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Newsline - October 21, 1999




COMMUNISTS PUSH BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS DOWN TO THE WIRE

State Duma deputies voted on 20 October to postpone a vote on the draft 2000 budget until 22 October. Before making that decision, the Communist Party, which has the largest faction in the Duma (129 out of 450 seats), announced that it will reject the budget. The document needs 226 votes to pass. The Communists are insisting that revenues be raised again. However, Credit Suisse First Boston economist Vladimir Konovalev told AFP that the government is "already at the limits of what's credible or believable as far as the international community is concerned." First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko warned that if the Duma does not pass the budget on 22 October, then there is no chance Russia will have a budget before the beginning of 2000. In such a situation, "Kommersant-Daily" commented on 21 October, the IMF will use Russia's lack of budget as a pretext for refusing to disburse further loan installments. JAC

PUTIN IN NORTHERN CHECHNYA

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chaired a cabinet session in Mozdok on 20 October to discuss normalizing conditions in the three raions in northern Chechnya that are under federal control, ITAR-TASS reported. He then traveled with Nikolai Koshman, Moscow's designated representative in Chechnya, to the Chechen village of Znamenskoe, where he met with village elders. Putin pledged Russian help in providing electricity and gas supplies to the region and in providing accommodation for fugitives who wish to return to Chechnya. Putin also met with Russian air force pilots who are participating in the ongoing bombing raids on Chechnya and praised their "professionalism" according to Interfax. Also on 20 October, convalescing Russian President Boris Yeltsin summoned senior officials including Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo to his dacha to discuss the situation in Chechnya. No details of those talks were made public. LF

FEDERAL TROOPS ADVANCE ON GROZNY...

Russian forces have crossed the Terek River and advanced to within 12-14 kilometers of Grozny, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October quoting sources in Koshman's entourage. The previous day, the Russian artillery bombardment of the western village of Bamut and the towns of Tolstoi-Yurt and Pervomaiskoe, north of Grozny, continued. LF

...WHILE CHECHENS BRACE FOR ALL-OUT ASSAULT

In an interview printed in "Kommersant" on 20 October, Chechen army commander Isa Munaev predicted that Russian forces will launch an all- out assault on Grozny before the end of October. He said Russia's tactics currently differ from those adopted in early 1995, but he added that the Chechen forces are now better prepared to repel an attack on the city. However, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 October said that the Chechen resistance effort is more spontaneous than coordinated, adding that field commander Khattab is engaged in the defense not of Grozny but of regions of central and eastern Chechnya. Colonel General Valerii Manilov, who is first deputy chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, told journalists in Moscow on 20 October that "Grozny, as well as other places, will be cleared of terrorists and the terrorists themselves destroyed," Reuters reported. But Manilov said this would be accomplished without "a standard frontal attack." LF

RUSSIA'S MONEY-LAUNDERING BILL CALLED ARBITRARY WEAPON...

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 October that under draft money-laundering legislation, Russian commercial banks will be required to pass information to several law enforcement agencies, including local police precincts, about any Russian citizen who opens a bank account containing at least $7,000. The newspaper suggests that existing authorities will therefore be given a powerful instrument of influence against anyone they oppose. It also predicts that the banking information will likely be leaked to "criminal structures." "Kommersant-Daily" is controlled by media magnate Boris Berezovskii, who has himself been accused of money laundering. However, the newspaper made a similar argument against the first version of the bill proposed by Communist Party faction member Viktor Ilyukhin, before Berezovskii assumed control of the daily. JAC

...AND UNLIKELY TO PASS BEFORE YEAR'S END

Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that at present, crime-fighting legislation in Russia is perceived "not as protection but as a stick that can be used arbitrarily by the state or by competitors." He added that there is little chance that a law on money-laundering will be passed before the State Duma elections in December. According to Pokhmelkin, one existing law encourages companies to report any suspicious dealings, and some companies use the law to denounce their competitors. During her visit to Moscow, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno praised the Russian government's intention to introduce money-laundering legislation. And Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said the U.S.'s failure to back more vigorously bills in the Duma that would have fought money-laundering was a mistake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). JAC

ARMS CONTROL TALKS RESUME IN MOSCOW...

U.S. Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security affairs John Holum and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Berdennikov began in Moscow on 21 October the next round of talks on disarmament, which are expected to cover START-3 as well as U.S. and Russian stances on possible changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Holum and Berdennikov last met in Washington in August, but those discussions reportedly yielded no results. The current round of talks is scheduled to conclude on 22 October. JC

...AS MOSCOW STRESSES THERE CAN BE NO 'COMPROMISE' OVER ABM

Addressing journalists in Moscow on 20 October, First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff Colonel General Manilov said that Russia considers attempts to destroy the "existing system of arms treaties and agreements as a threat and [as] destabilizing regional and global situation." He added that there can be "no compromise" on the 1972 ABM Treaty. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin, meanwhile, confirmed on 20 October that the U.S. has recently "put forward a number of proposals" on promoting cooperation in the sphere of ABM defense (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999), but he noted that those proposals are "confidential." At the same time, Rakhmanin underlined that Moscow is not negotiating any amendments to the ABM treaty. JC

MANILOV SAYS NATO-RUSSIA RELATIONS REQUIRE 'FUNDAMENTALLY NEW BASIS'

At his 20 October press conference in Moscow, Manilov commented that the potential for developing NATO-Russia relations is "fairly big," Interfax reported. Those relations have been frozen since the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia earlier this year. "A revival of relations with NATO is possible only on a fundamentally new basis," Manilov argued, remarking that the Atlantic alliance has "discarded" the NATO-Russia Founding Act. JC

DUMA APPROVES PRODUCTION-SHARING PROJECTS

Deputies on 20 October approved in its third reading a bill that includes the Priobskoe oil field in western Siberia and a field in the Far North on a list of projects eligible for production- sharing agreements terms, Interfax reported. The first project will be developed with the participation of Yukos, the latter with LUKoil and Conoco. The previous day, the Duma approved in its first reading a bill that would permit the development of the Vankorskoe gas and oil field in Krasnoyarsk Krai on a production-sharing basis, according to ITAR-TASS. The agency quoted Natural Resources Minister Boris Yatskevich as saying that the field can be developed only with foreign investment. Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Valerii Garipov announced earlier in the month that the government will ease the quota on the number of oil projects that are permitted to operate under production-sharing agreements. JAC

RUSSIA TO EXPERIENCE GRAIN, MEAT SHORTFALL

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting that Russia will face a shortfall of grain totaling 7.5-9.5 million tons in 2000, Interfax reported on 20 October. The department also concluded that there will be a meat shortfall, noting that meat supply of 3.8 million tons of domestic production combined with 1.45 million tons of imported meat will be insufficient to meet the country's meat demand of 5.5 million tons. According to the agency, the department's experts believe that in order for Russia to maintain its already low protein-consumption level of 1989-99, it will have to supplement its meat supplies or the population will experience a further decline in protein consumption. JAC

UNEMPLOYMENT HOLDS STEADY

The number of unemployed reached 12.4 percent of the workforce or 9.12 million at the end of September, an increase of 6.2 percent compared with the end of September last year, according to the Russian Statistics Agency on 20 October. However, according to ITAR-TASS, that figure did not increase significantly from the previous month, and Interfax reported that it represents a fall from the level recorded at the beginning of the year, when the number of unemployed totaled 9.73 million. Labor Minister Sergei Kalashnikov said on 20 October that 29 percent of Russia's population are living below the minimum subsistence level. He also noted that the government has accumulated a backlog of unpaid child benefits, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

VOLSKII PREDICTS COMMUNIST SUPPORT FOR PRIMAKOV

In an interview with "Segodnya" on 20 October, Arkadii Volskii, the head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said that he believes that the Communist Party (KPRF) will support Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance head Yevgenii Primakov during the second round of presidential elections if current KPRF head Gennadii Zyuganov is forced out of the race. Volskii, who is a candidate on the OVR party list, added that it also possible that Zyuganov will not be allowed to run for president even in the first round since he failed to win the last presidential election. Instead, Volksii suggests the KPRF might nominate Primakov. When asked whether former Prime Minister Primakov will seek the presidency, Volskii responded that "Do you remember how he objected to his appointment as prime minister? Lots of people visited him and persuaded him. And he agreed." JAC

GORBACHEV FORMS NEW PARTY

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has announced he will head a new united Social Democratic Party, Russian Public Television reported on 20 October. The network reported that the party is being formed too late to participate in the 19 December State Duma elections but may be able to nominate a candidate for presidential elections. The new party will hold a founding congress in February. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO SPEND $12.5 MILLION ON CHRISTIANITY'S ANNIVERSARY

Andrei Loginov, head of the domestic policy department of the presidential administration, announced on 20 October that the Russian government will allocate 324 million rubles ($12.5 million) to celebrate the start of the third millennium and the 2000th anniversary of Christianity, Interfax reported. Loginov also revealed that the state has allocated 18 million rubles for an encyclopedia on peoples of the Orthodox faith. On 13 October, Security Council Deputy Secretary Vladislav Sherstyuk had told reporters that Russia will switch some crucial processes over to manual control during the transition to the year 2000 owing to a shortage of financing, AP and Interfax reported. JAC




U.S. DIPLOMAT ADVOCATES ARMENIAN-TURKISH RAPPROCHEMENT

Meeting in Yerevan on 20 October with Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Steven Sestanovich proposed that Turkey and Armenia open "information centers" in each other's capitals as a first step toward establishing diplomatic relations, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 20 October, quoting an Armenian government spokesman. Sestanovich said such a step would contribute toward a rapprochement between the two countries, which Washington considers essential for stability in the South Caucasus. He added that Ankara has responded positively to the proposal. Sestanovich also praised the recent talks between Armenian President Robert Kocharian, which whom he also met on 20 October, and Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev. Sestanovich said those talks "create a basis for agreement that can then be taken further by the [OSCE Minsk Group] mediators." LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS AZERBAIJAN OBSTRUCTING TRANSPORT COOPERATION

In an interview with Armenian State Television on 19 October, Vartan Oskanian said Azerbaijan has rejected a proposal by the EU that rail communications be resumed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said that Armenia has offered to create a 3-5 kilometer security zone along the railway, which runs through Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenian forces, but that Azerbaijan has rejected that proposal, insisting on the complete withdrawal of the Armenian troops from those districts. Oskanian added that the EU and the U.S. are unhappy with Azerbaijan's position. The EU-sponsored TRACECA transport program envisages the restoration of transport links between the South Caucasus states. LF

ARMENIA, IRAQ TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COPERATION

Senior Armenian Foreign Ministry official David Hovhanisian told journalists in Baghdad on 20 October that Armenia will soon open an office in that city to promote economic and trade cooperation, Xinhua reported. Hovhanisian said Armenia is interested in industrial and trade cooperation with Iraq within the framework of the UN oil-for-food program. Armenia and Iraq have not yet established formal diplomatic relations. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PLANS RESISTANCE TO KARABAKH SETTLEMENT

A 20 October session of the Democratic Congress, which unites a dozen leading Azerbaijani opposition parties, agreed to create a working group to revive the National Resistance Movement, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 42, 21 October 1999). The movement was created in 1994 to oppose a disadvantageous peace settlement in Karabakh. On 16 October, former President and Azerbaijan Popular Front Chairman Abulfaz Elchibey condemned U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's letter to President Aliyev urging him to agree to concessions in order to resolve the Karabakh conflict as "the most insulting document in the history of world diplomacy," according to Turan LF

U.S. SUPPORTS GEORGIAN CALLS FOR RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL

Visiting Tbilisi on 19-20 October, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Sestanovich held talks with Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, and President Eduard Shevardnadze on the Russian military presence in Georgia and the North Caucasus, Caucasus Press reported. Sestanovich told journalists on 20 October that the U.S. shares Georgia's belief that Russian forces should be withdrawn from Georgia. During his visit, an agreement was signed under which the U.S. will provide Georgia with military uniforms and other supplies worth $1.8 million, AP reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER GIVES POSITIVE ASSESSSMENT OF PARLIAMENTARY POLL...

Qasymzhomart Toqaev told U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones on 20 October that both he and President Nursultan Nazarbaev believe that the 10 October elections to the lower chamber of parliament marked a new stage in the evolution of democratic processes in Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. He added that the poll "largely met" the standards set by the OSCE and other international bodies. An RFE/RL correspondent reported earlier this week that the OSCE plans to issue a report on the first round of the poll criticizing instances of falsification of the results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). LF

...AS OPPOSITION CANDIDATE PREDICTS FURTHER VIOLATIONS

Lira Bayseitova, who heads the Respublika-200 political group, told journalists in Almaty on 20 October that she has information that the local authorities in Atyrau Oblast have printed 15,000 additional ballot forms to ensure that their preferred candidate secures victory in the 24 October runoff over Ghaziz Aldamzharov, a leading member of former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldoin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. On 19 October, a district court in Almaty rejected a case brought by defeated parliamentary candidate Gennadii Belyakov, who accused the district electoral commission of falsifying the outcome of the vote in the district in which he ran. LF

NEW POLITICAL PARTY REGISTERED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Republican Party Deputy Chairman Narkas Mulladjanov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 19 October that the Ministry of Justice formally registered the party last week. The Republican Party was founded last month and is headed by Zamira Sydykova, chief editor of the opposition weekly newspaper "Res Publika" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). LF

KYRGYZSTAN BEGINS WITHDRAWING TROOPS FROM SOUTH

A Defense Ministry spokesman said in Bishkek on 20 October that the first detachments of army troops sent to Osh Oblast in August following the hostage taking there by Uzbek guerrillas will return to Bishkek later that day, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. He added that reservists called up in August are being demobilized. Also on 20 October, an unidentified source in the National Security Ministry said Deputy Minister Valerii Verchagin traveled to Dushanbe that day for talks aimed at securing the release of four Japanese geologists still held by the guerrillas. Tajik Minister for Emergency Situations Mirzo Zieev and other members of the United Tajik Opposition helped mediate the release of several Kyrgyz hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). LF

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TURKMENISTAN

Kamal Kharrazi headed a delegation from the Oil, Energy, and Transport Ministries that traveled to Ashgabat on 20 October, Reuters and Interfax reported. Kharrazi and President Saparmurat Niyazov discussed plans for cooperation in road building and the extraction of Caspian gas and for the export of electricity from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran. It is unclear whether they also discussed exports of Turkmen gas via Iran. Niyazov had told visiting Turkish Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer two weeks ago that the topic would be on the agenda of their talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1999). An agreement was signed on the construction of a $167 million dam and reservoir for irrigation purposes on the Tedzhen River, which forms the border between the two countries, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999). LF




JAILED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ON HUNGER STRIKE

Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich has gone on hunger strike to protest his 17 October arrest for helping organizing the "freedom march" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999), Belapan reported on 20 October. Statkevich told a lawyer who visited him in jail that the clashes between riot police and demonstrators on 17 October were provoked by the authorities. He added that he will not answer questions posed by investigators. The same day, oppositionist Anatol Lyabedzka was sentenced to 10 days in prison for his part in organizing the "freedom march." Meanwhile, the Chamber of Representatives, a legislature hand-picked by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996, has condemned the opposition "freedom march" and applauded the intervention of law enforcement bodies. Belapan quoted one deputy as saying that democrats should be beaten "correctly but very painfully." JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION URGES RUSSIA TO STOP SUPPORTING LUKASHENKA

The Consultative Council of Belarusian opposition parties on 20 October adopted an appeal to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Premier Vladimir Putin, the State Duma, and the Federation Council to stop supporting the current Belarusian regime, Belapan reported. The appeal stressed that any agreements or treaties signed by Lukashenka after his term in office expired on 20 July 1999 may not and do not have any "legal force or political prospect." Belarusian oppositionists also expressed their intent to appeal to the international community to declare the Russian Federation an aggressor with regard to Belarus if Moscow continues supporting Lukashenka. Meanwhile, Lukashenka is to address Russia's lower house on 26 October at the invitation of Duma deputies. JM

BELARUS TO KNOCK THREE ZEROS OFF CURRENCY

President Lukashenka has ordered the exchange of old 1,000 Belarusian ruble bills for new 1 ruble ones over a three-year period beginning 1 January 2000. According to the edict, the move is intended "to strengthen the national currency, improve money circulation in the country, [and] simplify accounting and settlements in the national economy." The National Bank current exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble is 297,000 to $1, while the street exchange rate is some 660,000 to $1. Former National Bank head Stanislau Bahdankevich told Belapan that the edict can be justified from a "technical" viewpoint but is "absolute nonsense" from an economic one. According to Bahdankevich, Belarus has neither stabilized its economy nor suppressed inflation, thus the redenomination will not strengthen the Belarusian currency. JM

KUCHMA SAYS CORRUPTION IN UKRAINE NO BIG DEAL...

Speaking on regional television in Vinnytsya on 20 October, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the situation in Ukraine with regard to combating corruption is "far better than in many other countries of the world," Interfax reported. Kuchma noted that corruption is not a "Ukrainian invention." At the same time, Kuchma admitted that there are cases of corruption in Ukraine, "but they are being brought about by the system itself." According to Kuchma, corruption can be defeated by introducing economic and administrative changes. "If a state servant is paid appropriately, not 100 hryvni ($23) a month, then I think he will have sufficient wisdom and will not to deal with such matters as corruption," Kuchma noted. JM

...PLEDGES TO MAKE PARLIAMENT RESPONSIBLE FOR FORMING CABINET

Kuchma also said that if he wins the presidential elections, he will ask the parliament to create a constructive majority that will share responsibility with the president for forming a cabinet. "Then there will be no mutual accusations, fruitless discussions in the parliaments, or reporting to the parliament [on the government's performance] every week," Kuchma noted. He also repeated his threat to call for a referendum to create a bicameral legislature if the current parliament refuses to cooperate with the president after the elections. JM

ELECTORAL INCENTIVES NOT GOOD FOR HRYVNYA?

Citing an "informed source" in Ukraine's financial circles, Interfax reported on 20 October that the volume of cash in circulation in the country has increased by 1.23 billion hryvni ($570 million) since 1 July. According to financial experts, this increase is linked to the government's effort to pay back wages and pensions before the 31 October presidential elections. The hryvnya has been officially devalued from 3.95 to $1 to 4.46 to $1 since the beginning of July. Street dealers and Ukraine's interbank currency market have recently quoted the hryvnya at 4.7-4.8 to $1. JM

OSCE OFFICIAL LAUDS ESTONIAN INTEGRATION EFFORTS

The president of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, Helle Degn, said that Estonia is making a "great effort" to integrate its 300,000 non-Estonian residents, according to dpa on 20 October. However, Degn pressed officials to liberalize the country's language law and received assurances "at the very highest level" that the law's provisions will be eased. Degn met with Estonian President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, and Minister for Ethnic Affairs Katrin Saks. MJZ

LATVIAN RULING COALITION BACKS EASING OF PENSION LAW

The ruling coalition parties on 20 October agreed to call for allowing both men and women to retire two years before the mandatory minimum retirement age and receive 80 percent of the pension due them, according to "Diena." The People's Party of Prime Minister Andris Skele later backed out of the agreement, however. The early retirement provision, along with other previously announced amendments to the pension law, appear designed to forestall rejection of controversial pension reforms in a national referendum scheduled to take place in mid-November. MJZ

NEARLY THREE-QUARTERS OF LATVIANS PREPARED TO OFFER BRIBES

A study by the Criminology Center has found that 72 percent of Latvia's residents have lost faith in state institutions and are prepared, if necessary, to offer a bribe to a government employee. Latvian Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs revealed that statistic during an international conference on crime that was held in Riga, "Diena" reported on 21 October. MJZ

LITHUANIAN POLITICAL CRISIS DEEPENS

Chairman of the Social Democratic Party Vytenis Andriukaitis has called on leaders of other political parties in Lithuania, former President Algirdas Brazauskas, NGOs, and experts to join efforts to stop the negotiations between Lithuania and the U.S.-based Williams International on the partial privatization of Lithuania's oil refinery complex, ELTA reported on 20 October. Andriukaitis said it is not too late to invoke national security laws and stop the privatization, which, he added, is opposed by a majority of Lithuanians. The following day, parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis released a letter sent by the president of Williams International, John Baumgarner, assuring the Lithuanian parliament that the company is demanding no money from the Lithuanian government, ELTA reported. Baumgarner claimed that the refinery is "insolvent" and cannot cover its own debts which now exceed $307 million. AB

LITHUANIA TO COMPLAIN OVER JOURNALISTS' MISTREATMENT IN BELARUS

ELTA reported on 20 October that the Human Rights Committee of the Lithuanian parliament will file a complaint with the OSCE against Belarus for the mistreatment of Lithuanian reporters during the 17 October opposition demonstrations in Minsk. Belarusian police detained two reporters for LNK, a private Lithuanian television station, for four hours after they had attempted to film the opposition demonstrations. They also seized the reporters' videotape and refused to return it. AB

POLISH COURT REOPENS TRIAL OF POLICEMEN ACCUSED OF 1981 MARTIAL LAW KILLINGS

The trial of 22 former riot policemen accused of killing nine miners who opposed the December 1981 martial law crackdown on Solidarity was reopened at the district court in Katowice, southern Poland, on 20 October. The first trial, which lasted four-and-a-half years ended in November 1997 with the ruling that the available evidence was insufficient for a conviction. Prosecutors and the Justice Ministry appealed the verdict. JM

CZECH LEGISLATURE REJECTS DRAFT BUDGET

The Czech Chamber of Deputies on 20 October turned down the draft budget in its first reading, Czech media reported. The Civic Democratic Party, the Freedom Union, and the Christian Democrats voted against the budget, while the Communists abstained. The three parties that voted against the bill rejected the Finance Ministry's decision to include money from recent privatizations in the budget. They also said the budget should have included the losses of the state Konsolidacni banka. Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik said he will prepare a new draft by mid-December. ODS leader Vaclav Klaus said the budget should not have been submitted to the parliament while discussions continue on the possible formation of a new governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). VG

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT DISMISSES PROPERTY FUND HEADS

The Slovak legislature on 20 October voted to dismiss National Property Fund President Ludovit Kanik and Vice President Ladislav Sklenar, Slovak media reported. Kanik and Sklenar were dismissed for mishandling the state's reaquisition of the gas storage company Nafta Gbely. Their ouster was strongly supported by Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and received support among deputies from both government and opposition ranks. However, Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Peter Zajac, whose party is part of the coalition led by Dzurinda, criticized the decision. Zajac accused the prime minister of relying on the opposition to dismiss the two fund heads. The Democratic Party had nominated Kanik as fund president. VG

BUDAPEST CEFTA MEETING FAILS TO RESOLVE PROBLEMS

The 20 October Budapest summit of prime ministers from Central European Free Trade Agreement countries failed to resolve disputes among member states over agricultural exports, Hungarian media reported. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the current level of liberalization should be maintained in bilateral agricultural trade. Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek commented agricultural trade cannot be liberalized within CEFTA as long as member-states continue to subsidize agricultural production in different ways. Orban said after the summit that all seven delegations "see the roots of the problem in the same way but no longer wish to formulate a joint agricultural policy." VG

HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTERS DISCUSS RECONCILIATION

Visiting Romanian Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica said on 20 October that he regrets the 6 October events in the Romanian town of Arad, where anti-Hungarian demonstrators disrupted the unveiling of a statue of Hungarian heroes of the 1848 revolution. Stoica, who was visiting Budapest, told Hungarian Justice Minister Ibolya David that the concept of "reconciliation" between the two countries should be replaced by one of "friendship." Stoica said the demonstrators had "failed to understand that emotions must be expressed in a civilized manner." VG




DJUKANOVIC SAYS MONTENEGRINS' PATIENCE RUNNING OUT...

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on 20 October that a "critical mass" of the Montenegrin population is determined to press ahead with democratization, even if this means declaring independence from Serbia. He noted that independence supporters tend to be not "romantic, old nationalists" but rather "impatient young people." Montenegrins have already "lost a decade" of political and economic development during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic and are determined not to lose any more time. The president added that Belgrade has not begun "to negotiate seriously" with Podgorica about redefining the relationship between the two republics. Montenegrins' patience is running out and they will not wait indefinitely, Djukanovic stressed. PM

...SAYS HE'S NOT WORRIED ABOUT MILOSEVIC'S ALLIES...

Djukanovic said that he does not believe that Milosevic's Montenegrin allies will try to secede from the republic or start a war, as did his supporters in Krajina in 1991 or in Bosnia in 1992. Democratic forces in Montenegro are strong enough to block any attempt at secession. Milosevic's backers there, moreover, know that he deserted his supporters in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova, Djukanovic stressed. He also noted that the international community has "tens of thousands" of troops in the western Balkans and will stop Milosevic if he tries to start a new war. PM

...SEES TWO PROBLEMS FACING YUGOSLAVIA...

Djukanovic argued that the federation's first problem is how to strengthen democracy, noting that no reform is possible as long as Milosevic remains in office, so Montenegro does what it can to help the Serbian opposition. The president said that the second problem is Kosova. The international community underestimated the potential disruptive effect on the region of growing ethnic Albanian demands for independence. If Kosova becomes independent, the result is likely to be a series of wars to establish a greater Albania, Djukanovic continued. PM

..AND SAYS MONTENEGRO BECOMING MORE DEMOCRATIC

Djukanovic conceded that "democracy is not perfect" in Montenegro. He argued, however, that even if state television is controlled by his party, there are ample alternatives on the media scene in which others can present their views. The country will become more democratic as the economy improves. He stressed that some of Montenegro's problems with democracy stems from the fact that the country remains part of an undemocratic federation in which Montenegro is the junior partner. He denied that Montenegro played a key role in Milosevic's wars in Croatia and Bosnia, saying that all the important decisions are made in Belgrade. PM

INDEPENDENT RADIO BANNED IN MONTENEGRO

Officials of the Telecommunications Ministry said in Podgorica on 20 October that Radio Free Montenegro must stop broadcasting because it does not have a license or the technical staff that the law requires of all broadcasters. Nebojsa Redzic, who heads the station, told reporters that the real reason the authorities want his radio off the air is political. In Prague, Djukanovic said that he learned of the closure of the station only that same morning. He argued that the ministry's decision is not final and that the station has "two months or so" to clear matters up with the authorities. PM

DJINDJIC FEARS ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade that "the secret services are preparing an assassination attempt against me," "Danas" reported on 21 October. He said that he and some of his friends have recently been subjected to surveillance by unknown persons. Djindjic recently accused Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic of planning to have him killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1999). PM

UN INVESTIGATING OWN OFFICIALS IN SERBIAN PROPERTY SALES

A UN official who requested anonymity told AP on 21 October that UN police are investigating reports that several fellow officers have persuaded Serbs to sell their property below market value to ethnic Albanians. AP reported that there is a possible business link between the men under investigation and a local Albanian lawyer, who drew up the sales contracts. PM

NATO FEARS VIGILANTE ACTION IN KOSOVA

A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Prishtina on 20 October that unknown persons have posted bogus lists of "indicted Serbian war criminals" allegedly signed by the former Kosova Liberation Army or local Albanian militias. The spokesman expressed fears that the presence of such lists could prompt ethnic Albanians "to take justice into their own hands." PM

UN BEGINS BUS SERVICE IN KOSOVA

The UNHCR has launched a bus service in the Gjilan area of southern Kosova to enable non- Albanians to shop and go visiting, AP reported on 20 October. In Prishtina, the UN's Bernard Kouchner opened the Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims. He also signed into law a series of measures aimed at eliminating discrimination in housing and employment. PM

BELGRADE BLOCKS CIVILIAN FLIGHTS TO KOSOVA

KFOR on 20 October suspended civilian flights to Kosova, which had resumed five days earlier. The suspension comes after the Yugoslav authorities issued a note to airlines warning them not to fly into Kosova from Macedonia. A KFOR spokesman protested the Yugoslav move, saying that the June agreement between Belgrade and NATO gives KFOR exclusive control over Kosova's airspace. Military and humanitarian flights will continue. PM

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT BACKS REFUGEE RETURN PROGRAM

The caretaker cabinet of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik approved a program sponsored by the international community for the return of displaced persons between the two Bosnian entities. An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka on 20 October that the program envisages the return of 10,000 families to their former homes on what is now Bosnian Serb territory. PM

CROATIAN COURT RULES THAT 'TUTA' CAN GO TO HAGUE

The Constitutional Court ruled on 21 October that the authorities did not violate the rights of indicted Bosnian Croat war criminal Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic during the ongoing procedure of extraditing him to The Hague. The decision removes the last legal obstacle to Tuta's extradition, Reuters reported. He is expected to undergo heart surgery on 22 October, however, and it is unclear when he will be healthy enough to travel. PM

OPPOSITION SLAMS TUDJMAN STAND ON ELECTIONS

Representatives of the coalition of six opposition parties objected to recent "ambiguous" remarks by President Franjo Tudjman on whether he will respect the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1999). In a statement in Zagreb on 20 October, the opposition politicians said that they are "disturbed" that Tudjman failed to say clearly that he would appoint a prime minister from the opposition if the opposition wins the elections. In London, Croatian Social Democratic leader Ivica Racan said that Tudjman will help "open the door" for Croatia's integration into European institutions if he respects an opposition victory, "Jutarnji list" reported on 21 October. The ballot must take place by 2000 at the latest, but it is widely expected before Christmas. PM

CROATIAN FARMERS BLOCK KEY HIGHWAY

An unspecified number of farmers blocked the Zagreb-Belgrade highway near Vukovar for nine hours on 20 October. The farmers demand that the government pay its debt for deliveries of grain and other agricultural products. They also want several tax breaks and legal measures to protect Croatian agriculture from foreign competition, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

GERMANY TO PROVIDE MORE MILITARY AID TO MACEDONIA

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in Skopje on 20 October that all Balkan countries must improve democracy as a first step toward increased regional stability. His Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Kljusev, announced that Germany will provide 100,000 assault rifles and machine guns, an unspecified quantity of anti-aircraft guns, and radar equipment for the fledgling Macedonian military. Germany is Macedonia's largest supplier of military equipment, AP reported. PM

MAJKO WARNS NANO OVER ALBANIAN SOCIALIST CONGRESS

Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told Fatos Nano, who heads his Socialist Party, not to go ahead with a planned party congress on 22 October, AP reported from Tirana on 20 October. Majko said that holding a congress "will bring about a complete division of the party," which will in turn affect Albania's stability. Nano wants to hold a congress in order to replace at least some members of the party's steering committee, which, he said, was not elected according to the rules (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999). PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON ACCESS TO SECURITATE FILES

Romanian legislators on 20 October passed a bill that will allow the public greater access to the files of the former communist secret police, Securitate. The new law will provide public access to the files of the president, parliamentary deputies, cabinet ministers, and other officials. The bill must now be signed by President Emil Constantinescu. VG

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT URGES GOVERNMENT TO SOLVE HEATING PROBLEM

Constantinescu on 20 October called on the government to take immediate action to resolve the heating crisis in Romania, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Hundreds of thousands of Romanians are without heating because they cannot afford to pay their bills. Since apartment buildings in Romania are generally connected to blocs with a common heating station, many Romanians who have paid their bills are also without heating. VG

ROMANIAN NEWSPAPER EDITOR CONVICTED FOR RACIST ARTICLES

A Romanian court on 20 October convicted a newspaper editor of violating a law against racial discrimination, AP reported. The court handed Mihai Bogdan Antonescu a two-year suspended sentence for publishing articles designed to "spread intolerance toward Jews," according to Mediafax. The weekly newspaper, "Atac la persoana," regularly described politicians as "dirty Jews" and contains a column titled "Swastika." Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica has called for an investigation into the weekly. VG

ROMANIAN MAYOR WANTS TO HIRE EX-SERVICEMEN TO DEAL WITH ROMA

Piatra Neamt Mayor Ioan Rotaru said he is thinking of hiring two ex-servicemen from Moldova to help remove a group of illegal Romany occupants from two housing complexes in his municipality, Basa-Press reported on 20 October, citing the Romanian agency Mediafax. The two former soldiers have reportedly served in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Rotaru said he does not know what methods the two men will use to remove the Roma, but he said he is sure they will employ "legal means." VG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT INSISTS ON CHANGING CONSTITUTION

Petru Lucinschi on 20 October sent a letter to the leaders of four parliamentary factions in which he reaffirmed his determination to strengthen the powers of the president in the constitution, Infotag reported. Lucinschi said he cannot understand why the deputies are opposed to holding a referendum on the issue. He added that if the constitutional changes do not secure the necessary two-thirds majority in the parliament, he will call a referendum on the issue. VG

GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER PLEDGES HELP FOR BULGARIA

Rudolf Scharping said his country will help Bulgaria prepare its armed forces for potential integration into NATO. Scharping, who was on a visit to Sofia, said Germany will provide Bulgaria with advice on trimming its military and creating a social security net for officers who retire. He also offered German assistance in modernizing Bulgaria's Soviet-made T-72 tanks. Scharping said that military security in the Balkans is an important pre-condition for the region to attract foreign investment. VG

BULGARIAN GROUP CITES IRREGULARITIES IN LOCAL ELECTIONS

The Citizens' Initiative for Free and Democratic Elections on 20 October noted that an average of 7 percent of ballots cast in local elections across Bulgaria last week were declared invalid, BTA reported. In districts with a mixed ethnic population, more than 10 percent of all ballots were invalid. Mikhail Mirchev, a member of the initiative, said the relatively complex voting procedure cannot have been responsible for such a high number of invalid ballots. He attributed the large percentages to ballot manipulations. The initiative also remarked that it has never taken so long to count the votes in an election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999). VG




MUCH ADO ABOUT UNITY


by Julie A. Corwin

If Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is Russian President Boris Yeltsin's anointed successor, then the newly registered interregional group Unity represents his bloc of choice for December's State Duma elections. Putin himself attended Unity's founding congress on 3 October as a guest, while First Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff Igor Shabdurasulov said that the bloc has "unequivocal support" from Yeltsin's staff. And one of the most popular and longest-lasting member of Putin's government, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, has been tapped as its head.

Although predictions of the bloc's success in upcoming State Duma elections vary widely, the bloc may have already achieved what most analysts believe to be its raison d'etre: chipping away support for the popular Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance. In a recent interview with "Segodnya," Andrei Fedorov of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies explained that Unity's "first task is to put Fatherland-All Russia out of action and if possible, take 10 percent of the vote from them, thus pushing them into third place in the parliament, and after that it is supposed to try to become a springboard for the Kremlin's candidate for president."

If reports of its membership can be trusted, Unity has already struck at core OVR interests by luring away four of its members, including Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. In fact, more than half of the governors who have reportedly joined Unity were already aligned with other political parties or movements: besides the four former OVR members, the group includes six former members of Voice of Russia, which is headed by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov. In addition, five governors out of the seven enrolled in former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia (NDR) have expressed their wish for membership in both groups, while a sixth, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, has expressed his willingness to support Unity and has actively sought a merger of the NDR with Unity.

Also, Unity already appears to be acting as a bloc within the Federation Council and can therefore counter any OVR-backed efforts there. Consider the recent Kremlin- initiated vote in the upper legislative chamber to oust suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov. The voting was kept secret, but in interviews with senators that "Kommersant-Daily," Russian Public Television, and NTV conducted after balloting, all of the regional leaders expressing support for Skuratov's dismissal, except one, were members of Unity. Meanwhile, some of the most vocal supporters for retaining Skuratov were OVR members, such as Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov.

However, Unity's failure to align with the NDR has prompted some analysts to conclude that the bloc will not capture enough votes in the Duma election to enter the lower legislative chamber. Unity officials claimed that NDR imposed too many preconditions, while NDR faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov argued that NDR members resisted the union, despite Kremlin pressure, because Unity lacks a coherent political philosophy. NDR head Viktor Chernomyrdin put it this way: Unity "has no ideology," it has only business magnate Boris Berezovskii.

While Berezovskii has denied that he was behind Unity's creation, as has Unity head Shoigu, Unity member and Governor of Kursk Aleksandr Rutskoi has acknowledged Berezovskii's involvement. Also, coverage of the movement in his media holdings suggests that Berezovskii has at least a mild interest in the bloc's good fortunes. In its reporting on Unity, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" has stressed the movement's successful recruitment efforts and alignments with smaller political parties and organizations following the failure of efforts to merge with the NDR.

Such coverage contrasts sharply with the picture depicted in media owned by rival oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's Media Most group or in newspapers close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, the head of Fatherland. "Segodnya" and "Moskovskii komsomolets" have reported Kremlin pressure on governors to join Unity, while "Obshchaya gazeta" claimed in its most recent issue that according to its sources, which it did not identify, only six or seven governors have actually joined Unity. EWI's "Russian Regional Report" puts the tally of governors affiliated with Unity at 28, including the five members of the NDR who will maintain dual allegiance.

Some skepticism about Unity's membership list is perhaps natural, since little seems to unite its diverse members. Even the top three names on that list present an odd assortment of philosophies and professions: Emergencies Minister Shoigu, former NDR member and Olympic wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, and former top cop Aleksandr Gurov. Gurov, the current head of the security department of Tepkobank, is the former head of the Department Combating Organized Crime at the Interior Ministry and has expressed his support for General Aleksandr Lebed many times.

Even more striking for a Kremlin-backed bloc are the names of Rutskoi and Nazdratenko. Unity's congress occurred on the sixth anniversary of the day Rutskoi, at the time Yeltsin's vice president, called on Russian troopers to storm Ostankino, while President Yeltsin has tried to remove Nazdratenko and only this year recalled his envoy from Primorskii Krai, whose main task was to rein in the governor. It is possible that these Yeltsin's foes have been drawn to a Kremlin-backed grouping for the same reason that one Chukotka official claims his governor has signed on: additional financial aid from the center. OVR members, on the hand, will presumably have to wait until after the election.


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