Accessibility links

Newsline - January 21, 2000


Acting President Vladimir Putin said on 21 January that "the danger of terrorist attacks in Russia has increased" in light of the latest events in Chechnya. Putin also dismissed rumors of impending "dictatorship" in Russia, saying that "we must not provide a reason for feeding public terror." He added that "protection of the individual, of a citizen's rights and freedoms, should remain a fundamental principle of Interior Ministry activity." "Vremya MN" reported on 20 January that "persistent" rumors are circulating regarding the possible replacement of Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo with one of Putin's "own people" since presidential elections are looming. Among the possible replacements mentioned is Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council and a former colleague of Putin's. JAC


Unnamed Chechen spokesmen claim their forces have captured Russian General Mikhail Malofeev, Interfax reported on 21 January. Malofeev, who commanded a unit fighting in Grozny, was reported missing on 18 January. The Chechen spokesmen say he was wounded, and is currently being interrogated. They said he will not be released or exchanged for Chechen prisoners. ITAR-TASS on 20 January quoted unofficial Russian Defense Ministry sources as saying that Malofeev had been killed in battle. LF


Neither side made significant territorial gains in Grozny on 20 January despite intense fighting. Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov on 20 January said claims by former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov that federal forces had taken control of Grozny's Minutka Square and the strategic bridge over the River Sunzha were untrue. Russian staff officer General Vadim Timchenko admitted that Chechen and Russian forces are fighting in some parts of Grozny for control of almost every single high-rise block. He said that the Chechens have turned into "complex fortresses," dpa reported. LF


Chechen presidential administration official Apti Batalov told Interfax on 20 January that President Aslan Maskhadov has no plans to meet with the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen State Council, Malik Saidullaev. Saidullaev said on 19 January that he intended to travel to Grozny for talks on 25 January with Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2000). Batalov stressed, however, that Maskhadov has repeatedly expressed his willingness to engage in a political dialogue with Moscow. Batalov also rejected as untrue Saidullaev's claim that four prominent Chechen field commanders are in Moscow and may go over to the Russian side. Batalov said that the names of all the field commanders are well known, and that they are all currently fighting either in Grozny or in the mountains. Meanwhile in Moscow, Saidullaev on 20 January said he had met with Russian Chief of Army General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin to mediate the surrender of the four field commanders, Reuters reported. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 20 January following his trip to Daghestan and Russian-controlled regions of Chechnya, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Lord Russell-Johnston, said Russia "is in complete breach of the agreement she made" on joining the Council of Europe in 1995, AP reported. He said that the possibility of Russia's suspension from the Council has increased, and again called for a cessation of hostilities and talks between Moscow and the Chechen leadership. But Russell- Johnston also admitted that his trip to Chechnya had given him a deeper understanding of the "widespread" crime and "collapse of the social and economic fabric" in Chechnya. Interfax quoted him as saying that it will be difficult for Moscow to conduct talks with Maskhadov since the Chechen president is not in full control of the situation. LF


Acting President Putin told on 20 January said the government "should act energetically to implement [economic] reforms but they should be carried out under strict control and with the involvement of the government," Interfax reported. He added that the government's main tasks in 2000 will be to draw up an economic development strategy, to continue last year's positive trends, and strengthen government institutions. Earlier in the week, Putin called on the department heads in the Central Bank and its regional branches to make the reduction of barter a top priority, according to ITAR-TASS. German Gref, the director of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Research, said that his think tank is preparing a "liberal" economic model with "quite a lot" of state regulation, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The center is supported by Putin along with Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. JAC


"The Moscow Times" reported on 21 January that Putin's public speeches on Orthodox Christianity reveal him to be an "active Orthodox Christian with a more than passable knowledge of his faith." The daily noted that Putin specifically asked for Moscow and All-Russia Patriarch Aleksii II's blessing for the three-month period that he will serve as acting president. In addition, Aleksandr Antipov, a priest of the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity, told the daily that he is convinced Putin is "a believer" based on his observation of the acting president during a half-hour visit to his church. Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told the newspaper that despite his personal beliefs, Putin "has behaved in a more balanced way as far as Moslem leaders are concerned than Russia's previous leaders." Putin said the break in the bombing of Grozny on 7 January was related not only to the Orthodox Christmas but also to the end of Ramadan. JAC


Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who recently resigned as deputy mayor of Moscow, has been appointed to serve as an aide to acting President Putin. Yastrzhembskii was also the deputy head of Fatherland-All Russia's campaign headquarters. According to Russian agencies on 20 January, Yastrzhembskii will be responsible for coordinating information on Russia's military campaign in Chechnya as well as for overseeing the Kremlin's relationship with the media. Presidential spokesman Aleksandr Gromov said Yastrzhembskii's appointment will expire as soon as Russia's "anti-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus ends." Gromov also said Yastrzhembskii's appointment indicates that there is no conflict between Putin and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 January, Putin decided to include Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko in his presidium at the last minute. According the daily, it is the first time a railways minister has been included in the presidium in the last decade. JAC


Duma deputy [Union of Rightist Forces (SPS)] Boris Nemtsov told reporters on 20 January that the factions of the SPS, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), and Yabloko will continue their boycott of State Duma sessions on 26 January. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that if the representatives of the boycotting factions refuse to accept the deputy speaker and committee head posts that have been left open for them, those posts will be distributed among other parliamentary groups. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 21 January that conflict is quickly becoming a drawn out trench war with none of the parties willing to compromise, as Putin "remains silent." Aleksandr Voloshin, presidential chief of staff, said on 20 January that the new Duma "started working--not without problems--but parliamentary procedures were observed. This is a manifestation of democracy." JAC


Sergei Ivanenko, coordinator for the Yabloko faction, told "Segodnya" on 21 January that he does not rule out the possibility that the Duma opposition groups will agree to support a single candidate in the presidential elections. "Vremya MN" noted the previous day that "deliberately or not, the Kremlin has nailed together a coalition of parties that could end up in an alliance after they were pointlessly humiliated altogether." However, it concluded that the groups are unlikely to form a "real alliance" because "every participant in this opposition wants to be the boss." JAC


NTV announced on 20 January that the station's head, Oleg Dobrodeev, is on vacation for an unspecified length of time. Yevgenii Kiseleov, anchor of the weekly program "Itogi," was named acting general director. NTV owner and Media Most head Vladimir Gusinskii was reportedly dissatisfied with NTV's coverage of the Chechen conflict and felt it hewed too closely to the official Defense Ministry line. However, "The Moscow Times" reported that media analysts suspect that Dobrodeev was probably pushing for more critical coverage of the war. Robert Coalson of the National Press Institute told AP that Dobrodeev's departure comes at a time when NTV and other media outlets are facing pressure from the government to take stands on issues relevant to the upcoming presidential elections. JAC


Mabetex head Bexhet Pacolli told "The New York Times" on 21 January that he helped former President Boris Yeltsin's family obtain credit cards but added that he "did not make any guarantee to cover the bills." He explained that "in 1995, no Russian banks had credit cards and they had no convention with credit card companies." Pacolli provided a personal guarantee for the Russia-based Industrial International bank, which the Yeltsin family used. This enabled Banca del Gottardo to issue credit cards to the Yeltsins. Pacolli added that the arrangement lasted only two months, because Industrial International later signed a contract with Visa in the United States. JAC


Admiral Vladimir Kravchenko, the chief of staff of the Russian navy, told "Izvestiya" on 18 January that Russia must maintain a naval presence in all strategic areas of the world. Asked about Russia's plans for submarine activities, he responded: "I can only say that you will not see our submarines and we hope that you will not hear them." PG


Acting President Putin received Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini on 20 January to discuss expanded economic relations between their two countries, RTR Vesti reported. Their discussions focused on the Fiat company's operations in Nizhnii Novgorod, aircraft construction, and the Blue Stream gas export program. The Russian Foreign Ministry said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is scheduled to visit Russia on 21 January and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is slated to arrive on 31 January. The French and British foreign ministers will visit the country in February. PG


In advance of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's meeting with acting President Putin, one Moscow-based observer told the "Financial Times" on 21 January that "Putin is the first Russian leader to spend so much time abroad -- and to have such a special relationship with Germany -- since Lenin." German officials have already suggested that the new Russian leader may have "sympathy for our country." PG


The dead body of Rakhamin Yukhanov, an administrator of the Moscow Central Synagogue, was found in his apartment on 20 January. Moscow police believe that he was murdered. They found a knife with a broken handle next to his body. According to Interfax, Yukhanov was an official of the Sephardic community, which does not have its own synagogue in Moscow. He was 68. JAC


Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev on 20 January said the government has approved a program that will keep the space station "Mir" operational until August 2000. A new crew will be sent out around the end of March and a cargo ship will be launched on 1 February. Koptev also referred to a foreign company that has agreed to finance Mir's operation. Yurii Semenov, general designer at Energii, said that "the company has already provided some funds and has agreed to provide more financing under certain conditions." According to Koptev, maintenance of the station until August will require 750 million rubles ($26 million). JAC


One of Russia's largest domestic airlines, Domodedovo Airlines, cancelled all of its flights on 20 January because the federal tax inspectors froze its accounts, "Kommersant- Daily" reported the next day. Domodedovo services around 70 percent of all flights to cities in the Far East, such as Vladivostok, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and Khabarovsk. In addition, it is the sole airline servicing some cities, such as Anadyr and Yuzhko-Sakhalinsk. The airline owes the federal government some 16 million rubles ($560,000); however, the company claims that the government owes the airline more than 200 million rubles. Criminal proceedings have been launched against company head Aleksandr Akimov. JAC


The Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), the largest faction in the Georgian parliament, on 20 January officially notified the Central Electoral Commission that it has chosen incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze as its candidate in the 9 April presidential poll, Caucasus Press reported. The SMK must now collect 50,000 signatures in support of Shevardnadze's candidacy by 19 February 2000. LF


Addressing a meeting in Almaty on 20 January of organizations representing Kazakhstan's ethnic Russian community, "Russkaya obshchina" leader Yurii Bunakov appealed to local Russians not to leave Kazakhstan for Russia in view of the social and economic problems that country is experiencing, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. But Bunakov admitted that Russians in Kazakhstan feel they have been treated as "step-children" since the demise of the USSR. He argued that all Kazakhstan's ethnic groups should be equally represented in the country's power structures. LF


Some 200 people, including several parliament deputies, congregated outside the government building in Bishkek on 20 January to protest the arrest the previous night of opposition El (Bei-Bechara) Party leader and parliament deputy Daniyar Usenov, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Usenov was forcibly taken by police from a Bishkek hospital, where he was being treated for a heart condition. He is accused of failing to comply with a summons to appear in court on 14 January in connection with a case brought against him in 1996 and subsequently closed. Usenov told RFE/RL by telephone on 20 January that neither he nor his lawyer received any court summons. Usenov theoretically has double immunity from arrest by virtue of being a deputy to the present parliament and a registered candidate to contest a single- mandate constituency in the 20 February parliamentary poll. LF


An official of the Ar-Namys Party told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 20 January that the party's founder, former Bishkek mayor Feliks Kulov, also faces imminent arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). And a parliament official told RFE/RL the same day that parliament deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov faces arrest on charges of assaulting and injuring a fellow parliament deputy. Kulov and Kadyrbekov, one of the founders in 1993 of the Social-Democratic Party, are also registered as election candidates. LF


Secretary of State Naken Kasiev told journalists on 20 January that there is no truth to the rumors circulating in the Kyrgyz capital the previous day that the government was about to resign, Interfax reported. He said that Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev's cabinet "will work long and steadily." An unnamed government official had told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 18 January that MurAliyev had submitted his resignation to President Askar Akaev, but that the latter had not yet accepted it. LF


Tajik Premier Akil Akilov traveled to Bishkek on 19 January for talks with President Akaev and with his Kyrgyz counterpart, Amangeldi Muraliev, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Akilov's talks with MurAliyev focussed primarily on economic cooperation. The two premiers signed agreements on free trade and on the mutual protection of investments. They also agreed to establish a bilateral commission to resolve border issues, noting the desire of both sides to develop coal, gas, and mineral resources located in the immediate vicinity of their common border. Akilov also told journalists that the two countries will prepare a joint appeal to the World Bank for a credit to finance the reconstruction of cross-border highways as a way to encourage cross-border trade. LF


The Central Commission for Elections and Referenda on 20 January completed the process of registering the party lists submitted by the six political parties contesting the 27 February elections to the lower house of the Tajik parliament, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The commission said that none of the parties managed to submit the necessary documentation to secure the registration of all 22 candidates it proposed on time. So far, none of the parties has lodged a complaint. The ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan registered 21 candidates, the Communist Party 20, the Democratic Party 19, the Socialist Party 18, and the Islamic Renaissance Party and Adolatkhoh 15 each. LF


Murat Nurmamedov has been placed under house arrest and faces criminal charges of armed hooliganism, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 20 January quoting OSCE and Western embassy officials in Dushanbe. Mamedov's father, Nurberdy, who heads the unregistered Agzybirlik opposition party, was arrested in Ashgabat earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000). LF


Former Belarusian National Bank Chairwoman Tamara Vinnikava on 20 January called the Belarusian Helsinki Committee to announce that she will "soon" give an "extensive interview" to the media, Belapan reported. Vinnikava said she will describe how she managed to escape from house arrest in Minsk last April and what happened to the opposition politicians who disappeared last year, including Viktor Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka. Vinnikava already gave some inside information to the media last month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 and 28 December 1999). Some Belarusian observers believe she is now in Great Britain. JM


The center-right majority in Ukraine's legislature on 20 January failed to push through a vote calling for the resignation of parliament chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko and his deputy Adam Martynyuk. After failing to get the vote, the deputies started yelling at Tkachenko to step down. But the Communist and other leftist deputies stood up to block access to the parliamentary presidium and the speaker's rostrum, and Tkachenko announced a recess. The center-right majority claims to have collected 235 signatures in support of a motion to oust both Tkachenko and Martynyuk and to introduce amendments to the parliament's regulations. Later the same day, the majority decided to hold an alternative parliamentary session on 21 January at a separate location, Interfax reported. JM


Ten deputies from the Respublika caucus in the Crimean legislature on 20 January appealed to their colleagues to resume their work in parliament, Interfax reported. The Respublika and Zlahoda caucuses have blocked the continuation of the current parliamentary session since December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2000). The deputies said the parliamentary standoff in Crimea has paralyzed both the legislative and executive branches on the peninsula and undermined their authority. Crimean parliamentary speaker Leonid Hrach has called for the legislature to resume working on 21 January. JM


Leonid Kuchma on 20 January pledged to press ahead with a referendum aimed at creating a more compliant parliament, Reuters reported. "The referendum will take place. Let no one doubt that. The world should see that our country is moving ahead and developing," the agency quoted Kuchma as saying at a meeting with local authority heads. Speaking at the Academy of State Management later that day, Kuchma said the voters' responses to five of the referendum's six questions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000) will be written into the constitution "immediately." He said a special law will have to be adopted if voters decide to support the creation of a bicameral legislature. JM


Following his meeting with Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev in Kyiv on 20 January, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said the Russian company has agreed to reschedule Ukraine's gas debt payments, Interfax reported. Yushchenko added that Gazprom and Ukraine will combine the country's state and commercial debt obligations into one package and sign a joint protocol on repayment within a month. He declined to provide a precise gas debt figure, saying only that Gazprom estimates it to be about $1.7-2 billion. Vyakhirev refused to comment on his talks with Yushchenko. JM


The Lithuanian agricultural sector receives more state support than the same sectors in Estonia and Latvia, ELTA reported on 20 January, citing a study by Vygandas Paulikas. The study showed that state support per hectare of cultivated land in Lithuania for 2000 will be $51.50, compared with just $32.75 in Latvia and $27 in Estonia. The Lithuanian government's budget for 2000 allocates about 659 million litas ($164.75 million) to agricultural support. Farmers in Lithuania receive more support than their counterparts in such countries as the Czech Republic, Canada, and Australia. Lithuania had a trade surplus in agricultural goods with the EU in 1999. MH


Undercover Estonian police officers on 19 January arrested Pjotr Kalatshov as he tried to sell about 500 grams of explosives at a McDonald's restaurant in Tartu, "Postimees" reported. Police also arrested an accomplice and seized three electronic detonators in Kalatshov's car. In April 1999, the Russian FSB intelligence service detained Kalatshov for trying to purchase Russian military plans. Although Kalatshov told Russian interrogators that he was a spy, Estonian officials continue to deny any connection with him. MH


Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 20 January told the parliament that all Estonian diplomats must have some knowledge of French by 2003, ETA reported. Ilves said French is one of the most commonly used official languages of the EU. He added that the French Embassy in Tallinn will help Estonia with language training for its diplomats. MH


The Latvian parliament on 20 January adopted a statement calling on Russia to end its military campaign in Chechnya by a vote of 70 to 13. The statement noted that Latvia "joins other states and international organizations in appealing to the Russian Federation to halt the warfare in Chechnya immediately and begin negotiations with the mediation of international organizations," LETA reported. It also said that the "brutal war" is creating "distrust in Russian democracy." Social Democratic deputy Risards Labanovkis, a primary supporter of the appeal, exclaimed "finally, thank you!" after the appeal was passed. The draft appeal had been circulating through parliament for months, "Neatkariga Rita Avize" reported. MH


The trustees of the state-owned power utility Latvenergo on 19 January approved a plan for the restructuring and partial privatization of the company, BNS reported. The plan envisions the transformation of Latvenergo into a holding company and the privatization of its regional distribution networks. The plan also suggests that the state retain majority control in the main heat and power plants and full control over a series of hydroelectric plants on the Daugava River and the country's transmission grid. Latvenergo also approved its annual budget, which contains 61.3 million lats ($104.4 million) worth of investments, mostly for renovations on the hydroelectric plants and distribution network. Latvenergo has submitted the plan to the Latvian Privatization Agency for review. MH


President Valdas Adamkus on 20 January appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas as Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU. Lithuanian government officials responsible for EU integration said the country's preparations to join the EU should be complete by the beginning of 2004, ELTA reported. MH


Lietuvos Energija on 20 January released preliminary data showing that the utility sold 7.18 billion KW/h of electricity to domestic customers in 1999, which is 5 percent less than in 1998. Analysts say the decrease in energy consumption reflects a contraction in the economy. However, the company said preliminary profits for 1999 amounted to about 10 million litas ($2.5 million), mostly owing to cuts in expenses, ELTA reported. Lithuania remains a net exporter of electricity, with exports of 1.29 billion kWh to Latvia and 2.02 billion kWh to Belarus. MH


The Foreign Ministry on 20 January handed the Russian ambassador to Warsaw a note that brands nine Russian diplomats as persona non grata in Poland, Polish media reported. The government press center said the State Protection Office has found that the group engaged in "intelligence activities aimed against the vital interests of the Polish Republic in 1999." Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek commented that Poland has gathered detailed proof of Russian spying. Jozef Gruszka, the chairman of the parliamentary Security Services Committee, told PAP that the alleged spying activities dealt "mainly with political and economic matters." The same day the Russian Foreign Ministry called the expulsion an "openly unfriendly and provocative step," adding that it is "unfounded." Moscow simultaneously warned that "reciprocal measures are inevitable." JM


Police investigator Martin Hadek on 20 January told CTK that the so-called "Bamberg memorandum" was forged by Czech-born Swiss businessman Jan Vizek. The forgery, which was disseminated in the media in March 1998, alleged that Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leader Milos Zeman and other top CSSD politicians met with Vizek in Bamberg, Germany. At the meeting, Zeman was alleged to have promised to give Vizek and his business partners influence over economic affairs in the Czech Republic in exchange for a loan to the CSSD. Hadek said the forged memorandum contained fictitious minutes for the meeting and copies of the CSSD politicians' signatures that had been taken from another document. He said police were not able to question Vizek, who has been hospitalized in a Swiss psychiatric facility since December 1998. Zeman said the CSSD always knew the document was a forgery. MS


European Commission President Romano Prodi on 20 January told the Slovak parliament that the commission supports the country's "attempt to catch up with countries that have already started negotiations for EU membership," AP reported. Prodi, who was on a one-day visit to Bratislava, also welcomed Slovakia's decision to close down two reactors at the controversial Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear plant. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said after meeting Prodi and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Gunther Verheugen that Slovakia is ready to start accession talks on 15 chapters. But Verheugen said the negotiations will start in March on five chapters. Prodi stressed that it is more important to see "how many chapters will be closed, rather than opened." Verheugen said Slovakia still has a lot of work to do on economic reforms and on reducing its 19 percent unemployment rate. MS


After a meeting with Dzurinda on 20 January, President Rudolf Schuster said the most important matter for the country following the establishment of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) is whether the coalition government and its parliamentary majority can still function. "If the government or the parliament's ability to solve problems will be endangered, I shall have to think again about the matter," Schuster said. Dzurinda said his new party will provide people with a chance to vote in 2002 for a formation that is "a strong political entity, and not a disunited alliance of minor center-right parties." Dzurinda dismissed statements that the formation of the SDKU signals the demise of the Slovak Democratic Coalition as "absurd." MS


The parliament on 20 January rejected a motion by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) calling for charges to be dropped against former Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa, CTK reported. Lexa is suspected of involvement in the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. Lexa and other suspects in the case received amnesties under the administration of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Two different panels on the Constitutional Court have produced contradictory verdicts on the amnesties. But one of the panels ruled that Prime Minister Dzurinda's cancellation of the amnesty granted to Lexa was constitutional. The parliament also rejected an HZDS motion of no-confidence in Education Minister Milan Ftacnik. The HZDS argued that Ftacnik has effectively shut down universities that were founded under the previous government by failing to grant them funds. MS


Slovakia's forests are in better shape than the forests of any other CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan country, according to a 20 January report issued by the World Wildlife Fund. The European Forests Scorecard 2000, which assessed environmental standards in forests across Europe, gave Slovakia 57 points out of a possible 100 points. Slovakia, along with Sweden and Austria, received the third highest score in Europe. The top two countries were Switzerland (62) and Finland (61). Estonia was the worst postcommunist country on the list (38), with only Denmark registering a lower score (36). Other Central and East European countries on the list were Poland (53), Hungary (52), Lithuania (51), Romania (48), and Latvia (40). MH


Recently appointed Hungarian Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy on 20 January said the country needs a "New Deal" program to bolster its economy. Matolcsy said that the government has empowered him to work out a new economic policy in partnership with the business sector, international and Hungarian financial groups, and town councils. The package of programs will be ready by the end of February, and will include projects to build more highways and housing. MSZ


Endre Juhasz, Hungary's chief negotiator at in the EU accession talks, on 20 January said he is concerned that the pace of negotiations with the six "fast-track" countries will slow down after six new countries begin similar talks next month, Hungarian and international media report. "The fact that 12 countries will be negotiating could overload the agendas of EU meetings, and the process of reaching common positions could be longer," Juhasz said. MSZ


Prime Minister designate Ivica Racan announced in Zagreb on 20 January that his two-party coalition and the coalition of four smaller parties concluded a 15-point agreement on the functioning of the new government (see "End Note," below). Racan's Social Democrats will hold half of the positions, and his allies, the Social Liberals, will have 25 percent. The remaining 25 percent will go to the four smaller parties. The government will seek to reach its decisions by consensus, but, if that fails, the two largest parties will have the last word. The government will include a deputy prime minister, two sub-deputies, and 19 ministers. The ministerial portfolios will be redesigned from those of the current cabinet in order to stress European integration and economic reform. Racan said that no names have been decided for the cabinet, although "Jutarnji list" of 21 January identifies what it says are several of the key new ministers. PM


Racan said in Zagreb on 20 January that the new government consists of six parties and that its stability will not be affected by the upcoming presidential election that pits Drazen Budisa of the two-party coalition against Stipe Mesic of the four- party grouping. A spokesman for Mesic, who is the front runner, told Reuters that Mesic will work closely with Racan "to achieve political and economic stability for Croatia." Nonetheless, Budisa and his deputy Goran Granic accused Mesic in separate newspaper interviews of being as potentially autocratic as the late President Franjo Tudjman. Budisa accused the more extroverted Mesic of "theatrics" in his campaign and stressed that the political situation is too volatile to enable anyone to predict the outcome. PM


Foreign Minister Mate Granic, who is the candidate of Tudjman's defeated Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), appealed to voters to support him in order to prevent the two governing coalitions from controlling all top state posts. He told Deutsche Welle on 20 January that many problems arose during the HDZ's 10- year rule because it had a monopoly on power. No party or coalition, he added, should be allowed to acquire a monopoly again. Granic told "Vecernji list" of 21 January that the HDZ must become a modern, European, Christian- democratic party. He added that he is confident that he will be elected president in the second round. Recent polls, however, put him a distant third behind Mesic and Budisa. PM


"Jutarnji list" reported on 21 January that outgoing Defense Minister Pavao Miljavac tried to persuade acting President Vlatko Pavletic to approve 950 promotions in the military before the new government takes office. Tudjman was slated to approve the promotions in late 1999, but he did not manage to do so before falling ill. According to the independent Zagreb daily, Pavletic said that he turned down Miljavac's request because he does not have enough time left in office to study each of the requests for promotion. He added that Racan has made it clear to him that the new government will quickly consider the requests on their merits and without regard to political criteria. PM


Some 320 police officers -- including Muslims, Serbs, and Croats -- officially took up their duties in the Brcko district of Bosnia on 20 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. International arbitrators ruled last year that Brcko is to be a neutral district and not part of either the Republika Srpska or of the mainly Croat and Muslim federation. PM


Members of the joint Permanent Military Committee of Bosnia- Herzegovina formally approved plans in Sarajevo on 20 January for Bosnian contingents to take part in international peacekeeping operations. The participants noted that the size of local military forces was reduced by 15 percent in 1999 and that the international community expects similar cuts in 2000. PM


Speaking in Sarajevo on 20 January, a spokeswoman for the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch criticized the joint parliament for failing to approve the new local election law despite appeals by the Council of Europe for it to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2000). The law is designed to break the major nationalist parties' grip on power and enable moderates and non-nationalists to win offices. Elsewhere, the OSCE, which will supervise the local elections in April, announced that it has disqualified nine candidates for failing to move out of apartments belonging to other people. A major problem hampering refugee return across Bosnia is the presence of squatters in the refugees' flats. The squatters are usually members of the ethnic group in control of the given region, while the would-be returnees tend to belong to other nationalities. PM


Ante Jelavic, who is the Croatian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency, issued a document on 20 January in which he charged that ethnic Croats are being systematically deprived of equal legal status with the larger Muslim and Serbian communities. Jelavic argued that the 1995 Dayton peace agreement allows the Croats to maintain special ties with Croatia but that unspecified "processes" are underway to eliminate that right. Jelavic's spokesman added that the Croats reserve the right to decide how to protect their interests if they feel threatened, Hina reported. Elsewhere, Jelavic told "Jutarnji list" of 21 January that Budisa is a man deserving of respect and that nobody in Bosnia, regardless of nationality, would oppose his becoming president of Croatia. Jelavic dismissed some of Mesic's critical statements about the Herzegovinian Croats as "campaign rhetoric," adding that "if Mesic wins, we'll sit down and talk." PM


Several thousand people from Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska attended the funeral of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" in Belgrade on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 January 2000). Elsewhere, Ivica Dacic, who is the spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, said that "Arkan was no doubt a patriot, regardless of his contradictory biography," Reuters reported. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said that "one thing is for sure: Arkan was a true Serbian patriot, and all the political misunderstandings and conflicts we had should now be forgotten." PM


U.S. Ambassador to Albania Joseph Limprecht, Albanian President Rexhep Meidani, and Foreign Minister Pascal Milo attended a ceremony in Tirana on 20 January to mark the partial resumption of consular services at the embassy. Students and government travelers will now be able to receive visas in the Albanian capital, but private and business travelers will still have to go to Athens for them, dpa reported. The State Department closed down most functions at the embassy in August 1998 owing to worries about possible terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists. PM


A police spokesman said in Rome on 20 January that the director of a 1999 Italian aid mission in Vlora and three other individuals have been arrested for corruption and abuse of office. The four are suspected of having allowed gangs and black marketeers to operate with impunity in the Kosova refugee camp under their supervision. PM


Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) deputy Dan Matei Agaton on 20 January said his party wants parliament to place priority on debating the electoral laws for the local and general elections this year, Mediafax reported. Agaton said the PDSR believes the ruling coalition is procrastinating on the law for local elections so that it can then postpone the general and presidential ballots. He said the PDSR wants the local elections to be held in May. The Democratic Party chairman Petre Roman told Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu that his party also wants local elections to be held in May. Roman said the constitution allows the general elections to be delayed by three months, but it does not allow for such a delay in the case of the presidential vote. Alliance for Romania leader Teodor Melescanu said his party wants the local elections to be held in May or June, and the parliamentary and presidential votes in October or November. MS


Dimitrii Croitor, the governor of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous republic, on 19 January told a meeting of regional intelligentsia that the autonomous region "must be the manager" of all properties on its territory. He said the republic's Popular Assembly had "recently" adopted a decision to that effect. Croitor said this does not imply that Gagauz-Yeri is "appropriating" Moldovan property but rather "transferring" such property to its own "management." He added that the decision is in line with the region's constitution. Croitor said several enterprises located on the autonomous republic's territory were privatized "too cheaply" and have brought no income to local authorities. Victor Cecan, chairman of a parliamentary Control and Petitions Committee, said he has not read the Popular Assembly's decision but added that "laws adopted by the assembly must not contradict Moldovan legislation." MS


A free trade agreement signed last year between Bulgaria and Turkey has failed to produce the expected results, and 1999 trade between the two Balkan countries has fell by 27 percent compared with the previous year, AP reported on 20 January, citing Faruk Erkoc, the Turkish co-chairman of the Bulgarian-Turkish business council. The free trade agreement enacted on 1 January 1999 calls for trade in industrial goods to be fully liberalized by the end of 2001. It also reduced tariff quotas for agricultural products. MS


Bulgarian and Israeli officials on 18 January signed in Tel Aviv an agreement on avoiding double taxation and an accord on agricultural cooperation, BTA reported the next day. Meeting with Israeli businessman on 19 January, President Petar Stoyanov said Bulgaria wants to develop "mutually beneficial cooperation with Israel" and is not asking for "one-sided assistance." He said Bulgaria's cheap labor force can be combined with Israeli know-how in the high technology, agriculture, and the defense industries. MS

Croatia Votes On Monday

By Patrick Moore

Croatian voters go to the polls on 24 January to choose a successor to the late President Franjo Tudjman. The two leading candidates--Stipe Mesic and Drazen Budisa --are both from the ranks of the opposition, which won the 3 January parliamentary elections. The question is what effect the presidential vote will have on the new government.

Monday's election is likely to be only the first round of balloting in the race to fill Croatia's highest office. If no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the votes this time, a second round will come two weeks later.

The stakes are high because the constitution-- which many observers believe was written for the autocratic Tudjman--gives the president at least 24 crucial powers. These include key decision-making functions in military and security policy.

All mainstream political parties agree that those powers must be curtailed or reassigned to the government or other bodies. No party wants another imperial Tudjman presidency. In order to stress that his era has ended, the leading candidates have said they do not intend even to live in the official residence Tudjman used. But the job still remains the highest in the country, and will doubtless play a key role even after its powers are scaled back.

The outcome of the presidential election is unlikely to make much difference in terms of policies on this or other issues, since there is a broad agreement between the two leading candidates as to what has to be done. These priorities include improving the economy and standard of living, speeding up privatization, attracting foreign investment, and accelerating Croatia's entry into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Brussels and Washington are particularly interested in seeing if the new government institutes democratic reforms, enables Serbian refugees to come home, respects the independence and sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and cooperates with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

Both leading candidates have promised quick action on Euro-Atlantic issues. This is largely because it will be easier to attain clear foreign policy goals than to restructure a faulty economy that served the interests of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which ruled since 1990 amid charges of corruption and cronyism.

But, then, what is the center of attention in this election if not policy? The issue is what the outcome of the vote will mean for the power relationship between the large two-party coalition led by Prime Minister- designate Ivica Racan and Budisa and its smaller four-party ally, which backs Mesic. The two coalitions teamed up to defeat the HDZ in the parliamentary vote and have since agreed in broad terms on power-sharing in the new cabinet.

But rivalries still persist between them. Racan and Budisa maintain that the coalitions must share power between them on the basis of the relative number of votes they received in the parliamentary elections. Racan has told reporters that this interpretation is embodied in the power-sharing agreement. The smaller coalition, however, would still like to control more seats than the size of its electorate would warrant, and it would prefer that the cabinet reach decisions by consensus rather than by majority vote.

Racan is likely to carry the day on both issues if Budisa holds the presidency. If Mesic becomes president, however, the smaller coalition may feel emboldened to challenge Racan on these and other issues. Mesic may also use some of his presidential powers to pressure Racan to be more mindful of his smaller partner's interests.

A second problem involves the relations within the two-party coalition if Budisa loses the presidency. Should that happen, the Social Democrats will still have the prime minister's job, but there will be no corresponding "plum" for the Social Liberals. Is it possible that Budisa's party might seek compensation from Racan for Budisa's loss by demanding either additional cabinet seats or even that the prime minister's position rotate between the two coalition partners?

Nor are these the only issues likely to come to a head as a result of the presidential election. The HDZ will have to face serious questions regarding its own future if, as expected, Foreign Minister Mate Granic--the HDZ's candidate--comes in third behind Mesic and Budisa in the first round. The once formidable party has already begun to implode at breathtaking speed, and its chief faction leaders regularly exchange insults in public. Granic himself quit his party offices in disgust and in a desperate attempt to rid himself of the albatross of his party. But he continued to slip in the polls, which led him to tell reporters that he would have been better off had he run as an independent.

It was only a few weeks ago that Granic was leading Budisa in the polls, with Mesic trailing in third place. Mesic is best known abroad as the Croat who was blocked by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic from assuming the rotating Yugoslav presidency in 1991. Many Croats had regarded him as a man of the past. But the feuding within the HDZ appears to have destroyed the candidacy of the otherwise popular foreign minister, putting Granic out of the running and apparently skyrocketing Mesic into a new career.

Meanwhile, the dapper and outgoing Mesic has been marketing himself well against the bookish Budisa. His message is simple and apparently quite effective: A vote for Mesic is a vote to ensure that no single party (or coalition) will again control all the top positions of power.