opposition deputies argued the cuts are not enough, suggesting the deficit is already close to 1 billion litas, BNS added. MH

POLAND 'SATISFIED' WITH EU ANNUAL REPORT

Deputy Economics Minister Andrzej Ananicz and Poland's chief EU membership negotiator Jan Kulakowski said on 14 October that they are satisfied with the European Commission's assessment of Poland in its annual report on candidate countries' preparations for membership, PAP reported. "The report suggests that target dates set by the government to end accession talks and join the EU [in 2003] are realistic," Reuters quoted Kulakowski as saying. While praising Poland's economy, the report criticized the slow pace of bringing Polish legislation into line with EU standards and unsatisfactory progress in combating corruption, implementing privatization, and restructuring the country's agricultural, coal mining, and metallurgical sectors. JM

HAVEL SAYS CZECH REPUBLIC NEEDS MAJORITY GOVERNMENT

Czech President Vaclav Havel told journalists after meeting European Commission Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian in Prague on 14 October that the Czech Republic needs a majority government and that both politicians and the public must show greater interest in the process of EU integration, CTK reported. Cibrian informed Havel of the EU's assessment of the Czech Republic's progress toward integration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1999). Havel said the assessment reveals the need to have a "confident and energetic government," which is possible only if the cabinet can "rely on a parliamentary majority." The Social Democrat (CSSD) minority government, he said, "lacks these qualities." Havel also said he doubts whether most Czech politicians and the public understand the "seriousness of the situation" revealed by the EU report. He said the politicians' commitment to EU integration will determine whether the Czech Republic is a "full participant in European integration or whether it remains closed in its sleepy provincialism." MS

CZECH PREMIER RESPONDS TO EU REPORT

Following the release of the EU annual report on candidate countries' progress toward membership, Prime Minister Milos Zeman told journalists on 14 October that "we have no reason for...optimism. A lot of work needs to be done, not only in the field of foreign policy but also in internal matters," CTK reported. The same day, dpa quoted EU commissioner in charge of enlargement Guenter Verheugen as saying that it is "particularly disturbing" that the construction of the wall in Usti nad Labem separating Romany and other citizens "was completed on the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall." "We do not want to see any more walls in Europe," Verheugen told Czech Ambassador to the EU Josef Kreuter. He said he considers the wall to be "a violation of human rights that you are expected to observe." MS

FRENCH FAR-RIGHT LEADER VISITS PRAGUE

Jean Marie Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, told journalists in Prague that "globalization liquidates nations" and particularly those with deep European roots. "That is why it is necessary for nationalists of all countries to unite," he said, adding that he wants a Nationalist International to be set up under the name of "Euronat." Le Pen criticized Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider and Italian post- fascist leader Gianfranco Fini for being ready to betray the nationalist interest by entering coalition governments. He said he considers the Republican Party (SPR-RSP), which invited him to Prague, to be "an equal partner." SPR-RSP leader Miroslav Sladek said he wants to be "Le Pen's good apprentice," CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK CABINET TO BE TRIMMED?

Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) leader and Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told journalists on 14 October that he is "pleased" to see that the Party of the Democratic Left is now also supporting the KDH proposal to reduce the number of ministers in the cabinet. He said that the KDH made the proposal as early as 27 May so that the cabinet would set an example at a time when budgetary cuts are leading to the reduction of the labor force in many areas. Asked whether he would lose his seat in the cabinet as a result of a reorganization, Carnogursky said he does not believe this will happen, since only he represents the KDH in the cabinet. Although Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has returned to the KDH, he is "above all the representative of the Slovak Democratic Coalition," SITA quoted him as saying. MS




KOSOVARS TRY TO STORM BRIDGE IN MITROVICA

Some 3,000 ethnic Albanians on 15 October tried to force their way across the Ibar River bridge that links the Albanian and Serbian parts of Mitrovica, Reuters reported. French KFOR troops and Italian riot police fired stun grenades and tear gas to force the Kosovars back, according to AP. Other KFOR soldiers fired into the air to warn Albanians and Serbs alike to stay back from the bridge. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Ethnic Albanians demand an end to what has become in effect a partition of Mitrovica into a northern Serbian sector and a southern Albanian one. PM

ANNAN CALLS FOR MULTI-ETHNIC KOSOVA

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Prishtina on 14 October that his goal is to promote a multi-ethnic Kosova. He added that the UN is "not here to prepare the people for independence." Local media have recently suggested that the UN will soon share administrative authority with Hashim Thaci of the former Kosova Liberation Army, which seeks independence. Annan is on a Balkan visit that has already taken him to Bosnia. PM

ALBANIA'S MILO WARNS AGAINST NEGLECTING KOSOVA

Foreign Minister Pascal Milo said in Tirana on 14 October that the international community should devote as much energy and attention to the post-war reconstruction and development of Kosova as NATO did to its military action against Serbia in the spring. He also appealed to Kosovars not to engage in violence lest they jeopardize their chances of eventually achieving a political settlement in the province, dpa reported. PM

TURKISH PRESIDENT VISITS KOSOVA

Suleyman Demirel told representatives of Kosova's 60,000 ethnic Turks in Mamusa on 15 October that they should live in harmony with their Serbian and Albanian neighbors. He also visited Turkish troops stationed nearby. Kosova was part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 500 years. Many of the province's ethnic Turks have long resented what they regard as attempts by ethnic Albanians to assimilate them. PM

NEW LICENSE PLATES FOR KOSOVA

UN police began issuing new license plates in Kosova on 15 October. The aim is to control a growing market in stolen cars, AP reported. Most cars have no license plates. Owners often claim that Serbian forces confiscated their license plates and registration papers, but UN officials believe that many cars were stolen in Western Europe or from local Serbs. PM

SERBS MOVE PRISHTINA UNIVERSITY FACULTIES

The Serbian government decided on 14 October to "temporarily" move the Serbian faculties of Prishtina University to northern Mitrovica and Krusevac, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION AGREES ON ELECTION TERMS

Representatives of most Serbian opposition parties signed an agreement in Belgrade on 14 October in which they set down their demands to the government for holding early elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1999). The opposition wants a round- table with the authorities to discuss an early ballot but did not set a deadline for the government to respond. This is the first time in 10 years that the opposition has agreed on a common electoral platform, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said that his Radical Party is willing to discuss key issues with other parties. He did not elaborate. PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT STONED IN NIS

Some 6,000 angry protesters hurled stones at Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in Nis on 14 October. He reopened a bridge damaged by NATO air strikes in the spring of 1999. Milutinovic, who is an indicted war criminal, said "the reconstruction of Serbia does not mean only rebuilding but also making changes. [We need to introduce] a modern market economy and inter-ethnic equality, and to strengthen and develop democratic institutions," Reuters reported. Protesters booed him in June in Nis, which is Serbia's third largest city and an opposition stronghold. PM

UN SAYS NATO CAUSED NO ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE IN SERBIA

Pekka Haavisto, who heads UN environmental investigators in the Balkans, said in Stockholm on 14 October that NATO's spring air campaign did not produce an ecological catastrophe, as the Milosevic regime has claimed. Haavisto noted that Serbia was already a heavily polluted country before the war. He added that previous pollution and the effects of bombing have produced dangerous situations in Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad, and Bor. PM

SFOR PEACEKEEPERS STONED IN MOSTAR

Angry ethnic Croatian civilians pelted an unspecified number of SFOR troops with stones in Mostar on 14 October, injuring four of the soldiers. At least one civilian was hurt, but the circumstances are unclear, Reuters reported. The peacekeepers were searching a weather station, police building, television station offices, and other unspecified sites for illegal weapons. A NATO spokesman said in Sarajevo that "local authorities have consistently failed to tackle illegal activities, making it necessary for SFOR to act in the Mostar area...to ensure the peaceful establishment of a multiethnic and law-abiding community in the Mostar area," AP reported. The spokesman provided no details of the mission. Western Herzegovina, of which Mostar is the main city, has traditionally been the home of the most militant Croatian nationalists in the Balkans. Since 1995, local officials and armed paramilitaries have doggedly resisted the international community's attempts to enable Muslims to return to their homes in western Herzegovina. PM

PETRITSCH CALLS ON BOSNIAN OFFICIALS TO VACATE APARTMENTS

A spokeswoman for the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 14 October that local politicians who live in apartments belonging to other people should vacate the premises. She noted that such a move would demonstrate their personal commitment to respecting the Dayton peace agreement, which guarantees the right of refugees to go home. Petritsch's office receives "daily" complaints from persons wanting to return to their apartments but who are unable to do so because government officials are living in them, she added. The process of enabling refugees to go home would receive a great boost if officials and government workers would set an example, "Oslobodjenje" commented. PM

TUDJMAN SEEKING SPECIAL TREATMENT AT VATICAN?

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has asked that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is the Vatican's "foreign minister," personally administer Holy Communion to him and his party in the crypt beneath St. Peter's when Tudjman visits Italy later in October, "Jutarnji list" reported on 15 October. The Zagreb daily cited "Church sources" as saying that it is not common for visiting foreign dignitaries to "order" a Mass, to specify who is to say it, or to ask for it to be held in the crypt. The Vatican has included a Mass in St. Peter's in Tudjman's schedule "in order not to have a diplomatic scandal," the newspaper added. The schedule does not give any particulars regarding the Mass. Tudjman uses Roman Catholic events for his own political purposes but does not claim to be a religious man. He has long sought to keep the Church from acquiring a voice in politics. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT WANTS MORE TV AIR TIME?

A majority of the members of the government said they oppose Croatian public television's (HRT) rule that news coverage given to individual government officials be counted as part of the air time allotted to their respective political parties. Foreign Minister Mate Granic, who disagreed with his colleagues, said that HRT's policy is fully in keeping with international standards, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. HRT is widely regarded as a mouthpiece of the governing Croatian Democratic Community. PM

CROATIAN OIL COMPANY TO CALL IN DEBTS

The state-owned oil monopoly INA is seeking to call in debts, which now exceed $200 million, AP reported on 14 October. The biggest debtors are the state-owned electric company, which owes $28.6 million, and the Petrokemija plant, whose debts amount to $21.4 million. It is unclear what INA will do if customers fail to pay. The oil company itself has made losses of more than $58 million in the past eight months and has debts amounting to $114 million. PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN CHINA

Andrei Plesu met with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and Foreign Minister Tang Jianxuan in Beijing on 14 October, the BBC reported, citing Xinhua. According to the Chinese news agency, Plesu said Romania "firmly supports" China's position on both Taiwan and Tibet (Plesu had visited the latter before arriving in China). Mediafax, however, quoted him as saying that relations between Romania and China remain good "despite differences." Plesu noted that economic relations are "lagging behind" the two countries' political relations. Plesu and Tang signed an agreement for a "$600,000 non-refundable credit" to Romania, according to Mediafax. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT DECIDES TO COMPENSATE ANTI-COMMUNIST GUERRILLAS

The Chamber of Deputies on 14 October approved a law on the rehabilitation of and compensation to those who used military means to resist the Communist regime. Under the law, that compensation will be equal to that received by those who were political prisoners under communism. The law was drafted by 17 deputies representing the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic and has still to be approved by the Senate. Observers note that the law is controversial because many anti-Communist guerrillas of the late 1940s and the 1950s were Iron Guard members or sympathizers. Persons (or their descendants) eligible for compensation must first apply for rehabilitation. If they are rehabilitated, all confiscated property must be returned to them (or their descendants). Those executed or killed in prison after being captured are to be granted the title of "Martyr-Hero." MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OKAYS INITIATIVE TO AMEND CONSTITUTION

The Constitutional Court on 14 October ruled that the initiative of 39 parliamentary deputies to amend the basic law is in accordance with constitutional provisions, Infotag reported. Under existing legislation, the initiative can be moved in the legislature six months after the court's ruling. The aim of the initiative is to stop President Petru Lucinschi's drive to switch to a presidential system by strengthening the powers of the government. The proposed amendments stipulate that the government will have the right to ask the parliament to pass legislation under emergency procedure. In addition, the parliament will be able to grant the government temporary legislative powers. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS COUNTRY MAY HAVE TO AMEND CONSTITUTION

Addressing the parliament on 14 October, Ivan Kostov said Bulgaria may have to amend its constitution "because some of its provisions do not allow access to the EU," AP and BTA reported. Kostov did not specify which articles of the basic document must be amended, but earlier he had suggested that it may be necessary to strike the provision forbidding the sale of land to foreigners. Kostov added that the problem of the Kozloduy nuclear plant will have "to be sorted out" with the EU, saying "we have no option..., we must not miss this chance." MS




AUSTRIA'S EX-COMMUNIST NEIGHBORS RESPOND TO HAIDER'S ELECTORAL SUCCESS


by Michael Shafir

The electoral success of Joerg Haider's far-right, populist, and xenophobic Freedom Party in Austria's 3 October parliamentary elections triggered different reactions from that country's former communist neighbors.

Only Istvan Csurka, leader of Hungary's Justice and Life Party, dared go as far as to openly voice satisfaction, saying he was "delighted" with the results because "all nations have a right to defend their own living space and their particular way of life against foreigners." In this context, Csurka used the Hungarian equivalent of the Nazi term "Lebensraum," for which he had been harshly criticized in the past. And he suggested that the Austrian elections might foreshadow Hungary's future political scene, in which "the liberals could be swept out from the parliament."

The event was ignored by like-minded parties elsewhere in the region. In Slovakia, the National Party (SNS) was preoccupied with an internal power struggle that saw its former leader, Jan Slota, replaced by Anna Malinkova, a woman--the ultimate insult to the macho Slota. But as the daily "Pravda" remarked on 6 October, Malinkova is much closer to Haider than the coarse Slota ever was. And like Haider, she will probably embark on a process of making the party's image more sophisticated, while conserving its ultra- nationalist, anti-minority, and anti- European integration postures.

In the Czech Republic, the anti-German postures of Miroslav Sladek's Republican Party (SPR-RSC) would not allow that group to display pro-Haider sympathies. After all, the SPR-RSC was dealt a serious blow when it was revealed that, its rhetoric notwithstanding, the party had been financed from the purse of the German ultra-right Republicans. At the time of the Austrian elections, the SPR-RSC was preparing for a visit by the leader of France's National Front chairman, Jean Marie Le Pen, which began on 14 October.

Haider's rhetoric against European integration (or, as Csurka calls it, his "anti-globalism"), his insistence on property restitution to German-speakers forced to leave Austria's neighboring countries, and his demands that the status of the largely insignificant German minorities there be improved are reason enough to make those countries' governments apprehensive. Even without Haider, those countries' relations with Vienna are strained: Austria threatens to veto EU accession unless the controversial nuclear plants at Krsko (Slovenia), Temelin (Czech Republic), and Mochovce and Jaslovske Bohunice (Slovakia) are immediately shut down. And there is also the problematic issue of the 1945 Benes decrees, which an Austrian government that includes the Freedom Party would pursue far more rigorously than has been the case to date. Indeed, on 13 October, in London, Haider said the Czechs' admission to the EU could not proceed before they abrogated those decrees.

Just as applause for Haider came only from Budapest, so did the strongest criticism. Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 6 October said that Haider's position against EU enlargement "is in conflict with Hungary's own interests." "To put it bluntly," he continued, "we are interested in an Austrian government coalition made up of parties...supporting Hungary's EU membership."

Reactions from Slovenia were initially more restrained. Foreign Minister Boris Frlec on 4 October said he feared the elections "could have awe-inspiring consequences, particularly for the Slovenian ethnic minority" in Austria. But two days later, Premier Janez Drnovsek expressed the hope that Haider may "turn out to be more pragmatic and reasonable than the initial impression suggests." By 12 October, however, Deputy Foreign Minister Franko Juri was calling Haider's post-electoral statements on Austrian-Slovenian relations "blackmail."

Intimidated by the prospect of an Austrian veto against its EU membership, Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jan Figel on 5 October said he does not expect Haider to enter the government but Bratislava "will discuss [contentious issues] with any democratically elected government." Jaroslav Volf, leader of the Social Democratic Party had said the previous day that Haider's electoral success "could not please him" but it at least demonstrated that "political extremism does not apply to Slovakia alone."

The bluntest comment came from Estonia. Alluding to criticism of his country's treatment of the Russian minority, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves commented on 11 October that "if a political force similar to the Freedom Party had come second in elections in Estonia, one can well imagine what a row the OSCE would have made."

In the Czech Republic, there was unexpected "fallout" from the Austrian elections. On 4 October, Premier Milos Zeman remarked that the vote demonstrated that a party advocating "xenophobe and racialist moods" can garner serious support even in an economically prosperous country and that this was "food for thought." Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Petr Mares volunteered the comment that a de-facto two-party coalition has also emerged in the Czech Republic and that, as in Austria, this may push the electorate to support a radical alternative. Only in the Czech case, Communist leader Miroslav Grebenicek would play the role of Haider.

Mares's ideas were unexpectedly embraced by Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus. He said that the elections' outcome demonstrated that Austria's 13-year-old "grand coalition" of the Social Democratic Party and People's Party has "lasted too long." While refraining from criticizing the results, Klaus was ready to use them to embark on ending a partnership that was only 16 months old but, doubtless according to his viewpoint, has also "lasted too long."

The minority government of the Social Democrats has been ruling by the grace of the ODS. That grace's time is now up. Vienna politics have thrown Prague politics into turmoil, but not for the first time in history. And that, to quote Zeman, is indeed "food for thought."


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