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Newsline - December 17, 1999




OVR CLAIMS KREMLIN RESORTING TO NEW, UNFAIR TACTICS...

"Segodnya" reported on 16 December that with just days to go before the 19 State Duma elections, the Kremlin is employing new tactics to undermine the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance. Vladimir Tomarovskii, director of the department for public organizations and religious associations at the Justice Ministry, announced that his department plans to verify whether Fatherland's activities correspond to the objectives listed in its charter, according to the newspaper. The daily, which is close to OVR, suggested that "false rumors about negotiations between Fatherland and the Communist Party (KPRF)" were spread to give regional leaders in the alliance a pretext for quitting it. On 15 December, the Krasnoyarsk branch of All Russia announced that it is leaving the OVR alliance. According to Russian Television, which is close to the Kremlin, the Krasnoyarsk branch claimed it is receiving no financial support from Moscow and Fatherland's local branch is cooperating with the KPRF. JAC

...AS BEREZOVSKII PAPER CLAIMS MAYORAL CAMPAIGN ILLEGALLY FUNDED

Also on 16 December, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" claimed to have documents proving that the Moscow mayoral re-election campaign of Fatherland leader Yurii Luzhkov is being financed by the municipal budget. The daily, which is funded by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, also alleged that Moscow subways have been plastered with OVR campaign literature in "gross violation" of election laws. JAC

MORE LAST-MINUTE CHANGES TO SCHEDULE, BALLOT IN FAR EAST

A court in Primorskii Krai cancelled mayoral elections in Vladivostok that had been scheduled to be held on 19 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 December. The court ruled that the city must first adopt a charter before elections can be held. The results of the city's last mayoral elections on 27 September 1998 were declared invalid because more than half of voters voted against all candidates as a sign of protest against the local election commission refusal to register former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov as a candidate. Also on 17 December, a Primorskii court cancelled Cherepkov's registration as a candidate for State Duma elections. His effort to run in upcoming gubernatorial and the recently cancelled mayoral elections were similarly scuppered. The candidacy of State Duma deputy Svetlana Orlova was also rejected by the regional election commission because of inaccuracies in her property and income declaration. JAC

LOCAL ELECTION OFFICIALS TRY AGAIN TO BAN ALLEGED CRIME BOSS

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told NTV on 16 November that a regional court in Rostov Oblast struck alleged crime kingpin Sergei Mikhailov from the list of candidates for State Duma elections, Interfax reported. According to Veshnyakov, the court decided that a complaint by the regional prosecutor that Mikhailov was registered improperly is valid. Mikhailov, who is also reportedly known as "Mikhas," was only reinstated on the election ballot following a decision by the Supreme Court on 6 December that a ruling by local election officials was invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). JAC

SHOIGU, MANILOV REJECT TALKS WITH MASKHADOV

On arriving in Mozdok on 17 December, Russia's Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu told journalists that Russia will carry through its "anti-terrorist" campaign in Chechnya to the end, ITAR-TASS reported. In an allusion to the settlement signed in August 1996 by then Chechen chief of staff and current President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed, Shoigu said "there will be no second Khasavyurt, and political talks with Aslan Maskhadov will not be held." The previous day, Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov had similarly ruled out talks with Maskhadov, on the grounds that the latter does not control the situation in Chechnya. Manilov indicated, however, that he nonetheless regards Maskhadov as Chechnya's legitimate leader. LF

VOLLEBAEK AGAIN CALLS FOR CEASE-FIRE IN CHECHNYA

After touring Russian-controlled northern districts of Chechnya on 16 December, OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek again called for a halt to hostilities in the region and for talks aimed at a political settlement of the conflict, Reuters and Interfax reported. Vollebaek added that he is prepared to act as mediator in such talks, saying the OSCE should "play a wider role." Chechen President Maskhadov on 17 December again affirmed his readiness to meet with Vollebaek, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

EU THREATENS TO PULL RUSSIA'S MFN STATUS OVER CHECHNYA...

EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten suggested in Brussels on 16 December that Russia risks losing its most- favored-nation trading status with the EU if it continues its campaign in Chechnya. AFP quoted Patten as saying that this might be one way the EU could "punish" Moscow. "Europe does not want to isolate Russia," he commented, but Moscow needs to understand that it cannot expect "business as usual" as the fighting continues in Chechnya. According to AP, Patten noted that he plans to bring up trade issues with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on the sidelines of the G-8 foreign ministers meeting in Berlin, which concludes on 17 December. JC

...AS U.S. POSTPONES DECISION ON EXIMBANK LOAN

The U.S. Export-Import Bank on 16 December announced that it has postponed consideration of loan guarantees totaling $500 million to the Tyumen Oil company until 21 December. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright revealed the same day that she has her people "looking into" the issue. However, "The New York Times" reported on 17 December, without reference to sources, that White House officials said they called on Eximbank to delay or cancel the pending loan package because of allegations that the Russian company had defrauded foreign investors, specially BP Amoco, during the acquisition of Chernogorneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," tk December 1999). According to the daily, there is also a growing debate about the decision at the White House and State Department and whether approval of the loans would send the wrong signal vis-a-vis Chechnya. JAC

MOSCOW REJECTS NATO CRITICISM OF CHECHEN CAMPAIGN

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 16 December condemned as "pointless in its content, unacceptable in its essence, and deeply immoral in its authorship" the statement adopted the previous day by NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, AP and Reuters reported. The NATO statement expressed concern over Russia's "indiscriminate use of force," escalating civilian casualties. and the plight of displaced persons in Chechnya. The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected that concern as cynical and inappropriate in the light of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia earlier this year. LF

FORMER DIPLOMAT JAILED FOR SPYING

Valentin Moiseev, the former deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's First Asian Department, has been sentenced to 12 years in a top security prison. A Moscow court found Moiseev guilty of cooperating with the South Korean intelligence service, Interfax reported. Last summer, an adviser at Moscow's South Korean Embassy was expelled from Russia shortly after Moiseev's arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1998). Moiseev intends to appeal the sentence. JC

ELECTIONS GIVE STOCK MARKET A BOOST

Some international investment funds are increasing their purchases of Russian stocks, Reuters reported on 17 December. According to the agency, investors are heartened by the strong showing of the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity, their belief that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will win presidential elections next year, and improving economic fundamentals. "Politics in Russia actually look quite good, and if you can combine that with having someone relatively young and compos mentis in the Kremlin, you can have stability, which is vital," according to Brunswick Capital's Mark Cooke. On 15 December, the benchmark RTS index finished 8 percent higher than the previous day. Shares prices dipped last week, following an exchange of harsh rhetoric between U.S. and Russian officials over Chechnya. JAC

INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT CONTINUES ITS CLIMB

Industrial output in Russia jumped by 7.8 percent during the first 11 months of 1999, according to the Russian Statistics Agency. Output was up 12.9 percent in November compared with the same month last year and up 2.1 percent compared with October. During the first three quarters of the year, all of Russia's regions experienced positive growth, with the exception of four republics (including, of course, Chechnya), three oblasts, and five autonomous okrugs (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). JAC

JUDGES CONDEMN SPECIAL SERVICES OPERATION IN ST. PETERSBURG

The Presidium of the Council of Judges has handed down harsh criticism of the arrest by special services of local legislator Yurii Shutov in St. Petersburg courtroom last month, "Vremya MN" reported on 16 December. Just minutes after Shutov had been released on bail, special units of the Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Security Service together with employees of the Prosecutor-General's Office burst into the courtroom and arrested the local deputy, who is charged with the organization of eight contract murders and one attempted murder and is a candidate in the 19 December State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999). The judges ruled that those actions showed the unlimited possibilities of the executive to influence the course of justice as well as the insufficient defense of Russian justice. JC

SUPREME COURT PRESIDIUM REJECTS ST. PETE EARLY BALLOT

The Presidium of the Supreme Court has rejected St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's appeal to overrule the Supreme Court decision declaring the 19 December gubernatorial ballot invalid, Russian Television reported on 16 December. In a controversial vote, Yakovlev supporters in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly had brought forward the elections from spring 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999 and "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 October 1999). JC

COMMUNIST VICTORY ALSO IN THE STARS

Director of the Astrological School Aleksandr Zapaev predicts that elections will result in only a few small surprises, Interfax reported on 15 December. Agreeing with most pollsters and analysts, Zapaev predicted that the Communist Party will capture the largest share of votes--not because Communist backers have the best record of actually showing up at voting booths on election day but because the location of Jupiter will allow KPRF leader Zyuganov to concentrate all of his energy and will on winning. Based on his horoscopes of the movement's leaders, Zapaev believes that Zhirinovskii's Bloc will surpass the 5 percent barrier but Sergei Kirienko's Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) will not (see also "End Note" below). JAC




ARMENIA, WORLD BANK CLOSE TO AGREEMENT ON FINAL 1999 TRANCHE

Senior World Bank official Judy O'Connor told journalists in Yerevan on 16 December after talks with government ministers the previous day that the final $25 million tranche of a $65 million World Bank credit could be released within a couple of weeks provided that problems with the fulfillment of the 1999 budget are resolved, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That tranche is needed to cover the 1999 budget deficit. The delay in releasing it is believed to be due to the failure to meet the fourth-quarter target for revenue collection. LF

KARABAKH ARMY COMMANDER FIRED

Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, fired Samvel Babayan, commander of the Karabakh Defense Army, on 17 December, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Two days earlier, a group of senior generals of the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic issued a statement accusing Ghukasian of exacerbating political tensions, and calling on both the president and Babayan to resign, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, who traveled to Karabakh on 15 December, pledged support for Ghukasian the following day (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 50, 17 December 1999). An unknown number of Karabakh parliamentary deputies and the heads of the enclave's administrative districts issued similar statements on 17 December, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

MORE CRITICISM EXPRESSED OF AZERBAIJAN'S MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

The Sumgait branch of the opposition Musavat Party on 16 December called for the results of the 12 December municipal elections in the city's constituencies to be annulled because of irregularities in the vote count, Turan reported. The same day, the party's newspaper, "Yeni Musavat," reported that more than 5,000 voters in one constituency in Yasamal Raion have asked President Heidar Aliyev and Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court to investigate irregularities during the voting. "Hurriyet" on 16 December reported that a group of residents of Belakan Raion staged a demonstration to protest the abduction by members of the executive branch of the chairman of the local electoral commission. And in Washington, the National Democratic Institute characterized the poll as "quite poor," adding that turnout was lower than the 25 percent minimum required by the election law for the poll to be valid, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIA COMPLAINS TO UN OVER RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION...

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili expressed the Georgian government's concern over continuing claims in the Russian media that Georgia is abetting the Chechen resistance, Caucasus Press reported on 17 December. Menagharishvili said those allegations are directed at drawing Georgia into the conflict. He again affirmed that as a sovereign country, Georgia will not allow anyone to use its territory to launch aggression against a neighboring state. He added that monitoring by OSCE observers of the Georgian-Chechen border should preclude any further escalation of the situation. LF

...OFFERS TO HOST OSCE CHECHEN TALKS

Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi on 16 December, Georgian presidential spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze said Tbilisi is ready to host a meeting between Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, and OSCE Chairman In Office Knut Vollebaek, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze explained Georgia's interest in resolving the Chechen conflict in terms of expediting the repatriation of several thousand Chechen refugees. LF

KAZAKHSTAN FEARS EXCLUSION FROM BAKU-CEYHAN PROJECT

Kazakhstan's ambassador to Azerbaijan, Rashid Ibraev, told journalists in Baku on 16 December that Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR has ignored Kazakhstan's request to be acquainted with the content of framework agreements signed on the sidelines of the OSCE Istanbul summit that deal with the use of the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. Kazakhstan signed another document in Istanbul confirming its interest in exporting some crude via that pipeline. The Georgian government has already called for at least one of the framework documents to be amended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). LF

TWO FORMER KYRGYZ PREMIERS IMPLICATED IN CORRUPTION CASE

Following a two-day debate, the upper house of the Kyrgyz parliament voted on 16 December to ask the government to begin an investigation into the possible involvement of former Prime Ministers Apas Jumagulov and Kubanychbek JumAliyev in a major embezzlement case, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The case in question is that of Shalkar Jaisanbaev, former head of the state company Kyrgyzgasmunaizat, who fled Kyrgyzstan in December 1998 after embezzling some 4.8 billion soms (then worth approximately $200 million). Jumagulov served as premier from December 1993 until March 1998 and is currently Kyrgyz ambassador to Germany, while Jumaliev, who was premier from March to December 1998, is governor of Jalal-Abad Oblast. Former Finance Ministers Marat Sultanov and Taalai Koichumanov are also suspected of involvement in the case. LF




BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT TRADE UNIONISTS ARRESTED

Police on 16 December arrested Mikhail Marynich, leader of the Free Trade Union, and six other independent trade union activists, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The arrest took place at the Minsk Automotive Plant, where some 1,000 workers were holding a meeting to protest the plant administration's decision last week to confiscate trade-union property and documents. Marynich, who was injured while being arrested and taken to the hospital, was released in the evening, while the fate of the other six trade unionists is unknown. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES CHIEF BANKER AS PREMIER

Leonid Kuchma on 17 December nominated National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko as prime minister, Reuters reported. "I ask you to confirm Viktor Yushchenko as prime minister," Kuchma wrote in a letter to parliamentary deputies. Yushchenko needs 226 votes to be approved. He is considered a strong pro-reform politician who has repeatedly won praise from international financial experts for his monetary policy in Ukraine. JM

UKRAINIAN LEFTISTS TO BOYCOTT PARLIAMENTARY SESSION OVER DECREE

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said on 16 December that his caucus will boycott the session unless the parliament includes on its agenda a discussion of the presidential decree abolishing collective farms, Interfax reported. The Progressive Socialist Party caucus walked out in protest after deputies failed to approve including that issue on the 17 December agenda. Leftist caucuses oppose the abolition of collective farms in Ukraine, while some 100 deputies have asked the Constitutional Court to declare the decree unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 December 1999). JM

MONEY AFTER REFORMS, IMF TELLS UKRAINE

IMF mission head Mohammed Shadman-Valavi said in Kyiv on 16 December that the IMF's new loans will depend on the country taking concrete steps toward implementing reforms, UNIAN reported. IMF permanent representative in Ukraine David Orsmond said the fund expects Kyiv to introduce a program of reforms that are "large-scale and quite ambitious," according to Interfax. So far, Ukraine has received $965 million from the IMF's $2.6 billion loan package. JM

EU ASKS LATVIA TO LIFT PORK TARIFFS

Head of the European Commission to Riga Guenter Weiss delivered a note to the Latvian Foreign Ministry on 16 December saying the EU reserves the right to take countermeasures if it does not lift its tariffs on pork imports, LETA reported. The commission said Latvia has not proven the adverse effects of pork imports from the EU and the tariffs violate agreements between Latvia and the union. The tariffs, which the parliament adopted on 9 December and were signed by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 15 December, place a minimum customs fee of 1.05 lats ($1.80) on every kilogram of imported pork until December 2001. Neighboring Estonia and Lithuania have both complained about the protective tariffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1999). MH

NEW EDUCATION MINISTER IN LATVIA

The parliament on 16 December confirmed Maris Vitols as new education minister. Vitols, a member of the People's Party of Prime Minister Andris Skele, garnered 56 votes in favor and four against his appointment. Vitols replaces Silva Golde, who resigned over the wave of strikes held by teachers over the last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999). Some opposition politicians argued that Vitols, aged 27, is too young to be minister. MH

ELECTRICITY PRICES GO UP IN LITHUANIA

Lithuania's National Control Commission for Energy Pricing and Energy Activities has allowed the power utility Lietuvos Energija to raise its tariffs by an average of 17.6 percent, BNS reported. The new tariffs will go into effect beginning next year. On 14 December, regulators also allowed the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant to raise its prices by more than 19 percent. Ignalina provides more than 80 percent of all electricity to the country. MH

LITHUANIA SIGNS GAS DEAL WITH GAZPROM

Representatives of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) and the Russian giant Gazprom, meeting in Moscow on 16 December, signed a five-year deal on supplies of Russian gas to Lithuania, ELTA reported. This is the first long-term gas deal for Lithuania, as all previous agreements were effective for only one year. Lietuvos Dujos Director Kestutis Sumacheris and Gazprom Vice President Aleksandr Pushkin foresee imports of natural gas rising from 1.45 billion cubic meters in 2000 to 2.5 billion cubic meters in 2005. The price of the gas deliveries will calculated according to a formula based on world heating oil prices, according to BNS. In a related story, Lietuvos Dujos is also expecting a $15 million loan from the German investment bank Deutsche Pfandbriefbank. MH

POLAND, LITHUANIA NOTE 'CONTROVERSIES' OVER MINORITIES

Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek said after a 16 December meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart, Andrius Kubilius, that the problem of national minorities is provoking "controversies" in bilateral relations, PAP reported. Buzek said that the two sides will set up a commission to examine whether "appropriate rights and the freedom of action" are ensured for the Polish minority in Lithuania and the Lithuanian minority in Poland. According to Buzek, Vilnius says Lithuanian children in Poland face greater difficulties in obtaining education in their mother tongue since the educational reform introduced this year. Buzek denied that such is the case, adding that subsidies for Lithuanian schools are 20 percent higher than those for Polish schools. "We expect the application of the same principles with regard to the Polish minority in Lithuania," he said. JM

CZECH PREMIER IN CHINA

Milos Zeman on 16 December began an official visit to China, CTK reported. After meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Zhu Ron-Jim, Zeman said they discussed boosting economic cooperation and trade and "only marginally touched on political topics." He said the Czech Republic, "along the whole international community," has a "one-China policy" and accepts "the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states." Zeman is meeting with President Jiang Zemin on 17 December. CTK reports that he intends to discuss with him, among other things, human rights issues. MS

CONTROVERSIAL CZECH MAYOR RESIGNS

Ladislav Hruska, mayor of Usti nad Labem, resigned on 16 December, CTK reported. The town has drawn international media attention after it erected and then pulled down a fence separating Roma from other inhabitants. Hruska said his decision to resign was based on "health and family reasons." The town council has voted in favor of his being replaced by deputy mayor Miroslav Patek. Hruska will serve as one of Patek's deputies. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2000 BUDGET

The parliament on 16 December approved a 201.8 billion crown ($5.076 billion) budget for next year, AP reported. The budget foresees an 18 billion crown deficit and was approved by 89 lawmakers out of the 125 who were present. Thirty-four voted against and two abstained. Also 16 December, Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet set 1 January 2004 as the target date for Slovakia's accession to the EU, CTK reported.

CUTS TO BE MADE IN SLOVAK ARMY

Chief of staff General Milan Cerovsky told AP on 16 December that the Slovak army will cut forces over the next three years by 12,000 beginning next year. Cerovsky said that the cuts will reduce the army to 30,000 troops and are part of the reforms aimed at making it NATO-compatible. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT STOPS CONTROVERSIAL BOOK DISTRIBUTION

President Rudolf Schuster on 16 December said he has stopped the distribution of his book "A Return to Big Politics," AP reported. The book describes the coalition- forming talks between the now ruling parties. It has been criticized by Prime Minister Dzurinda and other cabinet members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1999). Schuster said he did not intend the book to become "a source of political disputes and disagreements." MS

SLOVAKIA WANTS TO COORDINATE COURSE ON BENES DECREES WITH CZECHS

Jan Figel, Slovakia's chief negotiator with the EU, told CTK on 16 December that during accession talks, Slovakia would be interested in coordinating its position on the Benes decrees with that of the Czech Republic. He was responding to a recent statement by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who told "Lidove noviny" that the Czech Republic will soon start discussions with Austria on the decrees among "experts, legal experts, and historians." Bratislava earlier refused to discuss the question of the Benes decrees, under which Germans, Hungarians, and other "enemies of the Czechoslovak people" were expelled from the former Czechoslovakia in 1945 and their property confiscated. Organizations representing the expelled Germans in Germany and Austria have long urged their governments to insist that abrogating the decrees be a condition for EU accession. MS




SERBIAN COMMANDER REBUKES MONTENEGRO

General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who heads the Yugoslav army general staff and is an indicted war criminal, said in an open letter to Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic on 16 December that the military will do whatever is necessary to defend the country and its territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). He urged Vujanovic to order the Montenegrin police "to return to their normal activities" ahead of a possible joint inspection by the federal and Montenegrin authorities of "the situation in the field" at Podgorica airport, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Belgrade, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj accused Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic of trying to provoke a "civil war" through what Seselj called "separatist activities." PM

THACI SAYS SERBS HAVE PLACE IN POWER-SHARING

Hashim Thaci, who headed the former Kosova Liberation Army and is now a member of the UN's new power-sharing council, said in Sarajevo that Serbs and other minorities have their place in Kosova's new political structure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). He urged Serbian leaders to end their boycott of the body. In Belgrade, a spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party said that UN's Bernard Kouchner should be replaced because his council constitutes "collaboration with Albanian terrorists." PM

KOSOVAR LAWYER RELEASED AFTER RANSOM PAID

Unidentified kidnappers freed Kosovar human rights lawyer Teki Bokshi on 16 December after his family paid a ransom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). It is unknown how much money changed hands, but the kidnappers had sought $60,000, AP reported. Leading Serbian human rights activist Natasa Kandic said the kidnappers could have been former policemen who are no longer in service. She said the official police had nothing to do with Bokshi's disappearance. Jiri Dienstbier, who is the UN's special rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia, wants an explanation from the authorities about Bokshi's disappearance. PM

KFOR STEPS UP PATROLS

British peacekeepers in Prishtina "stepped up" patrols in that city on 16 December with the aim of protecting teenagers of either sex from being abducted by prostitution rings. The criminals then take the young people to Germany or Italy. A KFOR spokesman told Reuters that the abductions are currently "the biggest problem we have." The "Frankfurter Rundschau" wrote that "gangsters and mobsters run the province under the UN's nose." PM

EU OIL REACHES SERBIAN CITIES

Four trucks carrying heating oil supplied by the EU reached the opposition-run towns of Nis and Pirot on 16 December (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). An EU spokesman told Reuters that "everything went smoothly." PM

HAGUE INVESTIGATORS INTERVIEW SREBRENICA SUSPECTS

An unnamed Bosnian Serb government spokesman confirmed in Banja Luka on 16 December that a team of experts from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is in the Bosnian Serb capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). The spokesman told Reuters that "the tribunal's investigators held talks in Banja Luka with two Bosnian Serb army officers suspected of having been involved in Srebrenica." Serbian forces are believed to have killed at least 6,000 mainly Muslim males from Srebrenica after taking that Bosnian town in 1995. It is believed to be the largest single massacre in Europe since World War II. PM

WINTER WEATHER CAUSES HAVOC IN BOSNIA

Heavy snowfalls continue to cover large areas of Bosnia, forcing school and airport closings, blocking roads, and knocking down power lines. The authorities in the mainly Muslim and Croat federation may call a state of emergency later in the day, AP reported from Sarajevo on 17 December. In Herzegovina, heavy rains caused the Neretva River to flood its banks, and several pedestrian foot-bridges near the former Ottoman stone bridge were washed away. Some 400 persons were evacuated to nearby Medjugorje. PM

HATS IN THE RING IN CROATIA

Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa said in Rijeka on 16 December that he wants presidential elections to take place on 23 January, "Jutarnji list" reported. Foreign Minister Mate Granic of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) told "Vecernji list" that he is willing to run for the presidency, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). He added that he believes that the intelligence services should be accountable to the parliament and not to the president. Public opinion polls suggest that Granic is the only possible HDZ candidate who could easily defeat any challenger from the opposition. Elsewhere, Jadranko Crnic, who is a former president of the Constitutional Court, said he is willing to stand for the presidency if all six opposition parties agree to back him, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CROATIAN NEWS DISTRIBUTION WORKERS STAGE WARNING STRIKE

Some 2,800 employees of the state-run Tisak company staged a two- hour warning strike on 16 December to demand that the government bail out the debt-ridden firm. Tisak is the country's major distributor of newspapers and magazines. PM

ISARESCU OFFICIALLY DESIGNATED ROMANIA'S PREMIER...

In a televised speech on 16 December, President Emil Constantinescu announced he has officially designated National Bank governor Mugur Isarescu as Romania's next premier. Constantinescu said he is doing so "in response to the wish of many citizens" and because Romania needs "a good negotiator" and an economic expert to achieve EU accession. That task, he said, would be best undertaken by a premier who has no party affiliation, particularly in electoral year 2000. He said Isarescu will present his team to parliamentary commissions beginning on 20 December and expressed the hope that parliament will vote confidence in it later next week. MS

... AND NEW CABINET TO BE RESTRUCTURED

Constantinescu said the government will have an Economic Council to coordinate the activities all economic ministries and a new Ministry of Public Administration will be set up to coordinate legislation in this sphere and "overcome bureaucracy." Constantinescu also announced the Department for European Integration will be abolished and its functions transferred to the Foreign Ministry to ensure that Romania "speaks in one voice." MS

CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS OVER IN ROMANIA?

The parliamentary groups of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 16 December decided to "partly lift" the punishment handed down two days earlier on outgoing Premier Radu Vasile. While it was not explained what is meant by "partly," National Peasant Party Christian Democratic Chairman Ion Diaconescu said Vasile could resume his party functions "if he so wishes." According to as yet unconfirmed reports, Senate Chairman Petre Roman has mediated an agreement whereby Vasile would return to his position as PNTCD secretary-general in return for resigning as premier, thereby resolving the country's constitutional crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Vasile opponent and PNTCD Deputy Chairman Nicolae Ionescu-Galbeni indirectly confirmed that deal when he said he has resigned to protest "the triumph of hooligans." MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE ON GOVERNMENT LINE-UP

Dumitru Braghis told journalists on 16 December that in order to prevent the legislature interfering in the process of forming the government and later in the cabinet's activities, he will not appoint parliamentary deputies as ministers. He said the cabinet will consist of "competent people, selected on the basis of professionalism," Infotag reported. He also said he will not change the program of Ion Sturza's outgoing cabinet, in whose drafting he has participated. Bragis said his cabinet will continue to implement reform and pursue integration into European structures. MS

BULGARIAN SCHOOLS TO OFFER CLASSES ON ISLAM

The Education Ministry on 16 December announced that Bulgarian schools will begin offering classes on Islam next year in areas where there is a strong Muslim minority, AFP reported. Since 1997, classes on the Bible have been available to pupils whose parents wish them to have such instruction. MS




RUSSIA GOES TO THE POLLS


By Donald Jensen

When Russians vote for a new State Duma on 19 December, the fate of various parties and movements will be less important than whether the process can begin to change the rules by which Russian politics is played.

During the campaign, there has been little discussion of the serious issues facing the country. Instead, the central drama has been the competition between two elite coalitions of politicians, oligarchs, and regional leaders. One of those coalitions, Unity (Edinstvo), has the backing of the Kremlin. The other, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), is led by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. At stake are vast financial resources, political power, and, ultimately, the Russian presidency when Boris Yeltsin's term expires next year.

That elections in Russia are now routine is a healthy sign. Unfortunately, the campaign has witnessed the same unsavory characteristics that marred earlier electoral contests and, indeed, Russian politics as a whole for much of the Yeltsin era.

Among those characteristics is the criminalization of the political process. A large number of candidates who allegedly have committed illegal acts or have ties to organized crime are seeking election. Victory will ensure their immunity from prosecution. In addition, the federal law governing election finances requires candidates for the Duma to report their annual income, its sources, and the total value of their possessions. In fact, many wealthy candidates vastly understated their income, without fear of punishment. Even when the government has tried to enforce election laws, it has done so inconsistently, disqualifying some candidates on technicalities while allowing other apparent violators to remain on the ballot.

Another characteristic is the weakness of political parties. Most parties sponsoring candidates are little more than clubs clustered around leading politicians, with little large-scale organization. Only the Communist Party, which has several hundred thousand members, most of whom are pensioners, has strong grass-roots support.

And then there is the heavy politicization of the media. The print and electronic media have largely reflected the political views of the coalitions who control them. Muck-raking by the Kremlin-controlled Russian Public Television (ORT) network and the pro-OVR station NTV has done little to enlighten the voters, although attacks by ORT anchor Sergei Dorenko on the Moscow mayor have almost single-handedly caused a significant drop in support for Primakov and Luzhkov's movement in recent weeks.

Despite all this, there are signs that the election may mark a turning point in Russian politics. More than at any time in the past decade, voters and their leaders support a uniquely Russian path of development. Other than a rejection of the extreme right or left and agreement on the need for a strong leader, however, there is little consensus on what that course might be.

Although the Communist Party is by far the largest party and likely to have the biggest representation in the new Duma, it has been unable to expand its core constituency significantly since the last national election. In an effort to court voters, the party has finally accepted some aspects of reform, such as privatization and democratization. However, its leader, Gennadii Zyuganov, has limited appeal and little hope of succeeding Yeltsin. Indeed, the Kremlin has targeted Primakov and Luzhkov, not Zyuganov, as the real threat to Russia's future.

The shift in public opinion toward the center has also resulted in declining support for parties advocating Western political and economic models. Boris Nemtsov's Union of Right Forces may not receive the 5 percent of the vote its needs to gain entry to the parliament. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko--the party voicing the most reservations about the war in Chechnya- -will have trouble making gains.

More than ever before, regional governors, without whose support no president can govern effectively, are critical to the outcome of the Duma contests. Governors form the backbone of both the OVR and Edinstvo coalitions and are expected to deliver the vote in their jurisdictions.

Finally, the fact that Unity floundered in the polls until Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that he will vote for it demonstrates Putin's increasingly independent political base. In the past, Yeltsin has been unwilling to cohabit with politicians he cannot control. For now, at least, he must do so, since popular support for Putin and the war in Chechnya is virtually all that unites the country.

The 19 December vote will probably result in an anti-Yeltsin majority of the Communists, the OVR and independent deputies. When the Duma focuses on legislative work, it will likely be at least moderately hostile to the West. Moreover, a broad sense among the anti-Kremlin forces of the need to amend the constitution to reduce the powers of the president is likely to result in that issue being put high on the lower house's agenda.

At the same time, the Duma sessions will be dominated by the question of who succeeds Yeltsin. The legislature may try to weaken Putin--who remains vulnerable to Yeltsin's jealousy and the negative impact of setbacks in the Chechnya war--by voting no confidence in the government. The Kremlin may be able to take advantage of the tensions between the Primakov and Luzhkov wings of the OVR; on the other hand, a reconciliation between Yeltsin and Primakov is not out of the question, either. And the appearance of an entirely new contender, such as Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, is also possible.

Alas, a consensus that Yeltsin should leave the scene and Russia should find its own way does not mean there will be an imminent agreement on a viable approach to slowing the country's decline. Overwhelming support for bringing Chechnya to heel is no substitute for the unifying national idea for which many Russians have yearned since the collapse of Soviet rule. The author is associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL.


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