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Newsline - January 12, 2000




OVR MEMBERS SAY PRIMAKOV WILL NOT RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Agrarian Party leader and member of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance Mikhail Lapshin said on 11 January that OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov will not seek the presidency, Interfax reported. Primakov himself has not commented publicly on his plans since the State Duma elections were held last month. Also on 11 January, St. Petersburg Governor and member of All Russia Vladimir Yakovlev said he is not ruling out the possibility that Primakov will support acting President Vladimir Putin's candidacy. Yakovlev's press officer said that after the Duma elections the governor met with Primakov, who told him that he was "prepared to support Putin in [presidential] elections." Political parties and initiative groups have until 13 February to propose candidates and collect the 500,000 signatures necessary for those candidates to run. JAC

TOP OVR OFFICIAL RESIGNS FROM MOSCOW GOVERNMENT

Sergei Yastrzhembskii resigned from his position as deputy head of the Moscow city government on 11 January. According to Interfax, Yastrzhembskii had been responsible for overseeing the city government's contracts and its relations with other countries and regions. Yastrzhembskii was also deputy head of OVR's campaign headquarters. No reason for his resignation was given. JAC

FEDERAL FORCES DRIVE CHECHENS OUT OF SHALI

The 10 January assertions by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and the commander of the Caucasus Group of Russian Forces, Colonel General Viktor Kazantsev, that federal forces had regained control of the towns of Shali and Argun proved premature the following day. Federal forces submitted Shali to heavy artillery fire on 11 January until the Chechen forces finally withdrew southward towards Vedeno. According to Interfax, some 200-250 civilians were killed during the 9-11 January fighting in Shali. The agency also reported that the head of the pro-Russian municipal administration, Sharip Alikhadjiev, is missing, and most of the town's buildings have been damaged or destroyed. The situation in Argun and Gudermes remains unclear. In Grozny, the Chechens have reportedly regained some lost ground in the past few days and now control the northwest and central districts as well as Minutka Square and the surrounding blocks, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 January. LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDER BLAMES INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS

Kazantsev on 11 January said the Chechen attacks on Shali and Argun were partly a result of Interior Ministry troops' failure to comb those towns systematically to identify and detain Chechen guerrillas, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 January. The combing of Shali, with a population of more than 20,000, was completed in a few hours, the newspaper claimed. It also quoted unnamed senior Russian generals as advocating the dispatch to Chechnya of officials directly subordinate to acting Russian President Putin to take control of the "liberated areas" of Chechnya. AP on 11 January quoted Kazantsev as saying that a curfew will be imposed in the Russian-controlled districts. LF

CHECHEN LEADERSHIP AGAIN CALLS FOR TALKS

Chechen chief of staff Mumadi Saidaev told Interfax on 11 January that the attacks on Shali, Argun, and Gudermes were part of a broader ongoing offensive against the federal forces intended to demonstrate that there can be no military solution in Chechnya. He repeated Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's call for talks on a political solution to the conflict "to save the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers and officers, and in order to restore peace in Chechnya and the North Caucasus." Last year, Russian leaders, including then Prime Minister Putin, said they would agree to talks with Maskhadov on condition that he condemned terrorism and extradited those persons responsible for last summer's bomb attacks on Russian cities. More recently, Putin has expressed willingness to begin talks with any Chechen group that recognizes Russia's territorial integrity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000). LF

PUTIN BACKS WOMAN FOR KEY DUMA POSITION

Acting President Putin said on 11 January that he would like to see a woman as the next speaker of the Duma because there "are too few women in the leadership of this country." The pro- Kremlin movement Unity has nominated Lyubov Sliska of Saratov Oblast as its candidate for the speaker post. According to the website, http://www.smi.ru, Sliska worked as a representative of the Saratov governor and the oblast administration in that region's legislature. The new Duma will have fewer women members than the old one (7 percent of legislators compared with 11 percent, see "RFE/RL Russian Election Report," 7 January 2000). Also vying for the speaker position are Yabloko's Sergei Stepashin, Vladimir Zhirinovskii of Zhirinovskii's Bloc, and former Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev of the Communist Party. The Union of Rightist Forces has agreed to back Stepashin. JAC

PUTIN TO UPGRADE IMPORTANCE OF OBSCURE MINISTRY?

Introducing new Minister for Federation and Nationality Affairs Aleksandr Blokhin to the ministry's staff on 11 January, acting President Putin said that no major decisions should be made without the participation of that ministry because the main areas with which it is dealing--"national and federal relations and local self-government"--have "priority importance for Russia as a whole," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the ministry is dealing with "problems affecting the economy, the army, and the social sphere and every Russian family." The ministry, which has been subject to numerous reorganizations and leadership changes, is considered one of the least powerful federal ministries, but some regional leaders and analysts believe Putin plans to pay more attention to regional policy, if only to curtail the regions' rights vis-a-vis the center (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 January 2000). JAC

CENTRAL BANK, GOVERNMENT DOWNPLAY RUBLE'S SLIDE

Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told reporters on 11 January that the ruble's fall that day to an exchange rate of 28.44 rubles per dollar was caused by "psychological pressure" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). He added that Russia typically experiences higher demand for hard currency in late December and early January as citizens make holiday purchases and the changes in currency rate in January are only temporary, while export revenues also generally slump in January compared with the previous month. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko echoed Gerashchenko, saying that the ruble's slump is "a temporary phenomenon characteristic of the first half of January." Renaissance Capital's chief economist Roland Nash told "The Moscow Times" on 12 January that there is little chance of a major ruble devaluation because "there is a great political need to maintain a firm ruble" ahead of the presidential elections. On 12 January, the ruble fell another 1.4 percent against the dollar to 28.85 rubles per $1. JAC

PENSIONERS GET PRE-ELECTION CASH BONUS

Acting President Putin said on 11 January that the government will increase pensions by 20 percent as of 1 February. Earlier, the government had announced a 12 percent hike. Putin said the rise is made possible by higher-than-expected tax revenues in the fourth quarter of 1999. Pensions grew by 15 percent last November. Putin had previously pledged to reduce the backlog of unpaid wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1999). JAC

OIL EXPORT REVENUES, TAX RECEIPTS SOAR...

Revenues from oil exports grew 30 percent during the first 11 months of 1999, compared with the same period the previous year, despite a 2.8 percent decline in the volume of exports, Interfax reported on 11 January. In December 1999, the Tax Ministry submitted 56.7 billion rubles ($2 billion) in cash to the federal budget--more than double the target figure established in the 1999 budget. December tax collections were 3.5 times higher than what was collected in the same month the previous year. Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok reported on 12 January that in 1999 Russia collected 339.6 billion rubles in taxes--103.5 billion rubles more than was planned. JAC

...AS ECONOMIST PREDICTS CRISIS JUST AFTER ELECTION

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 January, Mikhail Delyagin, head of the Institute for Globalization Problems, predicted that the Russian economy could slip into a crisis after March 2000. He said that since the August 1998 financial crisis, "Russia's economy has been flying on two wings, one, the ruble's devaluation and the other, soaring oil prices," but the positive effect of the devaluation has already exhausted itself and world oil prices will start to slip after March. By the summer, parts of the country could be facing a grain crisis since surplus grain stocks used to weather the 1998 crisis have been depleted. In addition, energy shortages will continue to plague certain regions and sectors. Delyagin also predicted that Putin will follow former President Boris Yeltsin's approach to economic policy, that is, appointing prime ministers who are responsible for the economy and are replaced on a regular basis. JAC

NEW AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM TO BE INTRODUCED THIS YEAR

General Anatolii Kornukov, commander in chief of the air force, told journalists in Moscow on 11 January that the S- 400 Triumph air defense system will be introduced by the end of 2000, Interfax reported. Industrial tests have been completed and the defense minister has ordered the start of government tests, he added, noting that an S-400 air defense division will be stationed in the Moscow Military District. In an interview with "Kontinent," No. 50, December 1999, Aleksandr Lemanskii of the Central Design Bureau Almaz, which designed Triumph, said the system is intended to carry out anti-aircraft and non-strategic anti-missile defense. He added that there will be no serial manufacture of the new system "in the old sense" of the term because of budget limitations. He said, however, that some systems will be manufactured for export. JC

VERHEUGEN SAYS KALININGRAD MUST BENEFIT FROM EU EXPANSION

Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, told the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 January that the EU must find a way to deal with Kaliningrad Oblast, which will be surrounded by union countries once Lithuania and Poland become EU members. Kaliningrad must have the chance to benefit from EU expansion without causing any "political upset" there, Reuters quoted him as saying. Verheugen also stressed that the EU should not allow Russian concerns about the organization's eastward enlargement to influence talks with candidate countries from Eastern Europe. That enlargement is aimed not against Russia but at stabilizing the region, he noted. JC

RUSSIA, IRAN AGREE ON INTERNATIONAL ISSUES

Arriving in Moscow on 11 January for an official four-day visit, Iranian Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, for talks on bilateral and international security issues. Ivanov commented after the meeting that Russian policies toward Iran will not change under acting President Putin's leadership. He also noted that Moscow and Tehran's positions on global issues are "close or identical": "Neither state accepts the principle of a unipolar world structure: they support in principle the non- proliferation regime of weapons of mass destruction and oppose a new arms race," Interfax quoted him as saying. Also on the agenda of their talks were the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the conflict in Chechnya. JC




KURDS IN ARMENIA, KAZAKHSTAN DEMONSTRATE IN SUPPORT OF OCALAN

Members of Armenia's Kurdish minority staged a demonstration on 10 January outside the UN office in Yerevan to protest the failure of the Turkish Supreme Court to revoke the death sentence passed on Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. In Almaty, some 20-25 Kurds staged a demonstration on 11 January to protest the death sentence on Ocalan, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. LF

RUSSIA REJECTS GEORGIAN ACCUSATIONS OF ARMS SMUGGLING TO CHECHNYA...

Senior officers of the Group of Russian Forces in the Caucasus on 11 January said Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania's claims that Georgian security officials intercepted a consignment of arms being transported from a Russian military base in Georgia to Chechnya are "unsubstantiated" and "deliberate disinformation," Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told Interfax he was unaware of the interception and condemned Zhvania's claims as damaging bilateral relations. Characterizing Zhvania's accusations as "rather serious," an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry spokesman declined either to confirm or deny them. LF

...AS GEORGIAN TELEVISION SHOWS FILM FOOTAGE

Meanwhile, Georgian National Television on 11 January aired footage of weapons being unloaded from a truck in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, Caucasus Press reported. The truck driver told journalists that the arms had been loaded at the Russian military base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi. The identity of the smugglers is unclear: Caucasus Press quoted Zhvania as saying that Russian soldiers and one Chechen were involved, while Interfax quoted him as describing the arms smugglers as "people from the Caucasus who are not Georgians or Georgian nationals." LF

DEFENDANT IN KAZAKH MIG SALE TRIAL HOSPITALIZED

The court proceedings against Kazakh Chief of General Staff Bakhytzhan Ertaev and businessman Aleksandr Petrenko have again been suspended after Ertaev reportedly suffered a minor heart attack in the courtroom on 11 January, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. He was subsequently taken to the Almaty military hospital. The two men are accused of arranging the illicit sale to North Korea of 40 obsolete MiG fighters. Ertaev admitted the same day that on orders from his superiors he signed a contract on behalf of the Kazakh Defense Ministry to deliver the aircraft to Agroplast of the Czech Republic, which was to transport the aircraft to North Korea. Former Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev told the court the same day that the sale was sanctioned by the Kazakh government but that he could not recall details, according to Interfax. Altynbaev refused to answer any questions posed by RFE/RL's correspondent. LF

KAZAKH NATIONAL BANK CHAIRMAN SUMS UP 1999

Grigorii Marchenko told journalists on 11 January that Kazakhstan's currency, the tenge, declined by more than 60 percent in value last year to 138.25 to the U.S. dollar, Interfax reported. The steepest drop in value was in April, after the tenge was allowed to float freely against the U.S. dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 April 1999). Marchenko estimated the annual inflation rate for 1999 at 18 percent. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT CREATES COMMISSION TO DEAL WITH UNEMPLOYMENT

A permanent government commission headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silaev has been set up to combat unemployment, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 11 January, citing the government press service. Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Imankadyr RysAliyev said in October 1999 that 56,000 people are officially registered as unemployed but that the true figure is closer to 95,000. Local experts say, however, that some 1 million of the country's 4.8 million population are engaged in shuttle trade and have no permanent job. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MAY NOT PARTICIPATE IN 2000 ELECTIONS

After the OSCE's efforts last year to inaugurate a political dialogue in Belarus failed to yield results, Belarus's Chamber of Representatives is now mulling a draft electoral code that will define the framework for parliamentary elections in 2000. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has reportedly told his legislators to incorporate some OSCE proposals into the electoral code, but the Belarusian opposition has not been allowed to discuss those suggestions. The Consultative Council of Opposition Political Parties on 11 January adopted a statement saying that "the adoption of electoral legislation without a negotiation process...will transform such elections into a farce, and the opposition will not participate in them," Belapan reported. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DEFUSES CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM THREAT?

In a response to the recent constitutional referendum initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000), Ukraine's parliament on 11 January approved a temporary moratorium on local and national referendums, Interfax reported. By a vote of 307 to 24, lawmakers banned holding plebiscites until new legislation on such votes is adopted. Oleksandr Yelyashkevich from the Hromada party's caucus said the moratorium is "a reaction to the illegal activities of the authorities" and "oligarchs," whom he holds responsible for the referendum initiative. As of 11 January, the Central Electoral Commission had registered 302 groups throughout Ukraine that are to collect signatures in support of a constitutional referendum. JM

HOW MUCH DOES UKRAINE OWE FOR RUSSIAN GAS?

Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko on 11 January said she was surprised to learn in Moscow the previous day that Naftohaz Ukrayiny's debt to Russia's Gazprom greatly exceeds the sum she expected to hear, Interfax reported. According to Tymoshenko, Naftohaz Ukrayiny announced earlier that it owes some $380 million to Gazprom, while Gazprom claims that the debt stands at $2.8 billion. Both figures considerably differ from the $1 billion that was quoted by Russian officials in November. According to ITAR- TASS, Tymoshenko's 10 January talks with Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev yielded no concrete results. JM

ESTONIAN OIL SHALE JOINED TO POWER PLANTS

The Estonian government on 11 January ruled that 51 percent of shares in state-owned Estonian Oil Shale must be handed over to power utility Estonian Energy, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. Estonian Energy is obliged to transfer the shares in Estonian Oil Shale to Narva Power Plants, the company running the two oil shale-burning power plants in the northeast of Estonia, at a later time. The plants, which provide more than 90 percent of Estonia's electricity, feature in ongoing talks between the Estonian government and U.S. company NRG Energy. Negotiators on both sides believe the deal, whereby NRG will gain 49 percent of shares in Narva Power Plants, will be completed by the spring. MH

RUSSIA JOINS CONVENTION ON PROTECTING 'ESTONIA'

Russia announced on 10 January that they will accede to the regional convention on protecting the wreck of the ferry "Estonia," BNS reported. The convention designates the site a mass grave and bans any underwater activities nearby. The document was drafted and signed by Estonia, Finland, and Sweden in 1995: nationals of those three countries made up the vast majority of those who were on board the ferry when it sank en route from Tallinn to Stockholm on 28 September 1994, killing 853 people. Denmark and Latvia have also since acceded to the agreement. MH

LITHUANIA'S CRIME RATE DOWN BUT STILL CAUSING CONCERN

The commissioner of the Lithuanian Criminal Police Department, Vytautas Grigaravicius, announced on 11 January that the national crime rate dropped by 1.3 percent in 1999 compared with the previous year, BNS and ELTA reported. In addition, the number of criminal cases declined by 3 percent. However, the growth of certain categories of crime is worrisome: drugs-related crimes climbed by 12.3 percent, while rapes and attempted rapes rose by 35.5 percent. Financial crimes appeared to have increased, with cases of property misappropriation and squandering rising by 75.5 percent in 1999. However, the commissioner noted that theft in general decreased, despite the rise in the shoplifting rate by 10.5 percent. MH

POLAND TO DEMAND VISAS FROM CITIZENS OF 15 COUNTRIES

The cabinet on 11 January authorized the foreign minister to revoke "during the coming years" agreements on visa-free travel affecting 15 countries, PAP reported. According to Government Information Center director Bartlomiej Pawlak, the decision stems from the need to adjust Poland's visa policy to EU requirements. The 15 countries concerned are Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and Mongolia. JM

POLAND, LATVIA PLEDGE TO BOOST ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and her Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, pledged in Warsaw on 11 January to promote bilateral trade, Polish and Baltic media reported. Currently, Polish exports to Latvia amount to $180 million while imports from that country total $30 million. Polish direct investments in Latvia are put at some $970,000. During a meeting with Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek, Vike-Freiberga said Latvia is interested in joining the project that envisages supplying Poland with Norwegian gas. JM

KOHL RECEIVES HONORARY DEGREE IN POLAND

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on 11 January received an honorary degree at the Papal Theological Faculty in Wroclaw. Professor Jan Krucina said in a speech delivered in German that Kohl was granted the degree in recognition of his "outstanding socio-political activities of a supranational nature" and for his contribution to the reconciliation between Poland and Germany. During his visit to Poland, Kohl did not speak with journalists, giving rise to comments that he wanted to avoid questions about the financial scandal in which he is currently involved in Germany, according to PAP. JM

DID CZECH PROPERTY FUND HEAD FORGE LUSTRATION CERTIFICATE?

Jan Decker, head of the Interior Ministry's press department, said on Czech Television on 11 January that National Property Fund (FNM) head Jan Stiess submitted a forged lustration certificate to investigators upon his appointment. In line with legislation passed in 1991, such certificates must be presented by officials holding senior state positions to prove they were neither members nor agents of the communist secret police (StB) nor members of the People's Militia. Since his appointment as FNM head last fall, there have been repeated reports in the media that Stiess was an StB agent. Stiess denies that allegation, saying that the lustration certificate he submitted was issued by the Interior Ministry in 1992. MS

PRISON PROTESTS SPREAD IN CZECH REPUBLIC

A hunger strike started by inmates of the Vinarce prison near Prague on 11 January has spread to a third of the country's 33 jails, AP and Reuters reported. The inmates refused food, threw litter, and burned mattresses to protest poor conditions. Prison administration spokesman Eduard Vacek said many of the inmates' complaints are justified and that prison administration officials have begun talks with protesters. MS

U.S. TOP MILITARY PRAISES SLOVAKIA

Chairman of the U.S. joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton, visiting Bratislava on 11 January, praised Slovakia's progress in its preparations for joining NATO and predicted that Bratislava "will remain on the right course" to membership. But he refused to name a date for that country's accession, CTK reported. Shelton said the reform currently underway in the Slovak Army will result in a more professional and better trained military. He also said that Slovakia must scrap its Russian-made SS-23 missiles in order to ensure interoperability with NATO forces. Shelton met with Defense Minister Pavol Kanis and Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky. He is also scheduled to hold talks with President Rudolf Schuster and Prime Minster Mikulas Dzurinda on 12 January and visit the Malacky aviation base and the Kuchyna shooting range, where the training of U.S. pilots will begin in April. MS

SLOVAKIA WILL NOT REVISE POSITION ON BENES DECREES

The government will not revise its decision not to discuss the Benes decrees, despite the forthcoming negotiations with the EU. Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel told CTK on 11 January that both Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and his deputy, Jan Figel, admit that the question of the decrees is often mentioned by Bratislava's negotiating partners from the EU but that this is a "sensitive question" that must first be tackled by historians before it can be taken up by politicians. The participation of the Hungarian Coalition Party in Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet has been accepted by some coalition members only on condition that the 1945 decrees, which led to the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians, are not revised during the coalition's term in office, which will not end until 2002. MS

HUNGARIAN JOURNALIST ABSOLVED AGAIN IN SURVEILLANCE CASE

The Budapest Prosecutor's Office has terminated an investigation into Laszlo Juszt, former editor in chief of the weekly "Kriminalis" and a television program of the same name, Hungarian media reported on 12 January. Juszt was accused of violating state secrets last May when he published original documents related to the alleged illegal surveillance of Federation of Young Democrats--Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) politicians under the previous government. The investigation was halted by the Prosecutor- General's Office in July 1999, but a few weeks later it resumed when police appealed that decision. MSZ




PRAISE FOR SERBIAN OPPOSITION DECLARATION

Spokesmen for the U.S. and EU on 11 January hailed the joint statement issued the previous day by 17 Serbian opposition parties or coalitions (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 January 2000). Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is a leader of the Kosova Serbs, said that the opposition has not united in support of any one party but rather in support of one goal: to oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Opposition politician and former General Vuk Obradovic predicted that the Serbian regime will soon face a worse defeat than the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) did in the recent parliamentary elections in that country, "Vesti" reported on 12 January. Vladan Batic, who is a spokesman of the opposition Alliance for Change, said the signatories to the joint declaration will soon visit Kosova, "Danas" noted. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION PARTY TO SUE MINISTER...

The small Christian Democratic Party has filed charges against Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic for "spreading false news," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 11 January. Party officials called on the authorities to arrest and detain him pending his trial. The officials added that the outspoken minister's frequent anti-opposition statements unnecessarily upset people. The party decided to file charges following a recent accusation by Matic that the opposition is preparing for civil war. Lawyers for the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement said Matic will have a hard time defending his accusations in a court of law, "Vesti" reported on 11 January. Matic has frequently threatened the private media with lawsuits "for spreading false news" under the 1998 media law. PM

...WHILE SOLDIERS' FAMILIES TO SUE ARMY...

The families of seven Serbian soldiers who died in the 1999 Kosova conflict plan to sue the Yugoslav military for the deaths of their sons, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 11 January. The first court case will begin in Nis on 4 February, when Snezana and Dusan Vukovic will present their arguments against the army. Dusan Vukovic attracted public attention in December, when he refused a posthumous medal from Milosevic for his son (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). PM

...AND OTHERS PROTEST AGAINST SERBIAN REGIME

Painter Bogoljub Arsenijevic, who is in prison for staging violent anti-regime protests in Valjevo in 1999, said in a statement that he does not want Milosevic to pardon him. Arsenijevic told his supporters: "I do not want to be pardoned by the Balkan butcher [Slobodan] Milosevic and his vassal Serbian President [Milan] Milutinovic, because I despise them and I do not recognize their authority.... In spite of [bad health and separation from my children], I would rather die in Milosevic's jail than live in shame on the account of his demonic mercy." Private Radio B2-92 carried the report from Belgrade on 11 January. Also in the Serbian capital, the pacifist group Women in Black have called a protest for 12 January because of the regime's "continuing warmongering policies," "Danas" reported. PM

NOVI SAD TO DEFY MILOSEVIC

City authorities in Novi Sad announced on 11 January that will begin clearing destroyed bridges from the River Danube in approximately one month. The city government will cover costs. Milosevic has refused to clear the wrecks of the bridges, which make international shipping impossible, unless NATO countries first agree to pay the bill. PM

POWER CUTS IN KOSOVA

UN authorities in Prishtina announced power cuts in Kosova on 11 January following a fire at the Obilic power plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). PM

PRISHTINA AIRPORT REOPENED

NATO authorities reopened Prishtina airport to civilian traffic on 11 January. The facility had been closed since 21 November, following an airplane crash that left 24 passengers dead. PM

ROW OVER PRIVATIZATION IN ALBANIA

Prime Minister Ilir Meta on 11 January sacked Privatization Minister Zef Preci and State Minister Prec Zogaj. Meta charged Preci with irregularities in awarding oil industry contracts and Zogaj with being "uncooperative." Preci replied that unidentified persons close to Meta wanted him fired because they supported applicants for oil contracts whom Preci had turned down. Zogaj said that Meta fired him for backing Preci, Reuters reported. Preci is an independent economist who has written a study on corruption in Albania for the World Bank. President Rexhep Meidani must approve the sackings before they can take effect. Zogaj is a former adviser to Meidani. PM

ALBANIAN POLICE ARRESTED FOR TRANSPORTING MARIJUANA

The Interior Ministry said in a statement on 11 January that two policemen and one member of the secret police (SHISH) are under arrest for attempting to smuggle 400 kilograms of cannabis to Greece. Police conducting a routine check along a road near Librazhd discovered the marijuana in the three men's van on 9 January. Cannabis is widely grown in Albania and in some other poor regions of the Balkans, such as Herzegovina, as a source of much- needed income. The Albanian government's attempts to crack down on marijuana cultivation have proven unsuccessful, dpa reported. PM

CALL FOR JOINT POLICE FORCE IN BOSNIA

Alexandra Stiglmayer, who is spokeswoman for the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch, said in Sarajevo on 11 January that she hopes Serbian and Croatian hard-liners will end their opposition to setting up a joint multi-ethnic border police force to patrol Bosnia's frontiers. Serbian and Croatian deputies in the joint parliament have repeatedly blocked passage of a bill setting up the force, which would be able to operate up to 10 kilometers inside the frontiers as well as on the borders. PM

CROATIAN LEGISLATURE TO MEET ON 1 FEBRUARY?

Acting President Vlatko Pavletic said in Zagreb that he is continuing talks with representatives of parties that received more than 5 percent of the vote in the 3 January elections and will be represented in the new parliament. He added that he expects the opening session of the legislature will be on 1 February, "Jutarnji list" reported on 12 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). PM

MORE PUBLIC IN-FIGHTING IN DEFEATED CROATIAN RULING PARTY

Stjepan Tudjman, who is a son of the late President Franjo Tudjman, charged in a letter to the HDZ leadership that Ivic Pasalic, who heads the party's Herzegovinian faction, approved licenses for regional television stations without Franjo Tudjman's approval, "Jutarnji list" reported on 12 January. Elsewhere, mutual recriminations continue between HDZ parliamentary leader Vladimir Seks and party spokesman Ivica Ropus, who recently resigned because of differences with Seks. Pasalic, who is a bitter rival of Seks, wants the party leadership to vote on whether Ropus should go (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 December 1999). PM

HDZ'S GRANIC NOT TO MAKE SECOND ROUND?

Split's "Slobodna Dalmacija," which usually represents views close to the HDZ, published the results of an opinion poll on 12 January regarding the 24 January presidential elections. The poll gives 30.4 percent support to Drazen Budisa, who represents the main opposition coalition. For the first time in a major Croatian poll, second place went to Stipe Mesic, who is the candidate of the smaller opposition coalition. The HDZ's Mate Granic came in third with 21.4 percent, just behind Mesic's 22 percent. No other candidate was able to muster even 3 percent. Some 21 percent of the respondents said they are undecided. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent on 24 January, a second round will take place two weeks later. Previous polls published in the press suggested that the second round would be between Budisa and Granic. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY SAYS IT WILL ABOLISH LAND RESTITUTION LAW

Ioan Mircea Pascu, deputy chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said on 11 January that when it returns to power, the PDSR will abolish the land restitution law recently passed by the parliament. Although the Constitutional Court ruled that the law does not contravene the basic document, Pascu said this is not the case because all the amendments proposed by his party were ignored by the ruling coalition. Pascu also criticized President Emil Constantinescu for having promulgated the law on television, saying this was a "sound- and-light" show aimed at discrediting his formation. He added that the alliance envisaged by right-wing parties to stop the PDSR's return to power is "undemocratic," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). MS

ROMANIAN INFLATION RATE FAR EXCEEDS OFFICIAL PROGNOSIS

Inflation in 1999 reached 55 percent, far exceeding the 25-30 percent predicted by Radu Vasile's cabinet, Romanian Television reported on 11 January. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REBUKES RUSSIA

The Foreign Ministry on 11 January said that a Russian Foreign Ministry statement of 21 December 1999 is distorting the decisions adopted at the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul. The Russian statement called for synchronizing the Russian troops' withdrawal from the Transdniester and a resolution to the dispute over the special status of the Transdniester within Moldova. Foreign Ministry spokesman Iurie Vition said that in Istanbul, Russia undertook to withdraw or destroy its arsenal in the region by the end of 2001 and to withdraw all its troops by the end of 2002. Moscow is thus distorting the OSCE summit decisions when it speaks of a "synchronization" of those two processes, Vition said, according to Flux. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI PARLIAMENT WITHDRAWS 'DIPLOMATIC REPRESENTATION' FROM TRANSDNIESTER

The Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region announced on 11 January that it is withdrawing its recently established representation on the territory of the Transdniester. In August, the assembly's chairman, Mikhail Kendigelean, appointed Ivan Burgujy as representative to the breakaway region, with the task of promoting economic cooperation. Burgujy then introduced himself as the "Gagauz ambassador" and handed forged credentials to Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, leading to tension between the authorities in Chisinau and the Gagauz-Yeri leadership, Infotag reported. MS

BULGARIAN ANNUAL INFLATION OVER SIX PERCENT

Annual inflation in 1999 reached 6.2 percent, BTA reported on 10 January. The steepest increases were registered in the prices of housing, water, electricity, and gas (an average of 29.8 percent). Prices of food, non-alcoholic drinks, clothing, and footwear dropped by an average of 4.7 percent and those for household articles and kitchen appliances by 1.4 percent. MS




CROATIA'S RACAN SETS PRIORITIES


By Patrick Moore

Croatian Prime Minister-designate Ivica Racan has lost no time giving numerous interviews in which he makes clear what his immediate tasks will be. Like his predecessors from the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), the Social Democrat stresses that his policies will serve national interests. His understanding of those interests, however, is very different from that of the HDZ.

Echoing statements he made during the election campaign, Racan made it clear to the "Berliner Zeitung" of 7 January that his top priority is to straighten out the domestic economic mess. He said that it will be necessary to find out exactly how bad the government's financial situation is because he suspects that it is worse than the HDZ was willing to admit. Once that is clarified, he noted, everyone will be expected to do his part to set things right, which will mean pay cuts for virtually all state employees. Racan added that he will use "economic, tax, and fiscal" incentives to create new jobs and end a policy of state subsidies for loss- makers.

Turning to foreign relations, he stressed that he will defend national interests by ending Croatia's isolation. He will promote national sovereignty by ensuring that Croatia is represented in international bodies. "Our sovereignty is our place at the table where decisions are made," he said. Racan noted in particular that Zagreb must gain access to the EU. Croatian voters, he argued, showed in the 3 January legislative elections that they have a clear understanding of democracy even though the HDZ exercised control over the electronic media. This understanding of democracy will enable Croatia to gain membership in the EU more quickly than many may have thought possible, he continued.

Racan, like virtually all Croatian politicians, said his country will not form any new "Balkan or neo-Yugoslav" state unit with its neighbors. But unlike the HDZ, he stressed that Zagreb will be open to regional cooperation. Late President Franjo Tudjman always argued that Croatia was not a Balkan country and hence would have little to do with the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. The new prime minister, however, feels that "we are at one and the same time a Mediterranean, a Central European, and a Balkan country.... We will not try to 'escape' from this region."

What he did say about shedding Balkan ties was that he wants to "drive Balkan elements out of our political life." By this he presumably means ending the corruption, back-room deals, and interest-peddling that characterized much of the HDZ's rule. That party acquired a reputation for massive economic corruption at home and a deep involvement with often criminal elements among the Croats of Herzegovina. Racan has repeatedly made it clear that those days are over. He also addressed two other issues that have clouded Zagreb's relations with Washington and Brussels: the return of Serbian refugees and Croatia's cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Racan stressed that the Serbs are welcome to come home but added that all other refugees must have that right, too. He specifically referred to Croats from eastern Slavonia and from Bosnia.

With regard to The Hague, Racan pledged to improve cooperation. He noted, moreover, that one reason for the problems between Zagreb and the court was that Croatia has not been a state based on the rule of law. The new prime minister pledged to change that and prosecute those Croats who have committed crimes. He added that "anyone who conceals crimes committed in our struggle for liberation thereby tarnishes the image of that struggle."


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