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Newsline - April 13, 2000




PRESIDENT-ELECT TAPS ULTRA-LIBERAL ECONOMIST...

Vladimir Putin on 12 April appointed economist Andrei Illarionov, head of the Institute for Economic Analysis, as one of his advisers. Moscow- based Renaissance Capital investment bank described Illarionov as "one of the most liberal and competent macroeconomists in Russia," according to AFP. "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 April called Illarionov an ultra-liberal (sverkhliberal) economist, noting his experience working under then acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar in 1992. Illarionov earlier called on Russia to stop borrowing from international financial institutions such as the IMF. In 1992-1993 he was the first deputy head of the Working Center of Economic Reforms under the Gaidar government. In 1993 he was appointed adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and head of the Center of Analysis and Planning, subordinated to the premier. JAC

...AS SPECULATION ON CABINET CONTINUES

Three ministers in Putin's government widely tipped by Russian media for ouster are Fuel Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, and Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko. "Tribuna," which is funded by Gazprom, reported on 12 April that Aksenenko has reportedly launched a mini public-relations effort to promote the impression that he was "the main collector of funds for Putin's presidential campaign." JAC

PUTIN CLOSES SOME LOOPHOLES

President-elect Putin signed an order tightening regulations governing the mandatory conversion of hard currency into rubles. Published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 12 April, the order closes 46 loopholes that allowed exemptions to the requirement for some metals and oil companies. Analysts told AP that the move appears to be a symbolic first step toward eliminating cronyism and perks. However, some loopholes remain. JAC

OIL PRICE DROP CAUSES CONCERN...

The price of a barrel of Russian Urals crude dropped to $19 on 11 April, according to "Kommersant- Daily" the next day. The daily noted that the 2000 budget is based on an average oil price of $18 a barrel. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that $19 a barrel does not pose a threat to the budget, provided the price does not decline further. He admitted that if the prices continue dropping, Russia may face problems fulfilling this year's budget. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 April, the government has another concern: it must reach an agreement with the Paris Club and IMF on repaying Russian debts, and a continued drop in oil prices might cause Russia's creditors to question the viability of its national budget. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT STILL SAYS IT CAN GO IT ALONE

However, speaking to reporters on 13 April, Kasyanov said that it is important for Russia to have its new economic program "supported and accepted by the world community" but that Russia "could survive the second half of 2000 without financial support." JAC

START-II SET TO CLEAR LEGISLATIVE HURDLES BEFORE MAY

Mikhail Prusak, head of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee and governor of Novgorod Oblast, said on 12 April that if the State Duma ratifies the START-II treaty, the upper legislative house will consider the treaty at its next session on 19 April. The Duma is expected to debate the treaty behind closed doors on 14 April, Interfax reported. JAC

IMF ECHOES WORLD BANK'S PROGNOSIS...

In its semi-annual "World Economic Outlook" released on 12 April, the IMF concluded that the Russian economy will grow only by 1.5 percent in 2000 compared with 3.0 percent last year. The fund also predicted that consumer prices will rise by 20 percent in 2000 and 16 percent in 2001. And it concluded that Russia's economic recovery has been built on an unsustainable base, which includes the "higher prices of energy exports, ongoing import compression, and, associated with this, increases in industrial production driven mainly by import substitution." The World Bank predicted recently that Russia and the other countries of the former Soviet Union will experience growth of only 1.3 percent in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). JAC

...AS RUSSIA PROVES TO BE ONE OF FUND'S BEST CUSTOMERS

Russia is the IMF's largest debtor, Interfax reported on 12 April. As of 29 February, Russia owed the IMF $14.207 billion. The fund's next largest debtors are Indonesia ($10.348 billion), Brazil ($8.613 billion), and South Korea ($5.977 billion). JAC

DUMA SAYS PACE DECISION 'GROUNDLESS AND UNFAIR'

The Duma on 12 April issued a statement saying that last week's decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to strip Russia of its voting rights was both "groundless and unfair." Full-scale cooperation with the assembly will be possible only after PACE has reconsidered that "discriminatory decision," the statement added. While condemning violations of human rights in Chechnya and noting that the Duma will insist on investigations into such cases, the statement rejected "attempts to ignore the fundamental difference between acts of terrorists and [the actions] of those who have to fight this evil." The vote in favor of the statement was 383 to three with one abstention. "The Moscow Times" cited NTV as reporting that the final version of the text was significantly milder than earlier drafts. JC

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS WERE A BARGAIN

The 19 December elections to the State Duma cost Russian taxpayers $33 million-- one quarter of the amount estimated by the former head of the Central Election Commission, Aleksandr Ivanchenko, "Segodnya" reported on 12 April. Expressed in terms of the cost of each vote (total cost divided by the number of voters), 30 cents, the Russian election was 16 times cheaper than an election in the U.S., the newspaper reported. JAC

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHENS APPEAL TO PUTIN

A group of prominent Chechen political figures has appealed to Russian President-elect Putin to establish a commission to resolve the conflict in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 April. The signatories, potential rivals for the post of the next pro-Moscow elected Chechen leader, include Salambek Khadzhiev, who headed the pro-Moscow Chechen government in 1995, Umar Avturkhanov, leader of the Provisional Council that sought to depose then President Djokhar Dudaev in 1994, former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, Chechen State Council Chairman Malik Saidullaev, former Russian State Duma speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, and Aslanbek Aslakhanov, founder of the Moscow-based Union of Peoples of Chechnya. LF

YASTRZHEMBSKII DISMISSIVE OF CHECHEN PEACE TALKS PROPOSAL

Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Bishkek on 12 April that Moscow has no reason to trust Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. Yastrzhembskii cast doubt on Maskhadov's assertion in his 10 April interview with Deutsche Welle that he can count on the loyalty of "almost all" Chechen field commanders. Yastrzhembskii commented that "there is no leadership in Chechnya," otherwise Maskhadov would have been able to prevent the August 1999 incursion into Daghestan by field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking in Moscow on 12 April, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev also cast doubts on Maskhadov's sincerity, accusing the Chechen president of trying to "please the West" and of "doing everything possible to continue" the war with Russia, according to Interfax. LF

TATARSTAN DENIES TALKS WITH UDUGOV

Presidential press secretary Irek Murtazin and State Counselor Rafael Khakimov on 12 April denied Russian media reports that Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev has met with Chechen emissary Movladi Udugov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). Murtazin stressed that Shaimiev does not plan any meetings with Udugov or Chechen field commanders, who he said are "beyond the law." Khakimov added that Tatarstan does not at present have any formal relations with Chechnya, although the agreement on economic cooperation signed two years ago remains in force. LF

BEREZOVSKII TO FACE NEW CRIMINAL PROBE?

"Segodnya," which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group, reported on 12 April that Boris Berezovskii will soon be facing criminal charges of fraud and money-laundering, according to the newspaper's unidentified sources in the Office of the Prosecutor-General. The daily also reported that its unidentified sources in the Kremlin say Berezovskii has been seeking an urgent meeting with President-elect Putin. Berezovskii's "influence has not evaporated to such an extent that he has to submit a written request," "Segodnya" commented. As a State Duma deputy, Berezovskii has immunity from criminal prosecution. JAC

THREE MORE VACANT DUMA SEATS TO BE FILLED BEFORE FALL

Repeat elections for the State Duma will be held in August in the Republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia and in Murmansk Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 April. Murmansk deputy Gennadii Luzin died in plane crash shortly after the 19 December State Duma elections, while Ingushetia's representative, Mikhail Gutseriev, was named president of Slavneft, a position that prevents him from being a deputy. JAC

LEBED FOE HEADED FOR TRANSFER BACK TO RUSSIA

Hungary's Justice Ministry announced on 12 April that former head of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Anatolii Bykov will be extradited to Russia, where he is wanted on suspicion of money-laundering. Bykov had applied for refugee status because he claimed his political enemies, such as Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, were persecuting him in Russia, but that request was denied. JAC

PUTIN PREFERS 'MIR' OVER INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

Speaking on Cosmonauts' Day, President-elect Putin told a gathering of cosmonauts and space officials that Russia will fulfill its commitments to the International Space Station but will "not forget the national industry," which he noted "must be our priority." He added that the "Mir" space station will be included in the 2001 space budget. According to Interfax, the 2000 budget earmarks 3.4 billion rubles ($119 million) to the space program, while 1.5 billion rubles in additional budget revenues are to go toward keeping "Mir" in orbit. Following his address, Putin laid a wreath at the Kremlin wall in memory of Yurii Gagarin, who on 12 April 1961 became the first human being to be launched into space. JC

U.S., RUSSIA TO LAUNCH FIRST SPACE-BASED TV STUDIO

Citing NTV, AFP reported on 12 April that the U.S. and Russia are planning to launch the first-ever television studio based in space. The studio is to be located in a module attached to the International Space Station, according to an official from the U.S. company SPACEHAB, which is reported to be organizing the project. The two sides plan to launch the studio in 2002; however, the International Space Station project is running two years behind schedule and is now hoped to be completed in November 2004. JC

NOT EVERYONE IS AMUSED BY PUTIN'S ROYAL AUDIENCE

Human rights groups have condemned the Russian president-elect's scheduled visit to the U.K. early next week, saying that Britain should not host Putin as long as Russia is facing international criticism over its campaign in Chechnya. Putin's trip to the U.K., sandwiched between short visits to Minsk and Kyiv, is his first tour abroad as president-elect. Last month, British Premier Tony Blair became the first Western leader to meet with Putin in the latter's capacity as acting head of state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2000). During his two-day visit to the U.K., Putin will have a 30-minute audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle. JC




ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS POLITICAL SITUATION STABILIZING...

Vartan Oskanian told a press conference in Yerevan on 12 April that the political situation in the country "is stabilizing day by day" and no longer constitutes an obstacle to the resumption of talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. One month earlier, Oskanian had said domestic political tensions had brought the mediation process to a standstill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2000). Oskanian said that the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group have not set a date for their next visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan, but he predicted that the peace process will gather momentum in the next few months. He confirmed media speculation that the possibility of a territorial exchange between Armenia and Azerbaijan (the so-called "Goble Plan") was raised during talks between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, but said the Armenian side did not accept it as a basis for negotiation, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

...DOWNPLAYS AZERBAIJANI STATEMENTS

Oskanian on 12 April dismissed an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry statement the previous day criticizing as "destabilizing" the recent joint military maneuvers in Armenia by Russian and Armenian troops, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). He also said that Yerevan "does not take seriously" statements by a group of retired Azerbaijani military officers calling for a new war to return Nagorno-Karabakh to the control of the Azerbaijani central government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000). Oskanian said such statements do not reflect the official position of the Azerbaijani leadership. LF

KARABAKH JOURNALIST SENTENCED

A Stepanakert court on 12 April sentenced journalist Vahram Aghajanian to 12 months in prison following a one-day hearing, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Aghajanian was accused of slandering Anushavan Danielian, prime minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in an article published in November 1999 in the Karabakh opposition newspaper "Tasnerort nahang." Aghajanian's lawyer said the charge of slander was based on "false facts" presented by prosecutors. He added that the judge refused to question a key witness who could confirm the information contained in the article. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION REPEATS DEMAND FOR NEW ELECTION LAW...

Mais Safarli, chairman of the Democratic Congress, which unites 10 opposition parties, told Turan on 12 April that the congress plans to convene a protest action in Baku on 29 April unless the parliament begins discussing a new draft election legislation prepared by the opposition. The Democratic Congress argues that the laws on elections and the Central Election Commission preclude holding democratic and fair elections. OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Gerard Stoudmann was quoted by Turan earlier this month as saying that his organization is working with the Azerbaijani authorities on drafting a new law on the election commission, which he hopes will be ready by mid-May. Stoudmann said it is "extremely important" that the new law provide for representation on the commission of opposition political parties, according to Turan. LF

...AS UN SAYS IT CANNOT SUPERVISE AZERBAIJANI POLL

The UN office in Azerbaijan has issued a statement explaining that that organization cannot become directly involved in the organization of the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections due in November 2000, Turan reported on 12 April. Several left-wing opposition parties had called earlier this year for that poll to be held under the aegis of the UN. They argued that doing so is the only way to ensure that the vote is free and fair. The UN statement said that organization is willing to provide electoral assistance only if the Azerbaijani government or election bodies request such help. LF

AZERBAIJAN ELECTION OFFICIAL CONDEMNS PLANNED KARABAKH ELECTIONS

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission chairman Djafar Veliev has termed the 18 June parliamentary elections in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic "a political show" that violates the Azerbaijani Constitution, Turan reported on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). Veliev predicted that no country will recognize the poll as valid. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO ASK RUSSIA TO INCREASE OIL EXPORT QUOTA

Kazakhstan's Deputy Energy Minister Nurlan Qapparov told journalists in Astana on 12 April that Kazakhstan will ask Russia to increase by 1 million tons the amount of oil it may export via Russian pipelines this year, Interfax reported. This would bring the total to 11 million tons. Qapparov said that oil should be exported via the Atyrau-Samara pipeline, which has an annual throughput capacity of 11.5 million tons. He added that a feasibility study is being prepared on reconstruction of the pipeline at an estimated cost of $30 million to increase throughput capacity to 15 million tons. Visiting Astana on 11 April, Russian Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Vladimir Stanev and Transneft President Semen Vainshtok proposed to Kazakhstan's Premier Qasymzhomart Toqaev that Kazakhstan export up to 3 million tons of oil annually via the newly-completed Chechen bypass pipeline. Doing so would entail shipping the oil by barge across the Caspian to Makhachkala. LF

NEW CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER

Kazakhstan's tax police have opened another criminal case against former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Reuters reported on 12 April. Kazhegeldin is accused of abusing his position in 1995 by temporarily granting a sports club exemption from the tax on imported goods. That exemption reportedly deprived the Almaty city budget of "hundreds of millions of tenge," according to Kazakhstan state television. Kazhegeldin, who left Kazakhstan early last year, is also wanted on charges of tax evasion, money- laundering, and illegal weapons possession. LF

RUSSIAN EMISSARY DISCUSSES REGIONAL SECURITY IN KYRGYZSTAN

Visiting Bishkek on 11-12 April, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii met with President Askar Akaev to discuss joint measures by Russia and the states of Central Asia to combat terrorism, religious extremism, and drug-trafficking. He argued that there is a link between the fighting in Chechnya, the assassination attempts in 1998 and 1999 against the presidents of Georgia and Uzbekistan, and last summer's incursion of Islamic fighters into Kyrgyzstan, attributing those events to "forces...that would like to see new Afghanistans arising in post-Soviet Central Asia," according to Reuters. Yastrzhembskii affirmed that as a "strategic partner" and a signatory to the CIS Collective Security Pact, Russia would "immediately" assist Kyrgyzstan in the event of a new terrorist incursion. He also expressed approval of Kyrgyzstan's treatment of its dwindling ethnic Russian minority, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT ASSESSES ELECTIONS AS FREE AND FAIR

The government issued a statement on 12 April describing the parliamentary elections on 20 February and 12 March as fair, democratic, and lawful, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The statement also deemed as lawful the arrest of opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov and accused unnamed opposition politicians and parties of using illegal methods in pursuit of their objectives. Also on 12 April, some 100 protesters continued their picket in Bishkek to demand Kulov's release and the annulment of the election results. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION ACCUSE GOVERNMENT OF AVOIDING DIALOGUE

Several Kyrgyz opposition politicians, human rights activists, and journalists wrote to Jerzy Wienclaw, the OSCE representative in Bishkek, on 11 April to complain that the Kyrgyz authorities are trying to restrict any dialogue with the opposition, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. They said that the Kyrgyz leadership wants to restrict the talks to a discussion of amendments to the election law, rather than conducting a broad dialogue. The signatories called on the OSCE not to sponsor such a narrow round-table discussion. LF

'RELIGIOUS EXTREMIST' ARRESTED IN TAJIKISTAN

Police in Khojand on 12 April arrested and charged with anti-government propaganda a man whom they identified as a member of the banned Hizb-ut- Tahrir Islamic extremist party, Asia Plus-Blitz reported, citing the Tajik Interior Ministry. The man's name is given as Sharifullo Aliev, and he is said to be a resident of Gafurov in Leninabad Oblast. He was detained for disseminating Islamic literature calling for the overthrow of the Tajik government and the founding of an Islamic state. LF




EUROPE POSTPONES DECISION ON OBSERVERS IN BELARUSIAN ELECTIONS

Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Consultative and Monitoring Group in Minsk, told Belarusian opposition parties on 12 April that a decision on whether the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and other European organizations will send observers to Belarus's parliamentary elections will not be taken until September, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. He said the decision will depend on the Belarusian authorities' willingness to discuss amendments to the electoral code with the opposition, to allow the opposition access to the state media, and to change the powers and functions of the lower house, the Chamber of Representatives. Wieck expressed the joint stance of 10 European organizations that gathered in Vienna earlier this week to discuss Belarus's elections and sending observers to them. JM

UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS MAKE CONFLICTING APPEALS OVER REFERENDUM

Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch has appealed to Ukrainians to take part in the 16 April referendum, Interfax reported on 12 April. According to Plyushch, there is "nothing new" in the four referendum questions. Ukrainians, he said, "must not make a tragedy" of the plebiscite. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko has called for a boycott of the referendum. "If the issues of the referendum are implemented, the parliament will lose its independence," Symonenko told Reuters on 12 April. A poll held by the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences in early April found that 76.5 percent of Ukrainians know about the referendum and when it will take place, 17.6 percent have heard about it but do not know its date, while 5.9 percent are totally unaware of it. The poll said 63.8 percent of Ukrainians will take part in the referendum and approve all four questions. JM

BRITAIN PLEDGES MILLIONS FOR CHORNOBYL REPAIRS

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Kyiv on 12 April that Britain will allocate 10.5 million pounds ($16.8 million) to strengthen the concrete and steel sarcophagus covering the damaged reactor of the Chornobyl power plant, Interfax reported. Cook took President Leonid Kuchma's side in the controversy between Kyiv and the Council of Europe over the 16 April referendum. "As far as the referendum is concerned, it is a matter for the Ukrainian people to decide," Cook noted. During his meeting with Premier Viktor Yushchenko, Cook said Great Britain is ready to assist Ukraine in implementing economic reforms. "I have learned with joy about the first successful results of Ukrainian reforms, which were reflected in high economic growth rates in the first quarter," Interfax quoted Cook as saying. JM

UKRAINE REPORTS ECONOMIC GROWTH

The State Statistics Committee on 12 April reported that the country's GDP in January-March grew by 5.6 percent, compared with the same period last year. Industrial production increased by 9.7 percent, while it registered a 2.5 percent slump in the same period last year. JM

LATVIAN PARTIES PONDER NEXT MOVE

Following the resignation of Prime Minister Andris Skele on 12 April, the country's political parties began jockeying for position in the formation of a new government. The three parties of the current coalition--People's Party (24 seats in the parliament), Latvia's Way (21 seats), and For Fatherland and Freedom (14 seats)--have agreed they should all be in the new ruling coalition and have voiced support for Latvia's Way to nominate a prime ministerial candidate. Latvia's Way held a non-binding poll among its faction members that found deputy Aija Poca to be the favorite for that post among five candidates. Latvia's Way has also suggested inclusion in the coalition of the center-left New Party, with which it has a cooperation agreement for the 2001 local elections. Meanwhile, Janis Naglis has been officially reregistered as head of the Latvian Privatization Agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2000). MH

LITHUANIAN FARMERS THREATEN ACTION OVER PROTEST

Leader of the Farmers Party Ramunas Karbauskis has threatened to organize mass protests if sugar beet farmers are fined for their recent protests. Karbauskis, speaking on 12 April, applauded President Valdas Adamkus for making inquiries into the aftermath of the earlier protests. Officials said that damage caused to highways during those protests totaled 150,000 litas ($37,500), while other losses were sustained by Lithuanian and foreign carriers unable to transport goods because of road blocks, BNS reported. For some two weeks, sugar beet farmers had protested on the Via Baltica highway, near the Polish border. Karbauskis also voiced objections to Lithuania's current EU integration program, saying "we are against joining the union under present terms." He called the government's rural strategy "a misunderstanding rather than a scheme," ELTA added. The Farmers Party came second in the 19 March local elections, gaining 11 mayoralties out of 60. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT RECEIVES CALL FROM PUTIN OVER KATYN MASSACRE

Aleksander Kwasniewski received an "unexpected" telephone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin on 12 April over the massacre of Polish officers by the NKVD in 1940, PAP reported. Kwasniewski's office said in a statement that Putin spoke of "the discovery of new graves near Smolensk" and invited Polish prosecutors "to participate in actions that will lead to uncovering the truth." The two presidents also pledged to strengthen Polish-Russian ties and agreed to meet within the next two months. The killing of 15,000 Polish officers in April and May 1940, which is also known as the Katyn massacre, became a symbol of Soviet crimes against Poland. "These were not only Polish officers, Poland's elite, who were buried in the Katyn graves. For many years, Polish sovereignty was buried there as well," Premier Jerzy Buzek told the upper house the same day. JM

EU SUSPENDS FARM TRADE TALKS WITH POLAND

The EU has suspended talks with Poland on liberalizing trade in farm products, Reuters reported on 12 April. "Yesterday we suspended talks because we did not see any flexibility from the Polish side.... We are talking about liberalization, we cannot accept the Poles going in exactly the opposite direction," the agency quoted Gregor Kreuzhuber, spokesman for the EU farm commissioner, as saying. Kreuzhuber added that the deadlock could have a negative impact on Poland's EU accession talks. The European Commission offered to phase out subsidies on farm exports to Poland and increase preferential quotas for the import of Polish produce. In exchange, it wants Poland to scrap higher customs duties on such goods as sugar, dairy products, and meat that were introduced last year after protests by Polish farmers. JM

CZECH COURT THROWS OUT PARLIAMENT DECISION ON WALL

The Czech Constitutional Court on 12 April overruled parts of the Chamber of Deputies resolution last year that annulled a decision by the Usti nad Labem and Nestemice city councils to approve the construction of a wall separating ethnic Czechs from Romany residents, CTK reported. The ruling comes one week after the court threw out a law enabling the parliament to overrule decisions by municipal councils (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). The court did not throw out the declarative section of the parliamentary resolution, which condemned the wall as a symbol of racism. VG

CZECHS SAY CUSTOMS UNION WITH SLOVAKS ENDANGERED

The Czech Republic's chief negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telicka, has said his country may have to give up its customs union with Slovakia if it is accepted into the EU before its neighbor, Czech media reported on 12 and 13 April. The EU has reportedly rejected a Czech proposal to preserve the customs union if the Czech Republic enters the EU before Slovakia. Instead, Telicka said Prague could continue to offer Bratislava certain advantages in agricultural trade. VG

MECIAR SAYS HE IS WILLING TO TOLERATE GOVERNMENT...

Vladimir Meciar, the leader of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said in a 12 April Slovak Radio interview that his party is willing to tolerate the current coalition government, provided that Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda is not its head. He suggested that Slovakia should imitate the so-called "opposition agreement" in the Czech Republic between the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats. He also said the 13 April no- confidence vote in the government should be held by secret ballot. All parties in the current coalition have said they will not support the HZDS motion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). VG

...WHILE SLOVAK PREMIER DISMISSES OFFER

Later in the day, Dzurinda told TASR-SLOVAKIA that he "absolutely does not care what Meciar says. He is not a trustworthy politician." The prime minister said Meciar should instead emerge from his self-imposed exile in his bed and breakfast establishment in Trencianske Teplice and submit to police questioning about the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. "Let him get out, let him be a man, a citizen, a politician who respects the law," said Dzurinda. Meciar has not left his bed and breakfast for several days, despite the fact that the police have called him to testify as a witness in the Kovac case. Meciar told Czech Television on 12 April that he is not hiding but merely trying to finish writing a book. VG

SLOVAK CABINET APPROVES ESTABLISHMENT OF CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY

The Slovak cabinet on 12 April approved a bill on the establishment of a Catholic university in the central Slovak town of Ruzomberok, TASR-SLOVAKIA reported. The university will be managed by the Slovak Bishops' Conference. VG

HUNGARIAN SUPREME COURT ORDERS NEW TRIAL IN TOCSIK CASE

The trial of those involved in a major corruption scandal will resume once the Supreme Court has rejected lawyer Marta Tocsik's acquittal and ordered the Metropolitan Court to launch new proceedings, Hungarian media reported on 13 April. The Tocsik affair became public in October 1996, when it was revealed that the State Privatization and Holding Company (APV) paid Tocsik an 804 million forint ($5.4 million at that time) commission fee for negotiating with local governments about state compensation for privatized assets. The Supreme Court ruled that the Metropolitan Court must establish whether Tocsik did, in fact, perform any work in negotiating on behalf of the APV. MSZ




CROATIAN GOVERNMENT SETS TERMS OF COOPERATION WITH HAGUE TRIBUNAL

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 13 April that his government has prepared a declaration of cooperation with the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, AP reported. Racan stressed that his government wants to cooperate with the tribunal, as demanded by the international community, but without damaging the legacy of the 1991-1995 war against Serbian rebels and the Yugoslav army. Racan added: "We cannot allow our independence war to be sullied by hiding certain war crimes and their perpetrators." Officials of the Hague tribunal recently began excavations in several caves in Gospic, where Croatian forces or paramilitaries are believed to have dumped bodies of Serbian civilians after killing them in late 1991. Milorad Pupovac, who is a leader of Croatia's Serbian minority, said that probably more than 100 Serbs died in the killings, "Jutarnji list" reported on 13 April. Commanders Tihomir Oreskovic, Mirko Norac, and Tomislav Mercep may have played key roles in the killings, "Globus" reported on 7 April. PM

NO INDICTMENTS AGAINST TOP CROATIAN BRASS?

Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic said that on her recent visit to Zagreb, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, denied press reports that there are secret indictments against top Croatian officers, RFE/RL'S South Slavic Service reported on 12 April. During Del Ponte's visit, government spokesmen would neither confirm nor deny reports that she was looking for specific documents about wartime Generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak, Ivan Korade, and Mirko Norac (see "RFRE/RL Newsline" 5 April 2000). PM

NATO OPTIMISTIC ON KOSOVA REFUGEE RETURNS...

An unnamed official of the Atlantic alliance told Reuters in Brussels on 12 April that NATO expects some 25,000 Serbs to return to Kosova "in the coming months." He noted that many Serbian refugees who fled to Serbia are less than happy with their treatment there. Many such individuals now prefer to "put their faith in the international community and the economic lift-off that will eventually happen" in Kosova," the official added. He admitted that security will be a problem in some areas where interethnic relations are particularly tense, but he added that "we can't delay this forever or until everything's perfect. We have got to start somewhere." NATO will closely monitor the refugees to ensure that they are, in fact, Serbs from Kosova. Alliance officials will also try to keep out "people controlled by Belgrade," the official added. He noted that NATO expects some 18,000 ethnic Albanians to return to Kosova "in the coming months." PM

...WHILE KOUCHNER IS LEARY

Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 12 April that the governments of Australia and unnamed Western European countries should not force refugees from Kosova to go home "too early," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kouchner warned that there is no purpose in sending refugees back to Kosova before the infrastructure to support them is in place. PM

BELGRADE WEEKLY WILL NOT PAY FINE

Dragoljub Zarkovic, who is one of the three directors of the independent weekly "Vreme," told a press conference on 12 April that his publication does not have the money to pay the several fines imposed by the government, "Danas" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). In a related development, "Danas" noted that a court case against the newspaper will open on 10 May. The state-run Tanjug news agency and its director, Dusan Djordjevic, are suing the independent daily for "misuse of free, public information" and several other offenses. The Milosevic regime has long sought to hound the independent media out of existence by bringing court cases against them and imposing stiff fines for violating Serbia's draconian media laws. PM

DJINDJIC BLAMES SERBIAN SOCIETY FOR ITS PROBLEMS

Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 13 April that Serbia's main problem is that its society has neither grown nor developed during the 10 years that President Slobodan Milosevic has been in power. The authorities have had no trouble in politically manipulating such a society, he added. Djindjic stressed that observers place too much blame for Serbia's problems on divisions within the opposition. No opposition can do much if "millions of people do not know whether they want to fight for their rights or not." He called for less talk about divisions within the opposition and more attention by the opposition to the social and economic problems of ordinary people. The main single obstacle to opposition success is not Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic or any other opposition figure but rather Milosevic, Djindjic added. PM

MILOSEVIC'S MONTENEGRIN ALLIES ABOUT TO SPLIT?

The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reported on 12 April that two top officials of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) will soon quit that organization, which is the most important Montenegrin political party loyal to Milosevic. Predrag Bulatovic and Zoran Zizic are unhappy about a decision by party leaders to contest upcoming elections in Herceg Novi together with two-pro Milosevic parties based in Serbia. Bulatovic and Zizic feel that the SNP does not need to work with the United Yugoslav Left (JUL) of Mira Markovic or Vojislav Seselj's Radicals. Meanwhile in Niksic, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said he believes that reports of a split in the SNP are greatly exaggerated, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

NATIONALIST SWEEP IN BOSNIA CONTINUES

Preliminary unofficial returns from 128 out of 145 municipalities in the 8 April local elections give Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party the lead in 51 areas. The Croatian Democratic Community is ahead in 24 localities, the Muslim Party of Democratic Action in 21, and the Social Democrats in 17, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 12 April. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS BUDGET DEBATE

Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu told the two chambers of the legislature on 12 April that the 2000 budget is geared toward halving inflation to 27 percent and at promoting 1.3 percent growth, while keeping the deficit at 3 percent of GDP, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Isarescu warned against increasing expenditures beyond the envisaged 3 percent deficit, saying this may affect Romania's ability to service its foreign debt. He added that by staying within those limits, Romania will demonstrate that the credibility of the international Standard & Poor's rating agency is questionable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2000). In related news, Mediafax reported that in its semi-annual "World Economic Outlook" released on 12 April, the IMF predicts 1.5 percent growth in the Romanian economy in 2000 but notes that the country's economy as a whole continues to be "fragile." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST ECOLOGICAL NEGLECT

Emil Constantinescu told a 12 April meeting of the National Defense Supreme Council that if ecological accidents become a regular recurrence, Romania's chances of integration into the EU will be negatively affected, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The council approved a number of "urgent measures" for the prevention and combating of ecological disasters. Constantinescu said Romania must continue bringing its ecology legislation into line with European standards but added that implementation of existing laws, rather than new legislation, is the main problem for Romania to cope with. MS

JOINT ROMANIA-HUNGARIAN PEACE KEEPING UNIT ENDS EXERCISE

The recently-established Romanian-Hungarian peace-keeping battalion has ended its first military exercises, which took place in the Arad county, Mediafax reported on 12 April. The battalion simulated freeing hostages and "negotiating with mercenary troops." The exercise was conducted under the auspices of the OSCE. The battalion is to become operative in the fall. MS

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR WANTS CLOSER ECONOMIC TIES WITH MOLDOVA

Russia's Ambassador to Moldova Pavel Petrovskii said on 12 April that Russia wants to increase its economic ties with Moldova, Infotag reported. He said there are many "unused reserves" in those ties and praised a recent agreement to reschedule Moldova's debt to Russia as well as a proposal to introduce contract prices for Russian gas. Petrovsky said he did not discuss with any Moldovan officials the possibility of establishing a Russian military base in Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2000). He said Moscow respects Moldova's Constitution, which states that it is a neutral country. VG

BULGARIAN MINISTER ENCOURAGED AFTER MEETING NATO AMBASSADORS

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said on 12 April that NATO's assessment of Bulgaria's progress in its efforts to gain membership in the alliance is "encouraging," BTA reported. Mihailova was speaking after a meeting with NATO ambassadors in Sofia. She said the assessment stresses Bulgaria's policy in the Balkans, the country's support for NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia last year, and the country's political and economic stability. Defense Minister Boyko Noev, who also attended the meeting, said Bulgaria does not need any funding from NATO's accession programs to reform its army. On 14 April, the North Atlantic Council is scheduled to discuss Bulgaria's progress in Brussels. VG




WHAT FUTURE FOR CROATIA'S HDZ?


By Christian Buric

Things are changing quickly in Croatian politics. Perhaps the biggest question is: where will the once-mighty Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) find itself when the dust settles? Most Croats welcomed the recent change of government and the end of an authoritarian political culture. After the coalition of six parties came to power in January, scandals and revelations about old intrigues involving the HDZ elite began to appear almost daily in the press.

The HDZ itself has begun to split, and it is unclear whether Franjo Tudjman's party will be in a position to play any kind of constructive opposition role in the near future. If open feuding between leading figures of the party continues, the HDZ will be hard-pressed to create a new political strategy and a readily identifiable image. In that case, there will be no clear political alternative to the governing coalition. Should Croatia lack a robust opposition, its transition to a truly Western-style democracy will be delayed.

Former Foreign Minister Mate Granic founded a new party, the Croatian Democratic Center (HDC), in March. Granic, formerly known as the leader of the so-called liberal wing in the HDZ, wanted to distance himself from the HDZ's right wing, which is lead by Ivic Pasalic. Pasalic is of Herzegovinian origin and was Tudjman's most influential adviser in his final years.

Vladimir Seks and Branimir Glavas from Slavonia play key roles in the HDZ, too. In 1989 they founded the party, together with Franjo Tudjman, and are now two top hard-liners. Significantly, even the right wing of the HDZ is no longer united. Pasalic told "Vecernji list" of 30 March that the political alliance between Glavas and Seks is shaky. As for Pasalic and Seks, they have long been feuding in public.

But the birth of the HDC and mistrust within the right wing of the HDZ are not the only problems for the party. There is also a faction that calls itself the "Club of the Founding Fathers." Pasalic mentioned that the existence of this faction is not in line with party regulations. He even fears that old-timers like Josip Manolic or Hrvoje Sarinic could take control of the faction and try to destroy the party from within.

Both me were once very prominent in HDZ affairs. Manolic left the party in 1994, together with Stipe Mesic, who is now president of the country and until recently was a member of the People's Party. The main reasons for their departure were Tudjman's policies against the Muslims in Bosnia and his tendency to act as if the Croatian state were his personal property. Sarinic left the HDZ in 1998. He was opposed to the power of the hard-liners, Zagreb's growing international isolationism, and the misuse of the secret service for political ends.

Since Tudjman's death in December, a fight has become public between some of the hard-liners--who are often dubbed the Herzegovinian lobby-- and the moderate "technocrats." The feud is being played out in a press dispute over the so-called "white book" about INA, Croatia's biggest oil company.

The white book is really a pamphlet, the authors of which are unknown. It alleges the existence of a Russian-Jewish conspiracy against the Croatian oil sector. Davor Stern, who was once director-general of INA and is of Jewish origin, belongs to the technocratic faction of the HDZ. He interprets the white book as an attempt by the HDZ's right wing to destroy the party's more moderate elements. In a recent interview with "Globus," Stern said that the goal of the white book is to show that not only the hard-liners are prone to scandals and corruption.

The white book affair reflects the internal situation of the party and the difficulties it will encounter rising above its past and developing a new, modern image. A party congress at the end of this month is expected to deal with such questions and decide on a new leadership. If the process of self-destruction goes on, it seems unlikely that HDZ will be able to deal with these key issues and mount an effective opposition to the coalition.

And the government has already shown itself to be in need of a serious opposition. The Istrian Democratic League (IDS), which belongs to the governing coalition, wants the government to support the troubled Istarska Banka, though the National Bank found "significant irregularities" in its activities. When Prime Minister Racan was still in opposition to Tudjman, he often criticized the HDZ for its "political meddling" in the banking sector. Now he has to prove to what extent he can stay true to his principles, despite pressures from the IDS. And if he does not, then at least some of the parties in the coalition should call him and the IDS to account.

Pointing out governmental hypocrisy is also part of the role of a healthy opposition--in this case, the HDZ. President Mesic is another possible check on shady dealings by the government. He and Racan are currently locked in a dispute over how many of Tudjman's sweeping presidential powers should be transferred to the government or parliament. This discussion, too, clouds the political landscape. Parliamentary speaker and head of the Peasants' Party Zlatko Tomcic recently told "Globus: "These are no easy questions."

The author is a free-lance writer based in Munich (christian.buric@gmx.de)


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