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Newsline - June 6, 2000




PUTIN TAKES ABM PROPOSAL TO ROME...

One day after his summit meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists in Rome that Russia proposes setting up, "together with Europe and NATO, a common, joint European anti-missile defense system," Reuters reported on 5 June. Such a system, he said, would "enable us to avoid all problems linked to the imbalance of force and...would allow an absolute 100 percent guarantee for each individual European country with the support, obviously, of our U.S. colleagues and partners." Putin was speaking after talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato that reportedly focused on international security. Also on 5 June, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, speaking in Moscow, came out in favor of a Russian-European missile defense system that would use Russian defense technology. The S-300 and S- 400 air defense systems are of "better quality" than their U.S. analogues, he commented, adding that "Europe admits and understands that." JC

...MEETS WITH THE POPE

Also on 5 June, President Putin met with Pope John Paul II for a 30-minute private conversation that focused on disarmament questions and the international situation, the Vatican told dpa. Putin did not invite the Pope to Moscow, as some Italian media had speculated he would. Adding fuel to those rumors were Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II's comments to reporters the previous day that he does not rule out a meeting with the Pope "in the foreseeable future." Aleksii added that such a meeting "shouldn't happen just before the television cameras. It is necessary that it be well prepared and [that it] bring about concrete results." A Moscow Patriarchate official in charge of relations with the Roman Catholic Church told "The Moscow Times" on 6 June that while relations between the two Churches have improved lately, the Russian Orthodox Church is still a long way from such a step as welcoming the Pope to Russia. JAC

STROEV SUGGESTS SENATORS WOULD RATHER FIGHT THAN DISSOLVE...

In an article in Boris Berezovskii's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 May, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev took issue with several elements of President Putin's planned reform of the upper legislative chamber. Although Stroev noted that Putin's draft laws restructuring the federation merit "energetic support" from regional leaders, he said that a "few passages" of the proposed law on forming the Federation Council are "not entirely in line with the constitution" and that "numerous loopholes and inconsistencies" can be found in all of the draft laws. He also suggested that reorganizing the upper house might eventually lead to its dissolution, which, he added, would weaken the State Duma and the federative foundations of Russia. Echoing Berezovskii's criticisms, Stroev questioned whether the proposed reforms have been considered carefully enough (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2000). And he concluded that "the legal mistakes in the text, the vagueness of many issues raised during discussion on the laws makes it clear that they have not." JAC

...WARNS AGAINST REPRESSION IN REGIONS

Speaking to reporters on 6 June, Stroev sharply criticized presidential envoy to the State Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov for his earlier remarks that some governors oppose Putin's plan to reconfigure the Federation Council because they fear losing their immunity and that at least sixteen governors will face criminal prosecution (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 May 2000). Stroev said it is necessary to stop making threats and that "it is strange that such stupid people go about with the blessing of the president." He added that "if several representatives of the president express their desire to put 16 people in prison, then this will mark the beginning of acts of repression against regional heads. We have already gone this way before and nothing can be more horrible than [the era of] Stalin." JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT REPORTED WOUNDED

Aslan Maskhadov was wounded in the head and chest late last week in a shell explosion that killed his bodyguard, Reuters reported on 6 June, quoting the commander of the combined federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev. There has been no independent confirmation of Troshev's claim. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL on 1 June, Maskhadov denied earlier reports that he had been wounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2000). LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDER IN CHECHNYA DENIES GROZNY CLOSED TO CIVILIANS

Federal forces launched a major hunt in Grozny on 5 June for Chechen fighters who had carried out repeated attacks on Russian positions in the city over the previous few days, AFP reported. But Colonel General Troshev denied earlier reports from the Russian military's North Caucasus headquarters that up to 500 Chechen fighters are still in Grozny or that the city has been closed to civilians, according to ITAR-TASS. Troshev also declined to confirm Russian media reports that a MiG-8 helicopter transported eight Stinger missiles from Georgia to a Chechen base at Vedeno during the night of 4-5 June. Troshev said that Russian border guards fully control the air and land border between Georgia and Chechnya. LF

JEWISH GRAVES DESECRATED IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD...

Vandals destroyed some 40 gravestones in the Jewish part of a cemetery in Nizhnii Novgorod early on 5 June, Interfax reported, noting that the largest and most expensive monuments were targeted. A local police chief told NTV that he believes hooligans, rather than a fascist organization, were responsible for the desecration. According to Interfax, some 140 Jewish gravestones were destroyed in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast in 1996. The culprits have never been found. JC

...AS JEWISH LEADER COMPLAINS OF POLITICAL PRESSURE

Meanwhile, Russia's chief rabbi Adolf Shaevich revealed on 1 June that he has sent a letter to President Putin telling him that the state must not interfere in the affairs of religious communities. Shaevich also complained that Kremlin officials have been trying to force him to resign. "The Washington Post" reported on 2 June that other Jewish leaders believe that the pressure on Shaevich is part of the Kremlin campaign against Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, who is president of the Russian Jewish Congress. Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, told the daily that the Kremlin is trying to control religion in the same way that Putin is trying to control the country's regional leaders. JAC

GOVERNMENT BACKTRACKS ON ELEMENT OF TAX REFORM PLAN

Following countrywide protests against the proposed introduction of a single social tax, the government has submitted to the State Duma new proposals for that tax, Duma Budget Chairman (Russian Regions) Aleksandr Zhukov told reporters on 6 June, according to Interfax-AFI (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2000). Zhukov predicted that deputies will support the government's new proposal as well as the second part of the tax code, which is scheduled for its second reading on 7 June. JAC

CHUBAIS, FOREIGN INVESTORS TO PART WAYS?

Foreign investors in Unified Energy Systems (EES) appealed on 2 June to the Federal Securities Commission, charging that EES Chairman Anatolii Chubais's plan to restructure the company violates their rights, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 June. According to the daily, the commission responded by sending a letter to the government asking it to re-examine the restructuring plan. "The Moscow Times" reported the same day that Chubais has rushed to mend fences with foreign shareholders and has promised to abandon parts of his restructuring plan and refrain from selling certain assets as long as valuations remain low. The newspaper also reported that some investors remain skeptical, fearing that Chubais's "face-saving" measures are an attempt to sidestep opposition at an upcoming annual shareholders' meeting on 30 June. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded that Chubais is in a difficult position because abandoning the entire plan could cost him his position. JAC

TV-TSENTR GETS ANOTHER EXTENSION

The Media Ministry on 6 June extended TV-Tsentr's operating license until "a final court decision is reached," Interfax reported, citing Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. TV-Tsentr's license officially expired on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). JAC

MORE KREMLIN OFFICIALS REAPPOINTED

President Putin signed a decree on 5 June reappointing several presidential administration officials, ITAR-TASS reported. Included in the reappointments were Aleksandr Kotenkov, presidential representative to the State Duma, presidential adviser Vladimir Shaposhnikov, and Anton Danilov-Danilyan, head of the Economics Directorate. JAC

LIVSHITS LANDS AT BANK

Former presidential envoy to the G-7 countries Aleksandr Livshits will replace Dmtrii Lyubinin as chairman of Rossiiskii Credit, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 June, citing anonymous sources. According to the daily, the bank refused to officially confirm or deny Livshits's appointment, but the Agency for Restructuring Credit Organizations (ARKO) has declared its support for Livshits's appointment. ARKO owns 25 percent of the bank's shares and controls another 50 percent. The newspaper concludes that Livshits's experience reaching agreements with international creditors is exactly what the bank needs. JAC




ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS CLAIM OFFICIAL HARASSMENT

Parliamentary deputy Ruben Gevorgian, who is one of the leaders of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war, said on 5 June that a comprehensive financial examination of businesses believed to be controlled by himself and his family constituted political harassment in retaliation for his repeated criticisms of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He denied owning any financial interests in Armenia. Gevorgian is one of 12 Yerkrapah members who last month split from their respective parliamentary factions to form the Hayastan faction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2000). LF

ANOTHER ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING SUSPECT RELEASED

Parliamentary deputy Mushegh Movsisian was released from jail on 5 June after spending seven months in detention on suspicion of complicity in the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A Yerevan court ruled last week that there were no grounds to detain him any longer. Movsisian refused to make any public comment on his arrest or release. Thirteen people still remain in detention. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIAL ACCUSED OF PLANNING COUP

Former Gyanja police chief Natik Efendiev, who was extradited to Azerbaijan in January, has been charged with planning to stage a coup in Azerbaijan in March-April 2000, Turan reported. He had fled to Turkey in January 1997 after being dismissed from his post following the fall from grace of his protector, former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev. Efendiev's son Yuksel accused the Azerbaijani authorities in April of systematic persecution of his family (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 4, 28 January 2000 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). LF

ABDUCTED UN OFFICIALS RELEASED IN GEORGIA

Two UN officials, an employee of the British Halo de-mining trust, and their Abkhaz interpreter, who had been abducted by unknown men in Abkhazia's Kodori gorge on 1 June, were handed over to the Georgian authorities on 5 June without payment of the $300,000 ransom demanded by their kidnappers. They subsequently told journalists that their captors, who escaped arrest, treated them well. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told Interfax the same day that he did not know on what terms the hostages were freed. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES COME TO BLOWS

Koba Davitashvili, one of the leaders of the Georgian parliamentary majority faction, traded blows on 5 June with a supporter of nationalist deputy Guram Sharadze over the latter's campaign to reintroduce the practice of designating the holder's nationality in passports and on documentation such as birth, marriage, and death certificates, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Last year, Sharadze had protested President Eduard Shevardnadze's decree abolishing any mention of the holder's nationality in such documentation. LF

GEORGIAN PARAMILITARIES DEMAND IMPRISONED COLLEAGUES' RELEASE

Leaders of the paramilitary group Mkhedrioni last week demanded the release of some 400 of that organization's members who were not freed under President Shevardnadze's recent amnesty, Caucasus Press reported. They also protested as "an insult" claims by Mikhail Saakashvili, leader of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia parliament faction, that amnestied Mkhedrioni members were responsible for several recent crimes, including the 1 June murder of Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze's brother Guram. LF

KAZAKH INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL ARRESTED IN ARMS MURDER

An unnamed colonel in Kazakhstan's intelligence service has been detained in Astana on suspicion of committing several murders, including that on 15 April of Talgat Ibraev, who headed Kazakhstan's state-owned arms exporting company, Interfax reported. Ibraev's driver and his deputy's driver were detained last month in connection with the killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April and 21 May 2000). LF

KYRGYZ ROUNDTABLE POSTPONED

The roundtable discussion originally scheduled to take place on 3-4 June between representatives of the Kyrgyz leadership, opposition parties, and NGOs is now likely to take place on 8 June, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 5 June. President Askar Akaev will participate only in the opening session before departing on 8 June for the Economic Cooperation Organization summit in Tehran. At a press conference in Bishkek on 5 June, opposition and NGO representatives deplored the Kyrgyz leadership's decision to expand participation from nine representatives of each group to 25. They said this will turn the meeting into "a bazaar." They also called for the meeting to be held under the OSCE's aegis. Presidential press secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov said in Bishkek the same day that the right of all Kyrgyz NGOs to participate in the roundtable must be respected. LF

DROUGHT DAMAGE IN TAJIKISTAN ESTIMATED AT ALMOST $3 MILLION

Interfax on 5 June quoted Tajikistan's Deputy Minister of Agriculture Ikhtier Ashurov as saying that drought has destroyed all grain and cotton crops in the south of Khatlon Oblast and the north of Leninabad Oblast. He estimated the total damage at $2.9 million. President Imomali Rakhmonov last week appealed to the UN, the U.S., and the EU for financial aid to counter that damage. LF




UKRAINE TO CLOSE CHORNOBYL ON 15 DECEMBER

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma announced at his meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Kyiv on 5 June that the Chornobyl nuclear power plant will be shut down on 15 December 2000. "I am very proud and moved to be here today--this is world environment day--for this historic announcement by President Kuchma.... This is a hopeful moment. It is also a moment when we remember those who suffered as a result of the accident there," Clinton commented. He pledged $78 million in U.S. assistance to reinforce the cover on the Chornobyl collapsed reactor and $2 million to increase security at Ukraine's other four nuclear power plants. The European Commission praised Kuchma's decision as "a significant breakthrough that will be widely welcomed by the international community." JM

U.S. PRESIDENT URGES UKRAINIANS TO CONTINUE TRANSFORMATION

Addressing some 50,000 enthusiastic and cheering Ukrainians on a Kyiv square, Clinton urged them to make the most of "the best opportunity [for Ukraine] in a thousand years to achieve both freedom and prosperity." Clinton said President Kuchma had paved the way for a better future for the country, adding that Ukraine's current cabinet is in the "good hands" of Premier Viktor Yushchenko. He pledged U.S. support for Ukraine's transformation. "We reject the idea that the eastern border of Europe is the western border of Ukraine.... We can and we will keep the door to the trans-Atlantic community of democracies open to Ukraine," Clinton noted. Some people in the crowd responded by chanting "Long live NATO!" Clinton ended his address by quoting, in Ukrainian, national poet Taras Shevchenko: "Fight and you shall overcome!" JM

U.S. LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON UKRAINIAN SPACE LAUNCHES

"Because of Ukraine's strong efforts to prevent missile proliferation, I announce our decision to eliminate commercial space quotas and open the door to expanding U.S. cooperation with Ukraine's space program," Clinton said after his 5 June talks with Kuchma. Earlier the same day, the governments of the two countries signed a document suspending a 1996 agreement to limit the number of Ukrainian commercial space launches. "The suspension of the [old] agreement will have a positive effect, as Ukraine will be able to enter the space market, being equal with any other developed country of the world," Reuters quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chalyy as saying. JM

BELARUS TO HAVE MERCHANT FLEET

Deputy Transportation Minister Uladzimir Ulasen has said Belarus hopes to create its own merchant fleet "in the near future," Interfax reported on 5 June. Ulasen added that under a 1997 government program, the country will build by 2010 four vessels that have a capacity of 3,000 tons each and eight with a capacity of 1,500 tons each. A shipyard at Rechytsa, Homel Oblast, will produce the vessels. Machinery and navigation equipment for the fleet are to be purchased abroad. The Rechytsa shipyard has already begun assembling one ship. JM

NEW CENTRIST PARTY FOR ESTONIAN RUSSIANS

Members of the People's Trust coalition, which took part in the Tallinn city council elections last fall, are to found the Russian Baltic Party in Estonia. One leader of the coalition, parliamentary deputy Sergei Ivanov, told "Eesti Paevaleht" that "in Estonia there needs to be a normal, Estonia-centered democratic party that also deals with solving the problems of non-Estonians." The new party's founding congress is planned for 18 June. MH

ESTONIA REGISTERS GOOD FIRST QUARTER RESULTS BUT ANALYSTS DISAPPOINTED

The Statistics Department on 6 June announced that the Estonian economy grew by 5.2 percent in the first quarter of 2000 compared with the same period in 1999. However, many analysts had expected growth to be closer to 6 percent, ETA reported, citing the Aripaev Online news service as saying the stock market may take a hit as a result of the lower than expected figure. Predictions had to be revised after the Statistics Department recently upgraded 1999 first quarter loss from 5.5 percent to 3.3 percent. MH

RUSSIAN ANALYSTS ON RELATIONS WITH LATVIA

Sergei Karaganov, the influential head of the Russian Foreign and Defense Policy Council, told a conference in the Latvian resort town of Jurmala on 5 June that bilateral issues must be discussed openly so relations can be built on partnership, BNS reported. Karaganov stressed the need to improve relations, noting that in the past Latvia moved away from Russia and Moscow displayed an "imperial attitude" toward Riga. Karaganov added that if Latvia joins NATO, it could lead to a reduction of transit traffic. However, Russian parliamentary deputy Aleksei Arbatov condemned Latvia's NATO aspirations, saying that Russia will do "everything possible to resist feeling threatened," LETA added. MH

POLAND'S SOLIDARITY-AFFILLIATED COALITION ABOUT TO COLLAPSE?

Talks on 5 June between the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) have pushed the ruling coalition closer to collapse instead of producing the expected positive breakthrough (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2000). "The UW Council considers that its mission of saving the coalition is finished," Radio Zet quoted UW leader Leszek Balcerowicz as saying after a 6 June meeting of his party. UW spokesman Andrzej Potocki told Radio Plus earlier the same day that the UW's cabinet ministers will resubmit their resignations to Premier Jerzy Buzek "within 24 hours." The AWS has proposed that its leader, Marian Krzaklewski, head a new cabinet, but the UW said on 6 June that it opposes his being prime minister and at the same time a candidate for president. Premier Jerzy Buzek said he regrets the UW's decision to discontinue talks, adding that his minority administration will be very weak. JM

MORE THAN HALF OF POLES SUPPORT JOINING EU

A poll by CBOS in mid-May showed that 59 percent of respondents endorse joining the EU, while 25 percent are opposed, PAP reported on 5 June. Poland's EU bid is supported by 94 percent of the UW's electorate, 72 percent of the AWS's constituency, 62 percent of those supporting the Democratic Left Alliance, and 44 percent of backers of the Polish Peasant Party. Of those polled, 58 percent think Poland is still not prepared economically for integration with the EU. JM

CZECH POLICE CONFISCATE COPIES OF 'MEIN KAMPF'

Police on 5 June seized 300 copies of the Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in a raid on the offices of the book's distributor. A spokeswoman for the police said the book will also be seized from individual booksellers. Also, distributor Pavel Dvorak has been summoned to testify as a witness in the investigation launched against the book's publisher, Michal Zitko. Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 2 June had rejected Zitko's allegation that the government ordered the investigation to be launched. He said the cabinet "has never dealt with the issue and has never filed a complaint with the police." He said the police are obliged to act if people file complaints, adding that "as far as I am informed," this has been the case in this instance, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAKIA EXPECTS 'MORE CRITICAL ASSESSMENT' FROM EU

Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of minorities and human rights, told CTK after 5 June talks with EU officials in Brussels that in 2000 Slovakia must expect an "assessment that will not be as positive" as that of the previous year. He said this does not reflect a worsening of the situation in the country but the fact that "we are now in a different category, being compared with our neighbors and rivals" and not with the realities of the Vladimir Meciar era. Another reason for the less positive assessment is the country's "poor political stability" as well as the fact that Bratislava is "lagging behind in preparations for administrative reforms." MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER 'NOT SURPRISED' BY U.S. CRITICISM

Defense Minister Pavol Kanis told CTK on 2 June that he is "not surprised" by General Joseph Garrett's critical assessment of the Slovak army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2000). Kanis said that since he took office in 1998, no one has taken seriously his warnings about the state of the army. He said the army needs 21 billion crowns (some $458 million) to undergo modernization, while the budget provides only 15 million crowns for that purpose. MS

SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER 'TOO PRECIOUS TO LOSE'

Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova was offered the position of director of the UN Commission for Europe but the country's top officials never told her about that offer, AP reported on 2 June, citing Radio Twist. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan reportedly agreed to withhold the information from her. Dzurinda is said to have told the radio, "I need Schmognerova in this government." Schmognerova said she regretted Dzurinda's decision. "It would have been one of the highest positions a Slovak official could hold," she commented. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ELECT NEW PRESIDENT

In the first round of voting on 5 June, Ferenc Madl, the sole candidate for president, fell seven votes short of the two- thirds majority required for election. The vote was 251 to 105 against with seven ballots deemed invalid. The result came as a surprise since both the governing coalition and the major opposition party leaders had expressed support for Madl. Jozsef Torgyan, chairman of the Independent Smallholders' Party, accused the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) of failing to support Madl, saying the move was aimed at weakening the cabinet. The second and, if necessary, third round of voting will take place on 6 June. In a third round, Madl would need only a simple majority of 194 votes to secure election. MSZ




KOUCHNER TO LAUNCH 'EMERGENCY' PRESS LAW FOR KOSOVA

Nadia Younes, who is the spokeswoman for Bernard Kouchner, the head of the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 5 June that he is preparing "emergency" press legislation that will be "quite limited and very temporary in nature," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2000). The law will prevent publication of articles that could endanger the safety and lives of specific individuals. The move comes in the wake of Kouchner's decision to ban an Albanian-language daily for encouraging "vigilante violence." Local Albanian journalists, however, disagreed with the ban, arguing that Kouchner should concentrate his energies on setting up a functioning legal system that will try war criminals and thereby make vigilante justice unnecessary. Veton Surroi, who is arguably Kosova's most-respected journalist, said that Kouchner's attempt to control the press is likely to encourage ethnically-motivated violence rather than curb it, Reuters reported. PM

ANTI-SERB VIOLENCE CONTINUES IN KOSOVA

Kouchner said in Prishtina on 5 June that the recent slayings of Serbian civilians in the province were "concentrated and organized within two regions" of Kosova, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2000). His remarks come in the wake of charges by local Serbs that organized Albanian groups are seeking to kill or drive Serbs out of the province as a prelude to declaring its independence. In Washington, State Department Spokesman Philip Reeker condemned "senseless and destructive" acts of violence by Albanians against Serbs. He added that various U.S. officials have "repeatedly urged ethnic Albanians...to refrain from violence and vengeance." On 6 June, unknown persons threw two grenades into a Serbian cultural center in Gracanica. AP reported that one woman and a child were injured, but details were sketchy as of 12:00 p.m. local time, Reuters added. PM

INCIDENT ON KOSOVA-MACEDONIAN BORDER

On 5 June, a group of angry Serbs blocked a section of the main road linking Prishtina with Macedonia to protest the recent killings, Radio Svobodna Evropa reported. On the border, unknown individuals wounded two Macedonian border guards after illegally entering Macedonian territory. In early April, armed ethnic Albanians captured and held four Macedonian border guards in a well-publicized incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). PM

PROBLEMS BETWEEN MONTENEGRO, EUROPEAN INVESTMENT BANK?

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Lisbon on 5 June that "EU support [for his reforms] should be even more generous and enhanced" than what he has received so far. The president added that he "must express concern as to why this wide spectrum of different forms of assistance is finding it slow to become operational," AP reported. Philippe Maystadt, who heads the European Investment Bank, told the news agency in Luxembourg that granting a proposed $14 million loan to Podgorica is "a huge political risk." The banker stressed that he will require "guarantees from the [EU's] budget" before making the loan. PM

MONTENEGRIN OFFICIAL BARRED FROM BELGRADE FLIGHT

Rifat Rastoder, who is a deputy speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, was recently barred by officials at Belgrade airport from flying with a Montenegrin delegation to Vienna to open an art exhibition there, "Danas" reported on 6 June. Rastoder, who is a critic of the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, said that airport officials have no right to turn back a passenger who has a valid ticket and visa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2000). PM

DRASKOVIC DRAWING CLOSER TO MILOSEVIC?

Dejan Rajcic, who is an opposition leader in Nis, said that the Serbian Renewal Movement's leader Vuk Draskovic is increasingly following policies that serve the interests of the regime, "Danas" reported on 6 June. Rajcic noted that Draskovic has often been the stumbling block to opposition unity. Draskovic previously served in a Yugoslav coalition government with Milosevic's backers. Draskovic and his party represent a nationalistic, anti-Western line that is virtually indistinguishable from that of the regime. Persistent but unconfirmed reports suggest that Milosevic has blackmailed Draskovic with evidence of the latter's corrupt activities while holding a post in the Yugoslav government or in control of the city administration of Belgrade. PM

YUGOSLAV GENERALS PROPOSE MILOSEVIC FOR TOP MEDAL

Members of the General Staff said in a statement that Milosevic should receive the Order of the National Hero, the state-run daily "Politika" reported on 6 June. The generals praised his unspecified "heroic exploits that serve as an example of heroism in the defense of the sovereignty, territory, independence, and constitutional order of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." The top officers also praised his "bravery and effectiveness as supreme commander, along with his personal bravery" against NATO forces in 1999. Milosevic displayed "military leadership that has rarely been found in modern world history," the generals added. They referred to him several times as their "supreme commander," a term that the pro-Milosevic media have frequently used in efforts to portray his defeat in Kosova as a victory. The private weekly "Vreme" recently pointed out that the title "supreme commander" is not mentioned in the Yugoslav Constitution. PM

NEW ELECTION PLOY IN SERBIA?

Thousands of people stood in lines at banks on 5 June, which was the first day of a government program to pay out some of the money that has been blocked in hard-currency accounts for 10 years or so. Depositors may withdraw the dinar equivalent of $70 as of 5 June or wait until 1 July to obtain that amount in hard currency. Several people waiting in lines told Reuters that the move is a ploy designed to influence voters in the runup to elections widely expected in the fall. Several depositors added that they do not trust the government to make hard currency available in July and prefer to take dinars now. PM

BOSNIAN SERB COALITION TO REMAIN

Dragan Kostic, who is the new head of the Serbian People's Party (SNS), said in Banja Luka that his first task is to rid the party of the influence of its former leader, Biljana Plavsic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2000), "Dnevni avaz" reported on 6 June. He added that its new name will be the Serbian People's Party of the Republika Srpska (SNSRS). Kostic stressed that he has not thought "even for a minute" of leaving the Sloga (Concord) coalition, headed by Prime Minister Milorad Dodik. Some observers viewed Kostic's election as a Belgrade-inspired ploy to bring down Dodik and replace him with a pro-Milosevic government. PM

KLEIN DETERMINED TO CATCH BOSNIAN MURDERERS

Jacques Klein, who heads the UN's mission in Bosnia, said in Mostar on 5 June that he "will not leave" the republic until the murderers of Jozo Leutar are found, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Leutar was deputy interior minister of the mainly Muslim and Croatian Bosnian federation and a well- known fighter against organized crime. He was killed in a car bomb attack in Sarajevo in March 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 1999). PM

BELGRADE, UNHCR WANT CROATIAN SERBS TO GO HOME

Bratislava Morina, who is the Yugoslav government's chief official for refugee affairs, joined representatives of the UNHCR in the Serbian capital on 5 June to urge Serbs from Croatia to register to return to their homes. She noted that only 10,700 people out of a potential 350,000 refugees have gone back, "Danas" reported. The Croatian government that was elected at the beginning of 2000 has repeatedly said that the Serbs are welcome to return home and made funds available for them to repair their houses. A major remaining question is the right of Serbs to reoccupy to their former flats, many of which are now inhabited by Croatian refugees or veterans of the 1990- 1995 war. Under Croatian law, citizens forfeit the right to a flat if they have not lived in it or paid rent for six months. PM

PRELIMINARY RETURNS CONFIRM DEFEAT OF COALITION IN ROMANIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS

Preliminary returns from the first round of the local elections confirm that the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) has scored a major victory over the ruling coalition. In Bucharest, PDSR candidate Sorin Oprescu is ahead with 41 percent, and for the first time in eight years the PDSR will dominate the municipal council, with more than 43 percent of the vote. Democratic Party mayoral candidate Traian Basescu has moved ahead of the Democratic Convention of Romania's candidate, Calin Catalin Chirita, but they are still neck and neck ahead of the runoff against Oprescu. Both Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar and Iasi Mayor Constantin Simirad will have to face run-offs, but both have a comfortable lead over the second-placed candidates. MS

ROMANIAN BANK SECTOR FACING MORE DIFFICULTIES

The Romanian Popular Bank announced on 5 June that it has frozen deposit withdrawals "for six months at the most." It said it is facing "temporary" liquidity difficulties owing to the panic triggered by the collapse of the National Investment Fund (FNI). The same day, the supervisory body in charge of private investment regulations withdrew the license of Sovinvest, which had administered the FNI. For its part, the cabinet replaced the chairman of CEC, the country's largest state saving bank, and five of the seven members of its administrative council. It said the move follows a recent IMF recommendation to "de-politicize" CEC, replacing the administrative council with one composed of experts. On 6 June, the IMF executive board will consider extending Romania's stand-by loan, after having received clarification on how the government intends to deal with the ongoing banking crisis. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT BACKS DOWN ON GAGAUZ-YERI

The parliament on 2 June voted to exempt from value-added tax and import duties the 6,000 ton fuel transport dispatched from Turkey to the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The region's Popular Assembly had earlier threatened to seek "third-party status" in the negotiations with the Transdniester and not allow the region's inhabitants to take part in this year's presidential elections in response to the earlier decision to impose a levy on the imports (see "RFE RL Newsline," 1 and 2 June 2000). Meanwhile, at a meeting in Tiraspol, experts representing the two sides in the Transdniester conflict again failed to reach agreement on the future status of the region. MS




PROMOTING STATESMEN OVER STRONGMEN


By Richard Giragosian

Meeting on Cyprus on 22-23 May, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly reviewed Armenia's and Azerbaijan's outstanding applications for full membership in the council, where they have both had "special guest" status since early 1996. Later this month, the Parliamentary Assembly is to formally review those applications.

These pending applications for membership in the Council of Europe present the Council of Europe with an opportunity to help strengthen the fragile course of democratic reform in the South Caucasus. Indeed, the influence of the Council of Europe, on the other hand, could bolster the promising trend of governments of statesmen rather than governments of strongmen.

However, with the recent discovery of yet another offshore oil field in the Caspian Sea, perhaps the largest find in 20 years, the Council of Europe's focus on the region coincides with a looming confrontation between the various players in the "petroleum game," which could further destabilize the region. It is to be hoped that the constructive nature of the council's engagement and its influence in the region will be used as an effective means to shape policy and encourage reform in the region.

The recent Cyprus meeting established a new diverging policy toward the Armenian and Azerbaijani aspirants. The Council of Europe offered a revised stance on Azerbaijan, laying down new preconditions linked to the conduct and outcome of the November Azerbaijani parliamentary elections and pending a further inquiry into the issue of political prisoners. With regard to Armenia, the council gave a more positive assessment of Armenia's human rights practices and its progress toward democracy.

For Azerbaijan, the timing of the Council of Europe's review could not have been worse. A series of political confrontations between President Heidar Aliyev and the increasingly vocal opposition escalated into violent clashes on the streets of Baku during an unsanctioned opposition demonstration in late April. The country's opposition parties and groups have been steadily building a united front.

Moreover, the opposition is seeking to mobilize segments of Azerbaijani society that have been marginalized by Aliev's government, such as the growing numbers of unemployed from industrial centers and the mass of disenfranchised citizens. By securing a wider political base, the opposition is advancing a new agenda stressing the inadequacy of reform, the blatantly uneven distribution of wealth, frustration with state corruption, and the failure to return Nagorno-Karabakh to Baku's control. . It is also articulating the population's disappointment over the government's failure to deliver the "petroleum profits" that have been long promised. And it has been successfully highlighting the government's policies of intimidation and repression of the opposition and independent media, while engaging in a direct confrontation with the government over amending electoral legislation ahead of the November ballot.

Amid these developments, the Council of Europe may offer a much-needed impetus for a more open and transparent system of political dialogue in the generally authoritarian Azerbaijan. The elections are key to Azerbaijan's accession to the Council of Europe and an important step in overcoming the country's overall "democracy deficit." Also, the council may act as a spur for deepening reform and broadening the rule of law. And as talks on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict proceed between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, prospective membership in the council may ensure that the next generation of leaders adhere to a negotiated resolution.

For Armenia, which has its own form of political change and confrontation, albeit a more open and democratic one, the Council of Europe offers an important check on the dangerous trend of an increasingly politicized military. In contrast to Azerbaijan, the pattern of political confrontation between the president and the opposition has remained within the confines of accepted democratic procedure, with political warfare confined to the parliament rather than spilling over into the streets. Prospective membership in the Council of Europe offers the opportunity to encourage a consolidation of these democratic trends.

The most pressing challenge facing the Council of Europe in the region is the state of civil society. In both Armenia and Azerbaijan, civil society is very much "cynical society." The citizens of both countries are disillusioned with their governments, not least because of corruption, economic mismanagement, and soaring social disparities. This negative state of civil society prevents the long term building of true democratic institutions and hinders the effective maintenance of the rule of law.

The civil foundation of these two societies needs to be strengthened by a concerted effort to combat corruption, correct socio-economic disparities, and encourage open, pluralistic, and democratic elections. Only in this way can the Council of Europe, or any other international organization, hope to remold the region's "cynic society" into a truly civil one. The author edits the monthly "Transcaucasus: A Chronology."


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