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Newsline - October 29, 1999




VERBAL BATTLE BETWEEN OVR, KREMLIN HEATS UP...

The leaders of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance on 28 October published an open letter appealing to Russian President Boris Yeltsin to break out of his political isolation and curb the efforts of his staff who "openly interfere with the State Duma electoral campaign" as well as abuse their office and "exert unprecedented pressure on the electoral process." The letter, which was signed by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, also accused Yeltsin's staff of putting "pressure on both private and government mass media outlets." OVR's leaders urged Yeltsin to meet with the mass media as well as public and political organizations in order to hear "unbiased opinions." First Deputy Chief of the presidential administration Igor Shabdurasulov responded that the OVR leaders are simply nervous about their low popularity ratings, according to Interfax. JAC

...AS LUZHKOV SAYS HE BELIEVES BEREZOVSKII WANTED HIM DEAD

On 27 October, Mayor Luzhkov told reporters that he finds credible former deputy presidential security chief Aleksandr Korzhakov's claim that four years ago media magnate Boris Berezovskii repeatedly asked Korzhakov to kill Luzhkov as well as Media Most head Vladimir Gusinskii and singer/Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon. Korzhakov, who is himself running for re-election to the State Duma, said that he decided finally to reveal what had happened in 1995 when he heard of Berezovskii's plans to seek a Duma seat. Berezovskii responded to Korzhakov's claims saying "I cannot respond to such gibberish in earnest," Interfax reported. "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 27 October, without reference to any sources, that the Kremlin's new campaign strategy is to entice the leadership of the Communist Party and Yabloko into a non-aggression pact by offering them access to main television channels and promising to withhold compromising materials against top leaders. JAC

RUSSIA CONTINUES BOMBING GROZNY

Russian warplanes continued their intensive bombing of Grozny from 27-29 October. The town of Achkhoi-Martan to the southwest was also targeted. Suspected Chechen positions near the towns of Bamut, Dolinskii, Pervomaiskoe, Samashki, Novy Saharoi, Goryacheistochinskoe, Ishkhoi-Yurt, Galaity, Meskety, Alleroi, and Bunin-aul were subjected to heavy artillery fire. Fierce ground fighting was reported for control of a strategic hill on the northern outskirts of Grozny on 28 October. In Moscow, Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Valerii Manilov told journalists on 28 October that federal forces have no intention of storming either Grozny or Gudermes (which, like the Chechen capital, is blockaded from the west, north, and east) as long as large concentrations of Chechen fighters remain in those towns, Reuters reported. Interfax quoted a spokesman for the Russian military as saying that the federal forces intend to allow the Chechen gunmen to retreat south from Grozny and will pursue them into the mountains. LF

CHECHEN OFFICIALS ASSESS DAMAGE

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who is an artillery specialist, told journalists in Grozny on 26 October that the explosion at Grozny's central market on 21 October was caused by "a tactical missile with a cluster bomb warhead that cannot be used against targets in populated areas even in conditions of war between large states," Interfax reported the following day. Maskhadov said that missile had been aimed at his presidential palace. Deputy Prime Minister Apti Bisultanov said on 28 October that a total of 223 people were killed and 327 wounded in the rocket attacks on the city two days earlier. In subsequent rocket attacks on Grozny on 27-28 October, the homes of field commanders Shamil Basaev and Arbi Baraev and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (who is currently in the United Arab Emirates) were destroyed. LF

MASKHADOV APPEALS TO POPE

President Maskhadov on 28 October appealed to Pope John Paul II to intervene to protect the Chechen people from genocide, Interfax reported. Maskhadov said he decided to do so only after becoming convinced that "the Islamic world remains indifferent to the tragedy of the Chechen people." LF

SERGEEV SAYS RUSSIAN MILITARY IN NORTH CAUCASUS TO STAY

Inspecting Russian federal troops deployed along the north bank of the Terek River on 28 October, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said "we have come here to stay for good," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile Basaev told AP in Grozny the same day that he has created a special battalion of suicide fighters to carry out acts of sabotage in retaliation for the Grozny market place bombing. LF

TALBOTT URGES MOSCOW TO USE 'POLITICAL LEVERS' IN CHECHEN CONFLICT...

Following his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 29 October, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told journalists that while the U.S. understands that Russia has the "right and duty" to protect the state and its citizens from the "threat of extremism and terrorism," it nonetheless hopes that Moscow will "turn to political levers as soon as possible" to resolve the Chechen conflict. The two men also discussed mediating a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and Talbott noted after their talks that the 27 October murder of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and other top officials may "cast a pall" over attempts to resolve that dispute, Reuters reported. According to Talbott, he and Ivanov did not touch upon arms control issues. JC

...WHILE RUSSIA TELLS U.S. CHECHNYA IS INTERNAL MATTER

Responding to remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Russian actions in Chechnya, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared on 27 October that "everything that concerns the North Caucasus is Russia's internal matter," according to RIA Novosti. Putin added that Russia "respects the opinion of its Western partners." Unidentified government sources told Interfax the same day that Putin is likely to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton in early November in Oslo. JAC

IVANOV WANTS FRANCE TO HELP SAFEGUARD ABM TREATY

Addressing the French Senate on 27 October, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Moscow expects "Russian-French cooperation," in particular between [the countries'] parliaments," to counter the unwillingness among some U.S. political forces to "move toward disarmament," Interfax reported the next day. If the U.S. deploys a national anti-ballistic missile system, he said, the result will be the "de facto phasing out of the nuclear disarmament process." Arms control also featured on the agenda of Ivanov's talks with his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, on 28 October, as did the upcoming OSCE summit in Istanbul, according to ITAR-TASS. JC

MUSLIM GROUP BARRED FROM ELECTIONS

The Central Election Commission on 27 October barred the Muslim movement Nur from participating in upcoming State Duma elections because it failed to pay its election deposit on time, ITAR-TASS reported. Nur President Maksut Sadikov told AP that the commission has stretched the rules for some candidates and parties, allowing them to register despite some irregularities in their paperwork. He added that "this is the only Muslim movement that could have done something, particularly with regard to the problems of the North Caucasus." "Segodnya" reported on 27 October that former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov forgot to list one- third of his annual income on his declaration for the commission. He explained the error as absentmindedness. After an investigation, the commission allowed his name to remain on the list of the Union of Rightist Forces, according to the daily. JAC

A NEW GROUP FOR THE OLD DUMA

The State Duma on 27 October registered a new deputies' group called the People's Deputies, which has 43 members, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier that day, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that he does not believe there is any point in setting up a new group. The head of the new group is Nikolai Ryzhkov, head of the People's Power faction. Other members are Aleksandr Vengerovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) and Yelena Panina (People's Power). According to some analysts, the group is linked with the interregional movement Unity and represents an attempt to establish a bloc in the Duma parallel to the one that exists unofficially in the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 October 1999). On 29 October, Unity head Sergei Shoigu said that Unity would like to establish a pro-government bloc in the next Duma. Shoigu, who is also emergencies minister, noted that this cabinet is the most professional one in years. JAC

MOSCOW REJECTS U.S. REAL ESTATE DEAL

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 28 October nixed an offer by the U.S. government to write off World War II lend-lease debts in exchange for title to five real estate properties in Moscow, including the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Spaso House (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1999). According to the Foreign Ministry, such a swap would conflict with Article 16 of the State Property Privatization Law, which prohibits the transfer of property rights to state property as a way to reduce foreign debts, Interfax reported. "Segodnya" reported on 27 October that even if Moscow were willing to accept the U.S.'s terms and transfer Spaso House to U.S. ownership, then the Russian government might respond by increasing the tax on the property so drastically that Moscow's original offer of $890,000 a year in rent would seem attractive. JAC

WILL GAZPROM PAY FOR THE WAR?

"Segodnya" reported on 27 October that Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok has announced that in both October and November Gazprom must pay the treasury 2 billion rubles ($70 million) over and above what is stipulated in an earlier agreement between the government and the company. The newspaper speculates that Unified Energy Systems will also be asked to make increased payments to the federal treasury. The daily also reported that Pochinok recently estimated that the conflict in Chechnya could result in 20-30 billion rubles in additional expenses. In an interview with "Trud" on 26 October, Pochinok said the Chechen war will put tax reform efforts on hold since it will be necessary for the government to find an additional 18 billion rubles. Earlier reports have suggested that the government will try to increase budget revenues by increasing oil export duties. JAC

REVISED BUDGET REAPS MORE CRITICISM...

Duma deputies will consider the draft 2000 budget in its second reading on 5 November, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 October. The previous day, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a political analyst who is now advising OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov, told reporters that the 2000 budget "was the subject of a most unprincipled deal between the government and the Communists." He continued, "We assess the price of the collusion at 21 billion rubles" ($810 million at today's exchange rate). JAC

...AS HIGHER REVENUE PLEDGE SEEN TO EXIST MOSTLY IN WORDS

"Kommersant-Daily," on the other hand, noted that while "the government promised an additional 20.1 billion rubles" it added only "5.7 billion rubles to the budget on paper." Under the draft approved by deputies on 26 October, revenues are set at 797.2 billion rubles, compared with 791.3 billion rubles in the draft approved by the conciliatory commission. Former First Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin told Interfax that 797.2 billion rubles in revenue cannot be collected unless inflation runs at about 30 percent or more. The current draft assumes annual inflation of 18 percent. JAC

PUTIN PRAISES MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

Speaking in Khabarovsk on 27 October, Prime Minister Putin called for the Russian economy not to retain its transitional status forever. He noted that the assets of all Russia's banks and financial companies are "less than the assets of any financial institution on the list of the world's top 100," Interfax reported. He added that Russia is "squeezed out of the world's science-intensive production markets, excluding the market in arms and military hardware." However, he said the government feels that the potential of the country's military-industrial complex remains very high and "in many ways, the country is maintaining its quite competitive position." JAC

ARE TWO PRESIDENTS BETTER THAN ONE?

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 October that a court in Leningrad Oblast has ruled that Dmitrii Savelev be reinstated as head of the large pipeline company Transneft. Savelev had been dismissed by the Russian government from his post in a manner that some sources, including Savelev, believed was illegal. According to the daily, Savelev's attempt to return to his old office was frustrated by aides of the man who was appointed to replace him, Semen Vainshtok. First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters the same day that there have been no court rulings to reinstall Savelev at Transneft. However, a Transneft representative told Interfax that the company plans to appeal the Leningrad court's decision. JAC



ARMENIAN PREMIER, PARLIAMENT SPEAKER GUNNED DOWN

Five gunmen shot dead Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian and his two deputies, a government minister, and two parliamentary deputies in the parliament's main chamber on 27 October. A third parliamentary deputy died of a heart attack, and six were seriously injured. The gunmen initially claimed they were staging a coup but later said they wanted only to protest the country's economic collapse, for which they held Sargsian responsible. They allowed journalists to leave the parliament but held deputies and government ministers hostage overnight. The gunmen surrendered in the late morning of 28 October after talks with government leaders, including President Robert Kocharian, who assured them a free trial, and after a statement detailing their grievances was read on state television (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2. No. 43, 28 October 1999). LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSUMES PREMIER'S DUTIES

President Kocharian on 29 October temporarily took over the duties of prime minister, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported quoting a presidential spokeswoman. The previous day, he declared three days' national mourning, which will culminate in the funeral of the murdered officials on 31 October. He will name a new premier next week, after the parliament elects its new speaker and deputy speakers. Meeting with Kocharian on 28 October, the leaders of all parliamentary parties and factions pledged their support for him. Also on 28 October, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian issued a statement calling on all Armenians to "unite around the president and meet the challenge to our statehood with solidarity and dignity," Noyan Tapan reported. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF PROSECUTOR, POWER MINISTERS

In an emotional statement released on 28 October, the Armenian Defense Ministry, which Vazgen Sargsian had headed from mid-1995 until June of this year, called for the resignation of the interior and national security ministers and the prosecutor-general. It blamed the two former for failing to ensure adequate security at the parliament building. Carrying assault rifles, the five gunmen had reportedly entered that building through an entrance reserved for journalists. It also castigated all three men for failing to solve the murders of two prominent Defense Ministry officials. Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian tendered his resignation the same day, but Kocharian has not yet accepted it. LF

OPPOSITION PARTY DISOWNS LEADER OF GUNMEN

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun issued a statement on 27 October saying that Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen, had been expelled from the party for "misconduct" in 1992 within a year of joining it. Over the last six months, Hunanian, who is 34 and a former journalist, had openly spoken about "the need to bring the government down by force and destroy its leaders," "Novoe vremya" reported on 28 October. LF

NEW ARMENIAN CATHOLICOS ELECTED

Convening in Echmiadzin on 27 October, delegates to the National Ecclesiastical Assembly elected Garegin Nersisian, Archbishop of Ararat, as the 132rd Catholicos of All Armenians. Nersisian received 263 votes in the second, secret ballot, compared with 176 for Archbishop Nerses Pozapalian. Nersisian, who is 48, was born in a village near Echmiadzin and entered the seminary there in 1965. He has studied theology in Vienna, Bonn, and the Russian Orthodox Church Academy in Azgorsk, from which he graduated in 1979. LF

U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE IN ARMENIA

Shortly before Sargsian was shot dead on 27 October, Strobe Talbott had met with the prime minister as well as with President Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian for four hours to discuss the Karabakh peace process and related measures to establish peace and stability in the South Caucasus, Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian stressed his commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict, noting that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should be a full party to the negotiating process. LF

AZERBAIJAN SEEKS TO DEPORT CHECHEN REFUGEES

The Azerbaijani authorities on 27 October deported 20 Chechen refugees who had arrived in Baku on a flight from Tbilisi earlier that day, Caucasus Press reported. On arriving by bus at the frontier with Georgia, the refugees refused to leave Azerbaijani territory and the next day declared a hunger strike. A spokesman for Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry said that the country cannot accept more refugees as it already has "more than 1 million" internally displaced persons as a result of the war in Karabakh. LF

LANDMINE DISCOVERED IN GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS HQ

The Georgian Border Guards' Tbilisi headquarters were evacuated on 27 October after an anti-personnel landmine was discovered in the building, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Border Guards commander Valerii Chkheidze. The last contingent of Russian border guards stationed in Georgia had vacated the building earlier that day. Chkheidze told Caucasus Press that the contingent will be detained at the Georgian-Russian border in order to clarify the incident. LF

GEORGIA DENIES HARBORING CHECHEN GUNMEN

Georgia's National Security Ministry on 28 October denied that Chechen gunmen have crossed the frontier into Georgia's Akhmeta Raion, ITAR- TASS reported. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi the previous day, former Defense Minister and independent parliamentary candidate Tengiz Kitovani said a band of 450 armed Chechens is encamped in the Pankisi gorge in that raion. LF

ANOTHER RUSSIAN ROCKET EXPLODES OVER KAZAKHSTAN

A Proton rocket exploded shortly after blastoff from the Baikonur cosmodrome on 27 October, the second such explosion within four months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1999). No injuries were reported from falling debris, some of which has been located. As was the case in July, the Kazakh authorities have again suspended launches of Proton rockets from Baikonur pending an investigation into the cause of the blast. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry has sent a formal protest note to Moscow in connection with the incident, which Kazakhstan's Premier Qasymzhomart Toqaev discussed in a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 28 October, according to Interfax. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION FORMS NEW UMBRELLA GROUP

Meeting in Almaty on 27 October under police surveillance, some 300 representatives of 13 opposition movements and parties adopted a resolution on the formation of a new Democratic People's Party, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported. Participants also adopted a second resolution criticizing procedural violations during the recent parliamentary elections and terming the poll illegal and invalid, Interfax reported. They appealed to the international community not to recognize the validity of the poll and demanded new elections next year. Addressing the gathering, Orleu (Progress) Party chairman Seydakhmet Quttyqadam called for the resignation of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. In a written statement read to the meeting, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin affirmed that the Kazakh authorities "stole victory from democratic forces before the eyes of the Kazakh people and the international community," Reuters reported. LF

TAJIK SUPREME COURT REJECTS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S APPEAL

Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 27 October rejected an appeal by Economics Minister Davlat Usmon to annul his registration as a candidate for the 6 November presidential election, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The Supreme Court last week overruled the Central Electoral Commission's refusal to register Usmon, but the latter protested that the court decision is illegal as he had submitted only some 82,000 signatures in his support, rather than the legal minimum of 145,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). Usmon's 5-year-old nephew was kidnapped in Dushanbe on 27 October but found unharmed on the city outskirts the following day, according to Interfax. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER APPEALS FOR HELP TO ENSURE POLL IS DEMOCRATIC

United Tajik Opposition and Islamic Renaissance Party leader Said Abdullo Nuri has written to OSCE chairman in office Knut Vollebaek and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to enlist their organizations' help in organizing "democratic and fair" presidential elections, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Nuri charged that the current strained political climate is "not contributing to peace and national accord." He added that the UTO will not resume its participation in the Commission for National Reconciliation until its demand for an emergency session of the parliament is met. In a 28 October press release, Human Rights Watch termed the upcoming presidential poll "a farce" in the light of government restrictions on potential candidates and on the activities of political parties, the media, and freedom of association. LF

ISLAMISTS AGAIN VOW TO MAKE UZBEKISTAN AN ISLAMIC STATE

During a press conference conducted by telephone on 27 October, Zubair ibn Abdurrakhim, who is chairman of the board of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, said the movement aims to focus world attention on the persecution of "thousands and thousands" of Muslims in Uzbekistan and ultimately to oust the current Uzbek leadership and establish an Islamic state, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He said the seizure by the movement's guerrillas of hostages in Kyrgyzstan was in retaliation for the Kyrgyz government's expulsion of 250 Uzbek oppositionists to Uzbekistan. Speaking in Dushanbe the following day, United Tajik Opposition leader Nuri argued against the forced deportation from eastern Tajikistan of Uzbek Islamists who had failed to comply with the Tajik government's 27 October deadline to leave the country voluntarily, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




EXILED BELARUSIAN SPEAKER CALLS ON WEST TO PRESSURE MOSCOW

Syamyon Sharetski, the speaker of Belarus's dissolved Supreme Soviet, said in Copenhagen on 28 October that Western countries must pressure Russia to cease supporting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, AP reported. Sharetski, who lives in exile in Lithuania, said that if a union between Belarus and Russia comes to fruition, Lukashenka will be elected president of the new entity. Commenting on the rousing reception Lukashenka received after an address to the Russian State Duma earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1999), Sharetski called the Belarusian president a "brilliant demagogue" whose populist message of "taking all from the rich and giving everything to the poor" resonates well in the Duma, most of whose members "want to reestablish the Soviet Union." Sharetski met with Danish officials in Copenhagen and said he is working on "getting Belarus back on track to democracy." PB

U.S. AMBASSADOR RESPONDS TO LUKASHENKA'S ANTI-AMERICAN STATEMENTS

Daniel Speckhard, the U.S. ambassador to Belarus, said on 28 October that the Belarusian government is responsible for human rights abuses as well as for the country's "worsening relations with all Western countries and its self-imposed isolation," Belapan reported. Speckhard was responding to Lukashenka's comments at a CIS youth conference in Minsk the previous day in which he accused the U.S. of sucking money out of Russia and other former Soviet republics and of not respecting Belarusian traditions and "ancient civilization." Speaking of the U.S., Lukashenka had also commented "its history goes back [only] 300 years, when all of those riff-raff from Europe moved there." Speckhard said he is convinced that Belarusians will not fall for the Belarusian government's "Cold War tactics." He added that it is time for Belarus to join "the family of democratic nations," release "political detainees," and stop harassing opposition parties, NGOs, and the media. PB

UKRAINE DISMISSES LUKASHENKA CRITICISM

President Leonid Kuchma's office on 27 October dismissed charges by Belarusian President Lukashenka that Kyiv is yielding to U.S. pressure, AP reported. Kuchma spokesman Oleksandr Martyenko said "the relations between the Ukraine and the U.S. are those of two civilized nations. Nobody has exerted any pressure [on anyone]." Lukashenka said in Moscow that Washington offered Kuchma financial support in exchange for a meeting between him and Belarusian opposition leader Syamyon Sharetski. Lukashenka said the secret meeting took place earlier this month, but Kuchma denies there was such a meeting. Lukashenka added that "Ukraine is looking to the West and aspires to join NATO. It is practically isolated from us and conducts pro-Western policies." PB

TOP CANDIDATES FOR UKRAINIAN PRESIDENCY TRADE JABS

Ukrainian President Kuchma said on 28 October that "there is no significant difference between" his two closest rivals for the presidency, Petro Symonenko and Natalia Vitrenko, AP reported. Kuchma said they "both profess the same ideology, which is dangerous for the country." Symonenko, the leader of the Communist Party, asked "why is the present-day dictatorship of bandits better than the upcoming dictatorship of the proletariat?" Vitrenko advocates Marxist economics and wants to break relations with the IMF. Symonenko and Vitrenko are expected to battle for second place behind Kuchma in the 31 October vote. If none of the 13 candidates gets 50 percent of the vote, then a run off election will be held the following week. PB

UKRAINIAN CURRENCY SLIDES AGAINST DOLLAR

The hryvnya fell to about 4.85 to the dollar on 28 October from 4.7 the previous day, AP reported. Central Bank head Viktor Yushchenko said the loss in value is due to "negative political expectations" on the eve of the presidential election. The latest slide brings the rate outside of the Central Bank's trading corridor for this year, which was set at between 3.4 and 4.6 hryvnya to the dollar. PB

TALLINN COALITION AGREEMENT SIGNED

The three parties of the national ruling coalition and People's Trust, which represents Russian speakers, signed a cooperation agreement giving the two groups a majority of seats in the Tallinn City Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). The new council voted by 33 to 31 to appoint Rein Voog of the Reform Party as council chairman, thereby ousting Edgar Savisaar from that post, "Postimees" reported. The coalition earlier had named Interior Minister Juri Mois of the Pro Patria Union as its candidate for Tallinn mayor. MH

FAILED LATVIAN BANK RENEWED

Pirma Latvijas Komercbanka (PLKB) began operations on 26 October. PLKB is the successor to Rigas Komercbanka, which was declared insolvent earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1999). Officials said that on the first day of operations there were more deposits than withdrawals, LETA and BNS reported. MH

LITHUANIA'S ACTING GOVERNMENT TO ACCEPT WILLIAMS OFFER

The acting government has approved the final documents detailing the sale to U.S.-based Williams International of a 33 percent stake in the Lithuanian oil sector complex, ELTA reported. The cabinet on 29 October voted to authorize acting Minister of Government Reform and Municipal Affairs Sigitas Kaktys and acting Transportation Minister Rimantas Didziokas to sign the contracts on shares, investments, and management on behalf of the government. Kaktys, who headed the negotiating team over the last week, said that Williams had made concessions to Lithuania during the final day of negotiations, lowering Lithuania's financial commitments by $9 million and extending the term for payments. AB

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT CONSIDERS CALLING EARLY ELECTIONS

In a televised speech to the nation, Valdas Adamkus said that if the parliament fails to form a stable government, it may be advisable to hold early national elections, possibly at the same time as the local elections next March, ELTA reported on 28 October. Adamkus the previous day accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, who had refused to sign the Williams contracts, and re-appointed Minister of Social Welfare Irena Degutiene as acting premier. Degutiene served as interim prime minister six months ago when the Conservative government of Gediminas Vagnorius resigned. Adamkus is expected to nominate a new premier on 29 October. Degutiene is a leading candidate for the post. AB

POLISH PRIME MINISTER SUSPENDS ECONOMIC ADVISER

Jerzy Buzek sent his economic adviser, Jerzy Kropiwnicki, "on holiday" on 28 October after he made gloomy economic forecasts that caused the country's currency to drop sharply, AP reported, citing PAP. Kropiwnicki had predicted the previous day that Poland's inflation rate this year will be higher than the government forecast of 8.1 percent and that the current account deficit will be nearly double its level last year. His comments caused the zloty to fall to a two-year low of 4.22 to the dollar, about 2.37 percent below the parity rate set by the Central Bank. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz said Kropiwnicki was spreading "black propaganda" and "tendentious and exaggerated statements." The row increases tensions between members of the ruling coalition. Balcerowicz and his Freedom Union, which is a member of the coalition, have called for Kropiwnicki to be sacked. PB

POLISH FARMS TO MEET EU STANDARDS IN FOUR YEARS

Agriculture Minister Artur Balazs said on 27 October that Polish farms will be restructured to meet EU standards by 2003, Reuters reported. Balazs said the government will be able to downsize the number of farms from the current 2 million to some 800,000 by that time. Nearly one-quarter of Poland's workforce is tied to loss-making agriculture enterprises, by far the highest share among prospective EU members. The EU says it would cost some 4.2 billion euros ($4.5 billion) annually to extend current EU subsidies to Polish farmers. PB

CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER RESIGNS

Egon Lansky, deputy premier in charge of foreign affairs and security, will tender his resignation as soon as he is discharged from the hospital, Prime Minister Milos Zeman told journalists on 28 October, after informing President Vaclav Havel of Lansky's decision. Zeman did not mention any reason for Lansky's departure from the cabinet, CTK reported. He has been increasingly criticized by the media and the opposition for the poor performance of the Czech Republic in meeting EU integration conditions and for having opened an illegal bank account in Austria. Also on 28 October, Zeman said that if the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) withdraws from the "opposition agreement," he will immediately start talks with the Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Union on forming a new coalition. MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS ODS WANTS TO SHARE GOVERNMENT'S SUCCESS

Addressing a 28 October gala dinner organized by his Social Democratic Party to mark the 81st anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia, Zeman said that his cabinet has managed to gradually help the country emerge from its crisis and that having witnessed this accomplishment, the ODS now wants to share the success. "Those who helped rob the country are now offering to take part in further privatization. Those hit by the [government's] clean-hands anti-corruption campaign are saying they would like to improve the legal system," Zeman remarked. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT SEES COUNTRY AT A CROSSROADS'

President Vaclav Havel on 28 October said that on the 81st anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic is "at a historical crossroads" where it will have to choose between "assuming its share of responsibility for Europe, the world, and its civilization" or "taking care of ourselves alone." Havel said the first option is one of "responsible participation in improving the world," while the second amounts to "building walls from concrete or [to] visa requirements, import surcharges and quotes, and a ban on evil foreigners buying houses here." MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT 'TECHNICALLY INITIALS' AGREEMENT WITH VATICAN

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 27 October told journalists that the government has "technically initialed" an agreement with the Vatican. He said the text of the agreement has not been finalized but "specific points" could be still negotiated. He said the government will not make public the text of the agreement before it is discussed with the Holy See because of "ethics and correctness toward the partner," CTK and SITA reported. President Rudolf Schuster on 28 October left for a two-day visit to Italy and the Vatican. MS

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER REJECTS POLICE SUMMONS

Vladimir Meciar has twice failed to respond to a subpoena to answer questions about the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995, CTK reported on 28 October, citing the daily "Slovenska Republika." The daily said a Bratislava police leader has asked police officials to "draw up alternative plans for bringing Meciar [in] to answer questions." MS

GERMANY SEARCHES FOR STASI MONEY IN HUNGARY

A German government commission is searching for some 3-4 billion German marks allegedly laundered in Hungary in the late 1980s by the East German secret services (Stasi), "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 27 October. In 1991, the Hungarian National Bank stopped opening anonymous accounts, and Stasi funds were transferred to secret accounts of newly emerging private banks, a member of the commission told reporters. Hungarian Finance Ministry State Secretary Mihaly Varga said both his ministry and the government will aid the commission's investigation, which is expected to be completed within six months. MSZ




MACEDONIA TO ELECT A PRESIDENT...

Voters go to the polls on 31 October in the first round of voting to elect Macedonia's second president since independence in 1991. If, as expected, none of the six candidates wins a majority, a second round will take place on 14 November. Incumbent Kiro Gligorov is not running for re-election. He is the first of the post- communist heads of state in the Yugoslav successor states to leave office. Moreover, his is the only one of those republics to win independence from Belgrade peacefully. Known as "the old fox," Gligorov is widely credited with having kept his country out of regional conflicts. He also sought to establish good relations with neighboring states without, however, drawing too close to any of them. In recent months, he has been involved in acrimonious public disputes with the center-right government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who has been in office for almost one year. Gligorov is close to the opposition Social Democrats, who held power until Georgievski and his allies defeated them in a campaign that emphasized promoting free markets and ending corruption. PM

...BUT WHO WILL IT BE?

The two leading contenders for the presidency are Vasil Tupurkovski of the multi-ethnic Democratic Alternative and Boris Trajkovski of Georgievski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), Reuters reported on 28 October. Both parties belong to the governing coalition and were long expected to field a joint candidate, namely Tupurkovski. But continuing rivalries within the coalition and poor performances by some of Tupurkovski's ministers in the cabinet led VMRO to decide to go it alone. Both of the main ethnic Albanian parties are running a candidate, but their voters are likely to come exclusively from the Albanian minority, which represents only about one-quarter of the population. Trajkovski, Tupurkovski, and the Social Democrats' Tito Petkovski have all sought to court the Albanian vote. Most parties agree on the need for economic development, European integration, and ethnic harmony. PM

MONTENEGRO ADOPTS LAW ON CITIZENSHIP...

The parliament in Podgorica passed a law on Montenegrin citizenship on 28 October. The new legislation recognizes a separate Montenegrin citizenship distinct from that of Yugoslavia or Serbia. Deputies loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic walked out of the session, saying that the law is separatist. Pro-independence Liberals also quit the meeting, charging that the legislation does not go far enough to restore full independence, AP reported. PM

...PREPARES TO INTRODUCE GERMAN MARK

President Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 28 October that Montenegro is ready to introduce the German mark as a parallel currency to the Yugoslav dinar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). He stressed that while Montenegro does not want to destabilize Yugoslavia or the region, the government is obliged to protect its citizens against growing inflation in Serbia. PM

DODIK BLASTS BELGRADE OVER CURRENCY CHARGE

Republika Srpska caretaker Prime Minister Milorad Dodik told Belgrade's "Danas" of 29 October that Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic is trying to deceive his own people. Matic recently charged that with Western backing, the Republika Srpska has sought to destabilize the Yugoslav dinar by "flooding" Serbia with forged dinar banknotes. Dodik commented that people forge only strong currencies, not the inflation-plagued dinar. He added that the source of Serbia's economic woes is its own regime, whose policies constitute an "economic war" against Serbs in both Serbia and Bosnia. PM

PETRITSCH INTRODUCES DECREES ON BOSNIAN PROPERTY

The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch issued several decrees on 28 October enabling Bosnian refugees and displaced persons to reclaim their property in either half of the republic. He called the decision a "watershed," "Oslobodjenje" reported. Observers note that a major problem preventing people from going home is that other people are squatting in their flats and houses. Local nationalists often back the squatters in their claim to the property in an effort to consolidate the results of "ethnic cleansing." PM

PARTIES REGISTER FOR BOSNIAN VOTE

Officials of the OSCE, which organizes elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in Sarajevo on 28 October that 73 parties and 17 independent candidates have registered for the local elections slated for April 2000, dpa reported. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT IN THE VATICAN

Franjo Tudjman opened an exhibition of Croatian religious art in the Vatican on 28 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1999). PM

META ACCEPTS ALBANIAN PREMIERSHIP

President Rexhep Meidani named Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta to head the new government following the recent resignation of Meta's ally Pandeli Majko (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 October 1999). Meta said that he "will do the impossible to work for a better life for Albanian citizens." He noted that he will retain Interior Minister Spartak Poci, who has cracked down on gangs, particularly in the north. PM

CONVOY OF SERBS ATTACKED IN KOSOVA

Some 1,500 ethnic Albanians blocked and ransacked a convoy of 155 Serbs in Peja on 27 October, injuring at least 18. A Dutch KFOR commander said that some of the Serbs would "certainly" have been killed if peacekeepers had not intervened. The Serbs were en route from their isolated settlement near Rahovec to Montenegro. They continued on their way after the incident. UN, KFOR, and Serbian officials condemned the attack. Serbian spokesmen said in Belgrade that the incident shows that KFOR is unable to protect Kosova's Serbian population. PM

AIR CORRIDOR TO KOSOVA TO REOPEN

The Macedonian authorities on 28 October approved a request by NATO and the EU to reopen an air corridor to civilian flights to Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1999). PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION AGREES TO STICK TOGETHER

Representatives of 15 opposition parties agreed in Belgrade on 28 October to work together "before, during, and after" any future elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The single largest opposition party, which is Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, did not sign the pact. Elsewhere, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said that the governing parties will also maintain a united front whenever elections are held. PM

MILOSEVIC PRAISES RAMSEY CLARK

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark met with Milosevic in Belgrade on 28 October. The Serbian leader called his guest "brave, objective, and moral" for his opposition to NATO's recent bombing campaign against Serbia, AP reported. Very few Westerners have called on Milosevic since May, when the Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted him for atrocities committed in Kosova. PM

DEL PONTE WANTS BIG FISH

Carla del Ponte, who is the Hague tribunal's new chief prosecutor, said in Prishtina on 28 October that her priority will be to bring top-ranking war criminals to justice. These include Milosevic, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, she added. She noted that Milosevic may face charges in addition to those for which he has already been indicted. In The Hague, a court spokesman said that Serbia, Croatia, and the Republika Srpska have failed to deliver a total of 35 indicted war criminals to the tribunal. PM

EU TO GIVE ROMANIA LARGE GRANTS

EU commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen said in Bucharest on 28 October that the union will provide Romania with 600 million euros ($636 million) annually until 2006 to upgrade transport, environment, agriculture, and rural development programs. Verheugen, who met with President Emil Constantinescu and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Ion Diaconescu, said the EU wants to see consensus among Romanian parties on joining the union, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The government the same day approved Romania's National Development Plan, which is to be submitted to the EU by the end of the month. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS OPPOSITION LEADER

In a statement released on 28 October, Constantinescu said that Party of Social Democracy in Romania Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase's recent criticism of the government's decision to raise wages for employees of the Defense and Internal Affairs Ministries is "demagogic." Nastase had said the decision is a "bribe paid ahead of the electoral campaign for the use of [police] truncheons." The Defense Ministry also criticized Nastase, who responded that he was not insulting "those in uniform" but the "demagogy that characterizes the discourse of those in power." MS

ROMANIAN STUDENTS PROTEST

Thousands of students marched in Bucharest and other cities on 27 and 28 November demanding higher grants and better living conditions on campus, RFE/RL's Romanian service reported. The students said they have decided to go on strike for "an unlimited period." MS

RUSSIAN CONTINGENT IN TRANSDNIESTER DESTROYS ARSENAL

Russian troops in the Transdniester on 27 October destroyed several tons of ammunition that had belonged to the former 14th army stationed in the separatist region, ITAR-TASS and BASA-press reported. General Valerii Yevnevich, who commands the Russian contingent in the breakaway region, told journalists that the destruction of the ammunition was stipulated in an agreement with Tiraspol that had been reached "with the assistance of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin." ITAR-TASS cited Yevnevich as saying that the withdrawal of the remaining arsenal "will take up to six years" and require "400 special trains" that will transit Ukraine. Romanian Radio reported on 28 October that Putin has invited Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov to Moscow for talks. MS

BULGARIA, EU TO NEGOTIATE CLOSING KOZLODUY

The Bulgarian government on 28 October announced it will begin negotiations with the EU on a plan to shut down the aging Kozloduy nuclear plant, AP reported. The agency said that under the government plan, Bulgaria wants to leave the two newer reactors functioning until the two older ones have been decommissioned. BTA reported the same day that parliamentary Energy Committee Chairman Kiril Ermenkov said that the older units must not be closed before 2003, while the newer ones must operate until 2008-2010. Ermenkov said that the EU proposal that the older units be closed in 2001 and the newer ones the following year is "unacceptable." MS




VIOLENCE AND RECRIMINATIONS OVERSHADOW GEORGIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN


by Liz Fuller

In the runup to Georgia's 31 October parliamentary elections, policy issues have been virtually eclipsed by recriminations and complaints. Leaders of the most influential political parties have accused one another of malpractice. Hundreds of would-be candidates have complained over the Central Electoral Commission's refusal to register them. And there has been widespread concern about election- related violence.

As in the 1992 and 1995 elections, several dozen parties and blocs are on the ballot sheet. And as in previous polls, parties with very similar priorities and programs have mostly chosen to run individually, rather than join forces. For example, there are several parties or blocs representing Communists and Stalinists, and three whose declared principal aim is to revive the moribund industrial sector. At the same time, the electoral alliances that have emerged tend to unite parties with diverging, in some cases even conflicting policies or orientations.

Two blocs are considered to have the greatest chance of achieving the minimum 7 percent of the vote needed to win seats under the proportional system (150 seats in the parliament are to be allocated under this system, while the remaining 85 are to be contested in single-mandate constituencies).

The first comprises the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), which forms the largest faction in the outgoing parliament, and the recently created Party for the Liberation of Abkhazia, headed by the chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili. The second is the Union for the Revival of Georgia, headed by Aslan Abashidze, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Adjar Autonomous Republic. That bloc unites four parties: Abashidze's Union for Democratic Revival, which is the second-largest faction in the outgoing parliament; the Socialist Party; the Union of Traditionalists, which in 1990 formed part of the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia's Round Table--Free Georgia coalition; 21st Century, which includes supporters of the late president; and a nameless group of supporters of former Georgian Communist Party First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili.

The only other groups that, according to observers, are likely to win seats under the party-list system are the right-wing National Democratic Alliance--Third Way; the Labor Party, which scored a significant success in the November 1998 local elections; and Industry Will Save Georgia, which is headed by beer magnate Gogi Topadze.

The SMK's 1995 election victory was due to then parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze's success in stabilizing the domestic political situation after three years of chaos, collapse, civil war, and economic decline and thereby laying the foundation for a modest economic upswing. But despite millions of dollars in credits from international financial organizations, that upswing was not sustained, nor did Shevardnadze succeed in making good on his 1995 election promise to create 1 million new jobs. Popular disillusion with the SMK contributed to the unanticipated strong showing of Shalva Natelashvili's Labor Party in the November 1998 local elections.

Observers disagree as to how much of a threat Abashidze's alliance poses to the SMK. Adzharia may appear relatively calm, stable, and prosperous compared with the rest of Georgia, but that stability is maintained by suppressing dissent. And many analysts believe that Adjaria's economic success is at least partly due to its misappropriation of millions of lari in taxes that should have paid to the central government in Tbilisi. In addition, Abashidze is widely regarded both in Georgia and abroad as a stalking-horse for Moscow, which still maintains a military base in Adzharia.

An early October poll put support for the Union of Citizens of Georgia at 27 percent and for the Union for Revival at 17.8 percent. But an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 22 October put Abashidze's support countrywide at 46 percent, compared with only 22 percent for Shevardnadze's party. Such predictions, together with Shevardnadze's recent description of the election campaign as "a struggle for power," have served to fuel the widespread popular perception that the SMK will resort to underhand means, including falsification of the vote, to ensure an election victory.

Other developments have similarly contributed to apprehension that the poll will be less than free and fair. Buses transporting Abashidze's supporters to a planned rally in Tbilisi were intercepted by police in Khashuri, in western Georgia, and forbidden to proceed for several days. Natelashvili has claimed that power supplies have been cut in some rural areas when Labor and other opposition candidates appeared on state television. Several opposition and independent candidates have been attacked and injured. And the Central Electoral Commission refused to register a total of 476 candidates on the grounds that their applications contained errors. As of 25 October, the commission was still unable to say precisely how many candidates would contend the poll.

The rising tensions have been exacerbated by the realization that the parliamentary poll is, in effect, also a "qualifier" for next April's presidential elections. Both Shevardnadze and Abashidze have already announced their intention to run in that ballot. If the SMK defeats Abashidze's bloc by only a narrow margin, tensions will likely rise even more over the next six months, and other candidates may be tempted to participate in the hope not so much of winning but of being rewarded for backing one or the other candidate in an anticipated runoff. If, however, Abashidze's bloc fares worse than most observers currently predict, then either Patiashvili, Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, or Traditionalists' chairman Akaki Asatiani may decide to challenge Abashidze as the bloc's presidential candidate.


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