Accessibility links

Newsline - October 18, 1999




RUSSIAN TROOPS HALT ADVANCE ON GROZNY...

Russian forces on 15-16 October reinforced their positions along a ridge of high ground south of the Terek River that overlooks Grozny. That move came in preparation for the next phase of operations, in which Interior Ministry forces are to play a major role, Interfax reported on 17 October, quoting Colonel- General Viktor Kazantsev, who commands the Russian forces in the North Caucasus. Kazantsev declined to confirm that the second phase will constitute a full-fledged assault on Grozny. He also said in Vladikavkaz on 16 October that the Russian troops are not targeting Chechen villages but are simply aiming to "destroy bandits." He added that "we do not reject...talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom we have always respected, and we shall prepare for such talks in the near future," Reuters reported. Meanwhile Russian air and artillery attacks on targets around Grozny continued on 15-17 October. LF

...AS PUTIN AGAIN DEFINES AIMS OF WAR

Speaking on Russian Television on 17 October, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, too, denied that Moscow is preparing "a large-scale military action with tank attacks and the storming of towns," Reuters reported. He said Russia's tactics are aimed at keeping both Russian military and Chechen civilian casualties to a minimum. Putin expressed confidence that Nikolai Koshman, whom President Yeltsin personally selected as his plenipotentiary in Chechnya, will succeed in coordinating efforts to revive the economy of the three Russian-controlled districts of northern Chechnya and create acceptable social conditions for the population there, including paying wages and pensions. Putin had introduced Koshman, who has the rank of a deputy prime minister, to cabinet members the previous day, according to Interfax. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT UNDER PRESSURE

Maskhadov told a press conference in Grozny on 17 October that as president he favors peace talks with Russian leaders in order to prevent people being killed, AP reported. But Maskhadov added that Russian politicians, whom he did not name, and some Chechen generals interpret his offers of peace talks as a sign of weakness. Maskhadov said that the Russian Defense Ministry is concealing the extent of Russian military losses in Chechnya, which he estimated at 1,500 soldiers and officers. He added that the Chechens have lost 32 fighters. Moscow claims that 2,500 Chechen militants have been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry also claimed on 16 October that field commander Shamil Basaev, former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev have demanded that Maskhadov reintroduce the post of vice president and name former incumbent Vakha Arsanov to fill it, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

FUGITIVES CONTINUE TO LEAVE CHECHNYA

Another 5,000 people left Chechnya for Ingushetia on 15 October, raising the total number of displaced persons in that republic to 148,000, Interfax reported. The total number of fugitives from Chechnya in the Russian Federation is 166,000. In Tbilisi, a spokesman for the State Border Department said that 1,600 Chechen refugees had arrived in Georgia over the previous month. On 15 October, the Russian Defense Ministry estimated that Chechnya's population has sunk to 160,000 from 1.2 million in 1993. "Le Monde" on 18 October quoted a Moscow- based UNHCR official as saying that her office has received $500,000, which is enough to feed 30,000 people for one month, and that the small tents that the organization has supplied cannot be heated in winter. LF

PRIMAKOV'S POPULARITY REPORTEDLY FALLING, TO PUTIN'S ADVANTAGE

The popularity rating of former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov has fallen, according to the government's Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information on 15 October, Interfax reported. According to a poll of 6,000 people two days earlier, Primakov's rating fell from 21 percent to 16.6 percent over the last month, while Prime Minister Putin's rose from 1.7 percent to 13.7 percent. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's rating has also fallen, from 7.2 percent to 4.6 percent. Russian Public Television reported on 16 October that the political council of the Union of Right Forces (CPC) is considering either former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, or Putin as its presidential candidate. CPC is composed of New Force, Common Cause, Voice of Russia, and Young Russia. JAC

BUDGET TO BE RECONSIDERED THIS WEEK

The State Duma Budget Committee will recommend that the lower house pass the revised 2000 budget in its first reading, committee chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told reporters on 18 October, according to ITAR-TASS. The Duma will consider the budget again on 20 October, according to Zhukov. Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev warned earlier that if the Duma fails to pass the budget by 3 December, it will be unable to take it up again before next March. JAC

WASHINGTON OFFERING MOSCOW 'COOPERATIVE ACTION' OVER ABM...

Speaking on CNN television on 17 October, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that Washington is holding "preliminary talks" with Moscow about "some cooperative action" over the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, AFP reported. The U.S. wants to amend that treaty in order to implement a limited national defense system--a move that Russia has opposed. Albright stressed that Washington is making very clear to the Russians that "any national missile defense system that we would have would not be against them but against those rogue states around North Korea that are our concern." Earlier that day, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," citing unnamed U.S. and Russian officials, had reported that in exchange for Moscow's consent to amend the ABM treaty, Washington is offering financial aid to complete a missile radar system at Mishelevka, some 100 kilometers northwest of Irkutsk. "The Washington Post" also reported that the U.S. may share data from its early warning system. JC

...WHILE MOSCOW HOPING FOR BROAD SUPPORT IN UN

Interfax on 15 October cited a Russian Foreign Ministry statement as saying that Moscow is counting on broad support in the UN to reject U.S. calls for amending the ABM treaty. Three days earlier, according to ITAR-TASS, Russia, China, and Belarus had submitted a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly urging that the 1972 treaty continue to be observed. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement stressed that "if the ABM treaty is violated, all strategic arms limitation talks will make no sense." JC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS LAMENT U.S. SENATE'S REJECTION OF TEST BAN TREATY...

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told U.S. Secretary of State Albright in a 16 October telephone conversation that the U.S. Senate's refusal last week to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will create "serious problems" for the progress of the disarmament process as a whole, Russian media reported. Russia has not yet ratified the test ban treaty. The previous day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, describing the U.S. Senate's move as "very bad," commented that the Americans have gone on a "militarist spree": "They bomb [Iraq], then they raze Yugoslavia through air strikes, now they are trying to resume nuclear tests and are ready to violate the ABM Treaty." And State Duma speaker Seleznev remarked that the U.S. Senate's move will "negatively affect" the issue of START-2 ratification. JC

...AS POSPELOV SUGGESTS DUMA UNLIKELY TO DEBATE TREATY SOON

Acting head of the State Duma Defense Committee staff Vasilii Pospelov is quoted by the 16 October "Moscow Times" as saying the lower house of the Russian parliament is unlikely to agree to discuss the test ban treaty "any time soon." He said that he believes the Duma will not begin debating that document until after it deals with START-2. Also on 16 October, Sergei Markov, director of the Moscow-based Political Studies Institute, told Interfax that the U.S. Senate's rejection of the test ban treaty may encourage Russian sales of nuclear technologies, such as reactors. He added, however, that it would be mistaken to believe that Russia now has the "moral right to continue improving its nuclear armaments." "Russia," he noted, will "hardly [be able to] raise enough funds for such projects" and therefore U.S. ratification would have been "in [Moscow's] interests." JC

YABLOKO REGISTERED FOR ELECTION DESPITE YAVLINSKII OVERSIGHT...

The Central Election Commission on 15 October registered the Yabloko party's federal list for the upcoming State Duma elections. Some nine candidates, including Minister for Nationalities and Federation Affairs Vyacheslav Mikhailov, were removed from the list for supplying incorrect information about their income and property, leaving a total of 165 names, according to Interfax. One member of the election commission voted to exclude Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii because he failed to declare 81,000 rubles ($3,100 at today's exchange rate) of income that he earned last year. Yabloko's press service told "The Moscow Times" that the discrepancy occurred because Yavlinskii did not know that he had been paid for a speech that he failed to deliver because of his heart attack last year. According to the daily, commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that the commission decided "to recognize that the inaccuracy of the information provided by Grigorii Yavlinskii is not of a significant nature." JAC

...AS UNITY ROSTER ALSO GETS GO AHEAD

The commission also registered the electoral bloc Unity (Edinstvo) and confirmed its federal list of 181 candidates, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 October. According to the daily, the list does not include the name of Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, as had been rumored earlier. Seven movements and parties joined Unity. These include the People's Patriotic Party, the Russian Christian Democratic Party, the My Family and Generation of Freedom movements, the All Russia Union for Support of Small and Medium Businesses, the Association of Russian Voters, and Prosperity (Blagodenstvie), according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

DUMA TO FIGHT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BILL

Andrei Loginov, chief of the presidential administration's domestic policy department, told reporters on 15 October that under the presidential election bill recently submitted to the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1999), the next president of Russia will take office on 9 August 2000. Presidential elections will be held on 4 June and a second round, if necessary, on 25 June. Loginov also predicted that at least two groups will oppose the bill in the Duma, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 October. One group, led by Deputy Viktor Sheinis of Yabloko, "regards the existing law as a precious vessel that cannot be shaken and can only be improved delicately," according to Loginov. The other group consists primarily of Communists who oppose any measures proposed by the president. Sheinis was one of the authors of the electoral law adopted in 1995. Duma chairman Seleznev said on 18 October that the lower house will consider the bill in its first reading some time in late October, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

SKURATOV SCORES ANOTHER VICTORY

A Moscow court on 15 October upheld a lower court's verdict that the investigation of suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov is illegal. However, a representative of the Prosecutor-General's Office said that the case will remain open unless closed by the acting prosecutor-general, according to Interfax. The Prosecutor-General's Office announced later that it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

RUSSIAN-GERMAN SUMMIT SCHEDULED FOR EARLY NEXT YEAR

Russia and Germany will hold a summit in Berlin in March 2000, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, announced at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 15 October, at the end of the latter's two-day visit to the northern city. During their talks, the two ministers discussed, among other things, European security and the next month's OSCE meeting in Istanbul, at which a new European security charter is expected to be adopted. Fischer is reported to have expressed concern about the Russian military offensive in Chechnya and, criticizing the U.S. Senate's rejection of the test ban treaty, urged the State Duma to ratify START-2. JC

LUZHKOV TURNS TO LITIGATION

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov has filed suit against Russian Public Television, the host of one of its "analytical programs," Sergei Dorenko, and the magazine "Kult Lichnosti," Interfax reported. Dorenko had reported, citing "Kult Lichnosti," that Luzhkov owns real estate in Spain and had a monument shipped there using Moscow city funds. He also reported that the mayor's personal wealth is estimated at $300-$400 million. Luzhkov announced on 10 October that he urged the Moscow city prosecutor to drop criminal proceedings against Dorenko because he views freedom of speech as "a particularly valuable democratic gain." He added that "I am convinced that in this case the truth must be established in some way other than through criminal prosecution of a journalist." JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CHARGES POWER AGENCIES WITH PREVENTING ELECTION FRAUD

Meeting on 16 October with senior representatives of the Defense, Interior, and National Security Ministries, Robert Kocharian issued instructions to ensure that the 24 October local elections will be completely free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian termed the poll Armenia's final test on the road to becoming a full member of the Council of Europe, saying that the preconditions exist for ensuring that the conduct of the poll is exemplary. Some 200,000 ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan who are not Armenian citizens will not be allowed to participate in the vote, despite a 16 October ruling by the Armenian Constitutional Court that a provision in the election law barring them from doing so is unconstitutional. That legislation will be amended to bring it into line with the Armenian Constitution. LF

DIRECTOR OF MAJOR ARMENIAN PLANT CHARGED WITH MISMANAGEMENT

Gagik Nersisian, director of Armenia's giant Nairit chemical plant, was charged with mismanagement of public funds on 16 October, four days after his detention, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Press reports quote law enforcement officials as saying the charges stem from barter agreements the plant concluded in an attempt to continue operating. Once the foremost producer of synthetic rubber in the USSR, Nairit now owes the state more than $30 million in unpaid taxes and electricity bills. One of the leaders of the small opposition Democratic Fatherland Party, of which Nersisian is a member, told RFE/RL on 14 October that he considers the charges against Nersisian groundless but not politically motivated. LF

AZERBAIJAN DENIES HOSTING CHECHEN INFORMATION CENTER

Russian media allegations that Chechen militants have established an information center in Baku are unfounded and intended to undermine Russian-Azerbaijani relations, a spokesman for Azerbaijan's Security Minister Araz Kurbanov told ITAR-TASS on 15 October. The news agency added that an unofficial Chechen mission in Baku that engages primarily in humanitarian affairs also releases information about events in Chechnya. LF

REMAINING U.S. HOSTAGES RELEASED IN GEORGIA...

Having released four of their hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 15 October 1999), the unidentified abductors who seized six UN officials and their interpreter in western Georgia set free the remaining three UN officials on 15 October after receiving assurances from senior Georgian officials that special forces will not launch an operation to free the captives. Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze said the next day that no ransom was paid for the hostages' release. National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze told the independent Rustavi-2 TV station on 15 October that the hostage-takers belong to a criminal gang and suggested that they were also responsible for a similar abduction last July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 1999). He also expressed his view that the hostage-taking was timed to affect the 31 October elections. LF

...AS GEORGIAN MILITARY ACCUSE THEM OF UNSANCTIONED ACTIVITIES

Two senior Georgian Defense Ministry officials said on 16 October that the helicopter that flew the UN observers to the Kodori gorge where they were kidnapped had engaged in filming unnamed "strategic facilities" in the gorge without the permission of the Georgian authorities, ITAR-TASS reported. Georgian Army Chief of Staff General Djoni Pirtskhalaishvili said the observers were repeatedly told they must inform Tbilisi in advance of any planned flights in the area. On 14 October, a UN political adviser with the observer mission had told ITAR-TASS that Georgia should have taken measures to ensure the observers' safety. LF

OSCE DEPLORES ELECTION VIOLENCE IN GEORGIA...

The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission in Tbilisi issued a statement on 14 October condemning violence during the runup to the 31 October parliamentary elections as "totally unacceptable" and "contrary to both the letter and the spirit of OSCE commitments on free elections," Caucasus Press reported. The statement was pegged to a 10 October firebomb attack on the home of a candidate in Aspindza Raion. The OSCE mission has launched an investigation into that attack. LF

...AS OPPOSITION PROTESTS HARASSMENT

Representatives of the Union of Revival election bloc staged a half-hour silent protest on Tbilisi's main boulevard on 15 October against harassment of its candidates by the Georgian authorities, Caucasus Press reported. Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, head of the Socialist Party, which is one of the Union's five member parties, told journalists that the bloc will not allow the outcome of the poll to be falsified. The Union of Revival is the main challenger to the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia. LF

GEORGIA NOT TO QUIT CIS INTER-PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY

Georgia will remain a member of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, parliamentary deputy Eldar Shengelaya said at a St. Petersburg meeting of the assembly's governing body on 16 October, Interfax reported. President Shevardnadze had said on 11 October that Georgia might withdraw from the assembly after the Russian State Duma sent observers to monitor the 3 October presidential elections and referendum in Abkhazia, which Georgia had termed illegal. The St. Petersburg session adopted a resolution condemning the Abkhaz poll and referendum and calling for the renewal of talks between the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships. LF

LAST GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS PULL OUT OF GEORGIA

The final contingent of Russian border guards previously deployed along Georgia's borders with Russian and Turkey left Georgia on 15 October, ITAR-TASS reported. The withdrawal had been implemented in stages under the terms of an agreement signed last year. LF

PRELIMINARY KAZAKH ELECTION RESULTS ANNOUNCED

Speaking at a press conference in Astana on 17 October, Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Zaghipa Balieva confirmed that in the party-list voting in the 10 October elections to the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament, the pro-presidential Otan party polled 30.89 percent, the Communist Party 17.75 percent, the Agrarian Party 12.63 percent, and the Civic Party 11.23 percent, Reuters and ITAR- TASS reported. Otan thus acquired four of the 10 seats in the lower house allocated under the party-list system, while the remaining three parties got two seats each. Balieva also confirmed that a second round of voting will be held on 24 October in 47 constituencies in which no candidate garnered 50 percent of the vote in the first round. LF

FOUR KYRGYZ HOSTAGES RELEASED

The guerrillas who seized 13 hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan in late August released two of those captives, a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry general and lieutenant-colonel, on 18 October, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Parliamentary deputy Tursunbai Bakir Uulu, who secured their release in talks with the hostage takers, is continuing talks aimed at negotiating the release of the remaining five hostages: four Japanese geologists and their Kyrgyz interpreter. Reuters on 16 October quoted unnamed Kyrgyz government sources as saying that the gunmen are demanding a $2 million ransom for the four Japanese. But Security Council Secretary-General Bolot Djanuzakov said that no ransom will be paid. Bakir Uulu succeeded in freeing five hostages last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 15 October 1999). LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION BODY SUSPENDS PARTICIPATION IN PEACE PROCESS

The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) on 18 October announced that it is suspending its representatives' participation in the Commission for National Reconciliation to protest the authorities' failure to meet its demands, ITAR-TASS reported. In a 15 October statement, the UTO had demanded that an emergency session of the parliament be convened to debate postponing the presidential election scheduled for 6 November, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Three opposition parties had called for a boycott of that poll on the grounds that they were prevented from collecting the required signatures to register as candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 October 1999). The UTO also called for the election of a new Central Electoral Commission that would include representatives of those parties that had proposed presidential candidates, for equal access to state media to be granted all presidential candidates, and for the UN, OSCE, and other international organizations to supervise the elections. LF

...WHILE DISSENTER RULES OUT ELECTION DELAY

UTO First Deputy chairman Akbar Turadjonzoda, who is also Tajikistan's first deputy premier, told journalists on 16 October that the legitimacy of next Tajik president will be open to question if the presidential poll is delayed, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that "most" members of the UTO Presidium do not support the demand for a postponement of the election. Turadjonzoda also argued that the UTO should have made public its objections to the election law last year rather than wait until one month before the poll. Tajikistan's Constitutional Court Chairman Ubaidullo Davlatov issued a statement on 15 October saying that "nobody, neither the president nor the parliament of the republic, has the right to alter the date determined by the Constitutional law on elections and the constitution of the country," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF

TWO SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIALS SHOT DEAD IN TAJIK CAPITAL

A colonel with the Tajik Defense Ministry was shot in the head near his home on the morning of 16 October, Rusian agencies reported. Later that day, a lieutenant-colonel with the Russian Border Guard forces was shot dead in Dushanbe in what Tajik officials said may have been a contract killing. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION STAGES 'FREEDOM MARCH'...

An estimated 10,000-15,000 people took part in a "freedom march" and rally organized by the Belarusian opposition in Minsk on 17 October. The rally was the largest anti-government demonstration in Belarus since spring 1996. Its participants urged President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to resign and demanded that the authorities cease pursuing a union with Russia, release political prisoners, and stop repression against the opposition. Demonstrators burned the text of the draft union treaty and then marched from the city outskirts, where the rally was authorized to take place, to the center. JM

...CLASHES WITH POLICE

On the way to the center, the crowd increased to some 20,000 people and was stopped by riot police 500 meters from the presidential administration building. Police used truncheons, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, who responded by hurling stones and pavement tiles. According to unofficial reports, nearly 150 people were injured in the clashes, including some 50 policemen. The authorities announced on 18 October that 92 people, including Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich, had been arrested. "The action by the Belarusian opposition was earlier planned and financed by the West," AP quoted presidential administration chief Mikhail Myasnikovich as saying. JM

CHORNOBYL TO OPERATE UNTIL SUMMER 2000

A Ukrainian governmental commission on 15 October decided that the Chornobyl nuclear power plant may operate until summer 2000, UNIAN reported on 16 October. Officials pointed out that the plant's nuclear fuel reserves will last until that time. The plant's only operational reactor is currently under repairs and will be restarted in December. JM

UKRAINE BECOMES NONPERMANENT MEMBER OF UN SECURITY COUNCIL

The UN on 14 October voted in favor of Ukraine's becoming a nonpermanent member of its Security Council in 2000-2001. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk commented the next day that the election is proof of Ukraine's "balanced" foreign policy linked with President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax reported. Ukraine competed for the place on the UN Security Council against Slovakia, which withdrew its candidacy during the voting. JM

ESTONIA HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS...

Turnout at the 17 October local elections was 49.4 percent of total eligible voters, down from 52.1 percent in the 1996 local elections and the first time the figure has dropped below 50 percent. Among citizens, turnout was 50.9 percent (or 435,878 voters), while 43 percent (84,379) of non-citizen voters cast their ballot. Turnout was the highest in the rural areas of Polva and Jogeva counties, although that figure did not exceed 55 percent in either district. The lowest turnout was in the city of Tartu, where only 38.4 percent voted. Voter participation in Tallinn was 48.4 percent. However, the regional electoral commission of Kohtla-Jarve annulled early voting from 11-13 October owing to allegations of vote buying--either with money or vodka, the Estonian press reported. Some 700 people had to vote a second time. MH

...WHILE RESULTS INCONCLUSIVE IN TALLINN

The Center Party gained the most seats in Tallinn, winning 21 of the 64 seats in the City Council. The Pro Patria Union came second with 14. This means that no single party has the 33 seats needed to form a majority city administration (the three-party national coalition, led by Pro Patria Union, has a combined 28 seats). The mainly Russian-speaking listing of People's Trust is viewed as the kingmaker, and its leader Sergei Ivanov has said the group is "ready to cooperate with all political groups," "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 18 October. In Tartu, meanwhile, incumbent mayor Andrus Ansip and the Reform Party won 20 of the 49 seats, and the three-party national coalition has 35 of 49 seats in Tartu. Nationally, the Center Party was the most successful party--especially in the cities and industrial northeast. MH

POLISH PREMIER COMPLETES CABINET REVAMP

Jerzy Buzek has submitted a motion to the president on appointing Antoni Tokarczuk minister of environmental protection and Labor Minister Longin Komolowski deputy prime minister, Polish media reported on 16 October. Tokarczuk will replace Jan Szyszko, while Komolowski will take the post of Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Tomaszewski, who was fired in September. Buzek commented that these changes will end quarrels between the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action and the Freedom Union about the government's restructuring. "We will now focus on implementing our program...until the end of the government's term in two years," Reuters quoted Buzek as saying. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION WANTS EVERYONE BUT COMMUNISTS IN GOVERNMENT

Former Premier Vaclav Klaus, the leader of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), proposed on 15 October that a "super-grand coalition" of all parties in parliament, except the Communists, be formed, CTK reported. Klaus ruled out early elections and said his party favors a coalition involving the ruling Social Democrats, the ODS, and the right-of-center Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and Freedom Union. The heads of the Freedom Union and the KDU-CSL, Jan Ruml and Jan Kasl, said the same day that they will participate in such a coalition only if the ODS ends the opposition agreement that allows the minority government of the Social Democrats to rule with ODS support. Klaus has said a new coalition must be formed first. Klaus and Prime Minister Milos Zeman are to meet on 18 October to discuss changes in the government. PB

CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR WALL TO BE KNOCKED DOWN

Vaclav Havel said on 15 October that the wall built last week to separate a mostly Romany housing project from ethnic Czech homeowners must be immediately torn down or the street it runs along should be renamed "Intolerance Street," CTK reported. Havel said the wall, built last week in Usti nad Labem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1999), "has a symbolic importance...as if it grew higher and wider every day, and we will not [be able to] see Europe across it soon. On the contrary, we will be shutting ourselves in stale parochialism." The same day, Walter Schwimmer, the secretary- general of the Council of Europe, called on the Czech government to do everything in its power to have the "wall of shame" brought down. In Beroun, Romany activists said after a meeting of 28 Romany regional leaders that they will organize rallies across the country to protest the wall. PB

VISEGRAD GROUP TO UNITE AGAINST ORGANIZED CRIME

The prime ministers of Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic agreed during a 16 October meeting of the Visegrad group to cooperate in order to combat organized crime, Reuters reported. Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban called the decision "the most important" of the two-day talks in the Slovak resort town of Tatranska Javorina. A commission will be formed to seek ways to prevent cross-border crime. Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek said the Visegrad group was renewed last year to help Slovakia rejoin integration efforts but that now it will act as a bridge between the East and the West. The four premiers also agreed to set up a secretariat in Bratislava to deal with issues related to Roma. The next meeting will be in Prague in 2000. PB

SLOVAK ECONOMY MINISTER MULLING RESIGNATION

Ludovit Cernak said on 15 October in Bratislava that he is considering leaving his post, Reuters reported. Cernak has been criticized by several members of the governing coalition for the long delays in the reprivatization of the gas storage company Nafta Gbely and for a lack of transparency in public tenders. Cernak is one of Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's closest allies. He said he has been made a scapegoat for government problems and that his accomplishments have not been fully recognized. PB

HUNGARY VOWS NOT TO BARTER WITH RUSSIA

After a two-year break, the Hungarian-Russian Economic Cooperation Committee met in Budapest on 15 October and agreed to seek new ways to revive bilateral trade. Hungarian Economics Minister Attila Chikan said after the meeting that "commercial ties must be based on market demands and not on intergovernmental barter deals." Following last year's financial crisis in Russia, trade between the two countries dropped by 26 percent, while Hungarian exports to Russia fell by 70 percent. Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met with Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter to discuss combating money laundering and organized crime. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS COUNTRY READY FOR EU IN 2002

Viktor Orban said in Frankfurt on 15 October that Hungary is at least as ready for EU membership as Greece or Spain were when they were admitted to the union, Hungarian TV reported. Orban said there should be "no obstacle whatsoever to our admission in January 2002." In other news, the government announced a plan to slim down state television, which will result in the laying off of some 500 employees. The broadcaster accumulated a 12 billion forint ($50 million) debt last year. PB




YUGOSLAV PREMIER THREATENS MONTENEGRO WITH ARMY

Momir Bulatovic said in Belgrade on 17 October that "the people" and army will not allow Montenegro to secede from the Yugoslav federation, AP reported. Bulatovic, who leads the pro-Belgrade faction in Montenegro, also called his rivals in Podgorica "cowards and traitors" for failing to resolutely back the Serbian regime in its conflict with NATO this spring. The Montenegrin authorities have frequently said they will hold a referendum on independence unless the Belgrade authorities negotiate seriously about redefining relations between the two republics. PM

MONTENEGRIN REFERENDUM 'SOONER THAN ANYONE EXPECTS'

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Perovic told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 16 October that relations between Belgrade and Podgorica have never been worse. He stressed that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is afraid of the effect on his power of the "Montenegrin model" of democracy and an open economy. Belgrade is unwilling to talk seriously with Podgorica about reforming bilateral relations, he said. Montenegrins are consequently getting impatient, and their government may call a referendum on independence "sooner than anyone expects." It has become more of a danger to Montenegro to remain in the same state as Milosevic than to hold a referendum, Perovic concluded. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION BLAMES REGIME IN BOMBING ATTACK

Unidentified persons set off a bomb at the home of Democratic Party official Nebojsa Andric in Valjevo during the night of 16-17 October. No one was injured. In Belgrade, Veran Batic of the opposition Alliance for Change said that "those who don't want any changes in Serbia...are using terrorist methods to intimidate people and prevent the inevitable, namely the demise of Slobodan Milosevic and his clique," AP reported. Batic added that "the regime is obviously losing its head, it is ready to use any means just to stay in power. We are in a very critical phase [of the campaign to oust Milosevic]..., but all those attempts cannot stop the democratization process in Serbia." PM

SERBIAN MINISTRY FILES CHARGES AGAINST PUBLISHER

The Information Ministry has sued Slavoljub Kacarevic, who heads the printing firm ABC Grafika and publishes the private daily "Glas Javnosti," the Association for Independent Electronic Media in Yugoslavia said in a statement on 15 October. The ministry charged that Kacarevic has violated the draconian press law by publishing without the ministry's permission the opposition daily leaflet "Changes" and reprinting it in his daily. Kacarevic argues that "Changes" is not a periodical but rather advertising and therefore does not have to be registered with the authorities. PM

CITIZENS' ALLIANCE JOINS UMBRELLA GROUP

The Steering Committee of the Citizens' Alliance of Serbia announced in Belgrade on 17 October that it will join the opposition coalition Alliance for Change, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Novi Sad, some 10,000 students and other opposition supporters turned out the previous night for what the organizers called the first day of student protests in Serbia. PM

BELGRADE TO 'CONTROL' USE OF EU OIL

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Nikolic said in Belgrade on 15 October that the authorities will not prevent delivery of heating oil from the EU to opposition-run towns. He added, however, that federal government "will control" how the oil is used, AP reported. He did not specify how Belgrade will do that. The minister added that the municipal governments will not be allowed to charge citizens for the fuel because it is a gift from the EU. He argued that the "selective humanitarian help" would not be necessary if NATO had not bombed Serbia. PM

ALBRIGHT, COOK DENY STORY ON CHINESE EMBASSY BOMBING

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described as "balderdash" a story in the latest issue of London's "The Observer" to the effect that NATO deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May. Speaking to CNN on 17 October, Albright said that "there is information that [the Chinese] were carrying on intelligence activities," but she stressed that the bombing was a "tragic accident." In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that he knows "not a single shred of evidence to support [the weekly's] rather wild story." "The Observer" wrote that the NATO deliberately bombed the embassy because the Chinese were transmitting Yugoslav military communications in return for information about a U.S. Stealth aircraft that crashed on Serbian territory. PM

THREE KFOR PEACEKEEPERS INJURED IN FIRE

Three British soldiers were slightly injured when a blaze that began in a store spread to a former Prishtina television building now housing KFOR troops. The fire began in the early hours of 18 October and quickly destroyed the television building, AP reported. KFOR and UN police are investigating the incident. PM

KFOR SAYS UCK VIOLATED AGREEMENT

NATO peacekeepers said in a statement on 17 October that several members of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) violated the guerrillas' agreement with the Atlantic alliance by appearing uniformed and armed in public. The previous day, 15 UCK veterans wore uniforms of the new Kosova Protection Corps and five wore UCK garb at a gathering of 350 people in Gornje Obrinje to mark the first anniversary of a massacre there. Several of the UCK veterans carried pistols. The KFOR statement stressed: "This gathering is a clear violation of the undertaking for demilitarization and transformation [of the UCK].... KFOR is not going to tolerate such actions of non-compliance. An investigation is under way and subsequent action will be taken as appropriate," the text concluded. PM

KOSOVA'S SERBS TO SEEK OWN 'PROTECTION FORCE'

Momcilo Trajkovic, who is the political leader of Kosova's Serbian minority, said in Banja Luka on 16 October that the Serbs will have to set up their own "protection force" as a counterweight to the UCK-dominated Protection Corps. Observers note that NATO and the UN are likely to consider such a move illegal. Meanwhile in Prishtina, the first 173 graduates of the UN-sponsored Kosova police academy received their diplomas. The class was about 90 percent ethnic Albanian. PM

DRASKOVIC BLASTS ALBANIAN PLANS FOR KOSOVA OFFICE

Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 17 October that Albania is meddling in Serbian affairs and "destabilizing the Balkans" by wanting to open a diplomatic office in Prishtina. He added that setting up such a mission would be a "flagrant violation of international norms." Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said on a two-day visit to Kosova that Tirana wants to open an office in the Kosovar capital, as the U.S. and several other countries have already done. PM

CROATIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT REMAINS IN ZAGREB

The Supreme Court ruled on 15 October that there are no legal grounds why Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic cannot be extradited to The Hague, where the war crimes tribunal has indicted him for atrocities committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Tuta's lawyer says, however, that his client requires urgent heart surgery and is too ill to travel. The Hague court may send its own medical experts to Zagreb to investigate, a spokesman for the tribunal said on 17 October. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER DISMISSES ORPHANAGE PROBLEM

Radu Vasile said on 15 October that the problem of poor conditions at orphanages in his country is "practically solved," Mediafax reported. The problem was cited by the EU last week in its report suggesting that Romania should begin talks on joining the union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1999). Vasile said the only problems Romania still faces in joining the EU are those associated with the ongoing "macrostabilization process" of the economy. PB

INFLATION FEARED AS ELECTRICITY PRICES GO UP IN ROMANIA

The government announced an increase in the price of electricity on 15 October, AP reported. The increase, which was made because of a drop in the value of the lei, means an 8 percent increase in utility bills for the average consumer. National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu advised the government to avoid price hikes in fuel and utilities in the future, saying that such measures will lead to inflation on other consumer goods. Inflation was 39 percent through the first nine months of the year. PB

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT GIVES INITIAL APPROVAL TO LANDMARK BILLS

The parliament on 14 October approved in the first reading a bill stipulating that advertising must be in the country's official language, Infotag reported. Deputy Justice Minister Victor Cretu said the bill aims at ending the "alarming situation" where most of advertising in the media is in Russian. The legislature also approved in the first reading a bill on the prevention and fight against money laundering. The draft law stipulates that banks must inform authorities whenever the suspicion arises that deposits were acquired illegally. MS

BULGARIA'S RULING PARTY SCORES DISAPPOINTING WIN IN LOCAL ELECTIONS

According to preliminary results, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) received 35-45 percent of the vote in the 16 October local elections, RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and AP reported. The ex-Communist Bulgarian Socialist Party is reported to have garnered around 30 percent of the vote, which is more than was predicted. Voter turnout was disappointing, with only some 50 percent of the electorate casting their ballots. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, the head of the UDF, said his party is paying the price for "painful reforms" that included spending cuts, layoffs, and tax increases. The UDF held on to the mayoral posts in both Sofia and Plovdiv, while a UDF candidate in the country's third- largest city, Varna, was ahead but will face a runoff next week. Runoff elections will be held in some 200 municipalities next week. PB




ALBANIA'S RIVAL PARTIES STICK WITH OLD LEADERS


By Fabian Schmidt

Members of the governing Socialist Party of Albania and the opposition Democratic Party have recently re-elected their respective leaders. Last weekend, former Prime Minister Fatos Nano of the Socialist Party defeated his successor in the government, 31-year-old reformer Pandeli Majko. And a week or so earlier, former President Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party fought back a challenge to his party leadership by its former secretary-general, the charismatic Genc Pollo.

Nano and Berisha are bitter rivals who count among the older generation of Albanian politicians. The two are largely responsible for the polarization that has characterized Albanian political life since the end of communism, in 1991- 1992. Their rivalry grew into open personal antagonism after the mid-1990s, when Berisha's government arrested Nano on dubious corruption charges. In the wake of the unrest that spread throughout Albania in early 1997 following the collapse of pyramid investment schemes, Nano managed to escape from prison. He won the elections in July of the same year and became prime minister by presenting himself to the voters as the main challenger to an authoritarian regime. A Tirana court acquitted him of the corruption charges on 5 October 1999.

Berisha, in return, accused Nano of being the mastermind of the 1997 unrest and blamed his government for the killing of senior Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari in Tirana in September 1998. The investigation into that murder has been deadlocked for more than a year. Democratic Party witnesses have refused to testify to investigators, arguing that they do not trust the authorities to conduct an impartial investigation.

Nano resigned shortly after the Hajdari murder, when riots broke out during the legislator's funeral in Tirana. The Socialists then charged the Democrats with having conducted a coup attempt, a charge the Democrats vehemently denied. Nano and Berisha, furthermore, have not refrained from charging each other with involvement in corruption, arms smuggling, and other crimes. These exchanges have long been part of Albania's daily political discourse.

Nano's resignation paved the way for a new Socialist government under Majko. Since taking office, he has sought to present himself as a dynamic, forward-looking politician who is willing to reconcile with the opposition for the benefit of the entire country by establishing rule of law and promoting economic recovery. The Kosova war gave Majko an opportunity to call for unity among all Albanians and to put aside old grievances. Majko also followed a policy of establishing good-neighborly relations with Macedonia, Greece, and Montenegro, and he made participation in the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe one of his government's priorities.

But Majko's government has faced difficult tasks. It was unable to increase the level of public security until mid- summer 1999. At that time, his newly appointed Public Order Minister Spartak Poci launched an offensive against the country's most notorious gangs. Poci acknowledged in early October that unidentified politicians have put pressure on police and justice officials to have several of the arrested gang leaders released, thereby confirming that political corruption is indeed widespread. He did not disclose names, however.

Before the party congress, Majko threatened to resign should Nano win the party chairmanship. After his defeat, however, he pledged to remain in office, arguing that he lost by a margin of only 30 votes. At the same time he stressed that he felt "hurt in his moral and political legitimacy"; but while the vote indicates that his support within the party is fragile, his decision to stay in government is nonetheless based on backing from the Albanian public and the international community, where Majko appears to enjoy more support than within his party's rank and file.

Nano, on the other hand, is unlikely to seek to oust Majko as prime minister and return to government, since a second major change of government after two years could derail the fragile reform process and give a boost to the Democratic Party's demand for new elections.

For their part, the Democrats have maneuvered themselves further into a corner by re-electing Berisha. Pollo's initial candidature seemed to offer an alternative to Berisha's tight control over the party and his role in the polarization of political life. Pollo pledged to bring several other center- right political parties into a coalition, most notably the Republicans. But with the reelection of Berisha--whom many potential Democratic voters consider too authoritarian--a major shift in voter support from the Socialists to the Democrats remains unlikely.

The two party congresses have shown that the old- generation leaders--who were forced to resign after scandals and amid charges of corruption against their respective governments--do still have the backing of most party members. The two men owe their victories probably less to any real popular support for themselves and to their ideas than to their patronage of those within the party willing to back them in crucial leadership votes.


XS
SM
MD
LG