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Newsline - November 15, 1999




PUTIN RECONFIRMS PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS...

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on 12 November confirmed his earlier declared plans to seek presidential office in June 2000 elections. His announcement elicited support from leaders of smaller political parties, some of which are linked to the Kremlin. For example, Aleksandr Gurov, one of the leaders of the pro- Kremlin interregional movement Unity (Edinstvo) said that Putin's candidacy offers "a historic chance to elect a less politicized person who will reconcile diametrically opposed parties and movements in society." Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that the party he leads, Our Home Is Russia, may back Putin's presidential bid in 2000 elections, but its leaders will make up its mind after the upcoming State Duma elections. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ, wrote on 13 November that Putin is "practically guaranteed" the support of the army. According to military analyst Aleksandr Pikaev, Putin "has turned to the military and security services for support" since he is limited in his political base and does not have the Kremlin's full backing, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 November. JAC

...WINS YELTSIN'S BLESSING

On 14 November, President Boris Yeltsin, who many have predicted is planning to dismiss Putin soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1999), declared that Putin "is the most acceptable [presidential] candidate for Russia." He added, "Just look at his moves, they are so logical, clever and strong." Putin told Russian Television the same day that if President Yeltsin decides not to go to Istanbul to attend the upcoming OSCE summit, he will himself represent Russia. However, on 15 November, Yeltsin said that he will attend the 18 November summit. He also declared that "there can be no question of dismissing" Putin. JAC

YELTSIN VOWS NOT TO HALT WAR IN CHECHNYA

President Yeltsin told journalists at the Kremlin on 15 November that Moscow will not yield to Western criticism of its military tactics in Chechnya, and will continue military operations there "as long as a single terrorist remains on our territory," AP reported. He added that the West has no right to criticize Russia for taking action against "murderers who decapitate their victims." Meanwhile, Russia stepped up air raids and artillery bombardment of the towns of Grozny, Urus Martan, Bamut, Samashki, and Gekhi on 12-14 November, while ground forces consolidated their control over the town of Gudermes. Reuters on 13 November quoted Gekhi residents as saying the bombardment was worse than anything they had experienced during the 1994-1996 war. LF

U.S. DENIES PROMOTING INSTABILITY IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Addressing military officers in Moscow on 12 November, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that it is in the interests of the U.S. to keep the conflicts in the North Caucasus "constantly smoldering," AP reported. Sergeev said such a strategy could result in the weakening of Russia and the extension of full U.S. control over the North Caucasus. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington the same day that the U.S. finds Sergeev's accusations "hard to understand." Rubin said the U.S. recognizes "Russia's right to protect itself and its civilians." He added that neither Russia, the U.S., nor neighboring states benefit from instability in the North Caucasus, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. LF

FORMER GROZNY MAYOR TO HEAD CHECHEN VOLUNTEER FORCE

Following an overnight session of the pro-Russian Chechen parliament held in Moscow on 11-12 November, Malik Saidullaev voluntarily stepped down as chairman of the pro-Moscow Chechen State Council (government) in favor of former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, Russian agencies reported. Saidullaev had been elected State Council chairman last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1999). But in an interview with NTV on 13 November, Gantemirov denied that he would assume the duties of head of government. He said he intends to return to Chechnya before the end of November to head a Chechen volunteer force that will fight side by side with Russian troops. He added that he will accept an official position in Chechnya only if asked to do so by the Chechen population. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT AGAIN AFFIRMS READINESS FOR PEACE TALKS...

In an address to a meeting of Chechen exiles in Moscow on 12 November, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov again expressed his willingness to embark on peace talks with Moscow and to undertake joint measures to combat terrorism, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Maskhadov again condemned the terrorist bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow, stressing that Chechens were not responsible for them. He also condemned "the aggression of Wahhabis" against Daghestan. He added that those attacks were undertaken at Moscow's instigation in order to create a pretext for Russian military retaliation against Chechnya. LF

...BUT SHABDURASULOV SAYS HE IS NOT THE LOGICAL PARTNER

Speaking in Moscow on 12 November, First Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Igor Shabdurasulov again said "it does not make sense" to conduct peace talks with Maskhadov, Interfax reported. Shabdurasulov had said at a press conference the previous day that Maskhadov does not control the situation in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). Shabdurasulov said Moscow is ready for talks with Chechen representatives once the Chechen factions reach agreement among themselves. He named Saidullaev and Gantemirov as possible interlocutors. LF

KOSHMAN SAYS NO NEED TO REBUILD GROZNY

Nikolai Koshman, who served as pro-Moscow Chechen premier in 1996 and was named Russia's representative to Chechnya last month, said on 12 November that he sees no point in rebuilding Grozny and that Gudermes should be designated the capital of Chechnya, ITAR- TASS reported. In 1996, Koshman had criticized the Chechen assault on Grozny, terming it "a second Carthage" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 42, 21 October 1999). Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Ekho Moskvy on 13 November he supports the proposal to make Gudermes the capital of Chechnya. LF

RUSSIA DENIES USING CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN CHECHNYA

In an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS on 15 November, a senior commander with Russia's Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Troops denied that Russia is using chemical weapons in Chechnya. He said reports that Russia is doing so are intended to pressure the Russian leadership in the runup to the OSCE Istanbul summit. He added there are no facilities in the North Caucasus for storing such weapons. LF

TAX WINDFALL LIKELY TO GO TOWARD CHECHEN OPERATION COSTS...

Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 11 November outlined how 85 billion rubles ($3.2 billion) of unexpected, additional tax revenues this year will be distributed, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. Twenty billion rubles will be spent to cover the initial budget surplus and 15 billion rubles to index budget payments made in hard currency, while 18 billion rubles will go to regions and the remaining 32 billion rubles will be split among the army, coal miners, northern regions, and state-sector employees. The newspaper suggests that much of the 32 billion rubles is likely to go to the army in order to cover the cost of the Chechen campaign, which, according to "classified government documents," had cost 12-30 billion rubles a month ago. However, the official justification for transferring the money will be to cover the almost 50 billion rubles owed to the Defense Ministry in unpaid wages. JAC

...AS LAW SUIT CALLS FOR LESS DISCRETION WITH BUDGET SPENDING

Also on 11 November, "The Moscow Times" reported that State Duma deputy Sergei Popov recently won a ruling in a St. Petersburg court that the federal Finance Ministry illegally under-funded local projects. Popov is demanding that the Finance Ministry fulfill the letter of the budget law, which requires that any reductions in expenditure arising from revenue shortfalls be applied across the board proportionally. In practice, the ministry decides which budget items to fund at the whim of the president or prime minister or based on its own discretion when revenue falls short, United Financial Group analyst Aleksei Zabotkin told the daily. The ministry is appealing the decision, and the lawsuit is likely to take years to be completed. JAC

TAX REVENUES TO GO HIGHER AND HIGHER?

The Tax Ministry announced on 12 November that tax collection was up by 72 percent during the first nine months of 1999, compared with the same period last year, according to Interfax. According to "Izvestiya" on 11 November, the ministry collected in cash 36 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) in October, compared with 20.46 billion rubles projected in the budget. The transport sector provided the highest proportion of tax receipts in October, followed by the fuel and energy complex. On 10 November, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said his ministry is already ahead in terms of tax collection in November. On 13 November, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" suggested that the "euphoria" over tax collection is unjustified and that budget-funded programs have received only 50 percent of their funding JAC

SUPREME COURT OVERRULES ELECTION COMMISSION...

The Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Central Election Commission's decision to bar the Russian Conservative Party of Entrepreneurs (RKPP) from next month's Duma elections was invalid, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1999). According to the court, the commission's refusal to register the party because its number two candidate, singer Yurii Antonov, failed to declare all of his 1998 income was invalid. According to "Segodnya" on 13 November, the court declared that the commission had a right to reject Antonov but not the RKPP. The commission will appeal the ruling to the Appeals Collegium of the Supreme Court which is expected to make a decision in five days. JAC

...AS ZHIRINOVSKII MAY GET A THIRD CHANCE

If the collegium upholds the decision, then the election commission will not only have to register the RKPP but will also have to reconsider its rejection of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1999). The commission refused to register that party's list because of problems with its number two candidate, Krasnoyarsk Aluminum chief Anatolii Bykov. According to "Segodnya," the commission will face the difficult choice of either registering LDPR, the bulk of whose candidates are now members of the registered Zhirinovskii's Bloc or facing the prospect of lawsuits from those LDPR candidates who did not make it into Zhirinovskii's Bloc and are consequently unable to run for a seat in the Duma. JAC

IVANOV SAYS REVISED CFE TREATY SIGNING DEPENDS ON GEORGIA, MOLDOVA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Helsinki on 12 November that Moscow is willing to reduce its military strength in Georgia and Moldova in order to decrease its presence in the Caucasus and thereby meet the ceilings of a revised Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. "We are hopeful that Tbilisi and Chisinau will show a constructive approach and we can agree on outstanding points," Reuters quoted Ivanov as saying. He did not specify what those outstanding points are. Earlier the same day, Moscow had announced it will start withdrawing military hardware from the Transdniester region (see Part II). Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Georgian Defense Ministry told Caucasus Press that under the revised conventional arms treaty, Georgia is allowed to have 220 tanks, 220 armored carriers, 50 helicopters, and more than 120 artillery pieces. He noted that Russian hardware stationed in Georgia currently accounts for half of that quota. JC

MOSCOW PLANNING TO FLY LONG-RANGE BOMBERS TO CUBA, VIETNAM?

Mikhail Oparin, the head of Russia's long-range aviation forces, is quoted in the latest issue (No. 44) of the weekly publication "Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie" as saying Moscow plans to fly long-range bombers to Cuba and Vietnam next year. Speaking to Reuters on 12 November, Russian air force spokesman Nikolai Baranov commented that "if the government considers it essential to do this, the military will do it." Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, however, expressed surprise at the report, telling journalists in Havana that "it's really the first time I have heard anything like this." U.S. officials, meanwhile, played down the reports and emphasized there were no official statements from Moscow on the matter. Russian long-range bombers have not flown to Cuba for nearly a decade. Earlier this year, two TU-95 Bear bombers were intercepted by U.S. planes off the coast of Iceland but remained in international air space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 1999). JC

U.S. CUTS FUNDING FOR RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SCIENTISTS

"The Washington Post" reported on 13 November that as a result of a sharp cut in funding, the U.S. Department of Energy will have to limit the so-called Nuclear Cities Initiative to one Russian nuclear city--namely Sarov, which was earlier called Arzamas-16. Launched last year, the initiative originally targeted three nuclear cities and was aimed at ensuring employment for Russian nuclear scientists in civilian jobs. The newspaper noted that the funding cut came after a report said U.S. funds appeared to be going to Russian scientists who were still working on weapons programs. JC

MOSCOW PROTESTS JOURNALIST BEATINGS IN LONDON

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 14 November protested the beatings of four Russian television journalists who were filming a 12 November meeting in London to raise money for Chechen forces fighting against Russian troops. Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin was quoted by Interfax as saying that footage shown on Russian Public Television and NTV suggests that the British law enforcement officials "remained absolutely idle" while members of the mostly Muslim crowd attacked the journalists. The British authorities have denied the allegations of police inactivity and pointed out that none of the journalists has pressed charges or was seriously injured. JC

CHERKESS, ABAZINS LAUNCH NEW PROTEST

Representatives of the Cherkess and Abazin ethnic minorities have begun a new picket on the central square in Cherkessk, capital of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, to demand the creation of a separate Cherkess autonomous formation, Caucasus Press reported on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). They also plan to adopt a resolution calling for a boycott of the December elections to a new republican parliament. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AGREE ON NEW CABINET

Following consultations and overnight talks on 12-13 November, President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Aram Sargsian agreed on the composition of the new cabinet, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 13 November. Sargsian endorsed Kocharian's choice of two career police officials, First Deputy Interior Minister Haik Harutiunian and Karlos Petrosian, to head the Interior and National Security Ministries, while in return Kocharian agreed to Minister for Industrial Infrastructures Vahan Shirkhanian's retaining his post. Shirkhanian is believed to have been behind a 28 October demand by senior Defense Ministry officials for the sacking of the interior and national security ministers and of the prosecutor-general. The only other new cabinet appointee is Karen Jshmaritian, who replaces Hayk Gevorgian as industry and trade minister. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO TURKMENISTAN

The presidential administration announced on 12 November that a visit by President Kocharian to Turkmenistan scheduled for 15-16 November has been postponed, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement noted that Kocharian was to have been accompanied by several government ministers, whose candidacies had not yet been officially confirmed at that time. LF

YELTSIN DISCUSSES KARABAKH WITH ARMENIA, AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPARTS

Russian President Boris Yeltsin telephoned with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Kocharian and Heidar Aliev, on 12 November, Russian agencies reported. Yeltsin and Kocharian discussed bilateral relations, issues related to the latter's 5 November visit to Moscow, and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Interfax. Yeltsin also assured Aliyev of Russia's readiness "to help in every way" to reach a mutually satisfactory solution to that conflict. A spokesman for the Azerbaijani presidential press service said that other topics discussed included the upcoming OSCE summit in Istanbul and Russia's proposed introduction of a "temporary" visa regime for Azerbaijanis wishing to cross the frontier into the Russian Federation. Aliyev expressed understanding for that decision, while noting the difficulties it creates for Azerbaijani citizens, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

GEORGIA HOLDS RUNOFF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

Runoff elections took place on 14 November in 24 Georgian constituencies where no candidate obtained the required majority in the 31 October parliamentary poll. Reuters and dpa quoted Central Electoral Commission officials as stating that the voting proceeded without incident. But Caucasus Press reported on 15 November that shooting broke out in Nadzaladevi when an independent candidate who was leading the poll tried to prevent falsification of the vote count aimed at benefiting his rival from the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK). The SMK already has a clear majority in the 235-mandate parliament. LF

UN CALLS ON GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA TO DEMONSTRATE COMMITMENT TO PEACE PROCESS

In a 12 November statement, the UN Security Council called on the leaders of Georgia and Abkhazia to resume regular contacts with an aim to resolving the breakaway region's status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government and expediting the return of displaced persons, Reuters and AP reported. The statement stressed that such a comprehensive settlement must respect Georgia's territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. LF

GEORGIA STEPS UP INTERNAL SECURITY...

Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 November that the Georgian authorities have increased security measures for top officials and for strategic facilities such as the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline, Interfax reported. He said those measures were prompted by an intensification of military activity at Russian military bases in Georgia, particularly the reported arrival at the Vaziani base near Tbilisi of Federal Security Service Alpha troops. Parliament Defense and Security Committee chairman Revaz Adamia said that Alpha troops had been sent to Georgia to carry out sabotage assignments and the assassination of top officials. Defense Minister David Tevzadze said that the Russian troop activity could reflect Russian plans to increase its military presence in Chechnya, according to Interfax. But an FSB spokesman on 13 November denied any Alpha force had been sent to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...EXPRESSES SURPRISE THAT RUSSIA IMPOUNDED UNIFORMS

Georgian Defense Minister Tevzadze and President Eduard Shevardnadze on 12 November both professed to be puzzled over the confiscation by Russian customs officials the previous day of a consignment of military uniforms donated by the U.S. for the Georgian armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. Tevzadze termed the incident "a misunderstanding." Shevardnadze denied that either the consignment contained arms or explosives or it was to be sent from Georgia to Chechnya, according to Interfax. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER OUTLINES THREE-YEAR PROGRAM

Qasymzhomart Toqaev on 12 November submitted to a joint session of both chambers of the parliament his cabinet's economic program for the period 2000-2002, Interfax reported. He said that by 2002 the government is aiming to increase GDP by 10-12 percent compared with 1999, to cut inflation to 4-5 percent, and reduce the budget deficit to 1.2 percent of GDP. Unemployment is to be brought down from the current 13 percent to 8 percent of the able-bodied population. Toqaev also called for a "serious reform" of budget policy, the liberalization of foreign trade, and cuts in customs duties. He also announced that measures will be taken to legalize the shadow economy which accounts for an estimated 25 percent of GDP, mostly generated by small businesses. LF

KAZAKHSTAN DENIES PLANS TO MANUFACTURE CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Kazakhstan's National Security Committee spokesman Kenzhebulat Beknazarov told Interfax on 12 November that the country does not intend to begin production of either chemical or biological weapons. Speaking in Washington two days earlier, former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin had said that Kazakhstan might use funds allocated by the West for other purposes in order to produce such weapons. LF

INTERNET PROVIDER DENIES BLOCKING ACCESS TO KAZAKH OPPOSITION WEBSITE

In a statement made available to "RFE/RL Newsline," the Internet provider Nursat, which is the largest in Kazakhstan, has formally denied blocking access to the Eurasia Website maintained by the Kazakh political opposition. It also affirmed that it neither condones nor supports any Internet "censorship". Internews's office in Kazakhstan last week quoted an unnamed Nursat technician as saying that access to the Eurasia site would be impossible for an indefinite period for "technical reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). LF

TYPHOID OUTBREAK IN KAZAKHSTAN

Twenty-three people have been hospitalized with suspected typhoid in Almaty over the past three weeks, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November. The previous day, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported that police have begun confiscating milk samples from non- registered traders from rural areas who sell milk on the streets in Almaty. It is unclear if contaminated milk is suspected to be the source of the outbreak. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT, FINANCE MINISTER AT ODDS OVER MINIMUM WAGE

Finance Minister Sultan Mederov outlined the main parameters of the 2000 draft budget to parliamentary deputies on 11 November, Interfax reported. Revenues are set at 10.6 billion soms ($200 million) and spending at 11.7 billion soms, while GDP will total 53.3 billion soms. Agricultural production is expected to grow by 5 percent and industrial output by 1 percent. The government will also earmark $83.6 million toward paying the country's foreign debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). Mederov said defense spending will be increased by 46.6 percent. But when the debate resumed on 12 November, he rejected as not feasible a demand by deputies to raise the minimum monthly wage from 100 to 150 soms and to increase salaries for doctors and teachers, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

UN EXTENDS MANDATE OF OBSERVERS IN TAJIKISTAN

The UN Security Council on 12 November unanimously approved Secretary General Kofi Annan's request for the extension for a further six months of the mandate of the observer force deployed in Tajikistan, Reuters and AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). Those observers will monitor preparations for the parliamentary elections scheduled for February. LF




KUCHMA WINS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN UKRAINE...

According to unofficial results, incumbent President Leonid Kuchma scored a convincing victory over communist rival Petro Symonenko in the 14 November presidential runoff. With the election tally nearly complete, Kuchma obtained 56.31 percent of the vote and Symonenko 37.76 percent, Reuters reported. According to Interfax, turnout was 74 percent. "This shows we have a huge popular mandate to speed up reform," Kuchma's campaign team head Ivan Kuras commented, adding that the ballot gives Kuchma the green light for parliamentary reform. Symonenko on 15 November conceded defeat but accused Kuchma's team of major election violations and vote rigging. "Everything that happened during the first and second round [of voting] demonstrates that Ukraine has become a police state," AP quoted Symonenko as saying. JM

...PLEDGES TO MAKE 'RESOLUTE' ECONOMIC REFORMS

Talking to journalists after casting his vote in Kyiv on 14 November, Kuchma said he intends to take "resolute steps" to reform the country's economy in the event of his victory, Interfax reported. He added that these steps will "not always be popular." Kuchma did not rule out that the parliament would be dissolved if it failed to form a majority. He added that after the presidential ballot he may "ask the people" what is to be done with the parliament. At the same time, Kuchma pledged that the presidential powers to form a cabinet will "to some extent" be passed to a legislature with a majority. JM

UKRAINE'S SUPREME COURT REJECTS ELECTION VIOLATION COMPLAINTS

The Supreme Court on 13 November rejected complaints by presidential candidates Oleksandr Moroz and Yuriy Karmazin of violations in the first presidential election round on 31 October. According to Interfax, the court refused to view the complaints on the grounds that "in accordance with the legislation in force, [they] are not subject to consideration by courts." Ukraine's presidential election law does not provide for the courts to declare a presidential election invalid. JM

MINSK POLICE DENY BEATING OF 'FREEDOM MARCH' PARTICIPANTS

The Minsk-based Association for Legal Assistance to the Population has received an official reply to its complaint about the police brutality during the 17 October opposition "freedom march," Belapan reported on 12 November. The association had collected and handed to the police the results of medical examinations of 20 people who were beaten by riot policemen after their arrests on 17 October. "The citizens in question were arrested for violating street demonstration regulations. There is no evidence that [riot police] officers used brutal force," Belapan quoted the Minsk Main Internal Affairs Directorate as saying. JM

OSCE MISSION SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN BELARUS UNSATISFACTORY

Hans-Peter Kleiner, deputy head of the OSCE Consultative and Monitoring group in Minsk, said on 12 October that the human rights situation in Belarus is unsatisfactory. Kleiner said that is not only because police beat demonstrators but also because the state-controlled media do not report on human rights violations. Meanwhile, Russia's Commissioner for Human Rights Oleg Mironov, who visited Belarus from 8-11 November, failed to meet with the country's leading human rights organizations such as Spring- 96, Charter-97, and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. Mironov, however, met with Yauhen Novikau, head of the Belarusian National League for Human Rights. Novikau told Belapan on 12 November that the human rights situation in Belarus was worse before President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power than it is now. JM

BALTIC DIPLOMATS ATTEND EU NORTHERN DIMENSION CONFERENCE

The foreign ministers of Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania's deputy foreign minister attended a conference on the EU's Northern Dimension in Helsinki on 12 November. On the meeting's agenda was further regional cooperation, especially in the economic sphere, the Baltic Ring project to connect the power grids of all Baltic Sea countries, and the Nordic Gas Pipeline project to build a gas pipeline system for all countries in the region, ETA and BNS reported. Also discussed were transport links and infrastructure within the region. Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas commented that Kaliningrad should have a wider role in regional projects. Several important bilateral meetings were held, such as one between Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins and his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov. MH

ESTONIA BECOMES WTO MEMBER

Estonia on 13 November officially became a member of the World Trade Organization. Estonia, the 135th member of the international trade body, had ratified the accession protocol last month. MH

LATVIAN REFERENDUM FAILS

The 13 November referendum on changes to the pensions law failed due to low turnout. The Central Electoral Commission announced that only 25.08 percent of the electorate turned out to vote. Latvian laws state that turnout must exceed 50 percent for a referendum to be valid. However, 94.18 percent (with all votes counted, except those from abroad) voted to annul the government changes, which raised the retirement age and restricted payments to working pensioners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1999). Prime Minister Andris Skele, a primary backer of the changes, had called on citizens not to take part in the referendum, BNS reported. MH

POLLS SHOW NEGATIVE LITHUANIAN REACTION TOWARDS OIL DEAL

A survey conducted by Vilmorus from 4-8 November shows that the Lithuanian government's deal with U.S. oil company Williams International (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999) has affected public opinion toward leading politicians, "Lietuvos Rytas" reported on 13 November. The two individuals seen as champions of the deal, President Valdas Adamkus and parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, saw their popularity plummet; the president's approval rating dropped to 48.6 percent from 81.6 percent one month ago, while 60.4 percent of respondents gave Landsbergis a negative rating, compared with 46.7 percent last month. Adamkus's role in the deal has also affected public opinion toward the presidency, with confidence in the institution tumbling to 35.9 percent from 70.8 percent in early October. Meanwhile, the ratings of the three ministers who resigned over the deal all increased. MH

EU COMMISSIONER PLEDGES SUPPORT TO LITHUANIA

The European Union's Commissioner for Enlargement Issues Guenter Verheugen, during a visit to Lithuania on 12 November, reaffirmed his support for Lithuania's bid to join the EU. Stressing that the European Commission's recommendation for Lithuania to start accession negotiations is based on positive reforms, Verheugen added that the pace of Lithuania's membership process will depend on progress made by that country, ELTA reported. Verheugen also promised 20 million euros ($20.64 million) annually for the program to shut down the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. He added that more funds will be forthcoming from a donors' conference to be held in the near future. MH

POLISH COALITION MEETS DIFFICULTIES IN BID TO PASS TAX REFORM

Parliamentary deputies from the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action and Freedom Union on 12 November voted down a motion by the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) to reject a tax reform bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). The parliamentary Committee for Public Finances is now drawing up another version of the bill for a second reading scheduled on 16 November. In order to take effect on 1 January 2000, the bill must be approved by both parliamentary chambers and signed by the president by 30 November. Meanwhile, SLD leader Leszek Miller said on 14 November that the opposition will do everything possible to prevent the bill from being passed on time. "The draft tax law is wrong and socially harmful," PAP quoted Miller as saying. JM

KLAUS'S SUPER COALITION IDEA REJECTED

Freedom Union chairman Jan Ruml and Christian Democratic leader Jan Kasal on 13 November rejected the idea of forming a "super coalition" of all parties in the Czech parliament, excluding the Communists, Czech media reported. Their comments came after a round-table meeting with Social Democratic (ODS) leader Milos Zeman and Civic Democratic leader Vaclav Klaus. Ruml added that since Klaus refuses to support a no-confidence vote in Zeman's government, the possibility of a separate coalition between the Freedom Union, the Christian Democrats, and the ODS is also "blocked." However, Klaus noted that the four leaders did not discuss the possibility of such a "right-of- center" coalition, leaving the door open for future discussions. Zeman said the four leaders will meet again in two weeks or so to discuss cooperation in the parliament on various laws. VG

CZECH ROMANY REPRESENTATIVES SUSPEND PROTEST

A group of Czech Roma who have been camped beside a wall that separates Roma from four ethnic Czech households in Usti nad Labem temporarily suspended their sit-in protest on 12 November after meeting with Prime Minister Milos Zeman, Czech media reported. Romany activist Ondrej Gina said the protesters want to give the government and the local town council time to resolve the issue. Zeman rejected speculation that the state intends to buy the four houses, saying the government will not allow itself to be "blackmailed." A spokesman for the mayor of Usti nad Labem described Zeman's statement as "irresponsible" and questioned whether any solution to the problem is possible if one side describes the other as a "blackmailer." VG

AUSTRIAN MINISTER SAYS REPORT PROVES SLOVAK PLANT UNSAFE

A spokesman for Austrian Consumer Protection Minister Barbara Prammer said a report by the Slovak nuclear safety agency proves that the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear power plant is unsafe, TKE reported. A spokesman for the minister, spokesman Robert Wier, said the minister had received the report from the Institute for Research on Nuclear Risks. He said the report states that Slovakia's Nuclear Supervision Office has refused to give the Bohunice plant operational licenses for longer than one year since 1995. Wier said this confirms that even some Slovaks share Austria's worries about the plant's safety. VG

ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY RE-ELECTS CHAIRMAN IN SLOVAKIA

Bela Bugar was re-elected chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party at a party congress on 14 November, TASR reported. The party is a member of the governing coalition in Slovakia. Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky, who had initially run for the post, eventually dropped out of the race. VG

SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN SAYS EU EXPANSION WILL TAKE PLACE

Jozef Migas, who was on a state visit to Finland on 12 November, said Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari had assured him that the "de facto decision" on EU enlargement has already been made and that it will take place in 2002 and 2003, TASR reported the same day. VG

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS SLOVAKIA

Nadezhda Mikhailova and her Slovak counterpart, Eduard Kukan, met in Bratislava on 12 November and signed an agreement on avoiding double taxation. The two sides also discussed navigation on the River Danube, which was disrupted during the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia earlier this year. They also discussed nuclear energy, which is a key issue for both countries in their efforts to integrate into the EU. Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hrusovsky said both countries should cooperate at the governmental and parliamentary levels to achieve their common goal of integration into the EU and NATO, TASR reported. VG

SUMMIT OF ETHNIC HUNGARIANS REACHES COMPROMISE

A summit of ethnic Hungarian groups in Budapest on 12 November approved a document recommending that Hungarian law codify the status of ethnic Hungarians living outside the country. The document also states that the Hungarian government firmly supports efforts by the Hungarian minority in the Serbian province of Vojvodina to obtain autonomy. It stops short of demanding that ethnic Hungarians who are citizens of other countries be granted voting rights in Hungary. But Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said Hungarian citizens living abroad "should be given voting rights, as that is not an ethnic or geographical matter." Ethnic Hungarian leaders from Romania, Slovakia, and Vojvodina supported the document. MSZ




TRAJKOVSKI LEADING IN MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgijevski announced on state television on 15 November that with 96 percent of the votes counted, Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Trajkovski has won 53 percent of the vote, compared with 46 percent for his challenger, Tito Petkovski, AFP reported. Petkovski conceded that Trajkovski's 48,000-vote lead cannot be overcome. Petkovski's spokesman, Nikola Popovski, charged that widespread voter fraud had occurred in the western part of the country, which is inhabited by mostly ethnic Albanians. Trajkovski, candidate of the center-right government, said his election offers a "historic chance" for him and the country. No figures were available on turnout. If it falls below 50 percent, then the election is declared invalid. PB

TUDJMAN REMAINS IN CRITICAL CONDITION

An official Croatian medical communique reported on 14 November that President Franjo Tudjman's condition had stabilized after fresh surgery, Reuters reported. The statement said that "difficulties in the digestive system have been removed." Doctors had said on 12 November that the health of the president, aged 77, was deteriorating after surgery two weeks ago was complicated by peritonitis and internal bleeding. Some Croatian dailies report the president's condition as very grave. Some claim he is on a life-support system. Tudjman's youngest son, Stjepan, said after leaving the hospital that his father is in a better condition than is being reported (see "End Note"). PB

CROATIA'S OPPOSITION CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

Drazen Budisa, the leader of Croatia's opposition Social Liberals, called for changes to be made to the country's constitution to reduce President Tudjman's authority, AP reported, citing Hina. Budisa said "the president has not been capable of running the country for 10 days now, and we know how wide his powers are." Parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic of Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) would act as interim head of state if the president were to die or be declared incapacitated. A presidential election would be held within 60 days. The president's health caused the HDZ to withdraw a motion to dissolve the parliament, allowing the lower house to reconvene for emergencies until its mandate expires on 27 November. PB

CROATIA TELLS HAGUE COURT IT IS NOT WELCOME

Justice Minister Zvonimir Separovic said in a letter to Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, that UN war crimes investigators are not welcome in Croatia, AFP reported. The tribunal wants to send teams into central Croatia to investigate alleged crimes against ethnic Serbs committed during the 1991-1995 war. Separovic said the tribunal has no jurisdiction over Croatia's military operations against the Serbs. PB

UN PLANE CRASH IN KOSOVA KILLS ALL ABOARD

A UN plane carrying officials from the organization's World Food Program and a number of private humanitarian groups crashed into a mountaintop near the Kosovar town of Mitrovica on 12 November, killing all 24 people onboard, Reuters reported. KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt said there is no indication as to the cause of the crash, but he noted that weather conditions were extremely foggy. Most of those killed were Italians. PB

ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADER WARNS OF FAILURE BY WEST IN KOSOVA

Veton Surroi, the publisher of the independent daily "Koha Ditore," urged the West on 12 November to provide adequate funds to shore up the police force and the judicial system in the Serbian province, Reuters reported. Surroi, in an address to NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Amsterdam, said the alliance's intervention in Kosova is at risk of failing if certain needs are not met. He said "serious reconstruction" has not begun and, that as a result, too many people are left idle. Surroi, who has come under fire from hard-line ethnic Albanians for his calls for tolerance toward Serbs, urged the rapid creation of a judiciary system and the involvement of Kosovar political parties in the running of the province. He said the term "multiethnic society" is misunderstood by ethnic Albanians as meaning the "forced cohabitation" that was experienced under Serb rule. He said a "tolerant and just society" would bring the same result. PB

SERBIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES CLAIM TO BE UNITED AGAINST MILOSEVIC...

Serbian opposition politicians pledged on 14 November to unite their efforts to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from power, Reuters reported. More than 50 leading opposition activists signed a declaration after a three-day meeting in the Hungarian town of Szentendre that states their main tasks are to form an alliance, oust the current government, and hold free elections. The document also called on the international community to immediately lift sanctions against Serbia. The talks were organized by Yugoslav Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, who also announced that he is willing to become king of Yugoslavia under a constitutional monarchy. Alliance for Change leader Zoran Djindjic attended the talks, as did the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Bishop Artemije. Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic did not attend, claiming he feared for his safety. PB

...AS SERBIAN DIASPORA OFFERS CASH FOR HIS OUSTER

Prominent Serbian expatriates from North America, Europe, and Australia on 13 November offered to give Serbian opposition groups $1 million if they unite and remove President Milosevic from office, AP reported. They also promised to provide access to Western governments and technical advice to the opposition. Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said the money would be best used to support independent media in Serbia. He said that political parties "should renounce this money" so that it could be given to "organizations which find it even harder to survive in a very poor country." PB

MONTENEGRO PASSES AMNESTY FOR DRAFT DODGERS

The Montenegrin parliament adopted a law on 12 November that grants amnesty to anyone who defied orders to join the Yugoslav army during the conflict in Kosova, Reuters reported. The measure was passed unanimously after deputies from the Socialist People's Party, which is loyal to Belgrade, walked out of the chamber. The legislation covers the period from June 1998 to June of this year. A Montenegrin deputy said that some 14,000 people in Montenegro will gain amnesty from the legislation. In other news, Montenegrin Justice Minister Dragan Soc confirmed that Veselin Vlahovic, wanted for war crimes in Bosnia, is in jail in Montenegro. The war crimes tribunal at The Hague has given Bosnia the right to put him on trial in Sarajevo. Bosnian officials said they will request Vlahovic's extradition. PB

OFFICIALS AGREE TO FIGHT CORRUPTION, STEP UP SEARCHES IN BOSNIA

U.S. and Bosnian officials agreed on 14 November to form a commission that will monitor corruption in Bosnia- Herzegovina, AP reported. The agreement was reached after two days of talks in Dayton, Ohio. Bosnian officials also agreed to allow more vigorous searches by NATO peacekeepers for indicted war criminals hiding in Bosnia. PB

ALBANIAN, MACEDONIAN PREMIERS HAIL 'NEW BALKANS'

Ilir Meta and his Macedonian counterpart, Ljubco Georgievski, held talks in the southeastern Albanian town of Korce on 12 November, dpa reported. Meta said the two agreed they must "work together for the creation of a new Balkans." Meta added that the two countries are eager to make the stability pact for southeastern Europe "a reality." Georgievski said the two countries are working on a bilateral trade agreement and on integrating infrastructure and communications systems. PB

ROMANIAN SOCCER OFFICIALS TO MONITOR ANTI-SEMITIC REMARKS

Romanian Soccer Federation officials on 12 November decided to monitor publications owned by the federation's vice president, Dumitru Dragomir, to prevent him from printing anti-Semitic remarks, AP reported. The federation was reacting to a request from FIFA, the international soccer association, which is contemplating a ban on all Romanian soccer squads if Dumitru permits his publications to run any more anti-Semitic or racist remarks. Dumitru's publications have published such remarks in the past. For instance, one article referred to government officials as "dirty Jews" and "Gypsies." VG

ROMANIAN STEEL WORKERS PROTEST PRIVATIZATION

More than 1,500 employees of the Petrotrub steel pipe manufacturer blocked a major road in northeastern Romania on 12 November to protest the privatization of their company. The previous day, the Gibraltar-based Tubman International Ltd. signed a deal with the Romanian government to purchase a 70 percent stake in Petrotrub for $42.6 million. The deal calls for Tubman to pay off Petrotrub's debts of about $39 million and lay off about 1,500 of the company's 3,000 employees. VG

RUSSIA RESUMES WITHDRAWAL OF TROOPS FROM MOLDOVA

Russia on 13 November resumed withdrawing its troops from the breakaway Transdniester region of Moldova, dpa reported. Russian officials gave no indication as to how many troops or how much military hardware will be moved out of the region. Lieutenant-General Valerii Yevnevich told ITAR-TASS on 13 November that the military is loading the "first three of a total of 13 convoys" on 13 November. He said the weapons that are being moved could arm "a medium-sized army in Europe." Russian newspapers noted that Moscow transferred anti-tank rockets from Moldova to Chechnya during the last war there in 1995. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the OSCE is monitoring the troop and weapon withdrawal from Moldova (see also Part 1). VG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW PREMIER

Petru Lucinschi on 12 November appointed Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Valeriu Bobutac as prime minister. Bobutac replaces Ion Sturza, whose government fell in a no-confidence vote on 9 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). The new government, which is to be formed by the Popular Front Christian Democratic and the Communists, is to be named this week. Lucinschi picked Bobutac because he was acceptable to both parties. Bobutac served as trade minister from 1986 to 1988, when Moldova was part of the former Soviet Union. He was economic minister from 1992 to 1994 and again in 1997. The president said the new prime minister should "fight corruption and resume good relations with international organizations." VG




CROATIA AFTER TUDJMAN


by Patrick Moore

The critical state of President Franjo Tudjman's health suggests Croatia will soon begin a new era. The tasks facing the new leadership will include instituting political change, promoting Euro-Atlantic integration, and raising the standard of living.

Tudjman is apparently losing his battle with cancer, which has lasted at least three years. He would be the first of the major figures in the dramatic events in the former Yugoslavia this past decade to die in office. It is ironic that the first of this small group likely to pass on is Tudjman, a life-long athlete and non-smoker.

Tudjman's legacy is likely to remain the subject of controversy for a long time to come. To his supporters, he has his place in history as the father of independence and the man who "made Croatia." They argue that he alone had the organizational skills, the contacts to wealthy Croats in the diaspora, and the personal reputation as a nationalist leader to perform three vital tasks: ousting the Communists in the 1990 elections, winning independence the following year, and defeating the ethnic Serb rebels in 1995.

To his detractors, Tudjman will remain a tyrant who should have left office long ago, at the very latest following his defeat of the Serbs. A stiff man comfortable only with his trusted inner circle, his military and communist experiences made him authoritarian and intolerant of differing views. His ego and obsession with the trappings of power often made him the butt of jokes. Tudjman may have been the right man to win independence, his detractors would say, but he was not the one to build a democratic, prosperous country integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

In fact, post-Tudjman Croatia faces a wide array of problems. The first question is the future of Tudjman's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which has dominated politics for nearly a decade. It is the last of the East European mass movements that emerged in the 1980s to bring about the fall of communism. All the others--including Solidarity in Poland and the Civic Forum in the former Czechoslovakia--have broken up into ideologically-based successor organizations. Many observers argue that the time for the HDZ to do likewise is long overdue.

They may not have long to wait. At least since Tudjman first underwent cancer surgery in 1996, several prominent subordinates have been jockeying for top positions. These individuals might soon find themselves heads of new political parties that would emerge from the main factions of the HDZ. For example, Foreign Minister Mate Granic might head a moderate party, while the deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, Vladimir Seks, might lead a stringently nationalist organization. Tudjman's aide Ivic Pasalic might become head of a grouping of his fellow Herzegovinians, who form a very powerful interest group in the HDZ.

A second issue involves the future of the opposition and its impact on the broader political scene. One reason why the HDZ and Tudjman have held power for nearly 10 years is the ineptitude of the fractious opposition. The two leading opposition parties have formed a coalition, and the four smaller ones have made a pact of their own to fight the elections for the lower house on 22 December. The question is whether they will be able to maintain unity of purpose in a post-Tudjman world. Some observers suggest that the impending fragmentation of the HDZ will lead to a totally new political landscape in which individual factions of the HDZ will combine with what are now opposition parties. Others fear that Tudjman's departure will remove the common enemy to all opposition parties and leave them fighting once again among themselves. In such a scenario, the HDZ would continue to hold on to power as before.

This leads to a third issue stemming from the Tudjman era, namely the democratization of political life. Washington and Brussels have made it clear time and again that electoral, minority, and media legislation will have to be brought up to Western standards if Croatia is to become integrated in Euro-Atlantic institutions. Furthermore, Zagreb will have to respect all of its obligations regarding the sovereignty and integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina under the 1995 Dayton peace accord. Croatia, moreover, has a long way to go to raise its standing in the West's estimation. In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia both emerged as independent states. At present, Slovenia seems well on the way to membership in the EU and NATO, while Croatia has fallen behind even such poor Balkan countries as Albania and Macedonia.

This state of affairs is unacceptable to the center and left portions of the political spectrum. One may expect any government that they may eventually form to make serious efforts to accommodate Croatia's Western friends on democratization.

A closely related issue is privatization. To the extent that it has been carried out at all, it has chiefly benefited people with close ties to the HDZ. There have been loud calls from many sections of society for a thorough investigation into this and other forms of corruption. Furthermore, most Croats have to struggle to make ends meet with monthly incomes of about $450 but with prices on a German level. As far as the majority of the population is concerned, the first priority of a post-Tudjman leadership should be to raise the standard of living, particularly for people with low or fixed incomes.


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