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Newsline - December 13, 1999




CIVILIANS LEAVING GROZNY

Some 800 Grozny residents left the Chechen capital on 11 December and 3,000 passed through checkpoints the following day after Russian officials announced the opening of a second "safe corridor" to enable non-combatants to depart. Russian forces halted their bombardment of Grozny on 11 December, and Russian aircraft dropped leaflets on the city informing the population they could safely leave. The previous day, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev had rejected Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu's claim that Grozny's Chechen defenders were preventing civilians leaving before the 11 December deadline, which had been announced on 6 December. Makhashev said that inhabitants were afraid to venture out of their homes because of the constant Russian bombardment, according to Interfax. Interior Ministry troops commander Colonel General Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov told "Krasnaya zvezda" of 11 December that he estimates some 4,000 fighters and 6,000-8,000 civilians remain in Grozny, while Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev estimated the number of civilians at 25,000-30,000, according to Interfax. LF

RUSSIAN PREMIER MAINTAINS CONTACT WITH CHECHEN PRESIDENT

The "Financial Times" on 11 December quoted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as saying he maintained "constant contact" over the previous eight days with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. But he added that those meetings had yielded no results, and he again spelled out the conditions Maskhadov must fulfill before peace talks can begin, including releasing all hostages held in Chechnya and handing over the "terrorists" responsible for bombing apartment buildings in Russia. During a meeting with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in Tashkent the same day, Putin said that the ultimatum earlier issued by Russian commanders "applied to bandits only. As for civilians, we are concerned that they should be able to leave Grozny on time," ORT reported. LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDERS LACK TROOPS TO TAKE SHALI

Gennadii Troshev, the commander of Russian forces in the United Eastern Grouping, told "Segodnya" on 11 December that "we could finish our task, that is to block Shali completely and begin to purge the place but unfortunately we now lack troops...to purge and control all the settlements." PG

DUMA APPROVES AMNESTY FOR CHECHENS WHO SURRENDER

The State Duma on 13 December "overwhelmingly" approved an amnesty for all Chechen fighters who give up their struggle by 1 February, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin greeted the move, saying that "even the rumor about the amnesty has forced many fighters to lay down their arms." PG

RUSSIAN FORCES GO ON RAMPAGE IN ALKHAN-YURT

Russian troops looted and then destroyed many of the houses still standing in the village of Alkhan-Yurt, 10 miles southwest of Grozny, Human Rights Watch reported on 11 December. Molly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asian Division of HRW, said that this was "a shocking case of the Russian force's intentional violation of international law." PG

EU SAYS RUSSIA'S CHECHEN CAMPAIGN 'TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE'

EU leaders, meeting in Helsinki on 10-11 December, issued a statement describing Russia's campaign in Chechnya as "totally unacceptable" and calling on Russia "to start forthwith political dialogue with the elected Chechen authorities." The statement urged Moscow not to order an all- out assault on Grozny and to end the "indiscriminate use of force" against civilians. The EU also announced that some funds earmarked for technical aid to Russia would be used instead for humanitarian assistance. JC

BEREZOVSKII CALLS FOR PEACE TALKS

On 10 December, media magnate Boris Berezovskii told a press conference at Interfax's central office that he believes it is time to begin political talks on a settlement of the conflict. He added that Maskhadov, as Chechnya's legitimate president, and representatives of Chechen bodies in Moscow should participate in those talks. Also on 10 December, Interfax quoted an unidentified Chechen government source as saying that Maskhadov has left Grozny. That source, however, refused to divulge Maskhadov's present whereabouts. LF

SMALL RUBLE DEVALUATION FORECAST...

Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 11 December that the IMF's delay in disbursing the second installment of its loan to Russia may cause the dollar's exchange rate vis-a-vis the ruble to climb by 40 to 50 kopeks during the first quarter of next year. On 9 December, Sergei Aleksashenko, former first deputy chairman of the Central Bank, wrote in "Vremya MN" that while the Finance Ministry may be able to service foreign debt without IMF funding, the government cannot postpone resolving its economic problems until fall 2000. Aleksashenko predicts that the upcoming elections will mean a lower level of tax collection and a corresponding reduction in budget revenue. "In 1996, the situation was kept in check thanks to credits from the IMF, Germany, and France" and operations on the short term state bond markets, he wrote. Now the authorities have only one option: "printing their way out of trouble." JAC

...AND HIGHER INFLATION FEARED AS RESULTS OF STALLED IMF LOAN

Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko announced on 10 December that an order to print 1,000 ruble notes has been placed and those notes will be put into circulation on 1 January 2000. According to ITAR-TASS, Gerashchenko said that issuing the new bills will not have any impact on inflation. However, "Segodnya" noted that experience shows that "new banknotes of higher denomination always appear on the eve of some global changes.... And such, upheavals, as a rule, are accompanied by outbursts of inflation." "Kommersant-Daily" echoed this fear, suggesting that when relations with the IMF grow cooler, power shifts to the Central Bank, whose leadership is not predisposed toward following a tight monetary policy. JAC

SUPREME COURT RULES ST. PETE EARLY BALLOT ILLEGAL

The Supreme Court on 11 December ruled that the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly's decision to bring forward gubernatorial elections from spring 2000 to 19 December was "invalid," Russian media reported. Members of the opposition Yabloko faction in the local legislature had appealed to the court to overrule that decision after a St. Petersburg court had upheld it. They argue that the electronic voting system was tampered with so that votes were "cast" by opposition deputies who had walked out of the chamber(see "RFE/RL Russian Federation," 13 October and 17 November 1999). The Coordinating Council of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance denounced the Supreme Court ruling as politically motivated and expressed support for St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who it said has been "subjected to massive political pressure." Yakovlev, who is the number three candidate on the OVR's election list, has said he will contest the ruling. JC

ELECTION BALLOT GETS SHORTER

The Central Election Commission decided on 10 December to remove the environmental movement Kedr (Cedar) from the list of groups registered for the 19 December State Duma elections because 10 of the movement's candidates--including two of the top three candidates-- withdrew their names from the movement's list. Anton Zhychkov, chairman of the movement, told "Kommersant-Daily" on 11 December that the group was liquidated because of internal differences. According to the daily, 15 people from Kedr, including the best-known candidates, left to join Unity (Edinstvo) while that movement was still being formed. "Segodnya" described Kedr as a pro-Kremlin party that received funding from a number of sources, including aluminum titan Lev Chernoi, an ally of Boris Berezovskii. As of 10 December, 26 groups were registered for the election. JAC

CLINTON CALLS FOR NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS

Russia's First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev on 10 December lodged a protest with U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins against the U.S.'s planned expulsion of Russian embassy employee and alleged spy Stanislav Gusev. According to Interfax, the ministry warned that "Washington should realize that its tit-for-tat policy will lead to an impasse with serious consequences for U.S.-Russian relations." The next day, U.S. President Bill Clinton tried to downplay the situation, saying that "based on what I now know I think we should proceed where it is in our interest to do so. You can't let every spy case effect the larger national interests of the country." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CBS on 12 December said that the bug monitored by Gusev had been located on the same floor as her office but on the other side of the building. JAC

DUMA RATIFIES RUSSIA-BELARUS TREATY

In an extraordinary session on 13 December, State Duma deputies voted to ratify the treaty of the union of Russia and Belarus. Deputies voted 382 to two with three abstentions, according to Interfax. The treaty was signed last week by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarus's President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). Leader of the largest Duma faction, Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov, said his faction "has supported and will support the recreation of the destroyed Fatherland union." Zyuganov also expressed confidence that Ukraine will join a restored Slavic Union, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

START-2 RATIFICATION DELAYED UNTIL NEXT YEAR

The State Duma Council declined to include the issue of ratifying START-2 on the agenda of its 13 December session. Last week, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev had actively sought to have the current Duma ratify the treaty, which was signed by Russia and the U.S. in 1993 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1999). According to Russian media, the 13 December session is the last before the 19 December parliamentary elections. Interfax quoted Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich (Our Home Is Russia) as saying on 13 December that the lower house will likely vote on the treaty in the first half of next year. JC

YELTSIN CALLS FOR PERFECTING RATHER THAN REVISING CONSTITUTION

Addressing an audience in the Kremlin on Russia's Constitution Day, 12 December, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said the Kremlin "is open to sensible dialogue on perfecting the constitution" but "loyalty to its basic principles" must be observed. He noted that the country "must remember that it was the constitution that more than once barred the path of unscrupulous politicians and extremists and stopped those who wanted to create new divisions in politics and the economy." Some analysts believe that members of the new Duma will try to push through amendments to the constitution giving the lower legislative body a larger role in, among other things, the formation of the government. JAC

ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON DUMA DEPUTY

An unknown assailant fired one bullet at State Duma Security Committee Chairman (Communist) Viktor Ilyukhin on 12 December. Ilyukhin, who is also the leader of the Movement to Support the Army, was not hurt in the attack. He suggested that the attempt on his life was politically motivated: "I can only say that I am not a businessman or a financier. I'm involved in national politics." JAC

STANKEVICH IN THE CLEAR

The Office of the Prosecutor-General on 6 December dropped criminal charges against Sergei Stankevich, a former aide to President Yeltsin. Stankevich, who claimed that charges of bribery were manufactured by his political enemies, received refugee status from Poland last January. Stankevich told "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 December that he does not plan to return to Russia immediately because in the current election season, he would be returning to a "political hell." JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH PARLIAMENT LEADERS

Robert Kocharian held talks on 10 December with parliamentary speaker Armen Khachatrian, his deputies, and the chairmen of parliamentary committees, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputy speaker Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL after the meeting that all parties expressed concern at the "atmosphere of mistrust" between the president and the parliament and tried to identify measures to overcome it. Torosian also denied that most members of the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war endorse the demand for Kocharian's resignation, which was made at that organization's congress in early December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 1999 and also "End Note" below). Kocharian, for his part, denied that he plans to dissolve the parliament on 30 May 2000, one year after its election, which is the earliest date he is constitutionally empowered to do so. LF

OSCE MINSK GROUP CHAIRMEN IN ARMENIA...

The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group arrived in Yerevan on 10 December and held talks the following day with President Kocharian, Premier Aram Sargsian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, and Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. French representative Jean- Jacques Gaillard said after the talks with Oskanian that the aim of the co-chairmen's visit was to collect information about the current situation. He added that the peace process in general, but no specific proposal, was discussed. He added that the co-chairmen are not proposing any new initiatives during their current visit to Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Baku. Turan on 11 December quoted former Russian representative to the Minsk Group Vladimir Kazimirov, who is accompanying the co-chairmen, as denying that he will replace the present Russian representative, Nikolai Gribkov. LF

...AS ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SAY KARABAKH'S INTERESTS ARE BEING IGNORED

Eight Armenian opposition parties and groups--the 21st Century, Liberal-Democratic, Azatutiun, Christian- Democratic, Conservative, Nor Ughi parties as well as Shamiram and the Armat organization--issued a statement on 9 December accusing the Armenian leadership of lacking a concept for resolving the Karabakh conflict and of failing to defend the interests of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic at the OSCE Istanbul summit in November, Noyan Tapan reported. They claimed that the Karabakh leadership has been excluded from talks on resolving the conflict. They also argued that the signing at the summit of agreements on the use of the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline will lead to Armenia's isolation from regional economic integration and preclude it playing a stabilizing role in the region. LF

KARABAKH ARMY COMMANDER RESPONDS TO PRESIDENT'S ATTACK

In a faxed response to questions from RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent, former Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan on 11 December criticized remarks by the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, who, Babayan said, does not behave as a head of state should. Ghukasian had told journalists in Stepanakert on 7 December that Babayan should concentrate his attention on the enclave's armed forces as he is not qualified to engage in politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). Also on 11 December, 13 deputies to the Karabakh parliament issued a joint statement accusing Ghukasian of "destabilizing" the political situation. LF

AZERBAIJAN HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS

A Central Election Commission official said that 52.6 percent of Azerbaijan's 4.3 million electorate cast their votes in the 12 December municipal elections, according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service the next day, citing the Independent Center for Local Elections. Those elections should have been held in 1997. The minimum required turnout was 25 percent. More than 36,000 candidates, half of them nominally independent, were contesting 22,000 seats on local councils. Thousands of domestic observers as well as contingents from the OSCE and the Council of Europe monitored the poll. Two of the country's three main opposition parties, the Azerbaijan Popular Front and the Musavat Party, fielded candidates, while the Azerbaijan National Independence Party boycotted the poll to protest procedural violations during the election campaign. LF

GEORGIA CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL MONITORING OF BORDER WITH CHECHNYA

Levan Mikeladze, who is Georgia's envoy to the OSCE, proposed to that body's Permanent Council on 9 December that international monitors be dispatched to patrol Georgia's frontier with Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili has made a similar request to the UN Security Council, according to Georgian Foreign Ministry official Avtandil Napetvaridze. Georgian officials on 11 December again rejected Russian charges that arms and mercenaries are entering Chechnya from Georgian territory or that Chechen militants plan to establish a base in Georgia. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES HE WILL RESIGN

Defense Ministry spokesman Koba Liklikadze told Caucasus Press on 11 December that there is no truth to rumors circulating in Tbilisi that Defense Minister David Tevzadze intends to step down. Tevzadze has been accused of financial mismanagement within the ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1999). LF

GEORGIA'S STUDENTS DEMAND ALLOWANCES

Students and faculty members at Tbilisi State University and the city's Technical University staged a demonstration on 10 December outside the finance ministry to demand payment of wages and grants for the past seven months, Caucasus Press reported. They were promised that the monies would be made available beginning the following day. On 9 December, Minister for Refugees Valeri Vashakidze warned that displaced persons from Abkhazia have not received their allowances for the past three months and may not do so this year. He added that the Ministry of Finance owes his ministry a total of 14.5 million lari (about $7.5 million). The state budget owes a further 100 million lari in pensions and state sector wages, Caucasus Press reported on 9 December. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT DECLARES WAR ON SEPARATISM, 'EXTREMISM'

Addressing representatives of Kazakhstan's various ethnic groups on 10 December, Nursultan Nazarbaev warned that the country's leadership will move swiftly to curtail the activities of separatist and extremist religious organizations, Russian agencies reported. He blamed the spread of extremism on globalization and condemned the recently thwarted attempt to establish a separate Russian republic on the territory of eastern Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 29 November 1999). LF

LEADER OF KAZAKHSTAN'S CHECHENS DENIES DANGER OF INFILTRATION

Akhmed Muradov, chairman of the Vainakh Association of Chechen and Ingush Centers of Kazakhstan, told journalists in Almaty on 11 December that official reports of Chechen militants trying to infiltrate Kazakhstan are unfounded, Interfax reported. He said some 5,000 refugees from Chechnya are currently in Kazakhstan but have not been formally granted refugee status because Kazakhstan "lacks the appropriate legal base." Kazakhstan's Interior Minister Kairbek Sulaimanov said last month that screening at points of entry to the country has been intensified. Ferry services between Aktau and Baku were subsequently suspended to prevent an influx of Chechens via Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 30 November 1999). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT SETS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION DATE

Imomali Rakhmonov on 11 December scheduled the elections to the lower and upper houses of the new bicameral parliament for 27 February and 25 March, respectively, ITAR-TASS reported. Addressing parliamentary deputies the previous day after the passing of the new election law, Rakhmonov said "we must do everything possible" to ensure that the poll is free and democratic and a model for other countries." Khalifabobo Khamidov, who is Rakhmonov's adviser on parliamentary affairs, termed the election of the new legislature "an important and conclusive step" toward peace, according to Reuters. On 11 December, the parliament also named a 15- member Central Electoral Commission. LF

TURKMENISTAN CLAIMS HIGH TURNOUT IN CONTROVERSIAL ELECTIONS

One hour before polling stations closed in the 12 December parliamentary elections, Turkmen officials claimed that turnout was 98.9 percent of the country's 2.2 million electorate. Free watches were distributed to first-time voters. A total of 104 candidates, almost all of them members of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which is the only legally functioning party in the country, contested the 50 seats in the new legislature. The OSCE declined to send any monitors on the grounds that "the legislative framework is inadequate for even a minimally democratic election" (see "RFE/TRL Newsline," 10 December 1999). President Saparmurat Niyazov on 9 December termed the poll "an important step in the history of Turkmenistan," according to Reuters. LF

RUSSIAN PREMIER TERMS UZBEKISTAN 'STRATEGIC PARTNER'

Vladimir Putin and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov signed a military cooperation agreement in Tashkent on 11 December, Russian agencies reported. Putin described that document as marking "a qualitatively new level of relations in security matters" and Uzbekistan as "Russia's strategic partner for many, many years." He added that "Russia has its interests in Central Asia" and that Russia is soliciting Uzbekistan's help in maintaining peace and stability in the region. Putin also discussed with Karimov preparations for the latter's summit in Moscow next year with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. LF

UZBEKISTAN SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY RUNOFF

A second round of voting will take place on 19 December in 66 constituencies where no candidate won a majority in the 5 December parliamentary poll, Reuters reported on 10 December. Of the 184 candidates elected during the first round, 32 represent the People's Democratic Party, 19 the Fidokorlar National Democratic Party, nine each the Adolat (Justice) and Vatan Tarikietti (Fatherland Progress Party) and six the Milli Tiklanish Party. Another 11 deputies represent citizens' groups. Central Electoral Commission head Nazhmiddin Komilov rejected Western criticism of the ban on opposition parties and of restrictions enshrined in the election law, Reuters reported. He argued that the fact that each seat was contested by five or six candidates proves that the poll was democratic. LF




BELARUSIANS PROTEST HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, UNION WITH RUSSIA

Some 200 people gathered outside the presidential administration building, which was cordoned off by police, on 10 December to deliver petitions demanding respect for human rights in Belarus and protesting the union with Russia, Belapan reported. Several protesters were eventually let into the building to hand the petitions to an official. "What human rights can we speak of? We have no rights and are hardly even human beings," Reuters quoted one protestor as saying. JM

RUSSIA HALTS OIL, ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES TO UKRAINE...

Russia has suspended its supplies of oil and electricity to Ukraine after accusing the country of stealing Russian gas from pipelines crossing its territory, Interfax reported on 10 December. The Russian government approved disconnecting supplies when Kyiv reportedly failed to respond to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's letter to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, in which the former accused Ukraine of siphoning off Russian gas bound for Europe. Also on 10 December, Russian Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuznyi said that Ukraine is stealing some 150-200 million cubic meters of Russian gas a day. He added that the oil and electricity supplies can be resumed only if Ukraine takes a "constructive stand" on repaying its debt to Russia for gas supplies, according to ITAR-TASS. JM

...WHILE UKRAINE DENIES STEALING RUSSIAN GAS

An unidentified Ukrainian government official has "resolutely denied" allegations that Ukraine has stolen Russian gas, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 13 December. Those allegations were also rejected by Naftohaz Ukrainy board member Bohdan Krupskyy, who said on 10 December that his company signed an agreement with Gazprom allowing Ukraine larger supplies of Russian gas in 1999 than had been agreed earlier. JM

EU ADOPTS STRATEGY FOR UKRAINE

The EU Helsinki summit on 11 December adopted a strategy for developing relations with Ukraine over the next four years but made no mention of offering EU membership to that country, Reuters reported. The document merely acknowledged Ukraine's European aspirations, welcomed its "pro-European choice," and outlined the basis for cooperation between Kiev and the EU. "This is a step forward in our relations," Finnish Prime Minster Paavo Lipponen commented. JM

LATVIA RECEIVES PRAISE FOR LANGUAGE LAW, BUT RUSSIA SLAMS IT

Latvia received nearly universal support for the language law passed on 9 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1999). EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen called its passage "positive," and both the Council of Europe and the OSCE expressed their approval. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the new law and went as far as to ask the EU not to consider Latvia's membership bid: "We call on our European partners, who are now contemplating inviting Latvia to talks, to give another thought to the question whether the move is appropriate." Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins said the Russian statement was an attempt "directed against the processes of society integration," while President Vaira Vike-Freiberga called the statement a "sharp attack" and "gross insult" to those international officials who have welcomed the new law. MH

LATVIAN, LITHUANIAN POLITICANS HAPPY AT HELSINKI DECISION

The EU leaders' decision to begin accession negotiations with, among others, Latvia and Lithuania was warmly greeted in Riga and Vilnius. Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele said that the opening of negotiations will be "a great challenge" and that there is "hard work ahead" for Latvia, LETA reported. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga called it a "joyous and historic day" for Latvia. Latvian Foreign Minister Berzins said the decision was a "very important political message," saying he believes Latvia will become a member in 2005, BNS reported. Berzins also named Foreign Ministry Deputy Secretary of State Andris Kesteris as Latvia's chief EU negotiator. Meanwhile, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said the decision was a recognition of Lithuania's reform efforts, BNS reported. Earlier, the Lithuanian government named Saudargas as Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU. MH

CHECHEN INFORMATION CENTER OPENS IN VILNIUS

A Chechen information and cultural center opened in Vilnius on 10 December, BNS reported. The mission is headed by Aminat Saiyeva and the secretary-general of the parliamentary group for Chechnya, Algirdas Endriukaitis. Endriukaitis said at the opening ceremony that the objective of the center is to disseminate accurate information about Chechnya in light of the Russian military campaign. Stanislovas Buskevicius, a vocal supporter of the Chechen cause and nationalist politician, added that "by opening the information and culture center here in Lithuania, we are effectively opening the Chechen embassy." Vilnius city officials will not charge the center any rent. MH

SOLIDARITY DECIDES TO WITHDRAW FROM POLITICS...

The Solidarity congress on 11 December announced that the trade union will withdraw from Poland's politics and will again become "an organization of employees," Polish media reported. Solidarity decided to transfer its voting rights in the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action to the Solidarity Electoral Action-Social Movement, a party created in January and headed by Premier Jerzy Buzek. JM

...PLEDGES TO SUPPORT SINGLE CENTER-RIGHT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

The congress also announced that it will support one presidential candidate provided that Polish center- rightist groups agree on a single name. Delegates thereby rejected former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa's proposal that the center-rightist forces propose three or four presidential candidates for the 2000 presidential elections. Despite encouragement from some delegates, Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski declined to answer whether he will run for president. According to Krzaklewski, such a decision is premature and should be taken no earlier than six months before the elections. JM

KLAUS SENDS OPEN LETTER TO ZEMAN

Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman and Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus on 10 December sent an open letter to Prime Minister Milos Zeman calling on him to continue to pursue negotiations on the formation of a "majority government," Czech media reported. Klaus noted that if other parties do not want to engage in such talks, the Civic Democrats and Zeman's Social Democrats should work together to find another way of forming a majority government. Zeman said the letter indicates that Klaus is having reservations about the "opposition agreement" between their two parties. In other news, a recent public opinion poll found that 70 percent of respondents support the call by former student leaders of the Velvet Revolution that Zeman and Klaus resign from their posts. Some 170,000 people across the country have signed the declaration. Also, the Czech Senate voted to scrap the ban on political campaigning 48 hours before an election. VG

VISEGRAD COUNTRIES ASK EU FOR HELP ON PROBLEMS OF ROMA

Representatives of the Visegrad Four--Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary--on 10 December asked the EU to help them resolve the social problems of the region's Romany population, CTK reported. The representatives issued the joint request at a human rights conference in Bratislava. The declaration describes the "coexistence between the majority population and the Romany minority" as a problem that requires a solution of "European dimensions." Slovak government commissioner for Romany issues Vincent Danihel said the region needs money from the EU to provide a comprehensive solution to the Romany problem, including housing and unemployment programs. He said Slovakia will receive 1.8 million euros ($1.82 million) from the PHARE program for Romany projects next year but added that the country needs much more. VG

SLOVAK POLITICIANS WELCOME EU SUMMIT DECISION

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 10 December described EU leaders' decision to invite Slovakia to begin membership negotiations as the greatest achievement in the history of Slovakia, TASR reported. He said Slovakia will begin entry negotiations in February. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said the EU invitation is like "poetry that will be followed by prose." He added that hard work will now be required in order for the country to successfully complete the entry negotiations. The EU decision was welcomed by opposition parties as well, with the exception of Slovak National Party chairwoman Anna Malikova, who said it is "no honor" for Slovakia to be in the company of countries like Romania and Bulgaria. VG

HUNGARIAN EXTREME RIGHT PARTY ATTACKS OPPOSITION

Istvan Csurka, chairman of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party, said at the party's 11 December national convention that the Socialists and Free Democrats "represent death to the Hungarian people in every form." He said his party's priorities are to push the government toward "tougher resistance and more radical changes" while making sure that the "side of death" is not gaining ground. In other news, an unidentified group on 11 December broke into a Budapest synagogue and stole silver candlesticks, Torah decorations, and prayer straps worth some 40 million forints ($160,000). MSZ




CROATIA'S TUDJMAN BURIED IN STATE FUNERAL...

Several tens of thousands of people have turned out in Zagreb on 13 December for the funeral of President Franjo Tudjman, who died late on 10 December after a long battle with cancer. Archbishop Josip Bozanic of Zagreb is presiding over the funeral ceremony. Over the weekend, some 15,000 people paid their last respects to Tudjman at the presidential palace. Messages of condolence arrived for his family and acting President Vlatko Pavletic from around Croatia. Some 15 Croatian prisoners at the Hague war crimes tribunal also sent their condolences, the state- run Hina news agency reported. PM

...WITH LOW-KEY FOREIGN PRESENCE...

Messages of condolence also arrived over the weekend from several world leaders, including Pope John Paul II. Among the leaders in the region, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, Macedonia's President- elect Boris Trajkovski, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and the former Kosova Liberation Army's Hashim Thaci also sent messages to Pavletic or to the Tudjman family. The only important foreign head-of-state to attend the funeral on 13 December, however, is Turkey's Suleyman Demirel. Slovenia, Hungary, and Macedonia are represented by their respective prime ministers. The U.S. and Germany, which are Croatia's most important allies, are represented by their respective ambassadors. Former German Foreign Minister Hans- Dietrich Genscher is present as a private citizen, as is former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith. The former U.S. envoy told the BBC that he expects that the end of Tudjman's authoritarian rule will lead to a rapid integration of Croatia into Euro-Atlantic structures. PM

...AS DOMESTIC QUESTIONS TOP AGENDA

Political analysts in Croatia and abroad noted that two questions top the agenda following Tudjman's death (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 November 1999). The first is what effect his passing will have on the 3 January parliamentary elections. Polls prior to his death indicated that his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) will trail behind six opposition parties. Opposition spokesman Tihomir Ladisic told Reuters on 12 December, however, that "one funeral is worth 1,000 election rallies," and many observers expect that Tudjman's death will lead to a "sympathy vote" for the HDZ. The second question is who will succeed Tudjman. Polls suggest that Social Democrat Ivica Racan is the front-runner but that Foreign Minister Mate Granic, who is the leader of the HDZ's moderate wing, is also a strong contender. According to law, presidential elections must be held within 60 days of a president's death. PM

ALBANIA ABOLISHES DEATH PENALTY

The Constitutional Court ruled on 9 December to abolish the death penalty, dpa reported. The Council of Europe threatened to expel Albania unless it ends capital punishment. The legal status of the death penalty has been ambiguous for some time. The 1998 constitution forbids it, but the Criminal Code provides for it for 15 crimes, including murder. Supporters of the death penalty claim that it is necessary because of the high crime rate. They also argue that abolition of capital punishment would encourage families of murder victims to take matters into their own hands in a country where the traditional code of honor demands blood for blood. In Rome on 11 December, supporters of a Vatican-backed, world-wide movement to abolish the death penalty turned on a special set of lights at the Coliseum to mark Tirana's abolition of capital punishment. PM

KOSOVARS DEMAND RELEASE OF PRISONERS

Several tens of thousands of mainly ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Prishtina on 10 December to demand that the Serbian authorities free the 3,000 or so Kosovars they are holding in various prisons in Serbia. The OSCE's Daan Everts told a conference on human rights in the Kosovar capital that international opinion should condemn the Serbian authorities' recent sentencing of Kosovar human rights activist Flora Brovina to 12 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1999). PM

ANOTHER AIRPORT INCIDENT IN MONTENEGRO

RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 11 December that "strong contingents of Montenegrin police" deployed at Tivat airport after a brief confrontation there between police and "several vehicles" belonging to the Yugoslav army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1999). During a similar incident the previous week at Podgorica airport, army forces were placed on full alert and issued live ammunition. A paratroop unit in Nis was also placed on full alert, the broadcast added. Shortly after the Podgorica incident, army General Spasoje Similjanovic arrived at that airport from Belgrade to inspect federal troops there. In Niksic on 11 December, Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic warned that if NATO troops try to occupy Podgorica airport, "they will meet with the armed resistance of the army and the people." Bulatovic is the arch-rival of President Djukanovic. PM

ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT SUSPENDS RAILWAY WORKERS' STRIKE

The Romanian Supreme Court on 10 December ordered the country's striking railway workers to suspend their strike for 45 days. The government had asked for a 90-day suspension. Union leader Gheorghe Sultana said the workers would respect the ruling, but he added that the unions "reserve our right to go on strike again if our pay demands are not settled during talks in over the coming days." The Supreme Court said the ruling was designed to prevent any further losses to the country's economy owing to the strike. The workers are demanding a 70 percent wage increase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1999). VG

ROMANIAN POLITICIANS HAIL EU DECISION

President Emil Constantinescu on 10 December said that by securing an EU invitation to entry talks, the country has "fulfilled the ideal which had claimed the lives of the heroes of the 1989 December revolution." The president also thanked the Romanian people for expressing a willingness to integrate into the EU. Adrian Nastase, vice president of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, also welcomed the EU decision, describing it as a "landmark in Romania's foreign policy strategy for many years." In a televised address on 12 December, Constantinescu called for better coordination among government ministries as a key pre-requisite to successful EU membership negotiations. VG

OUTGOING PREMIER SAYS MOLDOVA TOO POOR TO PAY BACK DEBTS

Outgoing Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza said on state television on 10 December that the country will default on $95 million worth of debt payments next year owing to a lack of hard currency, Infotag reported. He said the default could come in the first or second quarter of next year. Meanwhile, Democratic Convention of Moldovan leader and former President Mircea Snegur on 11 December said he believes early elections are inevitable following the failure of two cabinets to secure a parliamentary vote of confidence, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1999). BASA-Press reported. Communist deputy chairman Victor Stepaniuc said early elections are a possibility but added that his party would prefer to avoid them. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ABOUT EU DECISION

Ivan Kostov on 10 December said the EU's decision to invite his country to EU entry talks was a reward for the country's "European solidarity." Kostov said he brought up the issue of visa restrictions on Bulgarians in many EU member states, saying his country's citizens want to be "treated on the same footing as the citizens of the other countries the EU is holding accession negotiations with," according to an 11 December BTA report cited by the BBC. Kostov also said the EU's decision to formally recognize Turkey as a membership candidate will lay "new tracks for the development of bilateral relations" between Sofia and Ankara. National Assembly Chairman Yordan Sokolov noted that as part of its efforts to get into the EU, Bulgaria will probably have to amend its constitution to allow foreigners to own land, BTA reported. The leader of the opposition Euroleft Party, Alexander Tomov, said the EU invitation is an "important test and a serious challenge for Bulgaria." VG

BULGARIA TO SEEK LOANS TO MODERNIZE NUCLEAR REACTORS

The Bulgarian National Assembly voted to authorize the government to sign agreements on loans to finance the modernization of two reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, Bulgarian Radio reported on 10 December. Some 362 million euros ($367 million) in loans will be provided by the U.S. City Bank and Exim Bank, the Russian Export-Import Bank, and the European Nuclear Energy Community. The modernization program includes measures to improve the safety of the two reactors. VG




ARMENIAN POLITICS IN UNIFORM


By Richard Giragosian

Recent developments in Armenia following the attack on the parliament have highlighted an increasingly assertive military and a widening split between the president and elements of the Unity bloc, the dominant group in the parliament.

The killings of the two leaders of the Unity bloc, parliamentary chairman Karen Demirchian and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, have led to a serious reconfiguration of the balance of political power in the country. This shift first became apparent in the negotiations between President Robert Kocharian and his newly appointed prime minister, the brother of the late premier, Aram Sargsian, on the lineup of a new cabinet. The military reportedly submitted a list of preferred appointments to the president during the negotiations and was the driving force behind the appointment of the new prime minister. Moreover, the deepening internal tension has been exacerbated by Kocharian's recent moves promising a possible settlement of the long-standing Nagorno- Karabakh conflict.

This political confrontation was most evident at the early December party congress of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Having formed the Republican Party, a key partner of the People's Party in the Unity Bloc, the Yerkrapah organization is led by several senior military figures aspiring to exert political leverage. Although the Yerkrapah group backed the new premier, it remains to be seen to what degree Sargsian will serve as a Yerkrapah figurehead or if he will attempt to distance himself from the group.

Within Yerkrapah, a new core leadership has emerged that is strongly critical of the president, even threatening to force new presidential elections. The party congress elected Major General Manvel Grigorian as its chairman, signaling a step toward "politics in uniform." This assertive and military-affiliated Yerkrapah leadership promises a looming confrontation with the Kocharian camp and has already fostered a growing split with its own Republican Party supporters.

Moreover, the appointment of Vahan Shirkhanian as minister of industrial infrastructure constitutes a concession by the president that demonstrates his tenuous position in resisting the Yerkrapah leadership directly. Shirkhanian is former deputy defense minister and the military's initial choice for new premier. And it was he who led the military's very vocal demands calling for the dismissal of the power ministers in the wake of the attack on the parliament.

The military boldly asserted itself immediately following that attack, responding to the crisis with a demonstrable show of force. Although the Armenian military had been engaged in political affairs with President Levon Ter-Petrossian government's deployment of the army in response to an opposition demonstration in Yerevan, this new trend of politics in uniform poses the threat of a "creeping coup." Following the success in forcing the resignations of the interior and national security ministers and the prosecutor-general, the military has now entered the political arena through the Yerkrapah organization.

The ominous trend of a politically assertive military has roots in Armenia's body politic. The use of the military as a springboard to political power was evident in both Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia with the rise of the powerful former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan and late Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian.

Now, politics in uniform has emerged as an alternative avenue to power, offering a new source of political legitimacy for ambitious elements of the military as the traditional path to political power has become discredited by rampant corruption and feuding political elites. Armenia's political landscape is somewhat similar to Russia's in that rival factions within the government are struggling for control over the key economic sectors. These feuding political elites are committed to democracy in varying degrees, casting the competition not as a battle for maintaining democratic and economic reforms but as a struggle over who controls reform.

As the military-influenced leadership of the Yerkrapah organization escalate a confrontation with the Kocharian government, it will be interesting to see what role the defense minister will play. Widely respected as a professional military officer with a disdain for partisan politics, the defense minister may well hold the key for ensuring the stability of the Kocharian government. The most likely scenario is a confrontation between the Yerkrapah- dominated parliament and the presidency, with the defense minister preventing the military establishment from directly engaging the government in open political combat. But the military is an essential element in the long-term necessity of securing the peace after a negotiated peace agreement over Nagorno-Karabakh.

A more fundamental element common to all the players is the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. It was, in fact, the Karabakh conflict that brought Robert Kocharian to power in Armenia, first as prime minister and then as president. Karabakh also heralded the rise of Vazgen Sarkisian and provided the pivotal political legitimacy for the Yerkrapah movement. It also hastened the demise of former President Ter-Petrossian, forced into resignation by the Kocharian camp.

Most significantly, the future course of both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh rests on the looming Karabakh settlement. It remains to be seen whether the increasing pressure on President Kocharian will mean a lost opportunity for peace or just another obstacle on the path toward consolidating democracy in Armenia. The author is the editor of the monthly newsletter "TransCaucasus: A Chronology."


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