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Newsline - December 7, 1999




CIVILIAN EXODUS FROM GROZNY GATHERS MOMENTUM

The remaining residents of Grozny, whose number is estimated at between 15,000-40,000, began leaving the city on 6 December in response to Russian warnings to do so by 11 December or face intensified bombardment, Reuters reported. The BBC World Service on 7 December quoted a senior Russian military official as saying that the airforce will use 200-pound bombs containing ignitable gas to destroy the nuclear bunkers in Grozny where the remaining defenders are believed to be hiding. Turan on 7 December quoted a Chechen representative in Baku as reporting that as 37 people have died in Grozny following a chemical weapon attack the previous day. LF

U.S. WARNS RUSSIA ON CHECHNYA...

U.S. President Bill Clinton said on 6 December that Russia may "pay a heavy price" for its actions in Chechnya "with each passing day, sinking more deeply into a morass that will intensify extremism and diminish its own standing in the world." Clinton was responding to Russia's plans to bomb all those who fail to leave Grozny. He added that "I am deeply disturbed by reports that suggest that innocent Chechens will continue to bear the brunt of this war and not the militants Russia is fighting." The same day, State Department spokesman James Rubin said that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been making almost daily telephone calls to her counterpart, Igor Ivanov, to express the U.S.'s "strong opposition to a military solution." The Carnegie Endowment's David Kramer told RFE/RL's Washington bureau that the Clinton administration's response was "very belated" since "indiscriminate bombing has been going on since early October." JAC

...AS DOES EU

EU Foreign Ministers adopted a statement in Brussels on 6 December condemning as "unacceptable" Moscow's ultimatum to Grozny residents to leave the city by 11 December, AP reported. They further expressed "deep concern" at Russia's intensifying military campaign in Chechnya. Also on 6 December, a British government spokesman appealed to the Russian leadership to take all possible measures to protect the civilian population. In Washington, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman James Foley told journalists that the U.S. is "deeply disturbed" by the Russian ultimatum and urges Moscow not to follow through with it. LF

RUSSIAN GENERAL SAYS WARNING NOT AN ULTIMATUM

Speaking in Moscow on 6 December, First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov argued that the warning to residents to leave Grozny by 11 December does not constitute an ultimatum but rather a "psychological measure and an act of humanity," Interfax reported. He said that the Russian federal command is doing everything possible to avoid civilian losses and that the safe corridor opened for civilians to flee Grozny will not be bombed or shelled. Manilov added that a tent camp will be set up in Znamenskoe where displaced persons from Grozny will be given shelter, food, and medical care. LF

OIC CALLS FOR CEASE-FIRE IN CHECHNYA

A delegation from the Organization of the Islamic Conference headed by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told journalists in Moscow on 6 December after talks with senior Russian officials that Russia's military campaign in Chechnya is not an appropriate response to the threat to Russia's territorial integrity, Reuters reported. Before leaving for the North Caucasus on 7 December, Kharrazi stressed the OIC's concern over the number of civilian victims of the fighting. He said the OIC advocates an immediate cease-fire, the return of displaced persons to their homes, a universal amnesty, and the holding of political talks, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

YAVLINSKII CALLS FOR TALKS, SELEZNEV SAYS KEEP FIGHTING

Speaking in Moscow on 6 December, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii again called for the beginning of political negotiations on Chechnya in tandem with the ongoing hostilities in order to minimize both troop losses and civilian casualties, Interfax reported. Yavlinskii agreed that "terrorists must be brought to justice," but he added that civil accord in Chechnya will not be possible without the support of the local population. Neither the Russian nor the Chechen leadership officially responded to Yavlinskii's earlier peace proposals for Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). Also on 6 December, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev argued that "we cannot pull the army out of Chechnya now and offer the chance of stopping hostilities," Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. He said that all those Chechen fighters who do not surrender their arms "must be destroyed." LF

RUSSIA SAYS IMF DECISION LINKED WITH CHECHNYA

Commenting on news that the IMF will delay discussion on extending the second installment of its loan to Russia for several weeks, First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 7 December that "it is evident in this case political considerations were crucial in decision-making." He added that the decision raises questions about the IMF's status as a non-political institution. Anton Siluanov, head of the Finance Ministry's macroeconomic policy department, told Interfax the same day that "the West's denunciation of our policy in Chechnya is the only core reason for the IMF board decision to put off consideration" of the loan. IMF Executive Director for Russia Aleksei Mozhin said the IMF's official reason for the delay was Russia's failure to undertake "a number of structural measures" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). Prime Minister Putin said "the formal reason [for the delay] is the supposed non-execution by Russia of some obligations to the IMF. We disagree with that." JAC

UNION TREATY BACK ON SCHEDULE...

Sergei Prikhodko, deputy chief of the presidential staff, announced on 6 December that Russian and Belarusian officials have agreed that the treaty for the union of Russia and Belarus will be signed on 8 December. On 2 December, President Boris Yeltsin telephoned with his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, to discuss the treaty and apologize for postponing the original ceremony. JAC

...AS KUCHMA NOTES IMPORTANCE OF HIS MEETING WITH YELTSIN

After meeting with Yeltsin on 6 December, President Leonid Kuchma told reporters that the Russian government has agreed in principle on restructuring Ukraine's debt to Russia. According to Kuchma, Ukraine owes Russia some $3 billion, $1.4 billion of which is in unpaid gas bills. The two leaders also confirmed plans for the joint production of various passenger and cargo airplanes. Kuchma noted that Yeltsin was "in good form and in fine spirits" and that "the fact that we met is another indication of the importance of Ukrainian-Russian relations," according to Interfax. JAC

YELTSIN BOUND FOR BEIJING

The Kremlin press service has confirmed that President Yeltsin will pay a scheduled visit to China on 9-10 December for an informal meeting with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Yeltsin, who earlier this week was released from the hospital after being treated for pneumonia, will undertake the lengthy flight to Beijing on 8 December, after signing the Russia-Belarus union treaty, and will return to Moscow two days later, according to his press service. According to Ekho Moskvy on 7 December, during the flight Yeltsin will be administered medication that induces a "therapeutic sleep." On the agenda of his talks with Jiang will be, among other things, anti-ballistic missile defense, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and international terrorism, an unidentified "high-ranking official" told ITAR-TASS on 6 December. That source also noted that while Russia and China share many foreign-policy objectives, they have no plans to pursue an anti-U.S. policy. JC

ALLEGED CRIME BOSS CLEARED TO RUN IN ELECTION...

The Russian Supreme Court on 6 December overruled an earlier decision by local election officials in Rostov Oblast banning Sergei Mikhailov, who is reportedly known in criminal circles as "Mikhas," from participating in the 19 December State Duma elections. Election officials barred Mikhailov from running in a single mandate district in Taganrog because of his dual Greek and Russian citizenship (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 November 1999). According to the "Los Angeles Times" on 7 December, Mikhailov reported his annual income as 1,3888.79 rubles and his occupation as director of a charity fund. Mikhailov previously spent 26 months in Swiss jail on organized crime charges for which he was ultimately acquitted. JAC

...AS ANOTHER ELECTION BLOC LOSES ITS LEADER

The same day, the Supreme Court disqualified Aleksandr Burkov, the leader of the Peace, Work, May movement, from running in State Duma elections. Burkov recently waged an unsuccessful campaign for the governor's office in Sverdlovsk Oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 September 1999). JAC

GOVERNMENT SLAPS HIGHER DUTY ON OIL

Prime Minister Putin signed a resolution on 6 December increasing the export duty on crude oil to 15 euros ($15.27) per metric ton. The tariff was previously 7.5 euros. The government had been considering raising the duty to 12.5 euros but changed its policy only recently, "Vremya MN" reported on 7 December. As a result, the government is expected to earn an extra 1.8 billion rubles per month beginning next year, according to the daily. Unidentified sources in the White House told the newspaper that the government needs more resources to spend on defense and elections. Also mentioned was the need to find new monies since IMF funds have not been forthcoming. Last month, Putin declared that Russia could not continue to rely on revenues from oil and gas and should make development of the country's military-industrial complex a priority. JAC

RUBLE SINKS...

The ruble on 6 December lost 10 kopeks against the dollar to fall to 26.84 rubles to $1. The ruble's slide follows a loss of 32 kopeks last week. However, traders do not expect the ruble to slip much further, in part because they expect the Central Bank to intervene, "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 December. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko announced on 25 November that he expects the ruble to end the year at around 27 rubles per dollar. Traders reported that the Central Bank provided only limited support for the ruble as it declined last week. Meanwhile, the price of shares in Russian companies held steady on 7 December as the benchmark RTS index closed 0.02 percent down from 3 December. JAC

...AS INFLATION CONTINUES TO EASE SLIGHTLY

Inflation in November measured 1.2. percent, compared with 1.4 percent in October, 1.5 percent in September, and 1.2 percent in August, the Russian Statistics Agency reported on 6 December. Inflation totaled 34.8 percent during the first 11 months of 1999. The government had forecast 50 percent inflation for the year but now analysts expect the final figure for 1999 to be lower. JAC

MOSCOW WANTS PLANNED EU ARMY TO BE INDEPENDENT OF NATO

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, the chief of the Russian Defense Ministry's department for international military cooperation, told Interfax on 6 December that his ministry hopes the new military force being considered by the EU will be independent of NATO. "Such a structure can only be hailed," Ivashov commented, "if it is not part of the alliance's overall plans." According to AP, the creation of a 50,000-strong rapid reaction force is to be one of the main issues on the agenda of the EU summit in Helsinki later this week. JC

OLD MASTERS UP FOR GRABS?

Two paintings by the 19th- century Russian artist Ilya Repin--"The Angel of Death Killing the Pharaoh's First-born" (1865) and "Model" (1867)--were among 16 old masters swiped from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts over the weekend. While many thefts from Russian museums are blamed on poor security systems, in this instance an alarm signal was reportedly received at the local police station, but when police arrived on the scene, there was no one to let them into the building, according to "The St. Petersburg Times" on 7 December. Moreover, a museum official who was informed about the signal is reported to have shrugged it off, saying the alarm went off "occasionally." JC

BEREZOVSKII RULES OUT SPLITTING KARACHAEVO- CHERKESSSIA

Vladimir Semenov, president of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, met with visiting Russian First Deputy Premier Nikolai Aksenenko and media magnate Boris Berezovskii to discuss the political situation in the republic and how to resolve differences between the Karachai and Cherkess communities, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 December. Berezovskii excluded acceding to the demands of the Cherkess and Abazin communities for the creation of a separate Cherkess autonomous formation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). Berezovskii said dividing Karachaevo-Cherkessia "would become a signal for the whole of Russia." LF




INVESTIGATION OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY KILLINGS CONTINUES...

Armenia's Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian told journalists in Yerevan on 6 December that police continue to gather evidence concerning the shootings on 27 October of eight senior officials, including the prime minister and parliamentary speaker, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Jahangirian said that some 256 people, including 52 parliamentary deputies and 37 journalists, have been questioned about the killings. At least 12 hypotheses concerning the motives of the five gunmen are being assessed. Jahangirian confirmed media reports that the gunmen have implicated some Armenian political groups and politicians, but he declined to name them. LF

...AS PRESIDENT EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER MURDER TRIAL DELAY

Noyan Tapan on 7 December quoted President Robert Kocharian's spokesman, Vahe Gabrielian, as telling Armenian state television that Kocharian fears the repeated postponements of the trial of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian may totally undermine public confidence in the justice system. Siradeghian is accused of having ordered a series of contract killings. Following his refusal to appear in court last week, his trial has been adjourned until January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1999). LF

ARMENIAN POLITICAL PARTIES REJECT CALL FOR PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION

Tigran Torosian, deputy chairman of the Republican People's Party of Armenia (HHK), one of the two members of the majority Miasnutiun faction within the Armenian parliament, on 6 December downplayed the demand voiced two days earlier for President Robert Kocharian's resignation and new presidential elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Speaking at a congress in Yerevan of the Yerkrapah Union of Veterans of the Karabakh war, Minister for Industrial Infrastructure Vahan Shirkhanian had argued that Kocharian should resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). Torosian said Shirkhanian was expressing only his personal opinion. David Lokian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun expressed support for Kocharian. And the National Unity Oukht condemned Shirkhanian's statement as a call for the ouster of the commander-in-chief of the Armenian armed forces and "the establishment of a military junta." LF

GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS DETAIN MERCENARIES ON BORDER WITH CHECHNYA

Georgian border guards on 6 December detained 12 men who had attempted to cross from Georgian territory into Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. The men--nine from Turkey and one each from Northern Ireland, France, and Jordan--were unarmed but said they had intended to fight on the side of the Chechens against Russian forces. Also on 6 December, the Georgian State Border Department and the Ministry for Refugees and Forced Migrants issued a joint statement warning that Georgia will restrict the entry of refugees from the Chechen fighting, given that the country is hard pressed to provide adequate living conditions for its own citizens displaced by the fighting in Abkhaia and South Ossetia, according to Caucasus Press. LF

INVESTIGATIONS UNCOVER FINANCIAL IRREGULARITIES IN GEORGIAN DEFENSE, CULTURE MINISTRIES

Following allegations of corruption within the Defense Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1999), Georgia's Military Prosecutor has discovered four instances of unsanctioned expenditures totaling 5 million lari (some $2.7 million), Caucasus Press reported on 3 December, citing "Rezonansi." All four cases involved the purchase of uniforms, fuel, and food for the Union for the Support of the Georgian Army, which is headed by the brother of Defense Minister David Tevzadze. On 4 December, Caucasus Press reported that Deputy Minister of Culture Razhden Mikaberidze has been charged with misappropriating 150,000 lari. LF

EXPORT OF AZERBAIJANI OIL VIA GEORGIA RESUMES

Pumping of oil through the Baku-Supsa export pipeline resumed on 4 December, Caucasus Press reported, quoting Georgian oil official Irakli Kelbakhiani. But according to ITAR-TASS on 6 December, pumping has not yet reached full capacity. Last month, pumping was suspended after torrential rains in western Georgia washed away the ground from under a 50 meter section of the pipeline. On 3 December in Tbilisi, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met with David Woodward, president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, to discuss the ecological safety of the pipeline. LF

MILITARY CADETS, ISLAMIC MILITANTS CLASH IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN

The independent television station 31 Kanal reported on 6 December that two Islamic militants were shot dead in an exchange of fire on 26 November with a group of cadets from the Almaty Military Academy, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. The incident occurred at Darbaza, near the Kazakh- Kyrgyz border. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION AGAIN CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESPOND TO FORMER PREMIER'S PROPOSALS

Leaders of the opposition movements and parties aligned in the Democratic Forum convened a press conference in Almaty on 6 December, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. The opposition leaders castigated President Nursultan Nazarbaev for failing to respond to former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin's call for political dialogue and demanded that he do so before leaving for the U.S. on 17 December. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, CHEVRON FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON TENGIZCHEVROIL SALE

Nazarbaev held talks in Almaty on 3 December with Richard Matzke, president of Chevron Overseas, but the two men failed to agree on terms for the sale of part of Kazakhstan's 25 percent stake in the joint venture to develop the Tengiz oil field, Interfax reported. Chevron is the senior partner in that consortium, with a 45 percent stake. The proposed sale has generated serious disagreements within the Kazakh leadership. LF

MONGOLIAN PRESIDENT VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

Visiting Bishkek on 4-6 December, Natsagiyn Bagabandi held talks with his Kyrgyz counterpart, Askar Akaev, Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev, and the speakers of both chambers of the Kyrgyz parliament, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The two presidents signed a joint declaration pledging to strengthen bilateral relations. Akaev told journalists that the two countries espouse similar approaches to democratic and economic reform and intend to expand economic ties, especially in agriculture, according to Interfax. LF

TAJIK GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION REACH AGREEMENT ON ELECTION LAW

Government and opposition representatives on the Commission for National Reconciliation on 3 December finally reached agreement on the number of deputies to be elected to each chamber of the new Tajik parliament, Asia Plus-Blitz and RFE/RL's Dushanbe correspondent reported. The lower chamber will consist of 63 deputies and the upper chamber 33 senators. Disagreement over the optimum number of deputies was one of several issues that delayed approval of the new law, which was to have been completed by 20 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 29 November 1999). President Imomali Rakhmonov told United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri on 3 December that completion of the draft law was "the most difficult stage" in laying the groundwork for free and democratic local elections which are scheduled for February 2000, Interfax reported. LF

OSCE CRITICIZES PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN UZBEKISTAN

OSCE official Madeleine Wilkens told journalists in Tashkent on 6 December that the Uzbekistan failed to guarantee that the parliamentary poll the previous day was free, fair, equal, and transparent, Reuters and Interfax reported. She added that local authorities interfered in the nomination of candidates and that local election commissions were neither unbiased nor independent. Central Electoral Commission spokesman Sherzod Kudratkhodjaev rejected that criticism, however. He pointed out that some local officials failed to win election, and he cited observers from Russia and Moldova as saying they registered no procedural violations, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL FOR CONTACTS WITH OPPOSITION REPORTEDLY RESIGNS

Interfax reported on 6 December that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's aide Mikhail Sazonau, who was charged with preparing a dialogue with the opposition, has resigned. Official sources have not confirmed that report. In November, Sazonau, together with opposition experts, drew up a document regulating the opposition's access to the state-controlled media. However, Lukashenka rejected that document, and the preparations for the OSCE-mediated dialogue in Belarus came to a standstill. According to Belapan, Lukashenka's chief of protocol, Uladzimir Karalou, and Belarusian Broadcasting Company Chairman Ryhor Kisel have also tendered their resignations. JM

DECREE ON ABOLISHING COLLECTIVE FARMS IN UKRAINE DEEMED 'ERRONEOUS'

Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said on 6 December that President Leonid Kuchma's decree on abolishing collective farms is an "unambiguously erroneous decree [that] undermines the lot of the entire state," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). "Nobody reckoned with either the economic expedience of [these] innovations or the losses inflicted on the country and people by the disintegration of collective farms," Tkachenko said, adding that Kuchma consulted with neither the parliament nor the people before making that decision. UNIAN quoted Vasyl Krutsenko, deputy head of the parliamentary agricultural committee, as saying the implementation of the decree will cause "starvation" in Ukraine. The committee is going to ask the Constitutional Court to examine whether the decree is constitutional. JM

UKRAINE HALTS PRIVATIZATION OF ENERGY COMPANIES

State Property Fund Chairman Oleksandr Bondar on 6 December ordered a halt to the privatization of energy suppliers, which had been decreed by the president in the summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1999), Interfax reported. The fund said privatization has been halted in connection with "difficulties in energy supplies in the winter period [as well as] the need to ensure efficient state control over the operation of energy companies and the process of the branch's restructuring." The privatization of energy companies has so far resulted in revenues totaling 90 million hryvni ($18.5 million). The state has retained a controlling interest in 20 of Ukraine's 27 regional energy suppliers. JM

ESTONIA'S ECONOMIC RECOVERY SLOWER THAN EXPECTED

Analysts were disappointed on 6 December when preliminary numbers showed that third-quarter GDP rose by only 0.2 percent. Analysts had predicted a rise of between 1.5 percent and 2.2 percent, "Postimees" reported. This lower- than-expected increase prompted many analysts to change their predictions of GDP growth in 1999, many opting for a slight decrease for the year as a whole. Estonia's second- quarter GDP dropped by 2.4 percent, which was actually better than the analysts' forecast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999). The third-quarter figure is the first quarterly growth in Estonia since the third quarter of 1998, which saw a 1.9 percent rise. The Statistical Department, which issued the preliminary figure, will announce the final figure in February. MH

LATVIAN MILITARY TO FORM SPECIAL UNITS FOR NATO OPS

Janis Sarts, the acting state secretary of the Latvian Defense Ministry, has said Riga will form special military units to work alongside NATO forces in alliance operations. During a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on 2 December, Sarts said that the Latvian military is developing both rapid-reaction units and "specialized units" that NATO needs, such as explosives ordnance disposal units, military police units, and diver units. Sarts also reaffirmed Latvia's commitment to raise defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2003. The delegation from Latvia traveled to Washington to brief U.S. officials on Latvia's action plan for NATO integration. MH

EMBATTLED LITHUANIAN MINISTER RESIGNS

Minister for Administrative Reforms Sigitas Kaktys tendered his resignation on 6 December after refusing to do so for several weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999), ELTA reported. The minister has been under intense pressure from the media and other politicians, including President Valdas Adamkus, to resign over a recent scandal involving inaccurate income declarations and the acquisition of a valuable piece of land. Kaktys maintains his innocence, but his resignation was immediately accepted by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and President Adamkus. Justice Minister Gintaras Balciunas will occupy the portfolio in the meantime. MH

OIL SPILL AT BUTINGE

On the evening of 6 December, an estimated 3 tons of crude oil leaked into the Baltic Sea at Lithuania's Butinge Oil Platform, ELTA reported. Civil Security Department officials say the accident occurred during the loading of a tanker, but so far no crude has washed ashore. Investigators suggested the possible cause was a broken hose that was severed during freak winds. When Butinge began operations on 21 July, several Latvian Greens occupied the platform to protest possible environmental catastrophes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1999). MH

POLISH GOVERNMENT TO INTRODUCE FIVE-DAY WORKWEEK

Government spokesman Krzysztof Luft said on 6 December that the cabinet has decided to introduce a five-day workweek in 2000, while maintaining the current working norm of 42 hours a week, PAP reported. The government's decision came on the heels of the parliament's failed attempt to reduce the workweek to 40 hours in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). At its session in Gdansk the same day, Solidarity's National Commission noted that the government pledged to introduce a five-day workweek as early as 1980, when it signed the so-called Gdansk Agreements with Solidarity. JM

KAVAN SAYS NATO AIR STRIKES TOOK CZECH GOVERNMENT BY SURPRISE

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 6 December said information that NATO was planning an air strike campaign in Yugoslavia took his government by surprise earlier this year, CTK reported. The air strike campaign began a few days after the Czech Republic was accepted into the alliance in March. Kavan, who was speaking at a conference on NATO in the Czech Senate, insisted that his government "supported all NATO steps, although it was not easy for many cabinet ministers." He also said Serbian media were better prepared to cover the NATO campaign than were the "relevant NATO bodies," "especially in the first days of the air strikes." Kavan added that he is still proud of the Czech-Greek peace initiative: while that document itself was not adopted, many of its proposals were incorporated into the final agreement between NATO and Yugoslavia, he noted. VG

ZEMAN WANTS TO DEEPEN "OPPOSITION AGREEMENT"

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 6 December said his party's "opposition agreement" with Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party should be expanded to create permanent working groups between the two parties, "Pravo" reported the next day. In other news, Zeman said he met with Communist leader Miroslav Grebenicek at his cottage on 5 December, but he refused to give any details, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 7 December. Zeman added that he might be willing to cooperate with the Communists if he finds that their recent congress revealed a break with the past. At the 4-5 December party congress, Grebenicek called for a "definitive" end to "nostalgia for the former regime," a "renewal of socialism," and a suspension of the country's membership in NATO. He also praised the current Chinese economic model, Czech media reported. VG

SLOVAKIA WANTS EU COUNTRIES TO CHANGE ASYLUM LAWS

Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky on 6 December said the exodus of Romany citizens from Slovakia will continue as long as various EU countries have asylum laws that provide cash payments to refugee applicants in excess of the average Slovak wage, TASR reported. The same day, Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said EU countries should adopt a common policy that would speed up the refugee application procedures. Both politicians were reacting to Norway's decision to impose visa restrictions on Slovaks as of 7 December. Csaky said visa restrictions would not resolve the problem. He added that he sees no reason for Slovak citizens to emigrate for reasons of political or ethnic discrimination. VG

SLOVAK CENTRAL BANK RELEASES FUNDS FOR RESTRUCTURING

The Slovak central bank has decided to forward 17.8 billion crowns ($434 million) to the Finance Ministry for the purpose of restructuring some of the country's key financial institutions, "Sme" reported on 7 December. The money will be used to raise the equity of the banks Vseobecna uverova banka and Slovenska Sporitelna as well as the insurance company Slovenska Pojistovna. The move is aimed at fulfilling EU criteria for membership. VG

HUNGARIAN ECONOMICS, CULTURE MINISTERS TO BE REPLACED

Within the next few days, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to replace Economics Minister Attila Chikan with Gyorgy Matolcsy and Culture Minister Jozsef Hamori with Zoltan Rockenbauer, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 7 December, citing unidentified government sources. Matolcsy is the author of the major coalition party FIDESZ's economic program, while Rockenbauer is the foreign affairs and security state secretary at the Prime Minister's Office. Jozsef Torgyan, chairman of the junior governing coalition member Independent Smallholders' Party, said no ministers belonging to his party are expected to be replaced this year. MSZ




EU OIL TRUCKS REACH NIS

All 14 trucks carrying EU heating oil had arrived in Nis by 7 December after Yugoslav customs officials held them up at the Macedonian border for almost two weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). One truck drove directly to the heating plant, but customs officials told the rest to proceed to the customs office at the airport. It is unclear whether the Serbian authorities have ceased efforts to delay the delivery of the oil to opposition-run Nis and Pirot municipal heating plants or whether the cat-and- mouse game has simply entered a new phase. Nis Mayor Zoran Zivkovic added: "This is not a good sign." EU Belgrade representative Michael Graham told Reuters: "I'm extremely cautious after what happened over the last 13 days." He suggested that the Serbian authorities may have allowed the trucks to enter the country in order to "cause confusion" at an ongoing meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. PM

EU EXPANDS TRAVEL BAN FOR YUGOSLAV ELITE

The EU on 6 December expanded its list of Yugoslav citizens banned from receiving EU visas from 305 to 688 persons. Several individuals on the original list were dropped from the new one. Brussels first imposed the visa ban in 1998 as a form of embargo directed at Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, his family, top government officials, businessmen, media figures, and others believed closely tied to the regime. It is widely believed in Serbia that the visa ban has proven particularly irritating to the elite. PM

SERBIAN COMMUNISTS THREATEN MEDIA LAWSUITS

Ivan Markovic of the United Yugoslav Left (JUL) said in Belgrade on 6 December that his party will soon take legal measures against unnamed media that "daily insult patriots because they refuse to betray their country or serve NATO purposes." JUL is headed by Mira Markovic, who is the wife of Milosevic. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party recently announced that it plans lawsuits against the independent dailies "Danas" and "Blic" as well as against Studio B Television. Hounding independent media with costly lawsuits has been a frequent practice in recent years in Serbia and to a lesser extent in Croatia and Bosnia. PM

MONTENEGRO, SERBIA 'COOPERATE' IN CURRENCY CRACKDOWN?

In a rare display of apparent cooperation between the authorities in Belgrade and Podgorica, police in Montenegro and Serbia have arrested an unspecified number of black-market currency dealers in several municipalities, Reuters reported on 6 December. Montenegrin government economist Dimitrije Vesovic said, however, that the Montenegrin and Serbian authorities acted for different reasons. He denied that the arrests were coordinated. Vesovic argued that Belgrade wants to shore up the value of the dinar, while Podgorica seeks to prevent Montenegro from being flooded with increasingly weak dinars. In Serbia, the dinar is officially valued at 6 to 1 German mark, although the black market rate in recent months has been more than double that. Montenegrin Television reported on 7 December that the official exchange rate in that republic is now 20 to DM 1. PM

KOSOVA ARCHBISHOP CRITICIZES SERBIAN PATRIARCH

Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije said in a statement on 6 December that Patriarch Pavle "turned his back" on the Serbian people by attending a reception that Milosevic held on 29 November to mark the Day of the Republic. Artemije added: "After all that Mr. Milosevic did to the Serbian people in the past 10 years--and not only to the Serbian people--and after the tragedy he created in [Kosova] for both the Albanian and the Serbian people...your decision to respond to his call and kiss Milosevic's feet...astonished and raised doubts among the honorable clergy and the majority of the Christian Orthodox people." AP noted that Artemije's letter confirms long-standing rumors of a deep political rift within the Orthodox hierarchy. Artemije added that the division "no longer can or should be hidden. The truth is more important than anything." PM

ROBERTSON APPEALS FOR MONEY FOR KOSOVA

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said at the UN in New York on 6 December that if the international community "makes a very small investment [in Kosova] now, it will save a colossal amount of money later if it all goes wrong." He stressed that "there's a very thin line between success and failure in [Kosova], and we're walking that line at the moment," AP reported. He concluded that "the problem that we are faced with is that a very small investment now could make all the difference, but for the lack of it, we are risking a security challenge that will cost the international community much more." Robertson seeks money for the UN-backed police force and the civilian administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1999). PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS VIOLENCE AGAINST SERBS

President Rexhep Meidani of Albania said in Bucharest on 6 December that recent incidents in which Kosovars attacked elderly Serbs should be "condemned." He added, however, that "there is a great difference between these isolated incidents...and those which were provoked by state policy of Milosevic in Kosova against the Albanians," AP reported. In Prishtina, OSCE human rights monitor Gerard Stoudmann said that the recent OSCE report on violence in Kosova suggests that "there are clear hints of degrees of organization behind the current violence" against Serbs (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 December 1999). OSCE chief representative Daan Everts called for an investigation of the possible involvement of the leadership of the former Kosova Liberation Army in the violence, Reuters reported. PM

ALBANIAN SOCIALIST LEADER CALLS FOR OPEN BORDERS

Fatos Nano said in Tirana on 6 December that ensuring freedom of movement throughout the region is the best way to deflect nationalist calls for establishing a "greater Albania." Nano stressed that the solution to the ethnic Albanians' problems in the Balkans is not to redraw borders but to "make them irrelevant," Reuters reported. Nano said he wants to "create new ways of co-existence--first of all among [ethnic] Albanians--so that we are seen as emancipated, democratic, and a factor for stability in the Balkans...so no one will maltreat us as in the past or look down on us." The former prime minister added that he is "convinced that Kosova will become integrated into Europe faster than Serbia and at the same pace as Albania and other Balkan countries, such as Macedonia and Bulgaria." Observers note that one of many obstacles to promoting Balkan cooperation is the existence of tough visa requirements between many of the countries of the region. PM

NATO CONFISCATES BOSNIAN SERB WEAPONS

SFOR peacekeepers seized an unspecified quantity of weapons from a Bosnian Serb military storage depot near Zvornik on 6 December. NATO troops took the weapons to an unnamed location, where officials of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal will inspect them in conjunction with investigations into the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. SFOR will return the weapons to Zvornik after the inspection. PM

OSCE SAYS 'SOME' VOTE-RIGGING IN MACEDONIA

OSCE chief election monitor Mark Stevens told Reuters in Skopje on 6 December that "whilst the [5 December presidential] election proceeded smoothly in some polling stations, it is clear that in others serious breaches of the law occurred" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). He noted that there were some improvements to correct the irregularities that took place during the 14 November ballot. He added: "However, in other polling stations, there was widespread ballot-stuffing and multiple voting, resulting in voter turnout figures which in some instances appear unrealistic." It is unclear whether the OSCE or Macedonian Supreme Court will call for yet another round of voting. PM

EIGHT JUDGES JOIN TOP CROATIAN COURT

Parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic swore in eight individuals as new justices of the 11-member Constitutional Court in Zagreb on 6 December. Critics have charged that the appointments mark an attempt by the governing Croatian Democratic Community to pack the top legal body with party loyalists, some of whom are little known in the legal profession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). PM

BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS COOPERATION

Romanian Defense Minister Victor Babiuc and his visiting Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Ananiev, agreed on 6 December that their countries will form a political-military working group, according to a BTA report, cited by the BBC. The ministers said the working group will help facilitate the implementation of the Balkan Stability Pact. Babiuc and Ananiev also agreed to establish a system for the regular exchange of planning and defense information. VG

ROMANIAN RAILWAY STRIKE CONTINUES

After three hours of talks on 6 December, striking railway workers failed to find common ground with railway management on ending a strike, Rompres reported. The action began on 6 December after unions rejected an offer of a 20 percent wage increase from Transportation Minister Traian Basescu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). Basescu has reportedly ordered the Romanian Airlines Tarom to provide air transport to railway travelers, saying the company would receive compensation from the state that was originally earmarked for the railways, according to Hungarian Radio. VG

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW ON SECURITATE FILES

Emil Constantinescu on 6 December signed a law on public access to the files of the former communist Securitate. The law was passed by the parliament in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). In other news, a tribunal in Bucharest has approved the registration of the Party of National Reconciliation. Paul of Romania, the nephew of former Romanian King Carol II, had applied to register that group, Rompres reported on 6 December. VG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS FOR COMPROMISE ON MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

The president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Lord Russell- Johnston, has called on the Moldovan president and parliament to establish a special commission to resolve their dispute over changes to the constitution, BASA-Press reported on 6 December. Johnston, who was visiting Moldova, said the dispute should be resolved as quickly as possible because it could threaten democracy and have "terrible economic consequences." President Petru Lucinschi is pushing for constitutional changes that would give the president greater powers, while a group of parliamentary deputies have launched a separate initiative for a strong legislature. VG

BULGARIA, TURKEY AGREE TO RE-EXAMINE COMMON HISTORY

Bulgarian Education Minister Veselin Metodiev and his visiting Turkish counterpart, Metin Bostancioglu, agreed on 6 December to form a joint Bulgarian-Turkish education committee for reviewing history text books in both countries, BTA reported. Historians from both countries will exchange opinions on the textbooks used in Bulgarian and Turkish schools. Bulgarian academics are expected to complete an analysis of Turkish texts on the history of the Ottoman Empire by January 2000. The joint committee will then consider the views of the expert groups in both countries. Bostancioglu stressed that two countries have many things in common, adding "nobody is going to obliterate anybody else's history." VG

MULTINATIONAL PEACEKEEPING EXERCISE BEGINS IN BULGARIA

The Multinational Peace Force of Southeastern Europe on 6 December began a peacekeeping exercise in Plovdiv, BTA reported. The exercise involves military representatives from Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, and Bulgaria as well as observers from the U.S. and Slovenia. The agency noted that representatives from Albania, who are also supposed to take part in the exercise, were not present for the opening. VG




YABLOKO PLAYS UP CONCRETE ACHIEVEMENTS


By Laura Belin

Perhaps the biggest problem facing Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii is his image as a talker who is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for running the country.

During a heated live television debate on 25 November, former Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais repeatedly invoked that image. "You cannot imagine how I envy you," Chubais taunted the Yabloko leader at one point. He said Yavlinskii stood on the sidelines for years, criticizing those in power but never shaping his own policy. Chubais also talked of Yavlinskii's rejection of several offers of high government posts, painting a picture of a party that is all talk and no action.

During the last week, Yabloko has begun to air television commercials that seek to dispel that image. The new ads, which appear regularly during both free and paid air time, emphasize that candidates on the Yabloko ticket have solid policy achievements and are ready to put their plans into action.

One commercial alludes to the benefits of the law on production-sharing agreements, which is designed to attract foreign investment in projects to extract natural resources. The Yabloko faction drafted that law and worked hard to secure its passage. But the campaign ad does not mention "production- sharing agreements," a term that would be unfamiliar to most Russians, nor does it make any reference to foreign investment.

Instead, it shows Yavlinskii talking with a group of voters. One man asks, "Grigorii Alekseevich, will we live better than we do now?" Yavlinskii replies, "In our country we have everything we need in order to live better. On 30 July the Sakhalin-2 [oil well] project started to operate. That provided jobs for 2,500 people. Two schools and a hospital have been built. Those people have already begun to live better, thanks to just one of Yabloko's laws. We have many laws like that. Everything we've thought up will work." At the end of the commercial, a voice- over says, "Yabloko--for a decent life."

A similar commercial shows an elderly man asking, "When will you start to think about pensions?" Yavlinskii replies that thanks to Aleksei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, the parliament passed a law to increase pension payments to veterans. But the current authorities are not implementing that law, Yavlinskii noted. "That's why we need to be in power...so that our laws can start to work, so that we can prove that there is money in the country, and it's possible to give it to the people. So that we can manage to help you."

Yet another new commercial shows a woman asking, "Grigorii Alekseevich, when will things get better?" Yavlinskii replies that if his party gets into power, they will reduce expenditures on the presidential administration in the very first month, which will free up money for health expenditures, student stipends, and soldiers' pay. Yavlinskii also promises that Yabloko would strengthen the state and borders and would not allow stolen money to be spirited abroad. "Paradise won't arrive right away," he concludes. "But every day we will try to achieve stability and calm, and it will be better."

Three other new advertisements feature former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, the number two candidate on Yabloko's party list. One shows Stepashin speaking to the camera: "The time has come when decent and honest people should be together." It concludes with a voice-over: "Honesty in the organs of power, order in the country. Yabloko."

The other two new commercials end with the same slogan but include more information about Stepashin's accomplishments during his brief stint as prime minister this past summer. An interviewer asks, "Sergei Vadimovich, you were prime minister for three months. Was it possible to achieve anything in that time?"

Stepashin replies, "It was possible, and we managed to do it. We paid salaries on time. We fully settled pension arrears, and the defense industry commission was created. The war waged by NATO and the US against Yugoslavia, as well as what's happening today in Chechnya and Dagestan, allow us to draw one conclusion: our country will be respected when it is strong. I think that reviving the military-industrial complex is one of the main tasks facing the country today."

In another commercial, the interviewer asks Stepashin when order will be restored in the country. Stepashin answers that it will happen only when "professionals" are in power." Criminals have not yet been destroyed," he says. "They are straining to get into power, and our task is to get in their way. Because 'order' is not just a calling. Order and law are professions."

In the last parliamentary elections, in 1995, Yabloko received just under 7 percent of the vote. The new commercials suggest that the party's leaders are using their campaign resources to directly confront their weak points and aim for a larger share on 19 December. The author is a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford. She is currently in Moscow compiling the "RFE/RL Russian Election Report."


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