Accessibility links

Newsline - May 31, 2000




BEREZOVSKII SLAMS PUTIN'S PLANNED REFORMS AS UNDEMOCRATIC...

Influential business tycoon Boris Berezovskii published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 May harshly criticizing Putin's recently announced plans to reorganize the administration of the Russian Federation. Berezovskii, who has a controlling interest in "Kommersant-Daily," said that Putin's earlier decree establishing seven federal districts and a package of three bills altering the principles by which the Federation Council is formed "would radically change the state structure of Russia." He added that "in a democratic country such decisions are unthinkable without public debate and a referendum." Berezovskii predicted that the creation of seven administrative districts might lead to a "division of regional leaders into first and second class" and encourage Russia's economic "disintegration." He also cautioned Putin not to "be in a hurry in tackling matters of historic proportion in a vast and gravely sick country." JAC

...AS ANALYSTS QUESTION WHETHER RIFT IS REAL

Analysts appear divided over whether the letter indicates a real rift between Putin and Berezovskii or is the product of a "quarrel" manufactured to deflect attention away from actions Putin has taken that are supportive of Berezovskii interests, such as his recent reappointment of Aleksandr Voloshin as head of the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). Berezovskii told reporters that his letter was intended to "trigger a public debate" of Putin's planned reform. He added that he is "confident that neither the governors nor public opinion are unanimous on this issue." "Nezavisimaya gazeta," a newspaper controlled by Berezovskii, speculated on 31 May that by mentioning in his letter Putin's earlier career in St. Petersburg, Berezovskii may subtly be threatening to produce compromising materials about Putin's actions there. It also concludes that despite Berezovskii's wide influence, it is "hardly possible" that those who agree with him will venture to scuttle the legislation in the State Duma. JAC

PASSAGE PREDICTED FOR PUTIN REFORM PACKAGE

First Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Lyubov Sliska (Unity) told reporters on 31 May that she expects Putin's package of bills restructuring the administration of the Russian Federation will be approved in the first reading with 260 votes in favor. She also predicted that amendments will be introduced in the second reading. Four of the Duma's nine factions have pledged to support the legislation--Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, People's Deputy, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Interfax reported. The largest faction, the Communists, said it will allow its members to vote as they wish. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 31 May that three Duma deputies have sent a letter to Putin asking him to guard them against pressure from governors, some of whom oppose the bill on the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 May 2000). JAC

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL KILLED IN CHECHEN BOMB ATTACK

Sergei Zverev, who is deputy to Russian government representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman, was killed on the night of 30 May when his car hit a remote-controlled landmine in Grozny. Grozny Deputy Mayor Nurseda Khabuseeva also died in the attack, and Mayor Supyan Makhcheev was injured. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 31 May that Makhcheev was probably the intended target of the attack, as "militants have long been hunting him," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT FLOATS POSSIBLE CONCESSIONS...

In an interview published in "Moskovskie novosti" on 30 May, Vakha Arsanov affirmed the Chechen leadership's desire to arrive at a political settlement of the Chechen conflict and end the war. He said that in order to facilitate such a peace settlement, the Chechen leadership is prepared to shelve any further discussion of Chechnya's legal status within the Russian Federation, provided that the Russian leadership agrees to do the same. Arsanov also said he and President Aslan Maskhadov will resign once the hostilities are ended. He condemned the 11 May attack on a Russian armored convoy in Ingushetia as both "a crime" and a violation of Maskhadov's orders not to engage in any such attacks outside Chechnya. But in an apparent contradiction, Arsanov also affirmed that the forces loyal to Maskhadov are strong enough to keep in check field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab "or anyone else." LF

...WHICH MOSCOW TERMS 'INTERESTING'

Commenting on Arsanov's interview, Russian presidential aide Yastrzhembskii said on 30 May that if the stated intention of Maskhadov and Arsanov to resign is sincerely meant and not a bluff, "this is a step in the right direction, as there is no room for Maskhadov in the future set-up of Chechnya," Interfax reported. But he played down Arsanov's proposal to suspend discussion of Chechnya's status, saying that "there is no room for compromise here--Chechnya is an inseparable part of Russia." The "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" on 31 May noted that Arsanov did not repeat his earlier demand for a total withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. LF

KOSHMAN FIRES GANTEMIROV

Koshman issued a decree in Moscow on 30 May dismissing Chechen pro-Moscow militia commander Beslan Gantemirov as his deputy "for failing to discharge his service duties, breaches of discipline and systematic absenteeism," ITAR-TASS reported. Gantemirov had threatened earlier to step down to protest what he termed the shabby and discriminatory treatment of his militia force compared with Russian Interior Ministry personnel. In an interview published on 4 May in "Vremya MN," Gantemirov had claimed that the Russian government representation in Chechnya "is mired in intrigues" and has "begun to establish ties with Chechen and Moscow oligarchs." LF

RUSSIAN CUSTOMS CONFISCATE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

Customs officials at Moscow's Sheremetevo airport on 30 May confiscated an Amnesty International report on human rights violations in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Airport officials had said they wanted to prevent the report being used for "commercial purposes." LF

POSSIBLE TERRORIST ATTACK OCCURS IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA

A device exploded near a military base in Volgograd on 31 May, killing one soldier and injuring more than 10, Interfax reported. Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyuta told Interfax that he suspects Chechen involvement in the explosion since soldiers at the base are participating in the military campaign in the North Caucasus. However, ITAR-TASS reported that staff of the North Caucasus Military District believe the explosion was not directed against the army since it was "a mere coincidence" that the soldiers happened to be near the area when the device exploded. NTV reported that Russian police are treating the case as a terrorist attack. JAC

ROGOZIN EXPECTS NO BREAKTHROUGH ON ABM...

In an interview with "Segodnya" published on 30 May, Chairman of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said he does not believe the upcoming Russia-U.S. summit will result in a breakthrough over missile defense. U.S. arguments about the need to "demolish" the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty have not been "seriously thought through," he commented, while the threats posed by "rogue states" to which Washington refers appear to be simply "virtual threats." Rogozin did not rule out the possibility that the U.S. and Moscow will reach a compromise over the issue sometime in the future, but he stressed that such a solution should not be linked to START III. JC

...WHILE IVANOV STRESSES TREATY MUST REMAIN 'INTACT'

Addressing a delegation from the U.S. Senate in Moscow on 30 May, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov underlined Russia's position that no changes should be made to the ABM treaty. According to a Foreign Ministry statement quoted by Interfax, Ivanov stressed that the link between keeping the ABM treaty "intact" and continuing the process of Russian and U.S. strategic arms reduction is "immutable." Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is due to arrive in Moscow for talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov on 1-2 June, ahead of U.S. President Bill Clinton's arrival in the Russian capital on 3 June. JC

GOVERMENT TO AIM FOR LOWER INFLATION, ZERO BUDGET DEFICIT NEXT YEAR

The Finance Ministry on 30 May submitted its key parameters for the 2001 budget. The ministry is forecasting that in 2001 GDP will total 6.80 trillion rubles ($24 billion), annual inflation 11 percent, and revenues 15.5 percent of GDP, while the average exchange rate will be 32 rubles to $1. The parameters of this year's budget included expected annual inflation of 18 percent, GDP of 5.4-5.9 trillion rubles, revenues of 14.9 percent of GDP and the same exchange rate (32 rubles/$1). Next year, the ministry is planning a zero budget deficit, compared with 1.13 percent deficit in 2000. JAC

NEW IMF AGREEMENT EXPECTED BY MID-SUMMER

Presidential envoy to the G-7 Andrei Illarionov told reporters on 30 May that Russia and the IMF will reach an agreement on a new lending program by mid-July. He explained that "there is an understanding between the sides that there is no sense carrying on the old program with the fund, hence the need and possibility to sign a new agreement." Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said earlier this month that once the government has completed its program for Russia's economic development, then talks with IMF will get under way. He suggested that talks on a new loan program might start at the beginning of July. JAC

UNIONS PROTEST TAX REFORM

Trade union members in Tomsk picketed the oblast's administration building on 30 May to protest the proposed changes in the federal Tax Code, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The next day, the deputy chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, Aleksei Surikov, said that protests against the introduction of a single social tax will be held in most Russian regions as well as in front of the State Duma building in Moscow. In Khabarovsk on 31 May, more than 2,000 people attended a rally demanding that the federal authorities stop "any changes in the social sphere, which will lead to restrictions and the abolition of already miserable social guarantees," ITAR-TASS reported. The Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko announced the same day that their members will support the single social tax and flat income tax when the Duma discusses the new tax legislation on 2 June. JAC

PUTIN TAPS ANOTHER 'LIBERAL' ECONOMIST

Aleksei Ulyukaev has been appointed deputy finance minister, replacing Aleksei Kudrin, who is now finance minister, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 May. The daily described Ulyukaev, who is the former deputy director of the Institute for Economies in Transition, as a "member of the liberal team of [Unified Energy Systems head] Anatolii Chubais," which also includes Kudrin, presidential envoy to the G-7 Illarionov and Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref. Ulyukaev was one of the members of the team that drafted the economic program of Gref's Center for Strategic Research. Berezovskii has a controlling interest in "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

WOMAN GAINS LEADERSHIP POSITION IN STATE DUMA

State Duma deputies voted to confirm Irina Khakamada as one of its deputy speakers on 31 May. Khakamada replaces Boris Nemtsov, who is now the faction leader for Union of Rightist Forces. Nemtsov, for his part, replaced Sergei Kirienko, who is now presidential representative for the Volga administrative district. JAC

GOVERNMENT REVISES GRAIN HARVEST FORECAST DOWNWARD

The Russian Agriculture Ministry has reduced its forecast for the 2000 grain harvest. Deputy Agriculture Minister Rafgat Altynbaev told the State Duma on 30 May that the ministry now expects the harvest to total 62-63 million tons. Formerly the ministry had predicted that the harvest would total 70-75 million tons, a 40 percent increase over the 1999 harvest of 54.7 million tons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). JAC

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL ACCEPTS RUSSIA'S EXPLANATION OVER OJDANIC

Addressing a NATO Parliamentary Assembly session in Budapest on 30 May, Lord Robertson said that he "accepts" Moscow's explanation that the recent visit of Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic resulted from a "mixup," Reuters reported. Robertson rejected suggestions that the alliance should take a tougher stance toward Russia over that visit, noting that it would be wrong to "lay down conditions for dialogue." Ojdanic, who has been indicted by the Hague- based international war crimes tribunal, was in Moscow earlier this month. Russia subsequently apologized for that visit following criticism from the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May and 25 May 2000). JC

SWISS MOVE CLOSER TO FORMAL CHARGES IN KREMLIN BRIBERY CASE

Swiss judge Daniel Devaud has informed Bexhet Pacolli, head of the Swiss Mabetex construction firm, that he will be formally charged with money-laundering and criminal association, AFP reported on 30 May. Pacolli is accused of giving some $4 million in bribes to Russian officials in order to secure lucrative contracts, among them the renovation of the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2000). In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 May, Devaud said that he also has enough evidence to convict former head of the Kremlin's facilities director Pavel Borodin on money-laundering charges. Borodin is now secretary of state for the Union of Belarus and Russia. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIAN BASES CRUCIAL TO REGIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM

In a recent interview with several Russian journalists broadcast by Armenian National Television, President Robert Kocharian said the Russian military bases in Armenia and Georgia have been a crucial guarantee of regional security and must therefore be incorporated into the planned South Caucasus security system, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 30 May. Kocharian said that system must build on previous accomplishments in the security sphere and that Russia should play a major role in it. In late March, Kocharian had advocated a security system based on the "3+3+2" format, meaning an agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, with Russia, Iran, and Turkey acting as guarantors and the U.S. and the EU as sponsors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). Earlier this month, the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies unveiled an alternative blueprint under which Russia, the EU, and the U.S. would affirm their willingness to participate in such a system, which would be developed by the three South Caucasus states, together with Turkey and Iran. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING SUSPECTS' RELEASE IMMINENT?

Two men currently in custody on suspicion of involvement in the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings may be released shortly, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 30 May. Military prosecutors on 30 May withdrew their request to a Yerevan court to prolong the detention of Harutiun Harutiunian, the deputy director of Armenian National Television, who was arrested in early January. Parliamentary deputy Mushegh Movsisian, who was arrested just days after the assassinations, is also likely to be released. Friends of the two men say the reason for their imminent release is that the leader of the five gunmen who carried out the killings, Nairi Hunanian, has repeatedly failed to provide any testimony substantiating suspicions of their involvement. According to unconfirmed reports circulating in Yerevan on 30 May, Hunanian has retracted much of his earlier testimony. LF

ARMENIAN INTERIOR, SECURITY MINISTERS PROMOTED

President Kocharian issued a decree on 29 May promoting Interior Minister Major General Hayk Harutiunian and Security Minister Major General Karlos Petrosian to the rank of lieutenant general, Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian also promoted to that rank two deputy defense ministers, Manvel Grigorian and Yurii Khachaturov. Grigorian is chairman of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war and was appointed deputy defense minister by Kocharian in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). LF

AZERBAIJAN SEEKS INVESTORS FOR PIPELINE PROJECT

Representatives of more than 30 international oil companies engaged in the Caspian attended a presentation in Baku on 29 May intended to solicit participation in a sponsors' group that would conduct studies of the optimum route for the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline and seek to identify investors to fund that project, Interfax and Turan reported. Addressing the meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem described the planned pipeline as "one of the most important elements of the East-West transport corridor." LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS PROTEST POLICE AGGRESSION

Independent and opposition newspapers in Azerbaijan on 30 May published condemnations of a police attack on the editorial office of the newspaper "Bu gun" three days earlier, Turan reported. Several journalists were beaten during that attack and a photographer taken into custody for questioning. The police action was apparently in retaliation for the journalists' attempt to photograph a scuffle between police and a group of young men outside a Baku cafe. Two journalists' organizations and the editors of 17 media outlets issued a statement on 29 May condemning the police action and demanding an investigation. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CONFIRMS FOUR MORE MINISTERIAL CANDIDATES

Deputies voted on 30 May to approve the nomination of David Mirtskhulava, Merab Chkhenkeli, Valeri Vashakidze, and Mikhail Ukleba as ministers of fuel and energy. urbanization and construction, refugees and accommodation, and state property, respectively, Caucasus Press reported. All four had held those portfolios in the previous government. The parliament also approved the nomination by President Eduard Shevardnadze of his former parliamentary secretary, Sulkhan Molashvili, as chairman of the parliament Control Chamber. Meanwhile Bakur Gulua, whose reappointment as minister of agriculture deputies rejected last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000), told journalists on 30 May that World Bank representatives plan to visit Tbilisi in order to clear him of suspicion of having misappropriated credits allocated by that bank, Caucasus Press reported. LF

RUSSIA CONCERNED AT TERORRISM IN ABKHAZIA...

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement registering its concern at the recent increase in terrorist attacks in southern Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 30 May. Fifteen Abkhaz police have been killed and four wounded in recent weeks in such attacks, which the Abkhaz authorities blame on Georgian guerrillas. The statement said it is essential that Georgia and Abkhazia sign without delay the draft Agreement on Peace and the Non-Resumption of Hostilities, which has been under discussion for almost two years. Also on 30 May, the Abkhaz parliament in exile rejected the request of its chairman, Tamaz Nadareishvili, to resign from that post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). LF

...AS ABKHAZ OFFICIAL SAYS CIS PEACEKEEPERS SHOULD STAY

On 31 May, Caucasus Press quoted Abkhaz presidential aide Astamur Tania as saying that Sukhum will lobby for the extension of the CIS peacekeepers' mandate in Abkhazia. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Malkhaz Kakabadze had told ITAR-TASS two weeks earlier that Abkhazia wants those peacekeepers withdrawn, while Tbilisi wants them to remain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). LF

KAZAKHSTAN PLANS TO QUADRUPLE OIL EXTRACTION...

Kazakhstan plans to quadruple its oil output over the next decade and to increase that output by 10 percent this year to 33 million tons, Interfax reported on 29 May, quoting the deputy president of the Kazakhoil national oil and gas company, Galiusat Keshubaev. On 30 May, an unnamed spokesman for the Tengizchevroil joint venture told Interfax that the venture intends to raise daily production at its huge Tengiz oilfield to 700,000 barrels per day by 2010. But he added that that increase is contingent on the timely completion by mid-2001 of the Caspian pipeline from Tengiz to Novorossiisk. LF

...BUILD NUCLEAR REACTOR

Kazakhstan will embark on building a thermo-nuclear reactor in the town of Kurchatov in East Kazakhstan Oblast next year, Interfax reported on 30 May. The project should be completed within three years. LF

ARAB COUNTRIES DENY KAZAKH MEDIA CLAIMS THEY SUPPORT ISLAMIC EXTREMISM

The ambassadors of Egypt, Libya, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia met with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev on 27 May to protest Kazakh print media articles claiming that their countries support "Islamic extremists," Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 May. They objected specifically to an article in the newspaper "Karavan" affirming that Saudi Arabia encourages religious extremism and terrorism. Toqaev undertook to investigate the issue. LF

PLANNED KYRGYZ ROUNDTABLE IN JEOPARDY

Kairan El party chairman Toktobai Mulkubatov said in Bishkek on 30 May that his party will not participate in the roundtable scheduled for 3-4 June between opposition parties, NGOs and the Kyrgyz government, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. He added that there is no point in doing so as participants do not plan to sign any binding obligations. Communist Party chairman Absamat MasAliyev said the same day that his party has not yet decided whether to attend the roundtable, but opposition El (Bei Bechara) party leader Daniyar Usenov vowed that he will do so. The leadership of the Ar-Namys party announced last week that it will not attend unless its detained leaders Feliks Kulov and Emil Aliyev are released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). LF

OSCE CHAIRWOMAN VISITS TAJIKISTAN

Austrian Foreign Minister and OSCE chairwoman in office Benita Ferrero-Waldner told journalists in Dushanbe on 30 May after talks with President Imomali Rakhmonov that she believes the OSCE should continue its post-conflict assistance to Tajikistan, Reuters reported. ITAR-TASS quoted her as assuring Rakhmonov during those talks that the multi-party system in Tajikistan is a "positive factor" that can serve as an example to other states. OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis, a former UN special representative in Tajikistan, was also present at those talks. ITAR-TASS quoted presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov as saying that Rakhmonov expressed the hope that the OSCE will urge the international community, in particular Russia and the U.S., to pay greater attention to the Afghan situation, which, Rakhmonov said, endangers the security of the Central Asian states. LF

TURKMEN INTERNET PROVIDER TO DEFY OFFICIAL BAN

The director of Ariana, the leading private telecommunications company in Turkmenistan, told Reuters on 30 May that he will not comply with a government order to shut down Internet access to the company's subscribers. Vagif Zeynalov said that decision is illegal, pointing out that under recent licensing regulations it should have been preceded by checks conducted by the Ministry of Communications. Zeynalov has appealed to the ministry to revoke the ruling. Meanwhile the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations issued a press release on 29 May saying that the decision to revoke licenses of private Internet providers was taken without the knowledge of President Saparmurat Niyazov. This substantiates observers' impressions that the Turkmen security services are becoming a law unto themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON OPPOSITION TO TAKE PART IN ELECTIONS...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 30 May met with participants in the government-promoted "sociopolitical dialogue," which the Belarusian opposition has boycotted. Lukashenka urged what he called "the extreme opposition" to take part in parliamentary elections this fall, pledging to create equal conditions for all candidates in the ballot. He also promised to comply with the OSCE Minsk mission's proposal to create an atmosphere of trust in the country during the election campaign. "The authorities oblige themselves from this day on not to take actions that would worsen conditions for the activity of all public organizations, parties, and groups, including the opposition political parties," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

...THREATENS TO PUNISH OPPOSITION FOR SEEKING SUPPORT IN WEST...

At the same time, Lukashenka accused "the radical opposition" of seeking money "overseas" in order to "overthrow the existing 'illegitimate authority'" in Belarus, Belapan reported. Lukashenka was apparently alluding to a recent visit of Belarusian oppositionists to Washington, where they were promised financial support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). Lukashenka said he will refer the matter to Belarus's Security Council. "One should not look at similar things indifferently, and the people who are responsible for peace and tranquility in our state should not overlook this, either," he noted. "Any retribution against these individuals because of their meetings in Washington would be a serious mistake and in the lead-up to elections later this year would further set back efforts to restore the legitimate democratic process in Belarus," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the same day. JM

...PLEDGES TO AMEND ELECTORAL CODE

Lukashenka also pledged that a bill of amendments to the Electoral Code will be submitted to the Chamber of Representatives for approval in the coming days. He did not specify which provisions of the code are to be amended, adding only that the changes may affect the procedure for establishing electoral commissions and the status of international and domestic observers. The OSCE and the Belarusian opposition are urging amendments to the Electoral Code to ensure the democratization of the election process in Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NO REASON TO DISBAND PARLIAMENT...

Leonid Kuchma told a forum of businessmen in Kyiv on 30 May that there are "no political, legal, economic, or other reasons" to hold early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Interfax reported. Kuchma said some political forces unhappy with the political stability in Ukraine are trying to campaign for early elections. He noted, however, that it is premature to predict that the pro-government parliamentary majority has already acquired "a stable and permanent character." JM

...WARNS AGAINST OVERESTIMATING ECONOMIC GROWTH

Kuchma said he is "resolutely opposed" to exaggerating the impact of the 10 percent industrial-production growth in Ukraine in the first quarter of this year. In his opinion, Ukraine's production sector is "very inert" and this year's growth has resulted not only from "recent decisions and measures" but also from "all the past work." "The growth impetus has not become stable yet, it may exhaust itself very soon," he warned. Kuchma also expressed his concern that economic improvement has not translated into higher wages for average Ukrainians or into a reduction of the existing wage and pension arrears. He said that as of 10 May, the government's wage backlog totaled $6.4 billion hryvni ($1.2 billion). JM

ANTI-RUSSIAN SENTIMENTS RISE IN LVIV OVER COMPOSER'S DEATH

Some 3,000 angry protesters marched through Lviv on 30 March chanting "Down with the Russians!" Reuters reported that later the same day, tens of thousands of Lviv residents participated in the funeral of composer Ihor Bilozir, whose death last week has raised a wave of anti-Russian sentiment in the city that is generally regarded as the seat of Ukrainian nationalism. Bilozir was fatally injured by Russian-speaking attackers who did not like his singing Ukrainian songs with friends in a cafe. One of the attackers turned out to be the son of a senior police officer in Lviv. The protesters in Lviv demanded that the authorities "de- Russify Ukraine" and sack all Russian-speaking servicemen from the city police force. JM

ACTING HEAD OF ESTONIAN CENTRAL BANK QUITS

Peter Lohmus tendered his resignation on 30 May. Though long rumored, this move comes shortly after former Finance Minister Mart Opmann withdrew his controversial candidacy for the top job at the bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2000). The resignation of Lohmus and the issue of proposing a new candidate for governor will be discussed at a meeting of the governing board on 1 June. "Eesti Paevaleht" suggested former governor Vahur Kraft now has a chance to regain the post. MH

LUKIN IN ESTONIA TO PROMOTE TIES

A delegation of the Russian State Duma led by deputy speaker Vladimir Lukin is in Estonia to focus on bilateral ties between the neighboring countries. Lukin reaffirmed on 29 May that issues involving the Russian- speaking community in Estonia remain the biggest problem in bilateral relations, adding that "the Russian public is at the moment not very warmly disposed to Estonian politics," BNS added. He also discussed economic cooperation with parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi and met with Prime Minister Mart Laar. Lukin told "Eesti Paevaleht" that relations between the two countries should "change for the better." MH

OVERSPENDING UNCOVERED AT LATVIAN GOVERNMENT CHANCELLERY

The State Auditor's Office announced on 30 May that the State Chancellery must repay some 50,000 lats ($82,850) to the budget for the careless use of funds, BNS reported. Deputy director of the chancellery Talivaldis Zamozdiks, who was accused of corruption, has been sacked. The post-audit report suggested that funding to the chancellery should be reduced by another 70,000 lats, the sum spent on a controversial recreation area on the premises of the chancellery. MH

POLISH-ITALIAN CONSORTIUM WINS BID FOR LITHUANIAN BANK

The State Property Fund on 30 May announced that the winner of the privatization tender for the Agriculture Bank is a consortium of Poland's Pekao and Italy's UniCredito Italiano, ELTA reported. The state is selling 76 percent of the third- largest bank in the country, and experts believe that sale will bring in more than 100 million litas ($25 million). The Polish-Italian consortium was the only bidder in the tender. UniCredito, along with Germany's Allianz, own a majority stake in Pekao. MH

SOLIDARITY'S CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER DECLINES JOB

Economist Bronislaw Grabowski, whom the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) had proposed to head the cabinet in the current coalition crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000), said on 30 May that he does not want the job. "The duties of prime minister should be assumed by a political leader with strong parliamentary backing," Grabowski commented in explanation of his withdrawal. "The Freedom Union regards Grabowski's resignation as confirmation...that the AWS has neither a real candidate to head the government nor a coherent concept for the renewal of the coalition," the Freedom Union (UW), the AWS's coalition partner, commented. Meanwhile, the UW ministers who tendered their resignations earlier this week attended a 30 May meeting of Jerzy Buzek's cabinet. "As long as [our resignations] are not implemented constitutionally, we will carry out our basic duties," UW leader and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz said (see also "End Note" below). JM

CZECH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES AMENDED ELECTORAL LAW

Vaclav Havel on 30 May told CTK that the amendment to the electoral law approved by the Chamber of Deputies last week "deprives the Senate of its purpose" and that he believes the upper chamber "will realize this" and will not approve the amendment. Havel said the amendment "introduces elements of a majority system" into a proportional system and thus is "against the spirit" of a bicameral system in which the lower house is elected under a proportional and the Senate under a majority system. Social Democratic Party and Civic Democratic Party deputies responded that if the Senate approves the amendment and Havel vetoes it, his veto will be overridden. MS

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT IN PRAGUE

President Lennart Meri told journalists after meeting with Havel on 30 May that he believes his country will be invited to join NATO in 2002. Meri said that not all NATO candidates and not all Baltic countries must be admitted at the same time. "We do not have to move in a convoy whose speed is established by the slowest ship," he said. Havel said the Czech Republic supports "the right of Estonia to join NATO and we are closely cooperating in our [joint] efforts to join the EU." MS

NO NEW NATO MEMBERS BEFORE 2002

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said at the closing session of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Budapest on 30 May that the military alliance will make no decision before 2002 on whether to admit new members. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the assembly that Central Europe and Hungary can only support a European defense policy that does not weaken NATO's integrated defense capacity. Orban said history shows that a U.S. presence in Europe will be indispensable for the foreseeable future. Regarding EU accession, he said "Europe will not be complete until the best-prepared Central European countries are admitted." MSZ




CHIRAC CALLS FOR EU-BALKAN SUMMIT

French President Jacques Chirac said in Paris on 30 May that the EU must adopt a "decisive strategy for the Balkans." He added that this will be one of the main themes of the French EU presidency, which begins on 1 July. The French leader stressed the need to make Europe "a key player in the world." He argued that "a summit between the EU and the countries of ex-Yugoslavia that are most advanced in their democratic evolution would allow us to clarify objectives and revive a stalling process," Reuters reported. "The aim would be to support recent developments in Croatia, welcome the efforts taken by Macedonia, note progress made in Bosnia, to encourage them to go further,...and to remind Yugoslavia that the door will be open to it as well as soon as it joins this movement" toward democracy and international integration. The president concluded that "we should tell these countries more clearly what we expect of them and what we are ready to do to help them." PM

QUESTIONS REMAIN OPEN ON CHIRAC PROPOSAL

Unnamed aides to the French president told Reuters in Paris on 30 May that Montenegrin representatives will be welcome at the summit if a suitable diplomatic formula can be found to describe their status there. It is unclear whether Slovenia will be included or who will represent Kosova. Bernard Kouchner, who is the UN's chief civilian administrator in Kosova and a former French cabinet member, has criticized France and several other countries for failing to supply promised police and other personnel for the troubled province. It is also unclear whether non-EU European states or the U.S. will have a role in Chirac's plans. The "Berliner Zeitung" noted that his ideas for a joint EU defense projects, including a rapid reaction force that could be used in the Balkans, "could easily lead to a stronger distancing" of EU member states from the U.S. PM

ROBERTSON PRAISES KOSOVA PROTECTION CORPS

NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson said in Prishtina on 31 May that he supports the efforts of the Kosova Protection Corps (KPC) to promote peace and reconciliation in the province, AP reported. He made the remarks after meeting with the KPC's head, General Agim Ceku, who, like most KPC members, is a veteran of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Robertson said: "I will continue to support the KPC, to demand from the international community the resources that will allow it to do this valuable civil [defense] job and to support General Ceku in the role he has of being an influential spokesman for peace and reconciliation." In response, Ceku argued that the KPC is not only the main factor in the "reconstruction of infrastructure but [also in] the reconstruction of society. We are the only institution in Kosova that is a model for the future of Kosova," he stressed. PM

SERBS FREE 23 KOSOVARS

Red Cross officials said in Prishtina on 30 May that Serbian authorities freed 23 ethnic Albanians from several prisons. The 23 are believed to include six Kosovars who were sentenced by a Nis court but were freed because the amount of time they had already served was longer than the length of their respective sentences, AP reported. According to the Red Cross, some 1,188 Kosovars remain in Serbian prisons. PM

SUSPECT ARRESTED IN SHOOTING OF SERBS

KFOR has arrested an unidentified person in the recent drive-by killing of three Serbs in the village of Cernica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2000), a spokesman for the peacekeepers said in Prishtina on 30 May. He did not elaborate. PM

MONTENEGRO'S DJUKANOVIC PREDICTS ELECTION VICTORY

President Milo Djukanovic told an election rally in Podgorica on 30 May that Montenegro "cannot be run from Belgrade or be happy with crumbs" from Serbia's table, Reuters reported. He appealed to voters to support his backers in the 11 June local elections in Podgorica and Herceg Novi. Referring to his pro-Belgrade rivals, Djukanovic said: "They are the part of Montenegro that still allows itself to be manipulated by dictatorial lies from Dedinje, which imposes the rule of one man and one woman on the unfortunate nation." Dedinje is the district of Belgrade where Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic, live. PM

BELGRADE CITY GOVERNMENT IN STANDOFF WITH BUS DRIVERS

The Belgrade city government, which is run by Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, has revoked the permits for some 300 private bus drivers, "Danas" reported on 31 May. The municipal authorities argued that the drivers broke their agreement with the city by launching a strike on 29 May, forcing thousands of people to walk to work or use taxis. The drivers want an increase in the price that they are legally allowed to charge for tickets. The argue that current prices have not kept pace with inflation. The authorities maintain that the broader problems of the city's public transportation system are at least 10 years old and not of the current government's making. PM

CROATIA'S MESIC SAYS 'ISOLATION IS OVER'

President Stipe Mesic told the parliament on 30 May that "the isolation of Croatia is a thing of the past," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that Croatia now fully supports the Hague-based war crimes tribunal as well as "all activities" of the international community in southeastern Europe aimed at keeping peace in the region. There is still a danger to peace from unnamed "dangerous" forces in the region, he argued. Mesic charged that the previous government of the late President Franjo Tudjman left a legacy not only of isolation but also of corruption, dubious privatization practices, and the theft of public property and wealth. He called on all citizens to support the government in its efforts at promoting reform, "Jutarnji list" reported. Mesic spoke on the Day of Statehood, which marks the opening of Croatia's first freely elected parliament on 30 May 1990. PM

CROATIAN RIGHT-WINGERS RALLY IN VUKOVAR

Some 2,000 right- wing veterans of the 1990-1995 conflict with Serbian forces marked the Day of Statehood by holding a rally in Vukovar, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Speakers demanded a general amnesty for all veterans of that conflict from possible charges of war crimes. Velimir Kvesic, who leads a veterans' organization and represents the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) in the parliament, charged that Prime Minister Ivica Racan wants Serbian refugees to return because "they are his voters," "Jutarnji list" reported. HSP leader Anto Djapic commented: "When we come to power, it will be too bad for the Serbs," "Novi List" reported. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS 'FINANCIAL PLOT' BEHIND BANKING PANIC...

Mugur Isarescu, speaking on Romanian Radio on 30 May, said a "financial plot" by "behind-the-scene manipulators" is responsible for the current panic among holders of bank accounts. Isarescu said anonymous phone calls to depositors at the country's Commercial Bank caused a "withdrawal panic" that was "unjustified and harmful." He warned against exchanging savings for dollars, saying that past experience shows that people find they have made losses when the exchange rate returned to normalcy. Reports said the exchange rate has soared from 22,000 lei to $1 to 25,000 lei and dealers have run out of dollars. Isarescu said that "at stake is national sovereignty and...economic stability, which I will defend with all my strength as long as I am premier...." And he suggested the rumors were started to dissuade the IMF from approving the resumption of loans to Romania. MS

...AS IMF DEALS ADDITIONAL BLOW

As if to confirm Isarescu's suggestion, the IMF announced on 30 May that it is postponing by two days taking a decision on whether to resume the disbursement of a $540 million stand-by loan approved last year and interrupted after the first tranche was released. IMF spokeswoman Conny Lotze was quoted by Reuters as saying that the loan, due to expire on 31 May, will be prolonged by one week. The one-week extension is intended to "allow time for the Romanian authorities to formulate their policy response to the recent developments in the financial system," according to Lotze. Romania had asked for a nine-month extension of the loan. Following Isarescu's recent visit to the U.S. it had been widely assumed that the fund would approve that request. MS

PROSECUTORS QUESTION 'WITNESSES' IN MONEY-LAUNDERING AFFAIR

Testifying "as a witness" in the Adrian Costea money- laundering affair on 30 May, Party of Social Democracy in Romania deputy Viorel Hrebenciuc denied being responsible for a 1992 oil supplies deal signed with a company managed by Costea. Hrebenciuc said he had not been a cabinet member at the time, but he admitted having prolonged the contract in 1993, when he was secretary of Nicolae Vacaroiu's cabinet, "to avoid having Costea suing Romania for the non-fulfillment of its provisions." Hrebenciuc said trips to France financed by Costea were aimed at "checking" the number of photo-albums edited by Costea on the government's behalf. The same day, Iosif Boda, deputy chairman of Alliance for Romania Party and manager of Ion Iliescu's 1996 presidential campaign, refused to tell journalists what he had told investigators about vacations and hospital treatment in France that Costea had paid for. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON ELECTIONS, REFERENDUM...

President Petru Lucinschi, speaking on television on 29 May, said he has "no objection" to early presidential and parliamentary elections taking place at the same time as a referendum on changing the country's system to a presidential one. From the legal point of view, however, this would be possible only if there were an agreement between himself, the parliament, and "all political forces." Lucinschi said agreeing on a law on constitutional reform before the presidential elections is "absolutely necessary" in order for candidates "to know how they will rule the country after [an election] victory," Infotag reported. MS

...MEETS WITH CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY

Lucinschi told visiting CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov that cooperation within the organization can improve only if it is "advantageous for all members," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He added that the first step toward improving cooperation would be to "define the minimal obligations binding on all members" and "clarify once and for all the significance of agreements reached earlier, primarily economic ones." In this connection, Lucinschi mentioned the need to implement the agreement on setting up a free trade zone. Yarov also met with Premier Dumitru Braghis, whom he informed about the activities of CIS peace keeping units stationed at the Georgian-Abkhaz border region and about the differences that still divide CIS members over the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. MS

TIMETABLE READY FOR RUSSIAN TRANSDNIESTER WITHDRAWAL?

Moldovan Foreign Ministry official Ion Stavila was quoted by Romanian Radio on 30 May as saying Russia might present next week "the final timetable for the withdrawal of its troops from the Transdniester." In line with the obligations it undertook at last year's Istanbul OSCE summit, Russia should have presented that timetable in April. MS




POLISH COALITION ON THE BRINK OF COLLAPSE


by Jan Maksymiuk

The National Council of the Freedom Union (UW) voted almost unanimously on 28 May to withdraw its ministers from the 30-month-old coalition with the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). The following day, UW leader and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka, Transport Minister Tadeusz Syryjczyk, and four deputy ministers submitted their resignations to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. In a bid to save the Solidarity-affiliated coalition, Buzek rejected those resignations, urging the AWS and the UW "to start talks immediately." Last week, Buzek had suggested that he is ready to step down.

The pretext for the UW's withdrawal from the cabinet was Buzek's appointment of a commissioner to run the Warsaw-Centrum municipality. A candidate supported by the UW and the opposition Democratic Left Alliance had won an election for the Warsaw-Centrum mayoralty, but the provincial governor revoked that election and asked Buzek to appoint a government administrator, which Buzek did. The UW accused Buzek of violating the principles of self-government and of seeking to secure the AWS's control over Poland's wealthiest municipality.

However, the controversy over the Warsaw-Centrum commissioner appears to have been the last in a series of uncoordinated actions in the unhappy UW-AWS partnership. Some AWS lawmakers have repeatedly sought to slow down the pace of the painful reforms that the liberal UW championed in a bid to modernize Poland and prepare it for EU membership as soon as possible. They maintain that the AWS is implementing the UW's liberal economic program while ignoring the electoral pledges given by Solidarity to workers and farmers in 1989, when the trade union toppled communism in Poland, and in 1997, when the AWS took over after a leftist government.

Earlier this month, the government lost a parliamentary vote to introduce a sales tax on farm products, in line with EU requirements, when two dozen AWS deputies representing rural constituencies supported an opposition amendment. "Government decisions were blocked in the parliament on some essential points while decisions harmful for the country were forced through," Balcerowicz said, explaining his party's loss of confidence in Buzek as well as in how the coalition has been run. The UW made clear that the survival of its coalition with the AWS was dependent on the latter's designation of a new prime minister, the revoking of the decision to appoint the commissioner in Warsaw, and guarantees that the AWS parliamentary caucus would support coalition positions on which it had agreed beforehand with the UW.

" We participated in this coalition with the conviction that it would put Poland in its rightful place in Europe, promote economic development, and strengthen democracy and self-government.... These goals cannot be achieved without ensuring reliable political support in the parliament," the UW National Council said in a resolution ordering the party's ministers to pull out of Buzek's cabinet. But the council also left open the option of forming a new coalition with the AWS under a new prime minister if the AWS agreed to negotiations.

Last week, the AWS proposed Bronislaw Grabowski, an economist without political experience, to head a new cabinet. Balcerowicz commented that Grabowski is a man with "strong, clear economic views that are in line with Poland's needs," but he noted that the AWS must first ensure parliamentary support for a new premier among its own lawmakers. On 30 May, however, Grabowski declined that proposed job, saying that a stronger politician with the necessary parliamentary support is needed to steer the coalition out of the current impasse.

Polish commentators generally agree that it is rather unlikely the current political arrangement will collapse and early parliamentary elections will be called, since a presidential ballot is due to take place this year. But they also point out that the construction of a new government and the "renewal" of the AWS-UW coalition would be an extremely difficult task. It cannot be ruled out that the AWS will have to form a minority government (the AWS controls 185 seats in the 450-strong lower house). However, such a turn of events would be very detrimental to the rate at which the country has been adopting EU-related legislation.

Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa has urged AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski to head a new government. On the one hand, Krzaklewski seems to be a politician almost certainly capable of uniting the AWS and the UW around a new cabinet and disciplining those AWS deputies who vote against the government. On the other hand, Krzaklewski's possible premiership would almost certainly rule him out as a contender in the presidential race. Krzaklewski is thought to have a good chance of mustering more support from the right wing than any other candidate.

Tough decisions in the AWS, however, cannot be avoided. The results of a poll taken in mid-May showed that the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance, with 41 percent backing, is far ahead of the AWS (14 percent) and the UW (9 percent). Taking into account that post- communist incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski enjoys stable support at 60-70 percent, in the coming months Poland's Solidarity-affiliated forces may lose much more than simply the opportunity to field a single and relatively strong right-wing candidate in the presidential ballot.


XS
SM
MD
LG