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Newsline - March 27, 2000




THE PUTIN ERA BEGINS...

Acting President Vladimir Putin has captured 52.52 percent of the votes in the 26 March Russian presidential elections with some 94 percent of the votes counted, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov reported on 27 March. Addressing a meeting of his deputies and law enforcement officials that day, President- elect Putin said that the election returns have "given us an additional impetus to work for even better results." He added that a "a philosophy of government actions should be presented" simultaneously with the formation of a new cabinet. In an interview with ABC's "Nightline" on 24 March, Putin suggested that his government will focus on ensuring property rights and equal opportunities for all investors while rooting out official corruption. JAC

...AS PRESIDENT-ELECT SUGGESTS COALITION GOVERNMENT POSSIBLE

Putin commented on 27 March that some of his election opponents might be invited into the government. "I must talk with [potential appointees] and will have to see if they are prepared to work within the framework of the program proposed by the government. If all work will be done along party lines, then we do not need such people," Interfax reported. A new government will not be formed until after the inauguration of President-elect Putin in early May, First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 27 March. Kasyanov has been tipped by some analysts as a likely candidate for the post of prime minister. Also slated for likely promotion is First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a long-time Putin associate. JAC

ZYUGANOV SECURES SECOND SPOT, YAVLINSKII THIRD

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov captured 29.44 percent of the vote, while Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii won 5.85 percent of the total votes, according to preliminary results. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev took fourth place, with 3 percent of the vote, and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii came in fifth with 2.7 percent of the vote. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov received 1.5 percent backing, Civil Dignity movement head Ella Pamfilova 1.0 percent, film director Stanislav Govorukhin 0.45 percent, suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov 0.4 percent, Spiritual Heritage leader Aleksei Podberyozkin 0.1 percent, and Moscow businessman Umar Dzhabrailov 0.1 percent. Final elections results will be released between 5 and 8 April, but the commission head noted that results are not expected to vary more than by 0.5 percent. JAC

INCUMBENTS SWEEP GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS...

Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Altai Krai head Aleksandr Surikov, Jewish Autonomous Oblast Governor Nikolai Volkov, Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug head Aleksandr Filipenko, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug head Yurii Neelov, and Kirov Oblast Governor Vladimir Sergeenkov were all re-elected in balloting on 26 March. Sergeenkov polled the least support, with 58.5 percent of the votes, while Yevdokimov, Filipenko, and Neelov attracted more than 86 percent of voter support in their regions. Some analysts suggested before the election that the incumbents had an unfair advantage in these ballots because the votes were held with such short notice that challengers had little time to prepare. JAC

...AS MORE DEPUTIES FOR STATE DUMA ELECTED

A second round of voting for State Duma deputies was also held on 26 March in eight single-mandate districts where the majority of the electorate voted against all of the candidates during the 19 December elections. In Leningrad Oblast, journalist and former deputy Aleksandr Nevzorov was re-elected. In St. Petersburg, a member of the Legislative Assembly Konstantin Sevenard was declared the winner, but his challenger, Anatolii Golov (Yabloko), has said that he will challenge the results in court, ITAR-TASS reported. In two districts in Sverdlovsk Oblast, former Duma deputy Yevgenii Zyablitsev defeated General Albert Makashov, a member of Movement for Support of the Army, while local Interior Ministry head Nikolai Ovchinnikov was leading, according to preliminary results. In Kamchatka Oblast, Vice Admiral Valerii Dorogin won, while controversial former Mayor of Vladivostok Viktor Cherepkov was leading in voting in that city. Results for Moscow Oblast were not available as of mid-morning Moscow time on 27 March. JAC

ELECTION TURNOUT HIGHER THAN DURING DUMA ELECTIONS

Central Election Commission Chairman Veshnyakov told reporters on 26 March that according to preliminary information, voter turnout was higher for Russian presidential elections than for the19 December State Duma elections. The next day, commission officials said voter turnout was about 69 percent- -almost the same as the turnout in the 1996 presidential race. "Segodnya" reported on 27 March that most voter complaints to an election telephone hot line were about the poor quality of paper used for the ballots. JAC

ST.PETERSBURG REMAINS FAITHFUL TO NATIVE SON

According to preliminary returns, Putin garnered some 62 percent of the vote in his native St. Petersburg. The president-elect thanked the city residents for their support in an interview with the local Radio Baltika early on 27 March, saying it was "an enormous result" for someone who was born and had grown up there, Interfax reported. Zyuganov received just 16 percent backing in St. Petersburg. By contrast, Putin succeeded in winning the support of only 46 percent of Muscovites who went to the polls. JC

PUTIN VICTORY SIGNALS CHANGES IN FOREIGN POLICY

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists following a 27 March cabinet meeting that adjustments will be made to Russia's foreign policy related to "serious changes" that have occurred "in the world, as well as in Russian policy" following Putin's election victory, dpa reported, citing ITAR-TASS. After a 24 March Security Council meeting devoted to discussion of Moscow's new foreign policy concept, Ivanov had said the document is "more realistic" than its 1993 predecessor. Putin, who had opened last week's session, stressed that Russia must be "more attentive, balanced, and active" in defending the interests of Russians living abroad, including those in the CIS and the Baltic states. He also called for the Foreign Ministry to play a larger role in promoting Russia's economic interests abroad. JC

U.S. 'CAN AND MUST WORK' WITH PUTIN, SAYS ALBRIGHT

Speaking on CNN television shortly after the polls closed in Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was cautiously optimistic about future relations between Washington and Moscow. "When I met Vladimir Putin as acting president, I found him pragmatic, smart, on top of his brief, somebody who is a Russian nationalist but someone, I think, that we can and must work with," she commented. Albright argued that it would be a mistake to "prejudge" Putin on the basis of his past as a former KGB agent, but at the same time she said that while "his words are okay..., we are going to have to watch his actions very closely and carefully." JC

U.K. PRAISES 'FREE AND FAIR' ELECTION CONDUCT

A Foreign Office spokesman said in London on 27 March that the U.K. welcomes the "free and fair way" the Russian presidential elections "appear" to have been run, Reuters reported. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was reported to be looking forward to working with Putin "on the basis of democratic norms and commitment to the market economy." Cook held talks with Putin in February, while earlier this month Premier Tony Blair became the first Western leader to meet with Putin in his capacity as acting president. JC

GERMANY PREDICTS 'NEW START' IN RUSSIAN-EUROPEAN RELATIONS

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told President-elect Putin in a congratulatory telegram that he is confident that a "constructive, fresh start" in Russian-German and Russian- European relations is now possible, according to Reuters. Putin's election, he added, has triggered "great expectations of a strong, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Russia that acknowledges its international responsibility and takes full part in developments in Europe." Germany is Russia's largest lender, and its former leader, Helmut Kohl, had cultivated a close personal relationship to former President Boris Yeltsin. JC

BEIJING HOPES FOR CLOSER RELATIONS...

In his congratulatory message to the new president-elect, Chinese President Jiang Zemin said he hopes to work with Putin to ensure their two countries are "good neighbors, good partners, and good friends," Reuters reported on 27 March. Recently, Beijing had announced that the new Russian president would visit China this year for "an important summit" aimed at consolidating the two countries' "strategic partnership." JC

...AS DOES JAPAN

Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said his government will "do its best to further develop relations between Japan and Russia in all fields, including peace treaty negotiations," AFP reported on 27 March. A treaty between the two countries formally ending World War II hostilities has still not been signed owing to the ongoing dispute over ownership of the four Kuril Islands, seized by Soviet troops in 1945. JC

INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS GIVE ELECTION PASSING MARKS

Almost 1,000 international observers from 56 countries and 82 international organizations monitored the 26 March presidential elections, according to Central Election Commission Chairman Veshnyakov. Among the organizations represented were the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the European Parliament, the Western European Union, the Association for Fair Elections and Civil Rights, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, ITAR-TASS reported. Bjorn van der Esch, head of the mission sent by Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly said the elections took place very openly and quietly, Interfax reported on 27 March. According to the news agency, Van der Esch said he and his colleagues believe the elections were conducted according to internationally recognized standards. JAC

PUTIN PROVES POPULAR WITH ARMY

More than 80 percent of Russian servicemen voted for acting President Putin, Major General Nikolai Burbyga of the Defense Ministry's Education Department told Interfax on 26 March. More than 85 percent of soldiers serving in peacekeeping units in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Black Sea fleet based in Sevastopol supported Putin. JAC

CHECHEN ELECTORATE VOTES UNDER PRESSURE?

Turnout among the 432,000 registered voters in Chechnya was estimated at 65 percent, according to ITAR-TASS. But AP on 26 March quoted Chechens who had just fled to in Ingushetia as saying that Russian soldiers in Chechnya had forced them to vote, threatening to rob them if they failed to do so. Some 98 percent of the Russian soldiers in Chechnya also participated in the poll. Initial returns from Gudermes, the only Chechen town from which results were available, showed Zyuganov leading with some 37 percent of the vote, followed by Putin with 30 percent and ethnic Chechen candidate Umar Dzhabrailov with 18 percent, according to Interfax. Elsewhere in the North Caucasus, Putin polled 85.4 percent in Ingushetia, 76.4 percent in Daghestan, and 74.7 percent in Kabardino-Balkaria. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DENY NEW FIGHTING IN TWO CHECHEN VILLAGES

Russian Defense Ministry officials in Moscow denied reports by local military spokesmen that Chechen fighters were battling Russian forces in the village of Samashki, west of Grozny on 25 March and had taken the village of Nozhai-Yurt in eastern Chechnya on 26 March. Interfax on 26 March quoted Central Electoral Commission First Deputy Chairman Valentin Vlasov as saying that voting in the Russian presidential poll was "in full swing" in Nozhai-Yurt and that no armed clashes have been registered there. A spokesman for Russian government representative in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, similarly told Interfax that Koshman had visited Nozhai-Yurt during the evening of 26 March and that "voting is proceeding calmly" there. LF

DEPUTY PREMIER INJURED IN ASASSINATION BID IN DAGHESTAN

Daghestan's Deputy Prime Minister Ilyas Umakhanov and his driver were injured early on 27 March when the jeep in which they were travelling was damaged by an explosion, Interfax and AP reported. Investigators said it is unclear whether the explosion was caused by a bomb or a grenade-launcher. Umakhanov escaped injury in an earlier assassination bid several years ago. LF

SELEZNEV SAYS RUSSIA MIGHT SUSPEND CE MEMBERSHIP

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax on 24 March that Russia might withdraw from the Council of Europe. "If we feel that we are being pressed to the wall and forced to meet impossible conditions, everything is possible, in particular the suspension of our membership in the Council of Europe," he noted. Russian officials have warned the CE's Parliamentary Assembly not to consider suspending Russia at a session next month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2000). Meanwhile, Vladimir Kalamanov, the Russian presidential human rights envoy in Chechnya, has returned from Strasbourg. Two Council of Europe monitors are due to be sent to Chechnya in the near future. JC

BEREZOVSKII SAYS NOT HE, BUT CHUBAIS, WILL GO

In an interview with "Vedomosti" on 24 March, influential business magnate Boris Berezovskii commented on Putin's pledge to strip Russia's oligarchs of their proximity to the country's power structures. "Such words are fine for voters but they are unrealizable," Berezovskii said. He also revealed that he telephones Putin about once a month and that Putin once attended a birthday party in Berezovskii's honor, despite the possibility that his attendance would offend then Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. On the issue of his rivalry with Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais, Berezovskii commented only that "Chubais has not proclaimed himself an oligarch yet" and that ousting him from the leadership of EES would pose little problem for the Russian government. On the day before elections, Chubais told reporters that he was supporting Putin's candidacy because "the Putin team is proposing a sensible and carefully balanced policy, oriented toward reform." JAC

SKURATOV PREDICTS HIS POSITION TO CONTINUE IN LIMBO

Suspended Prosecutor-General Skuratov, who finished ninth in a field of 11 candidates in the presidential elections, told ITAR-TASS on 24 March that he does expect to be reinstated anytime soon. However, he said that he will neither tender his resignation to the Federation Council nor initiate consideration of his dismissal with the upper legislative body. JAC

FUEL MINISTER SAYS 'RUSSIA FIRST' POLICY CATCHING ON ONLY SLOWLY

In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 25 March, Fuel Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii said that although 70 percent of gasoline stations in Russia are privately owned and the "ministry does not have any leverage to influence their owners," nevertheless "we managed to stabilize prices using the only opportunity available: providing for the domestic market." Kalyuzhnii added that the "principle 'first provide for Russia and only after that sell the remainder abroad' is taking root very slowly" and that "Russia will defend to the end the principle of restricting oil exports." JAC




KARABAKH PRESIDENT'S ATTACKERS UNDER ARREST

The Prosecutor- General's Office of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic issued a statement on 27 March saying that three of five men arrested in connection with the 22 March attempt to assassinate the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, are bodyguards of former Karabakh Defense Minister General Samvel Babayan, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. The previous day, the Prosecutor-General's Office had said that the attackers had confessed, but did not identify them. On 25 March, the Karabakh government press service had criticized representatives of two Armenian parliamentary factions, Miasnutiun and the "Right and Accord," for expressing doubt that Babayan was involved in the attack. On 24 March, supporters of Babayan, who was also taken into custody on 22 March, called for his release, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Two Karabakh parliamentary deputies said the same day that the attack on Ghukasian was intended to remove both him and Babayan from the political arena and thus destabilize the political situation in the enclave. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION TAKES ISSUE WITH PRESIDENT

Opposition party leaders have condemned as "incorrect" Heidar Aliev's 22 March comment that the attempt to assassinate Ghukasian was "Armenia's internal affair," according to ANS TV on 23 March, as cited by Groong. Azerbaijan Popular Front First Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimov said that no issue related to Karabakh can be termed Armenia's internal affair. In an interview published in "Noratert" on 24 March, the unrecognized enclave's foreign minister, Naira Melkumian, commented that "Azerbaijan is gradually recognizing that Karabakh is an independent country, over which it has no influence." LF

NEW AZERBAIJANI RAID REPULSED

More than 10 Azerbaijan servicemen were killed in a 21 March pre-dawn attempt to break through the northern section of the Line of Contact, which demarcates Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani territory, Snark reported on 25 March. Servicemen of the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic drove back the attackers without incurring any losses. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OUTLINES ELECTION PROGRAM

Eduard Shevardnadze on 24 March unveiled his program for re-election under the motto "From Stability to Prosperity," Caucasus Press reported. The program prioritizes overcoming poverty, reducing unemployment, ensuring the timely payment of wages and pensions, reforming the education system, combating corruption, and strengthening a market economy and Georgian statehood. The primary foreign-policy focus is on "integration into the political, economic, social and security system of a united Europe," according to AP. "Alia" on 27 March quoted Tbilisi Mayor Ivane Zodelava as forecasting that Shevardnadze will receive 77-78 percent of the vote in the capital. Zodelava also predicted that wide- ranging personnel changes will take effect after the poll, together with a reduction in the number of government ministries. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN MINISTER ON HUNGER STRIKE

Former Georgian Finance Minister Guram Absandze, who is being tried on charges of involvement in the February 1998 assassination attempt against Shevardnadze, has embarked on a hunger strike to demand the release of all political prisoners in Georgia and to protest what he termed the "biased" approach of the court, Caucasus Press reported on 25 March. The Central Electoral Commission last month rejected Absandze's bid to register as a candidate for the 9 April presidential election. On 27 March, "Kviris palitra" quoted arrested Chechen field commander Salman Raduev as having implicated Georgian opposition parliamentary deputies Djemal Gamakharia and Vakhtang Bochorishvili in that attack. Raduev said both men, together with Manana Archvadze-gamsakhurdia, widow of the late Georgian president, attended a meeting in Grozny two years before the assassination bid of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus at which the assassination plans were discussed. LF

TURKISH DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA

Sabahattin Cakmakoglu held talks in Tbilisi on 25 March with his Georgian counterpart, Davit Tevzadze, and Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, AP and Caucasus Press reported. Describing Georgia as "an important partner" for Turkey, Cakmakoglu said his country is helping Georgia to bring its armed forces in line with NATO standards. Tevzadze, for his part, said that goal will be attained by 2004, according to ITAR-TASS. In recent years Turkey has provided training for Georgian military personnel and almost $10 million to Georgia for financing construction of a military hospital and firing range and the purchase of communications and computer equipment. LF

ARRESTED KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST BEGINS HUNGER-STRIKE...

Ar- Namys Chairman Feliks Kulov declared a hunger strike on 23 March to demand his release from custody on condition that he does not leave Bishkek, Reuters and RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Kulov was detained on 22 March and charged with abusing his former position as national security minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2000). On 24 March, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that Kulov's arrest appears to be "politically motivated," and "a continuation of the Kyrgyz government's use of judicial proceedings to prevent prominent opposition candidates from participating in and/or winning office in the just-completed parliamentary elections." LF

...AS DEFAMATION CAMPAIGN CONTINUES...

On 24 March, a 25- minute documentary film on Kulov's alleged crimes was screened in Bishkek. "Vremya novostei" suggested in its 24 March issue that the rationale for Kulov's arrest is that the Kyrgyz authorities are planning to bring forward the presidential poll from December 2000 to May and might propose to the parliament amending the constitution so that the president is elected by parliamentary deputies, not by universal ballot . "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the same day quoted investigator Ikram Aitkulov as saying that Kulov will be tried by a closed military court. Also on 24 March, presidential press spokesman Osmonkun Ibraimov told journalists in Bishkek that President Askar Akaev tried to delay Kulov's arrest in order to enable him and other opposition politicians to contend the poll, Interfax reported. LF

...AND SUPPORTERS DEMAND HIS RELEASE

Several hundred people continued to demonstrate in Bishkek on 24-26 March to demand Kulov's release and the annulment of the 12 March parliamentary runoff in Kara-Buura, in which Kulov was defeated, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Bolot Djanuzakov met with the demonstrators on 25 March and proposed creating a commission, which he would chair, to discuss their demands, but the protesters rejected that suggestion. Kyrgyz Human Rights Movement Chairman Tursunbek Akunov, however, told RFE/RL that he and several other members of his movement have agreed to sit on the commission. On 26 March, the protest participants rejected an invitation by Talas Oblast Governor Kengesh Karachalov to discuss their grievances. LF

LOCAL PROTESTERS IN KYRGYZSTAN TRIED, SENTENCED

In a one-day hearing on 24 March, a local court in Kara-Buura sentenced 11 participants in the local protest against Kulov's apparent election defeat to between seven and 15 days imprisonment, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The same day the court rejected a legal action brought by Kulov against former Kara- Buura district administration head Ilimbek Murzaliev, whom Kulov accused of falsifying the poll outcome. The reason given for the rejection was Kulov's failure to appear personally in court. Kulov's lawyer Nina Zotova told RFE/RL that she will appeal the Kara-Buura court's ruling in the Supreme Court. Murzaliev, meanwhile, has tendered his resignation. LF

TAJIKISTAN'S NATIONAL RECONCILIATION COMMISSION DISSOLVED

The National Reconciliation Commission, which was established in the summer of 1997 to implement the provisions of the peace agreement that ended the civil war, held its final session on 26 March, Reuters and dpa reported. The final provision of that peace agreement was holding parliamentary elections, which took place on 27 February and 23 March. Commission chairman and opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri told the 26 March session that while the commission has fulfilled its mandate, some problems remain unresolved. He pointed to the repatriation of an estimated 108,000 Tajik refugees, the integration into the Tajik armed forces of Tajik opposition fighters, and the allocation to opposition politicians of 30 percent of the posts in national and local government bodies, according to Interfax. LF




BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST 500 TO FOIL OPPOSITION MARCH...

Belarusian riot police detained some 500 people in Minsk on 25 March to prevent the Belarusian opposition from staging a march to commemorate the creation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918. The Minsk authorities allowed only a rally on the city's outskirts, and police with dogs and armored vehicles blocked the center, where demonstrators had been expected to gather. Among those arrested were Belarusian Popular Front activists as well as some 40 journalists and several international observers. The majority of the arrested were released the same day, but some 100 people have remained in custody, including opposition leaders Anatol Lyabedzka, Viktar Ivashkevich, and Yuras Belenki. Despite the police action, protesters held a 7,000-strong rally on the outskirts of the city. JM

...BEAT JOURNALISTS, SMASH TV CAMERAS

During the arrests, police beat correspondents for Russian Public Television and Russian Television and smashed their cameras, Belapan reported. According to ITAR-TASS, Russian television crews were released following acting Russian President Vladimir Putin's intervention. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported that police also beat its Minsk correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee said that on 25 March the Belarusian authorities committed "unprecedented, mass violations of human rights," adding that numerous detained protesters and passers-by were beaten with truncheons. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who was in the United Arab Emirates on the day of the march, approved the police action in advance, according to Belarusian Television. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES TO START 'DIALOGUE' ON 29 MARCH

Deputy head of the presidential administration staff Uladzimir Rusakevich said on 25 March that the first sitting of the "dialogue of sociopolitical forces with the authorities" will take place on 29 March, Belapan reported. Rusakevich invited OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck to attend the sitting, adding that some 90 organizations will be represented in that dialogue. Meanwhile, Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka commented that following the 25 March arrests, it will be "problematic" to hold a genuine political dialogue as well as democratic elections in Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN LEGISLATORS ACCUSED OF CORRUPTION

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has submitted to the parliament materials allegedly showing that six deputies have been involved in corruption, Interfax reported on 24 March. Three deputies are from the Greens' Party, one from the Hromada party, and two are independent. SBU Chairman Leonid Derkach did not give details of the case against the legislators but said that under current law they would be held only administratively, not criminally responsible. JM

UKRAINE'S NAFTOHAZ HEAD RESIGNS CITING 'POLITICAL BLACKMAIL'

Ihor Bakay, head of the Naftohaz state-run company, resigned on 24 March, citing "purely political" reasons for his step, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. According to Bakay, he stepped down owing to "groundless and impertinent political blackmail" from both Ukraine and the West, but he declined to say which Western countries wanted his ouster. Bakay added that Naftohaz has been made a scapegoat for the shortage of gas in the country and has been forced by the government to conclude a gas supply contract with Gazprom, which increased Ukraine's gas debt to Russia by $500 million this year. JM

UKRAINIAN WORKERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT POLICIES

Some 2,000 people picketed the government building in Kyiv on 24 March in a protest organized by the All-Ukrainian Union of Workers, Interfax reported. The protesters demanded that the government lower the prices for bread, cancel the recent hikes in tariffs for public transportation and utilities and ensure the timely payment of wages and pensions. They also demanded that the government cancel the 16 April constitutional referendum, revoke its agreements with the IMF, and break off Ukraine's relations with NATO. The rally was attended by Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, who called for a boycott of the referendum. JM

BALTICS ELIMINATE SWITCH TO SUMMER TIME

In accordance with an 18 February decision, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have ended the practice of switching to summer time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). As the rest of Europe moved their clocks by one hour on 26 March, the three Baltic countries will remain for the next half year in the same time zone as Poland, Sweden, and most of Continental Europe. A survey by Latvia's SKDS shows that 59.2 percent of respondents back the 18 February decision. Lithuania's Vilmorus polling agency said that 73 percent of Lithuanians were against shifting to summer time, BNS and ELTA reported. And ETA noted that some 82 percent of Estonians also favor the end of switching to summer time. MH

BELARUS REIMPOSES, SUSPENDS TRANSIT VISA ON LITHUANIANS

Belarus announced on 24 March that transit visas for Lithuanians travelling to the Russian Federation will be required as of 1 May. Belarus on 15 March imposed transit visas on Lithuanians, but suspended them one day later following complaints by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. The ministry said no warnings were given by the Belarusian side at the time of introducing the visas, ELTA reported. MH

OLECHOWSKI TO RUN FOR POLISH PRESIDENT

Andrzej Olechowski, Poland's former finance and foreign minister, announced on 24 March that he will run as an independent candidate in this year's presidential elections. Olechowski served in both rightist and leftist cabinets in the early and mid- 1990s. According to a recent poll, Olechowski's bid can count on 11 percent of the vote, putting him in second place behind President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who enjoys 58 percent support. General Tadeusz Wilecki, former chief of the Polish Army General Staff, confirmed the same day that he will also run in the presidential elections. "A strong man for difficult times" is Wilecki's election slogan. JM

POLISH PEASANT PARTY RE-ELECTS LEADER

At a congress on 24 March, the opposition Polish Peasant Party re-elected Jaroslaw Kalinowski as its leader and Franciszek Stefaniuk as the party's supreme council head. Kalinowski criticized the government's economic policies at the congress, comparing privatization to the "demolition of the house in which we live," Polish Television reported. JM

POLISH COURT FINDS SOLIDARITY SENATOR TO BE 'LUSTRATION LIAR'

In a binding verdict, the Lustration Court on 24 March ruled that 64-year-old Senator Marian Jurczyk, one of the leaders of the Solidarity in 1980-81, is a "lustration liar." According to the court, in his lustration statement Jurczyk concealed the fact that he was an agent of the communist-era secret services. The court added that Jurczyk undertook that collaboration under duress and in fear of his life. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT WORRIED ABOUT PREMIER'S ADVISERS...

Vaclav Havel said on Czech Television on 24 March that he has asked the Czech Security Intelligence Service to investigate a private legal entity in connection with his suspicions that someone is trying to "destabilize" two police squads for investigation corruption and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2000). The president said the issue is related to connections between "financial groups, funds, and, to a certain extent, banks...[and] foreign mafia" groups. While Havel refused to give details, "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 27 March cited unidentified sources in the President's Office as saying he is concerned about the influence of Prime Minister Milos Zeman's chief adviser, Miroslav Slouf, over issues related to the police. Also, Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said on 26 March on a Czech Television debate show that Slouf, who is a former communist functionary, and another Zeman adviser have tried to influence his decisions on matters related to the police. Grulich described those two advisers as people who are "connected with the former regime [and] people who had to leave the police" and are bent on revenge. VG

...WHILE PREMIER DISMISSES THEM

Prime Minister Zeman has rejected any suggestions of wrongdoing by his adviser, Slouf. The prime minister says he considers Slouf to be a good manager, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 27 March. Meanwhile, Deputy Social Democratic Chairman Zdenek Skromach told TV Nova on 26 March that President Havel's recent interest in the work of the two police squads is related to the fact that the government's anti-corruption "Clean Hands Operation" has started to "touch" people close to the president. Havel's adviser, Pavel Fischer, said the president has demanded that Skromach explain that statement and has threatened to sue him if he does not respond. Skromach then withdrew the allegations and said he will send the president a letter apologizing for the comments. Former Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta, who was in charge of the "Clean Hands Operation," dismissed Skromach's allegations. VG

SLOVAK GOVERNING COALITION PARTY REJECTS BLAME FOR 'CRISIS'

The Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) on 26 March rejected recent claims by its partner in the government coalition, the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), that instability within the SDK is one of the causes of the current government "crisis," TASR reported. The five founding parties of the SDK also agreed to transfer certain decision-making powers from the SDK leadership to the chairmen's board. However, they did not reach agreement on how to restructure the party in light of SDK leader and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's recent decision to create a new entity called the Slovak and Christian Democratic Union. VG

WESTERN MEDIA CRITICIZES HUNGARY'S PRESS FREEDOM

"The Economist" finds it "surprising" that the Hungarian governing coalition continues to challenge communist influences in the media, despite Prime Minister Viktor Orban's claim that the post-communist transformation has ended, Hungarian media reported on 25 March, citing an article recently published in the weekly. The daily "Nepszabadsag" also quotes "Le Point" as saying that Orban has adopted an "apparatchik" style and deserves the "three yellow cards" his media policy has earned from EU and U.S. ambassadors and the International Press Institute. MSZ




MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER BLAMES MILOSEVIC FOR BOMB ATTACKS

Dosta Dimovska said in Skopje on 25 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's secret police are responsible for three separate bomb attacks on Macedonian police stations since the beginning of January. She added that Milosevic's secret "services are trying to destroy one of Macedonia's foundations--good ethnic relations," AP reported. She did not provide details. Ethnic Albanians make up about 23 percent of Macedonia's population. Meanwhile in Rome, NATO's Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark warned that Milosevic is preparing new tensions and conflicts in the Balkans, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 26 March. PM

KFOR SEARCHES FOR WEAPONS IN MITROVICA

French peacekeepers blocked off the ethnically mixed Little Bosnia section of Serb-controlled northern Mitrovica on 27 March to search for weapons. The previous evening, a grenade exploded in the area, following which KFOR detained two ethnic Albanians and four Serbs, AP reported. An unnamed French officer said that the weapons search did not constitute an extension of the "security zone" that KFOR has established in the center of Mitrovica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2000). Local Serbs told Reuters that they fear the arms search is a prelude to extending the zone, a move they equate with a loss of Serbian control. PM

OGATA URGES BETTER SECURITY FOR KOSOVA'S MINORITIES

The UNHCR's Sagato Ogata said in Prishtina on 26 March that KFOR and Kosova's majority ethnic Albanians should do more to protect the security of the province's minorities. She noted that "especially with regard to some communities--the Roma communities and the Serb communities--I do not think the security is solid. I'm not saying that KFOR is not making all the efforts. But the end result is that people are leaving, and sometimes fleeing," Reuters reported. She warned against creating "new enclaves" inhabited by only one ethnic group. The Japanese diplomat also urged Western European governments not to force all 100,000 Kosovars still abroad to return at once, lest the returnees put too much strain on local basic services, AP reported. PM

YUGOSLAVIA, MONTENEGRO SET UP JOINT KOSOVA BORDER POST

Officials of the Yugoslav Army and the Montenegrin police said in a joint statement in Podgorica on 25 March that they will soon set up a joint checkpoint on the Pec-Rozaje road to help prevent smuggling and "terrorism" from Kosova. PM

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES GIVE BACK TV TRANSMITTER

Officials of the federal Telecommunications Ministry and the city of Kraljevo have reached an agreement whereby the ministry will return a transmitter to a local television station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2000), "Danas" reported on 27 March. The agreement followed seven days of protests, involving some 10,000 people, against the seizure of the transmitter. PM

THREE BALKAN STATES AGREE ON JOINT STRATEGY

The finance ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia agreed in Tirana on 25 March to support one another's requests for money to support infrastructure projects. An EU Balkan donors' conference is slated for 29-30 March in Brussels. The three ministers agreed that they will be more successful working together than if they act independently of each other. "With this mutual support, the chances of gaining financing...will be much greater," Macedonian Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski told Reuters. One key project involving all three countries is an east-west highway linking Albania's Durres with Istanbul via Macedonia and Bulgaria. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SLAMS U.S. CONGRESSMEN

Party of Social Democracy in Romania First Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase said on 24 March that Congressmen Frank Wolf and Christopher Smith are "notorious electoral agents" of President Emil Constantinescu and that the Romanian people are "fed up with commissars, either Soviet or American," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase was responding to the 23 March statements made by the two congressmen to the U.S. Congress Helsinki Commission. Wolf said a return to power of former President Ion Iliescu would "send the wrong signal" to the West and that he would resign his membership on the Helsinki Commission rather than see an Iliescu-led Romania take over the OSCE rotating chairmanship in 2000. Smith said that a return to power of the "old communist guard" would hinder the process of combating corruption that has been successfully launched by Constantinescu. MS

TWO ROMANIAN PARTIES AGREE ON DATE OF LOCAL ELECTIONS

The president of the National Peasants' Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), Ion Diaconescu, said on 24 March that he has reached an agreement with the leadership of the National Liberal Party on confirming that local elections will take place on 4 and 16 June, Mediafax reported. The two parties also agreed that the first round of the local elections would not be repeated if the turnout is less than 50 percent. PNTCD General Secretary Remus Opris said the two parties will compete in the elections "in the spirit of non-aggression" and that the best candidate will be supported in the second round. In other news, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko complained on 26 March that parties in the Romanian governing coalition are not on equal terms because his party is not represented in the Interior Ministry or the Romanian intelligence service, Hungarian Radio reported. VG

ROMANIAN PREMIER: WE DON'T HAVE A FUNCTIONAL MARKET ECONOMY

Mugur Isarescu said on 24 March at a general meeting of the National Association of Exporters and Importers that Romania does not have a functional market economy but rather a "substitute with many malfunctions," Mediafax reported. He said a functioning market economy requires institutions and a flow of information. "We have neither," he said. Isarescu said it will take patience to "undo" laws passed by previous governments. He said the country has too many laws related to taxes and duties and too many government agencies. VG

ROMANIA, MOLDOVA TO SIGN CITIZENSHIP ACCORD

Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman and his visiting Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Tabacaru, said in Bucharest on 24 March that their countries will draft an agreement on dual citizenship, Rompres reported. The number of Moldovans applying for Romanian citizenship has increased dramatically since Romania was invited to start accession negotiations for membership in the EU. At present, Romanian law allows dual citizenship, but Moldovan law does not. Roman said Romania will not refuse to allow Moldovans to enter the country after it becomes a member of the EU. He also said Bucharest does not plan to introduce visa restrictions for Moldovans. Roman added that both countries agreed to increase border security. VG

BULGARIA'S UNEMPLOYMENT RATE SOARS

Bulgaria's unemployment rate increased by 5 percent from January to February to reach 18.14 percent, BTA reported on 24 March. The news agency said the increase resulted from the closing down of loss-making state firms, staff reductions in the state administration, and fewer jobs in the seasonal sector. VG

BULGARIA JOINS ANTI-CORRUPTION INITIATIVE

Bulgaria's national coordinator for the Stability Pact, Nikola Karadimov, met with representatives of the Council of Europe and the Stability Pact on 24 March to discuss an anti- corruption initiative related to the pact, BTA reported. Karadimov said Bulgaria will implement the initiative that includes commitments to work on preventing the misuse of foreign aid. It will also review public procurement laws and increase the transparency of public spending. The Council of Europe's Alexander Segar said the purpose of the initiative is to give guarantees to donors that foreign aid will not be misused. VG




A VICTORY NOT A MANDATE


By Paul Goble

Vladimir Putin narrowly gained a first-round victory in the 26 March Russian presidential election, but his initial comments suggest he recognizes that he did not get the kind of mandate that might have led him to act without taking into account other political forces in the country. If that proves to be the case, then this sobering result of the electoral process may prove to be the most important consequence of what has been anything but an ordinary democratic election.

Speaking at his campaign headquarters in Moscow late on 26 March, Putin noted that the Communist Party and its leader, Gennadii Zyuganov, had done far better than the polls had predicted, "even though--let us be direct and honest about this--they did not have many opportunities in the media, especially the electronic media." And he added "there are many people in the country who are not satisfied with the state of things. People are tired, things are tough for them, and they expect better things from me. But, of course, miracles don't occur."

On the one hand, Putin's remarks highlight how the election to succeed Boris Yeltsin was substantively undemocratic--even though the actual voting appears to have been more or less procedurally correct. But on the other, Putin's open acknowledgement of the continuing strength of his opponents may lead to a new and different relationship between the executive and legislative branches of the Russian government, one that may not generate more reform but could in the end contribute to the institutionalization of democracy in Russia.

Many people both in Russia and the West had expected the Russian presidential vote in 2000 to complete not only the demise of communism but also the institutionalization of democracy. It has done neither. The Communists remain the largest opposition party, entirely capable of playing a major role in the life of the Russian Federation well into the future. And democracy remains far from fully institutionalized as well.

Instead of proving to be the first genuinely democratic transfer of power in the history of Russia, the handover from Yeltsin to Putin guaranteed that the 2000 vote would be anything but that. First, Yeltsin's timely resignation allowed Putin to exploit the powers of incumbency and the popularity of the campaign in Chechnya without his opponents being able to rally their forces against him.

Second, as Putin himself implicitly acknowledged late on 26 March, the government's ability to control the still largely state-owned electronic media, from which most Russians get their news and information, allowed him to define the terms on which the election would be contested.

And third, despite his occasional swipes at regional leaders, the oligarchs, and other members of the party of power, Putin has been able to use the powers of incumbency in ways that have led most of those individuals to back him largely out of a sense on their part that they have no choice to do otherwise.

All of which suggests that there are still far too few ccmpetitively available political resources in the Russian political system for it to be called an institutionalized democracy, even though this vote, like others since 1991, could come to represent a step in that direction.

The reason for such relative optimism in the end is also contained in Putin's remarks, in his acceptance of the fact that there are other political forces in Russia that he must attend to and work with.

Because he referred in the first instance to the Communists, Putin's words may simply presage a further rapprochement between him and the Communists. Putin has already shown himself prepared to move in that direction, for example, when he backed the election in January of a Communist as State Duma speaker. And at least one defeated presidential candidate, Grigorii Yavlinskii, suggested that there is no significant difference between Putin and Communist leader Zyuganov.

Such an alliance almost certainly would presage a backing away from some aspects of economic reform. But it would not necessarily mean a retreat from democracy, given that almost 80 percent of the electorate voted for either Putin or Zyuganov. Indeed, it might become the basis for a new and more cooperative relationship between the legislative and executive branches, albeit one that few of those committed to reforms would find attractive.

At the same time, however, Putin's newly founded recognition of the power of those who oppose him--nearly 50 percent of the total electorate--could lead him to try to build the kind of coalitions that are the very essence of the process of democratic government, rather than ignoring and isolating those who oppose him, as his predecessor Boris Yeltsin often did.

If either of these developments does take place, then the Russian presidential election of 2000 may prove to be a breakthrough, even though so many aspects of it were anything but.




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