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Newsline - October 25, 1999




RUSSIAN OFFICIALS OFFER DIVERGING EXPLANATIONS FOR GROZNY BLAST

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev both denied on 22 October any involvement by their respective agencies in the blast at Grozny's central market the previous day. But the head of the joint press center of the federal forces in the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Vekrich, told Interfax on 23 October that a special operation was conducted to destroy the market, where he claimed arms and ammunition were traded. Vekrich denied, however, that regular army troops or artillery or aviation were involved. Speaking in Moscow on 23 October, Russian deputy chief of staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov said the explosion was the result of a Russian security force operation that had succeeded in provoking a clash between two rival groups of Chechens. LF

BOMBARDMENT OF CHECHEN VILLAGES CONTINUES

Russian forces on 23-24 October continued intensive artillery bombardment of towns and villages, including Achkhoi-Martan, Bamut, Sernovodsk, Gorgagorsk, and Vedeno. Twenty-seven civilians were killed by shelling in Serzhen-Yurt alone, according to Reuters. Sixteen died in Samashki and 23 in Vedeno. Grozny was not subject to artillery attack on 24 October. Russian airforce spokesmen rejected Chechen claims to have shot down two warplanes on 23 October and to have used a Stinger missile to bring down a reconnaissance plane during the night of 23-24 October, AP reported. LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS PREVENT FUGITIVES LEAVING CHECHNYA

Federal forces on 23 October blocked the main highway from Chechnya west to Ingushetia, thus cutting off the last remaining route by which displaced persons could flee Russian air and artillery strikes. A Federal Security Service spokesman explained to Interfax on 24 October that the measure was intended to prevent Chechen terrorists from infiltrating Ingushetia under the guise of fugitives. In Magas, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev on 24 October expressed outrage and said he will appeal to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to repeal the move. Two days earlier, Aushev had appealed to Moscow not to "politicize" the issue of displaced persons. He complained that unnamed Russian politicians have accused the presidents of North Caucasus republics to which Chechens have fled of exaggerating the number of fugitives. LF

NORTH CAUCASUS LEADERS CALL FOR TALKS BETWEEN GROZNY, MOSCOW...

Meeting in Essentuki on 23 October, North Caucasus leaders discussed Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's proposals for combating banditry and terrorism and resolving conflicts in the North Caucasus, Interfax reported the following day. Ingushetian President Aushev said that they agreed that some of those proposals merit a discussion between Maskhadov and either Russian President Boris Yeltsin or Prime Minister Putin. LF

...BUT CHECHEN WARLORDS SET CONDITIONS

The Chechen Republic's State Defense Committee has forbidden the republic's leaders to engage in negotiations with any Russian representative who bears any degree of responsibility for the decision to launch the war against Chechnya, former Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told Interfax on 24 October. Arsanov said that formulation excludes Prime Minister Putin, whom he termed the main initiator of hostilities in Chechnya. Arsanov added that Chechnya will agree to talks only on neutral ground and with the mediation of either the UN or any other international organization capable of ensuring that Russia complies with any agreement it signs. He said that for such a dialogue to begin, Russia must first halt military activities and withdraw its troops from Chechen territory. LF

RUSSIA MAY EXCHANGE DETAINED CHECHEN FOR ABDUCTED GENERAL

Russian Interior Ministry official Vladimir Kozlov told ITAR- TASS on 23 October that if such an exchange is proposed, Moscow would be willing to release Mairbek Vachagaev, the official Chechen representative in Moscow, in exchange for the freeing of Interior Minister General Gennadii Shpigun, who was abducted from a plane at Grozny airport earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). Vachagaev was detained in Moscow on 21 October and has been charged with illegal possession of a firearm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). LF

U.S. URGES RUSSIA TO SEEK DIALOGUE WITH CHECHNYA...

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on 22 October called on Russia to urgently begin a political dialogue to end the violence in Chechnya. He noted that "the increasing loss of civilian life jeopardizes the security and stability in the region." State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev responded on 23 October that the U.S. "did not sit down to a political settlement of the Yugoslav situation this spring." Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin sounded a similar note, asking "Why did the Americans resort to the use of force in resolving the acute conflict in [Kosova], despite Russia's insistence on a political solution?" The Fatherland- All Russian alliance, a key bloc in the upcoming State Duma elections, issued a statement on 24 October saying that the West's insistence that the "counter-terrorist operation" stop and that political negotiations begin with a partner that does not exist" is "strange." JAC

...AS DOES EU

The conflict in Chechnya dominated a top-level meeting between EU leaders and Russian Prime Minister Putin in Helsinki on 22 October. Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, whose country hold the rotating EU Presidency, told a news conference after the meeting that the union had called on Russia "to immediately enter negotiations to reach a political settlement of the conflict." Putin told the same news conference that Moscow will "continue to combat terrorism and bands of armed gangs," saying that "we have no other choice but to destroy their bases," according to AP. Interfax quoted Putin as also saying that "we absolutely agree with our European partners' opinion that political issues can be resolved by political means only. Chechnya's status will be determined by political means." JC

RUSSIA WANTS END OF U.S., NATO 'MONOPOLY' IN EUROPE

The 22 October meeting in Helsinki had been called to discuss future relations between Russia and the EU. In response to the EU's strategy vis-a-vis Russia, endorsed in June, Russian Prime Minister Putin presented Moscow's blueprint for relations with the union over the next decade. Reuters quoted the document as proposing that the "partnership of the Russian Federation and the European Union could include organization of a pan-European security system based on European forces, without isolating the USA and NATO, but without the monopoly of these on the continent." Moscow also stressed that it wants a bigger role in European affairs and better relations with the EU but will seek neither membership nor association with the union. Finnish Premier welcomed the Russian blueprint, saying the EU considers it "a singularly important outcome in our evolving partnership with Russia." JC

YELTSIN'S FOES SEIZE ON GORE'S COMMENTS

U.S. Vice President Al Gore's remark to AP on 22 October that Russian President Boris "Yeltsin's episodic approach to the presidency has not helped [Russia's] ability to get on top of all of [its] problems" was characterized by Ekho Moskvy as a "small political sensation" since "for the first time...Washington authorities critically assessed the Russian president's state of health and his ability to run the country." Ekho Moskvy is owned by the Media-Most group, whose head Vladimir Gusinskii is currently at odds with the Kremlin. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee head Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko told the radio station that if the U.S. vice president "has only now established that our president's state of health leaves something to be desired, then I do not congratulate him or the agencies reporting to him." Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said on 24 October that Yeltsin "feels well and most important, controls the most crucial political decisions being made today." JAC

U.S. RESTRICTING VISAS FOR RUSSIAN CITIZENS

"The New York Times" reported on 24 October that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has sharply reduced the number of visas issued to Russians, including many students and scholars wanting to travel and study in the U.S. According to the newspaper, after the 1998 economic collapse embassy officials, fearing that students from impoverished Russia would try to settle permanently in the U.S., increased scrutiny of visa applications. As a result, about 40 percent of Russian students hoping to study in the U.S. have been refused visas, which is about double the rejection rate of previous years. In the summer of 1998, 83 percent of all "F" type visa applications were granted, compared with an acceptance rate of 62 percent during the same period this year, the daily reported. JAC

RUSSIA-U.S. DISARMAMENT TALKS STILL YIELDING NO RESULTS

Following two days of talks in Moscow between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Berdennikov and U.S. Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security affairs John Holum, the Russian Foreign Ministry on 22 October issued a statement saying that if the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is violated, all negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons will become "pointless." Any further reduction of such weapons, the statement noted, will be possible only if the ABM treaty remains intact. Interfax cited "informed Moscow sources" as saying "no headway" is being made by Russia and U.S. on the issue of the "so-called adaptation" of the ABM Treaty. At the same time, those sources confirmed that Russia does not intend to "slam the door" on the talks. AP quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official as commenting that the talks are still at an early stage and that the two sides are considering a "wide range of options." JC

IVANOV COMPLAINS TO ALBRIGHT OVER 'BLOCKING' OF OIL CONTRACTS WITH IRAQ

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arguing that it is "unacceptable" that the U.S. is blocking Russian oil contracts under the UN's Iraqi oil-for-food program, RIA- Novosti reported on 23 October. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze, who handed the letter to U.S. permanent representative to the UN Richard Holbrooke, told journalists that Ivanov described the U.S. practice as clearly "selective," particularly with regard to the state company Zarubezhneft. Similar contracts concluded by other states pass the UN sanctions committee "unimpeded," the letter maintained. Zarubezhneft and other Russian companies fully comply with the Security Council norms, Ordzhonikidze said, adding that Moscow believes the U.S. is seeking to prevent Russia companies from consolidating their position on the Iraqi oil market in order to "reserve this chance" for U.S. companies in the future. JC

COMMUNISTS ATTEMPT BRINKSMANSHIP WITH BUDGET VOTE...

Duma deputies voted on 22 October by 239 to 21 in favor of postponing until 26 October a vote on next year's budget. The decision followed a declaration by the leadership of the Duma's largest faction, the Communists, that they would reject the draft budget unless additional funds were found for science, agriculture, and investment in industry, ITAR- TASS reported. The government has already reallocated 7.5 billion ($290 million) rubles for these areas (4 billion rubles for agriculture, 2 billion rubles for investment, and 1.5 billion rubles for science) by redistributing expenditures in the draft of the budget approved by the conciliation commission, according to First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko. JAC

...AS AGARIANS DEMAND STILL MORE FOR AGRICULTURE

Agrarian faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov said that the additional 4 million rubles allocated for agriculture was still insufficient and that the sector required a further 3 billion rubles. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told NTV that if the Duma rejects the budget on 26 October then it cannot be passed any sooner than the spring of next year. Such a delay would prompt the IMF and World Bank to further delay extending funds to Russia, according to Zhukov. JAC

MORE THAN 30 BLOCS HOPE TO RUN IN DUMA ELECTIONS...

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 24 October that 31 organizations submitted applications materials before the 6:00 p.m. deadline that day to participate in the upcoming Duma elections. The previous day, the commission registered the party list of the Union of Rightist Forces: after the names of 12 candidates were removed for filing inaccurate information about their income and property, 155 names remained. Topping the list are former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, and State Duma deputy Irina Khakamada. Also registered the previous day was Our Home Is Russia (NDR) with 216 candidates, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 October. Twenty names were struck off their list. The top three candidates are former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, NDR Duma faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov. JAC

...AS JUSTICE MINISTRY PLEDGES EXTRA SCRUTINY FOR NATIONALIST GROUP

The Justice Ministry has launched a review of the Spas (Savior) political movement to ensure that its activities correspond with its charter, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 October. Spas is headed by chief of the extreme nationalist Russian National Unity leader Aleksandr Barkashov. Spas's party list was registered on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1999). JAC

YELTSIN RESPONDS SHARPLY TO PRIMAKOV SNUB

Presidential spokesman Yakushkin told reporters on 22 October that President Yeltsin responded "sharply" to news that Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance leader Yevgenii Primakov declined to meet with him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). Deputy head of the OVR headquarters Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the same day that Primakov will agree to meet with Yeltsin only if the president telephones or writes him. Heritage Foundation's Yevgenii Volk told "The Moscow Times" on 23 October that Primakov's move was partly electoral strategy and partly pay-back for humiliations that he suffered at Yeltsin's hand while prime minister. JAC

RUSSIA'S SHARE IN WORLD TRADE DECLINING

During the first nine months of 1999, Russia slipped from 18th to 20th place in a ranking of world exporters and from 19th to 27th place in a ranking of importers, Valerii Orlov, head of the State Customs Committee's statistics and analysis department, told ITAR-TASS on 22 October. According to Orlov, Russia's share of world exports is 1.3 percent and its portion of imports 0.8 percent. By the end of this year, Russia's positive trade balance is expected to total $29.6 billion--almost a doubling of the 1998 level of $15.1 billion, according to the Economics Ministry's forecast, Interfax reported on 24 October. JAC

PROBE LAUNCHED AGAINST FORMER WORLD BANK OFFICIAL

First Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko announced on 22 October that the Russian government will be cooperating with the World Bank in checking the accuracy of a report that appeared in "The Wall Street Journal" alleging that Leonid Grigoriev, in his former capacity as Russia's alternate executive director to the World Bank, had passed classified bank information to the Russian commercial bank, Inkombank. Grigoriev has been suspended from his current post as head of the Moscow-based Economic Analysis Bureau, which is funded by the World Bank, until the investigation has been concluded. JAC

RUSSIA STANDS TO LOSE $800 MILLION FROM CIS FREE TRADE ZONE

Russian State Customs Committee First Deputy Chairman Vladimir Meshcheryakov told a conference in Moscow on 22 October that Russia will incur annual losses of $800 million if it ratifies the agreement on creating a CIS free trade zone, Interfax reported. Under a protocol to that agreement, which was initialed at the April CIS summit, signatories switch to indirect taxation of exports at the country of destination. This means Russia would lose both value-added tax and excise duties. Noyan Tapan reported on 12 October that most participants in the CIS Prime Ministers' meeting in Yalta the previous week supported the creation of a free trade zone, for which business magnate Boris Berezovskii lobbied energetically during his tenure as CIS executive secretary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). LF

COURT POSTPONES DECISION ON EARLY ELECTIONS IN ST. PETE

Following a three-hour session on 22 October, the St. Petersburg city court announced it will continue reviewing on 2 November a suit filed by opposition local deputies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Those deputies are challenging the Legislative Assembly's controversial vote to bring forward gubernatorial elections to 19 December, which observers believe will benefit incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 1999). The court based its decision on the need to examine various "procedural niceties" and whether it should even deal with the assembly's "internal problems," particularly without an official representative of that body present. "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by business magnate Berezovskii, noted that this delay may well prove advantageous for Yakovlev: the election campaign is already under way, and if the ballot were canceled, the many politicians who have said they will run might file suit over the violation of their rights, turning the campaign into "a never-ending legal process." JC

KARACHAEVO-CHERKESS PRESIDENTIAL RIVALS REACH COMPROMISE

Meeting with Russian Prime Minister Putin on 23 October, Karachaevo-Cherkessia's President Vladimir Semenov and his defeated rival, Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev, agreed that a referendum will be held on 22 October 2000 to determine whether the republic's population trusts Semenov, Interfax reported. The previous day, the Russian Supreme Court endorsed a ruling by the Karachaevo-Cherkess Supreme Court upholding the validity of the 16 May runoff poll, in which Semenov defeated Derev. Semenov told a press conference on 24 October that Berezovskii, who will contend a Duma seat from Karachaevo-Cherkessia, was also present at his meeting with Putin and Derev and helped bring about the compromise agreement. In early August, both Semenov and Derev had proposed to President Yeltsin that Berezovskii be temporarily appointed presidential envoy to the republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 1999). LF




ARMENIAN PREMIER VOWS TO TARGET CORRUPTION

In a television address on 21 October, Vazgen Sargsian pledged to reduce the "political problem" of corruption to dimensions that no longer threaten the country's economic development, Noyan Tapan reported. He called for a crackdown on bribery, which he termed "widespread," and protectionism, which he said deters foreign investment. Sargsian also called for the maximum effort to ensure that the 24 October local elections are perceived as free and fair, adding that no matter how good government programs may be, they are doomed to failure without competent local administrators to implement them. He pledged that the 2000 draft budget, which is to be submitted to the parliament on 1 November, will be "tough" but "realistic and purposeful." LF

ARMENIAN INTELLIGENTSIA WANTS ELECTION OF NEW CATHOLICOS POSTPONED

Meeting on 21 October in Yerevan, members of the Armenian intelligentsia addressed an appeal to the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council to delay the election later this week of a successor to Catholicos Karekin I, who died in July, Noyan Tapan reported. Representatives of several Armenian opposition parties had made a similar appeal last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). Also on 21 October, Archbishop Grigoris Bournoutian announced that 35 bishops have agreed to support a specific candidate for Catholicos, but he declined to name that candidate. On 22 October, Gegham Manoukian, who is a member of the Executive Council of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, told Noyan Tapan that his party considers Aram I, catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, the best qualified candidate. Aram has denied that he is seeking the post of catholicos. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRO-GOVERNMENT BLOC CALLS FOR REFERENDUM ON KARABAKH SETTLEMENT

Fatherland Party leader Fazil Agamaly told Turan on 23 October that choice of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's political status within Azerbaijan should be reflected in Azerbaijan's Constitution and determined by a nationwide referendum. At present, the country's constitution describes Azerbaijan as a unitary state but gives the exclave of Nakhichevan the status of an autonomous republic. Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov on 29 September denied any knowledge of plans to hold such a referendum at the same time as the 12 December municipal elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September 1999). Agamaly also complained that the Democratic Alliance, which unites Fatherland and several other pro-government parties, has virtually no political influence on developments in Azerbaijan. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR CONTINUES WORKING

President Heidar Aliyev has not yet accepted the resignation as foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade, Turan reported on 22 October. Guluzade was reported to have submitted his resignation earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1999). LF

GEORGIAN POLITICIANS REACT TO ASSASSINATION CLAIMS

Two senior Georgian politicians have declined to confirm the claims by former National Security Agency (NSA) Director Lieutenant-General William Odom that during his tenure as Russian prime minister, Yevgenii Primakov was aware of two attempts by Russian government agencies to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax reported. Odom had told RFE/RL last week that the Georgian government had provided unnamed countries with that information and corroborating evidence. Union of Citizens of Georgia parliamentary faction leader Mikhail Saakashvili said the Georgian government has no evidence to support those claims. Intelligence Department chairman Avtandil Ioseliani denied that his service passed any such information to the NSA. Ioseliani added that former Georgian Intelligence chief Igor Giorgadze, whom the Georgian authorities have accused of a botched attempt to kill Shevardnadze in August 1995, is on good terms with Primakov. But "Vremya-MN" quoted an unidentified Georgian security official as confirming that Georgia provided the U.S. with information incriminating Primakov. LF

KAZAKHSTAN HOLDS RUNOFF ELECTIONS

A second round of voting in elections to the lower house of the parliament have taken place in 47 districts where no candidate garnered the required 50 percent of the vote during the first round two weeks ago. A total of 94 candidates contested those seats, and irregularities were reported at some polling stations, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 24 October. Voter turnout was estimated at 49 percent, down 10 percent on the first round. On 21 October, police broke up a rally in the town of Talghar staged by supporters of Bigeldy Gabdullin, who is "DAT" newspaper editor and a member of former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan. The following day, an Almaty district court rejected a suit by Orleu Party leader Seydakhmet Quttyqadam, who had demanded that the Central Electoral Commission refund his candidate's fee. Quttyqadam accused the commission of unspecified violations during the first round of voting. LF

KAZAKH PREMIER ENDORSES MULTIPLE PIPELINES

Following talks in Astana on 22 October with his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart, Artur Rasizade, Qasymzhomart Toqaev told journalists that Kazakhstan supports the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline as one of several to export Kazakhstan's oil, Interfax reported. Rasizade said Azerbaijan does not rule out the possibility of routing oil export pipelines via Iran and Armenia if a peace treaty is signed with the latter. Rasizade added that the two countries have only unspecified "minor differences" over the status of the Caspian Sea. The previous day, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi expressed doubts that the financial obstacles to the Baku- Ceyhan project will ever be surmounted, according to Interfax. He added that the assembly of pipe for an alternative stretch of the existing Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline bypassing Chechnya will begin this week. LF

JAPANESE HOSTAGES RELEASED

The four Japanese geologists and their interpreter who were taken hostage by Uzbek guerrillas in southern Kyrgyzstan nine weeks ago were released in Tajikistan on 24 October and are on their way to Bishkek, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported the following day. The release followed talks between Kyrgyz and Tajik security officials and the guerrillas' leader, Djuma Namangani. Reuters quoted a Japanese official as denying that any ransom was paid to secure the hostages' release. LF

OPPOSITION TAJIK PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WANTS REGISTRATION ANNULLED

Following a 21 October ruling by Tajikistan's Supreme Court, the Central Electoral Commission has registered Economics and Foreign Trade Minister Davlat Usmon as a candidate for the 6 November presidential poll. The commission had refused to do so earlier this month on the grounds that Usmon did not submit the required minimum of 145,000 signatures in support of his candidacy. However, Usmon asked the commission on 22 October to cancel his registration, saying that it is illegal as he has submitted only 82,690 signatures in his support, Reuters reported. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY HEADED FOR SPLIT?

Several regional branches of the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP), the senior partner within the United Tajik Opposition, have called for convening an emergency party congress to discuss the UTO's 18 October statement calling for the expulsion of First Deputy Prime Minister Khodji Akbar Turadjonzoda from its ranks, Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 21 October, citing Turadjonzoda's press office. Turadjonzoda had condemned the UTO's demand for an emergency parliamentary session to debate the Central Electoral Commission's refusal to register three opposition presidential candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 October 1999). He had also argued that incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov is the most qualified presidential candidate. The regional IRP branches affirmed their support for Turadjonzoda's position. LF

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 22 October reported incorrectly on the transfer of Mig-29s to Armenia. The jet fighters in question, like earlier Russian transfers of such aircraft, will go to Russia's military base in that country and thus will not be under the control of the Armenian government.




U.S. ENVOY SAYS U.S.-BELARUS RELATIONS 'VERY STRAINED'

U.S. Ambassador to Minsk Daniel Speckhard told Belapan on 22 October that relations between the U.S. and Belarus have deteriorated in recent months and are now "very strained." Speckhard said the U.S. had hoped in late summer that Belarus would take steps toward respecting human rights and returning to democratic institutions but in fact, he commented, Minsk took "several steps back." According to Speckhard, the Belarusian government is not ready to follow the OSCE Minsk mission's advice on how to ensure a successful dialogue with the opposition. Moreover, Speckhard dismissed as "absolute nonsense" statements by Belarusian officials that the West financed the 17 October "freedom march," which ended in clashes with the police. JM

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG CALLS ON OSCE TO WITHDRAW INVITATION TO LUKASHENKA

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on 24 October said the state of human rights and democratic institutions in Belarus is "worsening by the day." The IHF called on the OSCE chairmanship to withdraw its invitation to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to participate in the upcoming OSCE summit in Istanbul. It appealed to the OSCE to invite Syamyon Sharetski, chairman of the opposition Supreme Soviet, to represent Belarus at the summit. And it urged the OSCE "to review the legitimacy and constitutionality of the current government of Belarus" at the upcoming summit. JM

UKRAINE'S KANIV FOUR AGREES TO FIELD MARCHUK AGAINST KUCHMA

The so-called Kaniv Four election alliance of Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko have agreed to throw their support behind Marchuk as the challenger to incumbent President Leonid Kuchma in the 31 October presidential ballot, AP and Reuters reported on 25 October. "We have agreed on the candidacy of Yevhen Marchuk. The date for the others to withdraw their candidacies will be announced later," Tkachenko commented. Press spokesmen for Marchuk and Moroz also confirmed that the four had agreed on Marchuk's candidacy. However, Moroz's spokesman said that for now the deal is "just a declaration" and that the other candidates do not need to formally pull out until 27 October. JM

UKRAINE CRITICIZES RUSSIA'S 'INDISCRIMINATE' ATTACKS IN CHECHNYA

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on 22 October said Ukraine "unambiguously condemns the terrorism that has caused the escalation of tension in Russia's south," Interfax reported. However, Tarasyuk added that Ukraine "cannot welcome the indiscriminate character of military actions in Chechnya, as a result of which the peaceful population is also suffering." JM

KUCHMA VOICES CONCERN ABOUT ISLAMIC EXTREMISM THREAT IN UKRAINE...

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Crimea on 23 October that Ukraine is facing a threat of Islamic extremism and called on security officials to protect the country. "It's a fact that this problem exists today, the question is only--to what extent," AP quoted Kuchma as saying. Kuchma's remarks followed an unconfirmed press report that Chechen militants are trying to establish themselves in Crimea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). Meanwhile, a congress of Chechens living in Ukraine on 24 October condemned the Russian military campaign in Chechnya and called for international intervention "to stop the Russian aggressor." JM

...OBTAINS TITLE OF 'HONORED CRIMEAN'

The Presidium of the Crimean parliament has conferred the title of "Honored Crimean" on President Kuchma for his services to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Kuchma received this news on 23 October as he was opening a 236-kilometer pipeline in southern Crimea, which will provide gas to some 30 percent of the peninsula's population. "We have shown that we can keep our word," Kuchma commented on the construction of the pipeline, which was completed in one year under Kuchma's personal supervision. JM

RUSSIAN PARTY ENSURES RULING ESTONIAN COALITION LOCAL VICTORY

The ruling coalition of Pro Patria, the Reform Party, and the Moderates, which together won 28 seats in the recent elections to the Tallinn City Council, has signed a preliminary agreement with the Peoples' Trust, a Russian electoral union, ETA reported on 25 October. The four seats won by the Peoples' Trust ensure a ruling majority in the Estonian capital's 64-seat city council. The three-year agreement calls for the post of mayor to be given to a Pro Patria member, while the position of deputy mayor will go to a member of the Peoples' Trust. The unlikely coalition of nationalist Estonian parties and ethnic Russian organizations is reportedly based on the mutual desire to fight corruption in the local city administration, which grew during the leadership of the Center Party. AB

RULING COALITION WINS LOCAL SEATS THROUGHOUT ESTONIA

Prime Minister Mart Laar told ETA on 23 October that the three parties belonging to the ruling coalition will form 13 of 15 local government councils following the recent local elections. Laar noted that this was the most successful election to date for his party, Pro Patria. AB

LATVIAN PRESIDENT VETOES LAW RAISING PARTY MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS

Vaira Vike-Freiberga has returned to the parliament amendments to the law on public organizations that would raise the required minimum number of members for a party from 200 to 1,000, BNS reported on 23 October. The president said the amendments would restrict the legal rights of citizens by imposing groundless restrictions. The parliament adopted the amendments on 21 October, despite objections by Latvia's Way, the only ruling coalition party that has fewer than 1000 members. The National Human Rights Office had also objected to the amendments. AB

ANTI-WILLIAMS DEMONSTRATION TAPS STUDENTS AND PENSIONERS...

ELTA reported on 22 October that 1,500-3,000 students and pensioners gathered not far from the Lithuanian parliament building to protest the impending deal between the U.S.-based Williams International and the Lithuanian government over the sale of a one-third stake in the country's oil refinery complex. Former President Algirdas Brazauskas and Chairman of the Social Democratic Party Vytenis Andriukaitis were joined on stage by poet laureate Justinas Marcinkevicius and philosopher Arvydas Juozaitis (both founding members of Sajudis) as well as Vilnius University Rector Rolandas Pavilionis and former Energy Minister Leonas Asmantas. The speakers denounced the agreement as "shameful" and "humiliating." Pavilionis charged that the deal would sacrifice education, particularly higher education, by diverting critical financial resources to a foreign corporation. AB

...WHILE U.S.-LITHUANIA DEAL MOVES FORWARD

Sigitas Kaktys, minister for government reform and local government affairs, has initialed the agreements on shareholding and management of Mazeikiu Nafta on behalf of the Lithuanian government, BNS reported on 22 October. The final agreement with the U.S.- based Williams International is expected to be concluded on 29 October. ELTA reported that Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus issued a statement acknowledging the risk of the Williams deal but reminding his countrymen that they will have to pay the debts of the failing industrial complex if the U.S. investment project failed. He blamed the former Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius who was toppled in June for failing to design an overall energy strategy and neglecting a transparent privatization model for Mazeikiu Nafta (see also "End Note" below). AB

POLISH GOVERNMENT AGREES WITH MINERS ON RESTRUCTURING

Miners lifted the blockade of two rail junctions (see RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999) after the government had invited them for talks in Warsaw. On 23 October, representatives of Solidarity signed an agreement with the Economy Ministry on the future of the restructuring program in the coal mining sector. The cabinet pledged to make the pace of restructuring dependent on the money allocated in the budget for this purpose. "The most important thing is that the specter of 10,000 redundancies next year without social cushions has disappeared from before my eyes," miners' leader Henryk Nakonieczny was quoted by Polish Radio as saying. JM

POLISH POLICE SMASH ARMS SMUGGLING GANG

Police squad in Rzeszow, southeastern Poland, have arrested six Moldovans and one Ukrainian in a crackdown on an arms smuggling gang, Polish Television reported on 24 October. The police said they seized 120 hand grenades, 5 kilograms of plastic explosives, 100 meters of fuse wire, and an anti-tank rocket launcher with a "super-modern armor-piercing missile." The police suspect the weapons were ordered by Warsaw gangs. JM

'NO BUDGET BEFORE CABINET RESHUFFLE,' SAYS CZECH REPUBLIC'S KLAUS

Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus told Prima television on 24 October that he doubts the parliament will approve a budget for 2000 before the question of the cabinet's lineup has been solved, CTK reported. Klaus said he does not expect the budget to be approved before 31 December, saying that apart from the minority ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD), "nobody will raise their hand" to approve a budget "in whose making they have not participated." On 20 October, the Chamber of Deputies rejected the government- proposed budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky told journalists on 24 October that the CSSD would rather go into opposition than rule in a coalition that would impose "unacceptable positions" on it, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK COALITION CANDIDATE WINS KOSICE MAYOR RACE

Party of Democratic Left (SDL) candidate Zdenko Trebula has been elected Kosice mayor, beating out five other candidates, SITA reported, Trebula was the candidate of the ruling coalition in Bratislava. He replaces Rudolf Schuster, who was elected president earlier this year. At 18 percent, turnout was the lowest ever in local elections in that city. Trebula received 11 percent of the 185,267 registered voters, SITA reported on 24 October. Also on 24 October, the SDL National Committee said it has "fundamental legal and political objections" to the proposed agreement between the Slovak government and the Vatican. The SDL says an agreement with the Holy See is "necessary" but that it must be preceded by the passage of a law regulating Church-State relations and guaranteeing equal rights to all Churches in Slovakia. MS

HUNGARY'S EARLY EU ACCESSION HOPES DASHED

"Accession talks with Hungary cannot be completed in 2001," Franz Fischler, a member of the European Commission responsible for agriculture, told the 24 October "Nepszabadsag." The Austrian EU commissioner said the EU will have to carry out its own reforms before it wraps up admission talks with the best-prepared candidates in 2002. MSZ




KOSOVA'S SERBS SET UP POLITICAL BODY

Meeting in Gracanica on 24 October, the 49-strong Serbian National Council elected Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1999). The representatives of Kosova's approximately 100,000 remaining Serbs also chose Momcilo Trajkovic to head the Executive Board. The council seeks to act as a government body for the Serbian minority and to establish five cantons in which the Serbs make up the majority. The council did not vote to set up a Serbian militia, which representatives of the international community had earlier said would be unacceptable. It is unclear how the international community will react to the council's plans to function as a government body. Executive authority in Kosova rests with Bernard Kouchner and his UN mission. Artemije and Trajkovic are veteran leaders of their people and oppose the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

ETHNIC ALBANIANS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST RUSSIAN PRESENCE

Some 4,000 ethnic Albanians gathered in Rahovec on 24 October to reaffirm their opposition to stationing Russian peacekeepers in the town. Since 23 August, ethnic Albanians have blocked the main road into Rahovec to prevent Russians from entering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). The first anti- Russian protests took place on 7 July. Local Albanians say that unidentified Russians joined Serbs in committing atrocities in the area in the spring and that Russians are not welcome there. PM

NATO ARRESTS TWO SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINALS

KFOR troops have begun screening Serbian refugee columns in the hope of finding persons believed to have committed atrocities in the province earlier this year. A KFOR spokesman said in Rahovec on 23 October that his soldiers arrested two Serbs who were part of a convoy seeking to leave Kosova under KFOR protection. The spokesman added that peacekeepers will screen only those convoys that have requested a KFOR escort. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION MEETS DOBBINS IN BUDAPEST

U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia James Dobbins met in Budapest on 24 October with several leaders of the Serbian opposition Alliance for Change. Alliance spokesman Veran Batic told the private Beta news agency that Dobbins said that Washington is against a complete lifting of sanctions against Serbia. The U.S. diplomat added, however, that Washington will coordinate its sanctions policy more closely with that of the EU and that the number of Yugoslav officials barred from entering the U.S. or EU will be doubled to more than 600. The opposition has long argued that economic sanctions hurt mainly average Serbs and that it is better to have punitive measures targeted directly at the elite. On 22 October, the parties represented in the Alliance agreed to form a coalition in the next elections. PM

PANIC TELLS WASHINGTON TO USE 'NORIEGA OPTION'

Earlier on 24 October, Alliance for Change leaders met in Budapest with millionaire businessman and former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, who told AP that the opposition lacks funds. The next day, Panic called on the U.S. to intervene militarily against Milosevic, as it did against Panamanian President Manuel Noriega in 1990. Panic said: "We have a dictator called Milosevic who is a threat not only to poor Serbs, [who are] the true victims of all this. We have an economy that has truly collapsed...and the major issue we are discussing is how to stop the suffering of people.... American troops are closer to Milosevic's home than they were to Noriega's home," Panic added. He argued that if the Americans want Milosevic out of power, "then [they should] get him.... This is a Serb speaking.... I know this is internationally unacceptable, but if you want him so bad, don't punish [average Serbs but] take him out, get him out, force him out, do something," Panic concluded. PM

YUGOSLAV MINISTER LAUDS U.S. MEDIA

Information Minister Goran Matic said that "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," and CNN provide better coverage of Yugoslav affairs than do the independent Belgrade periodicals "Blic," "Danas," "Glas javnosti," and "Vreme," Beta reported on 25 October. PM

SESELJ WARNS OF 'BLOODY WAR' IN MONTENEGRO

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj told a Montenegrin radio station on 24 October that any move by Montenegro to secede from Yugoslavia could result in a "bloody war" and NATO intervention, AP reported. His statement came the day before officials of his Radical Party started talks with representatives of Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists on the future of relations between Serbia and Montenegro. Also on 24 October, Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said that Belgrade's attitudes toward Montenegro have changed recently. He did not elaborate. PM

DJUKANOVIC PLEDGES 'MONETARY SOVEREIGNTY'

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Herceg Novi that his republic will soon introduce "monetary sovereignty," Belgrade's "Danas" wrote on 25 October. The daily added that Montenegrin officials are well advanced in preparations to introduce the German mark as legal tender along with the Yugoslav dinar. Djukanovic and members of his government have frequently spoken about planning to take steps toward greater sovereignty for their republic but have not said when they will do so. PM

INTERNATIONAL REPRESENTATIVE LEAVES SREBRENICA POST

The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch replaced Danish diplomat Bent Jensen as his representative in Srebrenica, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 23 October. Muslim leaders have complained that Jensen is pro-Serbian. Petritsch's office said in a statement that Jensen was replaced as part of a restructuring of the international community's operation in Bosnia. The statement criticized what it referred to as verbal attacks on individuals, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 25 October. PM

JELAVIC CALLS FOR NEW DEAL FOR CROATS

Ante Jelavic, who is the ethnic Croatian representative on the joint Bosnian presidency, said in Mostar that the present federation between Croats and Muslims must be scrapped. He stressed that the Croats are junior partners in the current arrangement and that the international community regularly interferes in its affairs to the detriment of the Croats, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 25 October. Jelavic said that the terms governing the federation must be renegotiated. If the international community refuses to do this, then it should openly declare Bosnia an international protectorate and dispense with any pretense that there is self-government in Bosnia. PM

CROATIA'S MUSLIMS FORM JOINT ORGANIZATION

Representatives of several organizations of Bosnian Muslims living in Croatia agreed in Pula on 23 October to form the League of Bosnjaks (Muslims) of Croatia as an umbrella organization. Member groups include the political Party of Democratic Action, the religious Islamic Community, the cultural society Preporod, and the charitable organization Merhamet. PM

FRANCE CONTINUES TO BLOCK CROATIAN, ALBANIAN MEMBERSHIP IN WTO

At the urging of France, the EU remains at loggerheads with Washington over the terms of admission of Croatia and Albania to the WTO, London's "Financial Times" reported on 25 October. Paris insists that Zagreb and Tirana place legal restrictions on the import of U.S. films and television programs. France refused to accept a recent compromise between its EU partners and Washington. PM

ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS OPT FOR DIVIDED LEADERSHIP

At a 22 October Socialist party congress in Tirana, delegates approved the controversial election of 36 members of the 116- strong steering committee. Party leader Fatos Nano had challenged the election of the 36 because they received less than 50 percent of votes cast at a similar gathering two weeks earlier. Party statutes require Steering Committee members to win more than 50 percent of the vote. Observers note that Nano's apparent climb-down means that supporters of Nano's rival, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, will continue to play a large role in governing the party (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 October 1999). Nano's supporters are more numerous than Majko's within the party, but Majko has a stronger appeal to the public than does the combative Nano. PM

DEMOCRATS CALL FOR NEW ELECTIONS IN ALBANIA

Opposition leader Sali Berisha told several thousand supporters in Tirana on 23 October that in-fighting within the Socialist Party shows that the Socialists have lost their mandate to govern. He repeated his frequent call for the Socialists to resign and hold new elections. Berisha promised to hold a series of protests in coming weeks until the governing coalition agrees to a new ballot. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR EXPERTS' CABINET, EARLY ELECTIONS

Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) leader Ion Iliescu told journalists after a 22 October meeting of the PDSR's Executive Bureau that his party is demanding the dismissal of the cabinet, its replacement by one composed of "apolitical experts," and early elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said Radu Vasile's cabinet has displayed "a lack of interest" vis-a- vis the population and the "inability" to ensure minimum living standards. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER DROPS OUT OF PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Victor Ciorbea on 22 October told a forum of his Christian- Democrat National Alliance that he has decided to withdraw from the 2000 presidential elections. He gave no reason for that decision, Romanian Radio reported on 22 October. MS

MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER UNDER FIRE

Andrei Strimbeanu, a member of the Moldovan Party of Rebirth and Conciliation (PRCM), said on 23 October that he will demand that Deputy Premier Nicolae Andronic be expelled from the PRCM for having voted the same day in the parliament in favor of setting up the new Taraclia county, BASA Press reported. But PRCM Chairman Mircea Snegur said Andronic cast his vote as a member of the cabinet, not as a PRCM deputy. Also on 23 October, Andronic denied allegations by General Nicolae Alexe, former head of the Department for Combating Organized Crime, that he is a member of a Russian mafia group with branches in Moldova. The same day, Tiraspol's Russian-language "Pridnestvoe" wrote that Andronic may have been behind the killing of a police major, who lost his life in a bomb explosion in Chisinau earlier this month. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER CONCEDES LOCAL ELECTIONS RESULT ARE 'WARNING'...

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 24 October said that the results of the local elections are a "serious warning for the ruling coalition" but that the course of reform will not be changed, BTA reported. Run-offs in the local elections took place one day earlier, on 23 October. The Central Electoral Commission announced that the ruling United Democratic Forces alliance (ODS) and the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) have approximately the same level of support after the two rounds of voting. The ODS won 101 local councils and the BSP 94. The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom came third and lost the municipality of Kurdjali to the ODS. It has accused the ODS of having rigged the elections. MS

...SAYS MIGHT RESHUFFLE CABINET

Kostov, in an interview with the BBC to be aired on 25 October, said he will reshuffle his cabinet if Bulgaria receives a formal invitation to join the EU, Reuters reported on 23 October, citing the daily "Sega." He said the cabinet is "structurally not suitable" for the expected accession talks. Several opposition leaders said the real reason for the reshuffle is the ODS's poor showing in the local elections. On 24 October, Kostov suggested that the talks with the EU may encounter difficulties because of the union's insistence on closing down the Kozloduy nuclear plant, AP reported. He said the EU invitation to accession talks is "not so unconditional" as it might have looked and that "national consensus [over Kozloduy] is a very high price and I do not know who is going to pay it, even if it would speed up the accession talks." MS




LITHUANIAN CRISIS REFLECTS EAST EUROPEAN SKEPTICISM


By Joel Blocker

Lithuania's government crisis over the impending sale of one-third of its state-owned Mazeikiai oil refinery to a U.S. company broke into public view last week during a nationwide television address by Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas.

Paksas--himself only five months in office-- said on 18 October that 18 months of negotiations with the Oklahoma- based Williams International Company has ended in a deal decidedly disadvantageous to Lithuania. That, he said, is largely because the final accord, due to be signed on 29 October, requires Vilnius to pay up to $400 million to Williams to cover both debts and a shortfall in Mazeikiai's working capital.

The day after Paksas's speech, the crisis intensified with the announcement of the resignations of Lithuania's finance and economics ministers, both of whom said they agree with Paksas's objections to the deal. But the rest of Paksas's 15-member coalition cabinet support the idea, and President Valdas Adamkus-- a former U.S. citizen--strongly backs the deal. After the cabinet approved the deal in the evening of 18 October and Adamkus had accepted the two ministers' resignations, the president said he is not necessarily for Williams but for what he called terms "beneficial" to Lithuania.

Speaking for Premier Paksas, economics adviser Eduardas Vilkas saw the matter very differently. He called the Williams agreement "completely foolish," saying, "We must finance $400 million dollars [in payments to Williams] immediately, while the Americans stagger their payments. It isn't right." Williams' payments are to total some $150 million.

According to Kestutis Girnius, director of RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service, the Williams crisis has important implications for changing East European attitudes toward Western investment. He suggests that there is a general tendency in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE "to look askance at certain Western investments." He also says that the small degree of "anti-Western skepticism about the West" is growing. Major projects, such as Mazeikiai, are considered to be the pride of local industry, and giving them up is seen as a "sign of defeat," he argues.

Girnius believes this new tendency also reflects a change in attitude toward Russia. He says there is a much greater willingness in Lithuania today to accept Russian oil as the country's principle source of energy. That, too, could play a role in the evolution of the Williams crisis, because Russia's oil giant LUKoil has cut off supplies of crude to Lithuania in protest over the sale to Williams. LUKoil itself had hoped to purchase a controlling share in Mazeikiai.

According to Girnius, the Williams accord could easily bring down the Paksas government on or soon after 29 October, when the deal is due to be signed. He thinks the government's biggest mistake in the affair was not setting up a public tender for Mazeikiai, which created the impression the government was in effect giving away the huge refinery.

As for the immediate future, he say he believes nothing will be done until 29 October. "After the deal is signed, then I think there is a great possibility that pressure will increase for Paksas' resignation. But in the long run, [it will turn out that] his popularity has soared."

Paksas, according to Girnius, is already seen by the public as "a defender of the little man, a folk hero." That, he adds, may turn out to be the most important domestic consequence of the Williams affair.

As for the international implications, it is clear that the government crisis and public concern over the Williams deal is a sign of rapidly changing attitudes in Eastern Europe toward Western investment. How small or big a sign it is will be known only over the weeks and months to come. But the Williams affair strongly suggests that the change is already well under way. The author is a RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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