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Newsline - November 11, 1999




GERMANY, NATO CALL FOR CHECHEN PEACE TALKS

In a joint statement released in Berlin on 10 November, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson appealed to Moscow to cease hostilities in Chechnya, saying "there must be a political solution" to the conflict, Reuters and AP reported. But Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu told students in Stavropol the same day that the offensive must not be stopped, implying that he shares the Russian military's apprehension that the country's civilian leadership will opt for peace talks and leave the war unfinished, according to Interfax. Former Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov similarly told Ekho Moskvy on 10 November that "we must not abuse the patience of the military," and he condemned as pointless Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii's demand that Moscow embark on peace talks with President Aslan Maskhadov, Reuters reported. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES MILITARY VIOLATES GENEVA CONVENTION

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists in Moscow on 10 November that U.S. accusations that the Russian military is violating the Geneva Convention by using excessive force against civilians in Chechnya are misplaced and based on disinformation spread by "sources that turned Chechnya into a zone of terrorism," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). Rakhmanin said the Russian military selects its targets with a view to keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. LF

OSCE DELEGATION TRAVELS TO INGUSHETIA

An OSCE delegation headed by Norwegian diplomat Kim Traavik traveled to Ingushetia on 10 November to examine two camps for displaced persons who fled the fighting in Chechnya. While noting that "much has been done," to assist those persons, Traavik assessed conditions in the camps as "very serious," noting that more shelters, food, clothing, and medications are needed. Speaking in Moscow the same day, Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev said another 2,500 displaced persons crossed the border into Ingushetia the previous day, raising the total number registered there to 184,430, Interfax reported. LF

GOVERNMENT TO FINALLY CLOSE FAILING BANK

Despite an earlier 7.5 billion ruble ($286 million) bailout to keep the failing SBS-Agro Bank afloat, Agency for Reconstruction Credit Organization (ARKO) head Aleksandr Turbanov announced on 9 November that the bank will be liquidated, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. In a process that could take five years, ARKO officials plan to transfer the bank's credit portfolio to Rosselkhozbank and the Russian Development Bank, neither of which has yet been established. A representative of one of the SBS-Agro's creditors has accused ARKO of "conscious participation" in asset-stripping, according to "The Moscow Times" the same day. However, ARKO officials say that they have not had enough time to check the bank's finances thoroughly enough to determine whether asset- stripping has occurred. "Novaya gazeta" (No. 41) reported that it would be possible to locate the bank's assets in offshore zones, but no one in the government is interested in pursuing the matter. JAC

MORE RUSSIAN OFFICIALS MOURN CAMDESSUS'S DEPARTURE...

Commenting on the plans of IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus to resign at the beginning of next year, Mikhail Zadornov, former presidential envoy to the international financial institutions, said on 10 November that "it's unquestionably bad news for Russia," according to ITAR-TASS. He added that "Camdessus dealt with Russia for a long time and was personally involved in those relations and, for that matter, had certain personal obligations to Russia." First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that while Camdessus "played a positive role, that of guarantor of our relations with the IMF," his resignation "will not bring about any changes in relations between Russia and the IMF" (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented that Camdessus was "a socialist" who "understood the essence of changes in the Soviet Union." JAC

...AS EES, SBERBANK RESIST FUND PLANS

Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told reporters on 10 November that members of the IMF mission currently in Moscow have requested that the ministry supply data on Gazprom's tax payments to the budget, according to ITAR-TASS. The IMF also expressed interest in Tatneft, which is reportedly now behind in its payments to the budget. According to Interfax, the government, Central Bank, and IMF mission are working out terms of reference for a financial audit of Sberbank that will be carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers. However, Sberbank head Andre Kazmin has said that his bank "cannot release information about our clients because the IMF and World Bank do not intend to keep it confidential," "Vedomosti" reported. According to that daily, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais is also resisting the fund and World Bank's request that EES privatize five of its regional companies. JAC

MEDIA-MOST, KREMLIN TRADE ACCUSATIONS

The press service of Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company released a statement on 10 November accusing presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin of "engaging in extorting money for electoral expenses from large Russian financial and industrial organizations, notably Sberbank" and of trying to cut off NTV broadcasts. The statement added that information broadcast on state-controlled Russian Public Television about Media Most's outstanding debts to Sberbank is inaccurate and that the company has paid all loans that matured this year. Media-Most controls NTV, Ekho Moskvy, "Segodnya," and other newspapers. The Kremlin responded the same day that the presidential headquarters is not a party to the litigation pending between Media-Most and Vneshekonombank and "attempts at involving it in a scandal are doomed." Also on 10 November, a federal court ruled that another hearing must be held before Media- Most's assets are seized in its dispute with Vneshekonombank over a $42.2 million debt. JAC

U.S. DENIES IT POSTPONED ABM TALKS...

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin on 10 November denied that Washington has asked to postpone talks with Russia on the Anti-Ballistic Missile and START treaties. That denial came after Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that discussions scheduled for 16 November have been cancelled at Washington's request. According to Ordzhonikidze, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev were to have met that day, but Reuters quoted an unidentified State Department official as saying the two men never had "firm plans" to meet in Moscow on that date. Ordzhonikidze also took the opportunity to slam Washington's possible plans to set up a limited national defense system. "If the U.S. leaves the ABM Treaty," he said, Russia will not "copy the U.S.'s steps but will take asymmetric measures," according to ITAR-TASS. JC

...WHILE MOSCOW REBUKES U.S. FOR VOTING AGAINST UN RESOLUTION

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin on 10 November slammed the U.S. for voting against a draft UN resolution stressing the importance of preserving the ABM treaty. "We would not like to interpret the fact that the U.S. has voted against this resolution as evidence that the U.S. is not ready to reaffirm its adherence to the ABM treaty," Interfax quoted him as saying. Rakhmanin stressed that Moscow is prepared to continue cooperating with the U.S. in the security sphere, including those areas covered by ABM, "but only on condition that the ABM treaty remains in effect and is strictly complied with." JC

U.S. KEEPS UP PRESSURE ON RUSSIAN COMPANIES COOPERATING WITH IRAN

Washington has announced it will continue to impose sanctions on 10 Russian research centers and companies that are assisting Iran with nuclear and missile technology, AFP reported on 10 November. In a report to the Congress, the White House noted that "despite the Russian government's non- proliferation and export control efforts, some Russian entities continued to cooperate with Iran's ballistic missile program and to engage in nuclear cooperation." Washington blacklisted seven Russian companies in summer 1998 and added another three to the list early this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1998 and 13 January 1999). JC

PRE-ELECTION BONUS PREPARED FOR PENSIONERS

The Russian government announced on 9 November January's pension payments will be made one month early and, starting in February 2000, pensions will be indexed. In addition, certain categories of pensioners, Heroes of the Soviet Union, Heroes of Russia, and recipients of the Order of Glory will start receiving monies in addition to their regular pensions, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, pensions will be paid early in order to avoid any computer problems associated with the transition to the new year. JAC

POLICE ACCUSED OF SYSTEMATIC TORTURE

Human Rights Watch issued a report on 10 November alleging that police in Russia routinely torture criminal suspects to extract confessions that in most cases ensure a conviction. At the same time, Diederik Lohman, author of the report, said his group has been unable to find a single case of a judge throwing a confession out of court because it was coerced, according to AP. Research for the report was conducted over two years and is based on the testimony of more than 50 torture victims in Arkhangelsk, Nizhnii Novgorod, Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg, and Moscow as well as interviews with lawyers, former police officers, prosecutors, and judges, according to Interfax. Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth told reporters that "the problem is not one or two bad officers," adding that police torture is "epidemic in Russia today." JAC

PUTIN WANTS TO GET TOUGH ON ECONOMIC CRIMES

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has outlined the top three priority tasks for the Interior Ministry and other law enforcement agencies: reducing the shadow sector of the economy, combating capital flight, and preventing criminal groups from entering the government, "Vedomosti" reported on 10 November. Commenting on Putin's policy directive, Arkadii Dyurkovich, chairman of the Finance Ministry's Economic Expert Commission, told the daily that the danger exists that "the state will start fighting relatively legal capital outflow by force, while only economic methods are effective against such semi-legal capital exports" that are seeking primarily a less hostile tax environment. At a meeting with Interior Ministry officials on 9 November, Putin declared that if no resolute measures are taken soon, Russia will have a market economy governed by criminals. "To solve the problem, all types of crime must be combated and the regulating role of the state in the economy must be increased," according to Interfax. JAC

GOVERNOR SLAMS LUZHKOV PARTY

Kaliningrad Governor Leonid Gorbenko told reporters on 10 November that he found Fatherland "to be a conglomerate of all kinds of criminal groups. I approached [Moscow Mayor] Yurii Luzhkov and said this was wrong and that something should be done about it," according to Radio Mayak. Gorbenko, who recently switched from the Fatherland-All Russia alliance to the pro-Kremlin movement Unity, is one of the first regional leaders to offer an explanation for his action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). JAC

SMOKE GETS IN THEIR SPIES?

The headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) caught fire on 11 November and was put out some two hours later. According to Reuters, the fire damaged several rooms in headquarters in which the FSB's predecessor organization, the KGB, operated interrogation and execution cells. An FSB spokesman said that the fire might have been caused by a short circuit or an overheated electrical device, according to Interfax. JAC




AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SAYS NEW DRAFT MEDIA LAW UNDEMOCRATIC

Meeting on 10 November at the Baku Press Club, representatives of the opposition Democratic Bloc of parliamentary deputies expressed concern that the parliamentary majority ignored most proposed amendments to the draft law on the mass media that is soon to be considered in the third reading, Turan reported. They termed the law as a whole undemocratic and incommensurate with the concept of freedom of speech. Specifically, they argued that the proposed issuing of licenses to media outlets constitutes a form of censorship and that political parties should not be eligible to establish electronic media. They also objected to the provision that empowers courts to close down media outlets for three months. LF

AZERABIAJNI POLITICAL PARTIES SIGN NEW STATEMENT ON KARABAKH

Eighteen opposition parties signed a joint statement in Baku on 10 November detailing measures they consider the country's leadership should take with regard to the unresolved Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. Those measures include insisting that Armenia comply with four 1993 UN Security Council resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. They also want Yerevan to pay compensation for material damage. The statement goes on to demand that the financing and professionalism of the Azerbaijani armed forces be improved. Also on 10 November, the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, which did not sign the joint statement, issued a separate statement calling for a political solution to the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. But it added that such a solution should not be "defeatist" and must not infringe on the country's territorial integrity. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER OSCE EFFORT TO RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT

Meeting on 9 November in Baku with the new French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Jean- Jacques Gaillard, Heidar Aliyev again accused that body of "inactivity." He added that his ongoing talks with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, do not absolve the OSCE of responsibility for trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. Aliyev had made similar criticism during the September visit to the South Caucasus of OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). LF

AZERBAIJAN DENIES IT WILL HOST CHECHEN FIGHTERS...

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Kuliev on 10 November rejected as "deliberate disinformation" a Russian Defense Ministry statement issued earlier that day claiming that Chechen fighters plan to relocate the bulk of their forces to Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Presidential Administration official Novruz Mamedov similarly termed that report "absurd," noting that it would be logistically impossible for the Chechens to relocate in such a way. The Russian statement said the Chechens have received permission from Baku to set up camps in Azerbaijan in return for an undertaking to assist Azerbaijan in a new war in Karabakh. It also claimed that the Chechens are considering moving to Turkey. LF

...WHILE GEORGIA SAYS IT WILL NOT TAKE IN CHECHEN GOVERNMENT IN EXILE

Also on 10 November, the Georgian Foreign Ministry officially denied the Russian Defense Ministry claim, which was made in the same statement, that Tbilisi will permit the presence on its territory of some Chechen militants and a Chechen government in exile headed by President Aslan Maskhadov, Caucasus Press reported. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and Defense Minister David Tevzadze both told journalists in Tbilisi that neither they nor any other Georgian officials have ever held talks on the subject with Chechen officials, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

TWO GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES AGAIN CLAIM ELECTION OUTCOME FALSIFIED

Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 10 November that he has appealed to the Georgian Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the 31 October parliamentary election results, Caucasus Press reported. Natelashvili claims that the Union of Citizens of Georgia, which according to official returns won an absolute majority, "appropriated" 300,000 votes cast for his party. Natelashvili says the Labor Party polled at least 15 percent of the vote, while Central Electoral Commission figures indicate it failed to surmount the 7 percent minimum required for parliamentary representation. The National Democratic Party of Georgia on 10 November similarly refused to accept the official outcome of the vote. It added that while it does not consider falsifications by both the Union of Citizens of Georgia and, in Adjaria, by the Union for Democratic Revival to be the primary cause of the party's failure to gain representation in the new parliament, those infringements nonetheless mirror "the anarchy reigning in the country," according to Caucasus Press. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S NEW GOVERNMENT SWORN IN

Speaking at the 10 November ceremony in Astana at which the new cabinet was sworn in, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev said the government's primary tasks are ensuring balanced economic development and expediting the reform process, RFE/RL's correspondent in the capital reported. Nazarbaev stressed that no overspending of the budget will be tolerated, adding that "unnecessary expenditures" by the presidential administration and government should be cut. He said foreign investment should be increased, but he noted this should be done by encouraging "solid investors" rather than "dark horses," according to Interfax. Nazarbaev described the struggle against corruption and crime as a further key task. He urged the government "to work as a single team" in a spirit of discipline and mutual understanding. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT SLAMS OSCE...

Speaking to journalists in Astana after the 10 November ceremony, President Nazarbaev accused the OSCE of indifference to developments in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the North Caucasus, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. (Afghanistan is not an OSCE member.) Nazarbaev suggested that the OSCE is not needed if it "does not care about Asian states." Nazarbaev has long been lobbying for the creation of an Asian equivalent of the OSCE, and two months ago it hosted a conference to discuss that project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). Nazarbaev again rejected the OSCE's criticism of Kazakhstan's recent parliamentary elections, noting that up to eight candidates contested each mandate. He said the poll constituted a difficult but real step toward democratization, adding that he considers Kazakhstan "the most democratic country in Central Asia." Nazarbaev said the use of "double standards" by any organization is "unacceptable." LF

...WHILE OSCE OFFICIAL REJECTS NAZARBAEV'S CRITICISM

Ulrich Schoening, who heads the OCSE mission in Kazakhstan, told the TV station 31 Channel on 11 November that he considers Nazarbaev's accusation that the OSCE is guilty of double standards unfounded, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Schoening affirmed the OSCE's readiness to continue cooperating with Kazakhstan, adding that he hopes Kazakhstan will not become the first country to leave the organization voluntarily. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULING ON ELECTION LAW

A spokesman for the Ar-Namys party told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 10 November that the party has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on inconsistencies between the country's constitution and the Election Code adopted last year. The Election Code stipulates that only political parties registered with the Ministry of Justice at least one year before parliamentary elections may participate in the poll. The constitution does not contain any such restriction. President Askar Akaev suggested in June that the minimum interval between registration and qualifying for participation in elections should be reduced to six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1999). The Ar-Namys party was founded in July by former Bishkek Mayor Feliks Kulov and registered one month later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 2000. LF




U.S. CRITICIZES BELARUS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh told a legal conference at Raubichy near Minsk on 10 November that the U.S. is deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Belarus. Koh mentioned the disappearance and arrests of prominent Belarusian oppositionists as the reason for that concern. "Belarus is being left behind at a time when the rest of Europe is seeking to build a common foundation of democratic governance," Koh noted. He said the return of Ambassador Daniel Speckhard to Minsk after a 15-month absence does not mean that the U.S. is ready to normalize relations with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government. Those relations, he added, will normalize only after the Belarusian government shows respect for human rights and the rule of law. JM

LUKASHENKA THREATENS TO FIRE FINANCIAL OFFICIALS

The Belarusian president harshly criticized the government and central bank on 10 November for failing to curb inflation, stop the devaluation of the national currency, halt price hikes, replenish the state treasury, and introduce a single exchange rate. "I warn you that if you, together with the government, do not heed my demands, other people will be handling these problems instead of you," Lukashenka told the bankers and financial officials. He ordered them "to stop the negative processes in the economy" by the end of the year. "I feel the population has approached the line after which it will make a decision most likely without us," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

UKRAINE'S SYMONENKO WINS SUPPORT OF PROGRESSIVE SOCIALISTS

The Progressive Socialist Party of Natalya Vitrenko, who came fourth in the 31 October ballot with 10.97 percent backing, has thrown its support behind Communist leader Petro Symonenko in the 14 November runoff. The party said on 10 November that it favors Symonenko because he "stands for changing the course of economic and political reforms," AP reported. Besides Vitrenko, Symonenko is supported by six former presidential candidates: Oleksandr Moroz, Oleksandr Tkachenko, Volodymyr Oliynyk, Mykola Haber, Oleksandr Bazylyuk, and Yuriy Karmazin. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT EXPECTS SUPPORT FROM MARCHUK'S ELECTORATE

After nominating Yevhen Marchuk secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999), President Leonid Kuchma said he expects Marchuk's electorate to support his bid in the 14 November runoff, Kuchma's spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko told Reuters on 10 November. Martynenko added that Kuchma and Marchuk "are already one team." Marchuk said his appointment will allow him to crack down on corruption and crime in Ukraine, while Kuchma commented that Marchuk is an "expert in this field," adding that "together we shall deal with [corruption and crime] so that somebody's bones will crack," AP reported. Besides Marchuk, Kuchma is supported by four former presidential candidates: Yuriy Kostenko, Hennadiy Udovenko, Vitaliy Kononov, and Oleksandr Rzhavskyy (see also "End Note" below). JM

UKRAINIAN HRYVNYA MOVES OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT-SET TRADING BAND

The hryvnya on 10 November moved outside the government-set exchange corridor of 3.4-4.6 hryvni to $1, AP reported. The National Bank set its exchange rate at 4.613 to $1. On the interbank currency exchange, which is seen by experts as a more accurate indicator of the currency's real value, some 5 hryvni were offered for $1. Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy said the previous day that the hryvnya will return to the official exchange band if Kuchma wins the presidential ballot. Symonenko's victory, he said, would "significantly destabilize the situation on the currency market." JM

DRUG ABUSE GROWING IN ESTONIA

A report released by the Estonian Social Ministry suggests that drug abuse is becoming a major problem in Estonia. Among the population aged 18-70, 5.7 percent of ethnic Estonians and 7.7 percent of non-ethnic Estonians have tried some illegal drugs, BNS reported. The rates are much more alarming among those aged 18-24: 15 percent of ethnic Estonians and 21 percent of non-ethnic Estonians have tried illegal drugs. And among those 15 or 16 year old, 4.5 percent of students in Estonian-language schools and 16 percent of students in Russian-language schools have tried drugs. The ministry insisted that drug abuse is not as widespread as press reports have suggested, BNS commented. MH

LITHUANIAN OIL REFERENDUM CANCELED

The parliament on 10 November declared void the petition to hold a referendum over the sale of the country's oil industry. The planned referendum, which would question the sale of a majority stake of Mazeikiai Oil to US-based Williams International, became contentious when one supporting parliamentary deputy removed his name from the petition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1999). The ruling stated that it was the right of parliamentary deputies to remove their names from the petition, pushing the number of signatories below the necessary 48, BNS reported. Though later three other parliamentary deputies added their names to the list, making a total of 50, the board ruled that the petition must be circulated anew. Parliamentary Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, a key supporter of the oil deal, called the referendum idea "a puppet show." MH

NATO DESCRIBES LITHUANIAN MILITARY PLAN AS 'MODEL'

NATO officials have praised Lithuania's development and called its military development plan a "model," ELTA reported That statement came during a meeting in Brussels on 10 November between the NATO political committee, representing all 19 member states, and a Lithuanian delegation to discuss the Membership Action Plan submitted by Lithuania earlier this year. MH

POLAND NEEDS $6 BILLION TO MAKE FARMS READY FOR EU

Agricultural Minister Artur Balazs said on 10 November that only 800,000 or so of Poland's 2 million farms can afford the modernization and restructuring necessary to compete against their counterparts in the EU when customs barriers on food are lifted. According to Balazs, Polish agriculture needs up to 26 billion zlotys ($6 billion) over the next three years to adjust to EU standards. The government intends to spend 5.5 billion zlotys, while the EU is expected to provide another 3 billion zlotys and private investors 17.5 billion zlotys. Balazs said the best solution for Polish farmers would be rapid EU entry without a transitional period. He added that Poland is considering increasing customs duties on many agricultural imports because the government is unable to subsidize agricultural production to the same degree as the governments of EU countries. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT GIVES FIRST APPROVAL TO BILL CURBING PRESIDENTIAL POWERS

The lower house of the parliament approved the first reading of a bill on 10 November that would limit the powers of the presidency, Reuters reported. Czech President Vaclav Havel said the measure would make him a puppet of the legislature. The sponsors of the bill, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party, said the bill would make the government "more transparent." The measure would give the leader of the winning party in a general election the right to form a cabinet. Currently, the president decides who will be the designated prime minister. The bill also would take away the president's prerogative to appoint the board of the Central Bank. PB

EU OFFICIAL MEETS WITH ROMANY OFFICIALS, CRITICIZES WALL

Guenter Verheugen, the European Commissioner for EU Enlargement, said after meeting with Czech Romany representatives on 11 November that the controversial wall erected in Usti Nad Labem to separate ethnic Czech homeowners from a Romany-populated apartment block is a "symbol of separation" and seriously damages the image of the country, CTK reported. Verheugen, who met with the Romany officials in Prague, said that a wall in Central Europe cannot be tolerated. He added that the problem is social, not racial, and that long-term social programs are needed to end the problem and improve the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic. PB

SLOVAK PREMIER UPBEAT ON EU CHANCES

Mikulas Dzurinda said on 10 November in Berlin that despite its exclusion from the EU enlargement process from 1996-1998, Slovakia has made great strides in its efforts to join the union, TASR reported. Dzurinda, speaking at a panel discussion with the premiers of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, said his country's main goal is fulfilling the economic criteria necessary to join the EU. He added that he is pleased that a majority of Slovaks support the country's joining the EU and NATO, saying that some 65 percent of citizens favor EU entry and only 25 percent are opposed. PB

SLOVAKIA TO SPEND $1.5 BILLION ON NATO PREPARATIONS

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told journalists on 9 November that in 2000-2001, Slovakia will spend nearly $1.5 billion during the preparations for NATO membership, CTK reported. He said Bratislava views the process of NATO enlargement as a "crucial condition for broadening the zone of stability and peace in Europe." He also said that until Slovakia becomes a "de jure" NATO member, it will behave as a "de facto" member, as evidenced by its participation in peace-keeping missions such as KFOR. Prime Minister Dzurinda, who met in Washington with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 8 November, said the next day that the U.S. administration regards Slovakia as one of the countries best-prepared for joining NATO as well as a "driving engine" in the organization's expansion, SITA reported. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER IN BERLIN

Viktor Orban failed to persuade German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to specify a timeframe for Hungary's accession to the EU during meetings in Berlin on 11 November, Hungarian media reported. Laying the foundation stone of a new Hungarian embassy in Berlin, Orban said Hungary can be considered a "full EU member economically, if not politically." His hosts assured Orban that Germany supports the admission of Hungary at the earliest possible date. MSZ

COURT PUTS HUNGARIAN VANDALS ON PROBATION

The Municipal Court of the western Hungarian town of Szombathely on 10 November found two youths guilty of desecrating graves in a Jewish cemetery. The court found that the two men had intended to disrupt 3 July events commemorating the Holocaust and had daubed Swastikas and Stars of David on several tombstones the previous day. The court sentenced the first defendant to one year in prison and the second to eight months. The sentences were commuted to three years and two years on probation, respectively. MSZ




CROATIAN PRESIDENT'S HEALTH TAKING TURN FOR WORSE?

The state- run Hina news agency quoted Franjo Tudjman's doctors as saying on 11 November that the Croatian president suffered a "capillary hemorrhage of internal organs" the previous night. The doctors added that they have changed his treatment for complications following his recent surgery for "a rupture of his large intestine." Tudjman is widely believed to have suffered from cancer since 1996. The state-run media have provided no pictures of him in the hospital, while official information on the state of his health has been sparse. PM

CROATIAN SERB LEADER URGES SERBS TO VOTE

Milorad Pupovac, who heads the Serbian National Council and is a member of the Croatian parliament, urged Serbs to vote in the 22 December legislative elections. He stressed that Serbs can help end the rule of Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community only if they vote, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported on 11 November. Some other leaders of the small Serbian minority have called for a boycott of the elections. PM

NATO: CROATIAN SECURITY FORCES INVOLVED IN BOSNIAN CRIME

Reuters on 10 November quoted unnamed Western diplomats in London as saying that NATO forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina have found extensive evidence that Croatian security forces have been undermining the Bosnian peace settlement. NATO kept Croatian and Bosnian Croat security forces under close observation for one year in a project called Operation West Star. NATO "hit the jackpot," a diplomat added. The evidence "provides conclusive proof of the continuing role of the Croatian intelligence service in Bosnia. It points the finger directly at Zagreb," he said. Reuters noted that "Croatian security services were involved in everything from running paramilitary gangs to money laundering and dealing in pornography." PM

HAGUE COURT GIVES SERB ANOTHER 25 YEARS

Outgoing President of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal Gabrielle Kirk McDonald handed down on 11 November an additional sentence of up to 25 years on Bosnian Serb defendant Dusan Tadic. Tadic will serve that sentence consecutively with the 20-year term he received earlier. McDonald suggested that the court did not give Tadic the maximum penalty, which is life imprisonment, because he has become a "model detainee" and because of considerations regarding "the effect of the length of the sentence" on his family, AP reported. His trial on charges of atrocities against Muslims and Croats during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war began in May 1997. PM

UN HAS EXHUMED MORE THAN 2,000 BODIES IN KOSOVA

Carla del Ponte, who is the Hague court's new chief prosecutor, told the UN Security Council on 10 November that international investigators have unearthed the bodies of 2,108 persons in Kosova. She noted that some bodies may never be found "because we have discovered evidence of tampering with graves," Reuters reported. Forensics experts have exhumed 195 graves and hope to investigate an additional 334 in the year 2000. Serbian Deputy Information Minister Miodrag Popovic told the BBC on 11 November that most of the 2,108 people probably "died of natural causes." A forensics expert responded that he and his colleagues can easily prove that most of the victims died violently and in some cases in rather grisly circumstances. PM

SOME 379 KILLED IN KOSOVA SINCE JUNE

A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina that 135 Serbs, 145 ethnic Albanians, and 99 people of other or undetermined nationalities have been murdered in Kosova since NATO took control of the province, London's "The Guardian" reported on 11 November. The daily added that criminal rather than purely ethnic considerations appear to have been involved in many of the deaths. For example, some Albanians killed numerous elderly Serbs in order to take their property. PM

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CURBS ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The legislature passed a bill on 10 November giving the central government greater control over local administrations. Opposition parties, who are in power in more than 30 municipalities, say the bill is aimed at undermining their political base. Vladan Batic, who is a leader of the Alliance for Change, said that opposition-run municipalities should organize themselves in "self-governing clusters," "Vesti" reported. PM

CLAIMANT TO SERBIAN THRONE URGES OPPOSITION TO UNITE

Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic said that the opposition must unite and work together to oust the regime, Belgrade's "Danas" wrote on 11 November. He also urged the Serbian people to support the opposition. Aleksandar spoke on the eve of a conference in Budapest that brings together leaders of the opposition and the diaspora. PM

MONTENEGRIN DAILY SAYS YUGOSLAV COMMANDER SLAMMED GOVERNMENT

The editors of the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" said on 10 November that they stand by their story that Chief of the General Staff General Dragoljub Ojdanic recently criticized top government officials during a visit to Montenegro. Ojdanic subsequently denied the report, which claimed he criticized Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, and Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic for what Ojdanic allegedly called the poor state of affairs in the army. In addition to their response to Ojdanic's denial, "Vijesti" editors also published on 10 November remarks the army chief had made in Montenegro that they had previously withheld from publication. Among other things, Ojdanic allegedly commented that he intends to cut the size of the navy and the air force, which he considers much less important than the army. He added that most officers are interested primarily in their pay and that he will raise their salaries soon. PM

MACEDONIA, GREECE START PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION

Work began on 10 November on an oil pipeline that will link Macedonia's sole refinery with the port of Thessaloniki. Greece will bear most of the $90 million costs. Its state-run oil company recently acquired a majority stake in its Macedonian counterpart. PM

ITALY, ALBANIA STEP UP COOPERATION AGAINST MIGRANTS

Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 10 November that Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema and Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini promised him more assistance to help prevent the smuggling of goods and people across the Strait of Otranto. Meta had returned from a brief trip to Rome, which was his first trip abroad since his recent election as prime minister. Traffic in illegal migrants from Albania to Italy continues unabated, dpa noted. Drug smuggling from Albania is on the increase, despite the presence of Italian forces in Albania and in Albanian territorial waters. PM

TIRANA MAYOR CRITICIZES OLDER GENERATION OF POLITICIANS

Albert Brojka, who belongs to the opposition Democratic Party, told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 11 November that the Democrats' Sali Berisha and the Socialists' Fatos Nano "have an old communist mentality" that has led to political polarization. Brojka stressed that Albania instead needs a "European mentality" that allows people to differ on political issues without regarding one another as enemies. He said that he believes Nano's recent victory over former Prime Minister Pandeli Majko for the leadership of the Socialists will only make the political climate worse. Majko favored a policy of rational political dialogue and reconciliation between the two rival parties, Brojka added. He expressed regret that Berisha has retained control over the Democrats, despite a short-lived challenge from the younger Genc Pollo. PM

RAIL TRAFFIC RESUMES AFTER WORKERS END BLOCKADE

Railway traffic in Romania was back to normal early on 11 November after hundreds of railway workers ended a blockade of trains at Bucharest's main train station to protest low wages, AP reported. Trains were delayed for up to five hours after the workers had taken over the North Train Station the previous day. They want their wages doubled and the plan to restructure and downsize the national rail system to be scrapped. Transportation Minister Traian Basescu, whom the workers want sacked, said he is happy the situation was resolved peacefully, but he called the protest a "serious" violation of the law. He said the ministry will file an official complaint. Negotiations between the ministry and union leaders are due to begin on 11 November. PB

BULGARIAN DOCUMENTS ON ZHIVKOV OUSTER MISSING

The head of Bulgaria's government archives, Panto Kolev, said on 10 November that documents related to the coup that ended the 35-year rule of Communist leader Todor Zhivkov have disappeared, AP reported. Kolev said the minutes from the Communist Party meeting at which he was dismissed are among those documents missing, as are those detailing Bulgaria's role in the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of the former Czechoslovakia. Former Interior Minister Atanas Semerdzhiev is currently awaiting trial for allowing secret police officials to destroy files in 1990. In other news, the 10th anniversary of Zhivkov's ouster, which fell on 10 November 1989, was not officially marked in Bulgaria. PB

BULGARIA'S POPULATION SHRINKING FASTEST

With a negative growth rate of minus 6.4 people per 1,000, Bulgaria's population is shrinking faster than that of any other country in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, AP reported on 9 November, citing BTA. The data were included in a paper delivered at an international demographic conference in Sofia. Since 1989, Bulgaria's population has sunk by 1 million owing to emigration, which was reported at 700,000, and because of a high mortality rate. MS




UKRAINE'S PRESIDENTIAL RUN-OFF: KUCHMA VERSUS COMMUNISM


by Askold Krushelnycky

The first round of Ukraine's presidential elections on 31 October left incumbent Leonid Kuchma in the lead and his Communist rival, Petro Symonenko in second place. Under Ukraine's electoral rules, if no candidate receives more than half the vote, then the two with the highest share of the vote go on to a run-off.

Kuchma seemed comfortably ahead in the first round with 36 percent of the vote, compared with Symonenko's 22 percent. But Kuchma has been criticized throughout his term in office for the troubled state of the economy, for failing to introduce major market reforms, and for presiding over a government riddled with corruption. Critics say that Kuchma is now playing on the fears of a communist return to power in order to win second-round votes from many who intensely dislike him.

Symonenko has openly acknowledged he favors a return to Soviet-style government and wants a new Soviet Union, with Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan as initial members. He has also said he will reverse those market reforms Kuchma has introduced.

Ahead of the second round of voting on 14 November, Symonenko has been trying to gather support from some of his former rivals among the 12 other opposition hopefuls who competed in the first round. Symonenko has put together a loose coalition of three leftist and three centrist former candidates in the hope that their supporters will vote for him on 14 November. He has the backing of the leader of the Peasant Party and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko. But his support from the two candidates who took third and fourth places in the first round is clearly less than whole- heated.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, the third-place candidate, has said he will support Symonenko--but he has given that support only grudgingly. Moroz notably failed to turn up beside Symonenko on 7 November for Communist Party commemorations in Kyiv of the October 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia.

Like Moroz, ultra-Marxist Natalya Vitrenko scored some 11 percent of the vote in the first round to come in fourth. Some analysts believe Vitrenko's popularity was boosted by an apparent assassination attempt against her during the campaign. Vitrenko has since said she will give her blessing to Symonenko only if he promises her the prime minister's job. That is a promise the communist leader has not been willing to make. However, Vitrenko's Progressive Socialist Party announced on 10 November it will throw its support behind Symonenko because he "stands for changing the course of economic and political reforms."

Mary Mycio, the Ukraine correspondent for the "Los Angeles Times," told RFE/RL that she does not believe the people who support Symonenko can deliver votes. "They can basically only provide him with their own personal support," she argues. "In the case of Vitrenko, I think that a lot of her votes were very emotional and based perhaps on her popular slogans and not necessarily on any program or proposals that she was making."

At the 7 November rally in Kyiv, attended by some 3,000 mostly elderly party faithful, Symonenko toned down his rhetoric in an attempt to appeal to a wider range of voters. His supporters have sought to dispel fears of a communist comeback, presenting Symonenko as a moderate who would take care of Ukraine's sluggish economy and its people and even restore churches now in disrepair.

But analyst Mycio does not think Symonenko will be able to persuade enough voters of his new-found moderate views to win the run-off. She believes Kuchma could have been defeated only if Symonenko had stepped down in favor of another candidate, as is allowed under Ukraine's electoral law. "Ironically," she added, "I think that the only person in the election, in the stable of candidates, who could deliver votes would be Symonenko.... If Symonenko told the members and supporters of the Communist Party to vote for a candidate, they would."

Kuchma has dismissed the alliance backing Symonenko, saying he is "not afraid, even if they are joined by several more candidates." But he and his supporters have also sought help from former first-round rivals. And they have stepped up efforts to portray a potential communist victory as a national disaster. State-controlled television, moreover, has been showing grim film footage of Soviet atrocities in Ukraine.

Among Kuchma's democratic opponents in the first round, the candidate who did best was Yevhen Marchuk. On 10 November, Kuchma named Marchuk to head the National Security Council, a presidential body with sweeping powers in security matters. The move is seen as a clear attempt to win over the some 8 percent of voters who backed Marchuk in the first round.

Meanwhile, Kuchma has won support from the Green Party, whose leader was also one of the first-round losers. And a faction of the divided nationalist Rukh movement said it will back the president on condition that Ukraine seeks membership in NATO. Like many who will support Kuchma in the second round, Rukh sympathizers will vote for him only because they fear the alternative more than the incumbent.

In fact, it is this sentiment that Mycio and some other analysts believe will allow Kuchma to pull off a victory on 14 November--barring any unexpected developments during the last days of campaigning. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague and currently covering the Ukrainian presidential election from Kyiv.


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