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Newsline - February 10, 2000




PRO-RUSSIAN CHECHEN COMMANDER DENIES HOLDING BABITSKII

RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii was sighted on 8 February in the Russian-controlled Chechen town of Gudermes, Mario Corti, acting director of RFE/RL's Russian Service, told Ekho Moskvy on 9 February. Corti said eyewitnesses had told RFE/RL that Babitskii's face was badly beaten and his clothing bloodstained, according to AP. Also on 9 February, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin demanded that Russian officials tell the truth about Babitskii's detention and subsequent handover to unidentified men, Reuters reported. On 10 February, former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov rejected as "total invention" Corti's 9 February suggestion that the men to whom Babitskii was apparently handed over last week might be members of Gantemirov's pro-Moscow volunteer militia, Reuters reported, citing Interfax. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG PROTESTS ATROCITIES AGAINST CHECHEN CIVILIANS

Human Rights Watch on 10 February released a report detailing arbitrary executions by Russian soldiers of Chechen civilians in Grozny in late January. According to that report, at least 38 people were killed in Staropromyslovskii Raion, and as many as another 12 in other parts of the capital. HRW Director Holly Carter called on acting Rusian President Vladimir Putin to launch an investigation of the killings. LF

MOSCOW AGAIN CASTIGATES PAKISTAN FOR HOSTING CHECHEN OFFICIAL

In a statement issued on 9 February, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that Islamabad's willingness to allow former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev to continue conducting an "anti-Russian campaign" in Pakistan has harmed bilateral relations, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. It claimed that Yandarbiev is openly propagating "terrorism and separatism" with the Pakistani leadership's tacit support. The Russian Foreign Ministry had raised the question of Yandarbiev's presence in Pakistan, where he reportedly met with senior officials last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). LF

CHECHENS SABOTAGE MILITARY TRAIN

A detachment of Chechen fighters on 9 February planted three mines that blew up a military train used to repair rail tracks near Argun, ITAR- TASS reported. The Chechens, retreated after a protracted exchange of fire with federal forces, according to AP, quoting a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman. Also on 9 February, Russian military aircraft continued bombing raids on villages in southern Chechnya, using 1.5 ton bombs for the first time, Interfax reported. LF

RUSSIA PLANS ECONOMIC STRANGLEHOLD ON CHECHNYA

Following the systematic destruction in recent weeks of clandestine mini- oil refineries in districts of Chechnya controlled by Russian forces, the Russian government has decided to hand over all functioning oil-sector facilities in Chechnya to the state- owned oil company Rosneft, Interfax reported on 8 February, quoting an unnamed Russian Fuel and Energy Ministry official. Rosneft will also "temporarily" acquire the right to exploit oil and gas fields in Chechnya. Illicit oil extraction and refining was virtually the only branch of the Chechen economy still functioning after the devastation of the 1994-1996 war. LF

PUTIN SUGGESTS POSSIBILITY OF REFERENDUM ON LAND SALES...

In a telephone exchange with readers of the newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 9 February, acting President Putin suggested that Russia may hold a referendum on allowing private land sales, explaining that "it must not be just a closed circle that decides this issue." Putin added that for "technical reasons" it would not be possible to hold such a referendum before or at the same time as the 26 March presidential elections. The next day, the new chairman of the State Duma's Legislation Committee Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces) told Ekho Moskvy that he hopes Duma deputies will discuss the Land Code during their spring session. He added that the discussion is certain to "arouse heated political debate." JAC

...AND RETURN OF CHUBAIS TO THE CABINET...

Asked about the possibility of "market liberals" such as Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais returning to the cabinet, Putin said that Chubais "should be asked if he is ready to return to administrative bodies. I am not sure that he wants this. He likes his job at EES." Meanwhile, Chubais and EES have been the subject of much criticism over the past few weeks, "Vremya MN" reported on 8 February. According to the daily, the main critic is Fuel Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii, who has said Chubais should be fired. Putin himself also criticized Chubais last week, saying that "if EES were able to collect at least 30-35 percent of its revenue in cash instead of 20 percent," it would not need to raise electricity tariffs. However, the newspaper claims that Kremlin sources say Putin misspoke and that former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais continues to enjoy better access to Putin than business magnate Boris Berezovskii. JAC

...WHILE COMMENTING ON POWER-SHARING TREATY WITH TATARSTAN

Putin also discussed relations between the federal center and Russian regions with a young man from Tatarstan. According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, Putin said that the interests of federation subjects will by no means be restricted. He added that "the power-sharing treaty between Tatarstan and Russia allows for stability but nothing is frozen and everything continues to develop." Last week, Putin said he wants to declare war on the "legal chaos" in the regions because a number of "laws of a number of federation subjects conflict with federal legislation." For his part, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev agreed it is necessary to bring the constitutions of the Russian Federation and Tatarstan into agreement but noted that Tatarstan's Constitution was adopted before that of the federation (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 February 2000). JAC

ELECTION HEAD SAYS 'QUESTIONS' EXIST ABOUT TATARSTAN BALLOTING

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 8 February that the commission has "questions" about how the 19 December State Duma elections were conducted in Tatarstan. According to Interfax, Veshnyakov did not exclude the possibility that members of the Central Election Commission would establish a special team for verifying results in Tatarstan and other regions. The same day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov repeated accusations that votes were stolen from his party in Tatarstan as well as in other regions. Deputy Chair of Tatarstan's Election Commission Lyubov Guseva told reporters on 9 February that her commission is ready for any kind of examination of their activities. She added that so far the republic has not been notified of any such inspections by the Central Election Commission. JAC

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS HE'S STAYING...

Acting President Putin said on 9 February that reports of the dismissals of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo are false. He suggested that the rumors were being "spread deliberately to upset the command of the armed forces." Sergeev said the same day that he "has no plans at present" to resign. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" concluded that the rumors are being circulated to discredit either Putin in the eyes of the armed forces, Sergeev, "who supposedly ought to be 'demobilized' on account of his age [60]," or State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Nikolaev, the latter by deleting his name from the "Kremlin's reserve personnel list because he is an intriguer." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. Nikolaev was mentioned in several reports as Sergeev's replacement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2000). JAC

...AS DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS

Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov has resigned. According to "Vremya MN" on 9 February, Kolesnikov was an "old-timer" at the ministry and Rushailo decided to try to get rid of him by sending him on innumerable business trips. "Kommersant- Daily" commented the same day that Kolesnikov has for several years been one of the main contenders for the post of interior minister. JAC

RUSSIA, NORTH KOREA PUT RELATIONS ON NEW FOOTING

Meeting in Pyongyang on 9 February, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and his North Korean counterpart, Paek Nam Sun, signed a "treaty of friendship, good-neighborliness, and cooperation," which, they said, signals the start of "a new stage in the development of mutual relations," Western agencies reported, citing North Korea's official KCNA agency. Those relations, Ivanov was quoted as saying, should be improved "in many areas." The treaty replaces a 1961 accord between the former USSR and North Korea, which was scrapped by Moscow some five years ago following the cooling of bilateral relations after the Soviet Union opened diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1990. Unlike its predecessor, the new treaty does not obligate Moscow to provide military assistance in the event that Pyongyang comes under attack by a foreign aggressor. Ivanov is due to arrive in Japan on 10 February for a three- day visit. JC

MOSCOW SAYS SIGNING OF PEACE TREATY WITH JAPAN THIS YEAR 'UNLIKELY'

Ahead of his visit to Japan, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov was quoted by the Japan's Kyodo news agency on 9 February as saying that it is "highly unlikely" that Russia and Japan will conclude a peace treaty this year, despite a 1997 agreement to that effect. Ivanov elaborated that it is a "fantasy" to believe that an accord ending World War II hostilities will be signed "within a set period of time." A Japanese government spokesman responded that Tokyo nonetheless will not give up hope that the treaty will be signed before year's end. At issue is sovereignty over the four Kuril Islands, seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The treaty is expected to be discussed when Ivanov meets with his Japanese counterpart, Yohei Kono, on 11 February. JC

NATO DENIES ROBERTSON'S VISIT POSTPONED

A NATO official on 9 February denied that Russia has postponed or cancelled a planned visit to Moscow by the alliance's secretary-general, Lord Robertson (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2000), Reuters reported. "The visit is not off, nor is it postponed, since no date has been set," the official commented, adding that NATO hopes it will take place in the "very near future." Military experts in Moscow, meanwhile, maintained that Robertson is likely to put off his visit until after the 26 March presidential elections. JC

FOREIGN MINISTRY REPEATS CONCERNS ABOUT RUSSIAN LANGUAGE USE IN UKRAINE

The Russian Foreign Ministry has leaked another statement to the Russian press about its concerns over the situation facing Russian-language speakers in Ukraine. Interfax reported on 9 February that it has obtained a ministry statement saying that "certain forces in Ukraine appear to create an unprecedented phenomenon in Europe, that is, exiling the native language of the overwhelming majority of the people, reducing it to a marginal level, and possibly ousting it completely." The ministry statement cites a draft government decree dealing with "additional measures to broaden the spheres of Ukrainian as the state language." JAC

RUSSIA TO TAKE MORE PROPERTY FROM MOLDOVA...

The Russian government has agreed to restructure Moldova's debt over a "long" period following Moldovan Prime Minister Dumitru Barghis's visit to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. The agency provided no details of the agreement and mentioned only that it includes the transfer of property as one means of paying Moldova's debt. During his visit, Barghis met with First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. JAC

...AS FOREIGN INVESTORS TO GET BIGGER CHUNK OF GAZPROM

Gazprom senior official Sergei Dubinin told reporters on 8 February that Gazprom will continue issuing American Depository Receipts (ADRs) so that within four years the stake of foreign investors might increase to 20 percent. Gazprom's board of directors will consider the plan for the sale of ADRs at a meeting on 14 February, Interfax reported. JAC

LEBED FOE TO LEAD PUTIN CAMPAIGN EFFORT IN KRASNOYARSK

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 February that the presidential administration has suggested appointing former Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Valerii Zubov to head acting President Putin's campaign office in the krai. Regional authorities later decided to give the post to Krasnoyarsk Krai's presidential representative. However, Zubov got the job of organizing Putin's presidential campaign in the region. Zubov is a rival of current Governor Aleksandr Lebed, who has accused him and his associates of corruption. A number of Zubov's former associates have been the subject of criminal investigations by the krai's prosecutor. The newspaper, which is financed by business magnate Boris Berezovskii, concluded that "the situation should give Lebed pause." JAC




AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DECIDES ON MASS PROTESTS

Meeting in Baku on 9 February, the 10 opposition parties aligned in the Democratic Congress decided to launch mass protests to demand the resignation of the government, Turan reported. Participants also adopted a statement addressed to the U.S. State Department, international human rights organizations, and NGOs protesting the 7 February attack on the headquarters of the Musavat Party and the newspaper "Yeni Musavat." LF

ARMY COLONEL ARRESTED IN AZERBAIJAN

Police on 9 February arrested Colonel Rasim Alekperov, commander of an army brigade stationed in Geranboi Raion, and his brother Agasy, Turan and Interfax reported on 9 February. Citing Azerbaijani press reports, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported that on 5 February Azerbaijani special forces units had advanced on the Geranboi base in order to apprehend Rasim Akperov, who is a self-declared opponent of President Heidar Aliev. According to a subsequent statement issued by the National Security Ministry, a search of the home of their father, a former police chief in Geranboy, yielded an arms cache. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT

In his annual address to the Georgian parliament, Eduard Shevardnadze predicted on 9 February that within four or five years Georgia will succeed in making the transition from a recipient of international aid to a strong state and reliable partner, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. He added that this year will prove crucial for that transition. At the same time, Shevardnadze conceded that Georgia faces serious economic problems, as demonstrated by the failure to meet last year's budget targets. He also said that Georgia has drafted and will soon adopt a new national security concept. Responding to Shevardnadze's address, opposition faction leaders Djemal Gogitidze and Gogi Topadze criticized Tbilisi's policy toward Georgia's autonomous Republic of Adjaria and the refusal of the parliament majority to agree to amendments to the election law (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 5, 4 February 2000). LF

CIS PEACEKEEPING COMMANDER ACCUSES GEORGIA OF VIOLATING CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT

Major-General Sergei Korobko, who commands the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, has accused Georgia of violating the Abkhaz cease-fire agreement concluded in May 1994, Caucasus Press reported on 9 February. Under that agreement, Georgia is allowed to station 367 police in Zugdidi Raion, while Abkhazia may deploy 320 militiamen in neighboring Gali Raion. Korobko claimed that under pressure from the radical Abkhaz government in exile, Georgia currently has an entire Interior Ministry battalion in Zugdidi. Under an agreement signed last week, both Georgia and Abkhazia undertook to reduce the number of their forces in the conflict zone to the maximum permitted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). Georgian Interior Ministry forces commander Giorgi Shervashidze rejected Korobko's allegation as untrue but declined to give the precise number of Interior Ministry troops currently in Zugdidi. He added that the battalion in Zugdidi is guarding strategic locations. LF

ELEVENTH PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL IN GEORGIA

The president of the Corporation of Independent Lawyers, Kartlos Gharibashvili, announced on 9 February that he intends to run in the 9 April presidential election, Caucasus Press reported. Gharibashvili, 46, was one of six candidates in the November 1995 presidential election but garnered only 0.4 percent of the vote. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT ENUMERATES GOVERNMENT PRIORITIES

Addressing an expanded cabinet meeting on 9 February, Nursultan Nazarbaev said that the government formed last October must set about solving "systemic problems" it inherited from previous cabinets, Interfax reported. Among those problems, Nazarbaev named improving the social climate, making management more efficient, eliminating disparities in the level of economic development between the country's oblasts, and restructuring the economy to give precedence to the processing sector rather than the extraction of raw materials. Qasymzhomart Toqaev told the same cabinet session that the government plans to make 2000 a year of "intensive privatization," Interfax reported. He added that only key companies and national monopolies will remain state-owned, including the power transmission grid KEGOC, the railways, Kazakhoil, and Kaztransoil. LF

TAJIK FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER'S CAR COMES UNDER FIRE

Unidentified persons opened fire from two unmarked cars on the motorcade of First Deputy Premier Ali Akbar Turadjonzoda as it traveled from Dushanbe to Turadjonzoda's hometown of Kofarnihon, 20 kilometers east of the capital, on 7 February, Asia Plus-Blitz reported three days later. No one was injured, but two cars in Turadjonzoda's motorcade were damaged. The agency quoted the first deputy premier as saying he believes the shooting was a case of mistaken identity. LF




BELARUSIAN OFFICER SAYS POLICE PROVOKED 'FREEDOM MARCH' CLASHES

Aleh Baturyn published an open letter in the 10 February issue of the independent "Narodnaya volya," accusing the police of deliberately provoking clashes during the opposition Freedom March in Minsk on 17 October 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999). Baturyn confessed that he, along with other plainclothes police officers, was ordered to mingle with the marchers "to provoke clashes, shout abusive slogans, and lead the people to where the police needed them." The Belarusian Interior Ministry confirmed to an RFE/RL Minsk correspondent that Baturyn is employed by the ministry's personnel department, but it refused to give his address. "We have the letter signed by the author and do not doubt its authenticity," "Narodnaya volya" chief editor Iosif Syaredzich told RFE/RL. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CONTINUES ITS WORK, BUT MINORITY REMAINS DEFIANT

The parliament continued its session on 9 February, with 242 majority deputies participating and minority lawmakers remaining unregistered for the session, Interfax reported. "The situation is developing in the right direction," majority coordinator Leonid Kravchuk told Reuters. Majority lawmakers debated three draft bills on referenda and decided to take one of them as a "basis" for further discussion. Communist Petro Symonenko demanded that the parliament hold a repeat vote on all resolutions adopted by the majority, Socialist Oleksandr Moroz announced that his caucus will remain in opposition to the majority. Eleven lawmakers from Natalya Vitrenko's Progressive Socialist Party left the parliamentary hall, pledging to return only after a Constitutional Court ruling on the legislative crisis. JM

KYIV COURT SAYS MINORITY LEADERSHIP'S BEHAVIOR 'ILLEGAL'

A district court in Kyiv on 9 February ruled that former speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and his deputy, Adam Martynyuk, took "illegal" action by preventing the majority from entering the parliamentary building and by not allowing the newly elected parliamentary leadership to take its place in the parliamentary presidium, Interfax reported. The court ordered that Tkachenko hand over the parliamentary seals to the new leadership. It also obliged the parliamentary guard to ensure that the new leadership is protected from "illegal attempts" on the part of "some people's deputies." Moroz commented on the verdict by saying that a district court has no right "to meddle in affairs that are questionable from a constitutional viewpoint." JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO RE-EXAMINE TKACHENKO'S 'CASE'

Mykhaylo Potebenko on 9 February said he will re- examine the case of the Zemlya i lyudi (Soil and People) association headed by Oleksandr Tkachenko, which has not repaid credits worth $70 million, Interfax reported. In 1993, Tkachenko's association obtained U.S. credits for an agricultural project that resulted in losses covered by a state bank. An investigation against Tkachenko was dropped in 1998 after what many commentators believed to be a deal between Tkachenko and President Leonid Kuchma. Tkachenko reportedly pledged to support presidential policies if Kuchma supported Tkachenko's bid to become parliamentary speaker. Potebenko denied that Tkachenko's case has been reopened because of the former speaker's current opposition to Kuchma. JM

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS EU STRATEGY

Lawmakers on 9 February adopted the country's EU integration strategy, BNS reported. The measure was approved by a vote of 77 to two, but some opposition politicians called the document "sloppy," "lacking in political perspective," and "hardly a strategy." The vote comes just ahead of the arrival of European Commission President Romano Prodi and Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen for a two-day visit to Latvia. During the parliamentary debate on the strategy, a group of young Euro-skeptics protested outside the parliament during the debate, with one activist arguing that "it is far from true that all Latvian residents want to become citizens without any rights in a pan-continental organization." Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, speaking elsewhere, suggested that "Euro-skeptics are misinformed Euro- optimists." MH

LITHUANIAN EX-PREMIER TO BE QUESTIONED OVER RUSSIAN CRIMINAL ALLEGATIONS

Prosecutor-General Kazys Pednycia told the parliament on 8 February that Russian prosecutors are requesting legal assistance in a case involving the head of the Liberal Union and former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, BNS reported. Pednycia said Russian investigators would like Paksas to answer 13 questions related to a money transfer in 1996 from a construction project in Russia to his personal bank account in Austria. Paksas earlier denied any wrongdoing, saying the transfer took place to protect his company during a Lithuanian banking crisis and noting that all funds have since been returned. Earlier requests for assistance in the investigation were not dealt with by Vilnius prosecution officials. The head of the Vilnius Prosecutor-General's Office, Virginijus Sabutis, has since been reprimanded. MH

POLISH PREMIER PLEDGES TO IMPROVE PUBLIC SECURITY

Jerzy Buzek on 9 February said the Interior Ministry's newly drafted program for combating crime will allow security in the country to be "effectively improved," PAP reported. The program calls for expanding the powers of the law enforcement bodies, simplifying police procedures, creating a Center of Criminal Information, and introducing the post of financial information inspector. Buzek added that there are sufficient budget funds for the implementation of all measures envisioned in the program. JM

JEWS SEEK EU SUPPORT FOR PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN POLAND

Holocaust survivors met with European Parliament representatives in Brussels on 9 February to seek ways to press the Polish government to take measures toward the restitution of former Jewish property, AP reported. Gary Titley, a British Labour Party member of the European Parliament, said Poland must resolve the problem of Jewish property restitution before entering the EU. Mel Urbach, a U.S. lawyer representing 11 claimants in a class action suit against Poland (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 10 August 1999), stressed the need for a quick resolution of the case, noting that the average age of the claimants is 83. The Polish parliament is currently working on a reprivatization bill to address property restitution claims, but neither the extent of the restitution nor how long it will take to pass the necessary legislation is known. JM

CZECHS PROTEST EU COMMISSIONER STATEMENT

Pavel Telicka, chief Czech negotiator for EU accession, on 9 February said he cannot accept the statement made one day earlier by EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen that the EU must first approve a document on institutional reform within its ranks before eastward expansion can begin, AP and CTK reported. Telicka said that there is "no legal or factual reason" and "no convincing argument" why two processes cannot "run simultaneously." He said he previously received assurances from "many EU members" that this will be the case and that the Czech Republic's accession by 2003 is "feasible." MS

CZECH HEALTH MINISTER APPOINTED

President Vaclav Havel on 9 February appointed Brno medical faculty professor Bohumil Fiser as the country's health minister, CTK reported. Fiser's predecessor, Ivan David, resigned two months ago. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SUPPORTS ISRAEL'S STAND ON AUSTRIA...

Rudolf Schuster on 9 February said in Jerusalem that he supports Israel's decision to withdraw its ambassador from Vienna, following the formation of the People's Party-Freedom Party coalition, CTK reported, citing the Austrian APA agency. MS

...WHILE SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS CONGRATULATE SCHUESSEL

Pavol Hrusovsky, deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Party (KDH), told journalists on 9 February that a letter of congratulations sent by his party to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel was "within diplomatic practice" and by no means justifies suspicion that the KDH "sympathizes with any of the speeches attributed to one of the coalition partners" in the new Austrian government. He said there is much sympathy for Schuessel within the ranks of the KDH since the two parties share the Christian Democratic ideology. Asked why the KDH and the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) were the only formations to congratulate the new Austrian government, KDH parliamentary group chairman Frantisek Miklosko said that "only time will tell" whether other parties will follow their example or whether the SNS and the KDH "made a mistake." MS




WASHINGTON, LONDON BACK LIFTING SERBIAN FLIGHT BAN...

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC on 9 February that the U.K. and U.S. have agreed to a long-standing request by the Serbian opposition to lift the ban on civilian flights to Serbia. "In response to [the Serbian opposition's] approaches, we, like the United States, are willing to look at the suspension of the flight ban for a period of six months, [so that] the opposition can demonstrate to the people that we are willing to listen to those who represent the forces of democracy and future within Serbia," he said. The opposition has argued that some sanctions, like the flight ban, hit primarily ordinary Serbs and not the regime. Opposition leaders have also appealed to the EU and U.S. to lift some sanctions so that the opposition can demonstrate to voters that it is capable of delivering concrete benefits of importance to most Serbs. PM

...AND NEW MEASURES TARGETING BELGRADE REGIME

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said at a press conference with Cook in Washington on 9 February that the U.S. is willing to consider a partial "suspension" of sanctions. The move would, however, be conditional on the EU's agreeing to "other measures to strengthen, expand, and focus those sanctions which most effectively target the regime and its supporters," Reuters reported. The suspension will affect flights by European carriers but not flights by Serbia's airline JAT. The Belgrade daily "Danas" reported on 8 February that the EU will soon expand from 600 to 850 the number of names on its list of top Serbian and Yugoslav personalities banned from receiving visas for EU countries. Several EU governments have long been willing to ease sanctions but have encountered stiff opposition from the Netherlands, the U.K., and the U.S.. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION WANTS MILOSEVIC TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR KILLING

Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement said in a statement in Belgrade on 9 February that the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic, is "omnipotent" and therefore must accept responsibility for the recent murder of Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2000). The opposition Democratic Alternative said in a statement that "in a state in which residents drown in misery and crime, the last word has long belonged to one man and one woman. Only their exit...can solve problems in Serbia." PM

HAGUE COURT TO NAME BULATOVIC, TUDJMAN IN INDICTMENTS

A spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal said that Pavle Bulatovic and late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman will be named as "accomplices" in some unspecified future indictments for war crimes against third parties, the Rijeka- based daily "Novi List" reported on 10 February. The spokesman ruled out any indictment of Bulatovic or Tudjman themselves on the grounds that the tribunal does not carry out posthumous legal proceedings against individuals. PM

UN POLICE SEIZE HERZEGOVINIAN ARMS

An unspecified number of UN police confiscated illegal arms and telephone tapping equipment at police stations in Glamoc and Livno on 9 February. The raids yielded a "large quantity of weapons," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT ENDORSES GOVERNMENT PROGRAM

The parliament approved the government's four-year program aimed at promoting far-reaching changes in several areas of government and within society (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2000). Key points include fostering economic growth, cutting state expenditures, promoting employment, and reorganizing the intelligence services. PM

MACEDONIA EXPECTS SIGNIFICANT HELP

Speaking in Ottawa on 9 February, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said that his country expects a large influx of Western assistance following its support for NATO during the 1999 Kosova conflict. He said Macedonia took in 360,000 ethnic Albanian refugees, which led to expenses totaling $660 million, Reuters reported. "Unfortunately, [only] a very small amount of money has been donated to Macedonia, but we still hope that the international community will take care of this region," Trajkovski added. He argued that the EU's Balkan Stability Pact needs to assume the role of a "catalyst and coordinator" to promote regional reconstruction and development. PM

KOUCHNER BANS INCITEMENT IN KOSOVA

Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, issued a decree in Prishtina on 9 February prohibiting any activity aimed at promoting ethnic or religious intolerance, violence, or hatred. Those found violating the decree face stiff fines or jail sentences of up to 10 years, "Vesti" reported. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SATISFIED WITH U.K. VISIT

Wrapping up his three-day visit to the U.K. on 9 February, Emil Constantinescu said the two countries have "established a real and secure partnership." He said Premier Tony Blair and other officials with whom he met "re-confirmed" their support for Romania's integration into the EU and expressed readiness to help Bucharest achieve this goal. Among other things, they proposed "investments in strategic sectors of Romanian economy," an RFE/RL correspondent in London reported. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER APPEALS TO STRIKING TEACHERS

In an open letter to teachers, whose strike has entered a third week, Mugur Isarescu said the state of the economy is such that it is not possible to meet the teachers' demands for wage hikes, even if those demands are justified. Isarescu said there is little possibility that 4 percent of GDP can be allocated to education, as provided for by law. The government is meeting on 10 February to discuss allocations from the 2001 budget. With elections looming later this year, political parties ranging from the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic to the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (which is threatening to boycott parliamentary debates unless the 4 percent quota is met), have expressed support for the teachers' demands. Meanwhile, Education Minister Andrei Marga on 9 February said he will not withdraw his resignation unless 4 percent of GDP is allocated to education. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN COMMUNIST PREMIER DEAD

Ion Gheorghe Maurer, who was prime minister from 1961 to 1974, died on 9 February, aged 97, Romanian media reported. MS

NATO WILL NOT GET INVOLVED IN TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENT

NATO does not intend to become involved in the settlement of the Transdniester conflict and will not use the Marculesti air base in Moldova, a NATO representative in Brussels told Infotag on 9 February. The representative spoke ahead of the planned visit to Moldova of NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson on 10-11 February. Also on 9 February, Moldova's representative to the Partner for Peace program, Colonel Nicolae Turtureanu, rejected allegations by the separatist leadership in Tiraspol that the Marculesti base will be used by NATO, saying Moldova's offer to that effect was confined to the partnership's peace keeping and humanitarian activities. Turtureanu also said NATO has not responded to Moldova's offer to allow it to use the base, knowing that the reconstruction of the facility would be very costly and its use by the alliance "presumably too sensitive politically." MS

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN BULGARIA

Beginning a Balkan tour that will also take him to Bucharest and Chisinau, Lord Robertson said in Sofia on 9 February following talks with President Petar Stoyanov that Bulgaria is "an important strategic partner of NATO" but there is still "a long way to go" before it can achieve NATO membership. Robertson told journalists that Bulgaria and Romania should not see themselves as competing for membership in the alliance. "NATO membership is not some prize in a competition, but is a very tough test," he commented. Robertson added that Bulgaria has taken a step toward membership by reforming its armed forces and participating in the Partnership for Peace program, Reuters reported. Robertson is to meet with Premier Ivan Kostov and address the parliament on 10 February, before departing for Bucharest. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTY JAILED

A Bulgarian court on 9 February sentenced Tsvetelin Kanchev, a parliamentary deputy from the Euroleft Party, to six years in jail. Kanchev had been charged with extorting $2,000 by means of intimidation and use of force, Reuters and AP reported. He was also fined 6,000 leva ($3,000) and will have half of his property confiscated. The parliament lifted Kanchev's immunity last July. MS

BULGARIAN MEDICAL STAFF TO BE TRIED IN LIBYA

Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov told journalists on 9 February that six Bulgarian medical staff detained in Libya last year have been charged with spreading the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, and will be put on trial, Reuters reported. The five nurses and a doctor were detained in February 1999, together with 13 other Bulgarians who had worked in a Benghazi hospital and who were later freed. Vlaikov said that the Bulgarian authorities will try to secure defense lawyers, who, under Libyan law, must be Libyan citizens. MS




CHARISMA, MISTRUST DECIDE CROATIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS


By Andrej Krickovic

On 7 February, voters elected Stipe Mesic of the governing small four-party coalition to succeed the late President Franjo Tudjman. Mesic defeated Drazen Budisa, who was the candidate of the two-party coalition of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals, which is the larger partner in the new government. Mesic's victory is one of the biggest surprises in a campaign cycle that has transformed the Croatian political landscape and seen the country's electorate turn its back on the Tudjman legacy.

When the presidential campaign began, Mesic was an outsider whom many Croats considered a man from the past. He played a key role in the events leading up to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1990-1991, but in subsequent years he became a minor political figure. He now belongs to the tiny Croatian People's Party. Most popularity polls in early or mid-December gave him only 10 percent of the vote.

How was Mesic able to pull off this spectacular victory with more than 56 percent of the vote? There were little differences in the two candidates' platforms. Both promised a clean break from Tudjman's authoritarian and nationalistic legacy. Both vowed to reduce the powers of the presidency in favor of the parliament and the government, and both centered their campaign on promoting the country's entry into the EU and NATO.

But the two differed considerably in personality and style, and this was one of the keys to Mesic's victory. Budisa has excellent opposition credentials. Throughout his political career, he had been a political opponent of Tudjman's, while Mesic spent three years in Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) before breaking with his former boss. Budisa's seriousness and his tendency to lecture voters, however, reminded many of Tudjman. Some commentators even went so far as to call Budisa "Tudjman with a smile." Mesic's easygoing attitude and his penchant for telling jokes and stories appealed to voters because they were such a stark contrast to Tudjman's dour manner and stiffness.

The last two weeks of the election campaign, following the first round on 24 January, were particularly dirty. Most of the mudslinging came from the Budisa camp. Media close to him questioned the origins of Mesic's campaign financing and alleged that he had worked with the communist secret police. None of these accusations has held up to scrutiny. Nevertheless, Budisa seized on this chance to attack his opponent. He continually harped on those accusations--even though voters did not seem particularly interested. In the end, this negative campaigning backfired on Budisa because it reminded many of the tactics that Tudjman had employed against his political opponents.

Just as the two candidates differed little in their platforms, so they held similar positions on the three issues that most concern Croatia's Western partners. Both men promised to abandon support for Croatian separatists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, and to support the return of ethnic Serbian refugees who fled Croatia during the 1991-1995 war.

Budisa, however, has been more reserved on these issues than has Mesic. To some extent, he has adopted the former HDZ government's position by saying that he will not send to The Hague those documents relating to offensives that Croats carried out against rebel Serbs in 1995 and that he deems "vital to national security." He has also stopped short of making a clean break with Herzegovinian Croats, as Mesic has done. Instead, Budisa promised to continue to finance the Herzegovinians' military. These differences failed to attract much attention during the campaign--except among the Herzegovinians, who voted for Budisa en masse. But Budisa's stands on Herzegovina and The Hague could easily have led to serious problems in Croatia's relations with the international community.

One of the major issues now facing Croatia will be relations between the president and the new government. The country faces serious economic and social problems, as both governing coalitions pointed out during the election campaign. Croatia simply cannot afford a constitutional crisis or a delay in the government's reform efforts just because the president and government cannot work well together. Many Croatian opinion-makers chose to endorse Budisa precisely because he is from the larger coalition and would presumably cooperate with a cabinet dominated by that alliance.

Many voters, however, chose to support Mesic precisely because he is not affiliated with the large coalition. They are still skeptical about the new government's ability not to become corrupted by power. For that reason, they voted for Mesic from the smaller coalition because they did not want to recreate the monopoly of power that they previously gave Tudjman and the HDZ.

In the end, voters chose Mesic because of his charisma and his promise to keep the new government in check. Whether this turns out to be a wise choice will depend on Mesic's willingness to accept cuts in the powers of the presidency--a move that all parties support--and on his ability to cooperate with the government in dealing with the serious social and economic problems the country faces. The author is a Zagreb-based writer (akrickovic@aol.com.)


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