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Newsline - April 19, 2000




FEDERATION COUNCIL MARCHES TO PUTIN'S ORDERS

Members of Russia's Federation Council approved the dismissal of suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov on 19 April by a vote of 133 in favor, 10 against, and six abstentions. Former President Boris Yeltsin had failed to persuade the upper legislative house to dismiss Skuratov on three occasions. The previous day, Mikhail Prusak, Novgorod Oblast Governor and chairman of the council's committee on international affairs, told reporters that "no one" will oppose President-elect Vladimir Putin on the issue of Skuratov's dismissal. And on the day of the vote, Magadan Governor Valentin Svetkov declared that "Now is not the time for debate on such an issue. Now is the time to support our president and consolidate society," while Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn concluded that "Russia now has a real, solid president and it needs a full-blooded, working prosecutor." JAC

COMMUNIST TIPPED FOR CABINET POST

All current members of Putin's cabinet will be dismissed on 7 May, the day of Putin's inauguration, although "the law does not require a complete purge," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 April. However, the daily added that the dismissal will be only temporary for some. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported the next day that a likely replacement for Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, whose departure has been predicted by a number of media and analysts, is Deputy Interior Minister Petr Latyshev. Latyshev is reportedly on good terms with Dmitrii Kozak, head of the governmental staff. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" reported on the same day that the Education Ministry may have a new head, a member of the Communist faction in the State Duma, deputy Ivan Melnikov. Melnikov is chairman of the State Duma's education committee and is a former secretary of the party's Central Committee. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, while "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media Most Group. JAC

NEW ALUMINUM GIANT CREATED WITH GOVERNMENT'S BLESSING

Two rival companies in Russia's aluminum sector announced on 17 April the creation of a new holding, Russian Aluminum, that will control an estimated 70-80 percent of the Russian aluminum market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). Oleg Deripaska, the head of Siberian Aluminum, has been named acting head of the new company. Last week, Anti-Monopoly Minister Ilya Yuzhanov said the merger meets Russia's national interests because of developments on the world aluminum market. He added that foreign companies such as the U.S.'s Alcoa have tried to take over Russia's aluminum market. JAC

TAX POLICE GET MORE POWERS

President-elect Putin signed into law on 19 April a law providing the tax police with additional powers, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the new law, the tax police will have the power to investigate violations of almost 20 articles of the Criminal Code; previously it had the authority to pursue cases only under two articles. The deputy head of the Federal Tax Service's chief investigation division, Aleksandr Kikin, said that the additional powers will raise the efficiency of the struggle against corruption. JAC

AS OIL PRICES SLIP, EXPORTS RISE

The volume of Russian oil exports rose 12 percent in the first two months of 2000 compared with the same period last year, according to the State Statistics Committee on 18 April. Exports of refined products also rose 5 percent. According to the State Customs Committee, the share of fuel and energy exports in the overall export mix rose 17 percent to total 58 percent of all exports, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

STOCKS SAG, BUT RUBLE WILTS

Russia's benchmark stock index dropped only slightly--0.21 percent--on 18 April compared with the previous day. According to the website, http://www.polit.ru, traders said the market opened with prices climbing higher but stabilized in the afternoon. On the same day, Aleksandr Livshits, presidential envoy to the Group of Seven industrial nations, said that the effect of the crisis in global stock markets on Russia "will not last long, and most of it has already passed." Meanwhile, the ruble fell against the dollar on 18 April, dropping from 28.60 rubles per dollar to 28.78 rubles/dollar, following a similar drop the previous day, AP reported. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko dismissed the significance of the slide, predicting that "everything will be stable." JAC

RUSSIA STILL ANNOYED AT NORWAY

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned on 18 April that Norway may be participating in activities that violate and undermine the ABM treaty, ITAR- TASS reported. The Foreign Ministry is referring to the radar station built by the U.S. on Norwegian soil near the town of Vardoe which is close to the Russian border. According to the Foreign Ministry, "the 1972 ABM treaty forbids deployment of such stations beyond the United States." Last February, Russian Defense Ministry officials said that U.S. radar installations in Norway constitute a threat to Russian national security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). JAC

NUMBER OF HANDICAPPED CHILDREN ON THE RISE

Russia has officially registered 600,000 disabled persons under the age of 16, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 April. According to the agency, the number of handicapped children has increased tenfold compared to 1980 and the increase has been recorded in most regions of Russia. More than 300 family planning centers have been opened to prevent the birth of handicapped children, Deputy Health Minister Olga Sharapova announced at a meeting of the Presidential Council for the Handicapped on 18 April. Earlier in the month, perinatal doctors made a public appeal for special medical equipment to try to reduce the high death rate of prematurely-born infants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). JAC

WOMEN CANDIDATES FARE POORLY IN REGIONAL, NATIONAL RACES

"Vek" reported in its issue no. 15 that the number of women legislators is low not only in the State Duma but in parliaments across Russia. As of June 1997, women made up only 9 percent of deputies in legislatures across Russia, while the parliaments in Ryazan, Kursk, Omsk, and Tomsk oblasts do not have a single female deputy. In December's State Duma elections, no women were registered as candidates in 74 of the more than 200 single-mandate election districts. Currently, only one regional leader is a woman: the governor of Koryak Autonomous Okrug. In the current State Duma, only 7.9 percent of deputies or 35 legislators are women, while some 11 percent of deputies in the last Duma were women (see also "RFE/RL Russia Election Report," 7 January 2000). JAC

EXPERT PREDICTS 40 PERCENT RISE IN INTERNET USAGE IN RUSSIA

Robert Farish, a research manager for the Russian operations of International Data Corp., an international information technology consulting group, has predicted that Russia will experience a 40 percent growth in usage of the Internet this year in part because the "proportion of people who are nontechnical using the Internet has been increasing and will continue to increase," "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 18 April. Parish also estimated that as many as 2 million people in Russia are currently using the Internet. A Gallup Media survey conducted last fall indicated that only 21 percent of Internet activity takes place in Russian homes, while workplaces account for 54 percent. JAC

CHURCH SAYS TAX MINISTRY'S PLANS NO LONGER SATANIC

Following a meeting with Patriarch of All Russia and Moscow Aleksii II on 18 April, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told reporters that his ministry will not use bar codes on identity cards for Russian taxpayers in order to respect the wishes of religious believers, Interfax reported. Last month the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed its concern about the plans of the Tax Ministry to issue individual taxpayer numbers, because such numbers might include three sixes, the number symbolizing the Antichrist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2000). Pochinok added that a system alloting each taxpayer an identification number will still be introduced. Aleksii II said that no one has objected to numbers on passports so issuing tax documents without bar codes should resolve most of the controversy. At the end of the meeting, Aleksii gave an icon of the Apostle Matthew to the Moscow Tax Service, noting that Matthew was also a "tax inspector." JAC

MOSQUES IN TATARSTAN TO USE RUSSIAN FOR LITURGY

Tatarstan's mufti, Gusman khazrat Iskhakov, has agreed that Russian should be used for some divine services at mosques in Kazan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 18 April citing "Vremya i dengi." That decision was made at the request of the city's Azerbaijani, Bashkir, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek, and Afghan minorities. Several days earlier, Iskhakov told Tatarinform that it had been decided to introduce a standard curriculum at all of Tatarstan's Muslim secondary and high schools. LF

NORTH OSSETIA TO SEND REFUGEES BACK TO GEORGIA

North Ossetia's Deputy Prime Minister Stanislav Baskaev told a cabinet session on 19 April that Ossetian refugees who fled to North Ossetia in the early 1990s to escape ethnic violence in Georgia's former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast should be sent back to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Baskaev said that an estimated 15,000 refugees from Georgia have for eight years occupied sanatoria and tourist facilities in North Ossetia, thereby depriving the republic of millions of rubles in income. Participants at the meeting agreed on a program of financial incentives to expedite the gradual repatriation of the refugees. LF

GANTEMIROV RESIGNS

Beslan Gantemirov told Russian Television on 18 April that he is resigning as first deputy to the Russian government representative in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, AP reported. Gantemirov said his decision was prompted by dissatisfaction with the role allocated to the pro-Russian Chechen militia (which he simultaneously heads) in restoring law and order in the "liberated" districts of Chechnya, and with the ongoing identity checks of residents in those districts. Also on 18 April, three Chechen fighters were detained in the village of Guchum-Kale with documentation identifying them as members of Gantemirov's militia, according to ITAR-TASS. Speaking in Grozny two days earlier, Gantemirov had said that his militia will step up its operations within the next few weeks, and will participate in "special operations" in the foothills south of Grozny together with Russian Interior Ministry forces, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. LF




ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT, ITERA AT ODDS

Deputy Energy Minister Karen Galstian told journalists in Yerevan on 18 April that the Gazprom subsidiary ITERA has been excluded from the short-list of five foreign companies whose tenders for four Armenian energy distribution networks are currently under consideration, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Galstian explained that ITERA does not qualify because its partner in the bid, Rosatomenergo, failed to submit the findings of a compulsory international audit clarifying its financial situation. Four international companies, from France, Spain, the U.S., and a Swedish-Swiss group, remain in the running. One day earlier, ITERA announced that it had cut gas deliveries to Armenia by half because of nonpayment of bills for previous deliveries. The director of the Armrosgaz joint venture, Roland Adonts, told ITAR-TASS that non-payment of debts totalling millions of dollars incurred by Armenian power plants and private consumers preclude his organization's paying its own debts to ITERA. LF

TURKEY ALLOCATES FURTHER GRANT FOR GEORGIAN MILITARY

Major- General Sherafeddin Teliasan, who heads the Financial Department of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff, and Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Giorgi Katamadze signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 19 April under which Ankara will provide a further $4 million for the Georgian armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. Katamadze told journalists that most of that sum is earmarked for reorganizing the 11th brigade of the Georgian army, for measures to raise standards to comply with NATO requirements, and to finance the opening of a NATO office in Georgia. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has said on several occasions that Georgia will make a formal bid no later than 2005 for membership in the alliance. Turkey allocated $5.5 million for the Georgian armed forces in 1998 and an additional $3.8 million in 1999. LF

RUSSIA TO STEP UP SECURITY ON BORDER WITH KAZAKHSTAN?

RFE/RL correspondents in Kazakhstan on 19 April cited the KODA news agency as reporting that Moscow will deploy troops and Cossack units to guard its border with Kazakhstan beginning next month. Both the Kazakh Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Kazakhstan have refused to comment on that report. "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" reported in issue No. 6 of this year that the Volgograd authorities have asked Moscow to establish a frontier zone encompassing six raions of Volgograd Oblast to put a halt to purchases of land in those districts by residents of Kazakhstan and to an upsurge in smuggling and other cross-border crime. LF

KAZAKHSTAN WANTS TO LURE ITS ETHNIC GERMANS BACK

Following a meeting between Kazakhstan's deputy premier, Erzhan Utembaev, and a German government representative, it was announced that Kazakhstan will launch a campaign to persuade ethnic Germans who emigrated from Kazakhstan to return, "Inostranets" reported in issue No. 14. Kazakhstan will offer financial aid to those who wish to do so. Over the past 11 years Kazakhstan's ethnic-German population has shrunk from almost 1 million to 350,000. LF

WORKER PROTEST IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN ENTERS SECOND WEEK

Hundreds of current and former employees of the Taraz Phosphorous Plant in Kazakhstan's southern Zhambyl Oblast are continuing the protest they began on 11 April to demand payment of overdue salaries and pensions, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 18 April. An unknown number of protesters are on hunger strike, of whom five have been hospitalized. As of 13 April, 20 protesters had been arrested. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION DEMANDS KULOV'S RELEASE

Some 200 opposition representatives staged a march in central Bishkek on 18 April to demand the release from pre-trial detention of opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov, Interfax reported. Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan leader Jipar Jeksheev said that the protest was intended to reassure the public that the authorities cannot "destroy democracy." LF

CRIME BOSS SHOT DEAD IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajik law enforcement officials killed Nurullo Isaev, whom they identified as head of a major criminal gang, in a shootout east of Dushanbe on 17 April, Reuters reported the following day. One police officer was also killed in the exchange of fire. Isaev's gang was reportedly responsible for the murder in 1999 of the head of the Tajik Interior Ministry's department for the struggle against organized crime. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OVER HUMAN RIGHTS

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told journalists in Tashkent on 18 April after her talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov that the latter categorically rejected U.S. criticism of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, AP and Reuters reported. Albright also noted that Uzbekistan is delaying serious market reform, in particular in making its currency fully convertible. But she stressed that the U.S. regards Uzbekistan as a friend, and is prepared to assist Tashkent in combatting any spillover of Islamic extremism from Afghanistan or elsewhere in Central Asia. LF




BELARUS DENIES PRESS REPORT ON MILITARY DEAL WITH IRAQ

The Security Council has denied a report by Great Britain's "Sunday Telegraph" that a Belarusian company is to upgrade Iraq's air defense, Belapan reported on 18 April. The "Sunday Telegraph" said Russian military officials have negotiated a $90 million deal with Iraq in which Belarus's state company Beltekheksport will upgrade Iraq's anti-aircraft batteries by extending their range from 18 km to 27 km. The paper added that Iraq's anti-aircraft artillery will be overhauled and Iraqi air defense crews will be sent to Belarus to become familiar with the latest Russian electronic warfare systems. The Security Council said it is disappointed that "such a prestigious periodical has published false information which misleads the public and discredits the peace-loving foreign policy of the Republic of Belarus, which has always strictly abided by UN decisions and the standards and principles of international law." JM

UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS ACCOMPLISH LITTLE

Talks between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Kyiv on 18 April ended without the signing of any documents or offering any specific solutions to urgent problems in bilateral relations, news agencies reported. Putin noted that the main goal of Russian- Ukrainian relations is to strengthen both countries' strategic partnership. The sides discussed Ukraine's gas debt to Russia, bilateral trade, and military cooperation. Kuchma and Putin announced the creation of a commission to resolve the gas debt problem within a month. Kuchma officially admitted for the first time that Ukraine siphons off Russian gas and pledged to stop that practice. Both presidents visited Sevastopol where they were greeted by pickets of ethnic Russians with placards reading "Putin, don't forget that Crimea and Sevastopol are Russia." JM

UKRAINE ENDS FOREIGN DEBT RESTRUCTURING, ISSUES NEW FOREIGN BONDS

The Finance Ministry on 18 April said Ukraine has concluded the restructuring of a $2.37 billion debt due to be paid in 2000-2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000), Interfax reported. Under the restructuring plan, the ministry annulled old bonds, issued new eurobonds with a seven-year maturity period, and repaid $220 million in interest. Simultaneously, Ukraine has issued $2.24 billion worth of new foreign loan bonds nominated in euros and dollars and due to be paid in 2007. JM

ESTONIA TURNS DOWN POLISH TANKS

Defense Minister Juri Luik said that Estonia will not accept a gift of 10 tanks from Poland. Luik made the decision public during a meeting with Polish Ambassador Jakub Wolasiewicz on 14 April, ending months of speculation about the fate of the 10 T-55AM tanks, "Postimees" reported. The parliament's Defense Committee, which passed a resolution on accepting the tanks, called for an emergency session to hear both sides of the debate. Committee chairman Tiit Tammsaar told BNS that "I hope that such a decision by the government will not cause any diplomatic problems between Estonia and Poland," adding that newer tanks like the Leopold-1 would be better for the Estonian military. Defense Minister Luik said he will send an official confirmation letter soon. MH

ESTONIAN TRANSPORT MINISTRY TO EMBRACE HIGH TECH

Toivo Jurgenson, head of the Ministry for Transport and Communications, said on 18 April that the ministry will soon change its name to reflect the importance of the information technology sector. The ministry will have under its competence all issues relating to information technology, including state policies and development plans. Due to the cut in the 1999 budget, the government halted the planned merger of the Transport Ministry into the Economics Ministry. MH

LITHUANIAN RULING PARTY REBELS EXPELLED

The ruling Conservatives on 18 April acted upon their threat and expelled nine members of a breakaway wing of their party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). The expulsion of the parliamentary deputies, who included former cabinet ministers, lowers the number of seats held by the party's faction to 49, BNS reported. The nine expelled members are part of the Moderate Conservatives, a faction loyal to former Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, who himself "suspended" his membership in the Conservatives. The opposition has been calling for a confidence vote in the government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, as the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats--which make up the government--now hold a minority of seats. MH

CASE AGAINST LITHUANIAN EX-PREMIER DROPPED

The Vilnius regional prosecutor's office on 18 April dropped its long- running case against former Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius on abuse of power in regards to the collapsed Lithuanian Stock Innovation Bank (LAIB), ELTA reported. Slezevicius was accused of abuse of his role in getting higher interest rates, but is best remembered for withdrawing all his funds from the bank days before it collapsed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 1997). Slezevicius had maintained his innocence. MH

EU SAYS PER CAPITA GDP IN CANDIDATE COUNTRIES FAR BELOW ITS AVERAGE

Eurostat, the EU Statistical Office, on 18 April released figures showing that between 1995 and 1997, per capita income in 48 out of 50 regions in different candidate countries was 75 percent of the EU average. The richest regions in the 10 candidate countries were the Prague region in the Czech Republic and the Bratislavsky region in Slovakia, which recorded figures of 119 percent and 96 percent, respectively. The lowest figure, in the Polish region of Swietokryskie, was 24 percent of the average EU per capita GDP. The 10 poorest regions comprised five out of Poland's 16 regions, three regions in Bulgaria, the northwestern region of Romania, and one in Latvia. MS

POLISH POLICE DEMAND HIGHER PAY

Several hundred police trade unionists on 18 April staged pickets outside the main police headquarters and the prime minister's offices in Warsaw to demand higher wages and outlays for the police force, PAP reported. "Poorly paid policemen are ill-trained and easy to corrupt. Our authorities always infringe trade unions law and do not consult [on] wage policies with us," the police union's executive committee head, Antoni Duda, told the agency. A recent police study showed that one-fourth of police families live below the poverty level, which is estimated at 325 zlotys ($76.25) a month per family member. JM

SOLIDARITY LEADER OFFERS 'NON-AGGRESSION PACT' TO COALITION PARTNER IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Marian Krzaklewski has proposed a "non-aggression pact" to the Freedom Union, a coalition partner of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), in this fall's presidential elections, PAP reported on 18 April. According to his proposal, the ruling coalition would have to support a single presidential candidate in the anticipated second round of elections. Meanwhile, three components of the AWS--the Polish Party of Christian Democrats, the Conservative Peasant Union, and the Christian National Union- -continue to demand that a single right-wing presidential candidate be selected in primary elections. It is also not clear whether Krzaklawski will not be confronted by former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in the presidential ballot. Walesa has formerly suggested his intention to run. JM

ZEMAN COMPLETES RESHUFFLING CZECH CABINET

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 18 April asked President Vaclav Havel to dismiss Transport Minister Antonin Peltram and Local Administration Minister Jaromir Cisar, replacing them with Jaromir Schling and Petr Lachnit, CTK reported, citing presidential spokesman Martin Krafl. Schling is a parliament deputy of Zeman's Social Democratic Party and Lachnit is a deputy chairman of that formation. The agency said the changes will probably be postponed until May, because Havel is now on vacation abroad and is scheduled to make foreign visits at the end of the month. It also said the reshuffle completes the cabinet's reorganization agreed with the opposition Civic Democratic Party as part of the "extended opposition agreement" of last January. MS

CZECH ROMANY FAMILIES TAKE GOVERNMENT TO EUROPEAN COURT

The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center on 18 April filed suit at the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg on behalf of 18 Roma families complaining of discrimination, CTK and international agencies reported. The parents turned to the Strasbourg court after their complaint was rejected by a Czech court six months ago. They say their children, all from the Ostrava area, were placed in schools for the mentally deficient because of their race after failing tests that were biased against Roma. Romany school children outnumber non- Romanies in such schools by a 27 to 1 ratio. Lawyers told journalists in Prague that the lawsuit could be the first of many similar suits throughout CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. MS

CZECH PARLIAMENT AMENDS LABOR CODE

The Chamber of Deputies on 18 April passed a government-sponsored amendment to the Labor Code, strengthening the position of employees unions and harmonizing the Czech law with EU legislation, CTK reported. The amendment extends annual holidays from three to four weeks, obliges employers to discuss mass layoffs with employees' representatives, and sets a maximum overtime limit. Also on 18 April, the chamber passed a government- sponsored amendment to the law on wages, raising minimum wages by some 40 percent. MS

CZECH MINING COMPANY CALLS OFF AGREEMENT ON MINE SALE

The management of Mostecka uhelna spolecnost (MUS), owner of the brown coal Kohinoor mine in Marianske Radcice, has cancelled the letter of intent on selling the mine to SHD-Peel, CTK reported on 19 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000). The management says the letter lost its validity after the striking miners failed to emerge from their underground striking spot, some 365 meters deep. The miners' union said earlier that the letter does not address their demand that the company's management be dismissed. They also say they want to set up an emergency committee to start immediate negotiations with MUS and the government. The strike is now in its 20th day. MS

MECIAR CALLS ON SLOVAKS TO PROTEST

Former Premier Vladimir Meciar is calling on Slovaks to protest on 1 May against the government's economic policies, CTK reported, citing the opposition daily "Slovenska Republika." Meciar says this will be "the right time to take it to the streets and tell the government we do not want it...We do not want [Prime Minister Mikulas] Dzurinda!" He also says there is a possibility that the coalition will split and a new cabinet will be formed. Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has collected 350,000 signatures on a petition for a referendum on early elections, but has not submitted it to President Rudolf Schuster. A public opinion poll conducted by IVVM last month shows the HZDS leading in party preferences with 25.5 percent, followed by Robert Fico's new Smer (Direction) party, with 23.2 percent. MS

LUXEMBOURG FOLLOWS SUIT ON VISAS FOR SLOVAKS

Luxembourg Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel said on 18 April that his country is reintroducing visa requirements for Slovak citizens as of 20 April, CTK reported. Belgium reintroduced the requirement on 13 April in an attempt to stop the influx of Slovak Roma asking for political asylum. MS




SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT TO VOTE ON PRIME MINISTER

The parliament begins discussions on the afternoon of 19 April on the candidacy of center-right opposition candidate Andrej Bajuk to succeed Janez Drnovsek as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). The ballot is expected on 20 April at the latest. If Bajuk does not win the necessary 46 out of 90 votes, President Milan Kucan and the various political parties have three more days to nominate other candidates or to renominate Bajuk. If the legislature fails to elect a new prime minister by 8 May, Kucan must bring elections forward from the fall to June or July. Bajuk is expected to obtain not more than 44 votes, Reuters reported. Political power in Slovenia is centered in the parliament. Several parties other than Drnovsek's Liberals want new election legislation based on proportional representation. PM

FONTAINE: SLOVENIA TO EU IN FIRST GROUP

Nicole Fontaine, who is president of the European Parliament, said in Ljubljana on 18 April that she does not expect the current Slovenian government crisis to delay the Alpine republic's admission to the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2000). She added that she expects Slovenia to be among the next group of new members admitted. "I believe Slovenia could be among countries that will participate in the 2004 election to the European Parliament," Reuters quoted her as saying. PM

FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS SIGN ITALIAN COMMERCIAL PACT

Representatives of the five former Yugoslav republics signed a multilateral agreement in Trieste to promote economic contacts between each other and with Italy, "Jutarnji list" reported on 19 April. This is the first such agreement since the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia began in 1991 and is sponsored by Confcommercio, or the Italian Chamber of Commerce. The agreement contains few concrete pledges but paves the way for cooperation between firms in the various former Yugoslav republics with the backing of Italian money. PM

WAR CRIMES TRIALS TO TAKE PLACE IN CROATIA?

Forensics experts from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal discovered an unspecified quantity of human bones at a suspected mass grave at Obradovic Varos near Gospic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000). Deputy Justice Minister Ranko Marijan suggested that suspects might eventually be tried in Croatia rather than in The Netherlands. He added: "Under our constitutional law, the [Hague-based] tribunal should have jurisdiction, but given the recent talks between the government and the chief prosecutor, [Carla Del Ponte,] it is not unlikely that the war crimes cases will be tried in Croatia," Reuters reported. "It is in the vital interest of Croatia and its citizens that the suspects stand trial here," Marijan added. If any trials do take place in Croatia, it would be the first time that the tribunal has agreed to hold trials outside The Netherlands. PM

BANKING SCANDALS WEIGH HEAVILY ON CROATIA'S BUDGET

Central Bank Governor Marko Skreb said in Zagreb on 18 April that the costs of resolving problems stemming from some 25 bank failures will amount to $5.5 billion, or two-thirds of the 1999 state budget. Some of the costs will be covered by selling off the banks' assets and the rest from the state budget, AP reported. Critics have charged that Skreb, who until recently was a member of late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), took too long to investigate the bank failures. Many Croats believe that bad loans to HDZ loyalists lie at the root of most of the bank failures. PM

RACAN: TUDJMAN, AIDES INVOLVED IN 'ROBBERY'

Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 18 April that recordings of conversations between Tudjman and some of his aides indicate that they were involved in "robbery" in the sale of the mass-circulation daily "Vecernji list," "Jutarnji list" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000). Deputy Prime Minister Zeljka Antunovic added that this was not the only privatization of a firm to be directed by the president's office. Parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic is expected to make further recommendations in the case in the course of 19 April. Rijeka's "Novi List" called the scandal "Croatia's Watergate affair." The independent daily also speculated as to whether Ivic Pasalic, who heads the Herzegovinian lobby and was Tudjman's top domestic advisor, will wind up in jail once the case goes to court. He currently enjoys parliamentary immunity. Speculation has centered on the possibility that Pasalic and one of Tudjman's sons actually controlled "Vecernji list." PM

GRANIC ALSO IN THE DOCK?

The Croatian Interior Ministry is preparing criminal charges against Mate Granic, who is a former foreign minister and HDZ presidential candidate, "Jutarnji list" reported on 19 April. Granic allegedly illegally transferred some $1.75 million over an unspecified period of time to foreign bank accounts. The money then returned to Croatia to finance the construction of Granic's house and other projects. He called the charges an example of politically-motivated "revenge-seeking." Granic recently left the HDZ to form the more moderate Democratic Center, which leads the HDZ in popularity polls. PM

UN SLAMS SERBIA OVER HUMAN RIGHTS

Members of the UN's Human Rights Commission voted 44-1 to condemn Belgrade for repression of the independent media and political opposition, as well as for the misuse of justice for political purposes. Russia cast the sole vote against. The measure also noted that in Kosova there had been "systematic targeting and terrorization of the civilian population...by Serbian forces, mass forced displacement, expulsion, group massacres, and summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention," as well as rape, widespread destruction of homes, and the repression of the expression of political views, AP reported. PM

SERBIAN COURT FINES BETA

A Belgrade court on 18 April fined the private news agency Beta $6,900 at the black market rate in a libel suit filed by Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic. A similar suit was dismissed against the daily "Blic" on the grounds that it had simply reprinted a Beta story linking Matic to the 1999 murder of independent journalist Slavko Curuvija rather than report the charge on its own. Beta Director Radomir Diklic told Reuters that he expects to lose the case. "They will fine us for certain, because the [media] law exists so that they can collect their bounty," he added. PM

DJINDJIC: SERBIA HEADING FOR GENERAL STRIKE

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said that the "final scenario" in the political action begun with the 14 April Belgrade protest meeting will be for two million citizens to turn out in a "kind of general strike," "Danas" reported on 19 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). He added that Yugoslav Prime Minister Slobodan Milosevic is now frightened of defections from the ranks of his supporters. PM

MILOSEVIC BACKERS IN MONTENEGRO CLOSE RANKS

The Montenegrin branches of the Serbian People's Party and Vojislav Seselj's Radicals have joined an electoral coalition recently formed by Milosevic's supporters in that republic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). PM

HUGE GOLD DEPOSIT FOUND IN ROMANIA

A huge gold deposit, believed to be the biggest in Europe, has been found in central Romania, according to a report published on 18 April by the U.S. Pinock Allen and Holt Company, AFP reported. The deposit is near the town of Rosia Montana and is believed to contain over 250 tons of gold and 1,370 tons of silver spread over 20 square kilometers. Frank Timis, head of the Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources, which holds a 65 percent stake in the joint venture behind the find, said his company has spent $20 million on feasibility studies for the find and plans to invest up to $250 million in the project, convinced that "we will be able to extract 85-90 percent" of the precious metals. The project will employ some 2,000 workers in a region hit hard by unemployment. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES PENSIONS

The government on 18 April decided to gradually raise pensions beginning on 1 May. The smallest pensions will be raised by as much as 50 percent. The cabinet said the move was made possible by its decision to tax economic activities that previously went untaxed. The cabinet also decided to restructure the state- owned ROMGAZ company, breaking the monopoly into five independent companies. MS

CHISINAU STUDENTS WIN ROUND...

Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean on 18 April told some 20,000 students demonstrating in the Moldovan capital that the mayoralty has decided to annul its decision depriving them of the right to free travel on public transportation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000). Urechean also said that the students detained one day earlier after clashes with the police had been freed. But he added that the decision on free public transportation may be revised, depending on government subsidies. After his announcement, most demonstrators withdrew but several thousand gathered on one of the town's main streets where skirmishes with police forces reoccurred. They blocked traffic, but dispersed after further parleys with the police, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. Parliamentary Chairman Dumitru Diacov said "provocateurs" identified to be President Petru Lucinschi supporters had been spotted among the demonstrators. MS

...AND RENEW DEMONSTRATIONS

Some 7,000 students gathered on 19 April in Grand National Assembly Square to protest against their peers having been beaten up by police in a student hostel the previous night. The students claim policemen locked up students in a hostel, beat them and said they should stop participating in the protests. A police spokesman said an investigation has been launched. MS

STOYANOV SAYS BULGARIA VICTIM OF YUGOSLAV CONFLICTS

President Petar Stoyanov, currently visiting Germany, said on 18 April in an interview with the daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that the Yugoslav conflicts over the past nine years "caused Bulgaria great losses" and deprived it of being "a transit country for west European goods to southeastern Europe." Stoyanov said investors have also been scared off and the wars in general have threatened the success of Bulgaria's economic reforms. He said that the Bosnia war of 1992-1995 cost Bulgaria "at least $5-6 billion" and the Kosova war also "caused damages in the billions." Further losses are now produced by the blocking of navigation on the Danube River as the result of the NATO air strikes, he said. MS

UN RESOLUTION ON ANGOLA MAY AFFECT BULGARIA

The UN Security Council on 19 April approved a resolution warning that it will consider imposing penalties against countries found to have 89iolated an arms embargo and economic sanctions against Angolan rebels. The council set a six-month period to further investigate how the UNITA rebels were able to fuel their war and said it will decide in November whether to take action against violators. An independent panel of experts earlier said Bulgaria had been the main supplier of arms to the rebels, though a number of African countries and Belgium were also involved. Bulgaria has called the report "distorted," Reuters reported. MS

IOM LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN AGAINST WOMEN SEX SLAVERY IN BULGARIA

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on 18 April launched a campaign aimed at preventing the export of women as sex slaves, AP reported. A similar campaign was launched, also on 18 April, in Slovakia. The IOM says some 10,000 Bulgarian women, mostly under 18, have fallen prey to the sex trade, being lured into going abroad by promises of jobs as models and dancers, and even marriages to Westerners. Village girls as young as 14 have also been kidnapped and smuggled over the border. MS




GETTING PRIORITIES STRAIGHT IN CROATIA


Real politics have come to Croatia this year. No more

leaden statements by officials of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) alternating with pathetic cries from a seemingly helpless opposition. The HDZ has split and its remaining leaders feud in public. It is true that HDZ-backed newspapers like "Vecernji list," "Slobodna Dalmacija," and "Vjesnik" have lost their government insider's edge and furthermore face an uncertain future. But the independent "Jutarnji list" and the independent weeklies make for exciting reading as HDZ leaders fight each other and scandals from the previous 10 years emerge on an almost daily basis.

But that is not the only excitement in the Croatian press these days. Something else that crops up almost every day are verbal pot-shots exchanged between President Stipe Mesic and members of the government, usually Prime Minister Ivica Racan or Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic. It is to be expected that the two sides do not see eye-to-eye about the issues surrounding the reduction of the president's constitutional powers. Opinion polls, moreover, suggest that most voters are pleased with both the president and the government, and that they find the ongoing tension between them normal and healthy. In fact, Mesic is the country's most popular politician, and right behind him comes Racan.

But one area of seemingly constant sparring is more an embarrassment than anything else, namely how they deal with The Ghost of Franjo Tudjman. This does not refer to the question of cutting the president's constitutional powers. The issue is the pains to which politicians go to show themselves as breaking with Tudjman's fondness for official pomp and circumstance.

If Tudjman's strutting about flanked by young men in "historical" comic-opera uniforms was unintentionally funny, the same might be said of the current sparring over the legacy of government-by-show. Specifically, "issues" have arisen regarding the home of the president and other officials, and the proper protocol to be shown at airports.

Last month, Mesic was furious that the government offered him a "luxury villa" as his official residence. He refused the house, calling the offer a ploy to make him look extravagant in the eyes of average Croats. It appears that many people were indeed angry that their president would live in the lap of luxury, but a look at the photos of the home suggested that it was anything but of international presidential quality. The author knows any number of U.S. professors or German businessmen who live in much more comfortable or spacious surroundings, and the list need not stop there.

In the end, Mesic did not take the house. (Whether the building's pre-1941 owners will get it back is another matter.) For good measure, it might be noted that the prime minister lives in an ordinary flat, with guards outside his apartment block on a parking lot shared by several other modern buildings.

This self-enforced modesty recalls tales of the blue- blooded former British Labour minister who shunned his aristocratic title and allegedly painted rust spots on his car to give himself a more close-to-the-people image. But not all modesty is a matter of personal choice. Mesic and Granic openly sparred in the press over the degree of protocol to be shown to the president when he leaves on or returns from an official visit, such as the one Mesic made to Bosnia- Herzegovina in March. Mesic argued that his demands are far from Tudjman's pomp and in keeping with the practices of such democracies as Slovenia and Bulgaria. He felt that the Racan government virtually ignored his visit and that such behavior amounted to an insult.

But Granic was not to be budged in his role as the defender of modesty in government. He recently sought not to have to ride in the same car from the airport as a visiting Thai princess, in contradiction to protocol. Questions of protocol also arose over the issue of the presence of a military band--de rigeur under Tudjman--to greet her. In the end, Racan and the government went along with internationally accepted standards of protocol in receiving the visiting dignitary. But this is unlikely to be the end of the matter.

Croatia certainly has more substantial problems than the legacy of pomp and circumstance. It will take a while before a truly functioning democracy takes root, including the establishment of really independent media. The government certainly cannot afford to forget that a main reason that it attracted voter support in January was popular anger over the HDZ's corruption and misuse of the privatization process, but this will take long years to set right. Issues of housing, unemployment, and the cost of living require immediate attention, although here, too, there are no easy answers. Perhaps more profoundly, there is a general social malaise and ethical vacuum that one finds in many post-communist societies. How these aspects of life will be brought up to "European norms" is anybody's guess.

In short, Croatia has its tasks more than cut out for it. The example of Slovakia shows that even a determined opposition with its own agenda can squabble and falter after it comes to power, making a return of the old regime a very real possibility. In such circumstances, one does not know whether to laugh or cry when Croatia's top elected officials fight publicly over issues such as the size of the president's work room or the color of a carpet at an airport.


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