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Newsline - October 22, 1999




RUSSIAN FORCES SHELL GROZNY, SEEK TO SURROUND IT

Five rockets crashed into the center of Grozny on 21 October, killing at least 48 people, AFP reported. Chechen officials told the news agency that 118 people had been killed and 300- 400 wounded. But the Russian Defense Ministry denied responsibility for any such attack. Nikolai Koshman, Moscow's representative in Chechnya, told ITAR-TASS on 21 October that the Russian army will take the next few days to surround the Chechen capital and will then gradually tighten the ring. Meanwhile, Russian forces moved to take control of portions of the Chechen-Georgian border, closing passes and paths between the two areas, Caucasus Press reported the same day. Also on 21 October, the Russian government released a statement on its policy in Chechnya, the complete text of which is given below (see "End Note"). PG

YELTSIN REPORTED RELUCTANT TO STORM GROZNY

"Segodnya" reported on 21 October that President Boris Yeltsin wants to hold off storming Grozny, even though many generals and those in his entourage want the Russian army to go ahead. PG

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS GIVE MIXED SIGNALS ON PLANS

The Russian foreign and defense ministers said that Russian forces do not plan to occupy the city of Grozny, but Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Toporov said the army "will enter Grozny sooner or later, either with our troops or to install a Russian administration," ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October. Meanwhile, local Russian commanders told AFP that "we are waiting for orders, but it looks as though we will storm Grozny." PG

CHECHENS REGROUP

The Chechen forces have regrouped in Grozny, Gudermes, and Argun, the Russian Defense Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 21 October. This arrangement followed a meeting the previous day of the Chechen State Defense Committee under the chairmanship of President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. PG

MOUNTING RUSSIAN CASUALTIES, COSTS

Since the Russian military dispatched 90,000 soldiers against Chechnya on 2 August, 196 troops have been killed and 500 wounded, ITAR- TASS reported on 21 October. Meanwhile, Russian Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told Prime-Tass that the operation has so far cost 20-30 billion rubles ($900 million-$1.3 billion) and is still being financed from the budget. PG

CHECHEN REPRESENTATIVE IN MOSCOW ARRESTED

Moscow police on 21 October arrested Mairbek Vachagaev, a Chechen representative in Moscow, Interfax reported. The police gave no details, however, and another Chechen representative in the Russian capital could not confirm the report. PG

WEST CALLS FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION TO CHECHNYA

The U.S. and the EU again called on Moscow to resolve the Chechen conflict through negotiations rather than force. Meanwhile, on arriving in Helsinki for a meeting with EU leaders, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that "we are ready to inform European partners in full" about what is going on in Chechnya. He also thanked Europeans for their understanding and support, Interfax reported on 21 October. PG

MOSCOW DENOUNCES WESTERN COVERAGE OF CONFLICT

Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin told Interfax on 21 October that the Western mass media are showing bias in their coverage of Russian military actions in Chechnya. "There is no war in the Chechen territory," he said. "What is happening there is combat against terrorism and bandit formations." At the same time, Lesin confirmed that Russian interior troops and riot police have looted the homes of some of those forced to flee from Chechnya, but he said such incidents are "isolated." PG

GAS SUPPLIES TO DAGHESTAN TO BE RESTORED

Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kaluzhnyi said on 21 October that Gazprom may be able to restore gas supplies to Daghestan within 24 hours, Interfax reported. Since the end of September, the North Caucasian republic has been receiving only 1 million cubic meters a day instead of the normal 8 million cubic meters. PG

PRIMAKOV SNUBS YELTSIN?

Former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told NTV on 21 October that he will not meet with President Yeltsin on 22 October, as had been previously scheduled. Primakov, who is head of the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, said "there was indeed a call from the Kremlin, and someone said that a meeting was set up. But I think that under the circumstances when the president's entourage is carrying out a policy that I do not in any way want to be associated with--that I cannot share in any way--then such a meeting would be inexpedient." Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said that Primakov "probably misunderstood" that it was President Yeltsin who had invited him for a meeting rather than "an inner circle." He added that "Primakov expressed a desire for such a meeting previously." JAC

COULD PRESSURE ON YAKOVLEV BRING DOWN OVR ALLIANCE?

As the Central Electoral Commission prepares to rule on the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly's controversial move bringing forward gubernatorial elections from spring 2000 to December 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 1999), a member of Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance has warned that the incumbent governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Yakovlev, is likely to come under intense pressure to withdraw his name from the OVR's party list for the December State Duma elections, Interfax reported on 21 October. Andrei Isaev, a member of the OVR's Coordinating Council, noted that the OVR would be barred from running in the elections if Yakovlev were to withdraw since he occupies the number three position on the alliance's list. Isaev added that Yakovlev is already under pressure because the murder of St. Petersburg deputy Viktor Novoselov is being "linked to the OVR" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). JC

KHRISTENKO'S DUTIES WIDENED

First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko will assume the duties of presidential envoy to the international financial institutions, which Mikhail Zadornov recently gave up. Prime Minister Putin signed a decree transferring Zadornov's former responsibilities to Khristenko on 21 October, according to Interfax. Zadornov is now an adviser to Sberbank. JAC

GOVERNMENT READY TO SUBMIT TEST BAN TREATY FOR RATIFICATION

Speaking in Madrid on 21 October, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the government is ready to submit the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to the State Duma for ratification. He added that the U.S. Senate's refusal to ratify that document had caused "deep disappointment" in Moscow. With regard to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Ivanov told the Spanish newspaper "El Pais" that no discussions are being held on a "compensation package" for Russia's consent to amending that treaty, Interfax reported on 21 October. "Such talks are absolutely ruled out," he said. Meanwhile in Moscow, another round of U.S.-Russian disarmament talks entered their second and final day on 22 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Ministry sources as saying that no breakthrough should be expected but the Russian side is "very hopeful" that the U.S. will revise its attitude toward ABM. JC

CUSTOMS CHIEF PROPOSES CUTTING DUTIES

In an interview with "Vremya MN" on 21 October, State Customs Committee head Mikhail Vanin said that a government commission for defending domestic producers is currently examining his agency's proposals to reduce duties on imported goods as a way to reduce smuggling. This month, the commission will discuss lowering duties on such items as meat, poultry, furniture, and electronics, all of which are among the types of good most frequently smuggled. Vanin said that importers avoid paying tariffs using a variety of ruses, such as labeling chicken parts as frozen vegetables. Vanin told "Izvestiya" in an interview on 15 October that 30-40 percent of imported goods in Russia are smuggled. He added that the customs business is one of the most criminalized in Russia. Our tariff regulations "are detailed and academic but they have nothing to do with reality," Vanin said. JAC

ELECTION COMMISSION INVITES FUGITIVE/CANDIDATE TO VISIT

The Achinsk election commission in Krasnoyarsk Krai has refused to register Krasnoyarsk aluminum plant chief Anatolii Bykov as a candidate for the December State Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 October. According to the daily, the commission is demanding that Bykov present his documents personally, having reached this decision after first consulting with the Central Election Commission. Bykov now has until 6:00 p.m. local time on 24 October to hand over his documents. A warrant for Bykov's arrest was issued at the end of August (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 August 1999.) JAC

A NEW-OLD FACE FOR THE DUMA...

Former speaker of the Russian parliament Ruslan Khasbulatov will seek a seat in the State Duma from a single-mandate district in Khabarovsk Krai, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 October. Khasbulatov said that he is chair of the Plekhanov Academy of World Economics in Komsomolsk-na-Amure, where he resides in a hotel. JAC

...AND AN OLIGARCH PITCHES HIS HAT IN THE RING

Media magnate Boris Berezovskii confirmed on 21 October his intention to run for the Duma from a single-mandate district in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Berezovskii told ITAR-TASS that he decided to run from that district because of his profound "knowledge of the problems of the North Caucasus." So far, Berezovskii will have to compete against 12 other candidates. JAC

SOME RELIGIOUS GROUPS UNABLE TO RE-REGISTER

Addressing a meeting of the Presidential Council for Relations with Religious Organizations, Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko said that on 350 occasions, the ministry has refused to re-register religious organizations because their charters or declared aims violate federal laws, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 21 October. He added that so far only 160 religious organizations have been re-registered. Last June, Pavel Krasheninnikov, who was then justice minister, said that he believes that only 35 percent of Russia's religious organizations have been registered, as required by a controversial 1997 law on religion. Krasheninnikov called for extending the current deadline of 31 December 1999 by two years. Under the law, groups that are unregistered can be banned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). According to Sidorenko, the Justice Ministry wants the deadline extended by one year. JAC

U.S. BACKS, MOSCOW DENOUNCES BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE

Even as Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and U.S. envoy Steven Sestanovich reached agreement on a $2.4 billion Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to be built by Turkey's Botas company, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Kalyuzhnyi told Interfax on 21 October that he does "not believe that the pipeline will ever be constructed" because it is based on politics rather than economics. Kalyuzhnyi added that the "most beneficial" route would be across Russia. In other comments, the minister said that 75 kilometers of pipe are ready for the beginning of construction of a pipeline bypassing Chechnya. PG




MOSCOW TRANSFERS FOUR MIG-29S TO ARMENIA

Colonel General Anatolii Kornukov, the commander of Russia's air force, arrived in Yerevan on 21 October to present four new Mig-29 jet pursuit aircraft to the Armenian government, Turan and other agencies reported. This latest transfer means that Armenia now has 20 of the advanced fighter planes. PG

AZERBAIJANI MUSLIM LEADER SAYS RUSSIA GUILTY OF GENOCIDE

In an appeal to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Sheikh ul-Islam Allakhshukyr Pasha-zade said that Moscow is guilty of genocide against the Chechen people, Turan reported on 21 October. Pasha-zade demanded that Russian forces stop their efforts to annihilate Chechen civilians. Following a meeting with Russia's ambassador in Baku, the Muslim religious leader said that it is his "duty to protect Muslims wherever they are." PG

SARA TV EMPLOYEES CONTINUE HUNGER STRIKE

Some 13 workers at Baku's SARA Television continued their hunger strike for a third day, Turan reported on 21 October. The strikers are protesting the Azerbaijani Justice Ministry's decision to shut down that station. PG

RUSSIA MAY ASK GEORGIA FOR PART OF ITS CFE ARMS QUOTA

Shalva Pichkhadze, an adviser to Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze, told Interfax on 21 October that Moscow might ask Georgia to transfer to Russia part of its arms quota under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. But Pichkhadze said that at the OSCE summit in Istanbul next month, Tbilisi will require Russia to remain within the existing limits. PG

SHEVARDNADZE WON'T DEBATE WITH ADJAR LEADER

Saying "I do not debate with my subordinates," Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze rejected Adjar leader Aslan Abashide's call for a series of televised debates, Caucasus Press reported on 21 October. Meanwhile, Tbilisi officials reported that the Adjar government has failed to make required financial transfers to the central Georgian government. PG

GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT OVERRULES ELECTORAL COMMISSION

Georgia's highest court overturned a decision by the Central Election Commission and ordered the registration of the Revived Communists and People's Patriots bloc, Prime News reported on 21 October. In another election-related development, Tbilisi police prevented four buses carrying Revival of Georgia supporters from entering the capital even though they had permission from the Interior Ministry, Caucasus Press reported the same day. PG

RUSSIAN IMPERIALISM, SOVIET POWER TO BLAME FOR SLOW GROWTH OF DEMOCRACY IN KAZAKHSTAN?

In Prague for meetings with Czech President Vaclav Havel, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev told journalists on 21 October that the democratization of his country is proceeding slowly because of the influence of Russian imperialism and later Soviet power, CTK reported. PG

KAZAKHSTAN SECURITY CHIEF SEES ISLAMIST THREAT

General Alnur Musayev, the newly confirmed head of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, said on 21 October that "there is a danger of religious extremism; it is becoming ever more real with every year that passes," Reuters reported. Musayev said that he is tightening border security to block illegal immigration and is prepared to deport fundamentalist groups, which he said are being prepared by "a system of fundamentalist theological instruction" within the country. Meanwhile, the authorities closed a religious school in Qarasu, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. PG

AMNESTY RELEASES 25,000 FROM KAZAKHSTAN PRISONS

According to Interfax-Kazakhstan on 21 October, Astana has amnestied and freed approximately 25,700 prisoners, including youths, the sick, women, and invalids. The amnesty took place in connection with the proclamation of the current year as "A Year of Unity and the Succession of Generations." PG

KAZAKHSTAN'S KURDS APPEAL TO NAZARBAEV, TURKEY

A conference of the Ethnic Kurds Association has called on Turkey to spare the life of convicted Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and to resolve the Kurdish issue in a peaceful way. The conference also appealed to President Nazarbaev to press their case with Ankara, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 21 October. But in making this appeal, the Kazakhstani Kurds said that they do not plan to stage any protest actions to advance their demand. PG

KAZAKHSTAN'S COSSACKS DENY ASKING TO GO TO CHECHNYA

Vladimir Ovsyannikov, a leader of the Semirechye Cossack Union, on 21 October denied reports that his union wants to be resettled on the left bank of Chechnya's Terek River once Russian power is re-established there, Interfax reported. But he did say that some Cossack families now living in Kazakhstan are willing to move to Stavropol Krai. Meanwhile, another Cossack leader in Kazakhstan, Gennady Belyakov, said his people are not going to leave that Central Asian country "no matter how difficult things will be here." PG

RAKHMONOV SAYS TAJIKISTAN WON'T BE 'SECOND AFGHANISTAN'

Tajikistan President Imomali Rakhmonov told a gathering of law enforcement officials that he is confident that Tajikistan will not become "a second Afghanistan" and thus serve as a base for terrorists, Interfax reported on 21 October. In order to prevent such a scenario, the Tajik government has established a special commission to consider problems of the country's eastern region near Kyrgyzstan and to look into the case of the recently kidnapped Japanese geologists. PG

TAJIK OPPOSITION REJECTS COURT RULING IN THEIR FAVOR

Leaders of Tajik opposition parties said that a decision by Tajikistan's Supreme Court allowing one of their number to run for president was simply a fig leaf designed to make the government look more democratic, Reuters reported on 21 October. United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri said that "the government needs one candidate from the Islamic party to be registered in order to give an impression of democracy." The court decision came on the heels of a demand by U.S. Ambassador Robert Finn that Tajikistan improve its electoral arrangements. PG

TURKMENISTAN, IRAN REPORTEDLY TO COOPERATE ON CASPIAN OIL

Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov and visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi have agreed to work together to develop Caspian oil resources, Interfax reported on 21 October. No further details were given. PG




BELARUSIAN NGO REGISTERS POLICE ATTROCITIES AFTER 'FREEDOM MARCH'

The public association Legal Assistance to the Population has issued a statement citing "gross violations of human rights" by the riot police vis-a-vis those detained after the opposition "freedom march" on 17 October, Belapan reported on 21 October. The association said it has received a "large number" of complaints from people who suffered from police mistreatment. In particular, victims reported that policemen beat them with truncheons, insulted them using foul language, and kicked at and trampled on them during their transportation in vehicles to police stations. Meanwhile, the authorities have given "expensive gifts" to some 60 riot policemen involved in suppressing the "freedom march" and awarded medals "for selfless service" to five policemen injured in the clashes. JM

BELARUS WANTS TO IMPROVE TIES WITH EUROPE THROUGH FREE ELECTIONS

Belarusian Foreign Minister Ural Latypau told the Chamber of Representatives on 21 October that Belarus can normalize its relations with European countries primarily by holding free and democratic parliamentary and presidential elections, Belapan reported. In his opinion, talks between the government and the opposition could facilitate preparations for the elections. According to Latypau, the authorities are ready to begin such talks. He added, however, that the talks in Belarus will be different from those held in Poland and Czechoslovakia 10 years ago, when the opposing sides were "almost equal in strength" and discussed a transfer of power. In Belarus, Latypau said, an "absolute majority" of the population supports President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the two sides will discuss only how to hold elections that would be recognized by the EU as legitimate. JM

UKRAINIAN SECURITY CHIEF DENIES CHECHEN ACTIVITIES IN CRIMEA

"Krymskaya pravda" reported on 19 October that "representatives of Chechen field commanders are buying dirt cheap apartments in Kerch, Feodosiya, and other towns of Crimea for families of [Chechen] militants," according to Interfax. The newspaper also suggested that Chechen militants are supported by "representatives of Crimean Islamist organizations of a fundamentalist orientation." Ukraine's Security Service chief Leonid Derkach told Interfax on 21 October that he has no information confirming that report. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Zhytomyr the same day that the authorities "are seriously keeping under control everything that is taking place in Crimea." He also said he will order that the "Krymskaya pravda" report be checked for accuracy. JM

UKRAINIAN CHIEF BANKER CLAIMS TO HAVE BEATEN OFF ATTACK ON HRYVNYA

National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko on 21 October said the bank has fought off an attack on the national currency, which slipped below the government trading limit of 4.6 hryvni to $1 the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). Yushchenko said the attack was prepared by "Russian and Latvian banks," adding that it could be even more serious than the "fuel crisis in July-August," Interfax reported. Yushchenko noted that there are no "monetary reasons" for the destabilization of the financial market. The same day, President Leonid Kuchma commented on the recent hryvnya slide by saying that "money has appeared in Ukraine and people want to play on this." JM

KUCHMA TO DEMAND $150 BILLION FROM RUSSIA?

Speaking to journalists in Khmelnyskyy on 20 October, Kuchma said Ukraine intends to discuss with Russia the return of the money transferred from Ukraine's Savings Bank to Russia shortly before the breakup of the USSR. Earlier, Kuchma had said that in 1991 some 84 billion rubles ($150 billion at the official exchange rate of that time) were transferred from Ukraine to Russia. Kuchma argued that Ukraine has the right to a part of "what was accumulated and produced" during the Soviet era, according to Interfax. He added that it is difficult for him to say whether Ukraine will succeed in holding such talks since they depend on "the good will of both sides." JM

ANTI-INDEPENDENCE ACTIVIST REJECTS TALLINN CITY COUNCIL SEAT

Yevgeny Kogan, who gained prominence in the late 1980s as one of the most vocal supporters of continued Soviet rule in Estonia, has given up the seat he won on Tallinn's City Council in the recent municipal elections, BNS reported on 21 October. Kogan, who ran as a candidate with People's Trust, a coalition of Russian parties, gave up his mandate "in order to avoid hindering People's Trust from fulfilling its obligations to the voters," according to coalition leader Sergei Ivanov. People's Trust is being wooed as a potential member of a majority governing coalition in Tallinn, and Kogan's presence on the party's list had been a stumbling block to reaching an agreement. MJZ

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT LEADER IN RIGA

Toomas Savi, the speaker of the Estonian parliament, met with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins during his four-day official visit to Latvia, BNS reported on 21 October. Addressing the Latvian parliament, Savi congratulated Latvia on the European Commission's recent recommendation that the EU invite Latvia to begin accession talks before the end of 1999. Savi also praised the cooperation between Estonia and Latvia on defense issues, noting the value of such efforts given that both Estonia and Latvia aspire to become NATO members. Savi is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Andris Skele on 22 October. MJZ

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR MISSES SKRUNDA RADAR HANDOVER CEREMONY

Russian Ambassador to Latvia Aleksandr Udaltsev was conspicuously absent from the ceremony marking the return to Latvian control of the distant early warning radar site at Skrunda, according to BNS on 21 October. Some 30 foreign ambassadors attended that ceremony, during which Latvian and Russian officials signed documents formally ending nearly 50 years of Soviet/Russian military presence in Latvia. Udaltsev, however, did attend a reception that followed the ceremony, BNS reported. MJZ

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT UPS PARTY MEMBERSHIP MINIMUM

Lawmakers have given final approval to a bill increasing from 200 to 1,000 the minimum number of members a political party requires to officially register, BNS reported on 21 October. Three of the six parties currently represented in the parliament--Latvia's Way, the New Party, and the left-wing alliance For Human Rights in an Integrated Latvia have fewer than 1,000 members and must raise their membership levels to that level by 31 March 2000 or risk having their registration revoked. Latvia's Way plans to ask President Vaira Vike- Freiberga to veto the legislation, according to party chairman Andrejs Pantelejevs. If Vike-Freiberga does not comply with that request, the party plans to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court. MJZ

LITHUANIAN CRISIS OVER OIL DEAL CONTINUES

The leader of Lithuania's National Democratic Party, parliamentary deputy Rimantas Smetona, has accused President Valdas Adamkus of succumbing to the influence of the ruling Conservative Party during the ongoing crisis over the sale of a stake in Mazeikiai Oil to the U.S.-based Williams International company, ELTA reported on 21 October. "Now we must find out who the president stands with--the Conservatives or the nation," Smetona said during a news conference. Meanwhile, opposition parties continued to clamor for the rejection of Williams International's bid for a stake in Mazeikiai. Gediminas Kirkilas, a leader of the Democratic Labor Party, said that Lithuania would benefit more from breaking off negotiations with Williams rather than embarking on new talks. MJZ

LITHUANIAN REGULATOR SAYS INGALINA IS Y2K READY

The State Nuclear Safety Inspectorate announced on 21 October that most millennium bug problems related to the Ignalina nuclear power plant and its safety systems have been solved, although some systems such as radioactivity monitoring and supervision still do not meet Y2K repair standards owing to a lack of funds. The plant has developed an emergency plan for dealing with potential Y2K problems and has confirmed that operations at Ignalina should not be affected if the Baltic States' electrical grid breaks down, ELTA reported. MJZ

POLISH PARLIAMENT REJECTS 'DECOMMUNIZATION' BILL

The parliament on 22 October voted 215 to 176 with 23 abstentions to reject a bill that would have banned former communist officials from being appointed to public posts for 10 years. The bill was proposed last year by some 100 deputies of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). AWS deputy Marcin Kaminski told lawmakers the previous day that the bill provides "the last chance to cut the umbilical cord linking the Polish Third Republic with the totalitarian, collaborationist state that was the People's Republic of Poland." However, not only the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance and Polish Peasant Party but also the AWS's coalition partner, Freedom Union (UW), voted against the proposed legislation. The UW argued that the decommunization bill violates the constitution and applies the principle of collective responsibility. JM

POLISH MINERS BLOCK RAIL TRACKS TO PROTEST MINING REFORM

Some 700 miners on 21 October blocked traffic at two rail junctions in Lazy and Tarnowskie Gory, southern Poland, to protest the government's restructuring of the coal mining sector. The miners want the government to slow down the rate at which it lays off employees and closes mines. They noted that there are not sufficient funds to pay severance to laid- off miners. The Transport Ministry has demanded that the Interior Ministry restore the flow traffic at the blocked junctions. However, the police have not intervened, arguing that the protests are taking place on a site controlled by the Railway Protection Service, which is subordinated to the Transport Ministry. JM

CZECH COMMUNISTS LEADING IN THE POLLS

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) topped the latest opinion poll by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, Czech media reported on 22 October. The Communists received 23 percent support, compared with 21 percent for the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and 17.5 percent for the governing Social Democrats. The Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats received 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively. It is the first time since the fall of the communist regime in 1989 that the KSCM has taken the lead in an opinion poll. President Vaclav Havel said the poll is a warning to the democratic parties to stop their "flirting and games" and start thinking about what is best for the country. ODS leader Vaclav Klaus said he does not believe the poll but added that it only reinforces his party's proposal for a "super-grand" governing coalition of all democratic parties. VG

CZECH PARLIAMENT PASSES FOREIGNERS' LAW

The legislature on 21 October passed a law that sets stricter conditions on foreigners applying for residency in the Czech Republic, CTK reported. The legislature also passed a law on asylum for refugees, which provides for free legal aid to be granted to refugee applicants under certain circumstances. The government says the new laws are designed to ensure that Czech legislation in this area is in harmony with EU norms. VG

SLOVAKIA AWARDS ORDER OF DUAL CROSS TO CHINESE AMBASSADOR

Slovak President Rudolf Schuster awarded the Order of the White Dual Cross (Second Class) to outgoing Chinese Ambassador to Slovakia Tao Miaofa, CTK reported. The order is one of the highest in Slovakia. The President's Office stated that Schuster acted on a proposal by the Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said it is standard practice to award such orders to ambassadors at the end of their mission in the country. A small group of demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace to protest the decision, saying the order should not be given to representatives of countries that violate human rights. VG

HUNGARY SUBMITS LIST OF LOST ART WORK TO RUSSIA

The Hungarian Embassy in Moscow on 21 October submitted to the Russian Foreign Ministry a list of Hungarian art works that are believed to have been taken to Russia during and after World War II, Hungarian media reported. According to a law passed in Russia last year, the art works are now considered Russian state property. However, that law provides for bilateral negotiations in certain cases. In other news, the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary has said that it is "shocked" by last week's unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the Hungarian gendarmerie that actively took part in the internment of some 430,000 Jews in ghettos during World War II. The plaque is dedicated to those gendarmes who were killed in action during the war. MSZ




CROATIA TO VOTE ON 22 DECEMBER

President Franjo Tudjman told the National Council of his governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) on 21 October that parliamentary elections will take place on 22 December, "Jutarnji list" reported. He said that the lower house of the parliament will dissolve itself "around 10 November," after which he will formally announce the date for the ballot. The HDZ council agreed that there will be 10 electoral districts of about 380,000 voters each, plus one "district" for Croats living abroad. Elections are due in 2000, but the HDZ and opposition alike had frequently said that the vote would take place sooner. Public opinion polls suggest that a six-party coalition of opposition parties is likely to win more votes than the HDZ, which many voters hold responsible for Croatia's low standard of living and high level of corruption. The strongest single opposition party is Ivica Racan's Social Democrats. Tudjman and the HDZ have profited in the past from the virtually incessant in-fighting within the ranks of the opposition. PM

OPPOSITION, CHURCH CRITICAL OF TUDJMAN'S DECISION

The opposition coalition will present its official stand on the elections on 25 October, but initial reactions of several opposition leaders are negative, "Jutarnji list" reported on 22 October. The opposition politicians accused the government of seeking to profit from the "Christmas atmosphere." They added that the international community and Roman Catholic Church will most likely object to the timing of the vote so close to Christmas. In Rome, Archbishop Josip Bozanic, who is president of the Croatian Bishop's Conference, said that the important thing is that the election date is now finally known. Bozanic's spokesman said, however, that the government has clearly ignored a previous warning from the bishops that elections should not take place close to Christmas. PM

HDZ SLAMS FARMERS' PROTEST

The government agreed on 21 October that the purpose of the farmers' protests is to embarrass the HDZ in the runup to elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). The HDZ National Council took the same position as the government. Farmers' spokesmen stressed that the protesters want to demonstrate their unhappiness with the government's agricultural policies and will continue their protest actions. PM

IS HDZ TRYING TO PACK HIGHEST COURT?

The parliament is expected to confirm on 22 October the nomination of eight individuals to fill vacancies on the 11-member Constitutional Court. Kresimir Rozman, who is vice president of a union of government workers, told AP that the authorities chose the eight on the basis of their loyalties to the HDZ. Any professional expertise that any of them may have is incidental, Rozman stressed. Vladimir Gredelj, who heads a professional organization of judges, told "Jutarnji list" that he has never heard of some of the nominees. Gredelj added that at least one nominee has made statements in public that reveal a lack of knowledge of even basic legal concepts. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION SAYS ELECTIONS MUST BE AT ALL LEVELS

Representatives of the principal opposition parties and coalitions agreed in Belgrade on 21 October that they will participate only in elections that are simultaneously to the presidency, the parliament, and local offices, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The government favors elections to local governments only. The opposition controls some 40 municipal governments, including Belgrade and Nis. PM

MILOSEVIC'S PARTY REJECTS ROUNDTABLE TALKS

Ivica Dacic, who is a spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party, said in Belgrade on 21 October that any talks about elections must take place in the parliament. He repeated his party's position that there is no need for an early ballot. The opposition wants a special roundtable to take up the issue of early elections. PM

SERBIAN REGIME CONTINUES INTIMIDATION CAMPAIGN

Unidentified persons in Vranje on 20 October threatened local Democratic Party leader Dragan Janjic, warning him not to organize any demonstrations calling for Milosevic's ouster. Police sought to break up a meeting of the opposition Alliance for Change, which was attended by about 100 people, the private Beta news agency reported. In Kragujevac, police broke up a meeting at which wreaths were to have been laid in honor of high-school students killed by the Communists at the end of World War II. In Uzice, local people prevented police from detaining the leader of an independent police union. PM

SECOND UN OFFICIAL ATTACKED IN PRISHTINA

Unknown persons on 20 October threw a grenade into the apartment of a Serbian interpreter for the UN mission in Kosova (UNMIK), injuring her seriously. A UN spokesman said the next day that she had previously been "harassed by Albanians," Reuters reported. Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN mission, said that "this deplorable attack on innocent women [sic.] and on a UNMIK staff member deserves the world's condemnation." On 11 October, a crowd of ethnic Albanians killed a UNMIK official of Bulgarian origin after mistaking him for a Serb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1999). PM

BERLIN DENIES REPORT OF MACEDONIAN ARMS SALES

A German Defense Ministry spokesman has denied press reports from Macedonia that Germany has agreed to provide Macedonia's small army with a considerable quantity of arms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). The spokesman said on 21 October that the ministry is studying a Macedonian request for arms but has not made any commitment. PM

CAR BOMB ATTACK ON BOSNIAN SERB JOURNALIST

A car bomb seriously injured independent journalist and publisher Zeljko Kopanja in front of the Republika Srpska government complex in Banja Luka on 22 October, Beta reported. His "Nezavisne novine" recently ran a series of articles on war criminals and speculators. Hospital spokesmen told the private Onasa news agency that Kopanja is not in a critical condition. Several bystanders were also injured, dpa reported. PM

PETRITSCH, BARRY PRESENT PROPOSED BOSNIAN ELECTORAL LAW

The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch and the OSCE's Robert Barry presented a proposed election law to the three members of the Bosnian joint presidency in Sarajevo on 21 October. Petritsch said that he hopes the Bosnian authorities will approve the law in time for the October 2000 elections. Observers note that the law is aimed at easing the grip that nationalist politicians have on their respective communities. It will require candidates to win at least some support on either side of the inter-ethnic boundary. At least one-third of all candidates must be women. Some anti-nationalist politicians say that the law does not go far enough because it does not enable many voters to cross ethnic lines when voting for members of the presidency. PM

ITALY CALLS FOR BETTER ECONOMIC TIES WITH ALBANIA

On a short visit to Tirana on 21 October, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema called for replacing the blossoming illicit trade between the two countries with more legitimate activities. "We should interrupt the trafficking of guns, drugs, and cigarettes and the disgusting smuggling of people which offends the conscience of Europe. We should replace that with a safe sea where ships carrying goods travel between the coast of Italy and the fascinating but not [economically developed] Albanian coast. Security and development move together," he added. D'Alema stressed that Italian business needs a peaceful environment in Albania if it is to develop economic ties there. "We want to make contact with the Balkans and the East through Albania. This is the role that Italy should play in order that the [EU's] Stability Pact does not remain an empty phrase," AP reported. PM

ROMANIAN SENATOR BLASTS CHANGES TO NEW LAW ON SECURITATE FILES

Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu on 21 October accused the parliament of "killing" the recently passed bill on public access to the files of the former communist Securitate, according to a Mediafax report cited by the BBC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). Dumitrescu, who drafted the original version of the bill, said parliamentary deputies had made so many amendments to his draft that it would now serve as a "veil" for the activities of the former Securitate. He said the fact that the new version of the bill does not allow people to study documents that do not deal with their own persecution defeats the original purpose of his draft. He also criticized the decision to allow the current secret service to lock away certain files on the pretext that they might be dangerous for state security. Dumitrescu called on President Emil Constantinescu not to sign the bill. VG

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES FUNDING FOR HEATING CRISIS

The Romanian government on 21 October decided to increase the 1999 budget deficit in order to secure funding for alleviating the country's heating crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline." 21 October 1999). The government plans to allocate 400 billion lei ($23 million) in subsidies to the country's heating distributors. Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes refused to say whether the budget deficit increase would threaten the country's stand-by loan agreement with the IMF. The IMF has already expressed concern at the government's wage policies. VG

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES DEPUTY PROSECUTORS

Lawmakers on 21 October confirmed the appointment of three new deputies to the prosecutor-general, BASA-Press reported. The Christian Democratic Popular Front and the Communists voted against those appointments, saying that two of the candidates had been involved in attempts to interfere with police investigations. Prosecutor-General Mircea Iuga dismissed the accusations as "unfounded." VG

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES ECONOMIC PLAN...

The cabinet on 21 October approved an economic development plan, Bulgarian media reported. The plan calls for a host of measures designed to achieve stable GDP growth, including administration restructuring, infrastructure development, and investment in human resources. It aims at annual GDP growth of 4 percent and a maximum inflation rate of 3 percent. Economic growth for the first half of 1999 equaled just 0.5 percent. Deputy Prime Minister Alexandar Bojkov said the government also plans to speed up the privatization process. Bojkov said this year's privatizations should bring in some $500 million. VG

...ADOPTS ARMED FORCES STRATEGY

The cabinet also approved a plan that calls for the personnel of the armed forces to be reduced by 44,800 from its current strength of 93,000 by 2004, BTA reported. Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev said the armed forces would be divided into rapid reaction, defense, territorial, and reserve forces. VG




RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT STATEMENT ON THE SITUATION IN CHECHNYA


The anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya was the state's

logical response to a challenge to the whole of Russian society and the international community. The first stage of the operation was concluded when one-third of the republic's territory had been freed from terrorists.

The Government of the Russian Federation hereby declares that in the future it will also act as decisively and strictly in order to achieve the complete restoration of law and order on the whole territory of the Chechen Republic [as well as] the freeing of Chechnya from terrorist and other bandit formations. The Chechen Republic cannot be and will no longer be an outpost of international terrorism and extremism.

At the same time, the government of the Russian Federation unequivocally declares that the fight against terrorists and bandits must in no way turn into a fight directed against the peoples of Chechnya.

The Government of the Russian Federation confirms its stance on amnestying all participants in the conflict who have not directly taken part in terrorist acts. We are categorically opposed to the persecution of people on ethnic grounds. This is inadmissible.

The suppression of terrorism and armed extremism on Russian soil is an internal affair of the Russian Federation. At the same time, it is our duty before the entire international community.

Russia's fight against terrorism and crime, including the blocking of their transnational channels, meets with understanding in the world. This is natural: the protection of citizens' rights and freedoms is the direct responsibility of any state.

The firm and consistent policy of the president of the Russian Federation and the government on the settlement of the situation in Chechnya [and on] the return to peace and calm on the whole territory of Russia is supported by the overwhelming majority of citizens in the Russian Federation, including the peaceful population in the Chechen republic.

The Government of the Russian Federation is open for a dialogue with those political forces in the Chechen Republic that are ready:

to comply with the Constitution of the Russian Federation [and the] sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia;

to denounce terrorism in all its manifestations;

to disarm illegal armed formations and hand over to the federal authorities persons guilty of terrorist acts, hostage-taking, and banditry;

to free all hostages on the territory of Chechnya;

to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;

to create conditions for the safe return of people who had been forced to leave their homes.

All questions of political settlement of the situation in the Chechen Republic must and will be decided at the negotiating table. The way to this is open.

Chechnya's residents, as citizens of our country, should know that they will receive protection and assistance from the Government of the Russian Federation. In their actions, the federal authorities firmly take into account the interests of each people in Russia as well as the unity of the multinational Russian people.

We remember all who have given their lives discharging their duties as soldiers and citizens.

We remember all innocent victims of terror.

The government thanks Russian servicemen, members of law enforcement agencies, volunteers, all those who today have taken upon themselves the enormous responsibility and heavy burden in the name of defending the interests of the Motherland.

Above all, the Government of the Russian Federation values the wisdom and endurance of Russian citizens. Source: ITAR-TASS, 21 October 1999


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