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Newsline - December 22, 1999




FATHERLAND, ALL RUSSIA TO GO SEPARATE WAYS?

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev told reporters on 21 December that Fatherland and All Russia are likely to set up different factions in the new Duma, Interfax reported. The same day Yakovlev's fellow founders of All Russia, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov and Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev made similar comments about All Russia's plans. According to Aushev, All Russia would be better able "to defend the interests of regions more actively" with its own group. However, Fatherland head Yurii Luzhkov told reporters that he believes that the Fatherland-All Russia alliance should have only one faction in the Duma. The Carnegie Moscow Center's Andrei Ryabov told "The Moscow Times" on 22 December that the "most moderate members" of All Russia, such as Yakovlev and Shaimiev, "will try to find a common language with the Kremlin fairly soon." JAC

BATTLE SHAPING UP OVER KEY POSTS IN NEW DUMA...

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 21 December that his party intends to nominate its own candidate for the post of Duma speaker. He added that the party with the largest faction in the Duma has the right to name the speaker while the second biggest faction can name the deputy speaker. The leader of what is likely to be the second biggest faction, Unity's Sergei Shoigu stated the previous day that he thinks the post should not belong to one of the major parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999). According to "Segodnya" on 21 December, the two main contenders for the post are Yevgenii Primakov, leader of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance, and Sergei Stepashin, former prime minister and member of Yabloko. The daily also suggested that Unity may try to offer the post to a member of a group which did not pass the 5 percent barrier who is a known quantity, such as the current Our Home is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov. JAC

...AS PARTIES VIE FOR UNALIGNED DEPUTIES

"Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 21 December that the Communists are likely to back an effort by the Communist Party to nominate Primakov. And on the other side of the ideological spectrum, only Stepashin could attract enough support to win the seat. The daily also concluded that the creation of a pro-government majority in the new Duma is not yet assured. According to the newspaper, since Unity so far seems to have done poorly with regard to its members winning single-mandate districts, an alliance with Zhirinovskii's Bloc and the Union of Rightist Forces will not be sufficient to counter a coalition of the Communists with OVR. It will therefore be critical to attract not only members of Yabloko but also "at least 80 of the 100 independent deputies." JAC

THREE INCUMBENT GOVERNORS TO COMPETE IN RUN-OFFS...

Incumbent governors in Tambov, Orenburg and Tver Oblasts all face run-off elections following gubernatorial elections in their regions on 19 December. Orenburg Governor Vladimir Elagin will run in a second round on 26 December, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Tambov Governor Aleksandr Ryabov will vie against an old foe, Oleg Betin, President Yeltsin's representative to the region. The two men competed in the last gubernatorial election which also required two rounds. Tver Governor Vladimir Platov won the largest share of the recent vote but he will have to compete again in the second round in which he is expected to win. He will face State Duma deputy Vladimir Bayunov, who is supported by the Communist Party. JAC

...WHILE TWO OTHERS WIN FIRST ROUND

Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn and Volgograd Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev won their re- election bids during the first round of elections also on 19 December. Citing preliminary data on 20 December, Russian Television reported that Pozgalev attracted 83 percent of the vote and Lisitsyn 65 percent. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 December, Lisitsyn and Pozgalev owe their victories to their strategy of not challenging key business interests in their regions. JAC

SOME PARTIES SUGGEST ELECTION RULES VIOLATED

A number of parties have complained about how the 19 December elections were conducted. According to Ekho Moskvy on 20 December, Marat Gelman, head of the Moscow headquarters of the Union of Rightist Forces, has already sent 150 complaints to the General Prosecutor's office. The alleged violations of election law include falsification of ballot papers and violations of campaign rules by OVR. Communist Party leader Zyuganov also announced that he has reports on violations of election regulations in the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Samara, Saratov and Kursk Oblasts. A former State Duma deputy from Bashkortostan, Aleksandr Arinin, told Russian Television that serious violations of federal election laws occurred in Bashkortostan with the consent of local officials. Meanwhile, local Yabloko officials told "Vremya MN" that a number of violations of election rules occurred in Khabarovsk Krai. JAC

INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER QUESTIONS ASPECTS OF ELECTION PROCESS

Ernst Muehlemann, who is deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, told "Novye Izvestiya" on 22 December that violations in election law did occur during the State Duma election campaign as certain governors used their influence to support a particular candidate. In addition, some officials made use of their public office during campaigning. He also criticized the appointment rather than the election of officials to the Central Election Commission. However, he concluded that they did not constitute "gross violations." According to ITAR-TASS, the Council of Europe sent 25 observers to Russia where they watched voting in Vladivostok, Krasnoyarsk, Cheboksary, Rostov-na-Donu, Kursk, St. Petersburg and Moscow. JAC

EU HAILS RUSSIAN ELECTIONS

The EU issued a statement on 21 December noting that "competitive and pluralistic elections have become a part of the political culture in Russia." According to Reuters, the statement noted mud-slinging in the lead-up to the elections, but nonetheless concluded the process on polling day was well managed and no serious irregularies occurred. JAC

UPPER CHAMBER RATIFIES TREATY WITH BELARUS

The Federation Council ratified the treaty of the Union of Russia and Belarus on 22 December. Members of the upper legislative body voted 158 to 2 to support it. Urging senators to sign the treaty, Committee for CIS Affairs Chairman Oleg Bogomolov said that 40 Russian regions have already concluded 101 agreements with Belarus and its territorial entities as of 1 November 1999. Before the elections, some presidents of republics such as Tatarstan's Shaimiev and Ingushetia's Aushev objected to the prospect of federation with Belarus, vowing that they would seek to enhance the status of their own republics within the Russian federation in response (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 December 1999). Before the vote Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that equalizing Belarus's status with those of Russian federation subjects lies "outside of the framework of this document." JAC

TALBOTT VISIT KICKED OFF WITH OBJECTIONS VIS A VIS ABM TREATY...

As U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott arrived in Moscow on 21 December, a top Russian military official repeated his country's objections to the U.S.'s possible withdrawal from the ABM treaty. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the department for international military cooperation at the Defense Ministry, told reporters that if the U.S. does withdraw from the ABM treaty then Russia "will take steps, including those of a military technical nature" and that the "consequences will be very negative." JAC

...AS US BLOCKS OIL COMPANY LOAN

In response to a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asking that the U.S. Export-Import Bank "not approve for the time being" $500 million in loan guarantees for the Tyumen Oil company (TNK), members of the Eximbank's board voted to reject the loan on 21 December. According to Reuters, the administration's letter followed a request by 14 members of Congress to delay voting on the oil loan because of concerns about the oil company's business practices. BP Amoco has accused TNK of defrauding foreign investors during the acquisition of a key oil production unit, Chernogorneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1999). JAC

RESULTS UPDATED AS LESS THAN TWO PERCENT OF VOTES UNTALLIED

With 98.03 percent of the ballot counted, the Communist Party has retained its lead with 24.29 percent of the vote followed by Unity's 23.24 percent, Interfax reported on 21 December citing the Central Election Commission's press service. OVR has 13.12 percent, the Union of Rightist Forces 8.60 percent and Yabloko 5.98 percent. Some 61.77 percent of voters participated. According to the agency, a final tally may be expected around 29- 30 December. JAC

FORMER CABINET OFFICIALS LAND IN NEW DUMA...

On 21 December, "Kommersant-Daily" ran lists of likely winners and losers in State Duma elections. According to preliminary information, the new Duma will include several former ministers, such as former Tax Minister Georgii Boos, former Fuel Minister Sergei Generalov,former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, and former Prime Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin and Sergei Stepashin and a few oil executives, such as Sibneft's Roman Abramovich and former Transneft head Dmitrii Savelev. In addition, some old faces in the Duma will reappear such as Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, singer and Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, former Presidential Security head Aleksandr Korzhakov, Agrarian faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov, Agarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin, and Russian Regions faction leader Oleg Morozov. JAC

...WHILE OTHER POLITICAL COMEBACKS SCUTTLED

Former presidential representative to the Supreme Court Sergei Shakhrai and former Federation Council Chairman Sergei Shumeiko failed in their bids to enter the Duma, according to preliminary information. Also stymied were some political newcomers, such as former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's grandson Andrei Brezhnev and Vladimir Zhirinovskii's sister, Lyubov Zhirinovskaya. JAC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SAY CHECHEN CAMPAIGN NEARING COMPLETION

Prime Minister Putin said on 22 December after talks at the Kremlin with Russian President Boris Yeltsin that the military campaign in Chechnya is almost over, but "we shall not impose any time limit," Reuters reported. The previous day, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo had said that a deadline exists for taking Grozny, according to Interfax. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev denied, however, that the storm of Grozny is scheduled for 22-24 December, according to AFP. The commander of the federal forces in the North Caucasus, Colonel General Viktor Kazantsev, told ITAR-TASS in Mozdok that a "special operation" will be launched to liberate Grozny, but that it will not entail a frontal attack on the capital. Kazantsev said Russian forces hope to take control of the mountainous areas of southern Chechnya "in the next two-three weeks." LF

CHECHEN, FEDERAL TROOPS CLASH SOUTH OF GROZNY

Federal forces clashed with Chechen fighters near Serzhen-Yurt, southeast of Grozny, on 21 December, AP reported quoting the commander of the eastern sector, Lieutenant General Gennadii Troshev. Fighting continued on 22 December at the mouth of the Shatoi gorcge that leads southwards into the Caucasus mountains. Aslanbek Ismailov, who commands the Chechen forces defending Grozny, said that Russian units are engaged in daily fighting all around the encircled capital. Air and artillery bombardment of Grozny continued on 21 December, and artillery fire overnight was the heaviest for 10 days, Reuters reported quoting Grozny Mayor Lecha Dudaev. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SUMMONED OVER KILLINGS OF RUSSIAN VILLAGERS

The North Caucasus branch of the Russian Prosecutor-General's office has summoned Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov for questioning in connection with the deaths of some 34 Russians in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 21 December. The residents of the village of Mikenskaya were reportedly shot dead on 8 October. Their bodies were exhumed when federal forces liberated the village and witnesses to the shootings are being questioned. LF

GROZNY DENIES TALKS HELD WITH MOSCOW

Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told Interfax on 21 December that Prime Minister Putin's claim to have held talks with senior Chechen government representatives is "disinformation designed to deceive the international community." Arsanov added that Maskhadov has not empowered anyone to hold talks with Russian military representatives, adding that Chechen leaders are willing to hold talks with Moscow only through the mediation of the OSCE or a comparable international organization. The "Financial Times" on 11 December had quoted Putin as saying that he had established contact with senior Chechen officials over the previous week. Russian Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Anatolii Kvashnin has also claimed that Russian military representatives have conducted talks with Chechen representatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 December 1999). LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSESSES POLITICAL SITUATION

In an interview carried on 21 December by leading Armenian newspapers and TV channels, President Robert Kocharian hinted that the indictment of his former foreign policy advisor on charges of instigating the 27 October parliament shootings may have been part of a broader attempt to oust the country's top leaders, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian suggested that the 27 October killings were part of that attempt, and that the persons who masterminded the killings are now trying to mislead the investigators. Kocharian nonetheless claimed that the political situation is returning to normal. He added that despite "some tension," "there is now active cooperation between the president, prime minister, government and political forces." LF

AZERBAIJAN'S RULING PARTY ENDS CONGRESS

The first-ever congress of the Yeni Azerbaycan Party concluded on 21 December with the reelection of its founder, President Heidar Aliev, as its chairman, Turan reported. Aliev's son, Ilham, was elected one of five deputy chairmen, together with parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov and Baku mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev. President Aliyev explained Ilham's election as deputy chairman in terms of the need to bring more younger people into the party's leadership. Ilham and two of President Aliev's brothers were also named members of the party's 25-man Political Council. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT SAYS IRAN SHOULD JOIN REGIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM

Addressing the Yeni Azerbaycan congress, President Aliyev said that Iran should be included in the regional security system whose creation both he and Armenian President Kocharian proposed in their respective speeches at the OSCE Istanbul summit last month, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). At that time, Kocharian had named Iran as a potential member of such a system, whereas Aliyev had advocated that it should comprise the three South Caucasus states, Turkey, Russia and the U.S. The system is envisaged as complementing NATO. The alliance is to open a representative office in Baku next year, Interfax quoted Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev as saying on 20 December. LF

PROTESTERS BLOCK TRAFFIC IN AZERBAIJAN'S SECOND CITY

Several hundred residents of Gyanja have been demonstrating since 18 December in three locations in the city, blocking traffic on the main thoroughfare, according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service and "Hurriyet" on 21 December. The demonstrators are protesting chronic shortages of gas and electricity. LF

RUSSIA DENIES BOMBING GEORGIA...

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 21 December, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Defense Ministry's Department for International Cooperation, said the ministry has no information that would substantiate Georgian claims that Russian helicopters bombed the border village of Shatili on 17 December, Interfax reported. The Georgian Foreign Ministry had lodged a formal protest with Russia's Ambassador to Tbilisi the following day. LF

...AGAIN ACCUSES GEORGIA OF SUPPORTING CHECHENS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 21 December issued a statement containing what Reuters characterized as Moscow's harshest criticism to date of Georgia's alleged anti-Russian, pro-Chechen stance. The statement accuses the Georgian leadership of engaging in "propagandistic rhetoric," including appeals to international organizations, to mask its "anti-Russian actions," and of "presenting a platform for anti-Russian statements by Chechen emissaries." Georgian officials have consistently rejected Russian claims that provide aid to the Chechens, But on 21 December, Defense Minister David Tevzadze admitted that some wounded Chechens are receiving medical treatment in Georgian hospitals, according to ITAR-TASS. Tevzadze said he cannot say whether the men in question fought against federal forces in Chechnya. On 22 December, Georgian border officials refused to allow a group of 139 fleeing Chechens to enter Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. And "Dilis gazeti" on 22 December quoted the Chechen representation in Tbilisi as saying that police in the capital are arbitrarily detaining Chechens.

KAZAKHSTAN, U.S. TO BUILD NEW OIL PIPELINE

Kazakhstan government officials signed an agreement in Washington on 21 December with representatives of British Gas, Texaco, Italy's ENI and Russia's LUKoil to build a $440 million 460 km pipeline from the huge Karachaganak oil and gas field to link up with the Caspian Pipeline at Atyrau, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who attended the signing ceremony, predicted that the project will create 5,000 new jobs and pave the way for $2 billion in the Karachaganak hydro-carbons deposits. In the course of Nazarbaev's working visit to Washington, Kazakhstan's Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik and U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Robertson signed an agreement on permanently closing the nuclear reactor at Aktau in western Kazakhstan, close to the Iranian border. LF

FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER'S BODYGUARDS ARRESTED

Two former bodyguards of Akezhan Kazhegeldin have been charged with illegal possession of weapons, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 21 December. Nurbulat Masanov, a leading member of the opposition Forum of Democratic Forces, told journalists in Almaty the same day that the arrest was "a provocation," according to Interfax. Masanov also said that the opposition body plans to convene an international conference on dialogue between the authorities and opposition in Central Asian states. It also proposes convening a constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution that would increase the powers of the parliament. LF

CABINET RESHUFFLE IN TAJIKISTAN

Following the appointment on 20 December of Akil Akilov as Tajikistan's new premier, on 21 December President Imomali Rakhmonov replaced five of the seven deputy premiers, Reuters reported. Only opposition representatives Khodji Akbar Turadjonzoda and Zokir Vazirov, who will assume responsibility for the social sphere, retained their posts, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 December. Former Security Minister Saidamir Zukhurov, Mirzosharif Islomiddinov, and Nigina Sharapova, a department head at the Dushanbe Medical Institute were appointed deputy prime ministers. Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov, Minister for Emergency Situations Mirzo Ziyoev (another opposition representative) and Defense Minister Sherali Khairullaev retained their posts in the new cabinet, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




BELARUSIAN COMMUNISTS MARK STALIN'S BIRTHDAY

Representatives of the Communist Party of Belarus and veterans' organizations on 21 December laid flowers at the monument commemorating the Soviet victory in World War II to mark the 120th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Stalin, Belapan reported. The ceremony was attended by representatives of the illegal Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania. Belarusian communists told the agency that the place of the ceremony was chosen because of the lack of any monument to the "leader of nations" in Minsk. Earlier this month, left-wing activists in Minsk held "Stalin readings" and a scientific conference on Stalin's "creative heritage," which were attended by Yevgenii Dzhugashvili, the Soviet dictator's grandson. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CHIEF BANKER AS PRIME MINISTER

By a vote of 296 to 12, the parliament on 22 December approved National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko as prime minister. The required number of votes for Yushchenko's approval was 226. Yushchenko, who is known as a pro-market reformer and strict monetarist, told the parliament that he will reduce government intervention in the economy, consolidate state finances, and promote privatization and land reform, according to Reuters. JM

UKRAINE ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO RUSSIA, KAZAKHSTAN OVER OIL SUPPLIES

First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh on 21 December threatened that Kyiv will cancel the sale of stakes in some Ukrainian refineries to Russia and Kazakhstan unless they meet their formerly pledged terms for deliveries of crude oil to these refineries, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. The threat came on the heels of an acute oil shortage in Ukraine, which is accompanied by a Russian-Ukrainian row over Ukraine's alleged siphoning-off of Russian transit gas. Kinakh said the reasons for the current oil crisis are a sharp increase in prices of oil on the world market, limitations on Russia's oil export to Ukraine, the introduction by Russia of a new tariff for oil export, and inflation in Ukraine. JM

UKRAINIAN HARD-LINERS PROTEST COURT RULING ON UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE

The parliamentary caucuses of the Communist Party and the Peasant Party have protested the recent Constitutional Court ruling that obliges state officials to use the Ukrainian language during official business, Interfax reported on 21 December. Protesting lawmakers said the decision violates Ukraine's Constitution, the European charter on minorities' languages, and the rights of millions of Ukrainian citizens who speak only Russian. Communist lawmaker Hryhoriy Boyko announced that the court passed a "political" ruling, "which is supported neither by a majority in the Supreme Council nor by a majority of Ukrainian citizens." JM

ESTONIA GIVES AID TO ALBANIA, CHECHEN REFUGEES

The Estonian government on 21 December earmarked 600,000 kroons ($38,736) for Chechen refugees, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. The International Red Cross will deliver the humanitarian aid. The relief organization and the Estonian Foreign Ministry would need to agree on the specific items required, but Ministry officials believe clothing, food and medicine are the most urgently needed. On a related note, the Lithuanian parliament passed a resolution calling for a debate in the UN Special Committee on Policy and Decolonization on the political status of Chechnya, BNS added. The same Estonian government session also granted 120,000 kroons to help Albania pay for its membership in the European Social Development Fund. MH

LATVIAN SHIPPING COMPANY PRIVATIZATION FAILS ONCE MORE

The Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) on 21 December confirmed that the planned auction for a minority stake in Latvijas Kugnieciba (Latvian Shipping Company, LASCO) failed once again, LETA and BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999). The only bid submitted by the 20 December deadline came from a subsidiary of Russia's LUKOil, but it failed to meet all the requirements set by the LPA, including submitting a security deposit. Before the bad news was announced, Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs chimed in optimistically, saying the 0.51 lats ($0.87) share price had been correct. Afterwards he noted the privatization regulations need to be thoroughly reviewed again, and LPA director Janis Naglis said the share price had been too high. The privatization of LASCO has failed several times in the past few months, and early on in the process in June then-Premier Vilis Kristopans approved the share price of 2 lats. The LPA board is due to hold a emergency meeting on 22 December over the privatization failure. The Finance Ministry added that as privatization funds from LASCO were being counted on to decrease the overall borrowing in the year 2000, this setback could force the government to borrow earlier in the year than planned. MH

POLISH SENATE SPEAKER CONDEMNS VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHECHNYA

Alicja Grzeskowiak on 21 December issued an appeal to leaders of the Council of Europe parliaments to condemn violation of human rights in Chechnya. Grzeskowiak said Russia is exterminating the Chechen people, adding that the issue of Chechnya is no longer Russia's internal affair. Meanwhile, the Polish weekly "Tygodnik Solidarnosc" elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov "man of the year." Chief editor Andrzej Gelbert told PAP that "in this way we want to show our solidarity with the Chechen nation." JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT TO RAISE TARIFFS ON GRAIN

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek on 21 December said the government will raise import tariffs on grain and grain products to the EU level, PAP reported. According to Buzek, tariff hikes will lead to the liberalization of trade with the EU and will support domestic food production. The government initially planned to raise tariffs and introduce quotas on the majority of imported foodstuffs. However, the Monetary Policy Council and the Finance Ministry opposed the plan, saying it is likely to increase inflation. The plan has also become a contentious issue in the negotiations with the EU. JM

CZECH POLL SHOWS OPPOSITION ALLIANCE AHEAD

The four-party opposition alliance of the Freedom Union, the Christian Democrats, the Democratic Union and the Civic Democratic Alliance would win the elections if the ballot were conducted now, according to a public opinion survey released by the STEM institute. The alliance would garner the support of 26 percent. The now largest opposition formation, the Civic Democratic Party, would be backed by 19 percent, the same level of support as the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia would garner. The ruling Social Democratic Party is in fourth place, being backed by 14 percent, CTK reported. Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Vladimir Mlynar said the results of the poll demonstrate that the alliance must run jointly in the next elections. MS

LIST OF 'JUDAISED' CZECH LEADERS DISAPPEARS FROM EXHIBIT

The controversial list of alleged Jewish or partly-Jewish politicians in the Czech Republic has disappeared from the exhibit in Decin organized by the far-right Republican Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999). Republican Party leader Miroslav Sladek said earlier on 21 December that he and the party itself "disassociate" themselves from the list, adding that the party cannot be made responsible for the deeds of each of its members, CTK reported. Decin police have opened an investigation. MS

PYRAMID SCHEME MANAGERS ARRESTED IN SLOVAKIA

Four people suspected of managing the Astran pyramid scheme have been detained by police and are under investigation, AP reported on 21 December citing the daily "Sme." The scheme was founded in 1997 in Bardejov, eastern Slovakia and some 26,000 Slovaks participated in it, investing the equivalent of $37 million. Each investor joined it by paying at least 40,000 crowns ($975) and signing an agreement not to reveal information about it. The agreement stipulated that those who broke their silence would pay a 100,000 crowns fine. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LEGISLATION ON REGALIA

The parliament on 21 December approved legislation honoring the St. Stephen crown as the foremost national symbol and authorizing its display in the house of the parliament alongside other regalia, AP reported. The royal cloak will remain in the National Museum because it is too fragile to move. Stephen I ruled Hungary between 1000 and 1038. Opponents of the move from among the opposition argued that it is too expensive and that it harkened back to customs of Hungary's authoritarian Horthy times. In unrelated news, Smallholders Party deputies on the same day thwarted a government bill on privatizing medical practice, voting with the opposition against its provisions. Hungarian media report that the Smallholders thus retaliated against the refusal of major coalition partner FIDESZ to allow them to select the president of the Babolna agricultural concern. MS




KOSOVA SERBS SAY 'NO' TO JOINT COUNCIL

Some 60 members of the Serbian National Council agreed at the Gracanica monastery on 21 December not to take part in the joint advisory body set up by the UN's Bernard Kouchner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). The delegates said in a statement that the new body is a "step in the direction of creating an independent Albanian state" in the province. Such a move, the statement continued, is "unacceptable to the Serbian National Council and the Serbian community" of Kosova, Reuters reported. The delegates stressed that Serbian leaders were not consulted before Kouchner announced the formation of the new body. "Vesti" reported on 18 December that relations between Kouchner and Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic have reached breaking point. Kouchner is angry that the only prominent Serb to have apologized for war crimes against ethnic Albanians is Serbian Orthodox Father Sava, who is a spokesman for Archbishop Artemije. Trajkovic feels that Kouchner has "stabbed him in the back," "Vesti" added. PM

KFOR: REPORTS OF ABDUCTIONS IN KOSOVA EXAGERATED

A spokeswoman for British peacekeepers said in Prishtina on 21 December that only five of 52 reported recent abductions in the Kosovar capital proved to be genuine kidnappings. She added that "the population hysteria ran out of control...and some people became prisoners in their own houses," AP reported. PM

UN SEEKING TO RECRUIT FORMER KOSOVAR POLICE

Officials of the UN's mission in Kosova have been carrying on discussions in recent days with officers of the mainly ethnic Albanian police force that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic purged in 1989, "Koha Ditore" reported on 20 December. The UN officials hope to recruit 600 former police for the new UN-supervised force, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported from Prishtina on 21 December. Observers suggest that the UN might hope to use the former police for security work in mainly ethnic Albanian communities, thereby freeing up the understaffed foreign police contingent to protect ethnic minority areas. Members of Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority controlled much of the province's administrative structure before Milosevic destroyed Kosova's autonomy in 1989. PM

ALBANIA LIFTS OIL BAN TO KOSOVA, MONTENEGRO

"Selling oil and its by-products to the Republic of Montenegro and Kosova will be allowed on condition they do not pass through the territory of the Republic of Serbia or reach any other destination in Serbia," the Albanian government said in a statement on 22 December. A Foreign Ministry spokesman added that Tirana wants to support "democratic forces" loyal to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, Reuters reported. Albanian Economic Cooperation and Trade Minister Ermelinda Meksi led a delegation to Montenegro this past weekend. The EU dropped its oil embargo on Montenegro and Kosova in October. The Albanian statement appears to preclude, however, that Tirana will take part in the EU's Energy for Democracy Program for opposition-run Serbian municipalities. PM

STILL HARSHER MEDIA REGULATIONS IN SERBIA?

"We have to enhance media regulations against those who publish pro-Western lies," said Rade Drobac of the federal information office, AP reported on 21 December. Milosevic's Socialist Party spokesman Ivica Dacic added that his party plans an offensive against the "satanization of our people and our country" by media critical of Milosevic's policies. He argued that "apart from what can be considered as lying or libel, Yugoslavia has a free press." Serbia has had tight controls on the private media since the fall of 1998 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 46, 1998). PM

KARADZIC, MLADIC TO BE ARRESTED BY CHRISTMAS?

Bosnian Serb international law expert Darko Trifunovic says that plans are under way to arrest leading Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic by Roman Catholic or Serbian Orthodox Christmas. Trifunovic adds that officials of the UN and the Hague-based war crimes tribunal recently discussed plans for the arrests with SFOR personnel in Banja Luka, "Vesti" reported on 22 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999). Some independent Serbian media have recently suggested that Karadzic has approached the tribunal to offer evidence of Milosevic's role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in return for leniency. PM

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SLAMS HERZEGOVINIAN CANDIDATES

A spokeswoman for the OSCE and the international community's High Representative said in Sarajevo on 21 December that the international community is "deeply concerned" about the presence of hard-line Croatian nationalists on the Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) parliamentary election list for Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She noted that the HDZ's list includes at least two officials whom the international community has previously removed from different offices for obstructing the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement. She added, however, that the OSCE approves of Croatian plans to set up 15 polling places in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic wanted that number reduced to five, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. For their part, HDZ spokesmen said that the party will not change its nominees. The HDZ picked the candidates it did because they are the ones with the best chances of getting elected, "Oslobodjenje" of 22 December cited the spokesman as saying. PM

OPEN FIGHT FOR THE HDZ PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION?

Top officials of the HDZ ended a meeting on 20 December without agreeing on a nominee for the 23 January presidential vote, "Vecernji list" reported on 22 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999). Foreign Minister Mate Granic and HDZ parliamentary leader Vladimir Seks have already begun to fight openly over the nomination. Acting president Vlatko Pavletic, however, told the Zagreb daily that he has no interest in running for the presidency. Elsewhere, Ivic Pasalic, who leads the Herzegovinian faction of the HDZ, told "Jutarnji list" that he is confident that he can beat Seks for the party leadership. PM

CROATIAN OPPOSITION WANTS A HOUSE-CLEANING

Representatives of the coalition of four small opposition parties said in Split on 21 December that state policies must undergo a thorough transformation after the 3 January parliamentary vote. Liberal Party leader Vlado Gotovac stressed that "it is intolerable that people in the government and parliament and favored few live like in Germany, while ordinary people live like in Zanzibar," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES ISARESCU CABINET...

The parliament on 21 December approved the cabinet headed by Mugur Isarescu with an overwhelming majority of 305 to 35. The main opposition formation, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) left the chamber before the secret vote. Two opposition parties, Alliance for Romania and the Union of Rightist Forces, announced they will vote in favor of the cabinet. So did the group in the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic headed by dismissed premier Radu Vasile. Isarescu said his cabinet's priorities for 2000 are to limit the deficit to 3 percent of the GDP and the inflation rate to below 25-30 percent, as well as obtain a minimum 1.3 percent in economic growth. MS

... BUT MAIN OPPOSITION RAISES NEW LEGAL OBJECTIONS

In his speech to the joint session of the two houses of the parliament, PDSR executive vice-chairman Adrian Nastase said his party was not participating in the investiture vote in protest against President Emil Constantinescu's failure to revoke the unconstitutional decree that dismissed Vasile. Nastase also said the appointment of Isarescu infringes on a law that prohibits appointees by the parliament or elected officials from holding two offices at the same time. Isarescu is insisting that his return to the position of National Bank governor at the end of the government's term be legally ensured and in the vote of investiture the parliament circumvented the law by saying Isarescu was "suspended" from his position at the bank. Nastase said this was illegal and that a separate, special law should have been passed to allow the investiture. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BARGHIS CABINET...

The parliament on 21 December approved with the support of 57 out of its 101 members the lineup of the cabinet headed by Dumitru Barghis. Barghis, an engineer by training, headed the Moldovan Komsomol organization when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union, Reuters reported. RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported that the cabinet was backed by the Party of Moldovan Communists, the Christian Democratic Popular Party and eight independent deputies. Defense Minister Boris Gamurai, Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru, Culture Minister Ghenadie Ciobanu and Environment Protection Minister Arcadie Capcelea retain their portfolios from the Ion Sturza cabinet. Eugen Slopac, formerly director of an insurance company, is to be first deputy premier and Minster of Economy and Reform. Barghis will have two other deputy premiers, Valeriu Cosarciuc and Lidia Gutu. MS

..AS PREMIER SPEAKS OF TOUGH TIMES AHEAD

Barghis said the new government can never be successful if it will be regarded by the parliament as a "provisional body." He said Moldova's economic indicators for 1999 are worse than in 1998. Preliminary data show a 4 percent drop in the GDP and a budget deficit of over 5 percent. Inflation is expected to be around 40 percent. Stressing that these are "the worst indicators over the last years," Barghis said the 2000 budget, to be presented in February, will allow for no other expenditure than the servicing of the country's external and internal debt. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LARGE CABINET RESHUFFLE

With a majority of 149 to 59 and 10 abstentions, the parliament on 21 December approved the large-scale cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minster Ivan Kostov, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999). MS




Will The HDZ Survive in a Post-Tudjman Era?


By Andrej Krickovic

The death of President Franjo Tudjman is the most significant political event in the Croatia's history since the country gained independence nearly nine years ago. His departure from the political scene leaves a huge power vacuum in the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). He ruled both with an iron hand. Under Tudjman the HDZ was completely subordinate to his political will and failed to develop a coherent identity or ideology of its own. The HDZ is more of a mass movement than a modern political party. It brought together different interest groups under his leadership. Now that Tudjman is gone the very future of the party is at stake.

The party is divided into three main political factions: a radical nationalist wing led by the president's domestic policy advisor, Ivic Pasalic; a conservative right-wing segment led by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Vladimir Seks; and a moderate and technocratic group led by the Western-oriented Foreign Minister Mate Granic. These three men are the main contenders for Tudjman's top spot in the party and they will divide the top positions in the ruling party among themselves.

Whoever takes over for Tudjman will not have the same personal power and authority as the late president. The opposition (and even some voices in the ruling party) has announced that they will work towards reducing the extensive powers of the presidency in favor of a parliamentary system. No one--even in the HDZ--wants another Tudjman. The delicate balance between the different factions will not allow a new Tudjman to emerge in the HDZ. The party leadership will insist that the HDZ's president not be the party's presidential candidate. Tudjman's successors will be battling for two top positions: the HDZ nomination for the presidency of the country and for the presidency of the party itself.

While Tudjman was still alive, Ivic Pasalic was regarded as the second most powerful politician in the country. Relying on his Herzegovinian and other connections, he has established a wide network of cronies in the government, military, and media. He is also the moving force behind the country's intelligence services and has used them against his political opponents in the past. Yet Pasalic has been weakened most by the late president's departure from the political scene. He relied on Tudjman most for his power and authority. Pasalic is one of the most unpopular politicians in the country and knows that he does not stand a chance in presidential elections. Nevertheless, his connections and solid base within the party make him one of the top contenders for the party presidency.

Seks has gained considerable clout in the party as the HDZ's most important man in parliament. He also enjoys strong grassroots support among the party faithful. While Pasalic and his faction are implicated in numerous corruption charges surrounding privatization, Seks has managed to stay away from scandal and enjoys the backing of those who want to rid the party of corruption. Seks is currently the HDZ's candidate for speaker of parliament. However, if the HDZ loses the parliamentary elections, it is likely that he will challenge Pasalic for the top spot in the HDZ.

Granic may have gained the most from Tudjman's departure from the political scene. Every major poll predicts that the ruling party will lose control of the parliament and government after the upcoming January 3 parliamentary elections. It will thus be essential for the HDZ to retain control of the presidency. Granic is the only major HDZ politician who has any chance of beating an opposition candidate in presidential elections. It is true that Granic is unpopular with the right- wing majority in the party because of his pro-Western policies. Nevertheless, the HDZ may have no alternative but to support Granic's presidential bid.

Yet Granic is far from being a certain winner. Seks has indicated that he will make a bid for the presidency, and several other candidates (including Speaker of Parliament and acting president Vlatko Pavletic) are still in the running. The ruling party put off making a final decision about who their presidential candidate will be until December 26. It is also unlikely that the HDZ will chose its new president until after the presidential elections. In the meantime, back-room wheeling and dealing will continue as each faction works to squeeze the most out of any future agreements.

The future of the ruling party will depend on the results of the presidential elections. If the party wins the presidency it will likely maintain its unity. The HDZ will also begin the slow process of transforming itself from an instrument of Tudjman's personality cult into a modern political party. However, a loss in the presidential elections could be a complete debacle for the HDZ. It will be very difficult for these factions to bridge over their ideological differences if the HDZ loses its grip on both the parliament and presidency. One or more of the factions may eventually decide to leave the HDZ to form their own political parties.

In any event, Croatia has reached a turning point. Whatever the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, one thing is certain: there will be no Tudjman after Tudjman. His one-man rule is a thing of the past, and the country can expect to see a much greater level of political pluralism and democracy in the future. The author is a freelance journalist based in Zagreb.


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