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Newsline - November 22, 1999




SOME REGIONS CLEANSE THE AIR WAVES...

The Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Bashkortostan issued a decree on 20 November canceling broadcasts of the controversial "analytical program" hosted by Sergei Dorenko on Russian Public Television as well as Russian Television's "Zerkalo" program, RFE/RL's correspondent in Ufa reported. The decree said those shows "violate federal and republic election laws." Dorenko, who is a reported protege of business magnate Boris Berezovskii, has aired a number of programs focusing on Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's financial dealings. Luzhkov is one of the heads of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov is a prominent member of OVR. In a recent study of press freedom in the regions, Bashkortostan received the lowest score of all 88 regions studied (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 November 1999). JAC

...DEPRIVE OPPONENTS OF MEDIA ACCESS...

The government of Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko shut the offices of the independent radio station Lemma on 18 November, Reuters reported the next day. The official reason given for the station's closure was violation of a rental agreement. However, journalists at the station said the real reason was that the station had given airtime to Nazdratenko's political opponents, such as former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, according to the agency. Cherepkov announced on 19 November that he will not participate in next month's gubernatorial elections, saying that since the federal authorities show no signs of curbing the activities of the krai's acting governor, "clean elections are impossible." Reportedly, Nazdratenko also recently arranged for the dismissal of the editor of "Moskovskii Komsomolets v Vladivostoke," who he considered to be too critical of the krai administration. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 November, the opposition newspaper "Arsenievskie vesti" has also been prevented from publishing. JAC

...AS OTHER REGIONAL AUTHORITIES ACCUSED OF ELECTION MEDDLING

The television program "Novosti" reported on 16 November that some candidates in the State Duma elections are experiencing difficulties in meeting potential voters in certain regions because of the actions of regional authorities. For example, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii claimed he experienced such problems in Tula Oblast, whose governor is on the Communists' party list. Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who is included on Yabloko's list, said Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyuzhinov disrupted his meetings with local voters. Ilyumzhinov has expressed some support for the pro-Kremlin bloc, Unity. JAC

RUSSIAN FORCES BOMBARD URUS MARTAN, BAMUT, ARGUN

Federal forces continued their air and artillery bombardment of Urus Martan, 15 kilometers southwest of Grozny, on 19-21 November. Reuters reported that "hundreds" of Chechen defenders are digging trenches in the hope of halting the Russian advance. Interfax on 20 November quoted a Russian military spokesman as saying that some 3,500 Chechen fighters armed with air defense systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are concentrated in the town. Urus Martan commands one of the last highways to Grozny not yet under Russian control. Russian forces also continued their intensive bombardment of the western village of Bamut, where fighting has been under way for weeks, and the town of Argun, east of Grozny. An estimated 5,000-6,000 Chechen fighters are preparing to defend Grozny, which is 80 percent surrounded by Russian forces, according to AP, quoting a Russian Defense Ministry official in Moscow. LF

MORE CIVILIANS RETURN TO CHECHNYA

Speaking in Moscow on 19 November, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata called for increased aid for the estimated 200,000 displaced civilians who have fled the conflict in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Meanwhile up to 10,000 Chechens may have already returned from Ingushetia to areas of Chechnya under Russian military control, in particular the villages of Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk, Reuters reported on 20 November. Some residents who returned to Sernovodsk found their homes have been looted by Russian troops. A Reuters journalist who visited the town of Gudermes on 20 November reported that gas supplies were restored there that day and electricity has been promised within days. He quoted local residents as expressing resentment and suspicion of field commander Shamil Basaev and his fighters. But the residents also explained that it was fear of Russian reprisals that impelled them to drive the Chechen defenders out of the town. LF

PUTIN AGAIN RULES OUT EASING CHECHEN CAMPAIGN

Speaking on Russian Public Television on 20 November, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed that the Russian offensive in Chechnya, which he insists is an anti-terrorist operation and not a war, will continue without pause until all "terrorist bands" are eliminated. He also ruled out any negotiations with what he termed "international terrorists." In Moscow, leaders of various organizations representing the Chechen diaspora have agreed to cooperate in the hope of resolving the conflict and may join in peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other Chechen leaders, Interfax reported on 20 November. Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, with whom Putin met on 18 November, endorsed the Chechen emigres' initiative. LF

OSCE SUMMIT CALLS FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION IN NORTH CAUCASUS

The final document adopted at the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 19 November acknowledges the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and condemns "terrorism in all its forms." It calls for efforts to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population in connection with "recent events in the North Caucasus" and stresses that "a political solution is essential," reaffirming the readiness of the OSCE to "assist in the renewal of political dialogue." The statement welcomes Moscow's willingness to permit OSCE Chairman In Office Knut Vollebaek to visit the region. Interfax on 19 November quoted unnamed "diplomatic sources" as predicting that Vollebaek will travel to Moscow this week and from there to Ingushetia and the Russian-controlled districts of northern Chechnya. LF

LINKAGE BETWEEN IMF FUNDS, CHECHNYA ALLEGED...

An unidentified senior U.S. administration official told "The New York Times" on 19 November that U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration does not exclude withholding U.S. support for disbursing an IMF loan to Russia in order to pressure Moscow to ease its military offensive in Chechnya. Loans to Russia from the Export-Import Bank might be similarly affected, the official said. Officially, however, the administration's stance has not changed from that voiced earlier by U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who said "it would not make sense" for the U.S. to withhold support for a new IMF disbursement. On 12 November, Mikhail Zadornov, former presidential envoy to the international financial institutions, told the government newspaper, "Rossiiskaya gazeta," that IMF officials want Russia to settle its military conflict in the North Caucasus as soon as possible. The main problem during negotiations, according to Zadornov, has been the Chechen conflict. JAC

...AS LIKELY DATE FOR NEXT DISBURSEMENT CONTINUES TO SLIP

An unidentified source "close to the Russian government's negotiations with the IMF" told Interfax on 19 November that Russia is unlikely to receive the next installment before January 2000. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko predicted earlier that the next installment would be released in mid-December. "Vremya MN" noted the same day that the former view was justified since "it is impossible [for the State Duma] to adopt all the laws the fund is insisting on" with only a week-and-a-half of work remaining before the current Duma session ends. Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters on 19 November that financing the military operation in Chechnya will require only 3 billion rubles ($113 million) in additional budget funds next year and that estimates such as 20-30 billion rubles are "grossly exaggerated." JAC

RUSSIAN STOCK MARKET SURGING

The Russian stock market finished last week as the world's third-best performing exchange, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 November. On 19 November, the benchmark RTS index rose 6 percent from the previous day. Factors behind the market's strong performance are news of an expected deal between Russia and the London Club creditors and optimism about the U.S. stock market. According to the daily, traders say that "the buying pressure is not losing steam and only a bad election outcome could dampen the current rally." AFP reported the next day that the surge in world oil prices is expected to result in large profits for the country's oil companies this year. JAC

YAKOVLEV OFFERING OLIVE BRANCH OVER ABM?

Strategic Rocket Forces commander Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev told Russian Public Television on 19 November that Russia and the U.S. should form a joint commission to examine the "threat" Moscow believes would arise if Washington set up a limited national defense system, Reuters reported. "If this commission works properly, we could speak in more detail about the need to create national anti-missile systems," he said. Yakovlev repeated his stance that a "new round of the Cold War" would ensue if the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty were "dumped." And he also underlined that if no compromise were found, Russia would seek a response that might include boosting the strength of existing Topol missiles, upgrading features of the new Topol-M missile, using multiple warheads and further work on means to overcome anti-missile defense." JC

IVANOV DENIES ANY DEALS WITH U.S. OVER CHECHNYA, IRAQ

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has denied that Russia is prepared to make concessions over Iraq at the UN Security Council if the U.S. ceases to exert pressure on Moscow over its actions in Chechnya. Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying in Istanbul on 19 November that foreign media reports suggesting that such is the case are "absolute speculation." Referring to his talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Istanbul the previous day, Ivanov said the two sides are trying to draft a resolution that would provide for "lifting sanctions and at the same time establishing strict international controls." "The New York Times" on 19 November had reported that in an informal document that Ivanov had handed to Albright in Istanbul, Russia had expressed its readiness to cut a deal over Iraq. JC

COMMUNISTS AMASS LARGEST CAMPAIGN FUND...

The Communist Party was the most successful in raising campaign funds for 19 December elections to the State Duma. According to data released by the Central Election Commission, the Communists amassed 31.32 million rubles ($1.2 million) as of 15 November--25 percent more than Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko, which had collected 24.97 million rubles, Interfax reported. Zhironovskii's Bloc was the second most successful fundraiser, having collected 26.25 million rubles. JAC

...AS WOMEN, REGIONS PROVE LESS SUCCESSFUL

According to "Izvestiya" on 20 November, Women in Russia collected the least funds. That group also has the largest number of regional representatives on its list, according to "EWI's Russian Regional Report." JAC

CENTER RIGHT MOVEMENT ALLEGEDLY GAINING IN POPULARITY

"Komsomolskaya pravda," which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, reported on 20 November that "many polls" show that during the past few weeks the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) is gaining in popularity and may overcome the 5 percent barrier in State Duma elections necessary to enter that body. The daily cites a poll conducting by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion on 13-14 November showing that the SPS has moved into fourth place, overtaking the pro-Kremlin Unity bloc. JAC

LEBED FOE SEEKING POLITICAL ASYLUM IN HUNGARY

The lawyer for Krasnoyarsk Aluminum head Anatolii Bykov told Ekho Moskvy on 21 November that his client has applied to Hungary for political asylum. Bykov was recently detained by the Hungarian authorities because of an arrest warrant issued earlier in Russia on a variety charges, such as money laundering. According to his lawyer, Bykov believes that the charges against him are "politically motivated" and that law enforcement officials are acting under strong pressure from the Krasnoyarsk Krai administration and Governor Aleksandr Lebed. Lebed and Bykov have locked horns on a number of issues in the krai, including control over local companies. JAC

CABINET OFFICIAL, GOVERNOR INJURED IN CAR ACCICENT

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko and Governor of Penza Oblast Nikolai Bochkarev were both hospitalized after the car in which they were travelling was involved in an accident in Penza on 20 November. Matvienko has two broken legs and concussion, while Bochkarev received head injuries, according to AP. The drivers of the two cars involved in the accident were killed. JAC

MILITARY BRASS ENGAGE IN WHITE ELEPHANT SALE

An admiral and several high-ranking officers from Russia's Pacific Fleet have been charged with illegally renting and selling warships, AFP reported on 18 November. Among other things, they are accused of selling the "Anadyr," whose value is estimated at $107 million. It has not been disclosed who bought the vessel. JC




ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS CALL FOR REGIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM...

In their speeches to the OSCE Istanbul summit, both Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev advocated the creation of a South Caucasus security system that would complement the existing European security system, Reuters and Noyan Tapan reported. That system would involve the three South Caucasus states plus Turkey, Russia, and the U.S. Aliyev said that under the terms of such a regional security agreement, all foreign troops should be withdrawn from the region, according to Turan. It is unclear whether Moscow would agree to close its military base in Armenia. LF

...DISCUSS KARABAKH CONFLICT

Kocharian and Aliyev met on 18 November in Istanbul with OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek and the foreign ministers of the three states that co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group (the U.S., Russia, and France) to discuss the ongoing efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. No details of those talks were revealed. The two presidents also met separately on 19 November with U.S. President Bill Clinton, who praised their commitment to ongoing peace talks. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 19 November that the summit played a "very positive" role in removing barriers to further progress in the Karabakh peace talks. Oskanian noted that the final document adopted by the 54 summit participants hailed the recent direct talks between Kocharian and Aliyev but called for the resumption of Minsk Group-mediated talks as "the most appropriate format for finding a solution to the conflict." LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA AGREE ON CLOSURE OF TWO RUSSIAN BASES

Meeting on 18 November on the sidelines of the OSCE Istanbul summit, Georgian and Russian representatives reached preliminary agreement that in accordance with the revised CFE Treaty, Moscow will close the two largest of its four military bases in Georgia by 1 July 2001, Caucasus Press reported. The two bases are in Vaziani and Gudauta. All Russian military personnel there must leave six months before that date. An inventory of the equipment at those bases will be undertaken soon, Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 November. He added that the fate of the two remaining bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi will be determined at bilateral talks beginning next year. The chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, Revaz Adamia, had proposed in May that the Vaziani and Gudauta bases be closed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 1999). LF

RUSSIAN PLANE AGAIN VIOLATES GEORGIAN AIRSPACE

The Georgian Foreign Ministry protested to Moscow over the incursion into Georgian airspace on 18 November of a Russian Su-25 fighter aircraft, Interfax reported. The aircraft overflew the north Georgian village of Shatili, close to the Georgian-Chechen border, where Russian helicopters dropped anti-personnel mines the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999). A Russian Air Force spokesman told Interfax on 20 November that two Russian Su-25 aircraft had flown close to the Georgian frontier on 18 November, but he denied that either had entered Georgian airspace. LF

DEMONSTRATORS CALL ON SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT TO RESIGN

An opposition movement named Hope of Ossetia staged a demonstration in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, Caucasus Press reported on 18 November, citing "Dilis gazeti." The demonstrators protested the catastrophic economic and energy situation in the unrecognized republic and called for the resignation of its president, Lyudvig Chibirov. It was the first public expression of discontent with Chibirov. On 16 November, "Dilis gazeti" reported that Chibirov has appealed to the entire Ossetian nation to contribute funds for the construction of hydro-electric power stations after the Georgian Energy Ministry signaled its intention to cut off power supplies to the region because of the region's inability to pay for them. Russia has already stopped supplying South Ossetia with electricity owing to the republic's $15 million unpaid debt. LF

ABKHAZ GOVERMENT IN EXILE DEMANDS PAYMENT OF BACK WAGES

Some 200 employees of the Health, Education, and Culture Ministries of the Abkhaz government in exile staged a protest demonstration outside the state chancellery in Tbilisi on 22 November to demand payment of their salaries for the past nine months, Caucasus Press reported. Deputy Education Minister Vakhtang Gasviani said that the monies earmarked for salaries had instead been used for business trips and stationery. The Georgian Finance Ministry has accused the government in exile of misappropriating budget funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999). LF

NEW GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CONVENES

Georgia's newly elected parliament convened for the first time on 20 November and elected Zurab Zhvania as its chairman by a vote of 162 to 29, Caucasus Press reported. Zhvania had served as chairman in the outgoing legislature. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA AGREE ON COMPENSATION FOR ROCKET ACCIDENT

During talks in Astana on 18 November, the deputy prime ministers of Russia and Kazakhstan agreed that Moscow will pay approximately $400,000 in compensation for damage caused by the explosion of a Russian Proton rocket shortly after blastoff from the Baikonur cosmodrome on 27 October, Interfax reported. Moscow had paid $270,000 in compensation after an earlier Proton explosion in July. On 20 November, Russian Space Agency Director Yuri Koptev told Interfax he is pleased with the agreement that Moscow reached with Kazakhstan on 18 November regarding restrictions on future launches in the event of another rocket explosion. Under that agreement, Kazakhstan does not have the right to ban further launches, but Moscow undertakes to suspend all further launches of rockets of the type involved until the causes of the accident are clarified. LF

FORMER PREMIER CONSIDERS RETURNING TO KAZAKHSTAN

Akezhan Kazhegeldin may take up President Nursultan Nazarbaev's 4 November invitation to return to Kazakhstan, Interfax- Kazakhstan reported on 19 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1999). Kazhegeldin said that drawing all "healthy forces" into politics is the only way to extract the country from the current crisis. He said that he is prepared to mediate a dialogue between the Kazakh authorities and the opposition. He called for the passing of a new constitution and election legislation and the holding of new presidential and parliamentary elections. Kazhegeldin was barred from contesting the presidential elections in January 1999. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S SECURITY MINISTRY THWARTS SEPARATISTS

A senior official of Kazakhstan's National Security Ministry said on 19 November that the ministry's forces detained a group of 22 armed men the previous night in East Kazakhstan Oblast, Reuters and RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. The official said the men intended to seize local government buildings in the city of Ust-Kamennogorsk and proclaim all or part of the oblast Russian territory. LF

KYRGYZSTAN NAMES PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION DATE

Under a decree signed by President Askar Akaev on 12 November and published on 19 November, elections to both chambers of the parliament will take place on 20 February, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The People's Assembly (upper house) will be composed of 45 deputies and the Legislative Assembly (lower house) 60 deputies, of whom 15 will be elected under the proportional system. LF

STILL NO AGREEMENT ON TAJIK ELECTION LAW

Tajik government and opposition representatives on the Commission for National Reconciliation have still not reached agreement on six articles of the draft election law, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 22 November, quoting the commission's press secretary, Akmadshoh Komilzoda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1999). The opposition has rejected the government's demand that parliamentary candidates be nominated only by "councils" of voters. The deadline for finalizing the text of the law was 20 November, but the commission will meet again on 23 November in an attempt to reach agreement. LF

WOMEN DEMONSTRATE IN UZBEK CAPITAL

Some 40 women staged a public protest outside the city mayor's office in Tashkent on 18 November to protest the arrest of relatives on what they say were fabricated charges of possession of drugs and weapons and of illicit Islamic literature, Human Rights Watch reported. All the arrested men are practicing Muslims and have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years for encroaching on the constitutional order of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In related news, Uzbek Human Rights Society General Secretary Talib Yakubov told an UN Human Rights panel in Geneva last week that the Uzbek authorities have built a huge prison camp in the desert southwest of the Aral Sea, where persons sentenced for their religious beliefs are incarcerated, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 19 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1999). Yakubov said that 38 prisoners have died at that camp so far this year. LF




UKRAINE'S KUCHMA VOWS TO NOMINATE PUSTOVOYTENKO AS PREMIER...

President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Istanbul on 19 November that he will propose Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko to head the new cabinet, Interfax reported. Kuchma added that he made that decision on the basis of "this year's economic results." JM

...REJECTS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS BILL

Kuchma also said he will not sign the bill on parliamentary elections that lawmakers adopted in the first reading on 19 November. The bill proposes a proportional system. Kuchma noted that he could sign the bill only if a bicameral parliament were introduced in Ukraine. He added that the bill does not conform "with the interests of a majority of people," saying that political parties in Ukraine reflect "only the interests of their leaders, not the people." The chances of those parties improve under a proportional election system. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT BICKERS WITH KUCHMA OVER HIS INAUGURATION

The parliament on 19 November passed a resolution stating that Kuchma's inauguration for a second term in office will take place on 30 November in the parliament, Interfax reported. Kuchma said the same day that he has discussed his inauguration with parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and agreed with him that the ceremony will take place in the Ukrayina concert hall. "Should I take my oath in front of the parliament? I should take it in front of the Ukrainian people," Kuchma said. Meanwhile, parliamentary deputy Oleksandr Yelyashkevich said that if Kuchma's inauguration does not take place in the parliament, this will mean "the beginning of the end of parliamentarism" in Ukraine, according to Interfax. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SCOLDS POLAND, LITHUANIA OVER HUMAN RIGHTS

Speaking at the OSCE Istanbul summit on 19 November, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka advised his Polish and Lithuanian counterparts, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Valdas Adamkus, to mind their own business instead of "poking their noses into someone else's garden." Lukashenka was responding to both president's remarks the previous day that the OSCE needs to pay attention to violations of human rights in Belarus. Lukashenka said Poland's government itself violates human rights by "beating workers and peasants on a mass scale." And Lukashenka accused Lithuania of having political prisoners, "old people who today do not pose a threat either to Europe or to [Lithuania]." JM

YELTSIN THANKS LUKASHENKA FOR SUPPORT TO RUSSIA OVER CHECHNYA

Quoting official sources, Belapan reported on 21 November that Russian President Boris Yeltsin called Lukashenka the previous day to thank him for supporting Russia's stance on Chechnya at the OSCE summit in Istanbul. Lukashenka had said that the OSCE countries "are obliged if not to support the Russian people then at least to understand the Russians" over their military action in Chechnya. Yeltsin officially invited Lukashenka to visit Moscow on 26 November, when both politicians are expected to sign a treaty establishing the Belarus-Russia union state. JM

ESTONIAN SUPREME COURT POINTS FINGER AT CENTRAL BANK, KALLAS

The Supreme Court has blamed the Central Bank for failing to carry out its supervisory duties, which led to Pohja-Eesti Pank losing some $10 million, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 20 November. The court also suggested that delays by the Central Bank in reporting the situation complicated the investigation into the affair. The current board of the Central Bank rejects those accusations. However, the court also hints at negligence on the part of Finance Minister Siim Kallas, who at the time was head of the bank, and his then adviser Urmas Kaju. A criminal case against Kallas and Kaju remains open after the Supreme Court failed to concur with the full acquittals from lower courts and returned part of the verdict to a lower court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). MH

RUSSIAN STATE DUMA PASSES ANTI-LATVIAN LEGISLATION

Ahead of the 19 December parliamentary elections, the Russian State Duma has passed several resolutions and bills directed against Latvia, BNS reported. On 19 November, the Duma passed a resolution condemning Latvia's draft language law, which is currently being debated in the Latvian parliament. Prime Minister Andris Skele quoted Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin as saying "Do not take these things to heart, it's pre-election time with us!" Also, the Duma voted in the second reading on 16 November to impose sanctions against Latvia. All 255 deputies in the chamber voted in favor of the bill, which allows Russia to take "economic countermeasures" against so-called infringements of the rights of Russian-language speakers in Latvia. The Russian government, however, has expressed opposition to such a bill. Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins said the decision may have adverse effects on bilateral relations, but he attributed this to the Duma election campaign. Also on 16 November, the Duma approved a bill supporting Russian citizens in Latvia. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT TO DECIDE FATE OF TAX REFORM

Poland's lower house on 20 November approved most of the upper house's amendments to the tax reform, thereby ending the controversial legislative process of lowering personal income and corporate tax rates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999), PAP reported. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance, which strongly opposed the reform, did not participate in the vote. Now the fate of the tax reform is to be decided by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who must sign the legislation by the end of this month if it is to take effect on 1 January 2000. Kwasniewski's lawyer Ryszard Kalisz said on 22 November that the president will make his decision this week after holding "consultations." JM

POLISH TEACHERS PROTEST LOW WAGES, EDUCATION REFORM

According to the Union of Polish Teachers, half of the country's 600,000 teachers took part in the 19 November strike to protest low wages and insufficient funding for the educational reform launched by the government earlier this year. The Education Ministry, however, said that only 20 percent of teachers participated in the strike. Education Minister Miroslaw Handke commented that those who took part in the protest "do not understand the new [educational] system...are worried about losing their jobs, and themselves have a poor level of education," according to Reuters. JM

PRAGUE REJECTS RUSSIAN CRITICISM OF CHECHEN FOREIGN MINISTER'S VISIT

The Czech Foreign Ministry on 19 November dismissed Russian criticism of Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov's visit to the Czech Republic, CTK reported. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in Prague that he was surprised by the tone and formulation of the Russian protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999). Kavan said the Czech Republic rejects all forms of terrorism and that it considers Chechnya part of Russia. He added, however, that Prague cannot condone the violation of human rights when "terrorism is fought in the form of a war." In other news, Josef Lux, the former leader of the Christian Democrats, died in the U.S. on 22 November from leukemia. Lux, 43, served as deputy premier and agriculture minister from 1992-1998. PB

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS TWO 'RULING' PARTIES ACTING LIKE COALITION

Jan Ruml, the head of the opposition Freedom Union, said on 20 November that the failure of the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD) to reconstruct the government is a sign that the CSSD and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) are working as a coalition, CTK reported. Ruml, speaking in Mlada Boleslav, said that between the two parties, there is a "strange vassal bond" that acts as an alliance limiting "the sovereignty of individual political parties." The CSSD governs the country with a minority of seats in the parliament under an "opposition agreement" with the ODS. Ruml has proposed that the ODS scrap the agreement with the CSSD and form a coalition with a four-party alliance headed by the Freedom Union. The ODS has rejected that proposal. PB

ALBRIGHT IN BRATISLAVA

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Bratislava on 22 November for a one-day visit, CTK reported. Albright met with Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and discussed, among other things, the conditions Slovakia must meet to be invited to join NATO. Albright said Slovakia has already accomplished much to comply with NATO standards and that she appreciates the fact that Slovak troops are participating in UN peacekeeping missions. Dzurinda said after the meeting that Slovakia is seeking to gain admission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and is expecting to join the first wave of countries seeking EU membership. Dzurinda said Slovakia must strengthen the protection of human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities, particularly those of the Romany population. PB

SLOVAK POLL SUGGESTS MECIAR'S PARTY MOST POPULAR

Former Premier Vladimir Meciar's opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) remains the most popular party in Slovakia according to a recent poll, CTK reported on 21 November. Some 26 percent of those polled said they support the HZDS, while only 12.4 percent said they back the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition. The new party Direction, recently formed by independent parliament deputy Robert Fico, came third with 12 percent support. The Hungarian Coalition Party was backed by 8.8 percent and the Democratic Left Party 7.5 percent. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster was the most trusted politician, with 31.8 percent support. Meciar came second with 20.1 percent backing. PB

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT SATISFIED WITH ECONOMY'S PERFORMANCE THIS YEAR

The Hungarian cabinet said after a meeting on 20 November in Szentendre that the economy's performance this year has met expectations, MTI reported. Government spokesman Gabor Borokai said that the average wage increase was somewhat higher than expected and will be 16.2 percent higher on average. But he said inflation, projected to reach 11 percent this year, will be only 10 percent. Last year's inflation rate was 14 percent. Borokai said GDP growth will be 4 percent; it was projected to be 4-5 percent. PB




CROATIAN PRESIDENT'S HEALTH DETERIORATES...

The health of President Franjo Tudjman worsened overnight, and his treatment "has been adjusted accordingly," doctors said in a statement on 22 November. The statement did not provide any details. The Croatian leader has been in a Zagreb hospital since 1 November and has spent much of the time in intensive care. The authorities have provided little information and no photographs of the leader during his hospitalization. He is widely believed to have suffered from cancer since at least 1996. PM

...WHILE POLITICAL UNCERTAINTY CONTINUES

Tudjman failed to meet a deadline of midnight on 20 November to sign documents authorizing parliamentary elections on 22 December. Reuters reported that it is unclear whether elections can still be held legally in December or whether 27 January may be the next possible date. Parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic is expected to meet with representatives of the parties represented in the legislature on 22 November to discuss ways of avoiding political paralysis caused by Tudjman's apparent incapacitation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999). The opposition demands a full report on Tudjman's health before making any decision. The constitution allows the speaker of the parliament to take over presidential duties if the president is permanently incapacitated or dies. Presidential elections must be then held within 60 days of the speaker's assuming those duties. The constitution contains no provision for what is to happen if the president is temporarily incapacitated. PM

VIOLENT INCIDENT BETWEEN CLERICS IN MONTENEGRO

Serbian Orthodox Father Dragan Stanisic hit Montenegrin Orthodox Metropolitan Mihajlo in the face on a mountain road near Cetinje on 21 November, the independent news agency Montena faks reported. AP added that Stanisic's entourage thereupon "trashed" Mihajlo's car. Stanisic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that no such incident took place. Police confiscated a video tape allegedly of the clash from a local television crew and are investigating. In Cetinje, some 250 angry demonstrators protested the incident. The authorities sent out an unspecified number of riot police and called in reinforcements from Podgorica in an apparent attempt to prevent matters from getting out of hand. The Montenegrin Orthodox Church was founded in 1991, but the Serbian Orthodox Church does not recognize it. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY OFFICER BEATEN IN MONTENEGRO

An unspecified number of people hit Yugoslav army Lieutenant Colonel Radovan Aleksic with batons in front of his home in Podgorica, where he headed army intelligence on 19 November, Reuters reported. A statement from the Second Army said: "Since the incident involves a high-ranking army officer, it could have much greater implications, and the army demands an urgent investigation by Montenegrin authorities." The statement did not indicate what those implications might be. PM

CIVILIAN FLIGHTS SUSPENDED IN KOSOVA

KFOR said in a statement on 21 November that the approximately 30 civilian flights per week into Prishtina airport have been suspended. The airport will remain closed to civilian traffic pending the completion of an investigation by French and UN experts into a recent plane crash, in which all 24 people on board died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 1999). A French spokesman suggested that confusion could arise between ground controllers using military terminology and civilian pilots. The suspension of flights will mean increased traffic at the border crossing with Macedonia at Blace, Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN POLICE KILLED IN MINE INCIDENT

Two Serbian policemen died and six were injured on 21 November when their vehicle struck a land mine near Kursumlija, 10 kilometers north of the border between Serbia and Kosova. Serbian authorities blamed "Albanian terrorists" for the incident. AP reported from Prishtina that unidentified ethnic Albanian guerrillas have recently made repeated incursions into Serbia proper. Under the June peace agreements, the Kosova Liberation Army is long supposed to have disarmed. Serbian forces are obliged to maintain a specified distance from the border with Kosova. PM

LEADING ALBANIAN WRITER CALLS FOR RESTRAINT

Ismail Kadare, who is widely considered to be the greatest living Albanian writer, told the Kosova station Radio 21 on 21 November that ethnic Albanians should not seek revenge against Serbs. Kadare stressed that there can be no excuse for what the Serbian forces did in Kosova. He added, however, that the Albanians can show that they are "brave and noble" by not answering violence with violence. PM

INDEPENDENT ECONOMISTS TO LAUNCH 'CONTRACT WITH SERBIA'

Mladjan Dinkic, who is a spokesman for the G-17 group of independent economists, said in Belgrade on 21 November that his group is preparing a document called a "Contract with Serbia" as a joint platform for the opposition. He stressed that while the opposition parties have failed to unite in a single coalition, he hopes that perhaps they can agree at least on a common platform. Dinkic noted that the opposition must pool its resources if it is to defeat the three-party governing coalition. PM

DAYTON ANNIVERSARY: BOSNIAN UNITY LONG WAY OFF

The leading representatives of the international community in charge of enforcing the Dayton peace agreement said in a statement in Sarajevo on 20 November that true peace remains a distant goal. The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch, the UN's Jacques Klein, SFOR's General Ron Adams, and the OSCE's Robert Berry stressed that Bosnia has yet to become a united state that includes all ethnic groups. The joint statement marked the fourth anniversary of the conclusion of the Dayton peace treaty, which ended the war in Bosnia. In Banja Luka, representatives of Bosnia's religious communities called for the return of all property that was wrongly taken from religious organizations during the war. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS ECONOMIC DECLINE HURTING EU CHANCES

Former President Ion Iliescu said in Sofia on 21 November that the economic decline in the country is hurting Bucharest's chances of joining the EU, AP reported. Iliescu, who was in Sofia to attend a seminar marking the fall of the Berlin Wall, said the government's reform programs are "undermining the economy and causing a decline in people's living conditions." He said reform should lead to economic growth and is the "only honest way we can get closer to integrating in the European Union." Iliescu, who was president from 1990 to 1996, has seen his popularity surge in recent opinion polls as the economy continues to stagnate. PB

ROMANIA CONFIRMED FOR OSCE CHAIR IN 2001

Romania on 19 November was officially named to take over the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2001, AFP reported. Norway currently holds the chair, which is filled by the country's foreign minister. Austria will have the chairmanship in 2000. In other news, the European Investment Bank loaned Romania 210 million Euros ($216 million) on 19 November for the construction of a major highway from Bucharest to the Black Sea port of Constanta, Mediafax reported. PB

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CONVINCES PREMIER-DESIGNATE TO CARRY ON

Moldovan Premier-designate Valeriu Bobutac decided after a 20 November meeting with President Petru Lucinschi to continue to seek support for a new government, BasaPress reported. The previous day, Bobutac said he had failed to form a new government and had asked Lucinschi to relieve him of his mandate. But parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov said Bobutac has changed his mind and will continue to work for a new government. Moldova has been without a government since Premier Ion Sturza resigned two weeks ago. PB

CLINTON THANKS BULGARIA FOR SUPPORT OVER KOSOVA

U.S. President Bill Clinton said in Sofia on 22 November that he is "very grateful" to Bulgarian leaders for the support they gave to NATO during the air campaign against Yugoslavia, AFP reported. Clinton said before a meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, that "we are committed" to supporting Bulgaria "politically, economically, and militarily over the long run." It is the first time ever that a U.S. president has visited Bulgaria. Clinton is to meet with Premier Ivan Kostov and give an address on Sofia's Nevsky Square. Kostov said he will warn Clinton that a decline in living standards in Yugoslavia may send refugees to Bulgaria. PB




MOVES FOR CHANGE WITHIN ALBANIA'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY


by Fabian Schmidt

Changes are under way in Albania's leading conservative party. These could prove a first step toward renewing the party and overcoming the polarization between the Democrats and Socialists that has characterized political life for most of the past decade.

A number of prominent politicians from the opposition Democratic Party (PD) announced on 9 November that they will form a group called the Democratic Alternative within the party. They seek to challenge the dominant position of PD leader and former President Sali Berisha. They also want to promote democracy within the party and to improve the PD's standing in the eyes of voters.

The group includes eight out of a total of 27 PD parliamentary deputies. The Tirana daily "Koha Jone" quoted unnamed members of the group as saying that they will push for an extraordinary party congress soon.

The decision to form the new group comes just over one month after Secretary-General Genc Pollo challenged Berisha for the party leadership at a national congress. Pollo withdrew his candidature shortly before the vote, however, saying he had received threats against himself and his family. The proposals put forward earlier this month by the eight are similar to the ones that Pollo advanced before the congress.

Unnamed party officials supporting the reformers told "Koha Jone" that they intend to change the platform, statutes, and leadership of the party. They plan to achieve their aim by winning grassroots support from among the rank and file. It remains unclear if that challenge will succeed, but the reformers are already hard at work. They have begun to collect signatures at local party meetings throughout the country.

The statutes stipulate that a quarter of all PD members or a quarter of the members of its National Council must request that a congress be held. "Koha Jone" also noted that the reformers have held frequent meetings with former PD members who earlier quit the party because of Berisha's increasingly authoritarian style. Since 1992, when the Democrats won parliamentary and presidential elections and put an end to the rule of the former Communists, the PD has lost many of its co-founders and prominent leaders. Some of them founded a smaller, liberal-oriented center-right party, the Democratic Alliance, which is now in the Socialist- dominated coalition government. Others, like the young and energetic former party leader Eduard Selami have withdrawn from politics for the time being.

Selami has warned that the Democrats will isolate themselves if the party fails to reform from within. One of the eight reformers--legislator and former Foreign Relations Secretary Eduard Demi--takes a similar view. He told the "Albanian Daily News" that the PD is losing popular support. Demi stressed that it needs to change from within and to regain the "respect and credibility" it once enjoyed from the electorate. Demi said: "We want to gain back the people's belief in the PD in order to win the next elections," which are due in 2001. He added that the party is suffering from a "veil of ridicule that covers the PD in the eyes of the international community." By this, he meant the frequent criticism by international officials of repeated parliamentary boycotts by the PD legislators and their lack of constructive participation in the drafting of new legislation.

The daily noted that the conflict between the reformers and Berisha's supporters became public when the former refused to boycott a parliamentary session in early November, at which the cabinet of newly appointed Prime Minister Ilir Meta faced a vote of confidence. This was a bold move, but the eight will need to win sufficient support from within the party or face the same fate as other Berisha challengers have in the past. Jemin Gjana, who is the pro-Berisha leader of the Democrats' parliamentary group, said that "those who do not see themselves in one party may join another party...or they can found a new party."

Another Berisha spokesman told the "Albanian Daily News" that the party leadership will exclude those deputies who attended the recent parliamentary session from running as Democrats in the next elections. He added that the eight "have excluded themselves by disobeying the leadership's orders [and by] caring only for their own interests." Demi, however, countered that the party may expel only members who break with the party's political principles. He argued that "by attending the session, we respected our party's political line.... We expressed our opinion, and none of us approved the program of the Socialist Party government." He added that the harsh reaction from the party leadership "is emotional, and it comes out of desperation."

Another supporter of the reformers, Tirana mayor Albert Brojka, recently told Vienna's "Die Presse" that Berisha and Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano are responsible for the polarization of Albanian political life. Brojka said that both have a "communist mentality" and that the time has come for younger people to come to the fore. The author is a research analyst for the former Yugoslavia and Albania at the Sued-Ost Institut in Munich, Germany.


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