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Newsline - April 7, 2000




PACE MOVES TO SUSPEND RUSSIA

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 6 April voted to suspend Russian membership in the council if Moscow does not halt human rights violations in Chechnya. Reuters quoted the text of the passed motion as saying that suspension procedures against Russia should be started if "substantial, accelerating and demonstrable progress" is not made "immediately." Council of Europe foreign ministers are due to meet on 10 May to debate Russia's suspension, according to AP. Also on 6 April, PACE voted to suspend the voting rights of Russia's 18-strong delegation. That move prompted the Russian delegation to walk out of the assembly, while one Russian delegate reportedly exchanged blows with a Chechen representative. JC

IVANOV SAYS RUSSIA 'BEWILDERED' BY PACE DECISION

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 7 April that Moscow is "bewildered by and deeply regrets" PACE's decision to move toward suspending Russia. The assembly was "misled by members who still think in terms of the Cold War," Interfax quoted him as saying. Ivanov was speaking at the start of a meeting in Moscow with Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The previous day, Gama had said that Russia should view PACE's decision as a "warning message." He added that he hopes Russia will respond to that decision in "a positive manner." JC

RUSSIA'S RIGHTS CHIEF WARNS OF NEW 'IRON CURTAIN'...

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov told Ekho Moskvy on 6 April that he regards PACE's move to suspend Russia as an "improper" approach "because it will create a new 'iron curtain' between Russia and Europe." "The [Chechen] guerrillas," he said, "are acting in an unconstitutional and illegal manner. The Russian troops are acting within the framework of the [federal] Constitution and the law." JC

...WHILE COMMUNISTS, NATIONALIST REMAIN DEFIANT

State Duma speaker (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev responded to PACE's 6 April decision by saying that Russia will manage without the "European masters," Interfax reported. The assembly, he said, is making a "historic mistake" that amounts to an act of revenge on an "economically weakened Russia." Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov called the decision "hypocritical and unfair" and said he is sure Russia will not "sit around in Strasbourg and listen to all those reprimands." Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, meanwhile, was quoted by Reuters as saying before the vote that Russia should pull out of the council before suspension procedures begin. "I know the real situation [in Chechnya]," he said, "and think that Russia needs to be more cruel [there]." JC

KOSHMAN EXCLUDES PRESIDENTIAL RULE IN CHECHNYA

The Russian government representative in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, told ITAR-TASS on 7 April following talks with Russian President- elect Vladimir Putin that presidential rule will not be imposed in Chechnya. He said that Putin has ordered the drafting of proposals on reforming the Russian government mission in Chechnya and sending representatives of unspecified ministries to join that mission. Koshman had said in late March that he believes presidential rule in Chechnya is needed for at least two years. Other Russian political and military figures concurred with that view, although some politicians had objected that the Russian Constitution does not set clear guidelines for establishing such rule. A "Nezavisimaya gazeta" correspondent reported on 1 April after touring "liberated" regions of Chechnya that the local population unanimously supports the prospect of presidential rule as "essential and the only correct step." LF

SECOND DETENTION CENTER TO BE OPENED IN CHECHNYA

Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin told journalists in Grozny on 7 April that a further detention center will be opened in the Chechen capital, in addition to the filtration camp at Chernokozovo, ITAR-TASS reported. He gave the number of people currently in detention at Chernokozovo as 89. LF

PUTIN PLEDGES TO ANNOUNCE ECONOMIC PROGRAM

President-elect Putin told Interfax in Murmansk on 6 April that he will announce his economic program in a speech to the Duma. He said that the preparation of his policy was "in its final stage." And he provided some clues as to what the new policy will consist of, noting that the state will retain its role in several key areas including defense and the development of the Russian North, while scrupulously obeying the law in other areas. During his trip to the north, Putin watched an underwater ballistic missile test in the Barents Sea and spent the night of 5-6 April on a submarine in the company of naval officials. PG

PUTIN UPBEAT ABOUT RUSSIA-IMF RELATIONS...

President-elect Putin told acting IMF Managing Director Stanley Fischer in Moscow on 6 April that Russia is determined to develop relations with international financial organizations in general and the IMF in particular. According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, Putin and Fischer agreed that a joint program for expanding relations between Russia and the IMF will be drawn up by July. In an 6 April interview with "Kommersant-Daily," Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov stressed that Moscow needs "only $1.5 billion from the IMF, [that is] two standard installments" if it is to meet its foreign debt obligations this year. Kasyanov commented that without this money, "the government's intention to pay its foreign debt in full will not be realized." At the same time, he commented that "nothing dramatic will happen" if there are no external sources of money. JC

...WHILE FISCHER URGES SPEEDIER REFORMS

Fischer, for his part, said Russia must speed up structural reforms if it is to sustain economic growth. Speaking at an international investment conference in Moscow on 6 April, the IMF acting head said that reforms in Russia have been "incomplete, imperfect, and [their] implementation spotty," Reuters reported. According to "The Moscow Times" the next day, Fischer identified six priority areas, including industrial restructuring; elimination of the non-payments system; the restructuring of the banking system; reform of the Central Bank and tax system, and strengthening of the social safety net. JC

RUSSIAN ECONOMIC NUMBERS IMPROVE

Inflation in Russia fell to 0.6 percent in March, the lowest rate since the August 1998 financial crisis, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. Meanwhile, officials announced that the primary surplus of the federal budget reached 3.8 percent of GDP in the first quarter of 2000, and the Russian Finance Ministry said that the government does not intend to borrow funds from the Central Bank in the second quarter, the Russian news agency reported. PG

PUTIN'S FIRST FOREIGN TRIPS TO KYIV, MINSK, LONDON

The Foreign Ministry is preparing working visits for President- elect Putin to Minsk, Kyiv, and London, Interfax reported on 6 April, The visits will take place in mid-April. The Russian leader also plans working visits this year to Germany, Italy, India, and China and said that a meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton is under consideration as well. PG

NO MAJOR CHANGES EXPECTED IN RUSSIAN CABINET

Unidentified Kremlin sources told Interfax on 6 April that there are unlikely to be major changes in the country's government in the near future, but these sources also said that "the most probably candidate" for prime minister to replace Putin is First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. PG

EXIMBANK GIVES FORMAL APPROVAL TO TYUMEN LOAN

The U.S. Export-Import Bank on 6 April officially approved a $500 million loan guarantee to Russia's Tyumen Oil Company, AP reported. The 4-0 vote of its directors followed the decision of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to back the loan guarantees. PG

SAMARA LEGISLATURE ACCEPTS TITOV'S RESIGNATION

The Samara regional legislature on 6 April accepted the resignation of Governor Konstantin Titov, Interfax reported. After garnering only 20 percent of the vote in his home region when he ran for president, Titov said he can no longer "work normally" "because he cannot explain to everyone that he is a respected governor." A new governor will be elected on 2 July, the legislature said. PG

MANILOV LASHES OUT AT NATO COMMANDER

General Valerii Manilov, the first deputy head of Army General Staff, told Interfax on 6 April that NATO Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clarke does not understand Russia's new military doctrine. "Clarke seems to have read that document inattentively or else he had an incorrect translation," Manilov said. As a result, he has failed to understand the "pivotal place" that partnership plays in the new Russian doctrine. PG

DRASKOVIC CONDEMNS NATO OPERATION IN KOSOVA

On a visit to Moscow, Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic condemned NATO's peacekeeping operation in Kosova and demanded that Serbian forces be allowed to return there, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. "Everything that has happened in Kosovo in the past 10 months is a disgrace for the international forces," the agency quoted him as saying. Draskovic met with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and other officials. PG

CITROEN TO MANUFACTURE CARS IN TAGANROG

France's Citroen company and the Russian financial industrial group Doinvest have reached agreement on the assembly of 3,000 cars in Taganrog this year, Interfax reported on 6 April. The cars will be sold in Russia for $8,000-$10,000. PG

BOMBING SUSPECT DETAINED

The Federal Security Service has detained 25-year-old Larisa Romanova on suspicion of participation in the April 1999 bombing of Russia's main security service building, Interfax reported on 6 April. Romanova reportedly is a member of a group called the New Revolutionary Alternative Movement. Four other members of this group were detained earlier in connection with the same bombing. PG

SUSPECTED CONTRACT KILLER ARRESTED

Moscow police have arrested an unidentified man on suspicion of participation in the apparent contract murder of St. Petersburg businessman Gennadii Ivanov, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. Ivanov was gunned down on a main street in the northern capital the previous day. PG

TOP HUNGARIAN COURT REJECTS BYKOV'S PLEA

The Hungarian Supreme Court has rejected former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum head Anatolii Bykov's application for refugee status, AP reported on 6 April, quoting Bykov's lawyer. Hungary's justice minister must now decide whether to grant Russia's request for Bykov's extradition. Bykov is suspected of money laundering and conspiracy to commit murder. He has been at loggerheads with Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, who, Bykov claims, "persecuted" him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2000). JC

LIFE ON 'MIR' AGAIN

Two Russian cosmonauts docked with the "Mir" space station on 6 April, some eight months after the station was left to orbit the Earth unmanned. Sergei Zalentin and Aleksandr Kaleri reported that the station appeared to be in "good shape" and was "dry, clean, and quite warm," according to AP. Meanwhile back on planet Earth, the Amsterdam-based MirCorp, which is helping fund the mission, and Russia's Energia company, the operator of the station, signed an agreement to continue work on "Mir" in the second half of 2000, Interfax reported. JC




ARMENIA ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR MISSING EX-MINISTER

Armenian police on 6 April issued an international arrest warrant for former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The same day, the Yerevan district court where Siradeghian is being tried for having ordered a series of contract killings suspended proceedings for seven days. Siradeghian is believed either to have left the country or gone into hiding after his fellow parliamentary deputies voted on 4 April to lift his immunity from detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). Members of his family have denied any knowledge of his whereabouts and expressed concern for his safety. LF

AZERBAIJAN REPEAT LOCAL ELECTION RESULTS PUBLISHED

The Central Electoral Commission announced on 7 April that repeat municipal elections held on 26 March were valid in 74 out of 75 districts, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2000). A total of 556 deputies were elected, representing 10 political parties and four public organizations. Voter turnout was 48.2 percent. Commission chairman Djafar Veliev said he believes the poll was free and fair. LF

SURVEY SUGGESTS SUPPORT FOR INCUMBENT WANING ON EVE OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL

Caucasus Press on 7 April cited the findings of recent opinion polls that indicate that incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze may not win the 50 percent of the vote needed for an outright, first-round victory in the 9 April presidential election. Support for Shevardnadze is said to have slipped by 11.3 percent over the past two months to 43.1 percent, while his closest rival and successor as Georgian Communist Party first secretary, Djumber Patiashvili, has seen his backing leap from 5.7 percent to 20 percent. Adjar parliamentary chairman Aslan Abashidze now has only 4.3 percent support compared with 12.4 percent two months ago. The chances of the remaining four candidates are regarded as minimal. Shevardnadze met with Abashidze in Batumi on 6 April, but no details of their talks were revealed (see also "End Note"). LF

MORE SHOOTINGS IN ABKHAZIA

A Georgian civilian bystander and an Abkhaz customs official were killed in an exchange of fire between the Abkhaz patrol and Georgian guerrillas near the village of Chuburkhindji early on 6 April, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. A second customs official was wounded. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PROPOSES REFERENDUM ON NEW ELECTIONS

Galym Abelsiitov, chairman of the opposition Azamat party, told a press conference in Almaty on 6 April that Azamat wants a nationwide referendum to be held in fall 2000 on removing President Nursultan Nazarbaev from office and disbanding the parliament, Interfax reported. The party is also demanding that the governors of Kazakhstan's 14 oblasts be elected, rather than appointed, by the president. Abelsiitov characterized his party's "main task" as "creating a truly multi-party system" in Kazakhstan. He expressed skepticism that the various opposition factions would be able to unite and coordinate their activities. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER SENTENCED

An Almaty district court on 6 April sentenced Workers Movement leader Madel Ismailov to 15 days' imprisonment for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration in that city on 30 January, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). LF

KYRGYZ PROTESTERS MOVE PICKET TO U.S. EMBASSY

Some 100 protesters who were forcibly removed by police from the square in front of the government building in Bishkek late on 4 April have taken up position outside the U.S. embassy, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Protest participant Kural Usubaliev, a retired policeman, was sentenced by a district court in Bishkek on 6 April to five days' imprisonment on charges of resisting the police. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CREATES WORKING GROUP TO AMEND ELECTION LAW

Askar Akaev issued a decree on 6 April setting up a working group charged with drafting amendments to the existing election law by 1 July, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The groups comprises the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, a member of the presidential administration, and deputies to the parliament elected in February-March, some of whom represent moderate opposition parties. The new parliament will meet for its first session on 14 April. LF




BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN OCTOBER?

Ivan Pashkevich, deputy head of the Belarusian presidential administration, told Reuters on 6 April that the campaign for parliamentary elections is likely to start on 7 August. Under Belarus's electoral code, campaigning for the elections can begin two months before voting, meaning that the ballot might take place on 7 October. Pashkevich expressed hope that despite the opposition's call for a boycott, anti- presidential parties will take part in the vote. "Presidential supporters will beyond a doubt win the elections, but the opposition also has a chance to be elected to the parliament. If it understands that politics are not made in the back streets, it will come to the polls," Pashkevich said. JM

CIS VISAS WILL NO LONGER BE VALID FOR TRANSIT THROUGH BELARUS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikalay Barysevich said on 6 April Belarus will start demanding transit visas from non-CIS foreigners as of 1 May, Belapan reported. Minsk decided to suspend the provision of a 1992 CIS agreement on the mutual recognition of visas, which allowed foreigners possessing a visa from any signatory country to that agreement to travel through Belarus without a Belarusian transit visa. Meanwhile, Russia's recent decision to introduce customs controls on the Belarusian-Russian border of shipments by third countries was a "total surprise" for Minsk, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service commented. Barysevich stressed that the decision does not spell the end of the Russia-Belarus Customs Union, adding that it resulted from Russia's "domestic political problems." The same day a Belarusian delegation was in Moscow to discuss the reintroduction of customs controls, but the outcome of those talks is not known. JM

UKRAINE SLAMS PACE OVER APPEAL TO DELAY REFERENDUM

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said on 6 April that the appeal by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to postpone the 16 April constitutional referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2000) is "unacceptable and inadmissible," Interfax reported. According to the ministry, PACE's recommendation to suspend Ukraine's membership in the Council of Europe if Kyiv moves to implement the referendum results by unconstitutional methods "does not reflect the real situation in Ukraine and is a manifestation of disrespect for [Ukraine's] people, constitution, and legislation, [as well as] all [its] branches of power." The ministry noted that the referendum will be a milestone on Ukraine's path toward European integration. Meanwhile, early voting in the referendum has begun for those Ukrainians who are unable to vote on 16 April. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS APPROVAL OF CABINET PROGRAM SHOWS 'POLITICAL UNITY'

Viktor Yushchenko said on 6 April that the parliament's approval of the government program for 2000-2004 demonstrated "the political unity of power branches" in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000), Interfax reported. He added that there has been "no more socially oriented budget and program in the history of independent Ukraine" than those proposed by his cabinet. Yushchenko said he counts on cooperation with the legislature, adding that the government has submitted 48 bills for urgent parliamentary approval. The adoption of the government program implies that the parliament has agreed not to seek the government's resignation for one year. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT RAISES MINIMUM WAGE

The Supreme Council on 6 April voted by 304 to two to raise the minimum wage from the current 74 hryvni ($13.5) to 90 hryvni as of 1 April and to 118.3 hryvni as of 1 July, Interfax reported. JM

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN WASHINGTON

Toomas Hendrik Ilves arrived in the U.S. capital on 3 April for talks on bilateral ties. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Ilves discussed economic ties, with Talbott promising improvements in bilateral trade. They also discussed issues related to the energy sector, particularly the ongoing talks with U.S. company NRG Energy on the privatization of two large power plants, ETA reported. Ilves also met with several Congressmen to discuss various topics, including NATO enlargement. And he addressed the Council on Foreign Relations, focusing on Estonia's foreign-policy goals. MH

ESTONIA CATCHES UP WITH OTHER EU FRONT-RUNNERS

The European Commission on 6 April provisionally closed another four negotiating chapters with Estonia, meaning the country is now even with others in the "Luxembourg group" (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Cyprus). Chapters on foreign relations, fisheries, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the commercial code were closed, while two chapters--on regional policies and fiscal supervision--were opened. A total of 12 of the 25 chapters that have been opened for talks with Estonia have thus been provisionally closed. Chief negotiator Alar Streimann told BNS that he hopes the remaining chapters, which include agriculture and free movement of labor, will be opened during the current Portuguese presidency of the EU. MH

LATVIAN ECONOMICS MINISTER SACKED

Prime Minister Andris Skele on 6 April sacked Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs over a protracted dispute about the leadership of the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA). Makarovs, a long-time critic of LPA director Janis Naglis, had signed an order the previous day revoking Naglis's right to sign documents on behalf of the LPA, arguing that Naglis's term in office had expired (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2000). Skele accused Makarovs of going about his business "in a roundabout way," noting that the majority of the cabinet did not share Makarovs's view on Naglis's status, BNS reported. Skele has temporarily assumed the portfolio. The opposition Social Democrats, meanwhile launched a no-confidence motion against Skele and two of his party's ministers. MH

MAYORAL ELECTIONS FAIL IN TWO LITHUANIAN CITIES

Mayoral elections on 6 April failed in Kaunas and Panevezys, with competing factions in both cities failing to secure a majority. In Kaunas, where 21 votes are needed for a majority, Vytautas Sustauskas of the radical Freedom Union gained 16 votes while Gediminas Zemaitis of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) received 10, ELTA reported. In Panevezys, where 16 votes are needed for a majority, Centrist Valdemaras Jakstas garnered 14 votes and incumbent Conservative Vitas Matuzas 12. If a council fails to elect a mayor within two months, the council is dissolved and rule imposed by the central government. On the other hand, incumbent Eugenijus Gentvilas of the Liberal Union was re-elected mayor of Klaipeda by 26 out of 31 votes following an agreement among the various parties to cooperate. MH

POLISH PREMIER CLAIMS TO DISPEL 'DOUBTS' OVER EU ENTRY

Following talks with European Commission head Romano Prodi in Brussels on 6 April, Jerzy Buzek said he has dispelled "doubts" about Poland's "speedy" entry into the EU, Polish Television reported. The two agreed that the EU and Poland will open all the remaining negotiation chapters this year. Buzek pledged that Warsaw will be able to conclude those negotiations next year, adding that in that case, Poland would be ready for EU entry on 1 January 2003. Prodi noted that he "would be very happy to see Poland in the first group of countries to join" the EU, but he mentioned no date. "We cannot even imagine not being in the first group," Buzek responded (see also "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT RATIFIES CZECH-SLOVAK PROPERTY AGREEMENT

The Czech Chamber of Deputies has ratified an agreement between the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the division of the former Czechoslovakia's property, CTK reported on 6 April. The agreement was signed last November by the prime ministers of both countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). Also on 6 April, the Czech Chamber of Deputies passed in the first reading an amendment to the electoral law drawn up by the two "opposition agreement" parties--the Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). VG

BELGIUM IMPOSES VISA REQUIREMENT ON SLOVAKIA...

The Belgian government has imposed a visa requirement on Slovakia "on a temporary basis" in response to an increase in asylum seekers from that country, TASR reported on 6 April. The Belgian Interior Ministry said the country has received 366 asylum applications from Slovak citizens since the beginning of this year--most of which were from Roma. Observers noted that the Netherlands and Luxembourg, which belong to the Benelux agreement with Belgium, are likely to impose visa requirements on Slovakia as well. Britain, Ireland, Finland, Denmark, and Norway recently imposed such restrictions on Slovakia. VG

...WHILE SLOVAK PRESIDENT CLAIMS TO BE 'PUZZLED'

Rudolf Schuster said he is "puzzled" by the Belgian decision, given that Slovakia is doing its best to meet all criteria for EU accession. He suggested that other Western European countries follow Britain's example by tightening their asylum laws. The Slovak Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it acknowledges Belgium's right to impose visas but adding that such a decision "will not make the solution to problems in Slovakia, or anywhere else, easier." Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told Slovak Radio that he had not expected the move but said the two countries discussed the issue of the asylum seekers "frequently" in recent days. Frantisek Sebej, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for EU integration, blamed the situation on "false" asylum-seekers who are going to Belgium and other countries to seek "economic advantages." VG

HUNGARY'S EU ACCESSION TALKS REACH DELICATE STAGE

Endre Juhasz, Hungary's ambassador to the EU, complained to reporters in Brussels on 6 April that the EU "keeps meticulously silent" about which economic data it aims to use as a basis for assistance to Hungarian regions. He said he expected a more detailed explanation at ongoing accession talks. EU economic and financial commissioner Pedro Solbes said after signing a joint EU-Hungarian report that the Hungarian government's economic program is ambitious but "too optimistic" as regards inflation. The Hungarian delegation indicated that it has modified its target date for accession from 1 January 2002 to 2003, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

UN RAPPORTEUR RELEASES REPORT ON RACISM IN THREE COUNTRIES

The UN's special rapporteur for contemporary racism, Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, has released a report on racial discrimination against Roma in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania, CTK reported on 6 April. Glele-Ahanhanzo cited various cases of racial discrimination, legal discrepancies, and incidents of racially motivated violence and made various recommendations for programs and legislation to improve the situation. At the same time, he noted that in their efforts to gain membership in the EU, the governments of all three countries are making efforts to implement reforms to help their Romany minorities. VG




SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES GOVERNMENT'S FUTURE

The legislature on 7 April began a debate on the proposed new cabinet of Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek following the recent resignation of nine ministers from the People's Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2000). The parliament will vote by 9 April on whether to approve the new government. Drnovsek has said he will resign and call early elections if he does not receive a vote of confidence for his minority cabinet, Montenegrin Television reported. Elections are due in the last quarter of 2000. The parliament is the center of political power in Slovenia. PM

KRAJISNIK PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY'

At the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Momcilo Krajisnik pleaded "not guilty" on 7 April to charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, including counts of extermination, murder, willful killing, and inhumane acts, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April 2000). The former deputy to Radovan Karadzic added "no, no" for emphasis when denying the charge of genocide. The judge denied his request "to say a few words in my defense." Krajisnik could face up to life in prison if convicted on any of the various counts. He is the highest-ranking defendant to appear before the court to date. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte called for the arrest of Karadzic so that he can stand trial together with Krajisnik, Reuters reported. PM

BOSNIA VOTES IN LOCAL ELECTIONS

On 8 April, some 2.5 million Bosnian citizens are entitled to cast their votes at 3,500 polling stations in elections for local and municipal officials, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some 68 parties and coalitions, as well as 18 independent candidates, will appear on the ballot. The OSCE is supervising the vote, and some 6,500 foreign and domestic monitors will be present. On 6 April, OSCE election organizers disqualified a small Croatian nationalist party from the vote on the grounds that it is opposed to the Dayton agreement. PM

U.S. AMBASSADOR WARNS BOSNIAN VOTERS

U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Thomas Miller said in Sarajevo on 6 April that voters in the 8 April local elections should think carefully before voting for the nationalist parties that have held sway in Bosnia for a decade. Miller stressed: "I'm not interested in recommending to my bosses in Washington that they put any money into areas where you have people who are doing all they can to obstruct Dayton implementation. But if we can show some achievement this year, we have the decent chance to convince the American people and leaders to continue the [economic, military, and political] assistance," AP reported. One analyst suggested, however, that most voters "will say to themselves: 'I'm more afraid of the other nationality than of my own crooks'" and will cast their ballots for one of the three main nationalist parties. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN LEADER THREATENS MIGRATION TO CROATIA

Ante Jelavic, who is the Croatian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and head of that republic's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), said in Mostar that the government of Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan is trying to destroy the power of the HDZ in Bosnia at the urging of the international community. Jelavic noted that the Croatian authorities have held up or are threatening to cut pensions to Herzegovinian war veterans. He said that the only solution for the Herzegovinians might be to move en masse to Croatia, "Jutarnji list" reported on 7 April. Croatia recognizes ethnic Croatian citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina as Croatian citizens. PM

KFOR, MILOSEVIC BACKERS CLASH AT MONASTERY...

Up to 200 Kosova Serb supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic attacked the Gracanica monastery with axes and pitchforks on 6 April in a second day of protest against a decision by moderates to attend meetings of the UN's provisional council as observers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). One Serb was wounded in the leg when Swedish peacekeepers fired shots to disperse the angry crowd. Pro- Milosevic Serbs plan further demonstrations on 7 April. PM

...AS KOSOVA SERB MODERATES APPEAL FOR CALM

Father Sava, who is one of the moderate Serb political leaders cooperating with the UN, said at Gracanica on 6 April that KFOR troops unnecessarily angered the protesters by using dogs against them, "Vesti" reported. Sava added that he had been afraid that enraged protesters would set fire to the 16th century Serbian Orthodox building complex. Moderate spokesman Aleksandar Vidojevic said the protesters fear that the moderates will agree to independence for Kosova, adding that it is easy for the Belgrade regime to "manipulate their fears," AP reported. PM

FIRE SWEEPS OFFICES OF SERBIAN INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Seven people were injured and one killed in a 6 April blaze destroyed the Novi Sad offices of independent Radio 021, two private television stations, and the bureaus of Montenegrin television and the Belgrade daily "Danas," Reuters reported. The cause of the fire has not been determined. Opposition leader Nenad Canak said, however, that "it means something that it happened in the offices of the only independent electronic media in Novi Sad." PM

PROTESTS IN VOJVODINA'S SECOND CITY

Some 1,000 people demonstrated in Zrenjanin on 6 April to protest the detention by police of one opposition city council member and the sacking of two others. Some 25 members of opposition parties spent the night in the council offices to protest what they called the "illegal" detention and sackings, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

U.S. CRITICIZES AUSTRALIA OVER EMBASSY APPOINTMENT

A U.S. embassy spokesman said in Canberra on 7 April that Australia is wrong to name a new ambassador to Belgrade at a time when most Western governments are trying to isolate the Milosevic regime. A spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade defended his government's decision. He said that "we have an ambassador [in Belgrade] because we have a large Australian Serbian community and we recognize states, not governments," Reuters reported. The spokesman also denied press reports that Australia named the new ambassador as part of a deal in 1999 to secure the release from a Serbian jail of two Australian aid workers and their translator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1999). PM

BELGRADE'S AMBASSADOR TO VATICAN TO STAY IN ROME

Dojcilo Maslovaric, who is Yugoslavia's ambassador to the Vatican, said in Rome that he will not return to Serbia even though his diplomatic appointment ended several days ago, "Vesti" reported on 7 April. He said that he will remain in Rome "temporarily" because of what he called "private reasons." When asked if his decision is linked to that of former Yugoslav Ambassador to Italy Miodrag Lekic to remain in Rome, Maslovaric stressed that "everyone has his reasons for not going back" to Yugoslavia. Maslovaric pointed out that Lekic is a "career diplomat and a Montenegrin." PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REBUKES STATE UTILITIES MONOPOLIES

President Emil Constantinescu told journalists on 6 April that it is "inadmissible" for the state utilities monopolies to regularly raise prices while paying "enormous salaries" to some of their employees. Saying the population is regularly subjected to "arbitrary hikes," he asked Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu to examine as quickly as possible the methods of calculating prices used by these companies as well as their economic performance. Constantinescu also said that only the breaking up of monopolies can bring about a free-market, competitive system based on genuine economic performance, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES LOCAL ELECTION HURDLE

The cabinet on 6 April approved an ordinance setting a 5 percent electoral hurdle for gaining representation on local councils, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Local elections are scheduled for June 2000. MS

ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT BACKS CLUJ MAYOR

The Supreme Court on 6 April rejected Cluj prefect Vasile Salcudean's appeal against a Cluj tribunal ruling that reinstated controversial Mayor Gheorghe Funar. The government had suspended Funar pending an investigation of allegations that he abused his position and harmed the interests of the Alimentara company (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 25 and 27 January 2000). The Supreme Court's ruling is final, Romanian Radio reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER RESPONDS TO RECOMMENDATIONS ON RUSSIAN BASES

A civic organization called "The Republic" has suggested that Russia be allowed to maintain a military base in the breakaway region of Transdniester and that Moldova should adopt Russian as the country's second official language, AP Flux reported, citing "De Facto." The newspaper quoted Moldovan Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis as saying in an unofficial interview that he does not rule out the possibility of Russia's maintaining a base in the Transdniester in exchange for natural gas and other products. Nevertheless, Braghis noted that such a deal would run counter to the OSCE resolution on the Russian troop withdrawal and the Moldovan government's own declarations concerning neutrality and demilitarization. He ruled out the possibility of recognizing two official languages in Moldova. VG

BULGARIAN ENVOY MEETS WITH IMPRISONED MEDICS IN LIBYA

Hristo Danov, an envoy of Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, has met with the six detained Bulgarian medical workers accused of intentionally infecting 393 Libyan children with the HIV virus, BTA reported on 6 April. He said the medical workers, who say they are not guilty, are in good spirits and are hoping for a "fair and just trial." Danov informed them that Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy has assured Stoyanov that the trial will be fair. The trial is scheduled to begin on 30 April. VG




UNANSWERED QUESTIONS


By Liz Fuller

No one doubts for a second that incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze will be re-elected for a second term in the 9 April presidential poll in Georgia. But many of those who vote for Shevardnadze will do so not because they approve of his policies or because they believe his election promises. Rather, they fear that a victory by any of the six alternative candidates would result in even greater economic hardship and a return to instability.

The conduct of the election campaign has highlighted numerous problems and weaknesses in the Georgian political system that Shevardnadze has so far proved powerless to solve. They include tensions between the central government and the regions (including Georgia's three autonomous formations); corruption, which Shevardnadze has been vowing for years to eradicate, without success; and the marginalization of all but a handful of political parties, partly as a result of the flawed law under which last October's parliamentary elections were conducted. Equally serious are the economic problems that the country faces: an external debt of $2.39 billion, which is equal to 85 percent of last year's GDP, pensions and wage arrears amounting to millions of dollars (Shevardnadze said last month that paying pensions arrears would raise his share of the vote by 20 percent), and massive unemployment (despite Shevardnadze's 1995 presidential election campaign pledge to create 1 million new jobs).

None of Shevardnadze's six rival candidates has an election program that offers convincing solutions to any of those problems. Indeed, only two of those rivals stand even a remote chance of polling more than 10 percent of the vote. They are Shevardnadze's successor as Georgian Communist Party first secretary, Djumber Patiashvili, and Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze. Both men are leaders of the so-called Batumi Alliance of five disparate opposition parties, which is the second-largest parliamentary faction.

Patiashvili is still compromised in the view of many Georgians, as he himself admits, for his as yet unclarified role in the attack by Russian troops on demonstrators in Tbilisi on 9 April 1989. Under the rubric "We can and will give people back a better, dignified life," his election program focuses on reducing budget spending to fund social programs and on abolishing what he terms the "anti- constitutional" institution of regional governors appointed by the president. His foreign-policy program combines continued cooperation with the West and improved ties with Russia.

The authoritarian Abashidze, widely regarded as Russia's stalking horse, has not campaigned beyond his native turf and was rumored on 6 April to have decided to withdraw his candidacy. Of the remaining four candidates, Tengiz Asanidze is in jail in Batumi, Abashidze having refused to release him, despite an amnesty from Shevardnadze. National Political Union of Georgia "Mdzleveli" leader Avtandil Djoglidze is a political unknown, as is Vazha Zhghenti, chairman of the obscure Progressive Party, who believes Georgia should turn its back on imported economic and political models and create a new "national" ideology and laws.

By contrast, the seventh candidate, Chairman of the Corporation of Lawyers of Georgia Kartlos Gharibashvili, is a presidential election veteran: in 1991, he failed to collect the requisite number of signatures to run against Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and in the 1995 election he placed joint fourth in a field of six candidates with less than 1 percent of the vote. Gharibashvili told RFE/RL on 3 April that his program has nothing in common with those of the other candidates, being "that of a lawyer, not of a Communist Party official." He said that the main focus of that program is human rights, which he described as "as alien to a Communist Party leader as the kiwi fruit is to Georgia."

The election campaign has been marred by voter apathy and by resentment on the part of several would-be candidates rejected by the Central Electoral Commission. (One of those rejected, former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who is accused of masterminding the failed 1995 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze, still ranks as the "wild card" in Georgian politics. He claims to enjoy the secret support of 60-70 percent of the army and of the Interior and Security Ministries.)

At the same time, there appears to be little support for calls by an alliance of some 25 extra-parliamentary parties to boycott the poll unless the authorities agree to postpone voting until after a census that would determine the exact number of potential voters and thus remove the potential for falsification of the outcome.

Some segments of society have, nonetheless, signaled that they would not vote for Shevardnadze if he did not deliver on earlier promises: those groups include the 500,000-strong population of the west Georgian region of Mingrelia (a stronghold of sympathy for deceased President Gamsakhurdia) and the ethnic Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia, who are demanding payment of their monthly $12 subsistence allowances.

The key question left unanswered by the 9 April poll is not how many and which specific voters will reject Shevardnadze's candidacy but what he can realistically do in his second term to galvanize the economy, crack down on the most egregious manifestations of corruption, restore Georgia's control over its breakaway autonomous formations, and prepare a new leadership team in which the population has at least some degree of trust. The chances for a democratic and peaceful transition of power at the close of the Shevardnadze era depend in large part on his successful accomplishment of those tasks.


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