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Newsline - November 3, 1999




MOSCOW TO ALLOW OSCE TO VISIT NORTH CAUCASUS

OSCE Chairman- in-Office and Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek told journalists in Oslo on 2 November that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has given permission for an OSCE mission to travel to Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya, Reuters reported. Vollebaek said that the mission will travel to the region late next week. An OSCE expert said, however, that the mission will focus primarily on the humanitarian consequences of the fighting and will not necessarily enter Chechnya. The resident OSCE mission in Grozny pulled out of the city on 1 November for security reasons. Meanwhile a spokeswoman for the UNHCR's Moscow office told Interfax on 2 November that no date has yet been set for a visit by a UN mission to Daghestan and Ingushetia to assess the amount of aid needed for displaced persons in those republics. LF

RUSSIAN FORCES CLAIM TO HAVE STRENGTHENED POSITIONS...

Russian military spokesmen on 2 November claimed to have expelled Chechen fighters from the villages of Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk in Urus Martan Raion and to have taken the Terskii and Bragun ridges overlooking Grozny, Interfax reported. General Gennadii Troshev, who commands the eastern sector of the Chechen front, said Russian forces have now completely encircled Gudermes but will delay an all-out assault on the town in order to keep Russian casualties to a minimum. Meanwhile Russian aviation continued to bombard Gudermes and strategic targets in and around the town of Argun, including bridges across the Argun River. LF

...AS SOLDIERS' MOTHERS SAY RUSSIAN CASUALTY FIGURES HIGHER THAN REPORTED

An organization representing women whose sons are currently serving in the Russian army said in Moscow on 2 November that some 600 Russian soldiers have been killed in action in Chechnya. That figure is four times higher than the figure of 133 cited by Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Anatolii Kvashnin, AP reported. The soldiers' mothers said officers in the North Caucasus have cited a higher death toll than has Kvashnin, estimating that 185 Defense Ministry and 120 Interior Ministry troops were killed as of 31 October. LF

INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS RUSSIAN MILITARY OVER BORDER CLOSURE

Speaking at a press conference in Magas on 2 November, Ruslan Aushev again criticized as inhuman the Russian military's refusal to open humanitarian corridors to allow displaced persons fleeing the fighting in Chechnya to enter neighboring republics. He said he had discussed in a telephone conversation with Russian Deputy Premier Valentina Matvienko the plight of tens of thousands of Chechens trapped on the border with Ingushetia, but he did not disclose her response. On 2 November, only a handful of people were allowed through that border crossing, where at least one woman collapsed and died, Reuters reported. Aushev again offered to mediate between Moscow and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. General Viktor Kazantsev, who commands the Russian forces in the North Caucasus, accused the Ingush Interior Ministry of causing the chaos at the border. LF

RUSSIA EXPECTING IMF TRANCHE IN DECEMBER

Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 3 November that the next installment of Russia's IMF loan will likely be disbursed in December. The previous day, Kasyanov, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko met with John Odling-Smee, director of the IMF's second European department, to discuss Russia's compliance with new loan conditions. Commenting on Odling-Smee's senior status, "Segodnya" noted that "as a rule, the higher the rank of the IMF visitors, the greater the uncertainty over the receipt of the next tranche." According to Khristenko, fund officials "are worrying whether allocation of additional funds to finance the military operation in the North Caucasus will violate the budget's main parameters," according to Interfax. "Vedomosti" reported on 3 November that the IMF also objects to restrictions on fuel oil exports, while Reuters disclosed that the two sides differ over how to resolve the fate of the troubled SBS-Agro bank. JAC

YELTSIN WARNS CLINTON OVER ABM PLANS...

President Boris Yeltsin has warned his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, that Washington's plans to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty could have "extremely dangerous consequences" for the entire arms control process. In a message delivered by Russian Premier Putin in Oslo on 2 November, Yeltsin argued that "strict compliance" with the ABM Treaty and all other arms limitation accords, combined with political and diplomatic efforts at various levels, would be sufficient to counter the threats the U.S. is citing in order to "justify" its plans to set up a limited national defense system. The Russian president also stressed that the ABM Treaty affects the security interests of all countries and that therefore "consistent international efforts" are required to ensure the treaty is preserved, according to Interfax. JC

...WHILE WEST WARNS RUSSIA OVER CFE LIMITS

Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for security and foreign policy issues, said in Oslo on 2 November that Russia must comply with the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which imposes limits on the amount of heavy weapons it can deploy on its southern flanks, Reuters reported. As a result of its offensive in Chechnya, Russia's military presence now exceeds those limits. Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik commented that it is important to reach agreement on this issue "before or at" the OSCE Istanbul summit later this month, at which the revised CFE treaty is to be signed. Arriving in Oslo the previous day, Prime Minister Putin had said that Moscow intends to "restore" the CFE flank restrictions as soon as the "anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya is over." He added that Moscow will also allow international inspectors to confirm compliance with the treaty's provisions, "Vedomosti" reported on 2 November. JC

MOSCOW WON'T YIELD TO PRESSURE TO HALT ARMS SUPPLIES TO IRAN

Speaking a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak following their meeting in Oslo on 2 November, Russian Premier Putin stressed that Russia does not want the "club of nuclear states" to expand. Putin was responding to Barak's statement during their meeting that Israel is concerned about Iran's bid to acquire nuclear and missile technology. While noting that Russia will continue to abide by its commitments "in the field of non-proliferation of nuclear technologies," the Russian premier said Moscow will not allow its defense contractors to be forced out of international arms markets. According to Interfax, Putin proposed easing Israeli concerns by setting up a joint committee to exchange information on cooperation with Iran. Also on 2 November, Putin met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, with whom he discussed, among other things, fighting terrorism and the Middle East peace process, ITAR-TASS reported. JC

DISCORD OVER U.S. ACCESS TO RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SITES

U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins has canceled a visit to the closed nuclear city of Krasnoyarsk-26 after Russian authorities barred him from bringing his science adviser or visiting various U.S.-Russian projects on the site, "The New York Times" reported on 3 November. Collins had been due to preside over the opening of a U.S.-financed business center in the city. According to the daily, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson protested the Russian move so vehemently that Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov "stormed out of the room" during a conference at Denver, Colorado, last week. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, meanwhile, has sent a note to the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry saying that restrictions are hampering Collins's ability to oversee U.S. assistance to Krasnoyarsk-26. JC

MEDIA MINISTER DECLINES TO ENFORCE ELECTION LAW

Mikhail Lesin has announced that his ministry will not take measures against mass media organizations for violating Russia's election law, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 3 November. According to Lesin, Article 8 of the election law essentially imposes a moratorium on freedom of speech during campaign season and violates not only the law on media but also the Russian Constitution, "Vremya MN" reported on 3 November. That daily concluded that the Constitutional Court should resolve the dispute between the election commission and the ministry. The newspaper also reported that according to its sources, Lesin advised the head of TV-Center during a 2 November meeting to pull the program "Secret Materials" off the air because the show undermines social harmony. Lesin, however, denied the report, saying his ministry does not have the right to make such recommendations. JAC

ANOTHER GROUP BARRED FROM ELECTIONS...

The Central Election Commission on 2 November registered another five election groups: Zhirinovskii's Bloc, the interregional movement Unity (Edinstvo), Russian Cause (Russkoe Delo), the Bloc of General Andrei Nikolaev and Academician Svyatoslav Fedorov, and the controversial Savior (Spas), "Vremya MN" reported. The commission barred the National Salvation Front from registration because too many of the signatures it collected in support of its candidates were forged, according to ITAR- TASS. Eight names were struck from Unity's list, including that of television personality Arina Sharapova. A total of 172 names remain. On 3 November, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told NTV that no more than 29 election associations will participate in the State Duma elections. In the last Duma elections four years ago, 43 parties and blocs participated, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

...AS JUSTICE MINISTRY VOWS TO FIGHT SAVIOR'S REGISTRATION

Following the Supreme Court's refusal to consider an appeal by the Justice Ministry to ban the Savior (Spas) movement, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika said on 2 November that his ministry will file suit with a Moscow court to strip the movement of its registration as an all-Russian association, Interfax reported. According to Chaika, Savior does not have the necessary number of local chapters to qualify as a nationwide movement. Chaika also said that he will ask that Russian law enforcement agencies be given additional powers "to suppress social movements and coalitions that are founded in violation of the Constitution," Mayak Radio reported. JAC

SHOIGU ACCUSED OF CAMPAIGNING

The Communist Party's election headquarters has accused Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is also the head of Unity, of using his current trip to Siberia and the Far East to stump for his party in the lead- up to State Duma elections, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 November. According to the agency, the party has asked the Central Election Commission to render its opinion on whether Shoigu's activities violate Russian election law. The official purpose of Shoigu's trip is to check regions' readiness for winter (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 November 1999). The previous day State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that although "the alliance has been registered from a formal point of view and has the right to run in elections," numerous questions still exist since the bloc's "registration has been cancelled in several regions." JAC

RUBLE CONTINUES TO SLIP...

The ruble fell by 1.1 percent on 2 November to 26.336 rubles to $1 from 26.07 rubles the previous day. Some currency traders told Reuters that the Central Bank had bought dollars during the morning of 2 November, contributing to downward pressure on the ruble. On 3 November, the ruble continued to its fall, losing 11 kopeks against the dollar, according to Interfax. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded earlier that the Central Bank, which had previously been propping up the ruble, has apparently decided that a new lower exchange rate is necessary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). JAC

...AS LESS CURRENCY TRAVELS OFFSHORE

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 November that the average amount of hard currency purchased on Russia's foreign exchange market and then transferred to various offshore zones fell sharply during the third quarter of this year, from $1 billion to just $550 million. The same day, Aleksandr Livshits, presidential envoy to the G-7 countries, said that in the first half of 1999 there was a dramatic decrease in capital flight, Interfax reported. The amount of "gray" capital flight or money transferred to avoid taxation amounted to little more than $7.5 billion during the first half of the year, compared with about $25 billion for the whole of last year. The Russian Statistics Agency reported on 29 October that total deposits in Russian banks increased 28.7 percent as of 1 September, compared with the beginning of 1999. JAC

FAR EAST ELECTRICAL WORKERS WANT TO GET PAID

More than 100 workers at Dalenergo in Vladivostok have gone on strike, the second work stoppage at the company in less than four months, "Vremya MN" reported on 2 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 1999). According to the deputy chairman of the local electrical workers union, they have only one demand--namely, that their wages be paid in full. According to the newspaper, the company owed 15.639 million rubles ($600,000) in back wages as of 29 October. The problem with unpaid wages is exacerbating an already difficult situation at the company, which has insufficient fuel reserves to get through the winter. According to ITAR-TASS on 3 November, some 40 percent of necessary coal reserves and only 20 percent of fuel oil requirements had been secured at the beginning of the heating and electricity season. JAC




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW SPEAKER

Meeting in emergency session on 2 November, deputies elected People's Party member Armen Khachatrian as parliamentary speaker, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Khachatrian formerly headed the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs. Gagik Aslanian, who is also a member of the People's Party, and Tigran Torosian of the Republican Party were elected deputy speakers. All three candidacies were endorsed by a large majority of deputies. Republican Party chairman Andranik Markarian, who had been tipped for the speaker's post, proposed all three candidacies, explaining that leaders of all factions in the parliament had decided unanimously that it is important to observe the status quo, whereby the speaker and one of his deputies are members of the People's Party and the second deputy speaker a member of the Republican Party, according to Noyan Tapan. Those two parties constitute the majority Miasnutiun parliament faction. LF

KHACHATRIAN PLEDGES CONTINUITY, STABILITY

Addressing deputies prior to the vote on the three candidacies, Khachatrian vowed that "all programs that were envisaged by [the assassinated leaders] will be put into practice by all of us," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He called for a multi-partisan effort to maintain political stability and help the country recover from the aftermath of last week's murders of the prime minister and parliament speaker. President Robert Kocharian told the session that the support shown for the three candidates demonstrates that the parliament is capable of discharging its basic functions in accordance with the constitution, which in turn suggests that "democracy is becoming stronger in our country," according to Noyan Tapan. Kocharian said that within the next few days, he will name a new premier and cabinet, which, he said, should enjoy the support of the parliamentary majority. LF

OSCE NOTES VIOLATIONS DURING GEORGIAN ELECTION...

In its preliminary assessment, the OSCE Election Observer Mission termed the 31 October Georgian parliamentary poll "a step toward Georgia's compliance with OSCE commitments," according to Caucasus Press on 3 November, but it failed to endorse the voting as free and fair. The statement said that voters were generally able to express their will and that the elections laws provided an adequate framework for genuine multi-party elections. At the same time, it noted that local officials in several districts violated the procedures envisaged for the vote count. Conduct of the poll was termed good in Tbilisi but less than satisfactory in Samtskhe-Djavakheti and Kvemo Kartli (which have large Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities, respectively) and unsatisfactory in Adjaria. The assessment said that the "heated competition" between political parties during the run-up to the poll confirms the existence of political pluralism, but it added that the tone of the campaign "went beyond acceptable limits." The statement also noted instances of election-related violence and intimidation. LF

...AS DO INDEPENDENT MONITORS

Nugzar Ivanidze, who heads the independent Fair Elections group, told AP on 2 November that the 31 October elections "can be called multi-party but they weren't democratic." Ivanidze said that observers were barred from watching the ballot box at some polling stations and that 15,000 ballot papers vanished from one Tbilisi polling station hours before the vote began. Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili told Caucasus Press on 2 November that contrary to official preliminary returns, his party achieved the 7 percent minimum required for representation in the new parliament. Irakli Batiashvili, one of the leaders of the Industry Will Save Georgia bloc, claimed that the bloc polled 20 percent of the total party-list vote. According to official statistics, the two election subjects received 6.85 and 6.75 percent of the vote. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA OFFER CONTRADICTORY REPORTS OF CHECHEN BORDER TALKS

The director of Georgia's Border Guards, Valerii Chkheidze, met with his Russian counterpart, Konstantin Totskii, in Moscow on 2 November to discuss the possibility of jointly protecting the border between Georgia and Chechnya. ITAR-TASS quoted Chkheidze as saying that he and Totskii agreed on the deployment of Russian border guards along that stretch of the Russian-Georgian border to prevent the infiltration of mercenaries into Chechnya from Georgian territory. But Interfax quoted Totskii as saying that Chkheidze rejected the possibility of a joint force to protect the border, which, he said, will be guarded solely by Georgian detachments. Totskii added, however, that a Russian contingent will travel to the border shortly to inspect conditions there. He said that inclement weather is likely to render that mountain sector of the border impassable within the next few weeks. LF

SUSPECT IN ASSASSINATION BID EXTRADITED TO GEORGIA

Nugzar Chukhua, whom the Georgian authorities have identified as one of the 12 men who participated in the failed bid to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in February 1998, was extradited to Georgia from North Ossetia on 2 November. He was apprehended by Russian police on suspicion of involvement in the bomb explosion in Vladikavkaz's central market earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September and 20 October 1999). Russian investigators have established that Chukhua served as commander of a detachment of the Georgian National Guard under President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, according to Interfax. LF

RUSSIA PLAYS DOWN POSSIBLE DAMAGE FROM ROCKET EXPLOSION OVER KAZAKHSTAN...

Russian Deputy Premier Ilya Klebanov told journalists on 2 November that Moscow will not pressure Kazakhstan to lift the temporary ban imposed on the launch of Proton rockets from the Baikonur cosmodrome following the explosion of one such rocket shortly after blastoff on 27 October, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1999). But Klebanov added that it is unlikely that Moscow will pay compensation for the disaster, as it occurred at a high altitude over an unpopulated area and there is little risk of contamination from toxic heptyl rocket fuel. Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev had said last week that Astana will probably demand a larger sum in compensation than it had received after a similar explosion in July. On 2 November, Toqaev told reporters that last week's explosion had damaged bilateral relations, Reuters reported. LF

...AS LOCAL RESIDENTS PROTEST

The inhabitants of Aqsu village in Qaraghandy Oblast staged a demonstration on 1 November to demand the closure of the Baikonur cosmodrome, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The region was contaminated with heptyl rocket fuel following the July Proton rocket explosion. The protestors claim that toxic fuel was also spilled after last week's explosion. LF

REPEAT ELECTIONS CALLED IN THREE KAZAKH CONSTITUENCIES

A member of Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission said on 2 November that the results of the 24 October runoff elections in three constituencies have been annulled because of unspecified violations by candidates or their supporters, Reuters reported. She added that the chief electoral officials in those districts have been dismissed. The districts in question are in the city of Atyrau and in Dzhambyl and South Kazakhstan Oblasts. Kazakhstan's election law bans the original candidates from running in the repeat elections, for which no date has been set. Meanwhile, Orleu (Progress) Party leader Seydakhmet Quttyqadam has brought a court case against Almaty City Mayor Viktor Khrapunov, whom he accuses of fraud during the 10 and 24 October parliamentary votes, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported on 2 November. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT DENIES HAVING FOREIGN PROPERTY, BANK ACCOUNTS

Nursultan Nazarbaev told the state-owned Khabar news agency on 2 November that he neither owns property abroad nor has any foreign bank accounts, Interfax reported. The "New York Times" reported last month that Swiss investigators had discovered an account they believed was used by Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1999). LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY URGES BOYCOTT OF PRESIDENTIAL POLL...

Following a meeting of the United Tajik Opposition on 2 November, the Islamic Renaissance Party, which is the senior partner in that umbrella grouping, issued a statement the next day calling for a boycott of the 6 November presidential election, AP reported. Economics and Foreign Trade Minister Davlat Usmon, who was registered as a presidential candidate of the Islamic Renaissance Party, formally requested last week that his registration be annulled as he had failed to collect the required number of signatures in his support. Usmon also demanded that the poll be postponed. ITAR-TASS on 2 November quoted Central Electoral Commission Chairman Mirzoali Boltuev as saying that ballot papers with the names of incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov and Usmon have already been sent to all electoral districts. LF

...AS EU EXPRESSES CONCERN

In a statement issued on 2 November by the German Embassy in Dushanbe, the EU expressed concern that incumbent Imomali Rakhmonov is the sole candidate for the 6 November presidential poll, AP reported. The statement said that candidates should be able to propose their candidacies "on a free and fair basis" and that "the electorate must have a choice." LF

TURKMENISTAN GAS PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION DELAYED?

Representatives of the U.S. company PSG, which is the operator of the planned Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline from Turkmenistan to Baku, and PSG's upstream partner, Shell, told journalists in Ashgabat on 2 November after talks with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov that construction of the pipeline will not begin before the end of 2000 and will take two years, Interfax reported. Meeting with Niyazov the same day, Iran's Deputy Petroleum Minister Mehdi Hashemi Bahramani said Iran is prepared to import 8-11 billion cubic meters of gas annually from Turkmenistan. Iran currently receives some 2 billion cubic meters of gas via the Korpedzhe- Kurt Kui pipeline in payment for Iranian infrastructure construction. LF

RUSSIA WARNS AGAINST 'POLITICIZING' PIPELINE ROUTES

In Ankara, Russia's Ambassador Aleksandr Lebedev told Interfax on 2 November that politicizing "purely commercial deals" to build pipelines to transport gas to Turkey is "ruinous," Interfax reported. The Blue Stream pipeline to export Russian natural gas to Turkey is expected to be completed by early 2001. LF




UNION TREATY DRAFT APPROVED BY BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAMBER

The lower house of the Belarusian National Assembly unanimously passed a draft treaty on a union between Russia and Belarus, Reuters reported. Leonyd Kozyk, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's representative for the union with Russia, said before the vote that "the union treaty...is a new stage in our relations with Russia, creating the basis for integration." Kozyk said, however, that Belarus is disappointed by the sluggish pace of integration and that differences remain in customs regulations and trade levies. He added that Russia still refuses to provide Belarus with oil and gas at "domestic" prices. And he noted that Belarusian citizens have been active in the discussion of the draft treaty, although he did not say how. PB

EU CONCERNED WITH BELARUSIAN RIGHTS RECORD

An EU mission on a visit to Minsk said on 2 November that it is "concerned about the overall unsatisfactory record of human rights in Belarus," dpa reported. EU delegation head Rene Nyberg said "the inability of the authorities to shed light on disappeared [members of the opposition] is of particular concern." Hugues Mingarelli, the European Commission service head, said "our common objective is a free and just 2000 election." The EU also announced that Belarus has agreed to accept EU funding to support free media and independent unions. It is the first major agreement between the EU and Belarus since Brussels curbed cooperation with Minsk two years ago on account of its human rights record. The EU program earmarks $5.5 million for media and unions in Belarus. PB

U.S. URGES FREE AND FAIR RUNOFF ELECTION IN UKRAINE

The U.S. State Department on 2 November called for Ukrainian officials to ensure a free and fair second round of presidential elections, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The State Department said such an election would contribute to Ukraine's development as a stable democracy. In other news, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 November that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin telephoned President Kuchma the same day to congratulate him on his showing in the first round of the election. A press spokesman said the two also discussed bilateral trade matters. PB

UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS DETAIN SUSPECTED KUCHMA ASSASSIN

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said on 2 November that it has arrested a man suspected of planning an attack on President Leonid Kuchma, AP reported. The SBU said the man has admitted to having accomplices. It did not release his name. During the election campaign, several opposition candidates claimed there were plots to assassinate them, but no evidence was produced and such reports were dismissed as an election ploy to gain sympathy from voters. The only attack against a presidential candidate occurred on 2 October, against Natalya Vitrenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). PB

ESTONIAN MINISTER SEEKS TAX RELIEF FOR U.S. ENERGY INVESTOR

Estonian Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja has asked the Environment Ministry for a significant reduction in the resource taxes and pollution compensation fees that are to be levied on NRG Energy, the U.S. company that plans to privatize a power plant in the northeastern Estonian city of Narva. According BNS on 2 November, a spokesman for the Estonian Green Movement claims that NRG Energy is unwilling to pay the proposed fees and the Economics Ministry is calling on the Environment Ministry to meet the investor half-way. Raivo Vare, Estonia's chief negotiator in talks with NRG Energy, said the request was not made by NRG but rather was prompted by concern about the future in Estonia of oil shale-based energy production. MJZ

LATVIAN SECURITY POLICE CHIEF RESIGNS

Imants Bekess has submitted a letter of resignation to Interior Minister Mareks Seglins, after only two months in office, according to LETA. Seglins accepted his resignation on 2 November, and appointed Bekess's deputy, Janis Reiniks, as acting chief. Bekess said he resigned for "wholly personal" reasons and denied that he was pressured to leave his post. Andris Skele's government had demanded action from Bekess and the security police in stopping the contraband gasoline trade, and comments by government officials following Bekess's resignation reflect impatience on that score. BNS reported that opposition deputy Janis Adamsons had earlier claimed that unnamed parties tried to force Bekess to allow compromising materials to be purged from security police archives, while deputy Oskars Grigs announced that Skele himself exerted pressure on Bekess. Skele, however, vehemently denies that was the case. MJZ

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WANTS BALTICS AS 'GRAY ZONE'

Indulis Berzins claimed in an interview published in the October/November issue of the Nordic Council magazine "Politik i Norden" that Russia "wants to retain the Baltic countries as a gray zone...because in the event Moscow becomes much stronger again it may use different mechanisms than now to increase its influence in the region," BNS reported on 2 November. Berzins said that as long as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania remain outside the EU and NATO, a zone of instability and insecurity will exist in the Baltic Sea Region. He added that the Nordic countries should work to ensure that Latvia is included in the first round of EU expansion. MJZ

FORMER RUSSIAN PREMIER PRAISES LITHUANIA

Baltic and Russian agencies reported on 2 November quoted Yevgenii Primakov, leader of the Fatherland-All Russia electoral bloc, as saying after his meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus that he regards Lithuania as an excellent partner for Russia. Of the three Baltic countries, Lithuania has the closest relations with Russia, according to Primakov. The former Russian premier assured Adamkus that the State Duma will ratify the Russian-Lithuanian border agreement. Primakov also said that with regard to the deal giving U.S.-based Williams International a stake in Lithuania's oil sector, Adamkus assured him that Lithuania is open for contacts with Russia and that Lithuania does not wish to have a one-sided orientation in trade and investment. AB

POLAND'S RULING PARTIES COMPROMISE ON TAX DEAL

The junior member of Poland's governing coalition, the Freedom Union (UW), said on 3 November that it has accepted a modified version of the UW's tax reform plans proposed by its ruling partner, the Solidarity Election Action (AWS), Reuters reported. The row between the two parties over tax reforms had threatened the stability of the government. Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who is also the leader of the UW, said the compromise is "more evidence of our goodwill." Balcerowicz indirectly threatened to pull his party out of the government unless the UW's tax plan is accepted. Under the revised plan, personal income tax brackets would be lowered to 19 percent, 29 percent, and 36 percent next year, to 19 percent, 28 percent, and 35 percent in 2001, and to 18 percent and 28 percent the following year. The UW had wanted to introduce the two-bracket system one year earlier to spur economic growth. PB

POLISH SUPPORT FOR JOINING EU FALLS...

A survey taken in October showed that only 47 percent of respondents would back Poland's entry into the EU if a referendum were held on the issue, PAP reported on 2 November. In a similar poll taken one year ago, 64 percent of respondents said they supported the country's entry into the union. PB

...AS UNEMPLOYMENT RISES

The National Labor Office reported on 2 November that last month the number of unemployed rose by 34,000 people to 12.1 percent of the workforce. The highest unemployment rate was recorded in Warmia and Mazury Province, in northeastern Poland, where 21.4 percent of workers are jobless. PB

MINOR OPPOSITION PARTIES WANT TO DISMISS CZECH GOVERNMENT

The Freedom Union and the Christian Democratic Party are ready to submit a no confidence motion in Milos Zeman's cabinet, Czech media on 2 November quoted Jan Ruml and Jan Kasal, the chairmen of the two parties, as saying. They noted, however, that the two formations do not have enough votes in the parliament to submit such a motion (the support of 51 deputies would be required, while the two parties have 38 deputies in the lower house). Ruml and Kasal called on deputies representing the largest opposition formation, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), and the ruling Social Democratic Party to support the motion. But ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus, in an interview with Czech radio, called the proposal a "theatrical gesture" and said he does not believe any ODS deputy will join the initiative. MS

EU PREPARED TO DISCUSS 'TRANSITION PERIOD' WITH CZECHS

German Foreign Ministry State Secretary Christoph Zoepel told CTK on 2 November that the EU is prepared to discuss with the Czech Republic a "transition period" with regard to the question of the purchase of land by EU nationals. He added that in order for such a period to be introduced, Prague must produce "proof" that such a transition period is really needed. Zoepel said the belief that allowing foreigners to purchase land would result in soaring prices is "biased" but he added that in exchange the EU might demand a transition period for the free movement of the Czech labor force in the EU. Zoepel was speaking after meeting in Prague with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of EU negotiations Pavel Telicka. MS

VERHEUGEN SAYS SLOVAK REFORMS PACE WILL DETERMINE EU MEMBERSHIP

Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, told journalists in Bratislava on 2 November that there is no opposition in the EU to Slovakia's beginning membership negotiations as early as 2000. He said the pace at which Slovakia adopts the necessary reforms will determine whether it is accepted as an EU member. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said his country's strategic goal is to catch up with the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, and become a member of the "fast track" group, CTK and AP reported. Verheugen also said Slovakia must work hard in reforming its civil service and other administrative sectors as a precondition to EU membership. He praised the government's decision to close down the two nuclear reactors at Jaslovske Bohunice within the next decade. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REFORMS, GOVERNMENT UNITY

In his "state of the nation" address to the parliament on 2 November, Rudolf Schuster said economic reforms must continue, even if they cause a temporary drop in the government's popularity. Schuster blamed the former government of Vladimir Meciar for much of the present economic malaise but added that Dzurinda's cabinet is also at fault for being slow in rectifying its predecessor's mistakes and for divisions within the coalition. The president also commented that decisions are often taken at party level rather than at that of the cabinet, making the coordination of their implementation difficult. And he said that high unemployment is Slovakia's most serious problem and reflects "failed or unfinished social transformation." MS

MOSCOW SLAMS BUDAPEST OVER NUCLEAR WEAPONS COMMENT

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists in Moscow on 2 November that Russia is "seriously concerned" about Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's recent comment in an Canadian newspaper saying that NATO nuclear weapons might be deployed on Hungarian territory in an "emergency situation," Interfax reported. Those remarks, Rakhmanin continued, are a "direct violation of the Russia- NATO Founding Act, in which NATO countries confirmed they had no intentions, plans, or causes to deploy weapons in the territories of new members." He added that they also "directly confirm Russia's concerns relating to NATO enlargement." Orban had told the Canadian newspaper that the alliance needs nuclear weapons "because of the uncertainties around the future of Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). MSZ




MONTENEGRO INTRODUCES GERMAN MARK...

The Montenegrin government on 2 November introduced the German mark as its second legal currency (see "RFE/R" Newsline," November 1999). Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and other officials from the republic said Montenegro was forced to take the step to protect itself from bad monetary policy and instability in neighboring Serbia. Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said the move has "absolutely nothing to do" with "destructive" measures such as "secession," Radio Montenegro reported on 2 November. Meanwhile, Djukanovic said the move will "increase the time span" during which Montenegro can wait for changes in Serbia before taking further steps toward independence. VG

...WHILE U.S. EXPRESSES 'UNDERSTANDING'...

The U.S. State Department on 2 November expressed understanding for Montenegro's currency decision. A State Department official said the U.S. "recognizes the serious economic concerns" that led Montenegro to such a decision. The official added that the move "underscores the need for democratic change in Yugoslavia." VG

...AND MOST YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS KEEP QUIET

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic made no official mention of developments in Montenegro on 2 November after a meeting with Serbian President Mirko Marjanovic, according to a Radio Belgrade report cited by the BBC. Instead, Milosevic congratulated Marjanovic on his efforts to reconstruct the country after the NATO bombing. The same day, however, the Yugoslav United Left party, which was formed by Milosevic's wife, denounced Montenegro's currency decision as the work of "separatists," Tanjug reported. Meanwhile, opposition Serbian Renewal Movement spokesman Ivan Kovacevic welcomed the Montenegrin decision and said Serbia should also introduce the German mark. Kovacevic said Montenegro's efforts to redefine its relationship with Serbia do not represent a threat to the existence of the Yugoslav federal republic. VG

STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE IN BELGRADE

Between 2,000 and 3,000 Serbian students marched through the streets of Belgrade on 2 November to demand early elections. The rally, which was organized by 16 student organizations, was one of the first student-led rallies since the winter of 1996-1997. Demonstrators marched past the headquarters of the governing Socialist Party chanting calls for Yugoslav President Milosevic to be sent to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. VG

SERBIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES ASK EU TO LIFT SOME SANCTIONS

During a 2 November meeting with EU representatives in Budapest, a group of Serbian opposition politicians called on the EU to lift some of its economic sanctions against Yugoslavia, MTI reported. Slobodan Vuksanovic, deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, said the group repeated its request that the EU "differentiate between the Milosevic regime and the Serbian citizens, as the latter do not deserve to be punished." VG

YUGOSLAV AUTHORITIES RELEASE BRITISH CORRESPONDENT

A British correspondent for "The Times" newspaper was released from prison on 2 November because of health problems, the Serbian Justice Ministry told Beta. Dessa Trevisan had been sentenced to 10 days in jail the previous day for travelling in Yugoslavia without a valid entry stamp in her passport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 1999). Trevisan described conditions in the Belgrade prison as "inhumane" but added that she was not mistreated during the night she spent in jail, AP reported on 2 November. She said the judge told her British passports are "not appreciated" in Yugoslavia. VG

STABILITY PACT COORDINATOR CALLS FOR 'RESTRUCTURED' SANCTIONS

The international community's coordinator for the Balkan Stability pact, Bodo Hombach, said on 2 November that while sanctions against Yugoslavia have been "effective," they need to be restructured to minimize the impact on average Serbs. VG

U.S. DIPLOMAT CALLS FOR AN END TO ANTI-SERB VIOLENCE IN KOSOVA

William Walker has condemned recent attacks on ethnic Serbs in Kosova, AP reported on 2 November. Walker is well known and well respected among ethnic Albanians in Kosova for having condemned Serbian violence against Albanians in the province before the NATO bombing campaign began in March. Walker, who is on a visit to Kosova, said attacks on Serbs in the region play "into the hands of Milosevic." However, he also said the overall situation in Kosova has improved since he was last in the province. "When I was here before it was night, and now I think it's day," he commented. VG

DEL PONTE URGES ARRESTS OF MORE WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS...

Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, on 2 November urged SFOR troops in Bosnia- Herzegovina to engage in a "more active effort" to arrest war crimes suspects, Reuters reported. She added that the tribunal will issue more indictments next year. Since 1996, SFOR has arrested 14 war crimes suspects and killed two others while trying to arrest them. Some suspects, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, are still at large. Del Ponte, who is on a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, said that SFOR Commander Ronald Adams assured her that SFOR will continue to support the tribunal's efforts. VG

...WHILE ADAMS ANNOUNCES REDUCTION IN SFOR TROOPS

Adams on 2 November announced that SFOR troop strength will be reduced by one-third by April 2000 because of the improving security situation in Bosnia. There are currently about 30,000 troops from some 40 countries supervising the peace in Bosnia- Herzegovina. VG

TUPURKOVSKI OFFERS TO STEP DOWN OVER ELECTION RESULT

Democratic Alliance chairman Vasil Tupurkovski on 2 November offered to step down as party leader after finishing third in the Macedonian presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 1999), Reuters reported. He described his offer as a "normal gesture" for a politician who fails to achieve a stated goal. Tupurkovski added that his party is re-examining future relations within the governing coalition, of which the alliance is a member. The relatively poor showing of Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Trajkovski in the vote is causing strains within the governing VMRO-DPMNE, according to a source close to the government cited by Reuters. VG

IMF GIVES ALBANIA POSITIVE ECONOMIC ASSESSMENT

A visiting IMF delegation on 2 November announced that economic growth in Albania is expected to reach 8 percent this year, while inflation will be around zero by the end of the year, dpa reported. The delegation said the budget deficit is under control and the government has made "notable progress" on its privatization program. The news agency also reported that the positive economic results are largely a result of the increased foreign assistance and hard currency flowing into the country as a result of the Kosova crisis. Albanian Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli said the government has agreed with the IMF that economic growth and inflation will total 8 percent and 3 percent, respectively, next year. VG

ALBANIAN POLICE CONDUCT BORDER AREA SWEEP

Albanian police arrested 21 people in a 2 November sweep through the northeastern part of the country near the border with Kosova, dpa reported. The detained persons are suspected of smuggling as well as involvement in a series of robberies of ethnic Albanians from Kosova. The sweep comes as Albania prepares to sign an agreement with Germany on the repatriation of some 200,000 Kosova Albanians. The Kosovars are to pass through Albania on their way home. VG

ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT QUERIES LAW ON ACCESS TO SECURITATE FILES

The Supreme Court on 2 November appealed to the Constitutional Court to consider the constitutionality of the recently passed law on access to the files of the former secret police, Mediafax reported. The law does not allow access to the files of employees of the post-communist secret services, with the exception of the directors of those services and their deputies. The Supreme Court says that this restriction infringes on Article 31 of the constitution, which provides for the freedom of information. The Constitutional Court will consider the appeal on 28 November. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN CRITICIZES LUCINSCHI

Dumitru Diacov on 2 November said the government will ask the parliament to vote confidence in it on 4 November. He also accused President Petru Lucinschi of having organized an anti-parliamentary campaign, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Last week, the legislature rejected the government's draft law envisaging budget cuts as well as bills on the privatization of five of the country's leading wineries and the Chisinau cigarette factory. Diacov, who heads the formerly pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc, said that if these laws are rejected again, the cabinet will resign because that would mean an end to financing from the IMF and the World Bank. In such a case, he added, responsibility will rest with Lucinschi and those parties and independent deputies who support him. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER IN FRANCE

Ivan Kostov said after talks with his French counterpart, Lionel Jospin, and President Jacques Chirac in Paris on 2 November that he is "leaving France very happy," BTA reported. Kostov told journalists that Jospin assured him that the EU will start accession talks with "all applicants of the second wave" at the same time. He said that France's "categorical position" is that all those countries, including Bulgaria and Romania, will be invited to join the EU. Kostov discussed with Chirac EU conditions for starting negotiations with Bulgaria. He said that they both agreed that "progress in economic reforms will be no problem." Kostov said that France "will not be the country to press" for closing down the Kozloduy nuclear plant, and he noted that Jospin expressed readiness to offer Bulgaria "expert assistance" on the matter. MS




MONITORS EVALUATE UKRAINIAN ELECTIONS


by Lily Hyde

Monitoring organizations unanimously agree that voting in Ukraine's 31 October presidential election was conducted in a peaceful and orderly fashion. The Committee of Ukrainian Voters (CVU), the International Republican Institute, and a joint statement by the Council of Europe and the OSCE all said that their monitors had seen minor infringements of the election law but these were insufficient to affect the outcome. They agreed that most violations seemed to be the result of ignorance or incompetence rather than deliberate fraud.

The CVU did not gain official accreditation for its monitors because the Ukrainian government was giving such credentials only to foreign or international groups. The OSCE has called this discrepancy a "backward step" in the election law. But the CVU managed to send to polling stations some 16,000 people accredited as journalists.

Igor Popov, head of the CVU, said that those observers found a large number of violations of the election law...but our general conclusion is that these violations have not significantly influenced the results of the election. We want to emphasize that the candidates who will go on to the second round were those really supported by Ukrainian voters."

Popov noted that the gap between the first and second places, taken by incumbent Leonid Kuchma and challenger Petro Symonenko, and the third place is so large that the 300,000 to 400,000 votes considered questionable by the CVU could not invalidate the results.

The CVU's Yevhen Radchenko divided violations into three types: electioneering on voting day, misconduct in the voting and counting processes, and, worst of all, interference by government officials.

"The third group of violation, to our mind, is the most serious and dangerous that we detected," he commented. "These are violations committed by officials who are not legally participating in the election process. These officials often directly or indirectly intervened in the election process."

In polling stations across the country, many election committees consisted of employees from one government institution, while committee heads were most often Kuchma appointees. For example, in one polling station in Irpin, a small town just outside Kyiv, more than half of the committee members worked at the forestry institute at which voting took place, and the head of the institute was present all day during polling as an official observer for Kuchma. Speaking to RFE/RL, the institute head said he had told all his staff to cast their ballots for Kuchma. But he rejected the idea that his presence during voting in any way influenced the vote.

All the monitoring groups expressed deep concern at the conduct of the election campaign, which, they said, was characterized by media manipulation, illegal government participation, and even violence. The OSCE's report was especially damning on government interference prior to voting. It said that political intervention on behalf of incumbent President Kuchma had been undertaken by security forces, the post office, and housing authorities.

Simon Osborne, head of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, told journalists in Kyiv on 1 November that the election observers mission received "numerous verified reports that public officials in state institutions were campaigning in favor of the incumbent president."

For example, Osborne said, "observers noted that heads of state administrations in eight oblasts at various levels openly urged voters to vote for the president." Furthermore, the election mission "received numerous allegations that postal workers were distributing campaign materials for President Kuchma and that [housing authority] employees were canvassing support for the incumbent president in at least four oblasts. In the latter case, the involvement in the election campaign could easily be perceived as intimidation," according to the OSCE official.

The OSCE also heavily criticized the lack of independent coverage in state-run media. The organization said this reporting overwhelmingly favored Kuchma. The author is an RFE/RL corespondent based in Kyiv.


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