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Newsline - February 25, 2000




NTV SHOWS FOOTAGE OF CHECHEN MASS GRAVE

NTV on 25 February broadcast footage acquired from the German television station N24 showing soldiers loading male corpses from a Russian military vehicle into a mass grave, Western agencies reported. The men's ankles were bound with wire, and one of the corpses had been mutilated, according to AP. Human Rights Watch reporter Malcolm Hawke told Reuters that the film footage "looks authentic" and raises "very serious questions about the treatment of Chechen prisoners of war." But Russian officials said the film does not substantiate Western allegations that Russian soldiers massacred Chechen civilians. Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said it is "too early" to draw a conclusion, while Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich claimed the footage is a "falsification" and that the dead Chechens must have been killed in battle, Reuters reported. LF

INTERIOR MINISTRY ANTICIPATES ONGOING GUERRILLA ATTACKS

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said in Moscow on 24 February that the war in Chechnya must be ended before the spring thaw, but denied that there is a specific deadline for doing so, according to Interfax. But Deputy Interior Minister Colonel-General Igor Zubov warned on 24 February that even after the military operation in Chechnya is over, gunmen will be hiding among the peaceful population ready to destabilize the situation, ITAR-TASS reported. In the most recent of a series of such hit-and-run attacks, unidentified fighters opened fire on a Russian sentry post in Nozhai-Yurt and the local administration building in Urus-Martan. LF

PUTIN AGAIN AFFIRMS READINESS FOR CHECHEN TALKS

Speaking to Radio Baltika in St. Petersburg on 24 February, acting Russian President Vladimir Putin again said there are unspecified "forces" in Chechnya with whom peace talks could be held but that such talks are possible only after the successful completion of the "anti-terrorist" campaign, Russian media reported. He added that it will be possible to find a suitable model that would guarantee Chechnya broad autonomy within the Russian Federation, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 25 February. LF

BORDER GUARDS DENY BABITSKII WAS IN GEORGIA

The Georgian Border Guard Service on 24 February rejected unconfirmed Russian media reports that missing RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii was sighted in the Georgian village of Shatili, close to the Georgian-Chechen border, on 19 February as disinformation intended to discredit Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

U.S. SENATOR CALLS FOR LINKING SUMMIT WITH BABITISKII AFFAIR

U.S. Senator (Republican) Jesse Helms, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on U.S. President Bill Clinton on 24 February not to hold a summit with acting President Putin until a full account of the whereabouts of RFE/RL reporter Babitskii has been given, AP reported. Helms said "it is premature to consider summit meetings at a time when the Russian government remains contemptuously dismissive of Babitskii and our concerns about his safety, not to mention the international community's call for a just peace in Chechnya." Helms added that although no summit has been announced, it is common knowledge in both countries' capitals that one is being planned soon. JAC

U.S. EXPORT-IMPORT BANK TO RESUME LENDING TO RUSSIA?

Michael Carter, the World Bank's country director for Russia, announced on 24 February that the bank is likely to delay the next installment of its coal sector loan for at least two months, AP reported. Carter was quoted as saying that "the main issue at this point is simply that there are a substantial number of steps which remain to be taken to meet the conditions of that tranche." Meanwhile, Aleksandr Livshits, presidential envoy to the Group of Seven countries, said he expects the U.S. Export-Import Bank to unblock loan guarantees for Russia in the coming months, Interfax reported on 24 February. That bank delayed approving $500 million in credits for the Tyumen Oil company last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1999). At the time, some Russian officials linked the decision with U.S. displeasure over Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. JAC

GROUPS, COMPANIES COMPETE TO SUPPORT PUTIN...

"Vedomosti" reported on 24 February that the campaign to elect acting President Putin has attracted an array of Russian companies. In addition to Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems, the board of LUKoil and its trade unions released a statement urging "shareholders, employees, and executives" to support Putin, while Surgutneftegaz dispatched one of its vice presidents to head the St. Petersburg initiative group for Putin. The newspaper added that some political consultants believe that a list exists of 25 "lucky" companies that will be "allowed" to sponsor the elections. "Vremya MN" reported the same day that competing groups have formed in regions such as Tula, Krasnodar, and Sakhalin Oblasts as well as Chukotka Autonomous Okrug; these groups are vying to become the official branch of Unity. In Samara Oblast, a group headed by Samara Mayor Georgii Limanskii and another one headed by AutoVAZ head Vladimir Kadannikov have both formed Unity branches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2000). JAC

...AS ANALYST PREDICTS SECOND ROUND

Center for Strategic Analysis head Dmitrii Olshanskii told reporters on 24 February that acting President Putin's support is below 50 percent "according to our latest research," Reuters reported. Olshanskii said that while some polls may show Putin with more than 60 percent of voters' support, not all Putin's supporters will show up to vote on 26 March. Therefore, a second round will be held in which the two leading vote- getters will take part. Olshanskii also predicted that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev might get 10 and 8 percent respectively. In a press conference the same day, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said that if the Supreme Court does not overturn the Central Election Commission's decision banning him from elections, then about 70 percent of his supporters will vote for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 February. JAC

PUTIN AGAIN CALLS FOR RULE OF LAW IN RUSSIA...

In an open letter to voters published by "Izvestiya" on 25 February, Acting President Putin called for strengthening order in Russia and fighting growing crime. He said that one of Russia's biggest problems is the "absence of solid and universally recognized rules." He continued "with a weak government, the individual is defenseless and not free. The stronger the government, the stronger personal freedom.... Democracy is a dictatorship of the law." He added that the "state must begin with itself. It must establish equal rules and abide by them." Among Russia's priorities are fighting poverty and defending Russia's new market economy against criminal and bureaucratic "encroachments." JAC

...EMERGES AS DEFENDER OF PRESS FREEDOM?

Speaking to Radio Baltika on 24 February after attending the funeral of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak on 24 February (see below), acting President Putin said that "the ordinary man" can be protected from "witch-hunting" and "persecution" only by protecting the principles of democracy that Sobchak himself had sought to defend. In particular, Putin noted that "one of the major institutions of human rights are free mass media. They have to stand in the way of those officials who abuse office and follow selfish political aims," ITAR-TASS reported. JC

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' AIR TIME DISTRIBUTED

The Central Election Commission on 24 February announced its distribution of free television air time among presidential candidates. According to "The Moscow Times" on 25 February, half of the free air time is devoted to debates, and if candidates choose not to participate, then they lose that time. According to "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, Putin's staff reports that their candidate is still considering whether to participate in the debates. JAC

PUTIN SAYS SOBCHAK HOUNDED TO DEATH...

Acting President Putin joined tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Petersburg on 24 February to pay their last respects to former Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, a leader of the reform movement that began in the late 1980s. Sobchak, who died of a heart attack last weekend in Kaliningrad Oblast, was buried at the Aleksandr Nevsky Monastery, alongside slain reformist State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, according to the "Moscow Times." Speaking to Radio Baltika, Putin commented that Sobchak "did not die, he fell victim to persecution," alluding to the corruption charges that were brought against the former mayor after he left office. The funeral took place under tight security following an alleged threat by Chechens to kill Putin. JC

...AS YAKOVLEV STAYS AWAY FROM FUNERAL

Many other representatives of Russia's political elite attended Sobchak's funeral, including United Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Union of Rightist Forces co-leader Irina Khakamada, Yabloko leader Yavlinskii, former Premier Sergei Stepashin, and businessman and State Duma deputy Boris Berezovskii. Also present was Sergei Stankevich, a former aide to President Boris Yeltsin. This was Stankevich's first trip to Russia since fleeing to Poland in 1995 amid corruption allegations. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, however, opted not to attend the funeral, following a public warning by Sobchak's widow to stay away (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2000). Yakovlev, who did not attend Starovoitova's funeral either, told ITAR-TASS on 24 February he had taken the decision not to "cause embarrassment." The same day, he met with Putin behind closed doors in St. Petersburg to discuss "economic matters," according to the governor's spokesman. JC

IVANOV SAYS WEST GIVES UNFAIR PRESS TO RUSSIA, BELARUS, YUGOSLAVIA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Minsk on 24 February that the West is not objective in its coverage of Russia and Belarus, Reuters reported. "What we want above all from international organizations is greater objectivity on events in Belarus, in the Balkans, and in Russia," he commented, adding that Western countries should recognize the "policy of openness and clarity pursued by Russia and Belarus." With regard to Chechnya, Ivanov commented that 90 percent of Chechen territory has been "freed from terrorists" and life is "returning to normal in the republic." "One should talk about this," he argued, "not about civilian deaths." JC

SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD WARNS RUSSIA MAY WITHDRAW PEACEKEEPERS FROM KOSOVA

Sergei Ivanov has renewed threats that Moscow may withdraw its peacekeepers from Kosova following the recent escalation of tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the divided town of Mitrovica, Interfax reported on 24 February. In an official statement to the Canadian ambassador, Ivanov said that developments in the Yugoslav province and the failure to implement UN resolutions "may oblige Russia's leadership to re-examine whether the presence of its peacekeeping contingent in the region is appropriate." JC

TRADE MINISTER WARNS GOVERNMENT NOT TO RELY ON ENERGY, METALS EXPORTS...

Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov called on the government to pay more attention to long-range planning regarding Russian exports, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 25 February. According to Fradkov, "the possibilities for the further development of Russian natural resource exports [such as oil, gas, ferrous, and non-ferrous metals] have practically been exhausted." Therefore, he argued that "the government of the Russian Federation must work out a series of measures aimed at supporting Russian exporters" so that their competitiveness can be increased. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT APPROVES NEW EXPORT DUTY

The previous day, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters that the government has approved a 33 percent hike in the export duty on crude oil, increasing the duty from 15 euros ($15) per metric ton to 20 euros. The higher duty will not become effective until 15 April. The Fuel Ministry also plans to reintroduce export quotas on gasoline and diesel fuel in the second quarter, Deputy Fuel Minister Yevgenii Morozov told reporters on 25 February. Ten percent of gasoline production and 5 percent of diesel fuel production will be held back. JAC

WHEAT IMPORTS SOARED LAST YEAR

Russia imported four times as much wheat in 1999 as during the previous year, the State Statistics Committee reported on 24 February. According to the committee, Russia imported 4.566 million metric tons in 1999, compared with 1.104 million metric tons in 1998. Acting President Putin announced earlier that Moscow may stop purchasing grain on international markets even though its own domestic production is unlikely to meet demand, particularly in the area of fodder and forage crops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2000). JAC

BEREZOVSKII HAILS POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS IN RUSSIA

Speaking at a Defender of the Fatherland Day ceremony on 23 February in Cherkassk, business magnate Boris Berezovskii said that "For the first time in 15 years, power in Russia is being consolidated." He emphasized that "a new stage of creating a strong state has begun. Russia will have neither a strong army nor a strong society without consolidating power." According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 February, Berezovskii rejected some Russia political figures' claim that totalitarianism is being revived in Russia. JAC




FORMER KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS

In a statement issued in Stepanakert on 24 February, General Samvel Babayan denied that he intends to run for president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He added that he has not yet decided to participate in the enclave's upcoming parliamentary elections. Babayan's brother Karen, who is mayor of Stepanakert, had predicted in a recent interview with the Armenian newspaper "Aravot" that Samvel will one day become president of Nagorno-Karabakh. Samvel Babayan was dismissed as defense minister last summer following a standoff with Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian. He was also ousted as commander in chief of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August and 17 December 1999). LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS HINDERED IN COVERING TRIAL OF PRISON INSURGENTS

Journalists from several Azerbaijani newspapers said at a press briefing in Baku on 24 February that they are being subjected to pressure and harassment by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Justice. They said that pressure is part of an attempt to limit media coverage of the trial of participants in what the Azerbaijani authorities claim was a mutiny at a high security jail near Baku in January 1999, Turan reported. That trial opened in Baku last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2000). The journalists attribute the authorities' reluctance to allow journalists to attend the trial to discrepancies between the official version of what happened and claims by prisoners' relatives that the alleged mutiny was staged in order to facilitate the murder of former General Vahid Musaev. Musaev was sentenced on charges of planning in 1995 to assassinate President Heidar Aliev. He was one of 11 prisoners shot dead by guards during the alleged insurrection (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). LF

OIL EXPORTS FROM AZERBAIJAN VIA RUSSIA RESUMED

The Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), the only international consortium currently exporting oil from the Azerbaijani section of the Caspian, has resumed transporting crude through the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, Caucasus Press reported on 24 February. Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, which previously used that pipeline, stopped doing so last month in order to conserve domestic crude for use for heating purposes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). The AIOC is now exporting 12,000 tons of oil daily via Novorossiisk in addition to the oil it exports via Georgia's Black Sea port of Supsa. LF

RUSSIA WARNS AZERBAIJAN OVER ALLEGED CHECHEN PRESENCE...

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 24 February expressing the hope that "the territory of Azerbaijan will not be used for anti-Russian purposes," ITAR-TASS reported. The statement was pegged to media reports that injured Chechen fighters are undergoing medical treatment in Baku hospitals. Interfax in early January quoted the Chechen representation in Baku as saying that some 100 civilians injured during Russian bombing raids in Chechnya were receiving medical treatment in Azerbaijan. LF

...AS TURKEY REFUSES TO ALLOW CHECHENS TO CROSS BORDER FROM GEORGIA

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said on 24 February that Ankara will provide humanitarian aid for Chechen refugees in Georgia but will not allow an estimated 300 Chechens now stranded at the Georgian-Turkish border to enter Turkey, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze, who is currently visiting Ankara, told the Anatolia News Agency that Turkey refuses to admit the Chechens as they do not have valid passports or identification. LF

BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA

Visiting Tbilisi on 25 February, Robin Cook met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, ITAR-TASS reported. Cook pledged his support for Georgia's independence, territorial integrity, and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, including NATO, according to AP. He and Shevardnadze focused on the war in Chechnya and the situation on the Chechen sector of the Russian-Georgian border. They also discussed the prospects for a peaceful solution of the Abkhaz conflict. LF

CORRECTION:

Based on an erroneous Caucasus Press dispatch, "RFE/RL Newsline" on 24 February incorrectly reported that USAID and the International Committee of the Red Cross have signed an agreement on aid for Georgian displaced persons. That agreement was in fact signed by USAID and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO DEMOCRATIZATION...

Addressing a session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 24 February, Nursultan Nazarbaev acknowledged the "universal character" of the criteria applied by the OSCE to compliance with democratic norms, but at the same time he appealed for "a good understanding" of the situation in Central Asia, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev argued that "it is impossible for legal innovations to bridge the gap between new institutions and old models of behavior in a short time." The OSCE criticized both the presidential and the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan last year as failing to meet international standards. Nazarbaev rejected that criticism, saying that Kazakhstan will choose its own approach and timeframe for gradual democratization. LF

...ENUMERATES REGIONAL SECURITY CONCERNS

Nazarbaev also told the OSCE that it is imperative to prevent the "Balkanization" of Central Asia, Interfax reported. He said the region's enormous energy potential can be successfully developed only if existing problems between regional states are resolved. Nazarbaev said one of the main medium-term problems facing the Central Asian states is international terrorism and extremism stemming from Afghanistan, and he appealed for the assistance of the international community and the OSCE in combating those threats. It is unclear whether Nazarbaev addressed the possible interaction between the OSCE and the Asian regional security forum, which Kazakhstan advocates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). LF

KYRGYZSTAN SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY RUNOFFS

A second round of voting has been scheduled for 12 March for all but three of the 90 single-mandate seats in the upper and lower chambers of the new Kyrgyz parliament, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 24 February citing the Central Electoral Commission. Several opposition candidates have said they will appeal to the prosecutor-general against what they term falsification and procedural violations that deprived them of a first-round win. Also on 24 February, the CEC issued revised results of the party list voting, raising from five to six the number of political parties that surmounted the 5 percent minimum required for parliamentary representation. The sixth party is the pro-presidential My Country. LF

TURKEY, U.S. SEEK TO PERSUADE TURKMENISTAN OF PIPELINE BENEFITS

Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Mithat Balkan and U.S. special adviser for Caspian energy issues John Wolf held talks in Ashgabat on 24 February with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, Interfax reported. Balkan delivered personal assurances to Niyazov from Turkish President Suleyman Demirel that Ankara is committed to the swift construction of the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmen gas to Turkey. Niyazov had said last week that that project would not be viable if Azerbaijan insists on the use of 50 percent of the pipeline's throughput capacity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2000). In Moscow, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi told journalists on 24 February that he supports the bid by Gazprom to conclude a rival agreement under which Turkmenistan would export much of its natural gas via Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF




BELARUS, RUSSIA SIGN FOREIGN-POLICY AGREEMENT

Belarusian Foreign Minister Ural Latypau and his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, signed a foreign policy cooperation agreement in Minsk on 24 February, Belapan reported. Under the agreement, the two countries will coordinate their foreign policies in 2000 and 2001. They also pledged to cooperate more closely in international organizations such as the UN and the OSCE. Ivanov said both countries will continue to work toward "common approaches." He said Russia and Belarus are "sovereign independent states that have made a voluntary decision to form a union state." VG

IVANOV, LUKASHENKA CRITICIZE WESTERN PORTRAYAL OF BELARUS

Ivanov also criticized the West for being unfair in its portrayal of events in Belarus (see Part 1). The same day, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the U.S. is being "misinformed" about Belarus. He added that the Russian- Belarusian union is based on equal rights. "I have enough healthy nationalism in me to secure Belarus's national interests," he said. VG

PROMINENT BELARUSIANS ASK RUSSIA FOR HELP IN FINDING MISSING POLITICIANS

A group of 100 prominent public figures in Belarus have sent a note to acting Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to "use all opportunities and resources" to help them find out what happened to two opposition politicians who disappeared last year, Belapan reported on 24 February. The appeal, which was signed by artists, writers, and politicians, said Russia could help find the opposition politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka. In other news, the Belarusian Justice Ministry re-registered the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) "Adradzhenne" movement on 23 February, Belapan reported the next day. VG

UKRAINE TAKES PRIVATIZATION STEPS

The Ukrainian State Property Fund on 24 February announced that shares in nine electricity companies will be traded on various stock exchanges next month, the "Ukrainian Eastern Economist" reported on 25 February. The move comes after the parliament passed in its first reading of a privatization program for 2000, which affects more than 800 companies, AP reported on 23 February. However, factions in the parliament have pledged to push for amendments to the privatization bill in its second reading, according to "The Moscow Times." Also, the Russian government has expressed an interest in acquiring some of the companies slated for privatization in lieu of money transfers to pay Ukraine's energy debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). VG

CHECHEN GROUP LAUNCHES PUBLICATION IN UKRAINE

A Chechen group in Odessa has started publishing a newsletter covering the war in Chechnya, AP reported on 24 February. The publication will be distributed to diplomatic missions in Ukraine. Russian authorities have reportedly put pressure on Ukraine to shut down the publication. VG

PARTY CALLS FOR MORE RUSSIAN SCHOOLS IN UKRAINE

The Slavonic Party in Ukraine has called on the authorities in Moscow and Kyiv to protect Russian-language speakers in Ukraine, ITAR- TASS reported on 23 February. The party called for more Russian-language schools in Ukraine and said the country's language policy is based on "Russophobia." It also said that Russian-language speakers constitute a majority in Ukraine and that 90 percent of the population prefers to speak Russian. VG

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT BEMOANS LACK OF MORALS

In his annual Independence Day speech, Lennart Meri on 24 February criticized the lack of morals in Estonia and stressed that "the spirit of capitalism must be supported by Protestant ethics." Meri focused on the need for the country to be able to defend itself, voicing strong support for university students to complete their military service. He also stressed the need to reform the education and justice systems. And he expressed regret at "the rebirth of Russian chauvinism and readiness to sacrifice basic human values in the name of power." MH

LATVIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ENDS HUNGER STRIKE

After eight days of fasting, Valdis Birkavs ended his hunger strike on 24 February, LETA reported. Birkavs launched that strike to protest allegations that he and other government officials were involved in a pedophilia scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). He said his goal was to have all the evidence presented to law enforcement officials, adding that, as justice minister, he has full trust in those officials. Birkavs's decision to end his strike follows an ad hoc parliamentary commission's decision to submit its evidence to the Bureau for the Protection of the Constitution. The parliament also agreed to extend the commission's activity until 13 April. During his hunger strike, Birkavs developed mild arrhythmia. MH

POLAND APOLOGIZES TO RUSSIA OVER 'INFRINGEMENTS' ON CONSULATE

The Polish Foreign Ministry on 24 February apologized to Russia for "infringements" on the Russian consulate building in Poznan on 23 February by a group of demonstrators protesting Russia's military intervention in Chechnya, PAP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). The ministry said the incident is being investigated by police. Also on 24 February, the deputy mayor of Poznan apologized for the incident to the Russian vice consul in the city. The Russian Foreign Ministry had expressed outrage at the incident and accused the Polish authorities of doing nothing to stop it. The ministry said the lack of action on the part of the Polish authorities represented "de facto support for extremists." VG

POLISH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES SALE OF BANK

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 24 February criticized the procedure according to which BIG Bank Gdanski was sold, PAP reported. The president stressed that his complaint is related to the way the bank was sold and not to the bank itself, adding that "I have full confidence in the professionalism of this bank." VG

KLAUS DECLARES PARLIAMENTARY 'STATE OF EMERGENCY' IN CZECH REPUBLIC...

Responding to a government request, Chamber of Deputies Chairman and Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus has declared a "parliamentary state of emergency," which will remain in force until 3 March, CTK reported on 24 February. The government made that request in order to pass legislation prohibiting exports related to Iran's Bushehr atomic power plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). Under the chamber's regulations, such a state of emergency may be declared if basic rights and freedoms or the country's security are threatened or if there is a danger of considerable economic damage. Klaus criticized the government, saying its move was "rash" and noting that everyone, including members of the government, long knew that a deal with Iran was in the offing, He also said the company that was to have supplied ventilation equipment to Iran must be compensated. MS

...DENIES HIS DEPUTY'S THREATS

Also on 23 February, Klaus said the ODS has not decided whether to support or reject the government's draft budget. He added that that Ivan Langer, ODS deputy chairman, was expressing his "personal views" when he said the party will not support the bill unless it is preceded by the planned cabinet reshuffle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). MS

ORTHODOX JEWS PROTEST IN PRAGUE

A group of Orthodox rabbis blocked one of Prague's main roads on 24 February to protest a Czech insurance company's decision not to grant permission to re-bury the remains of some 120 Jews unearthed during construction works at the site of a 13th-century Jewish cemetery, CTK and Reuters reported. The rabbis, mostly from abroad, said the agreement reached with the authorities and with Ceska Pojistovna, which is building a garage and a parking lot on the site, provided for the remains to be re- buried in encased concrete. A spokesman for the company said the rabbis were denied permission to enter the site for safety reasons, adding that the demonstration was "organized from abroad" and was a "pressure tactic" to "strengthen [the Jews'] negotiating position." MS

EU SAYS HUNGARY SLOW TO REPORT CYANIDE SPILL

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said on 24 February that Hungary was slow to inform the EU about the full extent of the cyanide leak that has affected the Tisza and Danube rivers, Hungarian media reported. Wallstrom said the incident would not delay Hungary's EU accession but added that the grace period given to Hungary to meet EU environment criteria must be kept to a minimum. She criticized the fact that the European Commission still has not been officially informed of the damage, and she noted that during her visit to Hungary and Romania last week, local residents also complained about a lack of information. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry denied the claim, saying that EU officials in Brussels were informed on 10 February. MSZ




NATO TO DECIDE ON INCREASING KFOR TROOPS

The North Atlantic Council, NATO's policy-making body, will hold an emergency meeting on 25 February to discuss the situation in the Kosovar city of Mitrovica and decide on a request to increase KFOR troops in the province, Reuters reported. General Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, requested the previous day that 2,000 troops be added to KFOR and sent to Mitrovica to help the peacekeepers there contain the violence that has led to several deaths. France has said it will contribute 700 to the extra contingent. U.S. President Bill Clinton supports the increase, but Washington has not yet decided if it will augment KFOR. The U.S. currently has 5,500 troops in Kosova out of KFOR's total 37,400. The UN, meanwhile, has announced that it will begin resettling ethnic Albanians in their former homes in the northern part of the city, which is controlled by Serbs. PB

MITROVICA REPORTED CALM

Tensions in the violence-torn town were reported to be diminishing after KFOR troops announced they had finished conducting weapons searches in residential areas, Reuters reported on 25 February. In all, some 50 guns, ammunition, nine hand-grenades, and one rocket-propelled grenade were confiscated. Yugoslavia accused the West of fomenting the unrest, with Yugoslav Deputy Premier Nikola Sainovic saying "the sequence of events clearly showed that it was a planned and coordinated scenario." Western officials charged Belgrade the previous day with instigating the violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). On 24 February, The UN chief in Kosova, Bernard Kouchner, met with Oliver Ivanovic, the leader of the Serbian community in Mitrovica. Ivanovic said after the meeting that he is prepared to talk with the town's ethnic Albanian leaders. PB

RED CROSS SAYS NEARLY 3,000 STILL MISSING IN KOSOVA

The International Red Cross said on 24 February that 2,987 people are unaccounted for in Kosova, AP reported. The majority are ethnic Albanians, but the figure includes some 400 Serbs as well as Roma. Of the total, 1,875 are reported to be held by Yugoslav forces. PB

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CHARGED...

Dusan Mihajlovic, leader of the opposition New Democracy party, was indicted by the Belgrade public prosecutor on 24 February on charges of spreading false information, Beta reported. Mihajlovic said he "publicly expressed my and my party's political stands and it's up to the citizens and the general public to judge them." Mihajlovic faces three years in prison if convicted. He said he expects to be arrested. PB

...WHILE OPPOSITION-RUN TELEVISION STATION FINED

Studio B TV was fined some $20,000 on 24 February because a guest on a talk show criticized a police investigation, AP reported. The news agency Beta said the fine was imposed because a lawyer from the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement criticized the police investigation of a car crash last October that left four people dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). Studio B is the official television station of the city of Belgrade. PB

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER CRITICIZES IDEA OF POWER TRANSFER

Zivko Radisic, the Serbian member of the presidency of Bosnia- Herzegovina, said on 24 February that the idea of cantonization "would completely undermine the Dayton peace concept" in Bosnia, Radio Bosnia-Herzegovina reported. Radisic was responding to comments made by several Bosnian- Croat officials the previous day that they are willing to transfer powers of the Muslim-Croatian Federation to a central government. Radisic said he opposes that idea, adding that if some institutions in the entities that make up the federation are "not functioning," it does not mean they should be abolished. The office of the international community's high representative and the current chairman of the Bosnian presidency, Alija Izetbegovic, both said the same day that they support the proposal. Such a change would mean the abolition of the Muslim-Croatian Federation and the Republika Srpska, the two entities that make up Bosnia. PB

PETRITSCH MEETS WITH CROATIAN PRESIDENT

Bosnia's High Representative Wolfgang Petritisch met on 24 February with Stipe Mesic in Zagreb, Croatian Radio reported. Petritsch said he stressed the importance of implementing key points of the 1995 Dayton agreement, particularly the return of refugees. Petritsch said no changes to the agreement can be made until Dayton is fully implemented. Mesic stressed his government's commitment to repatriating the refugees but said Zagreb will need financial aid for this purpose because "homes must be repaired and economic resources activated." PB

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT CUTS SALARIES, BUT NOT AS MUCH AS PROMISED

Croatian deputies voted on 24 February to reduce their salaries and those of other government officials by some 27 percent, Croatian Radio reported. The cut was lower than the 40 percent proposed by the cabinet and promised by the winning coalition during the election campaign. Deputies will now receive 12,700 kuna ($1,630) a month--about four times the average salary in Croatia. The president will receive some $3,000 per month and ministers $2,000. A labor union said the parliament's first decision showed "unbelievable selfishness." PB

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS ARMY ALERT

Boris Trajkovski said on 24 February that he was forced to put his armed forces on higher alert because of "tense movements around southern Serbia," AFP reported. Trajkovski, who is in Vilnius on a two-day visit, said Macedonia had to react to changes in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). PB

SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT IN DANGER OF LOSING MAJORITY

The 24 February announcement of a merger between the People's Party and the opposition Christian Democrats is threatening Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek's coalition government, Radio Slovenia reported. The People's Party have 19 seats in the 90-seat parliament, and if it went over to the opposition, the government would have only 30 seats. It has not been announced when the merger of the two parties will take place. Some opposition parties, including the Social Democrats, have said they would support a minority government. PB

ALBANIA, MONTENEGRO REOPEN BORDER CROSSING

Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Pellumb Xhufi and his Montenegrin counterpart, Veselin Sukovic, signed an agreement in Shkoder on 24 February reopening the only border crossing between the two countries, at Hani i Hotit--Bozaj, AP reported. Yugoslav officials closed the crossing three years ago. It was used by tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians fleeing Serbian troops last year. In other news, the World Bank approved a $10 million loan to Tirana for improve the water supply in the towns of Durres, Fier, Lezhe, and Saranda. PB

ROMANIAN MINISTER 'APOLOGIZES' TO PRESIDENT CONSTANTINESCU

Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Traian Basescu told Antena 1 Television on 24 February that he is "retracting" what he said about President Emil Constantinescu's alleged involvement in the resignation of Victor Babiuc from the Democratic Party. He added, however, that he continues to believe Constantinescu was involved. Basescu also commented that he should not have said that the National Liberal Party (PNL) had "stolen" the Senate's chairmanship from the Democrats, but rather should have said the post was "taken" from his party, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PNL commented earlier that it would not accept Babiuc's replacement as defense minister until Basescu had apologized. Tension between the Democrats and the PNL continues to mount after PNL National Council Chairman Nicolae Manolescu said on national television on 24 February that the coalition could survive without the Democrats and "it might be better if they left it." MS

MAVERICK ROMANIAN SENATOR JOINS OPPOSITION PARTY

George Pruteanu, who was expelled from the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) in March 1998 for his opposition to improving the education rights of the Hungarian minority, said on 24 February he has joined the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania. Also on 24 February, the PNTCD suffered yet another defection when deputy Lia Galic resigned from its ranks. And former Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu said he is resigning all his positions in the PNTCD but will remain a party member. MS

TIMISOARA JEWISH COMMUNITY PROTESTS AGAINST ANTI-SEMITIC GRAFFITI

Rabbi Ernst Neumann of Timisoara on 24 February urged the town's local authorities to take legal action against unidentified individuals who have begun daubing anti- Semitic graffiti and swastikas on city walls and trams over the past month, AP reported. He said he believed this development should be seen against the background of Joerg Haider's success in the Austrian elections. MS

GAZPROM HALTS GAS DELIVERIES TO MOLDOVA

Gazprom on 25 February made good its threat to cut gas deliveries to Moldova because of that country's failure to pay its debt accrued since the beginning of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2000), Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. On 24 February, the Moldovan government had urged the population to "stay calm" and pay all utilities bills. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ASKS GHADDAFI TO INTERVENE IN TRIAL

Petar Stoyanov on 24 February asked his Libyan counterpart, Muammar Ghaddafi, to intervene on behalf of the six Bulgarians facing the death penalty in Libya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000), BTA reported. Stoyanov offered condolences for the death of children infected with the HIV virus but said he cannot believe his countrymen are guilty of having deliberately "caused such a tragedy." He asked Ghaddafi to "use his influence" to have the 28 February trial postponed to allow Bulgarian lawyers to familiarize themselves with the case and defend the accused. Reuters cited Justice Minister Teodossyi Simeonov as saying he and Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev will fly to Libya to offer legal assistance to the accused. MS

BULGARIA, ROMANIA AGREE ON LOCATION OF NEW DANUBE BRIDGE

Experts representing Bulgaria and Romania agreed in Brussels on 23 February that the new bridge over the River Danube will be constructed between Vidin and Calafat. This is the proposal that Bulgaria has favored since talks began. Sofia will cover all the costs of the project, Petko Tabakov, deputy transportation and communications minister, told Bulgarian Radio, according to BTA. Speaking in Vidin one day earlier, President Petar Stoyanov said that "many more bridges" must be built over the river to promote the two countries' bid to become part of European and NATO structures. MS




CROATIA'S NEW LEADERS LOOK TO FIGHT CORRUPTION AND CRONYISM


By Andrej Krickovic

Less that a month has passed since Prime Minister Ivica Racan's government took office. The ministers are already living up to their promises to fight corruption and put an end to the system of cronyism that characterized the rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ).

Just hours after the new ministers took their oaths, police arrested outgoing Minister of Tourism Ivan Herak on embezzlement charges. A week later, police arrested Croatian businessman Miroslav Kutle, the country's most-famous "tycoon"--a term Croats have adopted to describe the class of newly rich entrepreneurs politically connected to the former regime. In the eyes of many Croats, Kutle is a symbol of the "robber-baron" style of privatization that has left the economy in ruins.

is accused of enticing officials at the zdistribution company Tisak to embezzle more than $6 million from the company. Tisak holds a virtual monopoly on print media distribution in Croatia, and with more than $500,000 in gross sales daily, it is one of the country's few cash-cows. Before Kutle bought into the company five years ago, Tisak posted revenues of $2.5 million. Today, the company faces bankruptcy and $30 million in debts. Most of this money was either sucked out through embezzlement scams or is debt that Tisak has had to take over for loans that it backed for Kutle's companies and on which those companies later defaulted.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In its heyday, Kutle's holding company Globus Group owned a controlling interest in more than 176 companies, and his business empire was estimated to be worth more than $500 million. Since then, millions of dollars have disappeared from firms owned by Globus Group, and most of those firms face bankruptcy today. Globus Group itself is nearly $500 million in debt.

Kutle's exploits would have been impossible without the help and protection of high-ranking government officials. The party and state leadership directly promoted the rise of Kutle and others like him. In fact, they made this a part of the official HDZ practice. Tudjman believed that the country's wealth should be concentrated in the hands of 100 families politically loyal to his party.

Kutle and other "tycoons" used their political connections and membership in the HDZ to acquire shares in state-owned companies. In many cases, these purchases of shares were covered by loans from banks, privatization funds, and other financial institutions that were also in HDZ hands.

In return, the tycoons helped to fill ruling party coffers. They also did much of the HDZ's dirty work. During the early 1990s, "Slobodna Dalmacija" was one of the most important voices of opposition and hence an irritation to Tudjman's regime. Under the HDZ's direction, Kutle acquired a controlling interest in the paper. Independent journalists and editors were quickly forced to leave, and "Slobodna Dalmacija" became a regime mouthpiece almost overnight. The party also helped Kutle acquire a controlling interest in Tisak in order to keep the distribution of print media in party hands.

These policies, which wreaked havoc on the country's economy, prompted the new government to consider carrying out a revision of the entire privatization process. The tycoons' irresponsible lending policies also led to a banking crisis last year that caused the collapse of a dozen banks. Professor Vladimir Veselica of Zagreb University estimates that nearly $7 billion have been illegally transferred out of the country since 1990. Most experts agree that there is very little chance that even a fraction of these funds will be recovered.

During the election campaign, the new government promised to clean up the Augean stables left behind by the HDZ. It will be interesting to see whether the new authorities will be willing to prosecute Kutle's political sponsors in addition to the tycoon himself. For his part, Kutle has claimed that he was carrying out the orders of higher authorities. His testimony may implicate several highly-placed officials from the former government, including former Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa, former Interior Minister Ivan Penic, and Ivic Pasalic, who was the late president's domestic-policy adviser and is the current vice president of the parliament.

But it will be difficult for the new authorities to prosecute these people. Many of them enjoy immunity because they are members of the parliament. They will also argue that they are being prosecuted for political reasons.

In fact, the new government, which faces a host of pressing economic and social problems, may not want that challenge. Some observers believe the new authorities will be satisfied with Kutle's head and that they will delay or even forgo prosecuting these cases in the interest of social peace and political cohesion.

But in the final analysis, the new government may have no choice but to investigate and prosecute. If the authorities are truly committed to establishing the rule of law and ending the system of cronyism that has impoverished the country, they will have to put political considerations aside and pursue the Kutle affair and similar cases--no matter where the trail of guilt may lead. The author is Zagreb-based writer on Balkan affairs.


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