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Newsline - November 29, 1999




IMF HEAD LINKS LOAN MONEY AND CHECHNYA...

IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus on 27 November warned that "we cannot go on with our financing [of Russia] if the rest of the world doesn't want us to." He added that public opinion of Russia's military campaign in Chechnya "is very negative," according to AFP. Camdessus's remarks triggered condemnation and puzzlement among Russian officials. Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov responded on 29 November that "we do not quite understand" Camdessus's statement linking "IMF financial aid to Russia with the ongoing anti-terrorist operation." He added that "Russia is fulfilling all parameters of its program with the IMF." Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was more blunt, calling Camdessus's remark "strange and unclear." He added that the IMF "is a financial institution and politics have never prevailed in its relations with Russia." He noted that "during the past Chechen conflict," Russia continued to receive credits. JAC

...AS RUSSIAN OFFICIAL ADMITS PESSIMISM

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 November, First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko noted that "there is a certain pessimism about getting the next tranche because politics is involved." Khristenko acknowledged that negotiations with the fund have been complicated by Western concerns over Chechnya. Also on 26 November, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko signed a joint report of the Russian government and Central Bank on fiscal and monetary policies in the third quarter. The report was then sent to Washington. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 November, the government agreed in the report to lift restrictions on exports of refined products only next year and to finish the audit of Sberbank, but not for another six months. The Tax Ministry announced on 24 November that it collected 270.1 billion rubles ($10.2 billion) in cash as of 22 November, exceeding the target for the whole of 1999 by 2.8 billion rubles, according to Interfax. JAC

GROZNY POPULATION FLEES NEW BOMBING

Russian forces intensified their air and artillery bombardment of Grozny on 25-26 November to an unprecedented level, beginning what Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov termed the "third phase" of the "anti- terrorist" operation. The bombardment triggered a new exodus of civilians from the capital and killed between 250-500 people, Grozny Mayor Lecha Dudaev told AP. Ingush Interior Minister Khamzat Gutseriev said on 27 November that about 1,950 people had entered Ingushetia from Chechnya over the previous two days. On 28 November, Russia's envoy to Chechnya, Nikolai Koshmen, said that a corridor has been opened to enable the few civilians remaining in Grozny to escape. AP cited Russian sources as saying that few residential buildings in Grozny remain standing. LF

CHECHEN WARLORD LAUNCHES COUNTER-ATTACK

Field commander Salman Raduev attacked and took control of most of the town of Novogroznenskii on 26-27 November, AP reported. There has been no independent confirmation of Raduev's claim that his men took 18 Russian prisoners during the fighting. Also on 27 November, former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov met on the Chechen-Ingush border with Russian General Vladimir Shamanov, who commands the eastern contingent of troops in Chechnya, and asked him to create a security zone around the village of Goity in Urus Martan district. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT BLAMES MUFTI FOR STARTING WAR

In a televised address on 28 November, Aslan Maskhadov accused Chechnya's mufti, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, of precipitating the fighting, saying that Kadyrov "had tried several times" over the past year to start a civil war in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Three days earlier, an Abu Dhabi newspaper had quoted Kadyrov as saying that he refused to proclaim a holy war against Russia on Maskhadov's orders because he considered that doing so ran counter to the interests of the Chechen people. He condemned the "alien" religious creed of warlords Khattab and Shamil Basaev, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

CHECHEN DIASPORA CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL MEDIATION

Deni Teps, president of the Congress of the Vainakh Diaspora in the Russian Federation, said in Moscow on 24 November that the Chechen diaspora wants international mediation between the Russian leadership and President Aslan Maskhadov in order to end the fighting in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Teps said that the diaspora supports Maskhadov but that he considers it unlikely the latter will be re-elected for a second presidential term in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 46, 18 November 1999). LF

MOSCOW AGAIN DENIES PLANS TO USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN CHECHNYA

Speaking in Istanbul on 26 November, Maskhadov's envoy, Saidhasan Abumuslimov, appealed to the international community to thwart what he said are Russian plans to use chemical weapons in Chechnya, Reuters reported. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS in Moscow the same day that there are no warheads fitted with toxic agents deployed in the North Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 1999). LF

RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION TREATY REPORTEDLY ON SCHEDULE FOR NEXT MONTH...

Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told NTV on 26 November that President Boris Yeltsin "intends to do his utmost" to have the treaty establishing the Union of Belarus and Russia signed "so that the Duma can examine it within the remaining amount of time before the elections." The treaty was scheduled to have been signed on 26 November but was postponed because Yeltsin came down with what was eventually diagnosed as bronchitis. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, who is a proponent of the union, told reporters on 26 November that if the treaty is signed before 10 December, Duma deputies could consider it at an extraordinary session on 17-18 December. JAC

...AS SOME LABEL LATEST YELTSIN ILLNESS 'DIPLOMATIC'

Although Yeltsin has a long history of repeated bouts of illnesses, the timing of his bronchitis caused a flurry of speculation, with sources suggesting that the Russian government was having second thoughts about the treaty. State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs Chairman Georgii Tikhonov said that certain members of the president's entourage had last minute doubts about the advisability of fundamental elements of the treaty, while deputy Nikolai Gonchar suggested that the West was pressuring Yeltsin to abandon the treaty, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 November. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. Another newspaper in which Berezovskii owns a controlling interest, "Kommersant-Daily," reported on 26 November that Yeltsin's illness is real this time and corresponds to Yeltsin's previous pattern of falling ill after difficult flights and crucial speeches. On 17-18 November, Yeltsin attended the OSCE summit in Istanbul. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN BACKS DOWN

After meeting with Prime Minister Putin, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov announced on 27 November that local television will resume broadcasting of two "analytical programs" that the republic's parliament had earlier banned (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 November 1999). Rakhimov's announcement followed a statement two days earlier by Media Minister Mikhail Lesin that he would try to get State Duma elections cancelled in that republic if the media ban continued. He also threatened to ask the Communications Ministry to deprive Bashkortostan's communications companies of their operating licenses. Interfax reported on 28 November that "informed sources" say that Bashkortostan's legislators will gather for an emergency session shortly to annul their earlier decision. JAC

ULTRA-NATIONALIST GROUP BARRED FROM ELECTIONS

A Moscow municipal court on 24 November upheld a district court's decision declaring the registration of Spas (Savior) movement invalid. Spas is led by Aleksandr Barkashov, the head of the ultra-nationalist Russian National Unity. The lower court had found that Spas falsified information regarding the existence of some of its regional branches. On 25 November, the Central Election Commission cancelled Spas's registration for the upcoming State Duma elections. According to Interfax, Vladimir Davidenko, who was listed second on the group's party list, said Spas will appeal the decision of the Central Election Commission. JAC

LABOR MINISTER CALLS RUSSIAN UNEMPLOYMENT STRUCTURAL

Labor Minister Sergei Kalashnikov said on 23 November that the number of vacancies in some industries corresponds to the number of those registered as unemployed, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 November. However, these vacancies often do not match the skills of those unemployed or offer a sufficient wage. Kalashnikov also reported that wages provide only 42 percent of workers' total incomes. According to the UN's 1999 report on human development in Russia, the informal economy has become "an element of survival for many" Russians, who survive by combining a variety of techniques such as lining up odd jobs, wangling perks, and receiving help from friends or relatives, AFP reported on 26 November. JAC

CTBT TO BE RATIFIED IN EARLY 2000?

Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko), the chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on 25 November that he is "sure" the next Duma will ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in January or February 2000. The same day, the lower house accepted the treaty for consideration, ITAR-TASS reported. Lukin said that while the current Duma is unlikely to ratify the document before the current session ends, it will do "everything possible" to prepare the treaty for ratification. President Yeltsin has asked the Duma to ratify the CTBT as a priority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). JC

IRAN WANTS TO SEND OIC DELEGATION TO MOSCOW

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, in Teheran on 28 November, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazai announced that Iran has proposed leading an Organization of the Islamic Conference delegation to Moscow to discuss the conflict in Chechnya. Ivanov, who was in Teheran for one day only, confirmed that such a visit would take place, according to dpa, but he stressed Moscow's position that Chechnya is an internal affair of Russia. The two foreign ministers also discussed bilateral cooperation, including in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and in the Caspian Sea, ITAR-TASS reported. And they signed several documents, among which was a joint statement on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. In addition, Ivanov handed over to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami an invitation from Yeltsin to pay an official visit to Moscow. JC

ANOTHER WESTERN OIL MAJOR CONSIDERS PULLING OUT OF RUSSIA

Following the sale of the key production unit, Chernogorneft, of the Russian oil company Sidanko, BP Amoco announced on 26 November that it will review its operations in Russia. BP Amoco owns 10 percent of Sidanko's stock, and with loss of Chernogorneft, Sidanko has only a quarter of its former crude assets. BP Amoco had offered to settle Chernogorneft's debts, but the federal government chose to go ahead with a tender to sell the company. Al Breach of Goldman Sachs told Reuters that "Whatever the truth is, the PR on this for Russia is appalling." On 27 November, Prime Minister Putin told members of the Greater Urals interregional association that "an increase in foreign investment cannot be expected in the next few years" because "Western investors will wait until at least next June," after the presidential elections have taken place. JAC

NEW INVESTMENT GROUP LOBBYING ON WESTERN COMPANIES' BEHALF?

Aleksandr Lebedev, head of the National Investment Council, which was formed last month, announced on 25 November that the council will focus on the repatriation of Russian capital from Western banks but has also already played a role in shaping national economic legislation. Lebedev, who is also the chairman of the National Reserve Bank, announced earlier that the council will try to counteract the negative image of Russian business in the West and create an investment rating system for Russian regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999). According to "The Moscow Times" on 26 November, Lebedev revealed that his group recently persuaded Duma deputies to revise insurance legislation so that Western insurance companies could enter the Russian market with only 15 years' experience in their own country rather than the previous requirement of 25 years. JAC

ROMANIA, RUSSIA TO SEEK TO BOOST BILATERAL TRADE

Romanian Premier Radu Vasile and his Russian counterpart, Putin, agreed at talks in Moscow on 25 November to seek to boost bilateral trade. Putin stressed that a "good legal framework" exists for the development of such ties, while Vasile proposed increasing barter trade and setting up an Romanian- Russian insurance fund. Bilateral trade fell from some $220 million in 1997 to $29 million in the first eight months of this year. During Vasile's visit, Gazprom and Romgaz announced a deal whereby Russian gas deliveries will help finance the construction of a pipeline passing through Romania and Bulgaria to Turkey. With regard to the pending bilateral treaty, Vasile was quoted by Reuters as saying he and Putin did not discuss the political issues preventing the signing of that document, saying this was a task for the two countries' presidents. Among those issues is Bucharest's demand that Moscow apologize for the USSR's seizure of Romanian territories in 1940. JC




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CRITICIZED OVER ARMORED LIMOUSINE

Armen Khachatrian, who was named early this month to succeed murdered Karen Demirchian as parliamentary speaker, refused on 25 November to yield to pressure from his People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) to replace an armored BMW limousine acquired for his personal use with a cheaper, Russian-manufactured vehicle, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Khachatrian argued that his personal security is paramount following the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, in which he was wounded. He said he will seek donations to cover the cost of the car, rather than charge it to the national budget. Khachatrian had earlier said that the BMW cost only $75,000 rather than an estimated $265,000, but critics within the HZhK argued that even the lower sum is exorbitant. LF

OFFICIALS DOWNPLAY GRENADE EXPLOSION AT RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN YEREVAN

Armenian and Russian authorities on 26 November opened a joint investigation into an incident the previous day in which a hand grenade was thrown at the Russian embassy building in Yerevan. The blast shattered windows but caused no injuries. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ara Papyan on 26 November expressed regret at the incident, which occurred shortly before the arrival in Yerevan of Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov. Both Papyan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Rakhmanin, said they do not expect the grenade attack to have a negative impact on relations between the two countries. LF

ARMENIAN COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER DIES

Sergei Badalian, a career Communist Party official who headed the Communist Party of Armenia since 1994, died in Moscow of a heart attack on the night of 25 November, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Badalian, who was 52, unsuccessfully contested the Armenian presidential elections in 1996 and 1998. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL, OPPOSITION DEBATE OSCE SUMMIT

During a seven-hour session on 24 November, the Azerbaijani presidential council acclaimed as "historic" the previous week's OSCE Istanbul summit, Turan reported. But neither President Heidar Aliyev nor Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev revealed any details of Aliev's various meetings in Istanbul to discuss the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Aliev, however, again ruled out the use of force to resolve the conflict, according to Interfax. Also on 24 November, the Democratic Bloc of some 20 opposition parliamentary deputies issued a statement terming the summit "another defeat for Azerbaijani policy." The statement noted that the final declaration affirmed respect for the territorial integrity of Russia and Georgia but not that of Azerbaijan. On 25 November, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing the U.S. Congress of double standards in refusing to allocate financial aid to Azerbaijan while continuing to do so to Armenia, Reuters reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S DEFENSE MINISTER CONCLUDES MOSCOW VISIT

Safar Abiev returned to Baku on 26 November after three days of talks in Moscow with Russian officials and his Armenian counterpart, Vagharshak Harutiunian, Turan reported. Those talks focused on the ongoing investigation into Russian arms deliveries to Armenia from1994-1996, which Abiev said are now deployed on Azerbaijani territory controlled by Armenian forces. The terms for Russia's continued leasing of the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan also featured prominently on the agenda. The importance of that facility to Moscow will increase if the U.S. opts out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the agency noted. After meeting with Abiev on 25 November, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev expressed his thanks for Azerbaijan's refusal to allow arms or mercenaries bound for Chechnya to enter Russia from Azerbaijani territory. The following day, Abiev and Russian Deputy Premier Ilya Klebanov discussed cooperation in military technology. LF

GEORGIAN, AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS DISCUSS GAS EXPORTS

On a one-day visit to Baku on 25 November, Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze discussed with President Aliyev and Azerbaijani Premier Artur Rasizade the prospects for repairing the Kazi-Magomed-Kazakh-Tbilisi gas pipeline to allow Georgia to import an annual 400-500 million cubic meters of Azerbaijani natural gas, Caucasus Press reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Rasizade as estimating that such supplies could begin only in 12-18 months. LF

GEORGIA CONTINUES TO DENY ABETTING CHECHENS

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 27 November rejecting as "open blackmail" statements made the previous day at a press conference in Moscow by Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov, Caucasus Press reported. Manilov had told journalists that Chechen gunmen have opened a hospital and are setting up a satellite communications center on Georgian territory close to the border with Chechnya. The Georgian statement said Manilov's accusations were aimed at coercing Tbilisi to agree to joint patrols of the Chechen-Georgian frontier. The Georgian Border Service has also issued a statement denying Manilov's allegations. It also refuted repeated Russian reports that mercenaries and weapons are transported to Chechnya via Georgia. LF

NEW TERRORIST ATTACKS IN ABKHAZIA

Two Russian peacekeepers and an Abkhaz policeman were killed and eight people wounded on 24 November when an armored personnel carrier hit a landmine in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. The previous day, a UNHCR official was wounded on 25 November when the car in which he was travelling was shot at in Gali, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT VISITS CHINA...

Visiting Beijing on 23-24 November, Nursultan Nazarbaev met with his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, and signed a declaration on continuing bilateral cooperation in trade, technology transfers, ecology, and combating extremism, terrorism, and separatism. The two leaders also signed a communique noting that the process of demarcating the countries' 1,700 kilometer joint border has been completed, Reuters and Interfax reported. Nazarbaev told journalists in Beijing on 24 November that a 10-year economic cooperation program between the two countries is being drafted. He added that China reaffirmed its commitment to the 1997 agreement to build a 3,000 kilometer oil export pipeline from western Kazakhstan to western China. Kazakh officials had recently implied that Astana no longer believes that project is viable. The estimated cost of the project is $3-3.5 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 August 1999). LF

...COMMENTS ON RUSSIAN SEPARATIST ARRESTS

Nazarbaev also told journalists in Beijing that he considers the recent arrest in eastern Kazakhstan of a group that reportedly intended to establish an independent Russian province on Kazakh territory to be a criminal, rather than a political case, Reuters reported. He added that he does not believe Kazakhstan's relations with Russia will be affected. The governor of East Kazakhstan Oblast, Vitalii Mette, denied on 25 November that any local residents had supported the group, according to Interfax. Earlier reports had claimed that the plotters had enjoyed such support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). Mette's name topped a list of officials whom the plotters planned to assassinate, according to Interfax on 24 November. Presidential Press Secretary Asylbek Bisenbaev told journalists on 25 November that there will be no intensified surveillance of the activities of groups representing Kazakhstan's Slavic population, according to Reuters. But a security official in the east Kazakhstan city of Ust-Kamenogorsk told ITAR-TASS the same day that security precautions in the city have been stepped up. LF

KAZAKH MINISTER CLARIFIES STANCE ON TENGIZCHEVROIL STAKE SALE

Kazakhstan's Finance Minister Mazhit Esenbaev told journalists in Astana on 24 November that the sale of part or all of Kazakhstan's stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture will not be necessary immediately if the World Bank releases two separate tranches totaling $275 million before the end of this year, Interfax reported. A heated debate has been under way for months over the advisability of selling part of Kazakhstan's stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September and 5 October 1999). Esenbaev also said Kazakhstan has met all the IMF's requirements for signing a new three-year cooperation plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August and 7 October 1999). Those requirements include endorsing the draft budget for 2000 and abolishing the requirement that exporters sell to the state half of their foreign-currency earnings. LF

KYRGYZ DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST CUT IN GAS SUPPLIES

Residents of Bishkek blocked one of the city's main highways on 26 November to protest the government's failure to reach agreement with Uzbekistan on the resumption of gas supplies, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. Uzbekistan halted gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan on 16 November in retaliation for Kyrgyzstan's failure to pay an estimated $4 million for previous deliveries. Some buildings in Bishkek are already without heating, and electricity supplies are subject to frequent interruptions. LF

TAJIK GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION CLOSER TO AGREEMENT ON ELECTION LAW

Meeting in Dushanbe on 25 November, government and opposition representatives on the Commission for National Reconciliation came closer to resolving their disagreements over several articles of the draft election law, Asia Plus- Blitz reported. In particular, the two sides were reportedly close to agreement on a 5 percent, rather than 10 percent, threshold for parliamentary representation and on the documentation that candidates must submit to register for the poll. The two sides still differ, however, over the optimum size of the two chambers of parliament and the dates of and sequence for elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 22 November 1999). LF

ANOTHER RUSSIAN OFFICER SHOT DEAD IN TAJIKISTAN

A major serving with the Russian border guards in Tajikistan was shot dead in Dushanbe on 25 November, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, two senior Tajik military officials were murdered in the capital over the last two months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October and 10 November 1999). On 25 November, President Imomali Rakhmonov ordered power ministry officials to take tougher measures against violent crime, according to ITAR- TASS. LF




BELARUSIANS PROTEST OPPRESSION, UNION WITH RUSSIA

Some 1,500 people stood in single file holding candles on Minsk's main avenue on 24 November to express solidarity with political prisoners and protest the planned union with Russia, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The action, called "The Hour of Sorrow and Solidarity," took place on the third anniversary of the 1996 controversial referendum, which expanded Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's powers and extended his presidential term until 2001. "I am here to show people that we are against the unification with Russia..., [by means of which] we are again being driven into those barracks, into a big kolkhoz," one participant in the protest told RFE/RL. Police detained six people. Similar protests, albeit on a smaller scale, took place in Hrodna and Brest. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST DELIGHTED ABOUT DELAYED SIGNING OF UNION TREATY

Vintsuk Vyachorka, chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, told Reuters on 25 November that he feels "sheer joy" over the postponement of the signing of the Belarus-Russia union state treaty, which had been scheduled for the following day. Vyachorka suggested that Russian President Boris Yeltsin's illness may be a pretext for preventing the current Russian State Duma, whose term concludes next month, from ratifying the treaty. "I believe modern medicine would be able to keep [Yeltsin] on his feet for such an event. This is a slap in the face of Lukashenka, even if Yeltsin is really ill," Vyachorka commented. Meanwhile, Lukashenka's economic aide Pyotr Kapitula commented that "knowing the [Belarusian] president's ideals and his drive for integration, I think he will be disappointed" over the postponement. JM

BELARUSIAN ARTIST RECEIVES SUSPENDED TERM FOR 'MALICIOUS HOOLIGANISM'

Ales Pushkin has been given a two-year suspended prison sentence for his 21 July action to mark the end of Lukashenka's legitimate term in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). According to Belapan on 25 November, the court found Pushkin guilty of "malicious hooliganism perpetrated with exceptional cynicism and [through] the profanation of state symbols." Pushkin had dumped a wheelbarrow of manure along with a portrait of Lukashenka, a state flag, and Belarusian banknotes impaled on a pitchfork in front of the presidential administration building. Both Pushkin and an art critic had argued that the action was not "malicious hooliganism" but an artistic performance that symbolized the situation of Belarus after Lukashenka's five years in office. JM

APPEAL TO ANNUL ELECTIONS IN UKRAINE REJECTED

The Supreme Court on 26 November rejected Communist leader Petro Symonenko's appeal to annul the results of the presidential elections, Interfax reported. Symonenko had cited numerous violations of electoral procedures and voters' rights during the 14 November runoff. The court responded that invalidating the results of presidential elections in Ukraine is not within its jurisdiction. In the runoff, Kuchma gained 56.21 percent of the vote compared with Symonenko's 37.77 percent backing. JM

UKRAINE RESTARTS CHORNOBYL

The authorities on 28 November restarted the only working reactor at the Chornobyl power plant after five months of repairs. Under a 1995 agreement with the G-7 countries, Ukraine pledged to close Chornobyl by 2000. However, Kyiv says it has not received the money it was promised to complete two new nuclear reactors, and therefore will run the Chornobyl reactor until an unspecified date next year. JM

ESTONIAN OPPOSITION FAILS TO REMOVE FINANCE MINISTER

Opposition parties in the parliament failed on 25 November to remove Siim Kallas as head of the Finance Ministry. Lawmakers voted by 37 to 51 not to remove Kallas from office. The opposition had called for the vote, arguing that a suspect in a criminal case should not hold a ministerial post. Kallas is accused of playing a role in the so-called $10 million scandal, in which a local bank lost that sum owing to a shady transfer deal with a Swiss entity when Kallas was head of the Central Bank. Recently the Supreme Court upheld most of the decisions by lower courts to acquit Kallas, but returned part of the verdict to a lower court's competence(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). MH

LATVIAN PREMIER IN FRANCE

During his visit to France on 24- 25 November, Andris Skele met with his French counterpart, Premier Lionel Jospin, to discuss Latvia's EU aspirations, the process of integrating Latvia's minorities, and the conflict in Chechenya. The two premiers also called for a quick solution of the dispute over embassy buildings in Paris owned by the three Baltic States but currently being used by Russian diplomats. Those properties were seized during the Soviet occupation, and Russian diplomats continued to use them following the breakup of the USSR. Skele also met with French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici to discuss French support for programs such as the training of Latvia's civil servants. MH

EMBATTLED LITHUANIAN MINISTER REFUSES TO RESIGN

Minister for Administrative Reform Sigitas Kaktys on 25 November rejected calls for his resignation after investigators confirmed inaccuracies in his income reporting, BNS and ETA reported. Among those calling for his resignation was President Valdas Adamkus, who suggested the case "might undermine the whole cabinet as well." Kaktys maintained his innocence, saying "I am right and I do not think I should resign." The State Tax Inspectorate earlier announced that Kaktys and his wife failed to report all their assets and will be fined. At the same time investigators failed to confirm allegations of corruption during his tenure as mayor of Mazeikiai. Members of the opposition in the parliament have since moved for a vote of no confidence in Kaktys. MH

YELTSIN ILLNESS DELAYS LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL VISIT

Owing to the ill health of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has postponed his visit to Moscow scheduled for 3-5 December. Adamkus also plans to visit Yaroslavl and Kaliningrad. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT VETOES PERSONAL INCOME TAX BILL...

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 28 November vetoed the personal income tax bill passed by the parliament on 20 November following a heated debate between the ruling coalition and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). At the same time, the president signed the bills on corporate tax, value-added tax, and excise taxes, which were part of the tax reform package adopted by the parliament. Kwasniewski said he vetoed the personal income tax bill because it runs counter to the constitutional principle of social justice. He added that the coalition secured the passage of the bill by means of a "legal ruse," which he condemned as an "unhealthy practice." Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz had commented last week that the president might introduce "legal chaos" by vetoing part of the tax reform package. JM

...PROMPTING VARIOUS REACTIONS

The opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) said on 28 November that it is satisfied by Kwasniewski's veto of the personal income tax bill, PAP reported. SLD leader Leszek Miller commented that Kwasniewski "has taken the side of millions of Poles...for whom the pain of the transformations is greatest." Meanwhile, Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said the president has taken the side of the SLD, which he called Kwasniewski's "political backup." Krzaklewski added that the presidential veto is "clearly political in the light of the SLD's definite position on this tax system." JM

CONTROVERSIAL WALL PULLED DOWN IN CZECH REPUBLIC...

The Usti nad Labem municipal authorities on 24 November pulled down the controversial wall in the town segregating Roma from other inhabitants, CTK reported. The same day, Prime Minister Milos Zeman denied that the government has granted 10 million crowns (some $286,000) to the town's city council to buy houses belonging to non-Roma living close to the planned site of the wall. Zeman said the money was allocated to "solve problems of the Romany population" and facilitate "coexistence" with the ethnic majority. But government envoy Pavel Zarecky said that about one-third of the sum will be spent on buying the houses of three non-Roma families. President Vaclav Havel welcomed the wall's demolition but added that it is now necessary to "concentrate on finding solutions to the social problems that prompted its construction." MS

...WHILE CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST CZECH SKINHEADS FOR ATTACKING ROMA

Twenty-three skinheads who recently attacked Roma in a restaurant in Ceske Budejovice have been charged with violent behavior, hooliganism, and causing damage to property, CTK reported on 25 November. The same day, the news agency cited "Pravo" as saying that the seven-member Romany band that played in the restaurant when the attack occurred has applied to the British and Canadian embassies for asylum. On 24 November CTK reported that three Roma who assaulted policemen in Usti nad Labem last year have been sentenced to up to 16 months in prison after being found guilty of a racially motivated crime. MS

CZECHS REJECT RUSSIAN PROTEST NOTE OVER CHECHNYA

Responding to the Czech Foreign Ministry's rejection of Russia's protest over a visit to Prague by Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999), the Russian Foreign Ministry on 24 November warned that the Czech position could negatively influence relations between the two countries. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Akhmadov's visit amounted to "gross interference in the internal affairs of Russia and effective support for terrorists operating in Chechnya," CTK reported. The Czech Foreign Ministry on 25 November said it "sees no reason to change its stand" and does not consider the Russian protest to be a "sign of deterioration in bilateral relations." Premier Zeman told CTK that it is "unjust" to regard "the whole Chechen nation as terrorists." MS

SLOVAK, CZECH PREMIERS SIGN AGREEMENT ON FEDERAL PROPERTY DIVISION

Mikulas Dzurinda and his Czech counterpart, Zeman, met in Bratislava on 24 November and signed the agreement on the division of the property of the former Czechoslovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999). Dzurinda called the agreement "historic," while Zeman compared it to an accord between the Czech Republic and Germany ending another long historical dispute, TASR and Reuters reported. MS

SLOVAKIA HAS NEW CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

President Rudolf Schuster has appointed all nine new judges to the Constitutional Court, CTK and Reuters reported on 25 November. The new justices are due to take office on 22 January 2000, and the court will be chaired by Jan Mazak, who until now was state secretary at the Justice Ministry. None of the candidates proposed by the opposition was appointed to the court, nor were any of the outgoing judges re-appointed. Among the new judges are ethnic Hungarian legal expert Lajos Meszaros and Ludmila Gajdosikova, who is the only woman to be included in the court's new lineup. Also on 25 November, the Supreme Court confirmed the Broadcasting Council's decision to fine Markiza television 1 million crowns ($23,750) for broadcasting a speech by Dzurinda after the official close of the election campaign for the May 1999 presidential elections. MS

MAGYAR RE-ELECTED HUNGARIAN FREE DEMOCRAT LEADER

Balint Magyar was re-elected as chairman of the opposition Free Democrats at the party's 27 November congress. The sole candidate for that post, Magyar gathered 485 out of the 581 ballots cast. In other news, a report adopted by a parliamentary committee investigating the alleged illegal collection of data on FIDESZ politicians under the previous government says that in 1997 current Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni was the subject of an illegal surveillance operation. However, the findings of that report fall far short of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's allegations in summer 1999 that the former Socialist government gathered illegal data on opposition members. MSZ




MACEDONIAN COURT ORDERS PARTIAL REPEAT OF PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

The Supreme Court and the State Electoral Commission ruled on 28 November that the recent presidential election contested by Boris Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) and the Social Democrat Tito Petkovski must be repeated at 221 polling stations involving 160,000 voters. The ballot will take place on 5 December and could overturn Trajkovski's victory, which he won by 70,000 votes. Most of the polling places in question are in western Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians form the majority. Social Democratic leaders hailed the decision. VMRO spokesman Ljuben Paunovski told Reuters that his party regrets that the Supreme Court shares the Social Democrats' view that "Albanians are not needed to elect the president." Representatives of the EU and the OSCE had said that the election was basically free and fair, despite sporadic irregularities. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT'S CONDITION 'VERY GRAVE'

Doctors treating Franjo Tudjman described his condition on 28 November as "very difficult, demanding continued intensive treatment." The independent daily "Jutarnji list" quoted an unnamed aide to the president as saying that Tudjman's "vital functions are rapidly failing." Tudjman is widely believed to be in the final stages of cancer, from which he has been suffering since at least 1996. The independent weekly "Nacional" recently wrote that Tudjman's wife, Ankica, has carefully controlled the flow of information to the public about her husband's condition since he entered the hospital on 1 November. The newspaper charged that she deliberately hid from the public the true extent of her husband's illness. PM

CROATIA TO VOTE ON 3 JANUARY...

The parliament on 24 November approved a bill introduced by the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to enable the Constitutional Court to declare the president temporarily incapacitated for a period of 60 days, which can be extended for another 60 days. The bill passed with the support of right-wing opposition deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999). The next day, the parliament formally asked the court to declare Tudjman temporarily incapacitated, which the court did on 26 November. The court named parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic acting president. Pavletic announced that parliamentary elections will take place on 3 January. PM

...AMID OPPOSITION PROTESTS

Opposition leaders denounced the bill, saying that it contains many ambiguities, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 26 November. Opposition leaders also criticized the early election date, which they said will enable the HDZ to seek a "sympathy vote" for Tudjman and deny the opposition sufficient time to campaign. Observers noted that the HDZ wants the elections during the holiday season because many politically conservative emigrant workers will be visiting their home country. Pavletic and HDZ spokesmen have stressed that the elections will be free and fair. PM

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST 'MAFIA' LEADERS

Police officials said in a statement in Zagreb on 28 November that police arrested 10 alleged key figures in the criminal underworld. An additional two suspects remain at large. The statement did not give any names. PM

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES BLOCK FUEL OIL SHIPMENTS

Chris Patten, who is the EU's commissioner for external relations, said in Brussels on 28 November that the "Yugoslav authorities are preventing the delivery [of 350 tons of EU heating oil]...which could be [in Nis and Pirot] within hours" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999). The delivery "is obviously being delayed for political reasons," Patten added. He concluded that "the events of the last few days underscore once again why political change is so badly needed in Serbia to deliver a government genuinely interested in the welfare of its people," AP reported. Earlier, he had described the Serbian government's reasons for delaying the customs clearance of the 14 trucks carrying the heating oil as "Kafkaesque." PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION SAYS MILOSEVIC PLAYING POLITICS WITH OIL

Nis Mayor Zoran Zivkovic said on 28 November that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is endangering the health and safety of "thousands" of people in the city by holding up the oil delivery. The mayor stressed that Serbia's third-largest city is down to its last reserves of heating oil. Zivkovic told AP that the city authorities have begun to use oil from the reserves belonging to the central government without asking Belgrade's permission. In Pirot, the city government said in a statement that Belgrade is holding up the oil shipment for political reasons. Elsewhere, Serbian human rights activists told the BBC that they fear Milosevic will introduce power cuts in opposition-controlled areas during the winter. PM

BELGRADE CHARGES U.S. WITH 'MEDIA AGGRESSION'

The Serbian Information Ministry said in a statement on 28 November that the U.S. government is carrying out "media aggression" against Serbia. The statement charged that RFE/RL and VOA try to convince the Serbian public that Serbian media are not free, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The ministry also blamed the U.S. for what it called the elimination of Serbian-language media in Kosova. Observers note that the UN, not the U.S., is in charge of the civilian administration of Kosova. PM

KOSOVARS CELEBRATE FLAG DAY

On 28 November, thousands of ethnic Albanians marked Flag Day, an Albanian national holiday, in several cities and towns in Kosova. Some 10,000 people attended a rally in Skenderaj, which is a stronghold of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). General Agim Ceku, who headed the UCK's general staff and is now commander of the Kosova Protection Corps, told the crowd that "Serbia has lost Kosova forever." Moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova said in a statement that "thanks to God, the United States, Europe, NATO, and the international community, we are on our own land again to build our future as a free people in a free world," AP reported. PM

KFOR CONDEMNS ATTACK ON SERBS

KFOR peacekeepers have confiscated an arms cache they found in a house near Rogova on 28 November. The stockpile included 300 grenades and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. In Prishtina, members of a crowd of ethnic Albanians killed an elderly Serbian man and injured two women after dragging them from their car. A spokesman for the UN police told Reuters on 29 November that police are investigating. KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt condemned the attack and urged witnesses to come forward. He told Reuters that the incident "unveils a basic lack of humanity by the people in the street and a high degree of intolerance on the side of the attackers and the bystanders." PM

BOSNIAN SERBS PHASE OUT YUGOSLAV DINAR

The Bosnian Serb government has decided to withdraw the Yugoslav currency from circulation pending an agreement with Belgrade on terms regulating monetary transactions, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 November. Soon, only the Bosnian convertible mark will be legal tender. All dinar bank accounts will be converted into convertible marks at the rate of 16-to-one by the end of 1999. The convertible mark is pegged to its German counterpart and is one of the most stable currencies in the Balkans. PM

ALBANIA TO SPEED UP PRIVATIZATION

Economy Minister Zef Preci said on 24 November in Tirana that his ministry will soon review privatization legislation with a view to speeding up privatization and combating corruption, dpa reported. He noted that while most small and medium-sized enterprises are in private hands, many larger enterprises are not. PM

JAIL TERM FOR LEKA

The Tirana district court on 25 November sentenced Leka Zogu in absentia to three years in prison for his role in a rally in central Tirana in 1997, at which many participants brandished weapons. The claimant to the throne returned to exile in South Africa following the incident. Leka's lawyer said that the court ruling was aimed at preventing him from returning to Albania and taking part in politics. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY 'NEVER MORE SECURE'

Emil Constantinescu on 26 November said in an interview with Romanian radio that never has Romania's "sovereignty, independence, unity, and peace been more secure than in the three years since I began working for the Romanian people." Constantinescu said the choice of Romania as a member of the OSCE's "leading troika" attests to the fact that the country is perceived abroad as a "model democracy" and a "pillar of regional stability." He added that it is not in the EU or NATO's interest that Romania join these organizations but in Romania's own interest since the conditions for joining both the EU and NATO promote Romania's prosperity and security. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT

Petru Lucinschi told journalists on 25 November that if the parliament again rejects his nominee for premier he will use his constitutional prerogatives to disband the legislature and call for early elections. Lucinschi said he believes such elections are "undesirable" and urged the lawmakers to quickly agree on a new premier, ITAR-TASS reported. Parliamentary sources said Premier-designate Valeriu Bobutac gave up his bid to form a government after the legislature rejected his nomination on 22 November. However, it is not being ruled out that Lucinschi will convince him to change his mind. Other possible candidates for the premiership are former Security Minister Valeriu Pasat and former Deputy Premier Ion Gutu. MS

BULGARIAN ROMA DEPUTY SEEKING ASYLUM IN U.K.

Assen Hristov, a parliamentary deputy representing the ruling Union of Democratic Forces, has asked for political asylum in the U.K., AP reported on 25 November, citing sources in the British embassy in Sofia. Those sources said Hristov has a multiple-entry visa from an earlier visit to the U.K. as a member of a Bulgarian parliamentary delegation. Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev was quoted by BTA on 24 November as saying that Hristov has not attended parliamentary sessions for a month and did not give prior notification of his absence. He added that ministry is not trying to track him down, although "steps for contacting Hristov have already been taken." MS




BULGARIA AFTER CLINTON'S VISIT


by Kostadin Grozev

Ten years after Bulgaria began its slow and painful transition to democracy, the first-ever official visit by a U.S. president to that country, once considered the most faithful of all Soviet allies, has taken place. During the Cold War, the U.S. took a strong stand against human rights violations in the Soviet bloc even as a handful of U.S. presidents shook hands and even embraced communist leaders like Tito and Ceausescu. In the Balkans, Washington's longstanding strategic alliance with NATO members Turkey and Greece made those two countries the center-piece of U.S. policy in the region, with frequent visits by high-level officials to both states. Bulgaria was the only Balkan country, with the possible exception of Albania, that was not honored with a high-profile U.S. visit.

Other factors contributed to that state of affairs. Bulgaria had been an ally of Germany in two world wars. U.S. bombs had destroyed downtown Sofia in the winter of 1943- 1944, and several years later, Bulgaria became the first Soviet-bloc country with which the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations. Although diplomatic contacts were later restored, bilateral relations continued to be low-key: USIA-sponsored exhibitions at Plovdiv's International Fair were the chief vehicle for disseminating U.S. cultural and political values. Thus Bulgaria remained relegated to the backyard of U.S. foreign-policy considerations.

Last week, a large crowd on Alexander Nevski square welcomed President Bill Clinton, who delivered a message, long expected by many Bulgarians, that the U.S. is committed to "supporting Bulgaria over the long run economically, politically, militarily." A decade-old pattern of constant reassurances of support from abroad has made Bulgarians suspicious of the meaning of such phrases, particularly when the state of the economy continues to decline and living conditions are currently worse there than those in Hungary, Poland, or the Czech Republic.

But in the aftermath of the Kosova war, the symbolism of Clinton's words was obvious: the leader of the most powerful country in the world pledged assistance and support for the country, which is aspiring to join NATO and the EU. The Bulgarian example of building democracy without ethnic violence was cited by Clinton as projecting abroad a positive image of stability. Such an image is badly needed by Bulgaria and its reform-oriented center-right government in the tense geopolitical situation on the Balkans.

Bulgaria's transition over the past few years has been marked by a significant change in both the Bulgarian public's perception of both the East and the West and in the decision- making process in Sofia. The efforts to establish a pluralist democracy and market economy broke the decades-old pattern of close economic and political inter-dependence with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Bulgaria has not yet found a reliable substitute for the false sense of stability and well-programmed foreign-policy agenda of the Communist era. The drive toward integration with European economic and political structures has prompted Sofia to redefine possible foreign-policy options, including the choice between a pro- European versus a pro-American orientation.

As a result of the end of the Cold War, Bulgaria lost the national security guarantees it had within the framework of the Warsaw Pact, and the only available option was some form of integration within NATO. The collapse of the former Yugoslav federation and the wars that followed brought heavy losses for the Bulgarian economy, making public opinion in Bulgaria highly sensitive to the practical implications of a policy that followed the moral and political standards set by the international community and led to sanctions and other disadvantageous steps. During the Kosova war, Ivan Kostov's government publicly supported the NATO air campaign, providing logistical support and allowing the use of Bulgarian airspace, despite some strong vocal opposition to that decision. The remarks made by President Clinton last week are a response to the clear Bulgarian position on the Kosova crisis, which doubtless paved the way for the high- level visit to Sofia.

It is to be hoped that following the departure of the news cameras, Bulgaria will not remain as obscure for the U.S. public as it once was. Because it is not only George W. Bush who has problems with the names of presidents of foreign countries. Judging by the Website of the early edition of "The New York Times," even the Associated Press got the name of the Bulgarian president wrong, confusing him with the prime minister. Fortunately, in today's cyberspace of international media, a mistake made at 7:10 a.m. EST was already corrected by 9:50 a.m. Let's keep our fingers crossed that in the real life of contemporary geopolitics, Bulgaria itself will emerge just as quickly from its obscurity. The author is an assistant professor of history at Sofia University, Bulgaria, and currently visiting Fulbright senior lecturer in the Department of Government at Wesleyan University, U.S.


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