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Newsline - January 26, 2000




RUSSIAN MILITARY RELEASES DETAILED CHECHEN CASUALTY FIGURES

In response to media claims that Russian casualties in Chechnya are being deliberately underreported, the Defense and Interior Ministries told Interfax on 25 January that a total of 1,173 Russian troops have been killed in fighting in the North Caucasus since August 1999. Of the 820 Defense Ministry troops who perished, 118 died in Daghestan and the remainder in Chechnya, according to First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov. Manilov further claimed that 2,500 Chechen and foreign militants were killed during the fighting in Daghestan in August-September, and a further 7,500 since the "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya began in late September. LF

RFE/RL CORRESPONDENT REPORTED MISSING IN CHECHNYA

Andrei Babitskii, one of RFE/RL's three North Caucasus correspondents, has disappeared in Chechnya, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Babitskii has not been heard of since 15 January. According to unconfirmed reports, he may have been detained by either Russian military forces or the Federal Security Service. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE STILL IN PRE-TRIAL CUSTODY

A Moscow court has rejected an appeal by an attorney for Mairbek Vachagaev, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative in Moscow, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 January. Vachagaev was arrested last October and subsequently charged with illegal possession of a pistol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). LF

NEW COMMANDER OF RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS APPOINTED

Lieutenant-General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov has been appointed to head the Russian Interior Ministry's estimated 250,000 troops, replacing Colonel-General Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, AP reported on 22 January. Tikhomirov served from 1992-1995 in Transdniester before assuming the command of the Interior Ministry forces contingent serving in Chechnya in 1996, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 January. In that capacity, Tikhomirov demonstrated his ruthlessness and ability to direct and coordinate the activities of different groups of forces. He steadfastly rejected any proposals to embark on a "constructive dialogue" with the Chechens as futile. Following the signing of the Khasavyurt accords, Tikhomirov oversaw the withdrawal of the joint Russian forces from Chechnya, which was accomplished with minimal losses. LF

RUSSIA RETAINS PACE SEAT AFTER DEBATE ON CHECHNYA

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 25 January recommended seating the Russian delegation following heated debates about Moscow's campaign in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile the International Helsinki Federation (IHF) called on the assembly to hold "the behavior of the Russian government up to international standards." IHF Vice President Ulrich Fischer said "there can be no equal approach when a huge state, which claims to be ruled by laws and is a signature to the Council of Europe and other conventions, wages war against a small nation." PG

RUSSIA'S KEY ECONOMIC INDICATORS IMPROVE IN 1999

Russian GDP increased by an estimated 3.2 percent in 1999, State Statistics Committee head Vladimir Sokolin announced on 25 January. Compared with the previous year, industrial production grew 8.1 percent, agricultural production rose 2.4 percent, and transport freight turnover swelled 5.2 percent. Russia's foreign trade surplus measured $32.6 billion at the end of the year, according to committee estimates. As of the end of December, the number of unemployed persons, 8.65 million, had fallen 11.1 percent compared with the beginning of the year. However, the economic news was not all positive: the population's disposable incomes adjusted for inflation dipped 15.1 percent. And, retail trade turnover slipped 7.7 percent while foreign trade turnover slumped 13 percent. Imports plunged 32 percent while exports shrank 2 percent, Interfax reported. JAC

PUTIN BROKERS PEACE AGREEMENT FOR DUMA?

On 26 January, deputies from the SPS, Yabloko, and the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction did not attend the Duma's session, according to ITAR-TASS. A meeting of the the Coordinating Council of the Duma's opposition groups was scheduled to take place that day. The previous day, after meeting with acting President Vladimir Putin and Unity faction leader Boris Gryzhlov, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Sergei Kirienko told reporters that an understanding had been reached that would have to be reviewed by the Coordinating Council, Interfax reported. After the document is examined, Kirienko added, SPS together with Yabloko and the OVR factions may decide to return to the lower legislative chamber. According to Kirienko, Unity supported all demands of the three factions, including a demand that a package of priority draft laws be considered shortly. JAC

DEPUTIES FILL MORE POSTS

Duma deputies elected Artur Chilingarov (Russian Regions) deputy speaker, Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions) chairman of the Budget Committee, Vladimir Nikitin (Russian Regions) chairman of the Commission for State Debt and Foreign Assets, and Aleksandr Tkachev (Agro-Industrial) chairman of the Nationalities Committee on 26 January. Deputies also confirmed deputy chairmen for 27 committees, none of whom were from the boycotting factions, Interfax reported. Also on 26 January, the number of members of each Duma faction and group was reported as the following: Unity, 82 members; Communist, 90; OVR, 45; SPS, 32; Yabloko, 21; Liberal Democratic Party, 17; Agro-Industrial group, 39; People's Deputy, 57; and Russian Regions, 41. JAC

CIS PRESIDENTS BACK PUTIN...

Participants at the 25 January CIS summit in Moscow on 25 January unanimously elected acting Russian President Putin as chairman of the CIS heads of state council, thus implicitly affirming their backing for his candidacy in the 26 March Russian presidential poll. They also thanked former Russian President Boris Yeltsin for his role in the creation of the CIS and as the first chairman of the heads of state council. The twelve presidents endorsed a proposal by Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov and Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev to draft an international program of measures to combat terrorism, including establishing a CIS anti-terrorism center. But they failed formally to adopt a resolution, under discussion since 1994, on the creation of a CIS free-trade zone. LF

...EXPRESS CONFIDENCE IN CIS

Addressing a press conference after the summit, Putin said that cooperation with other CIS member states is "an absolute priority for Russia," according to ITAR-TASS. He said that body must become "a mechanism to preserve all the best that we had." Putin also touched on the conflicts in the Caucasus, stressing that they must be resolved according to the principles of international law, including that of the territorial integrity of the states involved, ITAR-TASS reported. Armenian President Robert Kocharian distanced himself from this latter assertion, noting that Armenia has its own position on the question of territorial integrity, according to a correspondent for RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Interfax quoted most presidents as offering positive assessments of Putin's personality and of the probable future development of the CIS. LF

PUTIN PRAISES RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was elected chairman of the Supreme State Council of the Union of Belarus and Russia on 26 January, the day on which the treaty of the union came into force. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was tapped as chairman of the Union's Committee of Ministers while former Kremlin top official Pavel Borodin was elected the Union's Secretary of State (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). At the opening meeting of the Supreme State Council on 26 January, Russian acting President Putin called the treaty forming the union "an epochal event," which "paves the way to a union of states that will require a judicial basis and a common economic, defense, and humanitarian expanse." Putin also said that the main goal of the Union is "to improve the living standards of ordinary Russians and Belarussians." JAC

CUSTOMS SERVICE BOOSTS COLLECTIONS

Russian customs officials are now collecting 304 million rubles ($10.6 million) a day, up from 140 rubles in June 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. State Customs Committee Chairman Mikhail Vanin said that his agency was working hard to improve collections in the Moscow and Northwestern regional customs administrations through which most imports pass. Those two bodies have not fulfilled their targets for revenue in 1999. PG

NUCLEAR POWER PLANT WORKERS THREATEN TO STRIKE...

"Tribuna" reported on 26 January that employees of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant have scheduled a strike for 5 February to protest the plant's violation of a wage rate agreement. According to the newspaper, which is financed by Gazprom, the plant provides about 60 percent of that region's electricity and a strike could lead to power cuts not only for residential buildings but also defense industrial plants and other facillities. Strikes at a nuclear facility are forbidden under the law on nuclear energy, according to the daily. On 25 January, Deputy Atomic Minister Bulat Nigmatullin told Prime-TASS that the tariffs on electricity generated by nuclear plants shall be raised 1.6 times because the tariffs do not cover a plants' basic costs. He added that plants received on average only 20 percent of their payments in cash. JAC

...AS DECEMBER PROVES BUSY MONTH FOR LABOR PROTESTS

Meanwhile, in Primorskii Krai, workers at a power plant which supplies 60 percent of that region's energy threatened on 21 January to stage a full strike five days later, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." The plant has been the site of earlier work stoppages (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). The number of workplaces affected by labor protests soared four times in December 1999 compared with the previous month but sunk 61 percent compared with the same month the previous year, according to the State Statistics Committee on 25 January. Some 28,500 workers participated in actions in December 1999 compared with 5,700 in November and 11,400 in October and 54,100 in December 1998. According to Interfax, last December was the most active month for labor protests since March 1999. JAC

RUSSIAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO FALL

The population of the Russian Federation fell by 716,900--or 0.49 percent--in 1999, the State Statistics Committee told AP on 25 January. Immigration dropped 29 percent during the first 11 months of 1999 compared with the same period the previous year. The number of births dropped 5 percent during that period. According to "The Moscow Times" on 26 January, the population decline was the largest in the Russian history since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The committee ascribed the decline to worsening economic conditions, rising rates of alcoholism, and poor medical treatment, and it noted that the decline would have been even greater had it not been for the influx of people from former Soviet republics. PG/JAC

TALBOTT, MAMEDOV DISCUSS ABM TREATY

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov in Helsinki on 25 January to discuss the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Accompanying Talbott was NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark. PG

SHARANSKY IN MOSCOW

Former Soviet refusenik and current Israeli Interior Minister Nathan Sharansky met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 24 January and was scheduled to meet with Russian Jewish groups, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 January. Following their meeting, Ivanov said that he hopes relations between Israel and Russia will continue to change for the better. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa will visit Moscow on 1-2 February. PG

MOSCOW, HAVANA DISCUSS CUBAN DEBT

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque is in Moscow to discuss Cuba's $22 billion debt to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 January. The Cuban diplomat is to meet his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov, acting President Putin, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II. PG

MOSCOW TO TAKE PART IN HOLOCAUST COMMEMORATION

For the first time, the Russian government will participate in Stockholm's International Forum on the Holocaust, ITAR-TASS announced on 25 January. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said that developing tolerance is an important task for all peoples, noting that "if we do not work in that direction, one cannot guarantee that a tragedy like the Holocuast will not recur." And she said that she welcomed the initiative of acting President Putin in pushing for the development of a long-term program of tolerance education to promote understanding among people of different skin colors, cultures, and traditions. PG

LEBED FOE DENIED REFUGEE STATUS

A Budapest municipal court on 25 January refused to grant former Krasnoyarsk Aluminium head Anatolii Bykov refugee status, as he had requested. Hungarian Judge Zsuzsa Sandor told Hungarian state radio that while Bykov claimed that he was persecuted by Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, "we failed to turn up evidence that there was any link between Bykov's problems in Russia and the [criminal] proceedings taken against him by Russian authorities," according to AP. Sandor added that the precondition for extradition of Bykov back to Russia would be the granting by Russian authorities of a guarantee not to bring a death sentence against Bykov if convicted. Bykov is suspected of money laundering and conspiracy to commit a murder. JAC

LENIN NOT TO BE AT FINLAND STATION

For the time being, Finnish authorities have decided not to put up a statue of Lenin at a Helsinki park bearing the Soviet leader's name, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 January. Proposals to purchase and erect such a statue had sparked a storm of protest in Finland as well as offers by other countries to send Finland Lenin statues that they no longer use. PG




ARMENIAN TERRORIST GROUP MARKS ANNIVERSARY

In a statement issued in Yerevan on 20 January to mark the 25th anniversary of its inception, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) vowed to continue its fight "to liberate western Armenian territories in Turkey," AFP and Noyan Tapan reported on 22 and 25 January, respectively. The organization, founded by young diaspora Armenians in the Middle East, mounted a terrorist and bombing campaign in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the objective of coercing the Turkish government to officially acknowledge as genocide the deaths of an estimated 1.3 million Armenians in Turkey in the early years of the century, and to cede territory in Eastern Anatolia claimed as Armenian. The 20 January statement conceded that it is "naive" to continue to hope for an acknowledgement by the the present Turkish leadership that the killings constituted genocide. LF

AZERBAIJAN PRISON MUTINY TRIAL BEGINS

The trial began on 25 January of 23 prisoners and one guard charged with high treason, theft of weapons, and attempted murder in connection with the January 1999 mutiny at the high security Gobustan prison near Baku, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 11 January 1999). A group of prisoners overpowered their guards and seized hostages, demanding transportation to leave the country, but were subsequently disarmed when Interior Ministry troops stormed the jail. LF

AZERBAIJAN TO RATION ELECTRICITY

Muslim Imanov, chairman of Azerbaijan's state power generating company Azenergo, announced on 25 January that effective immediately, electricity supplies will be cut daily between the hours of 7-9 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to midnight, Turan reported. The cuts will apply nationwide except for Baku, where they will be timed from noon-5 p.m. and from 1-6 a.m. Hospitals, schools, kindergartens, and TV and radio companies will not be affected. The rationing has been made necessary by the failure of up to 70 percent of all customers to pay their electricity bills. The resulting shortage of funds, in turn, had precluded badly needed repairs to transmission lines and transformer stations. Many rural areas of Azerbaijan have already received only sporadic power supplies for months, leading to repeated popular protests. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA FAIL TO AGREE ON OIL TRANSPORT TARIFFS

During talks in Ankara on 21-24 January, Azerbaijani and Georgian representatives failed to resolve their dispute over transit tariffs that Georgia will receive from the export of oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, Caucasus Press reported. Nor did the Azerbaijani side agree to the Georgian demand that it be allowed to keep 2-3 percent of the crude transitting its territory for domestic use. Also on 25 January, Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze told Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko in Moscow that Georgia will support the proposed export of some Caspian oil via the Odesa-Brody pipeline, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

MORE SHOOTINGS IN WESTERN GEORGIA

Two Abkhaz police officers were shot dead on 25 January in the village of Saberio in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported citing Abkhaz Interior Minister Amazbei Kchach. The same day, representatives of the ethnic Georgian Abkhaz government-in- exile told Caucasus Press that three Abkhaz guerrillas had been killed and one wounded in a shootout in the village of Rukhi in Zugdidi Raion, close to the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. LF

TWO MORE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES NOMINATED IN GEORGIA

The Progressive Party of Georgia on 26 January nominated as its candidate for the 9 April presidential poll Vazha Zhghenti, who is 62 and unemployed, Caucasus Press reported. Two days earlier, the political union Mdzleveli nominated 42-year old architect Avtandil Djoglidze as its candidate. Mdzleveli polled less than 1 percent of the vote in the 31 October parliamentary election. Both candidates must collect 50,000 signatures in their support by 29 February. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN FINED

An Almaty district court on 25 January found Bigeldy Gabdullin guilty of obstructing a police officer and fined him 5,075 tenges ($36), RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Gabdullin had attempted last month to prevent a police officer from making an unsanctioned video recording of the proceedings of a meeting last month of a session of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan Executive Committee, of which Gabdullin is vice chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000). Gabdullin said he will appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court as it sets a precedent for allowing police to attend meetings of any political party without obtaining prior permission to do so. LF

LOCAL NEWSPAPER IN KAZAKHSTAN LINKED TO SEPARATISTS

The city court in Ust-Kamennogorsk, the capital of East Kazakhstan Oblast, on 25 January suspended for three months publication of the local independent commercial newspaper "HBC-Press," for having published materials undermining the independence and sovereignty of Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. On 25 November the paper had published an appeal by Viktor Kazimirchuk, the leader of a group of 22 ethnic Russians arrested several days earlier for having allegedly planned to attack and occupy administrative buildings in Ust- Kamennogorsk and proclaim an independent Russian Altai Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 November 1999). LF

AILING KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN BROUGHT TO TRIAL

Parliament deputy and opposition El (Bei Bechara) party chairman Daniyar Usenov was taken from a Bishkek hospital to a district court in the city on 25 January to face charges of assault in a case closed last year and recently reopened, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 January 2000). The court proceedings were interrupted when Usenov's condition deteriorated, and he was taken back to the hospital and is now in intensive care. Under Kyrgyz law, as a parliament deputy and registered candidate for the 20 February parliamentary elections, Usenov theoretically has immunity from arrest and legal proceedings. LF

TAJIK INSURRECTION PARTICIPANTS ON TRIAL

The trial opened in Dushanbe on 25 January of 66 people accused of participating in an abortive armed insurrection led by former Tajik army Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev in Tajikistan's northern Leninabad Oblast in November 1998, ITAR-TASS reported. Over 150 people were arrested for their role in that insurrection, of whom some 50 have already been tried and sentenced on charges of treason, murder, terrorism, and banditry. Two of those accused have been sentenced to death. LF




BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL DEFENDS ELECTORAL CODE AGAINST CRITICISM

Responding to the OSCE criticism of Belarus's electoral code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000), Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna on 25 January said the document allows for the holding of fair and honest elections, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. However, Yarmoshyna noted that the code remains only a draft law as long as it is not approved by Belarus's upper chamber and signed by the president. Yarmoshyna said the code does not reflect "three proposals on principle from the OSCE," including allowing the opposition access to the state- controlled media. "The legislation does not know the word 'opposition' and may not know it," Yarmoshyna commented. She also termed as "unsubstantiated" the OSCE demand to include representatives of different political parties into territorial electoral commissions. (See also Russia section for item on the election of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to the post of chairman of the Supreme State Council of the Union of Belarus and Russia.) JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY TO PROPOSE NEW SPEAKER

The center-right parliamentary majority will hold a vote on whom to propose for the post of speaker during the parliamentary session that is scheduled to open on 1 February, Interfax reported on 25 January. According to Leonid Kravchuk, who temporarily coordinates the majority, the candidacies of Ivan Plyushch from the Popular Democratic Party and Viktor Medvedchuk from the Social Democratic Party (United) will be subject to that vote. Plyushch was parliamentary speaker in 1991-94, while Medvedchuk is currently deputy speaker. Kravchuk announced that the leftist minority deputies will not be allowed to head any of the parliamentary committees. He also said the majority has already expanded to 261 lawmakers. JM

UKRAINE CALM OVER UNPAID BONDS

The Ukrainian leadership "is not inclined to dramatize" the situation over the Finance Ministry's nonpayment by 20 January of $18 million on Eurobonds issued by Chase Manhattan Bank Luxembourg S.A., Interfax reported on 25 January. Ukraine's payment on those bonds was already postponed 18 months ago. "We are neither the first nor the last [among those not paying on time]," the agency quoted President Leonid Kuchma as saying. Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said Kyiv is conducting negotiations with its creditors, intending to show that "Ukraine acknowledges its debt obligations," according to the "Eastern Economist Daily." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CROSS AT RUSSIA OVER CIS FREE TRADE ZONE

On his return from the CIS summit in Moscow on 25 January, Leonid Kuchma warned that the CIS will remain an inert and loose grouping if it does not create a free-trade zone, Reuters reported. "If every country proceeds only from its national interests, especially such a huge country as Russia, while tackling such an important issue as free-trade zones, then the CIS has no prospects for the future," Kuchma noted. Most CIS members say they would benefit from a common free- trade zone, while Russia has delayed joining free-trade agreements, saying that they might undermine revenues to its state budget. JM

BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS SIGN AGREEMENT

Latvian Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis hosted his counterparts Juri Luik of Estonia and Ceslovas Stankevicius of Lithuania in Riga on 25 January, BNS reported. The trio signed a memorandum on the activities of the command center of BALTNET, the joint Baltic airspace surveillance project. The Regional Air Space Coordination Center will be established near the Lithuanian city of Kaunas. The three ministers also discussed the possibility of joint purchases of military equipment and arms. Other areas of Baltic defense cooperation, such as the joint peacekeeping force BALTBAT, the join naval squadron BALTRON, and the Baltic Defense College, all featured on the agenda of the meeting. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga also met with the defense ministers and praised the cooperation among the countries. MH

ESTONIA EASES RESIDENCE PERMIT RENEWALS

Faced with up to 200,000 residence permit renewals this year, the Estonian government on 25 January decided to ease the renewal process. Population Minister Katrin Saks confirmed the changes to BNS, saying that now to renew residence permits the applicant only needs to submit the application and copies of relevant pages within their passports. Saks added that proof of legal residence and income will not be required again for renewal. Additional paperwork may be required for former foreign military and intelligence personnel, as well as former convicts. The government also decided to open a telephone hotline for the Citizenship and Migration Department. The department has been criticized for being unfriendly and overly bureaucratic and its head, Andres Kollist, was recently sacked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000). MH

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS VERDICT ON ESTONIAN OFFICER

The Estonian Supreme Court on 25 January upheld the verdict against Jaanus Karm, convicted of negligence resulting in the deaths of 14 soldiers. Karm also argued that the failure in command should not have been focused upon himself only, noting that his commanding officers were not charged. The Harju County Court in the summer of 1999 found Karm guilty and sentenced him to 4.5 years in jail, a sentence reduced upon appeal to one year, "Postimees" reported. The accident at Kurkse, the military's worst in peacetime, claimed 14 lives when the unit attempted to cross a narrow strait but without assessing the conditions properly. MH

CORRECTION:

In the item "TALBOTT IN ESTONIA," published in the 25 January edition of "RFE/RL Newsline," the penultimate sentence should read: "Frasure died in a road accident in the Balkans in 1995." "Newsline" incorrectly stated that he died in an air accident.

LATVIA DEFENDS KONONOV VERDICT

The conviction for war crimes of Vasili Kononov by a Riga court earned a harsh comment from the Russian Foreign Ministry, calling the verdict "a total lack of respect for the spirit and principles of the Nuremberg trials," BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 25 January 2000). In response, the Latvian Foreign Ministry stated that Latvian courts do not "distinguish between crimes by ideological basis," adding that "crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes do not have a statute of limitations." Prime Minister Andris Skele added that "a criminal is a criminal, regardless of the regime," according to LETA. Latvian President Vike-Freiberga characterized the Russian response "a cynical sneer at the millions of victims of Soviet totalitarian rule," adding that perpetrators of war crimes cannot hide behind a smokescreen of ideology, the newspaper "Neatkariga Rita Avize" reported. MH

LITHUANIAN GREENS PROTEST AGAINST EXPANSION OF MILITARY GROUNDS

The Lithuanian Green Movement is upset about government plans to expand military training grounds. The movement's leader, Rimantas Braziulis, told BNS on 25 January that they will begin protesting this week, hoping the government "comes to its senses." The Defense Ministry plans to acquire 20,000 hectares of state-owned forests, which comprises 2 percent of the nation's forests, ELTA added. The Greens vowed to continue protesting the expansion, saying they will also protest outside embassies of NATO countries in Vilnius. MH

POLISH PREMIER SAYS TALK ABOUT CABINET RESHUFFLE 'IRRESPONSIBLE'

Jerzy Buzek on 25 January said the politicians who are currently talking about changes in the government and the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) are "irresponsible," PAP reported. "The rule applied in all democracies is that personnel changes are discussed within the [ruling] coalition, not through the media," Buzek told a cabinet meeting. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski said changes in the AWS are necessary. Plazynski denied rumors that he wants to be the new prime minister. The Krakow-based RMF FM radio reported the same day that the AWS leadership has decided to change the prime minister, but Buzek's spokesman Krzysztof Luft called this report a "canard." JM

TOP CZECH PARTIES SIGN ADDENDA TO 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT'

Czech Social Democratic Party leader Milos Zeman and Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus, along with two deputy chairmen from each party, on 26 January signed five addenda to their parties' "opposition agreement," Czech media reported. One day earlier, the governing bodies of both parties approved the new agreements. Among other things, the agreements contain detailed instructions on cooperation between the two parties in formulating legislation related to EU norms as well as broader agreements on general policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). However, CSSD deputy chairwoman Petra Buzkova and three other top CSSD members voted against the deals, saying they do not support the proposed changes to the electoral law contained in the new agreements. Buzkova, who is one of the most popular politicians in the country, said she is prepared to step down from her position in the party at the next CSSD congress in May. VG

BUDGET TO BE PASSED FOR CHANGES IN CABINET

As part of its new agreements with the governing CSSD, the ODS has agreed to allow the budget to pass first reading on 26 January. However, ODS Deputy Chairman Petr Necas added that the budget will not be allowed to pass a third and final reading unless Prime Minister Zeman undertakes a serious cabinet reshuffle by that time. Zeman on 25 January said he plans to make cabinet changes soon after the budget is passed on first reading. Meanwhile, Czech President Vaclav Havel on 26 January said he has "certain doubts" about the new agreements signed by the CSSD and ODS, CTK reported. He described the agreements as a "strange form of opposition-coalition rule." VG

SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER WANTS QUICKER EU NEGOTIATIONS

Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamzik said on 25 January that the EU's decision to begin negotiations with the second group of candidate countries on only five chapters dealing with accession does not correspond with the conclusions of the recent EU summit in Helsinki, TASR reported. He said restricting the initial discussions to only five chapters will slow down the accession process and prevent Slovakia from catching up with its neighbors--the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. He said his country should not be placed on the same level as Romania or Bulgaria because "we are farther ahead in integration." Hamzik also said Slovakia's 20 percent unemployment rate will have a serious impact on EU- entry negotiations. If unemployment reaches 23 percent, he said the National Labor Office "is finished and the whole system collapses." VG

MECIAR'S PARTY STAGES PRESS CONFERENCE IN VIENNA

A group of parliament deputies from former Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia staged a press conference in Vienna on 25 January, arguing that the Slovak media distorts their statements, CTK reported. The deputies accused Slovak state bodies of violating the law in the case of former Slovak Information Service head Ivan Lexa, who is suspected of involvement in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). In other news, the Slovak Green Party and the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia on 25 January announced that they might form their own separate parliamentary caucus if the Slovak Democratic Coalition caucus falls apart. VG

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) chairman Laszlo Kovacs on 25 January said his party will ask the Independent Smallholders' Party to nominate a presidential candidate who can enhance the unity of the nation and strengthen the country's international reputation. He asked the senior coalition party FIDESZ to support such a candidate, adding that the opposition MSZP will not necessarily field a candidate of its own if the coalition candidate meets the requirements of the constitutional role of the president. MSZ




SFOR ARRESTS SERBIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT...

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said in a statement in The Hague on 25 January that French peacekeepers arrested Mitar Vasiljevic and sent him to the Dutch city. NATO troops captured him in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad, where he allegedly "participated in the mass murder, torture, and other cruel treatment of the Bosnian Muslim population, including women, children and the elderly" between May 1992 and October 1994. Charges against him include "extermination...of a significant number of Bosnian Muslim civilians...[as well as] inhumane acts and violence to life and person," AP reported. At the time, Vasiljevic belonged to a notorious paramilitary group called the White Eagles. PM

...AND COURT CUTS TADIC'S SENTENCE

On 26 January, the Hague- based tribunal cut the sentence of Bosnian Serb war criminal Dusan Tadic from 25 to 20 years. The presiding judge ruled that "although the criminal conduct underlying the charges of which the appellant now stands convicted was incontestably heinous, his level in the command structure, when compared to that of his superiors, or the very architects of the strategy of ethnic cleansing, was low," AP reported. This is the last step in the long-running court case of the former police chief convicted of the murder of Muslim civilians in 1992. Tadic's trial began in May 1996 and was the first and longest one of an individual for war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials at the end of World War II. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIM LEADER CALLS FOR REVISING DAYTON

Haris Silajdzic, who is the Muslim co-chair of the joint Bosnian government, unveiled his Memorandum on Changes at a press conference in Sarajevo on 25 January. He called for a revision of the Dayton peace agreement on the grounds that it preserves the results of ethnic cleansing rather than reversing them. Silajdzic wants Bosnia's administration to be based on a system of cantons rather than on the current two entities, "Oslobodjenje" reported (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 13 and 20 January 2000). Bosnian Serbs have demanded that Silajdzic be sacked for opposing Dayton (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 January 2000). PM

KOSOVA'S SERBS TO ENTER UN-BACKED COUNCILS?

Kosova Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic said at Gracanica monastery that his Serbian National Council is getting closer to an agreement with the UN's Bernard Kouchner on Serbian participation in the UN's provisional administrative system. Trajkovic stressed that he is negotiating Serbian participation on the local, regional, and provincial levels as a package, "Danas" reported on 26 January. Observers note that the key provision of any deal between the Serbs and the UN is a wide degree of self-rule for largely or purely Serbian communities. "Danas" reported that the Serbs will police their own "enclaves" and that the Kosova Protection Corps, which is composed largely of ethnic Albanian veterans of the former Kosova Liberation Army, will not be allowed to enter them. The UN still retains its formal opposition to the Serb demand for a "cantonization" of the province on ethnic lines. PM

SERBIAN WRITERS' GROUP ELECTS KOSOVA ACTIVIST MEMBER

Members of the independent Serbian Writers' Forum voted on 25 January to elect imprisoned Kosovar poet and rights activist Flora Brovina an honorary member (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). The group condemned "political trials," of which hers is one, AP reported. Writers and writers' organizations traditionally enjoy immense prestige in the Balkans. PM

DJUKANOVIC SAYS NO REFERENDUM YET

Speaking in London on 25 January, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said that it is too early to hold a referendum on independence from the federal Yugoslav state headed by President Slobodan Milosevic. Djukanovic warned, however, that Montenegrins' "patience is not without limits," the "Financial Times" reported. British Prime Minister Tony Blair stressed the importance of Montenegrin reforms for the democratization of Serbia, "Danas" noted. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook praised Montenegrin reforms and pledged support for them. But he "pointedly declined" to offer any defense guarantees to the mountainous republic when journalists pressed him to do so, the "Daily Telegraph" added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000). PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION SAYS WEST MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 25 January that he regrets the EU foreign ministers did not agree the previous day to end at least the international flight ban against Serbia. A spokesman for the nationalistic Serbian Renewal Movement of Vuk Draskovic charged that Western governments in practice support the Milosevic regime because they do not lift sanctions that affect primarily ordinary Serbs, "Danas" reported. Opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica added that the EU's failure to override British and Dutch opposition to lifting sanctions showed the Serbs that they "can rely only" on themselves, Reuters reported. PM

BALKAN WINTER WRECKS HAVOC IN SERBIA...

Winter is rarely a pleasant time in the western Balkans, where cold winds and often poor heating facilities can make for chilly times. This year, heavy snowfalls and a flu epidemic have added serious additional problems. In Belgrade, Serbian power company officials called on citizens on 25 January to save electricity and specifically to turn off electric heaters, AP noted. The company introduced two-hour power cuts in the capital and other major towns. Furthermore, ice and snow on Belgrade streets brought traffic to a virtual halt. Milosevic's Socialist Party said in a statement that the opposition-run city government is to blame. The Socialists suggested that, while the opposition leaders are on their "frequent trips abroad, they have completely forgotten that something has to be done in Belgrade." PM

...AND ALBANIA

"Half of Albania was plunged into darkness" on 25 January because of heavy snows and failures of the power grid, which is often unreliable even in good weather, dpa reported. Most of Tirana has power cuts of two to three hours per day. Heavy snows have cut off road communications in much of northern Albania. The southern port of Vlora had its first snow in 20 years. PM

CROATIAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S AIDE ASKED TO QUIT

Acting president Vlatko Pavletic called on General Ljubo Cesic-Rojs to resign his post in the Defense Ministry following his public criticism of opposition presidential candidate Stipe Mesic. The general had suggested that he and some other hardline military officers would not accept Mesic's election as commander in chief. Mesic has been critical of some of the military and of hardliners among the Herzegovinian Croats. Pavletic made his appeal to Cesic-Rojs after discussing the matter with Mesic, "Jutarnji list" reported on 26 January. PM

ROMANIAN RAILWAY WORKERS SUSPEND STRIKE

Romania's railway workers suspended their strike on the evening of 25 January, just a few hours after launching it, Rompres reported. The railway worker representatives said they decided to suspend the strike in the face of threats from Transport Minister Traian Basescu that they would face sanctions. Earlier, a Bucharest district court on 25 January declared the current railway strike illegal and requested workers to resume work immediately, Romanian Radio reported. VG

ROMANIAN PREMIER URGES PEOPLE TO REFRAIN FROM PROTEST

Mugur Isarescu said on 25 January in a live television broadcast that Romanians must endure the hardships of the reforms necessary for the country's accession to the EU, Reuters reported. He urged the people to refrain from protests rather than calling on "the government to spend money irresponsibly." He added: "we don't have the right to miss the chance Romania has got by being invited to start accession talks." In other news, the IMF negotiator for Romania, Emanuel Zervoudakis, on 25 January announced he will extend his stay in Bucharest by at least one day, Rompres reported. The current round of talks between the IMF and Romania on a $547 million standby agreement were due to end on 25 January. VG

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS ALBRIGHT

Petre Roman was in Washington, D.C. on 25 January for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Romanian Radio reported. The two agreed that Romania should speed up its military and economic reforms. In other news, the National Office of the Trade Register on 25 January announced that Romania received $256.2 million in foreign direct investment in 1999, up by almost $28 million over 1998 but still far below investment in the early to mid-1990s, Mediafax reported. Also, Romanian Transport Minister Basescu on 25 January told the parliamentary Economic Committee that $1.2 billion worth of foreign credits which Romania has received have gone unused because of the country's inability to drawup projects required by the loans or live up to the terms imposed by foreign banks, Mediafax reported. VG

MOLDOVAN, RUSSIAN LEADERS MEET IN MOSCOW...

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi told his acting Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 24 January during a meeting on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Moscow, that he is confident the recent changes in the Moldovan government will allow for "a more efficient solution" of the two countries' bilateral problems, particularly in the areas of trade and the economy, Infotag reported. The two also reportedly discussed the withdrawal of Russian troops from the breakaway Transdniester and additional bilateral measures for settling the dispute in the region. They also discussed questions related to Moldova's debt for Russian natural gas. VG

...AS CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARIAT SUBMITS RECOMMENDATIONS ON TRANSDNIESTER

the CIS Executive Secretariat submitted on 25 January its recommendations for settling the Transdniester conflict to the visiting heads of state and government in Moscow. For the first time ever, the Moldovan delegation at the CIS summit included a representative from Tiraspol, the deputy prime minister of the breakaway region, Victor Sinev. Also, a Spanish military delegation arrived in Transdniester to inspect Russian army depots as part of the CFE onventional Forces Treaty in Europe signed last November, BASA-Press reported. VG

BULGARIA DECLARES FLU EPIDEMIC

The Bulgarian Health Ministry on 25 January declared a nationwide flu epidemic and closed schools across the country, BTA reported. Health officials have reported 329 cases of influenza for every 10,000 people in the country. In other news, the Foreign and Security parliamentary committees on 25 January approved a Bulgarian contingent for the KFOR operation in Kosova, BTA reported. The Bulgarian contingent will consist of 40 troops, and will be part of the Dutch KFOR contingent. VG




SUBDUING THE PARLIAMENT WITH A REFERENDUM


By Jan Maksymiuk

Russia resolved its parliamentary crisis in 1993 with tanks. Ukraine, in a similar situation, opted for a referendum. Nonetheless, the parliament fiercely opposes this choice. That's how the pro-presidential Kyiv-based "Segodnya" commented on President Leonid Kuchma's decree to hold a constitutional referendum on 16 April, which may result in the ouster of the current uncooperative legislature. The implication of the comment is obvious: Ukraine is far more moderate than Russia regarding its choice of methods for developing democracy, so there is no ground for apprehensions. However, one almost automatically starts having such apprehensions as soon as one recalls the 1996 constitutional referendum held by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Will Kuchma follow in Lukashenka's footsteps?

Taken at face value, the constitutional referendum-- decreed by the president following the collection of some 4 million signatures by citizens--is aimed at creating a legislature with a workable majority. The government needs such a majority very urgently. First, the parliament must pass an austerity budget, which is a necessary condition for the IMF and other Western lenders to resume providing credits to Kyiv. Ukraine is obliged to repay more than $3 billion this year and another $3 billion next year, and faces an immediate default without Western money. Second, Kuchma wants to capitalize on his recent election success by introducing as soon as possible the market-oriented reforms he had long pledged to the West. Again, this can be done only with prompt and reliable legislative support.

Ukrainians on 16 April will be asked as many as six questions. Each of those questions, if answered in the affirmative, will entail essential changes in the constitution. The first question will be a vote of no confidence in the current parliament. Ukrainians will also be asked to give the president the right to disband the parliament if it fails to form a majority within a month or adopt a budget in three months; to abolish lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution; to reduce the 450-seat parliament to 300 seats; to create a second chamber; and to provide for the possibility to adopt a constitution via a referendum.

All Ukrainian commentators tend to agree that Kuchma will win the referendum on all points, including the question about a bicameral parliament, which is an almost completely mystifying idea for the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians. The government-controlled media, those commentators argue, have already ingrained the conviction in the broad masses that the current Supreme Council is a hotbed of unpunished "thieves and bandits." There will be no difficulties for those media--as last year's presidential elections amply testified--to air more messages favorable to Kuchma and detrimental to his parliamentary foes, notably to speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and the Communist Party parliamentary caucus led by Kuchma's presidential rival, Petro Symonenko.

Anticipating the president's move, more than 300 parliamentary deputies voted to introduce a temporary ban on referendums in Ukraine, but Kuchma paid no attention to it. Then 241 deputies from center and right-wing caucuses and groups formed a majority, claiming that they will support the government. This move sparked a full-scale parliamentary crisis and a split of the legislature into two irreconcilable factions. Some 180 leftist deputies remain loyal to Tkachenko, while the 261-strong majority is temporarily coordinated by former President Leonid Kravchuk. Both factions already held parallel sessions, claiming to be legitimate parliaments, and no immediate resolution of the impasse is in sight. Such a situation benefits primarily the president.

Kuchma told the 15 January "Zerkalo nedeli" that he is not interested in dissolving the parliament if it proves to be "able to function" [deesposobnyi]. However, some Ukrainian political analysts argue that following the referendum, which is expected to overwhelmingly endorse the vote of no confidence in the Supreme Council, the parliament will be doomed. The president will be carried away by the course of events and will have to dissolve the legislature that is not trusted by the people. What is more, some analysts even say that Ukraine's current constitution may be called into question if the decreed referendum provides a yes answer to the question about approving the country's basic law via a referendum. Thus, Ukraine may likely face early parliamentary elections and a referendum on approving a new constitution following the 16 April plebiscite.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz called Kuchma's referendum decree a "constitutional coup d'etat." It should be noted that a similar view is shared not only by Kuchma's leftist foes, but also by many politicians far from the left. When the opposition is deprived of free access to the media (as was the situation in Belarus's notorious referendum of 1996), the parliament may be easily made the only scapegoat for the failures of socioeconomic policies in Ukraine under Kuchma and, as a consequence, popularly voted out. Consequently, the balance of power in Ukraine may be irreparably damaged or even eliminated, confirming many pessimists' much-publicized belief that democracy is good for the West, while the East prefers autocracy. Ukraine--after what seemed to be a nine-year period of trudging toward Western democratic values--now appears to be taking a step backward.


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