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Newsline - November 2, 1999




RUSSIAN OFFICIALS UNITE TO REBUFF WESTERN CRITICISM OF CHECHNYA CAMPAIGN...

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters in Oslo on 1 November that "local bandit groups are to blame for developments in Chechnya not Russian authorities or Russia." He added that "terrorists" there are armed and trained by other countries and "our task is to free the Chechen people of those unwanted guests," according to AP. State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin told Ekho Moskvy on 1 November that Russia has little alternative to its current actions in the North Caucasus: "The alternative we are facing is rather simple: a horrible end or endless horror. We cannot make overtures to terrorism, we cannot hope to persuade it to stop being what it actually is." Our Home Is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said that Russia "has to continue what it is doing" but also must "make its diplomacy more active and once again show the world what we are dealing with in Chechnya." JAC

...WHILE RUSSIA REJECTS U.S. APPEAL

U.S. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart also said on 1 November that U.S. President Bill Clinton had planned to appeal to Putin in Oslo directly to ease the Russian military's actions in that region, according to AP. In its 30 October issue, "Novye izvestiya" called Chechnya "a sphere of interest" for the U.S. because of the Caspian's huge oil reserves. That newspaper, which is controlled by media magnate Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, concluded that "all talk about the 'humanitarian disaster' in the region is nothing but a smoke screen." It added that the Russian government's "discussion about increasing its missiles" in response to the U.S.'s declared interest in a limited national defense system is a "well-planned trick to force the U.S. to make some allowances" such as debt forgiveness and looking the other way with regard to Chechnya. JAC

THOUSANDS REMAIN TRAPPED ON CHECHNYA'S BORDERS

A border crossing between Chechnya and Daghestan was opened on 1 November to allow the entry into Daghestan of displaced persons fleeing the fighting in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. But the main border crossing on Chechnya's western border with Ingushetia was opened only for a few hours, allowing just 100 people to cross. Thousands of displaced persons were left trapped in Chechnya and those who had fled earlier were prevented from crossing back into Chechnya in order to try to locate and rescue relatives. Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev described the decision to leave thousands of Chechens stranded on the border in freezing rain and snow as "a humiliation," "inhuman," and a violation of both the Russian Constitution and international law, according to Interfax. "The struggle against terrorism must not be turned into a struggle against civilians," he added. LF

PUTIN AGAIN OUTLINES MOSCOW'S OBJECTIVES IN CHECHNYA...

In an interview with regional television stations on 1 November, Prime Minister Putin said that "the main task of the Russian government in Chechnya is to resolve political problems with political means," according to ITAR-TASS. He said Russia does not aim "to conquer Chechnya and bring the Chechen people to their knees" but to eradicate "terrorism." Putin claimed that the Chechen militants' geopolitical goals have nothing in common with those of the Chechen people. He affirmed that Moscow is ready to work with "all political forces in Chechnya, but we will never sit down at the negotiating table with bandits whose arms are in blood [up] to the elbows." LF

...WHILE OTHER POLITICIANS CALL FOR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV...

Speaking in Washington on 1 November, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov told ITAR-TASS that "President Aslan Maskhadov represents real power in Chechnya" and that Russia should therefore "conduct a dialogue with those who were empowered by the people and not with those who try to grab this power." In Murmansk, Yabloko faction leader Grigorii Yavlinskii similarly called for talks with Maskhadov on the formula "our security in exchange for [Chechnya's] sovereignty," Interfax reported. Yavlinskii termed Maskhadov the only person who has no connections to "bandits" and is supported by at least part of the Chechen population. LF

...AND LUZHKOV FEARS MILITARY MAY HAVE COMMMITTED STRATEGIC ERROR

Meeting in Chita on 1 November with local officials and businessmen, Fatherland leader and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov expressed concern lest the Russian military's decision to cross the Terek River and advance on Grozny prove to have been misguided, Interfax reported. Luzhkov said he believes the Russian forces should have created a security zone on the northern bank of the Terek, reinforced Chechnya's borders with Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Georgia, and continued air and artillery strikes on Chechen guerrilla bases. But he added that since the decision to advance on Grozny has been taken, politicians should support it. Responsibility for its implementation, he added, lies with Prime Minister Putin. LF

SUPREME COURT DECLINES TO RULE ON ULTRA-RIGHT GROUP

The Central Election Commission on 1 November registered the lists of five more election groups for the December elections to the State Duma. The groups included the Pensioners' Party, Alevtina Fedulova's Women of Russia, Ella Pamfilova's For Civil Dignity, the Russian Socialist Party, and deputy Viktor Ilyukhin's Movement in Support of the Army. The same day, the Russian Supreme Court refused to examine a Justice Ministry appeal to liquidate the Savior (Spas) movement, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 2 November. Savior is headed by Aleksandr Barkashov, who also leads the nationalist group Russian National Unity. The Supreme Court referred the appeal to a raion-level court. If that court does not take up the matter before 3 November, then Savior will get the official go-ahead to begin election "agitation," according to the newspaper. JAC

TWO NEW CONTENDERS EMERGE IN MOSCOW MAYORAL RACE

Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, announced on 1 November that he will seek the office of mayor of Moscow. He will team up with Leonid Troshin of the Federal Tax Police, who is to run for the deputy mayoralty, according to ITAR-TASS. Borodin, who is the former mayor of the Siberian city of Yakutsk, said he is looking for a bigger challenge than the management of the 150,000 people he currently undertakes. He has been the subject of a probe into charges of money laundering and bribery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 1999) and has denied any wrongdoing. Duma deputy Vladimir Semago announced the same day that he will also run for the mayor's office. Semago, a former member of the Communist faction, has a slot on the party list of the Spiritual Heritage movement, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 November. JAC

LEBED FOE NABBED IN HUNGARY

Hungarian police arrested Krasnoyarsk Aluminum company head and would-be Duma deputy Anatolii Bykov and are ready to turn him over to Russian law enforcement officials pending an official request for extradition, police spokesman Colonel Laszlo Garamvolgyi told Hungarian media on 1 November. To avoid arrest, Bykov has lived in no fewer than five cities outside Russia in the last several months, according to "Vremya MN" on 2 November. Bykov, who is wanted on suspicion of money laundering among other things, has experienced a number of difficulties in his bid to win a seat in the State Duma. First, the Central Election Commission barred the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, on whose list he was included, from participating in the elections. Then, a local election commission in Krasnoyarsk insisted that Bykov, a rival of Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, must register in person (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 October 1999). MS/JAC

IS RUSSIAN CAPITAL RETURNING?

"The Moscow Times" on 2 November reported that foreign direct investment in the Russian economy rose 60 percent during the second quarter of 1999, compared with the same period last year. Because the offshore tax haven Cyprus contributed almost 9 percent of foreign investment in the second quarter, some economists believe that part of the billions of dollars that left Russia as capital flight through off-shore accounts is returning, the daily reported. The newspaper reported on 30 October that an obscure Cyprus company called Reforma Investment won the tender for a 9 percent stake in LUKoil on 29 October. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov told "Vremya MN" on 1 November that it is difficult to say whether the Cypriot firm represented non-resident Russian interests. That daily suggested that the purchase could have been engineered by LUKoil itself and Reforma might be part of the investment-banking group NIKoil, which already owns more than 15 percent of the oil giant. JAC

U.S-FUNDED CENTER FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS SECURITY OPENS OUTSIDE MOSCOW

Under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, U.S. and Russian officials on 1 November opened a center for evaluating security systems for nuclear weapons installations and training staff to use those systems. The Security Assessment and Training Center is located at Sergiev Posad, some 30 kilometers northeast of Moscow. Colonel General Igor Valynkin, who together with director of Cooperative Threat Reduction program Thomas Kuenning presided over the opening ceremony, commented that Russia faces serious security threats and needs to boost security at nuclear weapons facilities. In particular, he said concerns have arisen that terrorists might attempt to steal nuclear weapons. JC

PUTIN PRAISES RUSSIAN-NORWEGIAN TIES

Following talks with his Norwegian counterpart Kjell Magne Bundevik in Oslo on 1 November, Russian Premier Putin noted that owing to Norwegian efforts, trade between Russia and Norway fell by only 20 percent after the August 1998 financial crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. "That fall," he commented, "was much smaller than in the case of other European countries." Putin also noted that Moscow shares Oslo's concern about nuclear safety in northwestern Russia, adding that the two countries have been "successfully cooperating" in scrapping decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines and in constructing storage for liquid nuclear waste. Putin is in Norway to attend events commemorating the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin. He is also to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton. JC

CRIMINAL GANGS KILLING STREET CHILDREN FOR 'PARTS'

A spokeswoman for Germany's secret service told the weekly "Focus" on 30 October that her agency has gathered information that Russian criminal gangs are killing street- children and selling their organs to rich patients in other countries. According to the weekly, St. Petersburg police are discovering an increasing number of dead street-children whose internal organs have been removed. However, law enforcement officials in that city and other locations throughout Russia have been stymied in their efforts to end the practice because the disappearance of street children is generally not recorded. JAC

FAILED GORBACHEV ASSASSIN SEEKS DUMA SEAT FROM 'CRIME CAPITAL'

Aleksandr Shmonov, who in 1990 sought to assassinate former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, has submitted signatures to run for the State Duma from a single- mandate district in St. Petersburg, Ekho Moskvy reported on 1 November, citing a source in the local election commission. Shmonov could find a not insignificant constituency of fellow professionals in that city. Over the past 12 months or so, St. Petersburg has witnessed a string of contract killings, most recently that of Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Viktor Novoselov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). Acknowledging that the level of crime in St. Petersburg is higher than the average for the federation as a whole, Vice Governor Vladimir Grishanov told a 28 October session of the municipal government that "it is therefore hard for us to prove that we are not the crime capital of the country," according to ITAR-TASS. JC

CORRECTION:

Based on a report in "The Moscow Times,""RFE/RL Newsline" on 1 November incorrectly identified Aleksei Yablokov as head of the Institute for U.S.A and Canada. Yablokov is a former presidential adviser on the environment.




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT ASKS PRESIDENT TO CONVENE EMERGENCY SESSION

At a 1 November meeting of the Armenian parliament's unofficial "coordinating council," leaders of all factions asked President Robert Kocharian to convene an emergency parliamentary session the following day, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That session is to elect a new speaker and two deputy speakers to succeed the three officials gunned down in the parliament on 27 October. Republican Party leader Andranik Markarian, who is regarded as the most likely choice for the post of parliament speaker, told Interfax on 1 November that the parliament will not diverge from the political course set by the murdered leaders of the majority Miasnutiun (Unity) faction, speaker Karen Demirchian and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian (see also "End Note" below). LF

ARMENIAN NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTER TENDERS RESIGNATION

Serzh Sarkisian submitted his resignation to President Kocharian on 1 November, Interfax reported, citing the presidential press service. On 28 October, the Defense Ministry had demanded the resignation of Sarkisian, the interior minister, and the prosecutor-general for failing to prevent the killings the previous day or to resolve two earlier murders of military officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1999). Kocharian has not yet accepted the resignation of either Sarkisian or Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian, arguing that the present cabinet should remain in office until the naming of a new premier. LF

KARABAKH LEADERSHIP DENIES LINK WITH GUNMAN

The government press service of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 1 November issued a statement rejecting as "a deliberate and immoral provocation" allegations in an article in "Segodnya," MEDIAMAX reported. The Russian daily had suggested that Nairi Unanian, the leader of the five Armenian parliament gunmen, had established links to the enclave's present prime minister, Anushavan Danielian, when the two men were working in Crimea in the early 1990s. The newspaper also hypothesized that the Karabakh leadership could have commissioned the 27 October shootings in order to thwart the signing of a Karabakh peace agreement, the terms of which it considered unacceptable. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT RECEIVES ATATURK PRIZE

Heidar Aliev, who arrived in Ankara on a two-day official visit on 31 October, was presented with the Ataturk Peace Prize by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel the following day, AP reported. Aliyev was to have traveled to Turkey in June to receive that award but was prevented by poor health from doing so. At the presentation ceremony, Demirel praised Aliev's "key role in the transformation of Azerbaijan to a free-market system, and his work for the welfare of his people." Demirel also said that Azerbaijan's interests should be protected during the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Reuters reported. LF

GEORGIA AGAIN DENIES PERMITTING TRANSIT OF ARMS TO CHECHNYA

Speaking in Tbilisi on 1 November, President Eduard Shevardnadze again affirmed that Georgia is capable of guarding its 80 kilometer frontier with Chechnya in order to prevent the transport to that republic of arms and mercenaries, Interfax reported. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that arms are being transported to Chechnya across the unguarded border. Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich repeated those charges in Moscow on 1 November, adding that a French journalist taken hostage last month had been seized by Chechen militants on Georgian territory and taken across the border into Chechnya. Georgian Frontier Guards commander Valerii Chkheidze is to meet in Moscow on 2 November with his Russian counterpart, Konstantin Totskii, to discuss how to prevent Chechen guerrillas using mountain paths that cross the border. LF

JAPAN SUSPENDS GOLD-MINING IN KYRGYZSTAN

A Japanese government agency engaged in the joint exploitation of the Altyn-Jylga gold mine in southern Kyrgyzstan has suspended operations there following the abduction in August of four Japanese geologists, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 1 November, quoting Sheishenaly Murzagaziev, director of the Kyrgyz State Agency for Geology and Mineral resources. The Japanese, who were employed at the mine, were released late last month following negotiations between Kyrgyz security officials, Tajikistan's Minister for Emergency Situations Mirzo Zieev, and representatives of the Uzbek Muslim guerillas who seized the hostages. According to Tajik sources, Japan paid a $5 million ransom for the four men, but the Kyrgyz government denies this. Murzagaziev said that Japan is willing to invest $4 million in developing gold deposits in northern Kyrgyzstan. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADER MEET

Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri met for eight hours in Dushanbe on 1 November in an attempt to resolve the tensions arising from the UTO's decision to suspend participation in the Commission for National Reconciliation. That decision is to protest restrictions on the registration of opposition candidates wishing to contest the 6 November presidential elections, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999). No details of those talks have been released. LF




BELARUS RELEASES ONE OPPOSITION LEADER, KEEPS ANOTHER DETAINED

Mikalay Statkevich, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, was released from detention on 31 October, AP reported. Statkevich was arrested and charged with organizing mass demonstrations last month following clashes between police and protesters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999). Statkevich said he was let go only after signing an agreement not to leave the country. He added that he was freed "because of the growing international solidarity for [the] liberation of political prisoners in Belarus." In other news, Belapan reported on 1 November that the pre-trial detention of former Belarusian Premier Mikhail Chyhir has been extended for one month. Chyhir, a candidate in the opposition's parallel presidential election in May, was arrested in April. He is now awaiting trial on charges of abuse of power and criminal negligence. PB

INTERNATIONAL AGENCY PLEDGES MORE CHORNOBYL AID TO BELARUS

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) pledged on 31 October to increase its aid to Belarus for alleviating problems from the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, Reuters reported. Jihui Qian, the IAEA vice president, said "Belarus badly needs our assistance...there is nothing more important [here] than combating the consequences" of the disaster. Jihui made his announcement after a tour of the most affected areas. Some 25 percent of the country remains affected by radiation released in the 1986 explosion. The IAEA is involved in two programs in Belarus, one aimed at reducing radiation in homes and property, the other providing funds for the construction of a plant in the south that would produce safe cooking oil. PB

KUCHMA, SYMONENKO LOOKING FOR SUPPORT FROM LOSING CANDIDATES

The campaign manager for Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 1 November that ahead of the runoff election for the presidency Kuchma's campaign team will seek allies from among "party leaders and our opponents from yesterday," Reuters reported. Ivan Kuras said Kuchma will "cooperate with those in a constructive mood...willing to be constructive allies." Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, who will face Kuchma in the 14 November runoff, said he will hold talks with left- wing allies in a bid "to join forces with those who are ready to struggle against the regime." Symonenko, who advocates forming a Slavic union with Belarus and Russia, said he would divide Ukraine's foreign debts into the categories of "those that have to be paid and those whose legality should be checked." He also said he would "exclude the dollar from domestic circulation" and concluded a press conference asking "Why should the West be afraid of us?" PB

OSCE SEES FAIR ELECTION, DIRTY CAMPAIGN IN UKRAINE

Election observers said on 1 November that the Ukrainian presidential election held the previous day was "carried out in a peaceful and orderly manner," dpa reported. A joint statement by the OSCE and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly said that "although the campaign was highly questionable, voting in general was orderly and relaxed.... There is no immediate reason to doubt that the outcome of the first round of the election reflects the will" of Ukrainians. Simon Osborn, the head of the OSCE monitoring mission, said serious violations during the campaign included forged newspapers, the confiscation of campaign materials, the improper involvement of public officials in campaigning, and various media violations. Mykhailo Ryabets, the head of the Central Election Commission, said the commission received 37 claims of irregularities but that it has found no evidence of vote- rigging. More than 500 observers from 37 countries monitored the vote. PB

SENTENCE COMMUTED FOR ESTONIAN WAR CRIMINAL

A Tallinn district court on 1 November commuted the sentence of convicted war criminal Mikhail Neverovski to three years' probation. Neverovski was convicted in the summer for his role in mass deportations in March 1949 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 1999). "I did not make any decisions concerning anyone's deportation, nor did I draw up any lists by which anyone was sent out of Estonia," Neverovski wrote in his appeal, BNS reported. The 80-year-old originally was sentenced to four years in jail. MH

LATVIAN GENOCIDE SUSPECT APPEALS FOR RELEASE

The lawyer for 72-year-old former KGB colonel Janis Kirsteins asked the Riga Central District Court on 1 November to release the detainee on the grounds of poor health and advanced age, BNS reported. Kirsteins was arrested on 29 October and accused by the Latvian Prosecutor General's Office of falsifying criminal records and signing documents that led to the deportation of residents in the central Latvian districts of Cesis, Gulbene, and Madona during the 1940s. The investigation into Kirsteins' case began in 1994. He is the third person this month to be accused by the Latvian authorities of genocide on the basis of actions in the 1940s. MJZ

RUSSIA'S FSB SENDS MESSAGE ABOUT LATVIAN NEWSPAPER'S CHECHNYA COVERAGE

Russia's NTV reported on 31 October that according to the Russian Federal Security Service, "Diena" correspondent Atis Klimovics is in danger of being kidnapped by Chechen forces and that Klimovics is currently on Chechen territory. According to LETA and BNS on 1 November, however, Klimovics is in Latvia, having returned there from Chechnya one week ago. Klimovics told viewers of the Latvian television news program "Panorama" on 31 October that this incident shows that Russia is attempting to impose an information blockade and that severe obstacles are preventing journalists from covering events in Chechnya. "Russia is not pleased about journalists' reports that diverge from the views of the information center created especially for this war in Moscow," Klimovics told "Panorama." MJZ

FORMER RUSSIAN PREMIER ARRIVES IN VILNIUS

Yevgenii Primakov, who recently became leader of the Fatherland-All Russia electoral bloc, has arrived in Lithuania for a private visit, ELTA and ITAR-TASS reported on 1 November. Primakov will nonetheless meet with President Valdas Adamkus and Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas and deliver a lecture to students and faculty at the Institute of Foreign Relations of Vilnius University. He will then proceed to Kaliningrad Oblast. AB

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT PRAISES LITHUANIA'S DEAL WITH WILLIAMS

BNS reported on 1 November that U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ronald Asmus praised the signing of an agreement between the Lithuanian government and U.S.-based Williams International on sale of a stake in Mazeikiu Nafta, Lithuania's oil complex. "This is good for Lithuania, good for the U.S., [and] good for the region," Asmus commented. AB

SALARIES, PENSIONS DELAYED IN LITHUANIA

"Lietuvos Rytas" on 2 November reported that at the end of last month, the Finance Ministry had paid the salaries of only parliamentary deputies and the president's staff. All other government ministries received only a portion of the amount due for salaries, and no funds were provided for operating expenses. October pensions are expected to be delayed after the treasury failed to transfer 10 million litas ($2.5 million) to the social security administration. The Finance Ministry explained that in order to prevent the government from defaulting on its bond, monies in the treasury are being held to pay government obligations on six-month securities due at the end of October. AB

POLISH MINERS PROTEST CLOSURE OF COAL MINE

Coal miners staged a mock funeral on 1 November to protest the government's decision to close the Siersza mine in southern Poland, AP reported. The protest was the latest in a string of protests over mine closures and layoffs. Some miners have occupied the company's headquarters, while others started a hunger strike last week. The mine, which employs 1,600 people, is being closed as part of government plans to restructure the largely unprofitable coal mining industry. The state hopes to reduce subsidies to the mining sector and cut 40 percent of all coal mining jobs over the next three years. PB

FORMER CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CSSD 'SORT OF MAFIA'

Former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec on 1 November called on the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) to disassociate itself from Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan's accusations several months ago that Zieleniec bribed journalists to promote a positive image of himself. They promised to produce proof but have failed to do so to date. Zieleniec said that Zeman's adviser, Jaroslav Novotny, has tried to blackmail Foreign Ministry official Vaclav Hruby into producing false evidence, which, Zieleniec noted, demonstrates that the CSSD is "a sort of mafia," CTK reported. In an open letter to Zeman, Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Vladimir Mlynar on 1 November demanded that the premier "immediately" apologize to Zieleniec. MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS NO COMPENSATION FOR SUDETEN GERMANS

Speaking to the private Berlin 100.6 radio station on 1 November, Zeman said he will not agree to compensate Sudeten Germans for their loss of property following the 1945 Benes decrees, but he added that former Czechoslovak citizens will be able to settle in the Czech Republic after it joins the EU, as will citizens of all other EU member states. Zeman said, however, that the purchase of land by EU citizens will have to be restricted for some time, until Czech prices reach EU levels. He added that the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993 was "a mistake" that cannot be corrected by the EU's eastward expansion. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT MAY OUTLAW EXTREMIST ORGANIZATION

Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich on 1 November told journalists that his ministry may outlaw the Patriotic Front and the National Alliance because those organizations violate human rights, CTK reported. Grulich said that in accordance with the law, the ministry has sent a letter to the two organizations pointing out those violations; the organizations now have 30 days to respond in writing. The two far-right organizations demonstrated in Prague on 28 October, the anniversary of the foundation of the former Czechoslovakia. The demonstrators chanted nationalist slogans, and National Alliance leader Vladimir Skoupy told them that the Holocaust was "an invention." MS

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS SLOVAKIA LIKELY TO BEGIN ACCESSION TALKS

Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, said in Brussels on 1 November that the commission is "seriously considering" recommending to the EU summit in Helsinki in December that Slovakia be invited to start accession talks, CTK reported. Verheugen spoke ahead of a two-day visit to Bratislava. "I want to tell the Slovak people that the EU is prepared to accept Slovakia as a member, that we want it as a member, and that we shall do everything we can to support Slovakia on the difficult path of meeting membership criteria," he said. MS

SLOVAKS BELIEVE SITUATION WORSENED AFTER MECIAR'S ELECTION DEFEAT

Nearly three Slovaks out of four (74 percent) say the country's economic situation "has worsened" since the November 1998 elections, which resulted in the ouster of Vladimir Meciar's government. In an opinion poll conducted by the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs in October, 61 percent of respondents said their living standards have since deteriorated, while 59 percent said they believe that the security of citizens has also decreased, CTK and SITA reported on 1 November.

HUNGARIAN CABINET WANTS TO AMEND ELECTORAL LAW

On returning from Canada, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told journalists in Budapest on 1 November that the cabinet intends to amend the electoral law so that Hungarian nationals living abroad can participate in elections. Orban noted that voters must be citizens and thus ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries who do not have Hungarian citizenship will not be able to vote. The governing coalition and the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party support Orban's proposal, while opposition parties have rejected it. Without the latter's support, the electoral law cannot be changed, since a two-thirds majority in the parliament is required for such amendments. MSZ




CROATIAN PRESIDENT UNDERGOES EMERGENCY SURGERY

Franjo Tudjman was rushed to a Zagreb hospital for surgery on 1 November to repair a perforation in his large intestine. Doctors declared the operation a success and said the president is "feeling well," AP reported. Tudjman, 77, was rushed to hospital after complaining of stomach pains. He had canceled several meetings with Roman Catholic officials and Croats living abroad during his recent visit to the Vatican. In 1996, Tudjman underwent surgery in Washington for what U.S. sources said was stomach cancer. However, he denied at the time that he was suffering from cancer. VG

KOSOVA SERB POLITICIAN SHOT

Leading Kosova Serb politician Momcilo Trajkovic was shot in the leg on 31 October by an unidentified assailant. Trajkovic said he was shot outside his home in Prishtina by two men who spoke Albanian. KFOR commander Klaus Reinhardt denounced the attack as a "terrorist" act and said it was "absolutely intolerable." Reinhardt said Trajkovic, who is usually under KFOR protection, had asked for the guard to be temporarily removed on 31 October for "personal reasons." Bernard Kouchner, a top UN official in Kosova, said Trajkovic is one of the UN's top allies in building a "multi-ethnic Kosova." VG

OSCE POINTS TO KOSOVA COURT CRISIS

Dean Everts, head of the OSCE mission in Prishtina, said the Kosova court system is in crisis and that international jurists are required to resolve it, Reuters reported. Describing the situation as a "massive problem," Everts said not a single court case has been brought to trial in Kosova since the arrival of KFOR troops in June. He said a number of factors are responsible for the crisis, including the insufficient number of judges, low pay, inadequate court facilities, and uncertainty about what laws should apply in Kosova. VG

U.S. TO SUPPORT HEATING OIL AID TO YUGOSLAVIA

The U.S. will support an EU program to send millions of dollars worth of heating oil to Yugoslavia, "The New York Times" reported on 2 November. The oil will be sent to Nis and Pirot, where the local governments are opposed to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin announced that Washington will support any humanitarian initiatives that do not prop up the Milosevic regime. VG

BRITISH JOURNALIST SENTENCED TO JAIL IN YUGOSLAVIA

A Yugoslav judge has sentenced a British journalist to 10 days in jail and expulsion. Dessa Trevisan, a Belgrade correspondent for London's "The Times," was found guilty of travelling through Serbia without an entry stamp in her passport. Trevisan's lawyer, Djordje Mamula, blamed the police for not stamping the journalist's passport at the border, Beta reported. He said Trevisan will appeal the decision. VG

YUGOSLAV CHIEF OF STAFF CONDUCTS TROOP INSPECTION NEAR MONTENEGRO

Dragoljub Ojdanic on 1 November began what was described as a "regular" inspection of Yugoslav troops responsible for Montenegro, Reuters reported. The inspection comes amid statements by Montenegrin officials that they are preparing to introduce their own monetary system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). Ojdanic began his tour in the Serbian town of Uzice, where he also met with local authorities and businessmen. Tanjug reported that he is reviewing the housing situation of troops that were withdrawn from Kosova in June. He is scheduled to visit naval units in Montenegro later this week. VG

DRASKOVIC TESTIFIES THAT POLICE TRIED TO ASSASSINATE HIM

Vuk Draskovic, chairman of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, testified in a court on 1 November that he was the victim of an assassination attempt in early October, Beta reported. After the hearing, Draskovic accused the Yugoslav secret police of having staged a 4 October road accident in which a truck swerved into a convoy of cars in which he was travelling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 1999). VG

PETRITSCH NOTES WILLINGNESS TO COOPERATE AMONG BOSNIAN SERBS

The West's top envoy to Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, said on 1 November that the Bosnian Serb leadership has indicated a willingness to start cooperating with the tribunal, AP reported. Earlier, Petritsch met with the international war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, in Sarajevo. Radio B2-92 reported the same day that top officials in the Bosnian Serb government are drawing up a law on cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal. The proposed law would reportedly envisage the arrest and trial of war crimes suspects on Bosnian Serb territory in the presence of international monitors. Petritsch also said the international community is determined to arrest former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Reuters reported. VG

ARRAIGNMENT OF DOSEN DELAYED

The arraignment of Bosnia Serb war crimes suspect Damir Dosen was postponed on 1 November after he injured himself playing volleyball, AP reported. VG

EUROPEAN ANALYSTS CRITICIZE INTERNATIONAL HANDLING OF BOSNIA

A group of European academics and people with work experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina have released a report criticizing the international community's peace and restoration efforts in Bosnia, the "Frankfurter Rundschau" reported. The report, issued by the European Stability Initiative (ESI), concludes that efforts to establish a lasting peace process in the country since the 1995 Dayton agreement have failed. The group argues that the governing institutions set up by the West in Bosnia-Herzegovina "exercise no effective power" in the country. At the same time, the report notes that war- related power structures and the communist command economy have remained largely unchallenged. The ESI was set up last year by Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a former international arbitrator in Bosnia. VG

PETKOVSKI LEADS MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE WITH ONE-THIRD OF VOTE...

With the vote tallied in 74 of Macedonia's 85 constituencies, Social Democratic candidate Tito Petkovski had won about 33 percent of the vote in Macedonia's 31 October presidential election, Reuters reported the next day. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Trajkovski was in second place with 21 percent. The two candidates will face each other in a run-off on 14 November. VG

...WHILE BOTH LEADING CANDIDATES NOT HAPPY WITH RECOGNITION OF TAIWAN

Both Petkovski and Trajkovski told Reuters on 30 October that they are unhappy about Macedonia's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. They said China is blocking every resolution related to Macedonia in the UN Security Council in retaliation for the recognition. Petkovski added that he will support closer ties with China if elected. Democratic Alliance presidential candidate Vasil Tupurkovski, who finished third in the vote, said the restoration of economic ties with China would be a disaster for Macedonia. Macedonia has received foreign investment from Taiwan as a result of the recognition. Tupurkovski said he will call on his voters to back the candidate who promises to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. VG

ROMANIAN PREMIER ACCEPTS EU COMMISSIONER PROPOSAL

Radu Vasile has approved EU commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen's proposal to set up a working group of experts from Romania, the European Commission, the IMF, and the World Bank to draw up a plan for Romania's economic reforms and oversee their implementation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). Vasile said he has accepted the proposal because radical economic reform cannot succeed without "massive external financing." The group is to set short-term targets as well as medium-range ones up to 2006, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN GREECE

Visiting President Petru Lucinschi and his Greek host, Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, have signed agreements on economic, technological, and agricultural cooperation, AP reported on 1 November. Stephanopoulos said Greece will support Moldova in its efforts to integrate into European structures. Lucinschi invited Greek businessmen to increase their investments in Moldova. He also met with Prime Minister Konstantinos Simitis, with whom he discussed, among other things, bilateral relations, regional affairs, and the activities of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER WANTS COMPENSATION FOR KOZLODUY CLOSURE

Responding to a question posed by Georgi Pirinski, Socialist Party parliamentary group leader, Ivan Kostov said in the parliament on 29 October that Bulgaria "will not budge" from its present energy strategy if the EU does not offer it compensation for the early closure of the controversial Kozloduy nuclear plant. The government asked the legislature for another mandate to conduct negotiations with the EU on the early closure of the plant's first and second units and the future of the newer third and fourth units, BTA reported. The current energy strategy approved by the parliament stipulates that the older reactors will be shut down in 2003 and 2005 and the newer ones in 2008 and 2010. The agency reported on 1 November that parliamentary representatives say they are ready to grant the government's request for another mandate. MS




THE AFTERMATH OF A BLOODBATH IN PARLIAMENT


by Richard Giragosian

The recent killings of the Armenian prime minister, parliamentary speaker, and other officials have raised concerns over the fate of Armenian democracy and political stability. While the tragedy of the murders cannot be overstated, it should be noted that the loss of these political leaders does not necessarily constitute a fatal blow to Armenian democracy. No political figure or figures are more vital to the strength of democracy than are the institutions of democracy themselves. Although democracy in Armenia is still significantly vulnerable as it continues strengthening the rule of law and consolidating the institutions crucial to the democratic process, the isolated murders committed in the Armenian parliament do not pose a potentially dangerous challenge to the political stability and democracy of Armenia. This tragic event is not so much the beginning of a downward spiral into national chaos and instability as an aberration of Armenian politics.

Although the fragility of Armenia's emerging democracy is evident, there is no threat to the foundations of the country's rule of law and national stability. Even the gunmen's inarticulate message vowing to punish the ruling political elite for the socio-economic suffering of the people is rooted in the genuine concerns of the growing social disparity, marked by a sharp divide between the very rich and the very poor, and the legacy of economic isolation as a result of the Azerbaijani-imposed blockade of the country. The gunmen's actions only reinforce the need for the Armenian government to continue strengthening the rule of law, ensuring greater transparency in politics, and accelerating the fight against corruption in all levels of society. Armenian President Robert Kocharian, meanwhile, is faced with the challenge of returning to normal governance, including forming a new cabinet to reassure a shocked nation.

Compounding the internal situation is the challenge of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process under the sponsorship of OSCE. With the recent Armenian-Azerbaijani presidential and ministerial meetings seeking to forge a settlement before the OSCE Istanbul summit later this month, the peace process combines elements of "promise and pressure"--that is, promising regional economic development and pressuring the parties to negotiate. For Azerbaijan, a significant factor is the condition of 76-year-old President Heidar Aliev, who is still recovering from heart surgery. Aliyev is determined to establish his own legacy for Azerbaijan but is faced with an urgent need to secure some degree of political victory.

The path toward settlement is strewn with geopolitical considerations centered on the "pipeline politics" of the region and by the Russian military effort to reassert its influence in the Caucasus. Other factors are internal dissension in Azerbaijan, as seen by the departure of that country's foreign minister and long-serving presidential foreign policy adviser. For Azerbaijan, the Karabakh conflict, which is deadlocked both by the failure to settle the conflict militarily and Baku's inability to coerce an Armenian capitulation despite the blockade it imposed (with Turkish help) on Armenia and Karabakh, has frustrated many of Aliev's efforts to improve Azerbaijan's image and standing in the international community.

Even more frustrating is the continued geopolitical maneuvering over the oil pipeline essential to allow Azerbaijan to fully profit from its Caspian energy reserves. Regional and world powers, each with an eye on their own interests, have exploited Azerbaijan's vulnerability stemming from its reliance on a pipeline route to export its oil. And with such reliance on only one sector of its struggling economy, Aliev's leadership has dangerously ignored the growing social needs of its population, as demonstrated by the critical situation of its neglected displaced persons and refugees.

This internal frustration has led Aliyev to increased political repression, intimidation, and consolidation of personal power, all of which is made possible by a stunted political apparatus that includes an ineffective parliament under the president's control, and a marginalized and disenfranchised political opposition, and a government marked by corruption and "cronyism" flourishing on the basis of petro-dollar graft. Moreover, Aliyev has long been grooming his son to replace him as leader and has simultaneously sought to prevent any rivals from emerging as potential leaders. Such moves have thwarted the development of any class of true leadership and will likely deprive the country of any promise of real political stability in the post-Aliyev period. These internal pressures, given their increasingly powerful effect on the president, may lead the Azerbaijani government to a new, more flexible stand on Karabakh. Combined with the external pressure, they may also induce Aliyev to enter into substantive negotiations on Karabakh for the first time.

The coming weeks present perhaps the most serious challenge to the Kocharian government. The OSCE Istanbul summit will focus on the draft "common state" proposal, a vague and as yet undefined concept of new "horizontal" relations between Karabakh and Azerbaijan as well as a possible means of launching final status talks, provided that Karabakh's security concerns are addressed. Although this "common state" proposal is the fairest and most realistic of all OSCE plans to date, the real test of its viability lies in the details. The author is editor of the monthly "Transcaucasus: A Chronology."


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