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Newsline - November 23, 1999




REGION, CENTER HEADING FOR SHOWDOWN?

Media Minister Mikhail Lesin has said that the Bashkortostan Legislative Assembly's decision to cancel the broadcasts of two "analytical programs" on republican television is "unconstitutional," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). He added that "we are leaving the door open and are giving Bashkortostan's State Council two days to review its decision." However, he also noted that the republic's parliamentary speaker, Konstantin Tolkachev, told him that Bashkortostan "is a sovereign republic and...federal laws are not edicts for them." On 22 November, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said he does not believe that the republican parliament's decision violated the constitution. He added that the political ratings of left-wing groups in the republic are growing because of such television programs, according to Interfax. JAC

PRE-ELECTION STRUGGLE OVER TELEVISION CONTINUES

State Duma deputies on 23 November refused to reconsider an earlier resolution ordering the seizure of the bank accounts of Russian Public Television (ORT), Russian agencies reported. Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said that the 19 November vote for the resolution grossly violated Duma regulations since some members voted for absent colleagues, according to Interfax. NTV reported the previous day that most of the members of the NDR and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia factions were absent from the Duma that day. The resolution followed complaints by the Audit Chamber that ORT was now allowing it to conduct an audit. ORT protested the Duma's decision, saying it would further complicate an already tense electoral situation, according to "The Moscow Times" on 23 November. That newspaper also reported that NTV accused ORT of faking footage of Moscow police in order to discredit the city's mayor, Yurii Luzhkov. JAC

RUSSIAN CHIEF OF STAFF PREDICTS GROZNY WILL SURRENDER

Colonel-General Anatolii Kvashnin told NTV on 22 November that he is confident Russian troops will completely surround Grozny by mid-December, after which the city's civilian population will compel Chechen fighters to surrender the town or leave rather than face a Russian assault. It is unclear, however, how many civilians remain in Grozny and what leverage they could use on the city's potential defenders, whom Russian Defense Ministry officials estimate to number 5,000-6,000. LF

FOURTH CHECHEN DISTRICT SAID TO BE 'CLEANSED' OF 'REBELS'

Defense Ministry officials in Moscow told Interfax on 22 November that Chechnya's Sunzha Raion is now free from Chechen fighters. Three other raions--Nauri, Shelkovskii, and Nadterechnyi--have for several weeks been under the control of the Russian military, which also partly controls Gudermes Raion. But even in the Russian-controlled districts, Moscow is bringing in police officers from elsewhere in the Russian Federation to keep order, rather than rely on local personnel, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 November, quoting Russian Deputy Interior Minister Ivan Golubev. LF

VOLLEBAEK'S NORTH CAUCASUS TRIP STILL UNCERTAIN?

No date has been set for the proposed visit to Moscow and the North Caucasus of OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek, Interfax reported on 22 November, quoting unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry officials. Those officials noted that such a visit would pursue "purely humanitarian aims" and that "a mediation role for the OSCE in the Chechen conflict does not exist." They added that neither the OSCE, nor the UN, nor any other international organization has raised the possibility of travelling to areas of Chechnya not under the control of Russian federal forces. For that reason, a meeting between Vollebaek and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is excluded, they said. Turan on 23 November quoted Vollebaek as saying that he plans to visit Chechnya "before Christmas." LF

RUSSIA AGAIN DENIES BOMBING GEORGIA

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 22 November denying Georgian accusations that three Russian helicopters dropped bombs on Georgian territory on 17 November, Russian agencies reported. The Georgian Foreign Ministry had protested that incident as an act of aggression. The Russian statement termed the Georgian accusations "unacceptable between friendly countries," and underscored Moscow's desire for cordial relations with Georgia and for cooperation with that country in combating terrorism in the Caucasus. Meanwhile a Russian military delegation that traveled, together with Georgian experts to the Georgian border village targeted, has returned to Moscow with material evidence of the attack, Caucasus Press reported on 22 November. LF

THEN THERE WERE 29

The Central Election Commission on 22 November registered the Russian Conservative Party of Entrepreneurs (RKPP), ITAR-TASS reported. Previously, the commission had refused to register the party because of problems it had found with the property and income declarations of one of its top three candidates. However, the Supreme Court recently ordered the commission to proceed with registering the RKPP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 1999). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 November, commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov did not rule out that Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia might also be registered if the court adopted a similar decision. Following the registration of the RKPP, there are now 29 blocs, associations, or parties competing in the 19 December State Duma elections. JAC

PUTIN, PRIMAKOV ADOPT DIFFERENT STANCES ON PRIVATIZATION

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on 22 November said "there cannot and should not be any talk about the redistribution of property," Interfax reported. Instead, he suggested the emphasis of government policy should be structural reform: "If we want to get rid of the national [economic] depression in which our country finds itself, then we must remove the obstacles to economic growth." The same day, Yevgenii Primakov, the leader of the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, said that "if a privatized company stands and is not operating, its resources are squandered by its new owners, workers are sacked, and some other perversities and deviations from common sense happen, then privatization has been improperly and unlawfully conducted, and we will revise it." Primakov also announced that day that he will announce in January whether he will seek the presidency in the June 2000 elections. JAC

BATTLE ENSUING OVER HELM OF SECURITIES COMMISSION

Dmitrii Budakov, the former head of the Central Bank's department for supervising credit organizations, told Prime-TASS on 19 November that he is being considered for the post of head of the Federal Securities Commission (FKTsB). Former head Dmitrii Vasiliev announced his resignation on 15 October. According to "Vedomosti" on 22 November, the position is being sought by two opposing camps, one representing economists from St. Petersburg and the other representing the Central Bank. Former head Vasiliev, who also has links with St. Petersburg, frequently clashed with Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko. Budakov told "Vedomosti" that he thinks that Vasiliev's team should be replaced and that the commission's most urgent task should be "consolidating the market's infrastructure." JAC

RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN UNION CONSIDERED BAD FOR ECONOMY

Prime Minister Putin and Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Linh were in Moscow on 22 November for a meeting of the Executive Council of the Union of Russia and Belarus. Putin told reporters that "at the beginning of next year we would like to start forming the union's structures." Commenting on plans to sign a union treaty on 26 November, "Kommersant-Daily" warned that Russia will lose $560 million when the CIS free trade zone becomes effective in January next year and if Russia becomes trapped into helping prop up the Belarusian economy, it will experience an economic crisis worse than that it experienced in August 1998. It also reported that it remains unclear what is required by the treaty since "1,500 amendments have been introduced." Business magnate Boris Berezovskii has a controlling interest in "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

MOSCOW HINTS U.S. CONCERNS COULD BE ADDRESSED WITHIN ABM TREATY

Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov told journalists in New York on 22 November that Washington's concerns about "rogue states" firing missiles at the U.S. could be discussed within the context of amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty signed in New York in 1997. Those amendments defined the limits on the development of anti-missile defenses. According to AP, the amendments were signed by both countries but never submitted to the U.S. Senate or Russian State Duma for ratification. Lavrov's comments come on the heels of Russian Strategic Rocket Forces Commander Vladimir Yakovlev's suggestion that Washington and Moscow set up a joint commission to examine the "threat" that the latter believes would arise if the former establishes a limited national defense system. JC

YELTSIN URGES LAWMAKERS TO RATIFY TEST BAN TREATY...

The Kremlin on 22 November issued a statement saying that President Yeltsin has asked the State Duma to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as a priority. The statement noted that Yeltsin does not believe the treaty would damage the country's defense capability or security, but it went on to say that in the event that national interests are threatened, "the Russian Federation can use its right to leave the treaty," Reuters reported. Also on 22 November, Yeltsin named Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov as his representatives at the discussions in the State Duma and Federation Council on the CTBT. JC

...WHILE LUKIN SAYS THAT TASK WILL FALL TO NEXT DUMA'S LOT

Meanwhile, Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko), the head of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, told Interfax on 22 November that the new State Duma will debate the CTBT next year. He noted that the treaty, which Yeltsin submitted to the Duma last week, has not yet gone to committee. JC

ENVIRONMENTALIST'S TRIAL RESUMES

The trial of former Russian Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin reopened on 23 November. Nikitin is accused of espionage, high treason, and divulging state secrets while preparing a report on the Northern Fleet's environmental practices for Norway's Bellona Foundation, according to Interfax. Nikitin's lawyers said the previous day that they are expecting a final decision in the case before the end of the year. JAC

TEACHERS' STRIKES SUBSIDE SLIGHTLY

Seven Russian regions are experiencing teachers' strikes, the national union of education and scientific workers told ITAR-TASS on 22 November. These regions are the Republic of Tuva and Voronezh, Sverdlovsk, Bryansk, Sakhalin, Irkutsk, and Kamchatka Oblasts. Some 35,000 teachers at 66 schools are demanding payment of back wages. Before 19 November, 73 schools were affected by strikes. JAC

YELTSIN DISPLAYS TEMPERAMENT, COLLOQUIAL ENGLISH IN ISTANBUL

During his talks on the sidelines of the OSCE Istanbul summit with U.S. President Bill Clinton, President Yeltsin demonstrated his command of colloquial English and a show of temperament reminiscent of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Turan reported on 22 November. Clinton warned Yeltsin that Russia will fail to achieve its goals if the war in Chechnya continues, and that the U.S. does not consider that war Russia's internal affair. He further pointed out that Yeltsin did not denounce the U.S. expression of support for him during the August 1991 coup as interference in Russia's domestic affairs. Yeltsin responded to that observation by tearing off his headphones, flinging them on the table, and yelling "Son of a bitch!" (in English), according to Turan. LF




NEW APPOINTMENT FOR FORMER ARMENIAN NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTER

President Robert Kocharian on 20 November named Serzh Sarkisian secretary of the National Security Council, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported two days later. Sarkisian, who resigned following the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, was appointed last week to head Kocharian's presidential staff (see also "End Note"). LF

ANOTHER BOMB SCARE IN ARMENIA

The staff of the Ministries of Privatization and Energy were evacuated on 22 November minutes after an anonymous caller warned that a bomb had been planted inside the building in central Yerevan where those two ministries are located, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. But a police unit that immediately examined the building found no explosives. Following a similar anonymous warning last week, police discovered a package of low-grade explosives in the parliament building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1999). LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL CALLS FOR NATO GUARD FOR OIL EXPORT PIPELINE

Rza Ibadov, who is chairman of the Azerbaijani parliamentary Foreign Affairs commission, proposed at a meeting last week that NATO form a special unit charged with protecting the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, Interfax reported on 22 November. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DOUBT THAT KIDNAPPED RUSSIAN GENERAL IS IN GEORGIA

President Eduard Shevardnadze and Georgian Intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani both said on 22 November they have no information that would shed light on Russian claims that Russian Interior Ministry Gennadii Shpigun is being held on Georgian territory, Caucasus Press reported. Shpigun was abducted from Grozny airport in March. An official from the North Caucasus Department for the Struggle with Organized Crime told ITAR-TASS earlier that day that Shpigun is being held in the Georgian village of Shatili close to the Georgian-Chechen frontier. A Russian army intelligence official similarly said he believes that Shpigun is being held on Georgian territory. But an Interior Ministry spokesman in Moscow told Interfax on 22 November he thinks it unlikely that Shpigun is in Georgia. LF

MORE DETAILS EMERGE OF SEPARATIST MOVEMENT IN KAZAKHSTAN

The 22 men arrested on 19 November in East Kazakhstan Oblast are ethnic Russians aged 20-35 and veterans of the Afghan and Chechen wars, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 23 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). Ten of the men are citizens of Kazakhstan and the remainder are Russian citizens. Kazakh security officials found huge quantities of ammunition at the Oskemen apartment of the group's leader, identified as Viktor Kazimirchik. The group reportedly planned to organize an armed rebellion in the towns of Pavlodar (North Kazakhstan Oblast), Oskemen, and Leninogorsk (both in East Kazakhstan Oblast) with the aim of establishing an "Independent Republic of Russian Altai." They had reportedly secured the support of an unspecified number of prominent local residents. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF TO STAND TRIAL

Bakhytzhan Ertaev and at least three other senior officials face criminal charges in connection with the illegal sale to North Korea of 40 MiG-21 fighter aircraft, Interfax reported on 22 November. Ertaev was named acting defense minister in August after President Nursultan Nazarbaev fired Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev and National Security Committee Secretary Nurtay Abyqaev for their role in the sale of six of those aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1999). The sales came to light in March, when Azerbaijani authorities impounded a transport aircraft carrying the six disassembled MiG-21s at Baku airport. Also on 22 November, the U.S. imposed sanctions against one Kazakh and one Czech company involved in smuggling the aircraft to North Korea. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Washington imposed sanctions on Kazakhstan but then waived them in acknowledgement of the government's cooperation in investigating the illegal deal. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ENHANCED DEFENSE POTENTIAL

Speaking at an army conference in Bishkek on 22 November, Askar Akaev called for the strengthening of Kyrgzystan's border troops and reform of the armed forces in general, ITAR-TASS reported. He said combat readiness must be improved and materiel and technical support increased. Akaev argued that the August incursion into Kyrgyzstan by militants from Tajikistan demonstrate that the CIS Security Treaty is still needed. He also expressed appreciation for the help Kyrgyzstan received from Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan in expelling the militants. LF

TURKMEN GAS PIPELINE AGREEMENT GREETED WITH OPTIMISM...

Shell and the U.S. company PSG, which are partners in the consortium to build a Trans-Caspian pipeline to export natural gas from Turkmenistan, have welcomed the signing by the presidents of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey of a letter of intent pledging their support for that undertaking, Interfax reported on 22 November. The signing took place in Istanbul last week. PSG Executive Director Edward Smith said he is confident that a framework agreement incorporating the legal and commercial aspects of the project will be signed soon. But the failure of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to reach agreement on the amount of Azerbaijani gas to be exported via the pipeline may delay the signing of that framework agreement, Interfax noted. LF

...AND SKEPTICISM

Meanwhile former Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin told journalists in St. Petersburg on 20 November that the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline is not economical and will take 40 years to build, according to Interfax. As USSR minister of oil and gas in the early 1980s, Chernomyrdin evaluated plans for such a pipeline and rejected them as unworkable. LF

OSCE NOT TO SEND FULL OBSERVER MISSION FOR UZBEK POLL

The OSCE will send only a limited number of monitors to Uzbekistan for the 5 December parliamentary elections, Interfax reported on 22 November, citing the OSCE office in Tashkent. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said that Uzbekistan's electoral law falls far short of OSCE requirements and that conditions do not exist either for the emergence of a genuine opposition or for a free election campaign. LF




OSCE WANTS DIALOGUE IN BELARUS TO YIELD RESULTS BY APRIL 2000

Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Consultative and Monitoring Group in Belarus, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 22 November that his organization wants the talks between the government and the opposition to result in agreement on an electoral code. According to Wieck, the authorities cannot adopt this code without the participation of the opposition if the 2000 parliamentary elections are to be recognized as free and fair. Wieck added that the Belarusian legislature, which has adopted the code in the first reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1999), has declined to consider many amendments suggested by the OSCE. He added that the dialogue in Belarus must yield results by April 2000 at the latest if the authorities want to remain true to their pledge to hold democratic elections next year. JM

BELARUS TO ENTER EUROPE VIA RUSSIA?

Belarusian Foreign Minister Ural Latypau told journalists on 22 November that Belarus will march into Europe through rapprochement with Russia, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Latypau, there is no contradiction between the Belarusian Constitution's proclaiming the country's neutrality and the creation of a union state with Russia, since, he argued, neutrality is not Belarus's "end in itself." Latypau added that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, following his return from the OSCE Istanbul summit, ordered the Foreign Ministry to "normalize" relations with the U.S. JM

VALUE OF AVERAGE WAGE IN BELARUS DROPS

The average wage fell from the equivalent of $46 (according to the street exchange rate) in September to $41 last month, Belapan reported on 22 November. This 11 percent drop occurred despite the fact that the average wage in rubles increased by 18.8 percent last month compared with September. During this period, the street exchange rate of the ruble fell by 32.6 percent. JM

UKRAINE WANTS COOPERATION WITH NATO TO ENSURE ECONOMIC SECURITY

First Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhen Bersheda told an international conference on economic security issues in Kyiv on 22 November that cooperation between his country and NATO can contribute to defending "the interests of Ukraine's economic security," Interfax reported. According to him, only NATO and the EU can help Ukraine make good use of its "potential for ensuring international stability." AP reported that other participants in the conference, citing the example of Poland, stressed the need for Ukraine to speed up its economic reforms. According to them, sluggish reform can endanger Ukraine's economic security and independence. JM

PRICE FOR BREAD INCREASED BY 30 PERCENT IN DNIPROPETROVSK

The price of bread has gone up by 30 percent in Dnipropetrovsk, Interfax reported on 22 November. Dnipropetrovsk Deputy Mayor Hennadiy Hvozdev said the increase was "dictated by the market." He added that in other regions, the prices of bread products, flour, and grain have increased by 10-20 percent. JM

AVERAGE WAGE RISES IN ESTONIA

The average wage in Estonia rose by 8.5 percent in the third quarter of this year compared with the same period in 1998, according to "Postimees" on 23 November. The average monthly wage at the end of the quarter was 4,261 kroons ($281). The most lucrative profession proved that of broker, whose average wage was 10,088 kroons or 2.4 times higher than the average. The average wage of those working in hotels and restaurants totaled 2,254 kroons or some 53 percent of the average. In related news, the government has set the average minimum monthly wage for 2,000 at 1,400 kroons. MH

ONE-THIRD OF LATVIANS NOW BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK

A study by the Latvian Welfare Ministry indicates that 37.1 percent of Latvian children in 1998 were born out of wedlock, BNS reported on 22 November. This is a significant rise from 1989, when the figure stood at 15.9 percent. MH

LITHUANIA PLANS 6.5 PERCENT BUDGET DEFICIT IN 2000

Finance Minister Vytautas Dudenas said after a cabinet meeting on 20 November that the government is planning a 6.5 percent fiscal deficit in 2000, BNS reported. The IMF had earlier called for the government to limit the budget deficit to 2 percent, which Dudenas called "rather strict," saying it would be "difficult to follow such a tough line." Some experts warn that the deficit may skyrocket to more than 10 percent as a result of the deal giving the U.S. company Williams International a stake in Mazeikiai Oil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). The cabinet will continue to discuss the draft budget on 24 November. MH

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT FARES BADLY IN ANOTHER POLL

The Vilmorus polling firm has released the results of another poll reflecting badly on the Lithuanian government and the ruling Conservative Party, BNS reported, citing "Respublika" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 1999). Of the respondents, 87.5 percent called the country's financial situation critical; 29.2 percent blamed the Conservative Party, which has a majority in the parliament, for that situation, while 21.1 percent blamed the government of former Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius. Only 15.1 percent attributed blame to the Russian economic crisis and 14.5 to the oil deal with U.S company Williams International. The results suggested that those under 29 years of age are most pessimistic about the state's finances. MH

POLISH PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES ARGUE WITH EU COMMISSIONER OVER ENLARGEMENT

Polish parliamentary deputies and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenther Verheugen traded recriminations in Brussels on 22 November over Poland's readiness for EU entry, Polish Television and Reuters reported. Verheugen questioned whether the Polish parliament is capable of analyzing and adopting all the necessary EU laws in time for its 2003 target entry date. Former Polish Premier Tadeusz Mazowiecki replied that the blame for any delays lies with the European Commission, which he said is delaying assistance programs to prospective members. The same day, PAP quoted the Finnish ambassador to Poland as saying that at its Helsinki summit in December, the EU will not set the date for admitting new members. Polish Television quoted European Parliament deputies as saying that Poland is expected to join the EU in 2005 rather than 2003. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES ENVIRONMENTAL PLAN

The cabinet on 22 November approved an elaborate plan designed to bring the country's environment up to EU standards, CTK reported. Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart said the plan, which will cost some 240 billion crowns ($6.8 billion) over the next nine years, responds to "one of the fundamental reprimands" in the EU Commission's annual progress report on the Czech Republic. Kuzvart said the plan will help make the country's air and water cleaner and will clean up the environment in general. He added that about 63 percent of the costs will come from the private sector and the EU itself. Kuzvart said the parliament needs to pass about 16 new bills within a year to approach EU environmental standards. PB

CZECHS ARRESTED FOR ATTACK ON ROMA

Two skinheads were arrested on 22 November and charged with racially motivated violence for an alleged attack against Roma in Ceske Budejovice, CTK reported. A police spokeswoman said the two made "bodily harm and death threats" against the Roma in a restaurant on 20 November. About 30 skinheads attacked some 60-70 Roma and a brawl ensued. Six people suffered injuries. The accused face between six months and three years in prison if convicted. In other news, 40 police officers in the Moravian town of Brno successfully completed a Romany- language course. The director of a police academy where the course was taught said it is designed to facilitate communication between police and the Romany minority. PB

SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER OPEN TO DISCUSSION ON BUDGET

Brigita Schmognerova said on 22 November that she is open to a debate on the proposed budget, TASR reported. Schmognerova, a member of the Party of the Democratic Left, said she opposes the efforts by other parties in the governing coalition to reduce the country's corporate tax from 30 to 25 percent. She said such a reduction would "considerably" affect state budget revenues. Schmognerova said she has the power to withdraw such an amendment without the consent of the government, "Praca" reported on 23 November. In other matters, Schmognerova said that the budget deficit at the end of September was higher than expected. It has now reached 82.8 percent of the planned yearly total of 15 billion Slovak crowns ($360 million). PB

HUNGARIAN SURVEILLANCE REPORT TO BE KEPT SECRET

Denes Kosztolanyi, chairman of the parliamentary committee investigating the alleged illegal data collection on FIDESZ politicians under the previous government, said the committee's report will be kept secret until 2013. Kosztolanyi, a member of FIDESZ, said on 22 November that the document might contain state and service secrets. The daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported that neither the name of Prime Minister Viktor Orban nor that of other FIDESZ leaders who were allegedly under surveillance appears in the draft report. In related news, data protection ombudsman Laszlo Majtenyi said that TV reporter Laszlo Juszt did not breach state secrets by publishing documents related to the surveillance affair. Juszt's lawyer has appealed to the prosecutor-general to have the criminal proceedings against his client halted. MSZ




PERISIC: YUGOSLAV PARAMILITARIES IN MONTENEGRO

Former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff General Momcilo Perisic said that pro-Milosevic Montenegrin politicians have organized "paramilitary units within the Yugoslav Army," Reuters reported on 23 November. He noted that a "military police battalion has been formed on the ideological principles of Federal Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic's Socialist People's Party. [The unit will] serve as a detonator for a conflict with Montenegrin police," who are loyal to President Milo Djukanovic. Perisic said that any use of the military to prevent Montenegro from seceding from the Yugoslav federation "would be completely illegal." He added that the existence of paramilitary units is "terrible because it opens the possibility of civil conflicts." Milosevic fired Perisic in 1998 after the general criticized Belgrade's policies in Kosova. He now heads a small opposition party. PM

WARM WELCOME FOR CLINTON IN KOSOVA

Some 2,000 mainly ethnic Albanians gave U.S. President Bill Clinton an enthusiastic welcome in Ferizaj on 23 November. Clinton told his listeners that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic wanted to "gain control of [Kosova] by getting rid of all of you, and we said no!" He added that "no one can force you to forgive what was done to you, but you must try.... The time for fighting is past... The international community will stand by you, but you must take the lead," Reuters reported. Clinton also said: "You cheered for us when we came in because, when you were being oppressed, we stood by you and we exercised military power to defeat the oppression of Mr. Milosevic.... We won the war, but only you can win the peace." PM

KOSOVARS REMOVE RAHOVEC BARRICADES

Ethnic Albanians removed the barricades on roads leading into Rahovec on 22 November after reaching an agreement with KFOR. The Albanians put up the road blocks in mid-August to keep out Russian peacekeepers, whom the Kosovars accused of supporting Serbian forces in the recent conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). It is unclear whether the latest agreement provides for a Russian presence in the area, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In related news, KFOR strengthened its forces along the border between Kosova and Serbia following the death of two Serbian policemen in a landmine explosion on the Serbian side of the frontier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). PM

KOSOVA RAILWAY LINE REOPENED

Italian KFOR engineers have completed work on the railway line running from Prishtina to Pec, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported on 23 November. The line will enable KFOR to send goods from Macedonia to the western part of Kosova more quickly than has been the case. PM

CALL FOR SUPPORT FOR SERBIAN OPPOSITION

Representatives of some 50 Serbian opposition parties, independent unions, NGOs, independent media, and the Montenegrin government have called on the international community to support democratic forces in Serbia. Meeting in Strasbourg on 21 and 22 November under the aegis of the Council of Europe and Prague's East-West Institute, the delegates appealed for an easing of sanctions on Yugoslavia and for early elections. Belgrade's "Danas" said that the meeting showed that the West regards the opposition as "equal partners." "Vesti" quoted Kosova Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic as saying that the West is not concerned about the Serbs in Kosova but only about the ethnic Albanians. The daily added that what Serbia needs is "concrete assistance" and not promises. PM

BELGRADE STUDENTS MARK PROTEST ANNIVERSARY

Some 2,000 students attended a rock concert on 22 November to mark the third anniversary of protests that forced Milosevic to recognize opposition victories in Serbian local elections. PM

SERBIAN POLICE BREAK UP COUNTERFEITING RING

Serbian police arrested 10 people in Belgrade on 22 November for having forged $1.5 million and 140,000 Bosnian convertible marks. One suspect is still at large. Police destroyed all of the currency except about $500,000, which the forgers had already put into circulation. Experts said that the technical quality of the forged bills was good. Ringleaders Dragan Raseta and Predrag Simic turned to counterfeiting to pay off debts, "Vesti" reported. PM

CROATIAN PARTIES REACH AGREEMENT ON PRESIDENCY

Representatives of parties represented in the parliament agreed on 22 November on the basic points of a constitutional amendment that will enable legislators to declare President Franjo Tudjman temporarily incapacitated and choose a care- taker chief executive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). On 23 November, the party representatives are expected to work out details of the measure, which the parliament will likely pass the following day, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

BOSNIAN SERB HARD-LINERS WARNED

Ralph Johnson, who is a deputy to the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch, told local officials in Foca on 22 November that they will receive no foreign assistance unless they allow Muslim refugees to return home. Before the 1992-1995 conflict, Foca's population was 52 percent Muslim. Now it is almost completely Serbian, including many Serbs from other parts of Bosnia. Foca is known as a stronghold of hard-line politicians and is widely believed to shelter some indicted war criminals. The unemployment rate is over 60 percent. PM

ELECTION TO BE REPEATED IN 31 MACEDONIAN POLLING PLACES

The central election commission announced in Skopje on 22 November that the recent presidential ballot will have to take place again at 31 polling stations. The commission's investigations confirmed that significant irregularities had taken place during the voting at those polling stations. Defeated Social Democratic candidate Tito Petkovski has charged that massive fraud by ethnic Albanian politicians in western Macedonia resulted in his defeat by Boris Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. PM

THOUSANDS OF ROMANIAN WORKERS PROTEST POOR LIVING CONDITIONS

An estimated 10,000 people demonstrated in the northern town of Iasi on 22 November to protest declining living standards, AP reported. The protest was organized by labor unions. Doru Alexandrescu, a leader of the National Trade Union Bloc, said "politicians do not respect anything and do not keep their promises." The average monthly wage in Romania is 1.4 million lei (about $80). PB

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY SAYS VASILE TO REMAIN PREMIER

Ion Diaconescu, the head of the National Peasant Party, said on 22 November that Romanian Premier Radu Vasile will not be sacked because such a move would hurt the country's image, AP reported. Diaconescu said dismissing Vasile would "give the image of political instability." Vasile had said at a youth party congress the previous day that "the government will continue the economic steps taken in 1999 irrespective of how unpopular it becomes," Mediafax reported. On 22 November, the National Bank announced that the country's medium- and long- term foreign debt increased in August for the second month in a row and now stands at $7.99 billion. PB

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PREMIER-DESIGNATE

The parliament on 22 November rejected the government of Premier-designate Valeriu Bobutac, Reuters reported. Bobutac's proposed government received 48 votes in favor, just short of the necessary simple majority. Forty-two deputies abstained from voting. Bobutac was supported by the 40 members of the Communist Party and eight independent deputies. The constitution allows the president to dissolve the parliament if it fails "at least twice" to approve his candidate for the post. President Petru Lucinschi has not said who his next candidate for the post will be. PB

CLINTON ADDRESSES TENS OF THOUSANDS IN SOFIA

U.S. President Bill Clinton, in an address on Sofia's Nevsky Square on 22 November, praised Bulgaria as setting an example for neighboring Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. Clinton told an estimated 30,000 people that he hopes "the people of Serbia can hear our voices when we say: If you choose as Buglaria has chosen, you will regain the rightful place in Europe that Mr. Milosevic has stolen from you." Clinton praised Bulgarians for their support for NATO during the air campaign against Yugoslavia. Clinton appeared in the square with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, Premier Ivan Kostov, and several U.S. congressmen. Stoyanov and Clinton discussed Bulgaria's chances for joining NATO and the stability pact for the Balkans. Clinton also met with Kostov and promised to help Bulgaria recoup the millions of dollars it lost in trade because of the war in Yugoslavia. PB




COMPROMISE IN YEREVAN OVER NEW CABINET


by Liz Fuller

The agreement reached 10 days ago by President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Aram Sargsian over the composition of the new cabinet defused tensions and ended speculation that the former would either resign or fire the latter. Since then, Kocharian has sought to strengthen his position by naming one of his closest allies, former National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, to head the presidential administration.

The weeklong crisis centered on the choice of candidates to head the National Security and Interior Ministries and the political future of Minister for Industrial Infrastructures Vahan Shirkhanian. Shirkhanian has admitted that he was behind a 28 October statement that senior Defense Ministry officials addressed to Kocharian calling for the firing of the two power ministers and the prosecutor-general for their failure to prevent the previous day's bloodbath in the Armenian parliament.

In a one-hour interview broadcast on 16 November, Kocharian disclosed that just hours after the 27 October killings, a dozen close associates of the murdered premier, including the latter's security adviser Andranik Kocharian (no relation to the president), had presented him with a list of the names of people whom they wished to see appointed to key posts in the new government. In that list, Vahan Shirkhanian, a former deputy defense minister, was nominated for the post of premier.

Kocharian and Sargsian apparently found it relatively easy to agree on the candidates to head the power ministries. The horse-trading over Shirkhanian, however, proved more difficult, but in talks that began on 12 November and continued into the early hours of the following day, Kocharian seemed to have agreed that Shirkhanian should retain his post in the new cabinet. Kocharian also agreed to the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.

Major General Haik Harutiunian and Major General Karlos Petrosian, the new interior and national security ministers, are both non-partisan career police officers. Harutiunian, 44, has served in that ministry since 1981, most recently as first deputy minister and commander of the Interior Ministry troops. Petrosian, 49, is a graduate of the law faculty of Yerevan State University worked his way up through the ranks of the Interior Ministry to head its Investigation Department. Both men served under Serzh Sarkisian when the latter headed the combined Interior and National Security Ministry.

Andranik Markarian, the leader of the majority Miasnutiun faction within the parliament, told RFE/RL on 13 November that Miasnutiun, the president, and the premier had agreed on how to resolve the deadlock. He noted that "We have reached full understanding with the president," adding that there are no problems now and there will be none in the future. In his 16 November television address, Kocharian similarly affirmed that "I had no differences with the Miasnutiun bloc. Nor did I have differences with Aram Sargsian." He went on to describe the new premier as "a very sincere and honest person."

Given those statements, the question arises of whether the press reports of deadlock and the president's possible resignation were exaggerated or even invented. The first to report that Kocharian had threatened to resign was a prominent member of Miasnutiun. Hmayak Hovannissian told RFE/RL on 10 November that "the president told us that either he must be able to perform his duties or he will have to quit." The next day, "Aravot" claimed that Kocharian had threatened to resign if the parliament majority sided with the prime minister over the government's composition. But on 12 November, "Haykakan Zhamanak" reported that while the talks between Kocharian, Sarkisian, and parliamentary speaker Armen Khachatrian had failed to yield agreement, "this time Kocharian didn't speak about his possible resignation. On the contrary, he said it is his duty to stay on because he has a real chance to settle the Karabakh conflict."

Kocharian's press spokesman, Vahe Gabrielian, told Interfax on 12 November, however, that "the president has neither prepared a letter of resignation nor taken up the matter with the parliament." OSCE Minsk Group co-chairman Jean-Jacques Gaillard, who met with Kocharian in Yerevan on 11 November, told journalists after that meeting that the president did not give the impression of a man about to resign. And in an editorial published on 13 November, "Aravot" suggested that to step down would be totally contrary to Kocharian's nature.

In short, there are only two possible explanations that accommodate all the above pieces of information: Either the steel nerves and sense of timing that Kocharian displayed in January 1998 prior to his predecessor's resignation failed him momentarily. Or in order to raise the stakes during his bargaining with parliamentary deputies, the president suggested a course of action that he had no intention of carrying out.

Despite the 12-13 November agreement, some observers predict continuing tensions within the country's leadership. Those observers base that prediction on the perceived weakness of the president. They note that only a few political parties expressed unequivocal support for him in his standoff with Sargsian and the parliament, whereas most merely called on both protagonists to seek a compromise in the interest of restoring political stability.

But other commentators suggest that even if many parties are ambivalent toward Kocharian, no political faction appears to have an interest in forcing the president to stand down at this juncture. Nor do there appear to be fundamental disagreements over policy between the parliamentary majority, government, and president that could precipitate a new standoff.


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