Accessibility links

Newsline - June 1, 2000




ONE RUBLE, ONE VOTE

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Yaroslavl on 31 May that the number of Federation Council members representing a certain region might be made proportional to that region's contribution to the federal budget, Interfax reported. He explained that this arrangement, though only one of many possible arrangements, would make much political and economic sense, according to the agency. Putin also noted that although there have been proposals to amend his legislation restructuring the federation, "there has not been, nor will there be, any direct opposition" to them. JAC

FEDERATION REFORM PROPOSALS FLY THROUGH DUMA

State Duma deputies on 31 May voted to approve in the first reading legislation on forming the Federation Council. The vote was 362 deputies in favor, 34 against, and eight abstentions. The deputies also passed a law that would enable the president to remove elected regional heads if a court determines their actions violate federal law and a law giving governors a similar right to dismiss lower level local elected officials. The voting on the second bill was 357 in favor, 28 against, and two abstentions. For the third bill, 319 votes were cast in favor, 39 against, and seven abstained. Russian Regions faction head Oleg Morozov predicted that in the second readings, scheduled for 23 June and 30 June, the number of amendments to the bills offered will be very large. JAC

REGIONS GIVEN ONE MONTH TO SHAPE UP

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov announced on 1 June that within one month, Russia's 89 federation subjects must ensure that their laws do not conflict with either the Russian Constitution or federal legislation, ITAR-TASS reported. In a telephone conference with the heads of regional prosecutors' offices the same day, he suggested meeting with representatives of executive and legislative organs in their respective regions to explain matters, saying that if "persuasion" does not work, then other measures will be taken, according to the agency. And he also told the regional prosecutors that "if you don't have enough power there, we will help you." Ustinov singled out almost all the national republics for various violations of federal law. For example, he noted that the constitutions of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Komi, Kabardino- Balkaria, Tuva, and Sakha all consider their supremacy over the federal basic law to be a given. JAC

DEATH TOLL RISES IN VOLGOGRAD EXPLOSION

The explosion of a mine in Volgograd on 31 May killed two soldiers and injured 15 others, Interfax reported on 1 June, citing Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyuta. Maksyuta linked the killings with the imprisonment of a nephew of Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev in Volgograd several days ago for selling drugs and counterfeiting money. Several State Duma deputies addressed an appeal to Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo on 1 June to introduce a passport regime in the oblast in order to improve security. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Volgograd described the incident as an act of terrorism directed at the Russian army, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

LEFTIST DEPUTIES ASK PUTIN TO STAND FIRM IN CLINTON TALKS

In an appeal to President Putin published in the 1 June "Sovetskaya Rossiya," the Communist and Agro-Industrial State Duma factions express concern about the "possible consequences" of U.S. President Bill Clinton's upcoming visit to Moscow. In particular, the leftist parliamentary deputies note that they consider "inadmissible any deviation from the letter and spirit" of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. "Even an insignificant retreat from Russia's firm position on this issue will inevitably be interpreted by the U.S. as willingness to make major concessions," they argue. Among the issues the factions asked Putin to raise with Clinton are "U.S. violations of the provisions of START-1," the draft START-3 treaty, which "gives the U.S. a one-sided advantage," and the "inadmissibility" of U.S. sanctions against Russian firms and universities involved in "scientific-technical cooperation" with Iran. JC

COHEN TO FOLLOW ON CLINTON'S HEELS IN MOSCOW

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen will pay a visit to Moscow shortly after U.S. President Clinton wraps up his three-day trip to the Russian capital, the Pentagon announced on 31 May. No date was specified for Cohen's visit, but it is expected to take place at the end of a week-long visit to Europe beginning 6 June. U.S. officials who requested anonymity said that the minister is expected to meet with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, and other military leaders to discuss, among other issues, U.S. plans to implement a limited national defense system. JC

DEMO PLANNED TO PROTEST CLINTON'S VISIT

The Moscow city authorities have granted permission to a number of "parties and movements" to stage a demonstration near the U.S. embassy on 4 June to protest U.S. President Clinton's visit to the Russian capital, Interfax reported on 31 May. According to the news agency, the application to hold the rally described Clinton as an "international criminal...who is directly responsible for NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia, for the support of terrorist organizations in Kosovo and Chechnya, and for other manifestations of the policy of state terrorism pursued by the U.S. under Clinton's rule." Up to 1,000 people are expected to take part in the rally. JC

IVANOV DENIES 'ALFA' TROOPS WILL BE SENT TO AFGHANISTAN

At a press conference in Moscow on 31 May, Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov denied Russian media reports that the Interior Ministry's crack anti-terrorist Alfa force may be sent to Afghanistan to fight alongside the troops of Ahmed Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance, Interfax reported. "Kommersant-Daily" had reported on 31 May that Massoud is planning to launch a major counter-offensive against Islamic rebel bases between 8-10 June and that Russian military aviation, together with GRU and FSS troops, will participate in that operation. The objective of the Alfa forces will be to wipe out the camps of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the newspaper claimed. Ivanov had said on 29 May that Moscow may provide assistance to opposition forces in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2000) LF

GANTEMIROV REFUSES TO STEP DOWN

Beslan Gantemirov told Interfax on 31 May that he refuses to acknowledge the validity of the decree issued the previous day by Russian government representative in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, dismissing Gantemirov as his deputy. Gantemirov said that only Russian President Putin, who appointed him to that post, is qualified to dismiss him. Also on 31 May, Russian Interior Minister Rushailo denied that Gantemirov ever held any formal rank within his ministry. Late last year, Gantemirov formed his own pro-Moscow Chechen militia, which fought alongside the Russian federal forces in Chechnya. The Russian military command in Chechnya issued orders in mid-May to disband all informal pro-Moscow armed militias, but Gantemirov refuses to step down as leader of his own personal force, which numbers some 760 men (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 22, 1 June 2000). LF

WHO KILLED ZVEREV?

Gantemirov said one reason for his refusal to abandon his militia duties was his determination to establish who was responsible for the remote-controlled bomb that killed Koshman's deputy, Sergei Zverev, near Grozny on 30 May, Interfax reported. Gantemirov said that attack was only possible because of what he termed "the lack of leadership" in Chechnya. Koshman, who flew from Moscow to Grozny on 31 May, blamed Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov for Zverev's murder, according to ITAR-TASS. But Chechens close to Grozny Mayor Supyan Makhcheev, who was injured in the attack and may well have been its prime target, identified as the attackers the Akhmadov brothers, whom they characterized as "Wahhabis" from Urus-Martan, southwest of Grozny. On 1 June, however, ITAR-TASS quoted unidentified Russian military sources as saying that an investigation had established "with certainty" that Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev was behind the blast. LF

PUTIN PROMISES HIGHER WAGES FOR SERVICEMEN

Addressing the heads of regional industries in Yaroslavl on 31 May, President Putin said that "if we are to improve the investment climate, if banks are to function normally, we must first of all reduce political risks, and we can't do that without strong armed services." Putin also noted that the wages of a regiment commander, who is responsible for many lives, is considerably lower than that of a State Duma deputy, who "is not responsible for anything and who does not go to [parliamentary] sessions," ITAR-TASS reported. Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref had pledged earlier that wages for servicemen and police officers would be increased to compensate for tax benefits they will lose under the new tax reform plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2000.) JAC

...AS GENERALS ASK FOR BOOST IN NEW WEAPONS PROCUREMENT

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry has submitted its draft Armament Program for 2001-2010 in which it proposes replacing at least 50 percent of military hardware and equipment while upgrading the remainder, "Vremya MN" reported on 1 June. The daily argued that "rearmament of the Russian army and navy will require new weapons systems costing billions [of dollars]" and that it is therefore "naive to expect the 'slim' federal budget to be able to compensate by 2010 for the damage done to Russia's defense capacity over the last decade." JAC

DUMA CHAIRMAN COMES OUT AGAINST ONE PART OF TAX REFORM PLAN...

State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev called on the government on 31 May to withdraw its draft law on a single social tax, saying that this bill "has caused the most concerns and doubts," ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, trade unions around Russia staged protests against elements of the tax reform plan, including the introduction of a single social tax (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2000). Independent Trade Union Federation Deputy Chairman Aleksei Surikov told "The Moscow Times" on 1 June that the reduction in tax funds flowing into the social security fund would mean that summer camps for children and reduced-cost sanatorium treatment would no longer be available to the 40 percent of the population earning less than the average monthly wage of $67. He added, "We are being told that such contributions do not exist in Western countries, but none of those countries has such low wages as we have." JAC

...AS DISCUSSION OF PLAN POSTPONED

"Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 1 June that over the next three or four years, the state will dramatically reduce its payments for socials services as state subsidies for community and housing services and public transport are suspended. Also on 1 June, Duma chairman Seleznev announced that debate on the government's tax reform package will be delayed until 7 June. JAC

GOODS, SERVICES, AND SWINE INCREASE

The production of goods and services in industry, agriculture, transportation, and retail trade surged a combined 8.6 percent during the first four months of 2000, compared with the same period last year, according to the State Statistics Committee on 31 May. Production in these core sectors in April 2000 rose 5.9 percent, compared with the same month last year, but dipped 5.1 percent compared with March 2000. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 1 June that in contrast to industry, the agricultural sector is continuing to experience difficulties: farm output grew only 1.2 percent during the first four months of 2000 compared with a 5.5 percent rise in industry. Livestock remains a problem spot, with the number of cattle dipping 2.4 percent and the number of sheep and goats dropping 4.6 percent as of 1 May compared with the previous year. The number of pigs, however, increased 3.2 percent. JAC

FAR EASTERN GOVERNOR WANTS TO IMPORT MORE RUSSIANS

Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko has called for moving 5 million people from the central regions of Russia to the Far East, "Izvestiya" reported on 1 June. He suggested that these migrants could then be settled in Amur Oblast and Primorskii and Khabarovsk Krais in order to create parity in population with the northwestern provinces of China. JAC

SERBIAN OPPOSITIONIST URGES GREATER SUPPORT FROM MOSCOW

In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 31 May, Zoran Djindjic, head of Serbia's Democratic Party, urged Moscow to offer more support to democratic forces in Yugoslavia. The Serbian opposition leader said that he and two other oppositionists, Vuk Draskovic and Vojislav Kostunica, had been received "with good will" by Russian diplomats and legislators earlier this week, but he added that "a larger number of concrete evaluations and recommendations from the Russian side wouldn't have gone amiss." Djindjic also warned that after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's "inevitable exit, Serbs won't forget that Moscow, by not deciding to completely break with him, had prolonged the regime's agony." JC

SECURITY COUNCIL TO CONSIDER ECONOMIC ISSUES

President Putin appointed Mikhail Fradkov as first deputy secretary of the Security Council and reappointed all other deputy secretaries of that body, including First Deputy Secretary Vladislav Sherstyuk, Interfax reported on 31 May. Fradkov is the former head of the Ministry of Trade, which was recently disbanded. Security Council Secretary Ivanov said that Fradkov's appointment shows that the council will now pay more attention to economic matters. JAC

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL SAYS NO INCREASE IN RETIREMENT AGE ANYTIME SOON

Addressing a conference on pensions on 31 May, Deputy Labor Minister Yurii Lyublin said that a decision to raise the retirement age would be "a correct one" in order to save money but would, in fact, be politically impossible, ITAR-TASS reported. "One can say with 100 percent confidence that the government will not make such a decision," Lyublin declared. It was reported earlier that the government was considering raising the retirement age for both men and women to 65 by the year 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," tk May 2000). JAC

BORODIN CLAIMS THAT 'OLIGARCHS' IN CAHOOTS WITH SWISS

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 1 June, former Kremlin facilities directorate head Pavel Borodin asserted that the continuing scrutiny by Swiss law enforcement officials of his handling of the Kremlin's renovation is connected to his current activities as secretary of state of the Union of Belarus and Russia. Borodin explained that certain "oligarchs" want him removed from overseeing Russian- Belarusian relations because some of them are engaged in the "devious" re-export of goods "whereby a Belarusian-made tractor is sold in Moscow for less than its production cost." Borodin claimed, "The union is starting to curtail the activities of several of these swindlers." JAC

KALYUZHNYI NAMED DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER

As predicted by Russian political observers, on 31 May President Putin issued a decree appointing Viktor Kalyuzhnyi a deputy foreign minister, Interfax reported. Putin had named the former Fuel and Energy Minister as his special envoy for the Caspian last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2000). LF

RUSSIAN CUSTOMS EXPLAIN RATIONALE FOR CONFISCATING AMNESTY REPORT

Interfax on 31 May quoted unnamed Russian customs officials as confirming that some 100 copies of an Amnesty International report on human rights violations in Chechnya had been confiscated from Amnesty International employee Marianna Katzarova on her arrival at Moscow's Sheremetevo airport on 28 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2000). They said she had no documentation explaining why the reports were being imported into Russia. They added that Katzarova may reclaim the copies of the report if she provides documentation certifying that they are intended for legal use rather than commercial purposes. Katzarova had intended to distribute the reports at a human rights seminar in Vladikavkaz. LF

INGUSH PRESIDENT QUITS RUSSIAN ARMY

President Putin signed a decree on 31 May stripping Ruslan Aushev of his rank of lieutenant-general, Interfax reported. "Izvestiya" the following day interpreted that move as heralding a crackdown on Aushev, who has repeatedly criticized Russian policy in Chechnya. But Aushev himself told "Kommersant-Daily" that he had always planned to leave the army on reaching the age of 45 and had submitted his resignation in October 1999. LF




NEW ARMENIAN BLOC HOLDS FIRST CONGRESS

The Union of Right- Wing Forces, which is composed of four small right-wing parties that split in the late 1990s from the then ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, held its founding congress in Yerevan on 29 May, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. The more than 1,000 participants adopted a statement accusing President Robert Kocharian of having "seized power" in February 1998 and the present Armenian leadership of rolling back political and economic reform and making Armenia "an obstacle to regional integration." David Shahnazarian," the leader of the 21st Century party, who ran unsuccessfully against Kocharian in the March 1998 presidential poll, also accused the president of planning to resolve the Karabakh conflict by means of a territorial exchange that would entail ceding Armenia's southern Meghri region to Azerbaijan. The Armenian leadership has repeatedly denied that it would ever agree to such an exchange of territory. LF

ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS STILL INTENT ON OUSTING PRESIDENT

The 12 members of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war who quit the majority Miasnutiun parliamentary bloc and the second-largest Kayunutiun faction last month to protest Andranik Markarian's appointment as premier told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 31 May that the primary objective of their new Hayastan parliament faction will be to force Kocharian's resignation. Hayastan leader Miasnik Malkhasian on 31 May accused Miasnutiun of an "unprincipled" move in agreeing to cooperate with Kocharian on the formation of a new government. LF

SENIOR OSCE OFFICIAL DISCUSSES ELECTION LAW IN AZERBAIJAN

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairwoman Helle Degn met in Baku on 31 May with parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov and with opposition party leaders to discuss possible amendments to the country's election legislation proposed by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Turan reported. Also discussed were the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan's quest for full membership in the Council of Europe, and its participation in European security structures. LF

CAR BOMB KILLS GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S BROTHER

Guram Tevzadze died and two of his relatives were injured when his jeep was blown up in Tbilisi on the morning of 1 June, Caucasus Press reported. Guram Tevzadze, whose brother David is defense minister, headed the NGO Tanadgoma, which provides supplies to the Georgian armed forces. The organization figures prominently in repeated charges of embezzlement within the Defense Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999 and 19 January 2000). LF

CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY VISITS GEORGIA

Visiting Tbilisi on 31 May, Yurii Yarov met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss preparations for the 21 June CIS summit, in particular the planned CIS free trade zone, which the Georgian parliament has not yet endorsed, Caucasus Press reported. Yarov also discussed with both Shevardnadze and with Minister for Conflict Resolution Malkhaz Kakabadze and UN Special Representative for Abkhazia Dieter Boden the prospects for a greater CIS input toward resolving the Abkhaz conflict, which he vowed to make a priority. Speaking to journalists after those talks, Yarov denied that the Russian air force is planning air strikes against suspected Chechen guerrilla bases in Georgia's Pankisi gorge. He also denied that the Russia-Belarus Union is intended as an alternative to the CIS. Nor, he added, will the anticipated visa requirement for Georgians visiting Russia and vice versa contribute to the breakup of the CIS. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES PIPELINE AGREEMENT

Parliamentary deputies voted unanimously on 31 May to ratify the package of agreements on construction of the Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Caucasus Press reported. Georgia stands to earn up to $62.5 million in annual transit fees from oil transiting that pipeline. In Baku, Valekh Alesqerov, who is a senior official of the state oil company SOCAR, said that the governments of the three states that the pipeline will cross (Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey) will not have to meet any of the estimated $2.4 billion construction costs. Those costs will be borne by a special consortium, still to be formed, which will seek loans from international financial institutions. He expressed the hope that some oil from Kazakhstan will also be exported via the Baku-Ceyhan route. LF

OSCE CHAIRWOMAN IN KYRGZYSTAN

Austrian Foreign Minister and OSCE chairwoman Benita Ferrero-Waldner held talks in Bishkek on 31 May with the chairmen of both chambers of Kyrgyzstan's parliament and with President Askat Akaev, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Ferrero-Waldner told journalists that she discussed three issues with Akaev: regional security, regional cooperation, including in the rational use of water resources, and the progress of democratic reforms in Kyrgyzstan. She also raised with Akaev the cases of arrested opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov and of El (Bei Bechara) leader Daniyar Usenov, who was sentenced in April to three years' imprisonment. Ferrero-Waldner said the OSCE will convene a conference in Tashkent in October to focus on security problems in Central Asia, Reuters reported. LF

OPPOSITION KYRGYZ POLITICIAN SUES ELECTION COMMISSION

El leader Usenov told RFE/RL on 31 May that he brought legal proceedings against the Central Electoral Commission two days earlier. The commission had barred Usenov from contending the 12 March parliamentary runoff election in a constituency where he won the majority of votes during the 20 February first round, claiming that he had falsified his income and property declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 13 March 2000). LF

CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST IMMINENT

In an e-mail message to international human rights organizations on 31 May, which was forwarded to "RFE/RL Newsline," Ramazan Dyryldaev, the chairman of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan, said that he was informed earlier that day by a Bishkek district prosecutor that charges of failing to comply with an earlier court order are being prepared against him. Dyryldaev characterized these charges as part of a broader campaign to neutralize all opposition figures and NGOs in the runup to the presidential elections scheduled to be held later this year. LF

TAJIKISTAN DENIES GUERRILLA PRESENCE ON ITS BORDER WITH KYRGYZSTAN

Adylbek Kadyrbekov, the deputy governor of Kyrgzystan's southern Batken Oblast, which borders on Tajikistan, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 31 May that some 1,000 Islamic rebels are currently concentrated on the Tajik side of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border and could invade Kyrgyzstan at any time. But he said Kyrgyz troops are prepared to repel such an incursion. President Akaev, accompanied by the ministers of defense and security, visited Batken on 27 May to address a meeting of defense and security personnel. Also on 31 May, Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov denied the Kyrgyz allegations, affirming that "at present there are absolutely no terrorists or any other kind of armed groups [in Tajikistan] which could threaten the security of neighboring republics," Reuters reported. LF

UZBEKISTAN DENIES VIOLATING AFGHANISTAN'S AIR SPACE

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry on 1 June denied reports circulated the previous day by the Afghan Islamic Press that five of its aircraft violated Afghanistan's air space north of Mazar-i- Sharif on three occasions during the previous two days, ITAR- TASS reported. The Taliban had warned Uzbekistan against repeating those incursions and deployed artillery on hills close to the Afghan-Uzbek border. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST FACES TWO-YEAR PRISON TERM

The prosecution in the trial of Mikalay Statkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, has demanded a two-year prison term for the defendant, Belapan reported on 31 May. Statkevich, along with Supreme Soviet deputy Valery Shchukin, was charged with the organization of and participation in the unauthorized "Freedom March" on 17 October 1999. The march ended in clashes between protesters and riot police as well as in numerous arrests (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 and 26 October 1999). A defector from the Interior Ministry later confessed that the clashes were deliberately provoked by the police (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 February 2000). Statkevich told the court that street protests have now become the only way for people in Belarus to express their views. "I think this struggle will continue, regardless of whether Statkevich is in prison or not," Belapan quoted him as saying. JM

BNF LEADER SAYS OPPOSITION FOUND SUPPORT IN WASHINGTON

Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 30 May that the Belarusian opposition has found support in Washington. Last week Vyachorka visited the U.S. capital as part of a Belarusian opposition delegation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000) and met with U.S. congressmen and politicians. "We have found understanding in such a key issue as support for Belarus's independence. I hope very much that [U.S. President Bill] Clinton will raise this issue in his contacts with Russia's new leadership," Vyachorka said. He confirmed that the Belarusian opposition will take part in parliamentary elections only if the authorities expand the powers of the current legislature, democratize the election law, allow the opposition regular access to the state media, and halt political persecution. JM

CRIMEAN CABINET TO REMAIN IN OFFICE

The Presidium of the Crimean Supreme Council announced on 31 May that it will not officially publish the legislature's former resolution to dismiss the Crimean cabinet of Serhiy Kunitsyn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 May 2000), Interfax reported. According to the agency, the presidium's decision means that Kunitsyn's cabinet will in effect remain in office. The presidium said it made its decision following consultations with the presidential administration in Kyiv and taking into account "revealed legal contradictions and discrepancies" between the Ukrainian and Crimean constitutions and other legislation. "We should take into account that Ukraine's constitution is the main [law] and resolve all problems between the Crimean Supreme Council and the president, the guarantor of Ukraine's constitution, on a constructive legal basis," Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach commented. JM

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER GIVES MORE INFO ON ARMY CUTS

Oleksandr Kuzmuk on 31 May provided additional information on the army reductions approved earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2000), Interfax reported. Kuzmuk said the armed forces will total 295,000 servicemen and 80,000 civilian employees by December 2005. He added that the army's current numerical strength is 310,000 servicemen and 90,000 civilian workers. The armed forces will also reduce its hardware by 400 tanks, 289 aircraft, 189 helicopters, and 11 ships. Kuzmuk added that the army will acquire a new combat formation called "rapid-response forces." Leonid Polyakov, an independent Ukrainian political expert, told Interfax that the total numbef of military and civilian personnel is lower than official figures suggest and in fact totals 370,000- 375,000. "There will be no changes," Polyakov said, commenting on the announced personnel cuts. JM

FOUR ESTONIAN MINISTRIES TOLD TO SPEED UP EUROREFORMS

The government on 31 May said that four ministries--environment, agriculture, social affairs, and transportation and Communications--need to speed up the implementation of the European Integration Action Plan. The government said the four ministries must make a "serious effort" in the summer to catch up, as the plan foresees Estonia being ready for EU entry by the end of 2002, BNS reported. MH

LATVIAN POPULATION DROPS IN 1999

According to statistics released by the Statistics Department on 30 May, Latvia's population dropped by some 15,200 last year, LETA reported. Latvia's total population currently stands at 2.4 million. The leading cause of death was suicide, with 764 individuals taking their own lives, down by 75 from 1998. However, the birth rate rose for the first time since 1988: 19,400 children were born in 1999. The number of reported abortions stood at 18,000 in 1999, down by 1,900 from 1998, while 39 percent of children were born out of wedlock. There were also 6,010 divorces in 1999, compared with 9,400 marriages. MH

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VETOES BILL ON FOREIGNERS RUNNING LOTTERIES

President Valdas Adamkus on 31 May vetoed amendments to the bill on investments, which would have allowed foreign investors to enter the lottery business. Adamkus called those changes unsound and potentially damaging for the economy, ELTA reported. He added that such a provision should be covered by the law on lotteries, which is still being considered by government. The Finance Ministry agreed with the president's stance, BNS added. MH

POLISH COALITION STARTS TALKS ON CABINET CRISIS

The Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (AW) have begun talks on how to overcome the current cabinet crisis following the resignation of five UW ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2000). PAP reported on 31 May that both sides discussed "differences of opinion" over privatization, budget, taxation, combating corruption, and voting discipline in the parliament. "After today's talks I'm an optimist [and I believe] that we have a chance to find understanding on many issues," Deputy Premier and Labor Minister Longin Komolowski of the AWS commented. Some prominent AWS politicians have suggested that AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski may be a candidate for prime minister. Krzaklewski refused to comment on whether he wants to be prime minister, noting only that the coalition must adopt a joint plan of action before discussing potential candidates to head the cabinet. JM

OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS COALITION EXPOSES POLAND TO 'RIDICULE'

Leszek Miller, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, has said the AWS-UW coalition "holds Poland up to ridicule" both at home and abroad, PAP reported on 31 May. "We are sorry that the effort and deprivations of many millions of Poles during the past 10 years of transformation are being wasted," he added. The best solution to the coalition crisis, he argued, would be early parliamentary elections. Miller noted that early elections could be called following the parliament's self-dissolution or the president's decision to disband the legislature if it fails to adopt a 2001 budget. Miller said the coalition's search for a new premier reminds him of "[film] casting." "It is time to consolidate a system in Poland under which the leader of a victorious party is charged with the task of forming a cabinet and heading it," Miller said. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT OFFERS MEDIATION ON GLOBALIZATION

President Vaclav Havel on 31 May told World Bank President James Wolfensohn in Prague that he is offering to host an informal meeting between the IMF and the World Bank with opponents of the globalization process. The meeting will take place during the IMF-World Bank annual meeting in Prague in September 2000. The Czech authorities expect street protests against globalization similar to those in Seattle and Washington in December 1999 and April 2000. Some 11,000 police are undergoing training to provide security during the meeting, which will be attended by 18,000 delegates. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER 'ENVIES' POLISH COUNTERPART

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 31 May that he would very much like to be in the position to say that his country's foreign policy will not change "regardless of who is in power." Dzurinda was responding a remark by Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, who paid a one-day visit to Bratislava amid a government crisis in his home country (see above). Dzurinda thanked his "strategic partner" for its consistent support for Slovakia's bid to be integrated into NATO, the EU, and the OECD. The two premiers agreed that it would be "counterproductive" to enlarge the "Visegrad group," which also includes the Czech Republic and Hungary. Buzek also met with President Rudolf Schuster, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAKIA TO GET TOUGH ON CRIMINALITY

Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told journalists on 31 May that he expects the parliament to amend the Penal Code by 2002 and include harsher punishment for repeated offenses. Carnogursky said the code will include a so-called "three strikes and you're out" provision, whereby three serious offenses of a violent nature would carry a mandatory life sentence. Carnogursky also said the envisaged amended code will increase maximum sentences for serious offenses from 15 years to 25 years. The criminal accountability age is to be reduced from 15 to 14, he added. MS




FAILED ATTEMPT TO ARREST PLAVSIC?

"Vesti" reported from Banja Luka on 1 June that "several" unidentified, uniformed men tried the previous day to enter the apartment building where former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic lives. In front of the building stood a "jeep with dark windows and diplomatic license plates," the daily added. Eyewitnesses told "Vesti" that they believe the men were foreign special troops sent to arrest Plavsic, presumably under a secret indictment from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The daily reported that Plavsic and the Bosnian Serb police had apparently been warned of the attempt in advance because the number of police in her building had been increased that day to "at least 10" from the usual two. Several hours after Bosnian Serb police prevented the uniformed men from entering the building, Plavsic left her flat "visibly angry and with a large police escort." Bosnian Serb police made no official statement, but an unidentified police official told "Vesti" that "everything points to an attempt to arrest" her. PM

SFOR DENIES BID TO SEIZE PLAVSIC

Speaking in Banja Luka on 31 May, an unidentified spokesman for NATO peacekeepers denied that there had been an incident involving SFOR and Plavsic, REFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Observers note that there has long been speculation in Serbian and Bosnian Serb media as to whether Plavsic might have been secretly indicted by the tribunal for her role in the Bosnian Serb leadership early in the 1992-1995 war. She broke with her former hard-line allies and began cooperating with the international community well before the conclusion of the Dayton agreement in 1995. She subsequently appeared publicly with many Western leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who praised Plavsic. PM

DJUKANOVIC AIDE SHOT DEAD...

An unidentified assailant shot and killed Goran Zugic in Podgorica late on 31 May. The killer escaped, but police are conducting a search for one man whom eyewitnesses clearly saw kill Zugic, Reuters reported. Zugic was security adviser to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and a former police chief in the coastal town of Herceg Novi. It is unclear what the motive for the killing might be. The BBC's Serbian Service reported that murder may be linked to the lucrative smuggling trade between Italy and Montenegrin ports. Reuters noted that Zugic was politically a thorn in the side of local supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Gangland-style slayings of politicians and underworld figures have been no rarity in Serbia in recent years, but this is the first such execution-style killing of a public figure in Montenegro. PM

...AS SOME BLAME MILOSEVIC

Liberal Alliance leader Miroslav Vickovic told Reuters on 1 June: "Both Serbia and Montenegro have lost the thin line between politics and crime." Rifat Rastoder, who is a deputy speaker of the parliament, was blunt in his remarks to AP: "It was a classic politically- motivated assassination, with all the characteristics of [the recent] series of murders in Serbia. It is a direct and desperate attempt to transfer Serbia's shotgun policies to Montenegro and create conditions for the imposition of a state of emergency and dictatorship" by Milosevic, Rastoder added. PM

KOSOVA SERBS BURN NORWEGIAN KFOR VEHICLE

A crowd of angry local Serbs surrounded a vehicle carrying an unspecified number of Norwegian peacekeepers in the village of Babin Most on 31 May. Details of the incident are unclear, but two soldiers were slightly injured before the Serbs set the vehicle alight. The KFOR troops were investigating the drive- by shooting of a Serb in that same village earlier in the day. French peacekeepers stopped a car carrying two badly wounded men, one of whom later died. The two are the primary suspects in that killing. Reuters reported that attacks on Serbs by ethnic Albanians "sometimes provoke spontaneous protests by local Serbs, who block roads or take out their anger on KFOR soldiers." PM

DRASKOVIC PRAISES RUSSIAN ROLE IN SERBIA...

The Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic, who epitomizes the nationalist, anti-Western elements in the opposition, said in Moscow on 30 May that "if there is any voice today that has to be respected, it is the voice of Russia," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2000). He told reporters that Russian officials back his call for early elections and an end to repression. Russian Foreign Ministry statements did not support Draskovic's claims, however, Reuters reported on 29 May. PM

...WHILE DJINDJIC, PERISIC BLAST IT

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 31 May that Russian officials are using double standards by "trying to protect a state based on the rule of law and independent media at home while showing an understanding" for the oppressive Milosevic regime. He was particularly critical of the Russian military, who recently played host to indicted war criminal and Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic. Djindjic also noted that "in contrast with Russian diplomats, who have to think something over five times before coming to an agreement with us, Westerners act much more decisively.... After Milosevic's inevitable exit, Serbs won't forget that Moscow, by not deciding to completely break with him, had prolonged the regime's agony," AP reported, citing "Kommersant-Daily" (see also Part 1). Former General Momcilo Perisic, who was not present in Moscow, called the Russian treatment of the opposition delegation "a slap in the face" for the opposition, "Vesti" reported on 1 June. PM

SERBIAN POLICE HOLD DRASKOVIC'S BODYGUARDS

Police arrested four of Draskovic's personal security guards at Belgrade airport on 31 May while they were waiting for him to return from Moscow. Police said that the men were carrying weapons, which they are not legally entitled to do, Reuters reported. Draskovic charged that the real reason for the arrests was "to create a scandal and leave me unprotected to make it easier for anyone who would like to kill me [to do so] and finish the job they failed to do last October." Draskovic has accused the authorities of having tried to kill him in a mysterious road accident in October 1999. PM

BELGRADE STUDENTS CALL OFF PROTEST

A group of Belgrade university students decided on 31 May to end protests in view of a lack of support from their colleagues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). Only 10 students turned out for what proved to be the final rally, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER IN SOUTH AFRICA

Zivadin Jovanovic met with Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad and other, unnamed officials in Johannesburg on 31 May in a previously unannounced visit, AP reported. No details of the talks are available. The Serbian private media have often suggested that South Africa and China are possible places of exile for Milosevic, should he try to leave the Serbian political scene. PM

CROATIA, MONTENEGRO SIGN AGREEMENT

Local government officials from the Dubrovnik area in Croatia and Herceg Novi in Montenegro approved a one-year project for the Dubrovnik water plant to supply Herceg Novi with fresh water for $45,000 per month, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Cavtat on 31 May. PM

NEW GOVERNEMENT FOR ZAGREB

The city council elected Franjo Zenko from the Social Liberals as its president on 31 May. The council also voted in the Social Democrats' Milan Bandic as mayor. PM

TUDJMAN'S SON: GOVERNMENT LEAVING CROATIA WITHOUT SECURITY

Miroslav Tudjman, who is the son of the late president and former head of the Croatian Intelligence Service (HIS), told "Slobodna Dalmacija" of 1 June that recent changes in the HIS amount to its destruction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). Tudjman charged that the government is eliminating proven institutions and has no idea of what to put in their place. He added that President Stipe Mesic acted illegally in recently publishing the transcripts of several of the late president's taped conversations (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2000). PM

ROMANIAN DEFENSE COUNCIL SAYS BANK CRISIS WAS 'THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY'...

Meeting on 31 May under the chairmanship of President Emil Constantinescu, the National Defense Council announced it will set up a commission to work with the Prosecutor General's Office in order to establish the reasons that led to the collapse of the National Investment Fund (FNI). The council recommended that the cabinet initiate legislation regulating investment schemes. And it added that the recent panic around the alleged imminent collapse of Commercial Bank had been a "threat to national security." The council did not elaborate. Media reports said the destabilization attempt had been masterminded in Bucharest, noting that anonymous phone callers had urged holders of accounts with the bank to close those accounts, while an attempt had been undertaken to disrupt communications between the Bucharest headquarters of the main savings bank CEC and its branches. The IMF, meanwhile, has extended until 7 June Romania's $540 million stand-by credit. MS

...WHILE RULING PARTY POINTS FINGER AT OPPOSITION...

National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) Chairman Ion Diaconescu said on 31 May that the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) was behind the recent attempts to destabilize the country's economy. Diaconescu said it was not by chance that those attempts occurred before the IMF was due to decide on extending the stand-by credit and before the upcoming local elections. He said the PDSR was hoping to deflect attention from scandals in which it was involved, including the Moscow-Bucharest hot-line and the Adrian Costea money- laundering affair, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PDSR rejected the accusations and said those scandals were fabricated by the PNTCD before the 2000 ballots in order to deflect attention from its failures in governing the country. MS

...AND INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED INTO FUND OFFICIALS

Police on 31 May launched a criminal investigation into six suspended senior FNI executives. Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu said the former manager of the fund, Ioana Maria Vlas, "has been traced," but he did not elaborate. According to media reports, Vlas flew from Sofia to Tel Aviv and from there to Venezuela. Meanwhile, an opinion poll conducted by Metromedia Transylvania shows PDSR Chairman Iliescu has 51 percent backing as the country's next president while the PDSR enjoys the greatest support of any political party (47 percent). MS

GAGAUZ-YERI ASSEMBLY THREATENS RETALIATION

The Popular Assembly of the Autonomous Gagauz-Yeri region on 31 May approved a resolution accusing the central government of failing to implement the provisions of the agreement on its autonomous status. The assembly warned against this "adventurous policy" and said it will demand the status of a "third equal partner," alongside Tiraspol and Chisinau, in negotiations on the "joint common state." It also said it may refuse to allow the region to participate in the 2000 presidential elections if Chisinau "does not stop its economic and financial blockade of Gagauz-Yeri," Infotag reported. The resolution was approved after the parliament in Chisinau refused to approve the duty-free import from Turkey of diesel fuel granted to the region as "humanitarian aid." The government said it was informed about the transport only when it was already on its way to Moldova. MS

BULGARIA 'WORRIED' ABOUT LIBYAN TRIAL

Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 31 May told journalists that Bulgaria is "worried" that the trial of six Bulgarian nationals, scheduled to begin on 4 June in Libya, will not be fair, Reuters reported. The five nurses and one doctor are accused of having deliberately infected children in a Benghazi hospital with the HIV virus that causes AIDS; if convicted, they will face the death sentence. Vlaikov said the Libyan authorities have denied the defendants the right to meet with their lawyers and have ignored Bulgaria's questions over whether force has been used against them to extract confessions. MS




CABAL AND LOVE--CZECH STYLE


By Michael Shafir

Two hundred and sixteen years have passed since Friedrich von Schiller wrote "Cabal and Love," sometimes translated as "Intrigue and Love," which used to be staged with great success by Prague's German-language theater. While that theater no longer exists, cabal is definitely not absent from another stage in Prague--the political one. What may be more difficult to find there, however, is love.

The amendment to the electoral law passed by the Chamber of Deputies at the end of last week is illustrative of this state of affairs. A majority of 117 out of the 163 deputies present approved that amendment, which is likely to have a major impact on the composition of the country's lower house. Its passage was ensured by the "opposition agreement" under which the minority Social Democratic (CSSD) cabinet of Milos Zeman rules with the tacit support of the largest opposition formation, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). There is little love lost between these two formations, yet from the start of their "unholy marriage" they announced their intent to introduce constitutional changes whose undeclared purpose was to weaken potential rivals and President Vaclav Havel's powers.

The problem with constitutional change is that under Czech law, these require a three-fifths majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. The CSSD and the ODS do not have such a majority in the upper house. This explains why the law curtailing Havel's prerogatives, which was approved in January 2000 by the chamber, has stalled in the Senate. To circumvent such problems, the electoral system was changed in such a way as to keep the existing proportional system but alter it drastically. This was no longer a "constitutional change," as envisaged by the ODS, when it called for replacing the proportional system with that of single-district simple majority. Rather, it was called an "amendment" to existing legislation and thus can be passed with a simple majority by both chambers.

The main change rests in a "gerrymandering" trick: instead of the previous eight electoral districts, there will now be 35 in which deputies are to be elected according to the D'Hondt, rather than the previously used Hagen-Bischoff system of proportional distribution. The D'Hondt system favors larger formations, and since the number of districts has increased almost fourfold, smaller parties will find it harder to gain representation. This is because a smaller district will now sends fewer deputies (approximately six) than previously to the 200-seat parliament, whereas under the previous distribution system, smaller formations could still gain representation if they received single-digit support. Those formations are now less likely to be represented in the parliament, even if they pass the (unchanged) 5 percent electoral hurdle.

But the hurdle was also raised de facto, since under the "amended" legislation, an alliance of parties, which previously required a minimum of 7 percent to gain entry to the chamber, can now require as much as 20 percent to do so, depending on the number of members in the alliance. A two- party alliance now requires 10 percent backing, three parties require 15 percent, and four parties and more 20 percent. This change is obviously aimed at the four-party coalition comprising the opposition Freedom Union, the Christian Democratic Party, the Civic Democratic Alliance, which is represented only in the Senate, and the extraparliamentary Democratic Union.

This provision is very much reminiscent of what former Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar tried to do before the elections that he lost, prompting the unification of the opposition parties. It is unclear whether the same would happen in the case of the "four-party" coalition. For now, however, that coalition seems "safe," even under the amended legislation: according to opinion polls, it has a good chance of overcoming the new minimal threshold.

Even so, it is obvious that the new distribution system would have a significant impact on the parties' representation in the chamber. According to figures calculated by the Czech Academy of Sciences and cited by CTK on 26 May, the CSSD would have received 102 seats under the new system (compared with the 74 it has now) and the ODS would have obtained 86 seats (63). The smaller Christian Democrats and Freedom Union would have received seven (instead of 20) or one (instead of 19), respectively, had the new system been in place in 1998. Some may even claim that it is not "Cabal and Love" but rather an earlier play by Schiller that best describes this situation--except that in "The Thieves," written in 1781, the German poet and playwright obviously admired his heroes.

The cabal, however, has not ended with the passage of this legislation. According to Ivan Langer, ODS deputy chairman, his party might decide to include in its platform for the 2002 parliamentary elections a recommendation that the country's president be popularly elected and the prerogatives of both that office and those of the premier strengthened. In fact, Langer spoke about introducing a "chancellor-type" of government.

At first glance, this is contradictory. How could a popularly elected president with wider prerogatives be compatible with legislation advocating the weakening of the presidential powers? It must not be forgotten, however, that Havel's mandate ends in early 2003 and that ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus might run for that post. In which case, Langer, Klaus's "crown prince," would certainly not mind becoming the Czech Republic's first "chancellor." The performance continues, no matter which of the two Schiller plays one opts for.


XS
SM
MD
LG