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Newsline - December 1, 1999




RUSSIA TO ASK THAT U.S. DIPLOMAT BE DEPORTED...

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced on 30 November that Moscow will issue a protest note to the U.S. embassy over Cheryl Leberknight, a U.S. diplomat posted there who Russia believes has been spying. Ivanov added he hopes that Leberknight will leave Russia "in the nearest future" and that he does not want the incident to "affect U.S.-Russian relations; however, this will not help improve the climate between the two countries." The same day, Federal Security Services (FSB) spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that the fact that Leberknight was detained the day after a U.S. Navy officer was arrested on charges of spying for Russia is "a pure coincidence." "The Washington Post" the next day reported that U.S. officials also maintain there is no link between the two cases. JAC

...AS INCIDENT ATTRIBUTED TO TENSION BETWEEN SPY SERVICES

According to the U.S. daily, U.S. intelligence officials attribute the detention of Leberknight to rising tensions between the two countries' intelligence services, which have resulted in part because of the Clinton administration's failed attempts to persuade Moscow to cut back espionage operations in the U.S. "Izvestiya" on 1 December put the incident in a broader context of "mutual irritation between the two countries [that] has long been building up" over conflicts in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosova, and more recently Chechnya. The daily concluded that "until recently, the last bridge linking Russia and the West was IMF loans and our dependence on international financial aid. But following the recent statement of [IMF Managing Director] Michel Camdessus, even that bastion has crumbled" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). JAC

IVANOV SLAMS WEST OVER 'GENOCIDE' IN KOSOVA

The same day as the spy story broke, Foreign Minister Ivanov accused the West of tacitly agreeing to the "genocide" that he said is taking place against the Serbian minority in Kosova. "Neither Berlin, nor Washington, nor London, nor Paris has denounced the actions of separatists" in Kosova, he said. "Moreover, they are trying to create the impression that everything is fine" there. Russia, he continued, will not tolerate this situation and will raise the Kosova issue in the UN Security Council to seek to ensure that Resolution 1244 is implemented. Ivanov was speaking following talks in Moscow with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, during which both Kosova and Cyprus were discussed. JC

IRAQ'S AZIZ ARRIVES IN MOSCOW

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz arrived in Moscow on 30 November for a four-day visit in which he is to meet with several Russian leaders, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Ivanov. Aziz is expected to seek increased Russian support for easing economic sanctions against Iraq and to discuss further bilateral cooperation in the oil sector. Shortly before Aziz arrived in the Russian capital, Ivanov had telephone conversations with both U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine to discuss that embargo. The Russian Foreign Ministry later issued statements saying that Ivanov told Albright Moscow is interested in finding a mutually acceptable decision on Iraq in the UN Security Council and that the Russian and French chief diplomats urged continued joint efforts to solve the Iraqi crisis by restoring UN-Iraqi relations and promptly suspending economic sanctions, Reuters reported. JC

YELTSIN WINS ONE IN BATTLE AGAINST PROSECUTOR

Russia's Constitutional Court decided on 1 December that President Boris Yeltsin had a right to decree that Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov be suspended pending the outcome of a criminal investigation of his activities. The Federation Council, which has rejected three attempts by the Kremlin to dismiss Skuratov, had asked the court to rule on whether Yeltsin had a right to suspend Skuratov without first consulting with the upper legislative chamber. The decision constitutes only a limited victory for Yeltsin, who, reports confirmed, is indeed suffering from pneumonia, because the court did not give him the right to overrule the Federation Council should it reject another request to dismiss Skuratov. JAC

GROUND FIGHTING IN CHECHNYA INTENSIFIES

Chechen defenders continued to launch counterattacks against Russian forces in the vicinity of Alleroi, Tsentoroi, and Alkhan-Yurt, southeast of Grozny, and near Urus Martan, to the west of the capital, inflicting heavy losses. Russian forces continued their aerial and artillery bombardment of both Grozny and Urus Martan. Speaking by telephone from Grozny, former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov told Reuters on 30 November that Russian claims to have surrounded Grozny from the west, north, and east are untrue and that federal forces control only the northern approaches to the city. Udugov said that federal troops have lost 200 men in the previous two days alone. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL VISITS CHECHNYA'S 'LIBERATED' ZONE

Alvaro Gil-Robles, who on 1 January assumes the duties of the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, traveled to Chechnya's Nadterechnyi Raion on 30 November, together with senior Russian officials. Gil-Robles visited two villages in the district, which is controlled by Russian troops, and also inspected two camps under construction for returning civilians who fled to neighboring Ingushetia. He declined to comment on his impressions, Reuters reported. LF

RUSSIA'S CHIEF MUFTI DEFENDS CHECHEN COUNTERPART

Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, who heads the Council of Muftis of Russia, told senior members of the Muslim clergy at a meeting in Moscow on 30 November that he condemns Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's criticisms of Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, ITAR-TASS reported. Maskhadov has labeled Kadyrov a traitor, blamed him for precipitating the Russian invasion, and called for his arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). Gainutdin appealed to Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, who also attended the meeting, to protect Kadyrov. LF

BEREZOVSKII SAYS CHECHEN LEADERSHIP READY TO DISCUSS PEACE PLAN

Media magnate Boris Berezovskii told Interfax in Kyiv on 30 November that he spoke by telephone last week with former Chechen Foreign Minister Udugov, who informed him that the Chechen leadership is prepared to discuss Berezovskii's seven-point plan for resolving the Chechen conflict. Under that plan, Chechnya remains a part of the Russian Federation, and its military formations must be disbanded. Field commanders who refuse to accept those terms must leave Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999). LF

ARE VOLUNTEERS FOR CHECHNYA TRAINING IN KALMYKIA?

Salman Shatoev, an ethnic Chechen and former Soviet army colonel, told journalists in Almaty on 30 November that volunteers to fight on the Chechen side against the Russian forces in Chechnya are undergoing training in a string of camps in Kalmykia, an RFE/RL correspondent in the former Kazakh capital reported. Shatoev said that those volunteers come from Kazakhstan and other CIS states, but he did not specify their number. LF

FOREIGN INVESTMENT PLUMMETS

Foreign investment in Russia sank 30.4 percent during the first nine months of 1999 compared with the same period last year, according to the Russian Statistics Agency on 30 November. The volume of foreign investment also fell last year but at less than half the rate of this year's decline, Interfax reported. Of the total $6.467 billion of foreign investment during the first three quarters of 1999, 48 percent was direct, 1 percent was portfolio, and 51 percent was classified as "other." More than 27 percent of the total was invested in the city of Moscow, while 15 percent went to Sakhalin Oblast, 9 percent to Omsk Oblast and 5.8 percent to the city of St. Petersburg. JAC

FORMER SECRET CITIES CALLED OFFSHORE ZONES

Duma deputies voted on 29 November to retain special tax privileges for Russia's 42 closed territorial-administrative entities (ZATOs), which were once called secret cities. Three deputies abstained and 237 voted against a government-backed proposal to abolition ZATOs' tax exemptions, according to ITAR-TASS. Because of the failure of the deputies to approve the government's proposal, First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said the treasury will now lose 200 billion rubles ($7.6 billion) in 2000 and the implementation of the 2000 budget will therefore be jeopardized. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 November, Khristenko believes that tax exemptions for ZATOs have turned them into de facto offshore zones on Russian territory since they are able to offer a wide range of tax breaks to business and industry--in some cases as much as 99 percent. According to "Parlamentskaya gazeta," ZATOs have managed to attract in droves those companies involved in oil trading. JAC

MANNA FROM THE SKIES FOR THE KREMLIN?

"Segodnya" on 30 November cited a "well-placed and reliable source" as saying that a new corporation is to be formed soon whose ostensible purpose will be to upgrade combat aircraft but which will in fact serve to divert money from the military--industrial complex to the Kremlin's election campaign. The newspaper notes that recently chief designers have been leaving the aircraft modernization branch en masse, and it suggests that those specialists are to join a company that will be "directly supervised" by structures close to the Kremlin and will receive all contracts for Russian combat aircraft upgrades. "Segodnya" also surmises that Colonel-General Anatolii Sitnov, director of the Armaments Directorate of the Russian armed forces, is directly involved in project. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group. JC

RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK CHIEF EYES RUBLE FOR BELARUS WITHIN A YEAR

The date for signing the treaty of the Union of Russia and Belarus will be set during a 3 December meeting of Prime Minister Putin and various cabinet members, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 December. The previous day, Interfax reported that according to "a source close to the Central Bank," that financial institution is considering introducing a single Russian-Belarusian currency in about six years. According to the source, economic laws and central bank regulations must be harmonized, an interstate agreement on a single currency signed, and all cash in circulation replaced with new cash during that period. The source added that the Russian ruble will likely be the currency for the two countries. The same day, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told reporters that the ruble should be the new single currency and that a changeover would not take several years but could be accomplished in 12 months. JAC

AIDS, OLDER DISEASES CONTINUES TO SPREAD ACROSS RUSSIA

AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate in Russia, Russian Health Ministry officials warned on 29 November, as some 12,500 cases of HIV infection were recorded during the first nine months of 1999. Ninety percent of those infected are or were intravenous drug users. Moscow Oblast tops the list, with almost three times as many cases as the next placed region, Kaliningrad Oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 December 1999). In addition to AIDS, Russian regions are also experiencing a reemergence of "old" diseases such as tuberculosis, the plague, and even cholera because of a deterioration in health care and general poverty, according to Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko, AFP reported on 25 November. JAC

NOT MUCH PAY, BUT A LOT OF TIME OFF

Central Bank Chairman Gerashchenko told the State Duma on 30 November, that his current salary is 25,000 rubles a month ($946) following a pay raise that went through on 1 November, Interfax reported. The next day, "Tribuna" reported that another top Russian executive, President Yeltsin, has either been on vacation or taken sick for 530 days during his time in office. It was unclear from the report whether the 530 days covered both Yeltsin's terms as president. JAC




TRIAL OF FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER AGAIN ADJOURNED...

Vano Siradeghian was taken under police escort to a Yerevan court on 30 November, one day after having failed to appear to answer charges of ordering a series of contract killings from 1993-1996, Noyan Tapan reported. Siradegian, who claims the charges against him are politically motivated, told the court he is engaging a new defense lawyer (his seventh) and demanded an adjournment to allow that attorney to familiarize himself with the case. The presiding judge adjourned the trial until 9 January 2000. LF

...AS DOUBTS EXPRESSSED OVER HIS WARNING TO MURDERED PREMIER

Meanwhile the Armenian prosecutor-general has ordered an investigation into the authenticity of what is claimed to be a letter sent by Siradeghian to Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian in November 1998, Noyan Tapan reported. The letter was published in the Dashnak-funded daily "Haykakan zhamanak" on 25 November. In that letter, which was said to have been discovered among Sargsian's papers after his murder in October, Siradeghian warned Sargsian, who was then defense minister, of a possible move by President Robert Kocharian to curb his political influence or even to liquidate him. Several commentators have suggested that letter was written after the 27 October parliament shootings in an attempt to compromise Kocharian. "Azg" on 26 November quoted Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian as saying that no such letter was found among Sargsian's personal papers after his death. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT IN TURKEY, UKRAINE

Heidar Aliyev flew to Kyiv on 30 November to attend the inauguration of recently re-elected President Leonid Kuchma, according to Turan on 1 December. He also met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to discuss the future course of bilateral relations. On 27-28 November, Aliyev visited Ankara at the invitation of his Turkish counterpart, Suleyman Demirel, where he participated in a seminar on soil erosion and other environmental issues, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN OIL OFFICIAL RULES OUT NATO GUARD FOR PIPELINE

Ilham Aliev, Heidar's son and the vice president of the state oil company SOCAR, told Interfax on 30 November that the Azerbaijani leadership has not asked for NATO help in protecting the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline against possible terrorist attacks. Aliyev said Azerbaijan believes it has the resources to protect the pipeline on its own. He added that discussion of Azerbaijan's possible NATO membership is "an illusion," given the aspirations of former East bloc countries to join the alliance. LF

GEORGIA'S MILITARY PROSECUTOR SAYS FUNDS EMBEZZLED

Military Prosecutor Davit Bitsadze has accused unnamed senior military officials of misappropriating budget funds, Caucasus Press reported on 30 November. He claimed that the incidence of such thefts is currently greater than under former Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze. Defense Minister David Tevzadze blames his ministry's chronic financial problems on the non- receipt of budget funds. Tevzadze also told journalists on 30 November that it will be impossible for the Georgian armed forces to comply with NATO standards unless a 5-10 year development plan is drafted. Such a plan is not feasible if budget funds are allocated only on an annual basis, Tevzadze argued. On 17 November a ministry official told Caucasus Press that army personnel have not been paid for six months. He said the 2000 budget allocates only 42 million lari ($20 million) for the armed forces instead of the necessary minimum of 98 million lari. LF

U.S. COMPANY BEGINS EXTRACTING OIL IN GEORGIA

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze attended a ceremony at Dedoplistskaro in eastern Georgia on 30 November to mark the beginning of drilling of an oil well built by the U.S. company Frontera Resources, AP and Caucasus Press reported. The well is expected to yield some 150 tons of crude per day, which will be refined for domestic needs. LF

FOUR POLITICAL PARTIES BARRED FROM CONTENDING KYRGYZ POLL

Kyrgyzstan's Minister of Justice Erkin Mamyrov told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek on 30 November that four political parties have been banned from contending the parliamentary poll scheduled for 20 February 2000 because of irregularities in the documents they submitted. The parties in question are the Manas-El Party, the El (Bei-Bechara) Party, the Party of Bishkek Residents, and the Labor-Popular Party. Fifteen other parties have been registered to participate in the election. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN REACH AGREEMENT ON GAS SUPPLIES

Latypjan Sagynbaev, who is director of the state Kyrgyzgaz company, told journalists in Bishkek on 30 November that gas deliveries from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan will be resumed "soon," according to an RFE/RL correspondent in the Kyrgyz capital. Uzbekistan halted supplies two weeks ago in retaliation for Kyrgyzstan's failure to pay for earlier supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). Kyrgyzstan has since paid about 75 percent of its estimated $4 million debt. LF

UZBEK OFFICIALS DESCRIBE ISLAMIC THREAT

Speaking in Washington on 30 November, Uzbekistan's Mufti Abdulrashid Kory Bakhromov and Tashkent's Ambassador to the U.S. Sodyq Safaev said that hundreds of young Uzbeks are being recruited and trained as terrorists in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan by radical Islamic organizations, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. A spokesman for the Pakistani embassy denied that allegation. Safaev said that radical Islamists are hindering the development of democracy in Uzbekistan. He called for cooperation to thwart their aim of "spreading Islamic fundamentalism throughout Central Asia," according to AP. LF

UZBEKISTAN REJECTS OSCE CRITICISM OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Khazhmiddin Kamilov, who is a spokesman for Uzbekistan's Central Electoral Commission, on 30 November rejected as unsubstantiated criticism by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of preparations for the 5 December parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. ODIHR had charged that the Uzbek election law does not guarantee free and fair elections and that the country's authorities are interfering in the election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST FREED AFTER EIGHT MONTHS IN PRISON

Former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, who ran in the opposition presidential ballot in May, was freed on 30 November after eight months in prison. However, Chyhir still faces trial for negligence and abuse of power resulting in losses to the state totaling $4.1 million, according to Belarusian Television. The authorities, however, have dropped the initial charge of grand larceny brought against him. Chyhir told journalists that he is not guilty of those charges and hopes the court will acquit him. He added that he is not going to leave either Belarus or politics. Chyhir thanked the Belarusian opposition as well as European democracies and the U.S. which, he said, "fought for his release," RFE/RL'S Belarusian Service reported. JM

BELARUS HAS NEARLY 2,000 LOSS-MAKING ENTERPRISES

Deputy Economy Minister Andrey Tur said there were 1,961 loss-making enterprises in Belarus in January-September 1999, which is equal to 17.5 percent of the total number, Belapan reported on 30 November. He added that their losses totaled 31.5 trillion Belarusian rubles (some $100 million according to the official exchange rate). Most loss-making enterprises are in the agricultural sector, where they make up 35.5 percent of all agricultural enterprises and farms. JM

KUCHMA PROMISES REFORM, 'NEW PRESIDENT' FOR UKRAINE...

"You will see a new president before you," President Leonid Kuchma said in his inauguration speech on 30 November following his swearing-in ceremony (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 30 November 1999). Touching upon economic policies during his second term, Kuchma pledged further deregulation and liberalization "to conclude transferring the Ukrainian economy to a market track and simultaneously to lay the foundation for implementing a real, strong social policy." He also promised reform of the tax, budget, land, and pension systems. JM

...DEFINES FOREIGN-POLICY PRIORITIES

Kuchma said the key features of Ukraine's foreign policy during his second term will be its "multi-directional" character, predictability, and stability as well as maintaining the country's non-bloc status. Foreign-policy priorities will be developing ties with the EU and Ukraine's European neighbors, Russia, and the U.S. He stressed that Ukraine's strategic goal is to join the EU. Simultaneously, Ukraine will develop its strategic partnership with Russia, since Ukrainian-Russian relations, Kuchma argued, define "in many aspects" the security of Europe as a whole. Kuchma also pledged to develop a strategic partnership with the U.S., which he commented "provided Ukraine during its independence years with invaluable political, financial, economic, and technical assistance." JM

ESTONIAN RADAR DEAL ANNULLED

Estonia's Public Procurement Office on 30 November annulled the 210 million kroon ($13.55 million) deal with France's Thomson CFS on building the country's airspace surveillance system. An arbitration court ruled that the tender, organized by the Defense Ministry, had legal deficiencies and did not follow all tender procedures, "Postimees" reported. Following the announcement of the tender results earlier in November, three unsuccessful bidders--Alenia-Marconi, Lockheed-Martin, British Aerospace-- filed complaints. The Defense Ministry is to review the judicial decision. The project is Estonia's part of the joint Baltic airspace surveillance system BALTNET, which meets NATO standards and is due to become operational by the end of 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). MH

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT HIKES SOCIAL FUND CONTRIBUTIONS

The government on 30 November approved a bill that would raise contributions to the collapsing social insurance fund (SoDra), ELTA reported. SoDra predicts that it will run up a 400 million litas ($100 million) debt at year's end, and many local banks are already refusing to loan the fund more money. The government measure foresees increasing contributions by 3 percentage points to 34 percent of an employee's wage: employees would pay 31 percent and employers 3 percent. The government believes this would bring in 313 million litas next year, but those opposed to the bill warn that the number of "under-the table" wages would increase. Both the budget and the SoDra bill are to be debated in the parliament this week. MH

POLAND'S BALCEROWICZ REMAINS IN GOVERNMENT

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz said on 30 November that he will remain in government, despite the fact that the presidential veto on the personal tax income bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999) had confronted him with "one of the hardest decisions of my life." Balcerowicz explained that he decided to stay because he is convinced there are still "conditions for the success of [his] mission." He also noted that the coalition has agreed to renew the attempt to reform personal income tax early next year and to keep the 2000 budget deficit low. Balcerowicz added that the Finance Ministry has already started work on "alleviating the negative effects" of the presidential veto for the taxpayer, "particularly small firms." JM

POLES MAY STILL SHOP ON SUNDAYS

The parliament on 1 December voted 201 to 197 with six abstentions to reject a ban on Sunday shopping proposed by Roman Catholic deputies from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), AP reported. The ban's backers said their aim was to protect people who are forced, against their religious beliefs, to work on Sundays. Poland's Catholic bishops endorsed the proposal, which was opposed in the parliament by the ex-communist opposition and many members of the Freedom Union, the AWS's coalition partner. The opponents argued that the ban could slow economic growth as Poland struggles to catch up with the West and join the EU by 2003. JM

ROMANY FAMILIES LEAVE CZECH TOWN

Twelve Romany families from Ceske Budejovice have left the town following last month's attack by skinheads on a group of Roma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). A spokesman for the Romany regional organization told the daily "Lidove noviny" on 29 November that the group, which totals 66 people, intends to ask for political asylum in the U.K. and other countries, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CRITICIZED FOR STATEMENT ON ROMA

Miroslav Lacko of the Office for the Protection of Romany Rights said on 30 November that "the head of the state should think more carefully about statements he makes on citizens of his country during visits abroad." Lacko was responding to President Rudolf Schuster's statement on Roma at a German foreign-policy forum (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 30 November 1999"). Lacko said that when Schuster was mayor of Kosice, the town hall passed a resolution whereby "non-adaptable citizens" were moved to the "problematic" Lunik IX town district, a move that Lacko said only "worsened an already bad situation." Government commissioner for Romany Issues Vincent Danihel (himself a Roma) said he respects Schuster too much to believe that the statement attributed to him by dpa was accurate. MS

OFFICIALS DISCUSS SUBSIDIES FOR HUNGARIAN UNIVERSITY IN ROMANIA

Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth and Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), agreed in Budapest on 30 November that a 2 million forint (some $8 million) Hungarian state subsidy for the education of ethnic Hungarians in Romania will be used toward setting up a private Hungarian university in Transylvania, Hungarian media reported. Marko added, however, that the UDMR will continue to demand the establishment of a Hungarian-language state university financed from the Romanian budget. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said earlier that the 2 billion forints would be managed by a foundation to be set up by Transylvanian Hungarian Churches. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ADMONISHES AMBASSADOR

Foreign Minster Janos Martonyi told the parliament on 30 November that he has "admonished" Geza Jeszenszky, Hungary's ambassador in Washington, for expressing a "private opinion" on official embassy stationery and signing it as ambassador. Jeszenszky had strongly criticized several prominent Hungarian Pulitzer Prize winner journalists, for which opposition leaders demanded that he be recalled from his post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999). Martonyi said Jeszenszky's recall "would not be proportionate to the mistake he had made." MSZ




MACEDONIAN GOVERNING COALITION BREAKING UP...

Democratic Alternative (DA) leader Vasil Tupurkovski said in Skopje on 30 November that his party will leave the governing coalition soon because "our participation in the government is not sustainable any longer," Reuters reported. The DA has eight of the 28 seats in the cabinet, which also consists of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). Relations between the DA and VMRO-DPMNE have been strained for some time following the latter's refusal to back Tupurkovski in the recent presidential elections. The departure of the DA from the coalition will leave the government with 61 out of 120 votes in the parliament. The DA ministers are expected to announce their resignations from the government in the next few days. PM

...AMID MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS

Tupurkovski's statement on 30 November was triggered by the other coalition partners' refusal to grant the DA additional seats in the government, AP reported. It was also prompted by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's (VMRO-DPMNE) demand that Justice Minister Vlado Kambovski (DA) resign. VMRO-DPMNE officials have charged that Kambovski encouraged the Supreme Court to make its recent decision to re-run the presidential election in 221 precincts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). Most of those precincts are in western Macedonia, where PDSH supporters voted en masse for the VMRO-DPMNE's Boris Trajkovski in the second round of the presidential election on 14 November. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT'S CONDITION BLEAK

"Vecernji list," which is close to the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), reported on 1 December that President Franjo Tudjman's "doctors are having more and more difficulties in finding ways to preserve his life." They continue to monitor his heartbeat, but his digestive system, kidneys, and liver have ceased to function. The president is able to breathe thanks only to a respirator, the daily added. "Jutarnji list" noted that officials have already begun preparations for Tudjman's funeral and burial site. PM

CROATIAN PARTY DISTANCING SELF FROM OWN POLICIES?

Deputy speaker of the parliament and leading hard-line HDZ politician Vladimir Seks told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 30 November that his party will seek to curb the powers of the president after the 3 January legislative elections. The constitution gives extensive powers to the president and the opposition wants most of those prerogatives transferred to the parliament. Elsewhere, Ivic Pasalic, who leads the Herzegovinian faction within the HDZ, told the state-run daily "Vjesnik" of 1 December that his party made economic mistakes because it followed "neo-liberal" advice from "international financial institutions." Observers note that many Croats feel that the HDZ has enabled many of its loyalists to amass great wealth at a time when most people have difficulty making ends meet. In other news, Vlatko Pavletic, who is acting president, said after talks with Defense Minister Pavao Miljavac that the army will respect the results of the elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

HUNGER STRIKE OVER SERBIAN OIL DELIVERIES

Mayor Tomislav Panajotovic of Pirot said that he and the town council will soon go on a hunger strike if the central authorities do not allow EU heating oil shipments to cross from Macedonia into Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 30 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). In Nis, Mayor Zoran Zivkovic said he will call on citizens to "seek out the guilty ones in Belgrade and Dedinje" (where Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic lives) if the authorities do not allow EU oil to reach his town. In Brussels, the EU's Chris Patten said that the Energy for Democracy program will continue regardless of whether the Serbian authorities allow the current oil shipment to cross the border. Elsewhere, a shipment of heating oil bought by the city government of Novi Sad has arrived from Hungary, Montenegrin Television reported on 1 December. PM

U.S. INVESTIGATING POSSIBLE KOSOVA AID FRAUD

U.S. disaster relief officials are looking into reports that an unnamed employee of the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee in Macedonia diverted up to $1 million to a fictitious company for building materials that were never delivered, AP reported from Prishtina on 30 November. The employee, who was also one of the owners of the company, has meanwhile "disappeared." A spokeswoman for USAID in Washington stressed that officials launched the investigation as soon as they suspected irregularities. Aid agencies face the huge task of rebuilding or repairing 125,000 homes in Kosova amid winter weather conditions. PM

UN LAUNCHES KOSOVA CAR REGISTRATION PROGRAM

Officials of the UN-led civilian administration in Kosova began distributing new green-and-white automobile registration plates in Prishtina on 30 November. The UN's Bernard Kouchner hailed the introduction of the license plates as a "most visible sign of law and order" in the troubled province, Reuters reported. Police hope that the license plates will help them to crack down on organized crime and auto smuggling, much of which is in the hands of criminals from Albania. Serbian forces often removed license plates from ethnic Albanians' cars during the ethnic cleansing campaign in the spring of 1999. UN officials acknowledged that introducing the license plates is "a bit unorthodox" but hailed it as "a public necessity." The Serbian authorities see the move as a violation of Serbian sovereignty. PM

MESSAGES OF SUPPORT FOR BOSNIAN SACKINGS

A spokesman for the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 30 November that his office has received numerous messages, telephone calls, and e-mails from ordinary citizens of Bosnia expressing support for the recent sacking of 22 nationalist officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1999). The spokesman stressed that the firings are intended to "kick-start" the return of refugees and displaced persons whose homes are now controlled by a different ethnic group from their own. Officials of several leading nationalist parties criticized the firings, Reuters reported. PM

U.S., BALKAN MILITARY CHIEFS SET UP NEW STRUCTURES IN BUCHAREST

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, meeting in Bucharest on 30 November with defense ministers from several Balkan countries and Italy, signed agreements on establishing a military intelligence network to control and prevent crises and on setting up an engineering task force to build road infrastructure across the region. The Balkan signatories to the agreement are Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, and Turkey. Cohen told participants to the meeting that Yugoslavia will not be accepted as a partner as long as President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power. In meetings with Romanian leaders, Cohen praised Romania's progress in military and economic reforms and pledged that Washington will continue helping Bucharest climb "the steep steps" toward gaining NATO membership, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN FASCISTS MARK LEADER'S ASSASSINATION

Some 100 members of the Iron Guard gathered at the Tancabesti forest near Bucharest on 30 November to mark the anniversary of the 1938 assassination of their leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, on King Carol II's orders, AP reported. They raised their hand in the Guard's Nazi-like salute and sang Guardist hymns and songs. MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CLEARS LAW ON ACCESS TO SECURITATE FILES

The Constitutional Court on 29 November ruled that the recently passed law on access to Communist-era secret police files is constitutional. Last month the Supreme Court asked the Constitutional Court to review the stipulation that only the files of the heads of postcommunist secret services can be accessed, Mediafax reported. MS

COMMUNIST LEADER APPOINTED MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE

President Petru Lucinschi on 1 December appointed Vladimir Voronin, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists, as premier-designate, Infotag reported. Addressing the parliament, Lucinschi said Voronin's "wish to shoulder the responsibility for improving the country's situation should only be welcomed." He called on legislators to speedily approve the nomination, saying that if they do not, he might be compelled to dissolve the parliament and call early elections. Speaking on Moldovan Television one day earlier, Lucinschi said it was the "usual practice in many countries" to appoint as premier the leader of the largest parliamentary group in the legislature. The Communists, he said, "have 40 seats in our parliament, more than any other political force." To appoint their leader to that position would be "an absolutely democratic and civilized act." MS

EU WELCOMES BULGARIA'S DECISION ON KOZLODUY

The EU on 30 November welcomed Bulgaria's commitment to shut down the two aging reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant and said it expects the other two reactors to be shut down by 2006. It also said that in addition to Bulgaria, it has now secured commitments from Slovakia and Lithuania to close unsafe reactors as a precondition for launching accession negotiations. Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Fiori told journalists in Brussels that Bulgaria will receive some $200 million in aid to help alleviate the effects of the closure, Reuters reported. MS




EAST EUROPEAN STATES WELL REPRESENTED IN WTO


By Andrew F. Tully

Several states from CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE will be among the full members of the World Trade Organization sending representatives to the organization's meetings in Seattle this week.

Estonia became the 135th country in the organization when it officially joined last month. Also among the full members are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Most of the other states from the region have observer status and have applied for full membership. They are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky recently made the argument that countries in the region have benefited from membership. In testimony before the U.S. Senate, she cited the cases of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Attaining membership forces countries in transition from communism to make the reforms necessary for a free-market economy, Barshefsky argued, noting that this in turn helps to bring about long-term growth.

But concerns have been raised in both the region's full WTO member states and in candidate states about some of the consequences of participation in the world trade body.

Latvia became a full member early this year, even though farmers had raised concerns that the step would undermine their ability to compete with agricultural imports. They worry in part because duties on grain imports are to be cut from 75 percent to 50 percent next year.

Others in Latvia, including makers of pharmaceuticals, have complained that WTO membership has forced legal changes that are too rapid. However, Latvia's timber industry is expected to benefit from new trading terms with other WTO states.

With Estonia also now a member, Lithuania is alone among the Baltic States in remaining outside the WTO. Earlier this year, then Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius complained that reforms demanded by the WTO did not conform with demands made by the EU on its candidate states.

Kyrgyzstan remains the only CIS state to have won full WTO membership, something it accomplished a year ago. Some Western observers at the time said membership demonstrated the country's progress in establishing the rule of law and transparency in economic matters.

But membership has also complicated Kyrgyzstan's relations with some of its neighbors. First Russia and then Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan imposed new tariffs.

Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at John Hopkins University in Washington, told RFE/RL earlier this year that he believes Moscow engineered the tariff hikes to send a message to Bishkek. He said Russian officials wanted to punish Kyrgyzstan for seeking closer ties with the West while drifting away from Moscow's economic and political control. Starr added that another reason may have been that in going so far in meeting WTO standards, Kyrgyzstan, as a fellow CIS member, may have undermined Russia's hopes of winning entry on less demanding terms.

Despite such incidents, many states from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are likely to use the meetings in Seattle to press ahead with their efforts to win full WTO membership. Their delegates are expected to be joined in Seattle by thousands of anti-WTO demonstrators, who are pressing for an end to child labor, for environmental safeguards, and for a number of other causes.

RFE/RL asked representatives of two of the region's observer states whether they are concerned the protests might detract from their membership efforts.

Nijole Zambaite is minister counselor at the Lithuanian Embassy to the U.S. She said she believes that her country's accession will proceed "according to our merits and negotiations. And I don't think it will be stalled by the demonstrations."

Elmar Mamedyarov, the charge d'affaires at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, is not concerned either that the demonstrations will interfere with the WTO's work. In fact, he welcomes the protests: "From one point of view, it's good because sometimes demonstrations are raising the issues--which is also very important--and give a fresh approach to the issues which maybe sometimes can be skipped."

Only a few states from CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE are as of yet neither full members of nor observers at the WTO. They are Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Yugoslavia.

Among states of the Middle East, neither Iran nor Iraq is either a member or observers. The region's full members include Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, and Kuwait.

Observers from the region include Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. All but Yemen have applied for full membership. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington.


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