Accessibility links

Newsline - December 30, 1999




RUSSIAN PROSECUTOR IMPLICATES CHECHEN PRESIDENT IN GENOCIDE...

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 30 December said it has called on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to give evidence in the ongoing investigation of the deaths of up to 1,000 Russians in Chechnya, Reuters reported. A spokeswoman said mass burial sites have been discovered in Chechnya dating from1991-1999. She added that the victims were all Russians. LF

...BLAMES CHECHENS FOR ALKHAN-YURT KILLINGS

Sources in the Prosecutor-General's Office on 29 December said a preliminary investigation into the deaths of several dozen Chechen civilians in the town of Alkhan-Yurt in early December indicate that they were killed by Chechen militants, Russian agencies reported. They said the Russian operation to "liberate" Alkhan-Yurt lasted from 27 November to 3 December but no federal troops were in the vicinity at the time of the killings six days later. Both Human Rights Watch and the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen government, Malik Saidullaev, both blamed Russian troops for the killings in which they estimated that some 41 people died. Russian military spokesmen have denied any responsibility for the Alkhan-Yurt killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999). LF

FIGHTING IN GROZNY CONTINUES

In an interview published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 28 December, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev claimed that the "active phase" of the Russian military operation in Chechnya is nearing completion. Sergeev said the Russian leadership is ready to begin peace talks but only on condition that the Chechens release hostages, extradite terrorists, and disarm illegal armed formations. Meanwhile, the Russian air and artillery bombardment of Grozny continued on 28-30 December. Also on 28 December, First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov said in Moscow that Russian forces had taken control of several northern suburbs of Grozny. The following day, however, Manilov described the Russian advance as "slow" and "difficult." AP on 30 December reported that Chechen detachments remain in control of the center of Grozny. LF

FOREIGN JOURNALISTS DETAINED, THEN RELEASED IN CHECHNYA

Three Russian and six foreign journalists were apprehended on 29 December near the village of Pervomaiskoye, north-west of Grozny, and held for several hours on accusations that they were travelling to a combat area without official accreditation from the Russian Defense Ministry. They were subsequently released and ordered to leave Chechnya, ITAR- TASS reported on 30 December. LF

OSCE AGAIN CALLS FOR CEASEFIRE IN CHECHNYA

In a statement released on 29 December, OSCE Chairman In Office Knut Vollebaek again condemned Russia's "disproportionate and indiscriminate use of military force" against the civilian population of Chechnya, and called for an immediate ceasefire to facilitate the evacuation from Grozny of the city's remaining civilian population, Reuters and AP reported. Vollebaek said the conflict should be resolved in peace talks with the participation of the OSCE. He warned that the fighting in Chechnya could endanger regional security and stability. LF

JAPAN ADDS NEW MONEY TO SUPPLEMENT WORLD BANK LOAN...

Japan's Export-Import Bank disbursed on 29 December a $100 million loan tranche to the Russian government, First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko reported. The money is part of co- financing package that includes the two $50 million loan installments recently approved by the World Bank for Russia's coal sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). Khristenko called the disbursement "the continuation of Japan's strategic partnership with Russia based on definite economic requirements, not some political factors." On the same day, First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters that the $100 million disbursed by the World Bank will be spent only on restructuring the coal industry and not to finance military operations in Chechnya. JAC

...AS CALL REPORTEDLY MADE FOR DELINKING IMF MONIES WITH CHECHNYA

Officials of the U.S. Bretton Woods Committee concluded on 30 December that the IMF should refrain from linking financial aid to Russia with political events, including Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Committee members also concluded that the IMF should refrain from granting additional credits to Russia until it fulfills completely all conditions of the economic program. JAC

PUTIN CALLS FOR STRONGER STATE

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on Russians to support a strengthening of the central government on 29 December. In a speech published on an official government web site (http://www.pravitelstvo.gov.ru or www.government.gov.ru), Putin said this "is not a call for a totalitarian system. Strong power in Russia means a democratic, law-governed efficient federal state." He also noted that "it is far from accidental that the public wants greater control over arbitrariness and abuses" and that "primary attention should be paid to the establishment of a partnership between executive power and civil society." Putin also said at the congress for the pro-Kremlin electoral bloc Unity on 28 December that Boris Gryzhlov, the head of Unity's election headquarters in St. Petersburg, is a key candidate for the post of the bloc's faction leader in the new State Duma. JAC

ELECTION LOSERS CLAIM PRESSURE FROM VICTORS

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev on 28 December said Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok's earlier warning that his republic's oil company, Tatneft, and the neighboring republic of Bashkortostan's Bashneft, may soon lose access to an oil export pipeline is a "a form of pressure," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The republic's tax service claims that Tatneft has been paying its federal taxes on time since August 1999. According to "Vedomosti" on 27 December, the federal Tax Ministry has threatened to initiate criminal proceedings against republic officials in Bashkortostan because the republic owes the federal treasury some 365 million rubles ($13.5 million) in VAT revenues. Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute for Problems of Globalization, said the ministry's threat is a "political game" and that "Bashkortostan is hardly the most undisciplined region." He said other regions in Russia owe more money, such as the republic of Kalmykia, but "its leadership made the right political choice." Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov were founding members of All Russia. JAC

FINAL ELECTION RESULTS REVEAL NARROW COMMUNIST VICTORY...

The Central Election Commission on 29 December announced the final results of the State Duma elections that were held 10 days earlier. With all of the ballots counted, the Communist Party captured 24.29 percent of the vote, Unity 23.32 percent, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) 13.33 percent, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) 8.52 percent, Zhirinovskii Bloc 5.98 percent, and Yabloko 5.93 percent. Of the 441 deputies elected, 225 came from party lists and 216 from single- mandate districts. A second round of voting will be held on 19 March in eight single-mandate districts where the majority of the electorate voted against all of the candidates on the ballot; elections were not held in Chechnya. For the time being, the Communist Party will have 67 seats in the new Duma, Unity 64, OVR 37, SPS 24, Zhirinovskii Bloc 17, and Yabloko 16, Interfax reported. However, these numbers are likely to change because some independent candidates are expected to begin joining specific factions. JAC

...AS ELECTION CHIEF DECLARES BALLOTING MOSTLY LAWFUL

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 December that "rumors about general fraud in the elections are clearly exaggerated." While he said the commission has received specific complaints about violations of the election law, he added that such violations "were not committed on a massive scale." The previous day, "Segodnya" reported that complaints have been filed about election law violations in the republics of Tatarstan, Daghestan, and Bashkortostan and in Chelyabinsk, Orenburg, and Moscow oblasts. In other news, a poll conducted by the Institute for Comparative Social Research during the first 10 days of December came fairly close to predicting the final election results. The poll showed the Communists ahead of Unity by less than 2 percent, Yabloko with 6.5 percent of voter support, and Zhirinovskii's Bloc with 5.9 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). The poll of 1,278 Russians was conducted for "The Moscow Times." JAC

ENVIRONMENTALIST ACQUITTED AFTER ALMOST FOUR-YEAR LEGAL ODYSSEY

A St. Petersburg court on 29 December declared retired Naval Captain Aleksandr Nikitin not guilty of espionage and treason in connection with his efforts to publicize the Russian Navy's environmentally hazardous practices with nuclear waste. Judge Sergei Golets said the accusations themselves were unconstitutional because they were based on laws enacted only after charges were brought against Nikitin. Nikitin was arrested on 6 February 1996. JAC

RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER COMPARES U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES ON RUSSIA...

"Novye Izvestiya" on 28 December reported that all candidates for U.S. presidential elections "from the 'spineless Democrats' to the 'resolute Republics'" appear to be advocating a tougher policy vis-a-vis Russia. According to the newspaper, even U.S. Vice President Albert Gore has sharply condemned Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, while his chief Democratic competitor former Senator Bill Bradley wants to keep Russia "on a short leash." Republican presidential candidate George Bush Jr. is deemed much more oriented toward U.S. pension policy than Chechnya although he has spoken out in favor of "not giving Russia the opportunity to pursue foreign policies that are not in the U.S. national interest." The daily considers Senator John McCain to be advocating the sharpest correction in the U.S.'s Russia policy, saying the senator's election "rhetoric with regard to Russia is exclusively threatening." "Novye Izvestiya" receives funding from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC

...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY REMEMBERS THE SENIOR BUSH

Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin on 28 December criticized former U.S. President George Bush's comments in the 21 December issue of "The Washington Post." In the paper, Bush urged President Bill Clinton to boost the deployment of a national anti-missile system. Rakhmanin said the comments "not only complicate the difficult strategic dialogue of Russia and the U.S. but also endanger prospects for the whole START process." He added that "pronouncements of that sort go against the agreement to start discussions on START and ABM issues as outlined in a joint statement of the Russian and U.S. presidents in June 1999." He added that the START-I and START-II treaties were signed during the presidential administration of George Bush Sr. JAC

SWISS DECLARE RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT PERSONA NON GRATA

The Swiss government has declared an unidentified Russian diplomat persona non grata for spying activities, Western agencies reported on 29 December. A Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters that the ministry lodged a protest with the Russian Embassy in Bern in early December. JAC

ROKHLIN'S WIDOW TO BE RELEASED FROM JAIL IN 2000

A Moscow city court ruled on 29 December that Tamara Rokhlina should be freed from jail after 3 January 2000 because by then she will have been held in custody for more than 24 months, according to Interfax. Rokhlina faces charges of murdering her husband, Lev Rokhlin, who was a State Duma deputy and leader of the Movement to Support the Army. Rokhlina confessed to the 3 June 1998 murder. However, in a later television interview, her daughter and son-in-law repeated their earlier claim that Tamara Rokhlina confessed to her husband's murder only because of death threats against her children (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1998). JAC

COMPUTER EXECUTIVE MURDERED

Mikhail Postnikov, the vice president of VIST, a top Russian computer company, was killed in Moscow on 27 December in what appears to have been a contract murder. According to "Segodnya" on 29 December, the company had outstanding debts of some $15 million to companies such as Samsung, Microsoft, and Intel at the end of 1998. Rather than borrowing from a conventional bank to pay the debts, VIST sought financing from "private individuals and various companies," which the daily suggests could be linked to Postnikov's murder. JAC

QUIET CORPSES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS?

Workmen in Moscow discovered the skeleton of a man who died five years ago in a room of a Moscow communal apartment without the other residents knowing he was there, RIA Novosti reported on 28 December. According to the agency, no one in the apartment could recall having seen the tenant, who died in 1994 shortly after he was released from prison. Local police expressed surprise that his neighbors did not notice or never inquired about what was going on in one room of their apartment. JAC




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES BUDGET DEBATE

The deputy chairman of the Armenian parliamentary Committee on Finance and Economics, Manvel Badeyan, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 28 December that the final draft of the 2000 budget will be submitted to the legislature in late January. The draft was originally submitted to deputies in early November but then withdrawn for amendments. Badeyan said the reason for the delay is that the Armenian government is keen to have a "realistic" budget but doesn't yet know how much the country will receive from international financial organizations. In particular, agreement has not yet been reached with the World Bank on the size of a Structural Adjustment Credit that is earmarked to cover much of the anticipated budget deficit. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS SENTENCED FOR ARMENIAN SHOOTING

Two Russian border guards were sentenced to jail terms of 14 and 15 years for indiscriminately opening fire on civilians in the north Armenian town of Gyumri in April, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1999). Two people were killed and a further nine wounded in the shooting. LF

AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS ARMENIAN SEISMIC MONITORING STATIONS

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry on 27 December issued a statement condemned as a violation of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity Armenian plans to open a network of 150 seismic monitoring stations in Armenia and the unrecognized Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, ANS TV reported. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DENIES CHECHEN FIGHTERS IN GEORGIAN TERRITORY

Georgian Deputy Security Minister Levan Kenchadze on 29 December rejected as untrue claims by former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani that up to 1,500 Chechen fighters are using the Pankisi gorge in northern Georgia as a base, Caucasus Press reported. Earlier the same day, Kitovani said in Tbilisi that the Chechens are being allowed to move freely on Georgian territory and are planning to attack Russian troops based in Georgia. On 28 December, police in Tbilisi apprehended four people attempting to smuggle a large quantity of heroin from Pankisi. Georgian police believe the drug was processed in an underground facility in Chechnya controlled by Chechen field commanders. LF

TWELVE INDICTED FOR PLOTTING GEORGIAN COUP

Twelve people, including a former senior Defense Ministry official, have been charged with conspiring to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in May of this year, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 28 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 May 1999). Seven people, including former Defense Ministry official Gudjar Kurashvili, have been arrested in connection with the planned coup, while a further five are still at large. The latter include former parliamentary deputy Boris Kakubava and Igor Giorgadze, ex- head of the Georgian Security Service, who is wanted for his alleged involvement in the August 1995 attempt to kill Shevardnadze. LF

PARTICIPANTS IN COMMEMORATION OF KAZAKH DEMONSTRATION FINED

Azat Party leader Hasen Qozhakhmet on 29 December said he and an unspecified number of others have been fined for participating in a gathering to commemorate those killed during the Almaty protest of 19 December 1986 against the appointment of an ethnic Russian as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. Qozhakhmet, who was imprisoned for his role in the 1986 protest, said the official explanation for the fines was that the gathering had not been sanctioned by the authorities. LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S ECONOMY STABILIZES

Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev on 28 December said in Bishkek that his cabinet managed to increase tax revenues in 1999, improved the situation in the agricultural sector, and held inflation at 39 percent, Interfax reported. (The target for inflation was 15 percent). In addition, the country's trade deficit has been reduced from $229 million in 1998 to $80 million. The government has paid off its entire pension arrears and reduced wage arrears to public sector employees, according to RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau. LF

FORMER KYRGYZ PREMIER DENIES ROLE IN BUSINESSMAN'S MURDER

In a letter published on 28 December in the government newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana," Apas Djumagulov denies any connection with the March 1997 murder in Bishkek of his distant relative, businessman Yusup Kolbaev, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Djumagulov, who is currently Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany, said he will launch legal proceedings against those media outlets that implicated him in the killing. He is also suspected of involvement in a major corruption scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1999). LF

TWO SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR TAJIK COUP ATTEMPT

A court in the northern Tajik city of Khujand on 28 December imposed death sentences on two participants in the failed November 1998 coup headed by former Tajik Army Colonel Mahmud Khudaiberdiev, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. A further 35 Khudaiberdiev supporters received prison sentences ranging from 9 to 21 years. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER IN IRAN

During a one-week official visit to Tehran, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri met with President Mohammad Hatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 29 December. The talks centered on political developments in Tajikistan, including preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections, bilateral economic ties, and the overall political situation in Central Asia. All agreed that the conflict in Afghanistan should be resolved by peaceful means and through the participation of all Afghan political forces. LF

'AND HE SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER...'

Turkmenistan's parliament approved an amendment to the country's constitution on 28 December allowing incumbent President Saparmurat Niyazov to remain president for an unlimited period, Reuters reported. The previous day, Niyazov had rejected the proposed amendment, hinting that he might not run for a further term in the presidential poll due in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). On 29 December, the U.S. State Department expressed regret at Turkmenistan's unwillingness to observe democratic norms, according to AP. Reuters quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as conceding that Niyazov can guarantee political stability but also noting that his continuation in office indefinitely will postpone both democratic and economic reforms in the country. Niyazov told law-makers on 29 December that no alternatives to the ruling Democratic Party will be allowed to exist during the next decade, according to Interfax. LF

TURKMENISTAN TO SWITCH TO LATIN ALPHABET

Niyazov told parliament deputies on 29 December that the country will replace the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin one as of 1 January 2000, Interfax reported. Niyazov also called for broader ties between Turkmenistan and Russia, and assured Turkmenistan's ethnic Russian minority that they will not be subjected to harassment on ethnic or religious grounds. LF

UZBEK ELECTION RESULTS PUBLISHED

Following the second round of voting on 26 December, 249 of the total 250 seats in the new Uzbek parliament have been filled, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 27 December. The People's Democratic Party has 48 seats, the national democratic party Fidorkorlar 24, Vatan Tarakkiyoti 20, the Adolat social-democratic party 11, and the democratic party Milli Tiklanish 10. A further 110 deputies represent governing structures, and 16 others represent initiative groups. LF




OPPOSITION PARTY ACCUSES 'BELARUSIAN REGIME' OF DISRUPTING DIALOGUE

The United Civic Party (AHP) on 29 December accused the "Belarusian regime" of disrupting the negotiations between the authorities and the opposition, Belapan reported. According to the AHP, the authorities are grossly violating both the OSCE resolution adopted on Belarus in St. Petersburg and point 22 of the OSCE Istanbul summit declaration by imprisoning people for political reasons, failing to investigate the disappearance of prominent opposition politicians, and seeking to adopt electoral legislation without consultations with the opposition. At the same time, the AHP appealed to all democratic opposition parties to work together in 2000. JM

UKRAINE SAYS NUCLEAR REACTORS READY FOR Y2K

Ukraine's energy producer Enerhoatom on 29 December stated that all 14 reactors of Ukraine's five nuclear power plants will not be affected by the millennium computer bug, Interfax reported. Enerhoatom head Mykola Dudchenko said 10 reactors are now in operation and will not be stopped before the New Year. Meanwhile, Enerhoatom production manager Viktor Stovbun said the same day that the only operational reactor at the Chornobyl plant could be turned off in 2000. Ukraine may not be able to finance the reactor's repair and maintenance costs. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SUBMITS FIRST CABINET CANDIDATES FOR APPROVAL

Viktor Yushchenko, who was confirmed as Ukrainian prime minister by parliament last week, has submitted "key" cabinet candidates to President Leonid Kuchma for approval, Interfax reported on 29 December. Yushchenko said Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk will remain in his post. Yushchenko added that he is also satisfied with the former cabinet's Transportation Minister Leonid Kostyuchenko and Social Policy Minister Ivan Sakhan. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS FASTER PRIVATIZATION

Kuchma on 29 December signed a decree aimed at speeding up Ukraine's privatization process, Interfax reported. According to presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko, the decree defines the "main directions for privatization in 2000-2002." The decree stipulates that 2,200 economic entities are to be privatized in 2000, compared with 435 this year. The state budget is expected to receive $3 billion in privatization revenues over the next three years. Martynenko noted that the decree foresees the privatization of enterprises that "are of strategic importance for the state's economy and security or are monopolies on the domestic market." JM

ESTONIA GRANTS SEVEN MILLION KROONS OF FOREIGN AID IN 1999

The Estonian government on 29 December decided to grant 900,000 kroons ($58,000) to the International Red Cross and various UN organizations, such as UNESCO, BNS reported. This brings the total aid granted by Estonia this year to about 7 million kroons. Much of that aid has gone to support relief efforts in places such as Kosova, Turkey, and Chechnya. At the same session, the government approved a loan program for families with young children and granted honorary citizenship to four individuals for their special contributions to Estonian society. Among the four new citizens is Ernesto Preatoni, a major banking and real estate figure in Estonia and Latvia. MH

SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINAL TO BE RETURNED TO LATVIA?

Some British politicians along with the Simon Wiesenthal Center are calling for accused Nazi war criminal Konrads Kalejs to be prosecuted in Britain or deported to face trial in Latvia, "The Guardian" reported on 28 and 29 December. Kalejs is accused of being a ranking member of the notorious Arajs Commando, which is believed to be responsible for murdering 30,000 Jews and Roma. He is also accused of having served as a top guard at the Salaspils concentration camp. The head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff, said Kalejs is one of the most prominent Nazi war criminals still at large. Kalejs, who holds Australian citizenship, was earlier deported from Canada and the U.S. but is currently convalescing at a nursing home in Leicestershire under a pseudonym. MH

LITHUANIAN STATE DEBT BEYOND THRESHOLD

The Lithuanian Statistics Department on 28 December announced that Lithuania's state debts at the end of November stood at 12 billion litas ($3 billion), up by 442 million litas compared with the previous month, BNS reported. The total figure represents about 28-29 percent of the anticipated GDP for 1999, far exceeding earlier predictions that the debt would reach 24 percent of GDP. Analyst Margarita Starkeviciute told BNS that "this is a worrying indicator," adding that "when the foreign debt is growing and the domestic debt is shrinking, it shows the state's incompetence in handling the savings of the population and investing them." MH

TWO LITHUANIAN COUNTIES GENERATE HALF OF GDP

Half of Lithuania's GDP in 1998 came from Vilnius and Kaunas, BNS reported on 29 December, citing the Statistics Department. Vilnius county accounted for 32 percent of the GDP, or 15,400 litas ($3,850) per capita. Kaunas county accounted for 20 percent of the country's GDP. However, Klaipeda county took second place for GDP per capita at 11,900 litas. The national average per capita is 11,600 litas. MH

CORRECTION:

In the 28 December edition of "RFE/RL Newsline," the Lithuanian bank Ukio Bankas was mistakenly named as state-owned. In fact, Ukio Bankas is one of the oldest private businesses in Lithuania. Zemes Ukio Bankas (Agricultural Bank) is the state-owned institution.

POLISH COALITION DEPUTIES WANT TO OUST THEIR OWN MINISTER

More than 70 parliamentary deputies from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) on 29 December filed a motion in the lower house to hold a vote of no confidence in their party colleague, Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz, PAP reported. The motion accuses Wasacz of preferring foreign capital in privatization and allowing too much foreign capital into the banking sector. "We will be delighted to help dismiss Minister Wasacz, because we think he mismanages privatization policies," the opposition Democratic Left Alliance spokesman Andrzej Urbanczyk told Reuters. AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski and Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek oppose Wasacz's dismissal. JM

POLAND'S POPULATION DECREASES

The Main Statistical Office (GUS) on 29 December announced that for the first time since World War II, Poland's population decreased in 1999. The number of Poles decreased by 13,000 people, or 0.02 percent, compared with 1998. At the end of 1999, Poland's population will amount to 38.654 million people. According to the GUS, demographic trends suggest that the number of Poles will continue to decline slightly until 2005. At that point, the population is expected to start growing again and surpass 39 million by 2015. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS EARLY ELECTIONS NOT NECESSARY

Speaking on Czech Television on 28 December, President Vaclav Havel said the country does not need early elections to form a government supported by a parliamentary majority. Havel said he expects "a change" in the new year that will pave the way for a solution to the current "deadlock" in Czech politics. On 29 December, the daily "Hospodarske noviny" predicted that the minority government of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) will reach an agreement with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) involving the CSSD's renunciation of part of its electoral program. The daily wrote that the CSSD will reduce its program to four basic points: achieving integration in the EU, stimulating economic growth, reducing unemployment, and improving the enforcement of existing laws. It said Prime Minister Milos Zeman and ODS leader Vaclav Klaus are likely to agree to renew their "opposition agreement" on this basis. MS

FORMER CZECH FINANCE MINISTER HAS NERVOUS BREAKDOWN IN DETENTION

Ivo Svoboda, who was arrested last month on charges of embezzlement, has suffered a nervous breakdown and is now recovering in the hospital, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 29 December, citing the director of the prison where Svoboda is awaiting trial. Later on 29 December, CTK reported that Svoboda will remain in a Prague prison hospital for a week or two but will not require treatment in a psychiatric clinic. MS

CZECH FAR RIGHT PARTY MEMBER CHARGED BY POLICE

Police in the northern Bohemian city of Decin on 28 December charged a member of the far-right Republican Party with racial defamation and incitement to ethnic hatred. Last week, anti- Semitic propaganda describing dozens of Czech politicians as Jewish or partly Jewish was displayed on panels at an exhibition organized in the city by the Republicans. President Havel, parliament chairman Klaus, and Prime Minister Zeman topped the list, which included about 100 names. The chairman of the local Jewish community has launched a complaint against the organizers of the exhibition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 December 1999). MS

SLOVAKS FAVOR SEGREGATION OF ROMA

More than three out of five Slovaks (60.4 percent) say they favor separating the country's Romany minority from the majority population and support the idea of creating different schools for Romany children, the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 28 December, citing a public opinion poll conducted by the TNS polling institute. Ondrej Srebala, head of the Slovak National Center for Human Rights, on 27 December told SITA the poll's findings are "alarming," CTK reported on 28 December. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION WEEKLY ATTACKED WITH HAND GRENADE

A Yugoslav-made hand grenade exploded on 27 December in the courtyard of a building housing the Budapest opposition weekly "Elet es Irodalom," AP reported, citing a police spokesman. No one was injured, but a car belonging to one of the guards of the weekly's office was damaged. The next day, "Nepszabadsag" reported that a video camera recorded a man getting out of a car, throwing a grenade into the building's courtyard, and driving away. "Elet es Irodalom" has accused leading politicians in the ruling Fidesz and their relatives of accumulating fortunes by using party funds. However, the paper's editor in chief, Zoltan Kovacs, told "Nepszabadsag" he does not believe the attack was related to those stories. On 8 December, the car of prominent satirist Tivadar Farkashazy exploded after a Molotov cocktail was thrown through its windscreen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1999). MS




MILOSEVIC RESHUFFLES MILITARY COMMAND

In an apparent effort to shore up his personal power, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 28 December made significant changes in the military's high command, Reuters reported. Among those promoted was General Vladimir Lazarevic, who commanded the Pristina Corps until its withdrawal in June and who has recently said that Yugoslav forces will return to Kosovo. He will now be deputy head of Yugoslavia's Third Army. General Milorad Obradovic, commander of the Second Army, also was increased in rank. His area of responsibilities includes Montenegro. PG

OPPOSITION GROUPS TO DISCUSS COMMON STRATEGY

The Alliance for Change, the Serbian Renewal Movement, and two smaller opposition groups on 28 December agreed to meet on 10 January to discuss a common strategy against what they called their "common adversary" -- Yugoslav President Milosevic, AP reported. Some 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in Belgrade on 28 December for a rock concert to mark the new year three days early. PG

YUGOSLAV LAWYERS PROTEST DISMISSAL OF JUDGES

The Serbian Chamber of Lawyers on 29 December said that a 21 December decision by the parliament to fire three judges had undermined the independence and impartiality of the country's judiciary, Reuters reported. "Those decisions are unconstitutional and unlawful," the statement continued. The dismissed judges are Slobodan Vucetic, a Serbian Constitutional Court judge; Zoran Ivosevic, a Serbian Supreme Court Judge; and Bozidar Prelevic, a judge in a Belgrade municipal court. PG

RUSSIA WON'T SELL ADVANCED WEAPONS TO BELGRADE

Yugoslav Defense Minister Predrag Bulatovic told the military weekly "Vojska" on 29 December that Moscow plans to upgrade its military cooperation with Belgrade but will not sell major new weapons systems to Yugoslavia "because of the internationally imposed arms embargo." In other comments, Bulatovic said that NATO was continuing what he called its "extended aggression against Yugoslavia" but said that Belgrade "will battle on the diplomatic as well as on other fields to persuade the international community that Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia and Serbia." PG

CHINA MAY VETO EXTENSION OF KFOR BEYOND JUNE 2000

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in Beijing on 28 December that China will decide "depending on what happens in Kosovo" as to whether it will support an extension of the KFOR mandate, Reuters reported. PG

EU PLANS TO SEND MORE FUEL TO YUGOSLAVIA

After appeals by the mayors of Nis and Pirot, the EU appears likely to increase deliveries of fuel to provide heat to Yugoslav civilians, Reuters reported on 28 December. The EU reportedly will send 38 fuel trucks rather than the eight earlier announced under the still controversial "Energy for Democracy" project. Jan Willen Blankert, deputy head of the European Commission delegation in Belgrade, said he hopes the EU will broaden the program further in January. PG

MONTENEGRIN AIDE SAYS 'FEDERAL STATE DOES NOT EXIST'

Miodrag Vukovic, an advisor to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, told Montenegrin television on 28 December that Montenegro will not participate in Yugoslav elections in the year 2000 because "the federal state does not exist," AP reported. "Only if we agree on future restructuring of a federal state can we think about participating in federal institutions, including elections." On 29 December, Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic accused the U.S. of pushing Montenegro toward declaring its independence from Yugoslavia, something Washington has repeatedly denied. Bulatovic said that the "anti-Yugoslav, noisy band" in Montenegro "has one single conductor -- the U.S. administration, which is behind all the moves with an apparent desire to destabilize Yugoslavia and its legal leadership." PG

BELGRADE EXPLOITING MAFIA CHARGES IN MONTENEGRO

Montenegrin officials told Reuters on 28 December that Belgrade is exploiting Italian displeasure over the involvement of some Montenegrins in the mafia to undermine Podgorica's reputation in the West. The officials said all 27 deputies of the pro- Milosevic party in the Montenegrin parliament had printed copies of Italian charges against the republic's foreign minister a week ago on the very day he resigned. PG

DETAILS OF MONTENEGRIN HARD CURRENCY OFFER

Montenegrin Finance Minister Miroslav Ivanisevic on 29 December said Podgorica will pay Yugoslav army officers residing in the republic with hard currency if the army provides goods of equal value to Montenegro, Reuters reported. At the same time, Ivanisevic said that the Montenegrin government has decided "to pay salaries to all employees in Montenegro in German marks." Both steps are designed to protect Podgorica from the inflation now ravaging the Yugoslav dinar, but it remains uncertain whether the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro will accept. PG

UN CHIEF SAYS KOSOVA VIOLENCE UNACCEPTABLE

In a report to the UN Security Council, Secretary General Kofi Annan said progress has been made in Kosova over the last six months but that the amount of both general violence as well as violence against ethnic minorities remains unacceptably high, Reuters reported on 28 December. He called for strengthening the judiciary and penal systems and urged a "strong response" to counter problems involving "unofficial law-enforcement actors." PG

ARRESTS AND RELEASES IN KOSOVA

KFOR on 28 December arrested Sava Matic, an ethnic Serb who is charged with war crimes during the recent conflict, Reuters reported. Matic was arrested in Orahovac, where more than a dozen other ethnic Serbs have been arrested in recent weeks. The local Serbian Orthodox bishop condemned the arrest. Meanwhile, on the same day, KFOR released four people who had been detained in connection with a bomb attack on a Serbian cafe. PG

SFOR GOES ON HEIGHTENED ALERT IN BOSNIA

The NATO-led SFOR on 28 December announced that its forces have been put on heightened alert because of the possibility of terrorist attacks, Reuters reported. The SFOR command took this step after its soldiers found an unexploded bomb near an SFOR camp. PG

OSCE TO REMOVE 15 MUSLIM CANDIDATES FROM BOSNIAN ELECTORAL LIST

The OSCE, which is in charge of organizing and monitoring elections in Bosnia, announced on 28 December that it has scratched 15 candidates of the ruling Muslim party from the list of candidates because of registration irregularities, AP reported. PG

BOSNIAN SERBS PLEAD NOT GUILTY AT HAGUE TRIBUNAL

Two Bosnian Serbs charged with war crimes, retired General Stanislav Galic and paramilitary leader Zoran Vukovic, on 29 December entered not guilty pleas at the international court in The Hague, Reuters reported. PG

CROATIAN OPPOSITION FORMS OWN ELECTION COMMISSION

Suspicious that the ruling party of late President Franjo Tudjman might "opt for manipulating election results," the leading opposition coalition announced on 28 December that it has formed its own electoral commission to monitor the upcoming vote, Reuters reported, citing bloc spokesman Tihomir Ladisic. PG

MACEDONIA SEIZED SERBIA-BOUND EXPLOSIVES

The Macedonian police on 29 December seized 13 metric tons of explosives the authorities said were bound for Serbia, Reuters reported. The police also arrested eight Macedonians and seven Yugoslav citizens, who have been charged with smuggling. PG

ALBANIANS CHOOSE ENVER HOXHA 'MAN OF CENTURY'

According to letters sent into Tirana's independent daily "Koha Jone" since September, Albanians believe that former dictator Enver Hoxha was the most important figure in Albania in the 20th century, DPA reported on 29 December. PG

ALBANIA CRITICIZES BELGRADE, SEEKS CLOSE TIES WITH PODGORICA

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 28 December issued a public warning to Belgrade against any attempts to return its forces to Kosova, dpa reported. At the same time, Milo criticized Athens for failing to discuss the property rights of ethnic Albanians in Greece. Meanwhile, Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta told "Koha Jone" that he hopes for closer ties with Montenegro. PG

ROMANIA INTRODUCES NEW TAX SYSTEM...

The Romanian government on 29 December decided at an extraordinary meeting to slash corporate taxes, increase VAT, and simplify the tax system. Corporate taxes will be reduced from 38 to 25 percent in order to stimulate the economy and ensure accurate tax returns. In addition, companies that can prove investments and exports will benefit from a 10 and 5 percent tax reductions, respectively. Romania's VAT is to be reduced from 22 to 19 percent but will now apply across the board. At the same time, VAT will be increased on some consumer goods from 11 to 19 percent. However, no VAT will be paid on energy deliveries for home consumption until April 2000. As of 1 January, a global system of personal taxation on all earnings regardless of their source is to be introduced, bringing Romania into line with the system currently applied in the EU, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.

...AND TAXES PENSIONS

Under the new taxation system, pensions that surpass the average national salary of 1.7 million lei ($94) are to be taxed, thus reducing the number of pensioners who receive their retirement benefits tax free. Labor and Social Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Simona Marinescu on 28 December said pensions will be increased by up to 60 percent in 2000. MS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RETURNS FROM MOSCOW

On his return from a three-day visit to Moscow on 29 December, Defense Minister Victor Babiuc said he and his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, discussed bilateral cooperation in the two countries' defense industries and a proposal that Russia repay its $90 million debt to Romania with military hardware deliveries. They also discussed the envisaged withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transdniester and Romania's preparations for integration into NATO. Babiuc said he did not "note opposition" from Sergeev to Romania's plans but added that "Russia is still a great power and I am under the impression that it is dissatisfied with the status that Western countries are conferring on her." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY

CIS Executive-Secretary Yurii Yarov met with Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi in Chisinau on 28 December to discuss ways to improve cooperation among CIS member-states, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The meeting was part of the preparations for the CIS summit scheduled in January 2000. Lucinschi told Yarov that Moldova insists on the implementation of existing CIS agreements, and particularly on setting up a free trade zone that would eliminate trade barriers and double taxation. He said he "welcomes" the CIS Executive Committee decision to participate in the settlement of conflicts and sources of tension in the former Soviet Union. Lucinschi added that the committee's participation alongside the OSCE and other organizations in mediating Moldova's dispute with the Transdniester separatists would make an important contribution to finding a solution to the problem. MS




NEW ORTHODOXY?


By Catherine Cosman

A new post-Soviet orthodoxy emerged at a human rights seminar in Georgia in late November: The monopoly position of majority religious communities may take precedence over that of individuals protesting that monopoly.

The seminar, organized by the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development, also provided highlights of the human rights situation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Georgia's active NGO community (at least that based in Tbilisi) has made the most strides in communicating its concerns to the government. Azerbaijan's parliament in December enacted a tough new law on the media. And in Armenia, the government maintains tight control over official information, resulting in a weak independent media that engages in wishy-washy journalism.

Representatives from all three south Caucasus countries agreed that their elections are now mere "balloting charades." Georgian journalists, for example, told of the mayor's successful challenger in Kutaisi being wounded by mysterious assailants a few days before the elections and of wholesale vote buying. Nevertheless, foreign election monitors still spend a lot of time and treasure in what many local observers consider often academic exercises to gauge election fairness.

Participants laughed bitterly at their judiciary "systems," with the Armenian representatives saying that "justice" is measured only by bags of money. All participants agreed that police brutality hits hard and that perpetrators are rarely, if ever, brought to justice. As for conditions in prison, the less said the better. While most speakers agreed there are few, if any, prisoners of conscience, today people are still imprisoned on political grounds--most flagrantly in Azerbaijan, where some 900 are held in appalling conditions. It should be added, however, that many political prisoners in Georgia and Azerbaijan were also implicated in coup attempts.

As for the lamentable socio-economic situation in their countries, seminar participants estimated that more than half of their work force is unemployed. People are embittered at displays of ill-gotten gains by local elites and "businessmen" who stole state resources and now produce nothing. Despite staunch official opposition, teachers in Kutaisi have formed an independent trade union and gotten seven months of back wages. Many men, trying to earn a living wage, have left Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to find work in Russia. The money these workers send home often equals or surpasses these countries' official state budgets, giving Russia a potential major economic lever.

Freedoms of speech, press, and assembly differ considerably among these three countries. Georgia is the most liberal on freedom of the press, although the government retains a potential repressive arsenal, particularly for slander of the president. Major demonstrations, however, are either not allowed in Georgia or are rapidly dispersed, perhaps because such protests brought down the previous government. Armenian journalists claimed there is no direct official censorship but admitted to much "wishy-washy" reporting. The new Azerbaijani media law empowers the government to close media outlets without going to court. Indeed, the Azerbaijani government recently closed the independent Sara TV station on the obscure legal grounds that it is owned by a foreigner.

With regard to religion, the range of views was wider. Participants concurred that their governments disapprove of foreign missionary activity, especially by Jehovah's Witnesses, Krishnaites, Scientologists, and Adventists. Some activists, particularly from Armenia, seemed to share their government's view that such proselytizing goes against "national traditions." Azerbaijanis noted a Lutheran pastor had been expelled from their country this summer. And Georgian activists detailed repressive actions against Protestant groups, such as book burnings and a current court case to revoke the registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In all three countries, the issue of state registration of religious groups loomed large. Azerbaijani activists told how their country had moved away from the relative liberalism of the early 1990s toward increasing barriers to religious activity by restricting registration. These registration restrictions are also being applied to some Islamic groups. In addition, young women who wear head scarves for identity card photos are now being denied passports, even though this does not violate the law. Armenian participants described how the Armenian Apostolic Church played the role of government at various times in Armenian history, and now it is feared that the Church manipulates this tradition to gain monopoly power. In Georgia, only the Georgian Orthodox Church is exempt from the registration requirement, while other religious groups find it difficult to obtain.

Disagreement peaked about whether to defend the legal rights of a young Moscow artist who protested what he considers the cultural monopoly of the Russian Orthodox Church by defacing icon prints. The artist faces three years in prison for the "incitement of religious discord." One young Russian Orthodox journalist from Azerbaijan said she was deeply offended by the artist's actions and saw no reason to defend his legal rights. Taking the opposite tack, a Georgian journalist from the Liberty Institute said, although he did not approve of the artist's actions, he would defend his right to do so. One Armenian participant said the artist, who happened to be an ethnic Armenian, had engaged in simple hooliganism. During the heated discussion, many journalists and human rights activists defended an emerging religious orthodoxy as fervently as the Soviet government had enforced atheism. The author is deputy director of the RFE/RL Communications Division.


XS
SM
MD
LG