Accessibility links

Newsline - January 31, 2000




RUSSIAN OFFICIALS TERM CHECHEN SURRENDERS 'TURNING POINT'....

As a result of negotiations on 28 January between former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov and Chechen field commanders in that city, 95 Chechen fighters laid down their arms and surrendered to federal forces on 28 and 29 January, while another 130 did so the following day, Interfax reported. Those fighters will be screened and may qualify for amnesty under a Russian State Duma law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1999). Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov said on 28 January that Gantemirov's initiative was "strictly unofficial," but Kremlin Chechen spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the following day that Gantemirov was acting "under direct supervision and with the consent of the command of the federal troops," according to ITAR-TASS. Yastrzhembskii termed the surrenders "a turning point," while Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said they constitute a "first sign" of a "radical change" in the war. LF

...WHILE CHECHENS DENY THEY TOOK PLACE

Selim Abdumuslimov, head of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's press service, told Interfax on 29 January that the reports of talks between field commanders and Gantemirov on the terms for a surrender are false. Abdumuslimov said individual field commanders are empowered to negotiate only the terms for exchanging the bodies of those killed. Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov on 29 January also rejected as "an absolute lie" and "propaganda" reports that some fighters had surrendered their arms. Reuters reported. The next day, Chechen businessman Malik Saidullaev, who heads the pro-Moscow Chechen State Council, similarly told Reuters in Ingushetia that "as far as I know, no fighters have surrendered in Grozny or turned in their weapons." Saidullaev has twice claimed to be engaged in negotiations with unnamed field commanders on the surrender of hundreds of Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 1, 6 January 2000 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2000). LF

RUSSIAN FORCES CLAIM POSITION STRENGTHENED IN GROZNY

In fierce fighting in Grozny on 28-30 January, Russian forces strengthened their positions, capturing several high-rise buildings in streets leading to Minutka Square, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the Joint Army Group Mozdok Press Center. But Chechen military commander Mumadi Saidaev said the Chechens are deliberately ceding ground to the Russians in order to be able to attack them from the rear as they advance, AP reported, citing Interfax. On 28 January, Maskhadov ordered Chechen formations in Grozny to hold their positions until 23 February, the anniversary of the 1944 deportation of the Chechens and Ingush to Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. Maskhadov has also demanded that the military commandants in Russian-controlled districts of Chechnya release some 500 people illegally detained in Gudermes, Shali, Argun, Achkhoi Martan, and Starie Atagi, Abdumuslimov told Interfax on 30 January. A Russian Interior Ministry official denied any knowledge of such mass detentions. LF

MISSING RFE/RL JOURNALIST DETAINED IN CHECHNYA

Russian security officials said in Moscow on 28 January that RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii, who had disappeared in Chechnya two weeks earlier, was detained on the outskirts of Grozny on 23 January, Interfax and AP reported. A Russian Interior Ministry official confirmed that Babitskii is being held in detention because he had no valid accreditation and had met earlier in Grozny with Chechen fighters. On 29 January, acting Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered that Yurii Biryukov, the official from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office who is responsible for the North Caucasus, go to Chechnya to determine the circumstances of Babitskii's detention. LF

MOSCOW AGAIN RULES OUT TALKS WITH MASKHADOV

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev told journalists in Moscow on 28 January that the Russian government is prepared to negotiate only with those Chechens who want peace, ITAR- TASS reported. Avdeev explained that the reason why Moscow does not consider President Maskhadov either the legitimate president of Chechnya or a suitable negotiating partner is that he introduced Islamic law in Chechnya, condoned public executions, and violated the Russian Constitution by basing his presidential campaign on the premise of declaring Chechnya an independent state, according to Interfax. LF

RUSSIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL WARNS OF POSSIBLE CHECHEN TERRORIST ATTACKS ABROAD

Russian Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told NTV on 28 January that his agency believes Chechen radicals may resort to "the most atrocious means possible" to halt the Russian troop advance in Chechnya, including staging terrorist attacks outside Russia, Interfax reported. Also on 28 January, a spokesman for the Russian Federal Border Guards said that the Russian border guard contingent in Armenia has been placed on alert in the light of possible Chechen attacks on their housing and other facilities, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

NATO CALLS ON MOSCOW TO SEEK POLITICAL SOLUTION IN CHECHNYA

Speaking in Kyiv on 28 January, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said the alliance believes that "a political track is absolutely essential" to achieving a long-term solution of the Chechen conflict, Reuters reported. Robertson also rejected comparisons between the war in Chechnya and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, pointing out that "we first exhausted all diplomatic avenues.... In the end, we were left with no alternative but to act." LF

MANILOV SAYS 'VICTORY' NOT APPLICABLE IN CHECHNYA

Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Manilov told ITAR-TASS on 28 January that the notion of victory cannot be applied to Moscow's anti-terrorist actions in Chechnya. "I would exclude this term from application for the hostilities," the agency quoted him as saying. PG

MOST RUSSIANS WANT NEXT PRESIDENT TO HALT WAR IN CHECHNYA

More than half (56 percent) of Russian citizens hope that the next president of Russia will put a stop to the war in Chechnya. That is the finding of a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Center among 1,600 respondents in mid- January, Interfax reported on 29 January. The same survey also suggested that 55 percent of citizens want to see Russia's status as a "great and respected" nation restored, while only 12 percent believe that the new president's duty is to keep Russia on the reform track. JC

ZYUGANOV CHALLENGES PUTIN TO TV DEBATES

Russian Communist leader and presidential candidate Gennadii Zyuganov on 28 January challenged acting President Putin to take part in a television debate, Russian agencies reported. Zyuganov said that Putin has no economic policy and that the debate should focus on why the inflation rate more than doubled in January compared with the end of last year and why the Russian state budget is only 40 percent of that of Finland. In other commends, Zyuganov denied that his party is now allied with the government but said that the period of confrontation with the government is over. And he noted that "as long as elementary legality is not restored in the country, deputies' immunity must not be lifted." PG

KASYANOV SAYS G-7 SHOULD 'NOT MISS CHANCE' TO SUPPORT RUSSIA

Speaking in Davos on 29 January, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov urged the world's leading economic powers "not to miss the chance" to support Russia." He argued that "if the issue of Russia has been put on the plenary session's agenda, it means that interest in Russia as well as its role in the global economy does not decline but keeps growing." Meanwhile, IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer said his organization will not penalize Moscow for Chechnya. "If Russia meets the conditions, it gets the money," Fischer said. PG

IVASHOV SAYS TIME NOT YET RIPE TO RESTORE NATO TIES

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, who is also head of the Defense Ministry department for international ties, told RIA on 28 January that "the time has not yet come to say that conditions exist for restoring contacts between Russia and NATO, still less to talk about broadening them at the highest level." Ivashov's remarks followed a Moscow visit by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, who said that the Western alliance hopes to find ways to "reconnect with Russia on a wider field of interests than we are presently engaged in." PG

MIXED REACTION TO CLINTON'S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 29 January released a statement praising references to Russia in U.S. President Bill Clinton's State of the Union address, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry noted that Clinton confirmed the U.S.'s support for "democratic and market reforms in Russia, further consolidation of the Russian-American dialogue, including on disarmament issues." But acting President Putin's aide Yastrzhembskii said the same day that Clinton's description of the Chechen conflict as "cruel and self-defeating" showed that the West does not understand "the real causes of what is happening in the Chechen republic." PG

ZYUGANOV SAYS SANCTIONS WOULD REVIVE COLD WAR

Communist leader Zyuganov said on 28 January that any attempt by Western countries to impose sanctions on Russia as a result of Chechnya would mean a return to Cold War conditions, Interfax reported. "The very raising of these issues is absolutely destructive. Behind it is the wish of some forces to return to the times of the Cold War, to punish Russia for Yugoslavia," and "to humiliate a great country." PG

EUROPEAN COMMISSION SAYS ACTIONS AREN'T SANCTIONS

Portuguese Ambassador to Moscow Jose Luiz-Gomez, whose country currently chairs the European Commission, said in the Russian capital on 28 January that he does not want to use the word sanctions to apply to the measures the EU has taken to express its displeasure with Russian behavior in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Such a word, Luiz-Gomez said, has a negative connotation and therefore should not be used to describe Russian-EU relations. PG

NATIONALISTS PROTEST ALBRIGHT'S ARRIVAL IN MOSCOW

Some 150 nationalists and religious activists gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on 30 January to protest U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to the Russian capital. Albright, who arrived in Moscow early on 31 January, is to meet with Russian leaders and take part in multilateral talks on the Middle East. The protestors argued that the U.S. leader is seeking to save the "Chechen bandits" currently engaged in fighting with Russian troops in Chechnya. They also appealed to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office to charge both Albright and U.S. President Bill Clinton with war crimes for leading NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia last spring. JC

MOSCOW REBUKES TURKEY OVER PROPOSED CENTRAL ASIA GROUPING

The Russian Foreign Ministry has categorically rejected Turkish Minister of State Abdulhaluk Cay's suggestion that Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the four Turcophone states of Central Asia should align on ethnic grounds, Interfax reported on 28 January. Cay made that proposal in an interview with Reuters on 19 January. He suggested that the organization of Turkic states could resemble the Arab League but would initially focus on broad economic cooperation. Cay suggested that Russia should also be invited to join but noted that Moscow was likely to decline such an offer. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned Ankara that Cay's proposal as summarized by Reuters "can by no means be considered friendly or on par with the present standard and nature of Russian-Turkish relations." It added that such proposals "do not promote the spirit of cooperation or mutual understanding in Central Asia and the Caucasus." And it expressed the hope that Cay's suggestion does not reflect official Turkish government policy. LF

RUSSIA CUTS GAS PRICES TO BELARUS

Gazprom has cut the amount Belarus must pay for 1,000 cubic meters of gas from $30 to $26.90, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 January. The price cut is part of the union treaty accord between the two countries. PG

DUMA TELLS LATVIA TO REVERSE CONVICTION OF WAR CRIMINAL

The Russian State Duma on 28 January issued a statement demanding that the Latvian government "promptly revise" the conviction of Vasily Kononov for war crimes, ITAR-TASS reported. A Latvian court had found Kononov guilty of killing civilians while a member of a Soviet partisan group during World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2000). The Duma condemned what it called "the criminal striving of the Latvian powers to revise the results and principles of the Nuremberg trial, respected by the world community, which amounts to an attempt to revise the results of the Second World War and to justify Nazism." PG

MOSCOW URGES EXPANSION OF UN SECURITY COUNCIL

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's permanent representative to the UN, said on 28 January that Moscow supports the enlargement of the UN Security Council, including increasing the number of permanent members, ITAR-TASS reported. Lavrov said that "if new places are introduced for permanent members, this should be done not only for developed but also for developing countries. And the former and the latter should have equal rights." Annan responded that he shares Lavrov's views on this point. Lavrov's comments came on the heels of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's meeting with acting President Putin earlier that day. Putin told Anan that Russia regards the UN as the only universal international organization, Interfax reported. PG

STEPASHIN BACKS PUTIN FOR PRESIDENCY

Sergei Stepashin, former prime minister and current Duma deputy, said he will support acting President Vladimir Putin in the upcoming elections for the presidency, Russian agencies reported on 29 January. He said that he "treats with understanding" the nomination of Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii but noted that "is his own business" since "I am only a member of the faction rather than of the Yabloko party." PG

DUMA COMMUNIST SAYS BOYCOTTERS GUILTY OF 'SABOTAGE'

Communist Duma deputy Vasilii Shandybin said that the members of liberal and reformist parties who had walked out of the Duma should be given shovels and brooms and sent to clear the Moscow streets of snow "as punishment for their sabotage," AP reported on 28 January. Another deputy called for docking those politicians' wages for the period of the walkout. Sergei Kirienko of the Union of Right Forces said on 28 January that his group is ready to end the boycott, Russian agencies reported. PG

BORODIN, BEREZOVSKII DISMISS SWISS CHARGES AS POLITICAL

Pavel Borodin, former Kremlin manager and now state secretary for the Russia-Belarus union, said on 28 January that Swiss charges of corruption against him are "political" and reflect a desire by the Swiss to "discredit Russia and keep money that has been taken out of Russia," Russian and Western agencies reported. Boris Berezovskii, a Russian financial figure who is part of another Swiss corruption probe, echoed Borodin's remarks. He said the same day that "what is now going on in Switzerland concerning Russian political figures is a purely political case." Meanwhile, the Russian government has asked the Swiss for clarification. JC

CHARGES FILED AGAINST SKURATOV

The Russian Prosecutor- General's Office on 28 January filed charges of abuse of office against suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov. According to those charges, Skuratov purchased 14 suits and other items worth a total of $39,675. PG

VYAKHIREV SAYS GAZPROM TO BE DIVIDED

Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev said on 28 January that his company is likely to be split into two parts this year, Interfax reported. One of the successor companies would be responsible for production, the other for all auxiliary functions the monopoly now controls. Vyakhirev's remarks sent Gazprom shares plummeting on the Moscow exchange, but his plan meets a key reform demand of international banking institutions. Meanwhile in Moscow, a regional court has stopped bankruptcy proceedings against the Sidanko oil company, while the liquidator of bankrupt Tokobank has disappeared. And in London, foreign shareholders discussed the restructuring of the United Energy Systems company, Russian agencies reported. PG

ARBATOV CALLS FOR CUTTING ARMY TO 500,000

Aleksei Arbatov, one of Russia's leading defense analysts, has called for reducing the size of the Russian army to 500,000 from its current level of 1.2 million, Reuters reported on 28 January. Charles Dick of Britain's Conflict Studies Research Centre said Moscow needs between 600,000 and 800,000 troops, noting that "they can't support 1.2 million men and have them sufficiently equipped." Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 29 January that a fifth-generation MiG jet fighter will make its first test flight soon. PG

TATARSTAN SECURITY COUNCIL MEETS FOR FIRST TIME

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev announced on 28 January that his republic's security council will meet for the first time, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the council will be responsible for "ensuring the republic's internal and external security." Chaired by the president, the council has eight interdepartmental commissions as well as a new think tank to guide its work. PG

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT CRITICIZED FOR AIDS POLICY

Gennadii Onishenko, a senior Russian public health official, has sharply criticized Russia's government for failing to slow the rise of new HIV infections in that country, Reuters reported on 29 January. Onishenko noted that there were nearly 15,000 new cases of such infections during the last year, which he said reflects Moscow's failure to fight drug abuse and prostitution. PG

JUSTICES FALL VICTIM TO TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS, ASSAULT

ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January that eight judges died in Russia last year, mostly as a result of traffic accidents. Twenty-one of their colleagues were the victims of assault. In addition, 17 fires were reported to have broken out in buildings housing court rooms, compared with only one such fire in 1998. JC




U.S. REGISTERS PROGRESS IN KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS

A senior U.S. State Department official said in Davos on 28 January that "there is clearly movement" in the Karabakh peace process, AP and Reuters reported. "We are further ahead than before," he added. Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, met for talks the previous day on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, and on 29 January held separate meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. No details of those talks were revealed. Kocharian and Aliev, together with Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, and the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers, also participated in a 28 January roundtable during which participants unanimously agreed that the Silk Road Project to revive east-west trade routes will have a positive impact on the situation in the region. LF

AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS SWISS INVESTMENT IN KARABAKH

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry on 25 January lodged an official protest with its Swiss counterpart in connection with the stated intention of two Swiss companies to begin the production of clocks and jewelry in the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic and to embark on banking and agricultural projects there, Armenian news agencies reported on 29 January quoting the enclave's Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian. The Azerbaijani statement termed the Swiss companies' plans an encroachment on Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and appealed to the Swiss government to prevent their implementation. Representatives of Switzerland's Frank Muller company visited Nagorno-Karabakh in July 1999. Armenian President Robert Kocharian met in Davos on 29 January with the head of the second Swiss company planning to begin operations in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Armenian Television reported. LF

TWO GEORGIAN WARLORDS DISCUSS JOINING FORCES

Former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani and Colonel Akaki Eliava, meeting in the west Georgian town of Senaki on 29 January, agreed that Georgia can regain control of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia only by means of a military operation in which Georgia's armed forces participate, Caucasus Press reported. Kitovani was jailed in 1995 for organizing a spontaneous military campaign to reconquer Abkhazia. Eliava has been in hiding in western Georgia since he led an unsuccessful coup attempt in the fall of 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 October 1998). The two men told journalists after their talks that their interests, including winning back Abkhazia, coincide but that it is too early to talks of joint actions. LF

THREE MORE GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES APPLY FOR REGISTRATION

The number of persons who wish to contest the 9 April presidential poll has risen to six, Caucasus Press reported on 29 January, citing the Central Electoral Commission. In addition to the incumbent, Eduard Shevardnadze, and two political unknowns who last week announced their intention to run (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2000), National Ideology Party chairman Zurab Gagnidze, former Finance Minister Guram Absandze and Davit Aghmashenebeli Party chairman Roin Liparteliani have applied to the commission to register as candidates. Absandze is implicated in the February 1998 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze. Liparteliani was barred from registering as a candidate in the 1991 presidential election, and polled only 0.2 percent of the vote in the 1995 presidential poll. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, CHINA SEEK TO RESOLVE OIL COMPANY DISPUTE

Kazakhstan's Premier Toqaev met in Davos on 29 January with Chinese Vice Premier Wu Bangguo to discuss Kazakhstan's Aktobemunaigaz company in which the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) purchased a 60 percent stake in the fall of 1997, Interfax reported. One year later, the CNPC dismissed 2,000 employees of the company, but to date has neither paid them compensation nor offered them alternative employment. Toqaev said this failure risks compounding social tensions in Aktobe Oblast. The two ministers also discussed the planned construction of a gas export pipeline from Kazakhstan to China. Agreement on that project was reached in late 1997, but the agreed feasibility study for the project has not yet been undertaken. Kazakh officials last summer cast doubts on that project's economic viability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 August 1999). LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARLIAMENT CANDIDATES PROTEST MEDIA POLICY

NGOs in Kyrgyzstan on 28 January wrote to the country's leadership protesting that pro-government candidates for the 20 February parliamentary elections have greater access to the media than do opposition candidates, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Also on 28 January, opposition El (Bei Bechara) Party chairman Daniyar Usmenov, who is being held under arrest in a Bishkek hospital, told RFE/RL that he is not allowed to receive visits from prospective voters. The reason given for that ban is the flu epidemic currently sweeping the city. LF

KYRGYZSTAN POSTS MODEST GDP GROWTH IN 1999 BUT FAILS TO PAY FOREIGN DEBTS

Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Finance Minister Kubat Kanimetov told a cabinet meeting in Bishkek on 28 January that GDP grew by 3 percent and agricultural output by 8.7 percent last year, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. But industrial production fell by 1.7 percent and annual inflation totaled 39.9 percent. In addition, Kanimetov warned that Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt now equals GDP, which is $1.4 billion. He added that Kyrgyzstan failed last year to repay $33 million owed to Russia, Turkey, and Pakistan and must pay $87 million in foreign debts in 2000, which is equal to 44 percent of total budget expenditure. Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev said that in conjunction with the National Bank and the World Bank, the government must draft a program for repaying the country's external debt. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT ACCUSES DEPUTY PREMIER OF CORRUPTION...

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on 28 January, Saparmurat Niyazov accused 66-year-old Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Industry Saparmurat Nuryev of abusing his official position for personal gain, Interfax and ITAR- TASS reported. Niyazov claimed that Nuryev has "practically privatized the energy sector" and appointed relatives to jobs in the energy sector and machine-building and chemical industries, for which he is responsible. Nuryev has been dismissed as deputy premier but will retain his ministerial post until an investigation into his alleged malpractice is completed. LF

...APPOINTS NEW AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA

Also on 28 January, Niyazov appointed Khalnazar Agakhanov, Turkmenistan's ambassador to Kazakhstan, to serve as ambassador to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Agakhanov was born in 1952 and served from 1991-1999 as minister for trade and economic relations. He replaces Nury Orazmukhammamedov, who will take up the post of ambassador to Moldova. LF

UZBEK POLICE CONFISCATE COUNTERFEIT DOLLARS

Uzbek police on 28 January arrested four men from whom they had confiscated a total of 388,000 forged dollars, AP reported. The four men said they purchased the counterfeit currency in the neighboring Kazakh city of Shymkent from a native of the Caucasus. LF




BELARUS TO HOLD TWO PARLIAMENTARY BALLOTS THIS YEAR?

Pavel Shypuk, chairman of Belarus's upper house, told journalists on 28 January that elections to the parliament of the Belarusian-Russian union will likely be held in the fall of 2000, at the same time as the planned parliamentary elections in Belarus, Belapan reported. According to Shypuk, such a scenario was discussed at a 26 January meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Belarus-Russia Union in Moscow. Shypuk added that Russia is also planning to hold elections to the union parliament this fall. JM

UKRAINE, IMF TO CHECK LOAN FRAUD ALLEGATION

Ukraine and the IMF have agreed to an audit of the IMF's 1997 credits to Kyiv following former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko's allegation that the government misused hundreds of millions of dollars in IMF funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2000), AP reported on 31 January. The agreement was reached at a meeting between President Leonid Kuchma and IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer in Davos, Switzerland, this weekend. Kuchma called Lazarenko's allegation a "complete absurdity," adding that it is a "provocation against Ukraine's president, its course toward economic reform, and [its] cooperation with the IMF," according to Interfax. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY TO HOLD SECOND SESSION OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT

The parliamentary majority is to convene in the Ukrainian House exhibition center on 1 February, having already met at that venue earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000), Interfax reported on 28 January. According to deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, the decision is a response to leftists' attempts "to organize provocative actions." Medvedchuk added that both the parliamentary right-center majority and the leftist minority have been invited to attend the session. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has informed Medvedchuk that all resolutions passed at the majority's session on 21 January, including the ouster of speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and his deputy Adam Martynyuk, are legitimate. JM

ESTONIA, FINLAND QUARREL OVER DRUG ALLEGATIONS

Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar has said he expects Finnish Interior Minister Kari Hakamies to provide proof over his allegations of drug smuggling and police corruption in Estonia, which Hakamies suggests will block Estonia's EU entry. Hakamies told the Finnish press on 27 January that most of Finland's drugs are imported from Estonia owing to that country's inept and corrupt police force. His statement preceded a visit to Tallinn by Finnish Premier Paavo Lipponen to discuss cooperation on fighting drug trafficking. "Postimees" reported that of the 214 foreigners convicted for drug smuggling in Estonian last year, 81 were Estonian nationals. Jan Bergstrom, Finland's criminal police commissioner, told BNS that "Estonia has become for Finland the largest drug- supplying country and it beats all other sources." However, the head of the Estonian drug squad responded to "Postimees" that Finnish leaders must realize that "the problem lies not only in the inflow of drugs but also in a steadily growing body of consumers." MH

SOLIDARITY LEADER SAYS NO NEED FOR CABINET RESHUFFLE

Marian Krzaklewski on 28 January convinced all parties belonging to the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) that there is no need for a cabinet reshuffle or a change of prime minister, Polish media reported. Demands to replace the premier and make changes in the government emerged after the failed vote of no confidence in Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 28 January 2000). The AWS leadership agreed that the situation in the ruling coalition can best be improved by reforming the AWS parliamentary caucus. Meanwhile, Krzaklewski's presidential campaign pages have appeared on the Internet at . Krzaklewski has not yet officially announced his candidacy in this year's presidential ballot. JM

POLAND STRESSES 'EXCELLENT' RELATIONS WITH LITHUANIA

Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek told his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Saudargas, on 28 January that Polish- Lithuanian relations are "excellent," PAP reported. Dispelling fears that Warsaw might reconsider backing Vilnius's NATO and EU drive because of problems linked to the Polish minority in Lithuania, Geremek said that Poland's relations with Lithuania are determined solely by the principle of mutual, loyal cooperation and by state interests. "There is no state institution in Poland that would operate to the detriment of the Lithuanian nation," Geremek noted, but he added that minority issues should be treated "seriously." JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE APPROVES DECREASING PRESIDENTIAL POWERS

The Chamber of Deputies on 28 January passed amendments to the constitution that, among other things, would decrease the powers of the presidency, Czech media reported. The amendments were supported by deputies from the Civic Democratic (ODS) and Social Democratic (CSSD) parties, with only two CSSD deputies refusing to support them. The three opposition parties in the legislature staged a walkout to protest the vote. Among other things, the amendments would require the president to ask the leader of the party that wins the largest number of seats in an election to form a government. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the ODS and CSSD are just one seat short of a constitutional majority in the upper chamber. The senators from the Coalition of Four opposition parties and independent Senator Vaclav Fischer have said they will not vote for the changes. The Communists say they are leaning toward not supporting the amendments. VG

NEW MINORITIES' OFFICE IN CZECH REPUBLIC?

Petr Uhl, the Czech government's human rights commissioner, has submitted to the cabinet a proposal for a new office dealing with ethnic minorities in the Czech Republic, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 31 January. The proposed Office for Ethnic Equality and Integration would be modeled after an office in Britain and would be able to submit draft legislation. The proposal must now be considered by the government. Romany Civic Initiative chairman Emil Scuka said it would take too long for the office to be approved by the government and legislature and called instead for a special commissioner for Romany issues to be appointed immediately. Other Romany representatives have welcomed Uhl's proposal as a step forward. VG

MECIAR 'OFFENDED' BY PINOCHET COMPARISON

The leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, Vladimir Meciar, said on 31 January that he is "offended" by Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky's recent comparison of him with former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2000), CTK reported. Meciar, who served as prime minister between 1994 and 1998, also rejected suspicions that he was involved in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 and the subsequent murder of Robert Remias, a key witness in the abduction case. "Remias's murder was ascribed to the Slovak cabinet, but now it is obvious that this was part of a settling of accounts in the underworld," he said. Meciar also said that he issued amnesties for suspects in the abduction case because he wanted to put an end to infighting in Slovak society. He added that he was afraid that other murders of witnesses in the case might be pinned on him and his party. VG

SLOVAK PARTY SAYS ROMA SHOULD LOSE PASSPORTS

The opposition Slovak National Party (SNS) said on 28 January Romany whose requests for asylum abroad were turned down should have their passports taken away for five years, CTK reported. The government commissioner for Romany questions, Vincent Danihel, responded that such "nonsense" requires no comment. Meanwhile, the SNS on 28 January approved the text of a cooperation accord with former Prime Minister Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. The agreement is scheduled to be signed on 15 February. In other news, a court in Banska Bystrica on 28 January sentenced Mikulas Cernak, whom investigators described as a top mafia boss in Slovakia, to 15 years in prison for murdering a businessman last year, Slovak media reported. VG

HUNGARIAN YOUNG DEMOCRATS ELECT NEW LEADER

The major coalition partner, FIDESZ, has elected Secret Services Minister Laszlo Kover as its chairman for one year, after delegates to a 29 January congress voted to separate the posts of party chairman and prime minister. Kover, the only candidate to the post, said Prime Minister Viktor Orban will nevertheless remain the party's leading politician. Addressing the gathering, Kover said "only we have a valid message for the nation," and "we do not want to raise our children to become cosmopolitans." Referring to an earlier dispute within the opposition Free Democrats, he said "FIDESZ is not a liberal party in which someone is not elected chairman because his parents were communist Jews." Orban and Kover will decide soon when Kover should leave his ministerial post. MSZ




CROATIAN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN ENTERS FINAL WEEK...

Leading presidential contender Stipe Mesic on 30 January urged voters to cast their ballots for him to prevent the large two-party governing coalition from "having a monopoly on power." Drazen Budisa, his opponent, accused Mesic of engaging in "populist demagogy" typical of the defeated Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb. The following day, "Slobodna Dalmacija" published a poll giving Mesic 43.5 percent of the vote and Budisa 34.4 percent. Some 22.1 percent remain undecided. PM

...AS BUDISA, MESIC COMPETE FOR HDZ VOTES

Budisa said that, if elected president, he will ask defeated presidential candidates Mate Granic and Slaven Letica to be his foreign and domestic policy advisers, respectively. Budisa added that he would like former General Antun Tus or sociologist Ozren Zuneca to advise him on military matters, "Jutarnji list" reported on 31 January. Letica and Zuneca told the daily that Budisa did not mention the offer to either of them prior to his public statement. They added that they would not like to comment on that statement. Granic told the daily that he appreciates the offer but that he prefers to concentrate on his duties as a member of the parliament. Mesic, for his part, said that he would like Granic to become ambassador to the UN. Observers note that conservative voters who cast their ballots for Granic in the first round of voting on 24 January are likely to decide the contest between Mesic and Budisa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2000). PM

NEW CROATIAN AGENDA FOR BOSNIA

Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told "Slobodna Dalmacija" of 31 January that the new Croatian government will carry out its obligations toward Bosnia under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement "even if there are certain [unspecified] political realities that we do not like." Picula stressed that Zagreb will try to better the lot of the Croats in the neighboring state but not by calling for a revision of the Dayton agreement, as did the HDZ. Picula added that he hopes a new election law in Bosnia will put an end to ethnic polarization in voting patterns there. He called upon Serbian and Muslim leaders to help end such polarization. The Croatian government will continue to provide financial assistance to the ethnic Croats in the neighboring state but will do so in a completely transparent manner. Picula also said that it is time to put an end to the "political manipulation" of the Herzegovinian Croats. Observers note that this is an apparent reference to the close links between Croatian nationalists in Herzegovina and hard-line HDZ factions in Croatia. PM

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT COALITION BREAKING UP?

The government of the Republika Srpska voted on 29 January to support Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's decision to sack Deputy Prime Minister Tihomir Gligoric, whose Socialist Party belongs to the governing coalition. Zivko Radisic, who is the ethnic Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and a member of the Socialist Party, said Dodik should stop accusing the Socialists of making trouble and "admit" that he himself will be to blame if the coalition splits. Dodik, who supports the opposition in Serbia, has recently been at odds with the Socialists, whose party is linked to Milosevic's Socialist Party (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 January 2000). PM

MONTENEGRO SAYS SERBIA USING 'RACKET' AGAINST IT

Montenegrin Economics Minister Vojin Djukanovic said in Podgorica that the Serbian authorities engage in a "racket" to extort money from Montenegrin businesses. Montenegrin companies buying goods in Serbia are forced to pay fees to the Serbian authorities that are the equivalent in German marks of up to $3,500 per truckload of goods. Djukanovic charged that Belgrade uses the money from the Montenegrin companies to "wage a political campaign against the authorities in Podgorica," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 30 January. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Montenegrin Justice Minister Dragan Soc said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has "used up" Kosova as a political issue and is now seeking to make trouble with Montenegro. PM

SERBIAN PUBLISHING HOUSE SHUT DOWN

A Belgrade court on 28 January ordered closed the premises of the independent ABC printing company, AP reported. The court made the move as part of a bankruptcy procedure against the firm. ABC general manager Slavoljub Kacarevic said, however, that the company has reached agreements with its creditors. He charged that the court wants to shut down his company because it publishes the independent daily "Glas javnosti" and other anti- Milosevic publications. PM

BELGRADE, BAGHDAD TO PROMOTE TRADE

Yugoslav Trade Minister Borislav Vukovic agreed in Baghdad on 30 January with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan to promote bilateral trade. Ramadan said that Baghdad wants to "confront the aggressive American policy against Iraq and Yugoslavia," Reuters reported. Vukovic replied that "Iraq has great economic potential and [has successfully confronted] arrogant U.S. policy." In November 1999, the two countries concluded a trade agreement in conjunction with Iraq's oil-for-food agreement with the UN. PM

CONCERN IN ALBANIA OVER REPATRIATION AGREEMENT

Several Tirana dailies wrote on 30 January that Albania will have difficulty carrying out its recent agreement with Germany to help repatriate 100,000 refugees from Germany to Kosova. "Gazeta Shqiptare" argued that the Albanian police do not have the manpower to protect the convoys of refugees from probable attacks by armed bandit gangs, dpa reported. Elsewhere, an Albanian Defense Ministry spokesman said that Germany has sent $3.5 million worth of military equipment to Albania "in recent years." Observers note that much of it comes from stocks of the former East German army. PM

ROMANIAN FORMER PREMIER MOVES TO FORM NEW PARTY

Radu Vasile on 28 January announced that he and 10 members of the National Peasants' Party Christian Democratic (PNT-CD) will leave that group and form their own political party. The group of defectors includes PNTC-CD Vice President Sorin Lepsa, who told a gathering of the party's top leadership on 28 January that he is "ashamed" of the way the party has performed in government. The defectors also accused the PNT- CD leadership of cronyism and adopting "dictatorial" stances. PNT-CD President Ion Diaconescu said at the meeting that Vasile has "proved his incapacity" as prime minister. Delegates elected Agriculture Minister Ioan Muresan as PNT-CD vice president and Remus Opris as secretary-general, Rompres reported. VG

ROMANIA'S MAIN RULING PARTY SUPPORTS PRESIDENT

The PNT-CD announced on 30 January that it will support President Emil Constantinescu for a second term in office, AP reported. Constantinescu, who was present at the party's meeting on 30 January, thanked the delegates. But he added that the PNT-CD must clarify allegations by some party members of corruption within the PNT-CD. He also said the alleged "profiteers" should "leave now." In other news, the former leader of the Democratic Agrarian Party, Victor Surdu, has announced his membership in the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, Mediafax reported on 28 January. And the previous day, the Federation of Rail Unions signed a protocol with the national railway company management whereby wage increases are tied to the company's monthly revenues. VG

REPUBLICA MOVEMENT OFFICIALLY SUPPORTS MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT

The Republica social movement announced at its general assembly on 29 January that it supports President Petru Lucinschi's intention to modify the country's constitution, BASA-Press reported. Republica submitted to the president lists containing some 500,000 signatures in support of the president's aims. Former Interior Minister Mihai Plamadeala, who was elected chairman of the Republica Presidium at the general assembly, said the organization wants all political forces in the country to sign a "pact of social consensus." In addition to calling for a "tightening" of executive power, Plamadeala called for revoking parliamentary deputies' immunity, the establishment of a national anti-corruption program, and an increase in local authorities' powers. Lucinschi, who attended the meeting, said Republica's ideas "perfectly coincide" with his own. In other news, Romanian President Constantinescu on 28 January granted Lucinschi The Star of Romania award for his contribution to "fraternal relations" between their two countries and also in recognition of the Moldovan leader's 60th birthday, Infotag reported. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH KOSOVA ALBANIAN LEADER

Hashim Thaci, the head of the former Kosova Liberation Army, on 29 January said he is confident Kosova will eventually gain its independence from Serbia through a referendum, Reuters reported. Thaci, who heads the Democratic Progress Party of Kosova, made his comments after meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov in Sofia. Thaci said he believes that "Bulgaria under Kostov will continue to be a stabilizing factor in the Balkans." Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians in Macedonia, said "we need the support of important external factors like Bulgaria and Kosova for the stabilization of Macedonia." Both ethnic Albanian leaders stressed that they want closer ties with Bulgaria but added that such ties should not be based on what Thaci described as "anti-Serbian feelings." VG

BULGARIAN ETHNIC TURKISH LEADER WANTS TO CHANGE CONSTITUTION

The leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), Ahmed Dogan, on 30 January repeated his recent call for the Bulgarian Constitution to be changed to recognize ethnic minorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000). Dogan made the comment after being re-elected leader of the MRF at a party congress on 30 January. Thaci and Xhaferi attended that meeting. In other news, Bulgarian parliamentary deputies on 28 January approved agreements with NATO on Bulgaria's participation in KFOR, BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2000). VG

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS VETOES

Petar Stoyanov on 28 January explained his decision to veto recent amendments to the Penal Code dealing with punishments for violating libel laws and committing crimes under the influence of drugs, BTA reported. Stoyanov said that while he agrees with the parliament's decision to abolish prison sentences for libel and defamation, he believes the fines that have been imposed instead are too high. He added that amendments dealing with the punishment of crimes committed under the influence of drugs are not consistent with the trend of liberalization in Bulgaria. VG




CROATIA TURNS ITS BACK ON TUDJMAN LEGACY


By Andrej Krickovic

The ruling Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) resounding defeat in the recent parliamentary and presidential elections signals a turning point for Croatia. The country's citizens flocked to the polls to vote out the HDZ with the same sense of urgency and enthusiasm they had in 1990, when they ousted the communist regime and supported Croatian independence. Only a few weeks have passed since the death of President Franjo Tudjman, but the citizens of Croatia have already turned their backs on his legacy with breathtaking speed.

It is telling that the candidate who gained the most votes in the first round of the presidential elections, Stipe Mesic, was also the most uncompromising in his criticism of Tudjman's regime. In fact, the three leading candidates--including the HDZ's Mate Granic--all promised to reduce the extensive powers of the presidency, cut aid to the Herzegovinian Croats, and support the return of Serbian refugees who fled Croatia during the war. Tudjman would have regarded such policies as treason.

Even Granic sought to distance himself from Tudjman's legacy. When speaking about Tudjman during the campaign, he sought to emphasize the role he himself had played as foreign minister in moderating the late president's nationalism and anti-Western policies. Meanwhile, the HDZ has been paralyzed by Tudjman's failure to organize an orderly succession. Instead, the party shows every sign of rapid fragmentation and may not last as a unified party much longer. Tudjman was very much a nationalist of the old school and an authoritarian at heart. He believed in the sanctity of the nation and nation-state. He regarded the continuation of HDZ rule and his grandiose project to annex a piece of Bosnia-Herzegovina for Croatia to be matters of national survival. And he also surrounded himself with a motley crew of radical emigres (many of whom had ties to the fascist World War II Croatian regime), mediocre nationalist writers, regime journalists, as well as other opportunists and "yes- men" whose loyalty to him was unquestioning. For years, this new elite was able to bully and manipulate the public into backing Tudjman's policies and voting for the HDZ. Any figure of any prominence who opposed these goals was labeled a traitor and could expect to be hounded by the loyalist state press or spied on by the secret police.

Ten years ago, Croatia voted in Tudjman and the HDZ on a wave of nationalistic euphoria. Most Croats wholeheartedly backed Tudjman's drive for Croatian independence and even accepted his xenophobic and paranoid statements about foreign anti-Croatian conspiracies during the 1991-1995 war. Such statements were welcomed by those who were frustrated with the West's unwillingness to intervene against Serbian aggression.

Yet Tudjman's nationalist message began to lose its appeal in peace time. Citizens became dissatisfied with his autocratic and arrogant style of rule. They were also angered by the financial scandals that dogged the new ruling elite, including Tudjman's own family. But despite the system's increasing public unpopularity and the growth of support for the opposition Social Democrats, the system continued to function as long as the "old man" was still alive but came crashing down like a house of cards when the main player--the man whom it was all designed to serve--left the political scene.

In retrospect, it is probable that Tudjman's system of values was never really accepted by a majority of Croatian citizens. The hopes and dreams of most of Croatia's citizens focus on economic prosperity and acceptance as a normal European country. In the end, voters realized that Tudjman's regime could not offer them anything more than economic misery, corruption, and international isolation.

The international community now has high hopes for Croatia. The country is the first of the big three (Bosnia and Serbia being the other two) that were involved in the wars of the Yugoslav succession to vote out its nationalist regime. Both the EU and the U.S. hope that democratic and economic reforms in Croatia will provide a shining example for Serbia, Bosnia, and other countries in the region that have lagged behind in the reform process.

The road ahead will be difficult. The HDZ has left behind a myriad of social and economic problems. The new government will have to maintain its unity and stick to its course if it wants to solve these problems and keep the confidence of its citizens. If it falters, however, Tudjman's political successors may benefit from a public backlash. Nevertheless, there will be no going back. The arrogant and intractable policies that proved an obstacle to the country's democratic development seem to have been laid to rest with the late president. The author is a Zagreb-based writer (akrickovic@aol.com)


XS
SM
MD
LG