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Newsline - June 22, 2000




COURT REJECTS ATTEMPT TO OVERTURN PRIVATIZATION

A Moscow court on 21 June rejected the lawsuit filed by the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office challenging the 1997 sale of state- owned shares in Norilsk Nickel. ("RFE/RL Newsline" reported incorrectly on 21 June that the suit was filed by the federal Office of the Prosecutor-General.) According to "The Moscow Times," the court said that the suit listed too many charges against a diverse group of defendants and asked that those charges be separated and made more specific. An assistant prosecutor with the office told the newspaper that the prosecutors "will file the suit again, either in the original form or splitting it into several cases if we agree with the arguments of the court." Officials at Interros, which controls Norilsk Nickel, said the lawsuit will fall apart because the same court had processed previous claims disputing the sale and had ruled in the current owners' favor. JAC

...AS OLIGARCH APPEALS TO PUTIN DIRECTLY

Interros head Vladimir Potanin sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 21 June asking him to take personal control of the situation related to the controversy over the 1997 transaction, Interfax reported. Potanin said that such intervention is justified because Norilsk Nickel has important social value and a scandal could have serious international consequences. Norilsk Nickel is the world's largest producer of palladium and second-largest producer of nickel. It produces 90 percent of Russia's nickel and all of the country's platinum. JAC

IMF WEIGHS IN ON RUBLE CONTROVERSY...

Addressing a conference in Moscow on 21 June, the IMF's Representative to Russia Martin Gilman said the fund believes that if "serious structural reforms are implemented in Russia," the strengthening of the ruble will be unavoidable. However, he added, in current conditions such strengthening is worrying, Interfax reported. Gilman also said that the IMF believes that "excess ruble liquidity should be sterilized by appropriate actions from the Central Bank and the government." Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Central Bank Governor Viktor Gerashchenko have been making contradictory comments about the preferred future course of the ruble (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2000). JAC

...COMMENTS FAVORABLY ON ECONOMIC PROGRAM

According to AP, Gilman and the World Bank's country director for Russia Michael Carter also both praised the 10-year economic development program prepared by the Center for Strategic Research (available at ). Carter said the program is "an exciting set of proposals that go a long way" toward carrying out long-delayed structural reforms, while Gilman commented that the fund "is ready to provide financial support once an ambitious program has been elaborated." Some Russian newspapers reported earlier that Prime Minister Kasyanov is dissatisfied with the program and has ordered that it be revised (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2000). In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 22 June, one of the authors of the program, Arkadii Dvorkovich, who is also head of the Finance Ministry's Expert Group, said the program has not been fundamentally altered, although it is "half the length of the initial version," because "we have not abandoned a single liberal principle." JAC

GDP SHOWS HEALTHY GAIN

Russian GDP in the first five months of 2000 was up 7.3 percent compared with the same period the previous year, Interfax reported on 21 June, citing the Economics Ministry (which is now being merged with the Trade Ministry). The federal budget revenues from January-May 2000 totaled 412.8 billion rubles ($14.6 billion) while expenses were 366.8 billion rubles, according to the Finance Ministry's preliminary estimates. JAC

DUMA CHIPS AWAYS AT REGIONAL LEADERS' RIGHTS...

State Duma deputies on 21 June approved a bill amending the law on police in the third reading. The vote was 318 in favor with 31 against. The amendment will deprive regional authorities of the right to have a say in which police officials are appointed or dismissed in their localities. The bill must now pass the Federation Council. JAC

...AS KEY BATTLE OVER BILL REFORMING UPPER CHAMBER LOOMS

The State Duma will consider the bill reforming the Federation Council in its second reading on 23 June (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 June 2000). The Duma's Committee for State-Building decided on 19 June to recommend that 83 amendments be accepted during the law's second reading, "Vremya MN" reported on 20 June. Committee members rejected another proposed 78 amendments, many of which were proffered by the Federation Council. Also on 20 June, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that President Putin has informed him that he is not planning to initiate any changes in the principles according to which the Duma is elected. JAC

GAZPROM OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON RELATIONS WITH MEDIA-MOST

Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh told reporters on 21 June that Gazprom currently holds about 30 percent of NTV. He said it also owns about 14 percent of Media-MOST outright and holds as collateral two 20 percent packages of shares in the holding company, according to "The Moscow Times" the next day. However, Media-MOST spokesman Dmitrii Ostalskii said on 21 June that Gazprom controls less than 50 percent of the company, including the shares held as collateral. Kokh said that he had met with Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii the previous day and that they had mapped out "several approaches toward solving problems that exist between Media-MOST and Gazprom," ITAR-TASS reported. He also said that "as of today, we are quite far from each other." JAC

YAKOVLEV CLARIFIES 'ASSYMMETRIC RESPONSE' TO U.S. ABM PLAN

Speaking during a graduation ceremony at the Peter the Great Rocket Troops Academy on 21 June, Strategic Rocket Forces Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Yakovlev said he does not exclude Russia's pulling out of the 1988 treaty on the destruction of intermediate and short-range missiles if the U.S. sets up its own limited national defense system, Interfax and "Segodnya" reported. "This step is possible as part of any asymmetric steps by Moscow in response to Washington's pulling out of the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty," he said. Yakovlev also noted that the number of warheads on ICBMs would be increased in response to such a U.S. move. JC

MOSCOW CONCERNED ABOUT RADAR STATION IN GREENLAND

Speaking to his Danish counterpart, Niels Helveg Petersen, in Bergen, Norway, on 21 June, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov expressed concern over the construction of a radar station in Greenland, Interfax reported. The news agency quoted Ivanov as saying that "Moscow regards the radar station as part of the would-be national anti-missile defense system the U.S. plans to create." He warned that if the U.S. system involves Danish radar, "Copenhagen will be responsible" for the collapse of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Earlier the same day in Bergen, Ivanov similarly expressed concern over the U.S. radar station being built in Norway close to the Russian border. Russia fears the site will be used to track ballistic missiles, while the U.S. has said its purpose is to monitor debris from space. JC

CIS SUMMIT SUPPORTS PUTIN ON ABM TREATY...

The 12 CIS presidents issued a statement at their 21 June summit stressing "the historic importance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 26 May 1972 as the cornerstone of international peace, security and strategic stability," ITAR- TASS and Reuters reported. They implicitly condemned U.S. plans for its own limited missile defense system as undermining the effectiveness of the ABM Treaty and, by extension, global strategic stability. They also hailed the ratification by the Russian State Duma of the START-II Treaty. Addressing a meeting in Moscow of CIS Defense Ministers on 19 June, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov had called on them to back President Putin's recent proposal for a European anti-missile defense system, which Ivanov termed "the only efficient way to counteract the peril of nuclear missile proliferation without destroying the whole system of disarmament accords," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2000). LF

...MOVES AHEAD ON FREE TRADE ZONE...

The 12 CIS presidents also approved a program of 10 specific steps aimed at expediting the establishment of a CIS free trade zone. Those measures are to be implemented over the next 18 months, according to Asia Plus-Blitz. Belarusian Premier Uladzimir Yermoshin predicted that such a zone could be established by 1 January 2002, Interfax reported. Agreement on establishing a CIS free trade zone was reached in April 1994, but no concrete program of measures for doing so was ever prepared (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). LF

...SETS UP ANTI-TERRORISM CENTER

Summit participants, with the exception of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, formally endorsed the creation of a CIS anti-terrorism center and approved the appointment of a member of Russia's Federal Security Service, Lieutenant General Boris Mynikov, as its director, dpa reported. Putin welcomed that decision as "a crucial step forward in the fight against religious terrorism and extremism in the post-Soviet space." Putin held separate meetings after the summit with Niyazov, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Armenian President Robert Kocharian, and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

IVASHOV SEES NATO'S PFP AS AIMED AGAINST RUSSIA

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the international military cooperation department at the Russian Defense Ministry, said in an interview with a Finnish newspaper that NATO's Partnership for Peace program is a "mere backdrop to the rehearsing of military actions against Russia." Reuters reported The program, he continued, has become "some kind of NATO school, " and active participation in it can been seen "as some kind of informal membership in NATO." Russia declined an invitation to take part in NATO-led maneuvers that began in Odesa earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2000). JC

RUSSIAN LAWMAKERS SET TO BOYCOTT PACE SESSION

Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), the chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, told journalists on 21 June that the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has decided not to take part in the assembly session beginning on 26 June, Interfax reported. The Duma Council is to make a final decision on whether the delegation will attend the session, which is expected to consider proposals for suspending Russia's PACE membership over the violation of human rights in Chechnya. JC

NEW CHECHEN LEADER ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF CUPIDITY, TREASON...

In an interview published in "Trud" on 21 June and summarized by Interfax, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov accused Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov of having purchased a $400,000 villa in Turkey at a time when the Chechen population was starving and of failing to warn Moscow last summer that prominent Chechen field commanders were planning to invade Daghestan. Kadyrov also claimed that after an attempt on his life, in which two of his bodyguards were killed, Maskhadov abandoned efforts to resist the proponents of radical Islam. LF

...DENIES OPPOSITION TO HIS APPOINTMENT

In a separate interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 June, Kadyrov denied that a dozen local administrators in Chechnya had submitted their resignations rather than work under him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2000). He said that only two had done so. But Kadyrov also warned that he intends to conduct "a purge" of officials whom he considers incompetent. Kadyrov also said that two field commanders, former Deputy Premier Ali Sultanov and Ibragim Saidov, who is allied with Ruslan Gilaev, had assured him of their readiness to lay down their arms. LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS IN CHECHNYA FACE COURT MARTIAL

A spokesman for the Russian Military Prosecutor's Office said on 21 June that criminal cases have been opened against more that 450 Russian servicemen since the war in Chechnya began last September, AP reported. But he failed to specify if any of those cases involve participation in war crimes against civilians. LF

PUTIN'S AUTHORITARIAN TENDENCIES DEBATED

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on 21 June that President Putin will not "go down the road of dictatorship." He added that accusing Putin of dictatorial tendencies "is foolish and is done expressly to undermine the president," ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, in an interview with the government newspaper, "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, predicted that Russia "will move toward authoritarianism" because it "has no other options." He continued, "moreover, we may skip the moderate phase of authoritarianism and start to follow the Ecuadorian or Brazilian pattern." Karaganov also noted that he prefers not to compare President Putin to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet because the latter "was supported by the super-honest, highly elite, and exemplary Chilean army, as well as by people's respect for that institution...we have no such institution." JAC

ALLEGED U.S. SPY SAID TO BE IN POOR SHAPE IN MOSCOW JAIL

The wife of Edmond Pope, the retired U.S. Navy captain and businessman who has been detained in the Lefortovo prison since early April on spying charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2000), was in Moscow on 21 June to visit her husband. Cheryl Pope told reporters later that Pope appears to be in poor health and has lost a significant amount of weight. She appealed to Russian President Putin to seek her husband's release. Russia's Federal Security Service has said that Pope is charged with stealing military secrets. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. JC

LIGHTS OUT FOR TOPOL-M?

"Trud-7" reported on 22 June that Strategic Rocket Force troops have taken over four power plants in Altai Krai after the Altaienergo company threatened to cut off electricity supplies to the local unit of the force. That unit, which is equipped with Topol-M missile systems, owes some 4.9 million ($174,000) for energy deliveries. Unit commanders cited national strategic security for the decision to take over the power plants. According to the newspaper, this is the third such incident over the past year. JC




ARMENIAN MAJORITY PARLIAMENT BLOC RECOVERS COHESION

Vartan Mkrtchian, a leading member of the Miasunutiun (Unity) coalition, the largest parliamentary faction, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 21 June that the bloc's two constituent parties have overcome the tensions engendered by the appointment of one of the parties' leaders as prime minister last month. The People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) had objected to the appointment of Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) chairman Andranik Markarian to that position and declined to accept any responsibility for the work of his government (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 20, 18 May 2000). Ten members of Miasnutiun quit that faction to protest Markarian's appointment (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 16 May 2000). Mkrtchian said on 21 June, however, that "emotions have given way to common sense" and that "not only has Miasnutiun avoided a breakup, but it is stronger than ever before." LF

TURKEY CONDEMNS KARABAKH ELECTIONS

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on 21 June issued a statement affirming that the 18 June parliamentary elections in the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic were illegitimate and constitute "yet another indication that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and sovereignty are being violated," AFP reported. The statement described the enclave as being under Armenian occupation. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CONSIDERS AMNESTY FOR SUPPORTERS OF FORMER PRESIDENT

The Georgian parliamentary Commission for National Reconciliation, created two months ago at the suggestion of President Eduard Shevardnadze, proposed on 21 June that criminal cases against 236 supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia be terminated, Caucasus Press reported. It also approved a proposal by deputy Davit Salarizde to consider the grounds for rehabilitating Gamsakhurdia, who died in January 1994. LF

GEORGIAN PENSIONERS DEMAND 13 MONTHS ARREARS...

Pensioners in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi picketed the town hall and blocked a major highway on 21 June to demand payment of their pensions for the past 13 months, Caucasus Press reported. As of 30 May, the Georgian government owed a total of 110 million lari ($56 million) in pension arrears dating back to 1997. LF

...AS IMF CALLS FOR BUDGET SEQUESTER

David Owen, the head of an IMF delegation that has spent the past 10 days in Georgia, warned President Shevardnadze on 22 June that the fund will not discuss any further assistance to Georgia before October, Caucasus Press reported, citing ANS-Press. The IMF official advocated a budget sequester of 110 million lari, which is the equivalent of the budget shortfall for the first five months of this year. On 15 June, Caucasus Press quoted Owen as telling Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili that the fund's further cooperation with Georgia is contingent on that country's eliminating poverty, reducing budget expenditures, and cracking down on corruption. LF

KAZAKHSTAN IMPOSES LIMITS FOR REPATRIATION

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has imposed a ceiling of 5,000 for Kazakhs from Afghanistan, Mongolia, China, Turkey and elsewhere who wish to settle permanently in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 21 June. Nazarbaev has also finally granted citizenship to some 1,880 Kazakhs who settled in Kazakhstan from Mongolia in the early 1990s. An estimated further 30,000 Kazakhs in Mongolia alone are awaiting permission to move to Kazakhstan. LF

CHINESE BUSINESSMAN KIDNAPPED IN KYRGYZSTAN

A Chinese businessman en route for Bishkek was abducted by uniformed armed men in the town of Osh on 21 June, ITAR-TASS reported. The abductors have demanded a $150,000 ransom for his release. LF

UN TO PROVIDE FOOD AID FOR TAJIKISTAN

The UN World Food Program's Dushanbe representative, Bouchan Hadj-Chikh, said on 21 June that the program will provide 90,000 tons of food aid worth $45 million over the next two years to feed an estimated 575,000 people, Reuters and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Part of that aid will be distributed to the elderly and to children, and some will be given in payment for agricultural produce. The UN agency will fund rehabilitation work in the agricultural sector and reconstruction of schools and hospitals. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD DIRECTOR QUERIES WISDOM OF ENDING TAJIK PEACEKEEPING OPERATION

Russian Federal Border Service Director Konstantin Totskii told Interfax in St. Petersburg on 21 June that he considers it premature to terminate the CIS peacekeeping operation in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2000). He added that in the light of the concentration of Taliban forces near Afghanistan's border with the Central Asian states, he doubts that the decision will be implemented before the situation in Tajikistan reverts to normal. Speaking at the CIS summit in Moscow on 21 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin termed the decision to end the peacekeeping operation correct, adding that Russia is determined to continue promoting peace and stability in Central Asia, Interfax reported. LF

PUTIN APOLOGIZES FOR RUSSIAN MEDIA COVERAGE OF TAJIKISTAN

On the sidelines of the 21 June CIS summit, President Putin expressed his regrets to his Tajik counterpart, Imomali Rakhmonov, that the Russia media do not give adequate coverage of positive changes in Tajikistan, Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 22 June. The Tajik Foreign Ministry had issued a statement earlier this week criticizing Russian media bias in reporting developments in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2000). LF




NO PROGRESS REPORTED IN RESOLVING BELARUS'S CONSTITUTIONAL STANDOFF

Adrian Severin of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Jan Wiersma of the European Parliament convened a roundtable of Belarusian opposition parties, NGOs, and administration representatives in Minsk on 21 June, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The sides, however, failed to achieve any progress in overcoming the constitutional impasse over the upcoming parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2000). The government side argued that the authorities have met the OSCE's requirements by initiating the so-called "sociopolitical dialogue" and accepting some amendments to the electoral code. The opposition maintained that both the "sociopolitical dialogue" and the amendments are pale imitations of a political consensus in Belarus. Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, said that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, is not willing to compromise with the opposition. "This meeting disappointed me," Lukashenka's aide Syarhey Posakhau commented. JM

OPPOSITION PARTY TO IGNORE CONGRESS OF BELARUSIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES

Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front, has announced his party will not participate in the Congress of Democratic Forces of Belarus, which is scheduled to take place in Minsk on 2 July, Belapan reported on 21 June. The congress is expected to decide whether Belarus's democratic forces will take part in this fall's parliamentary elections. Paznyak believes that the 2 July forum will divert the democratic opposition's attention from the All-Belarusian Congress for Independence, which is to convene on 29 July. According to Paznyak, each party should decide independently about its participation in the upcoming elections. The Conservative Christian Party has already decided to boycott this fall's ballot. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES PUTIN...

Leonid Kuchma commented on returning from the CIS Moscow summit on 21 June that Russian President Vladimir Putin "[means] a really new Russia and a new policy," Interfax reported. He added that Putin's policy is "more pragmatic, understandable, and predictable, which serves Ukrainian interests." Kuchma called the summit's agreement on the plan to introduce a CIS free trade zone "a historic event." In his opinion, the agreement will be implemented within the timeframe set by the CIS summit. JM

...ASKS PARLIAMENT TO SEND 900 PEACEKEEPERS TO LEBANON, CONGO

The presidential press service on 21 June said Kuchma has asked the parliament to approve sending 900 Ukrainian peacekeepers to Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Reuters reported. Defense Ministry spokesman Serhiy Nahoryanskyy said 650 peacekeepers will join UN forces to be deployed in the areas of Lebanon that Israeli troops left last month after 22 years of occupation. Another 250 Ukrainian peacekeepers will be part of a UN operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to which Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola sent troops in 1998 to defend President Laurent Kabila against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda. JM

ESTONIAN ULTIMATUM ON POWER PLANT SALE?

The Estonian government has given the U.S. company NRG Energy until 26 June to respond to its position on the privatization of the country's two main power plants. Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja said on 21 June that the government has presented NRG with a plan that provides for sharing some risks. Issues such as guaranteed power purchases and electricity prices remain unresolved. Parnoja added that if NRG rejects even some of the conditions, the deal will not take place, ETA reported. Local media also report that some U.S. and EU officials are lobbying for and others against the deal. The government will make a final decision when it receives NRG's response on 27 June, Parnoja added. MH

GERMANY REAFFIRMS RUSSIA HAS NO VETO ON NATO ENLARGEMENT

In a reply to Lithuanian parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis, Germany's ambassador to Lithuania, Detlof von Berg, stressed that no country outside NATO has a veto on the alliance's enlargement, BNS reported. That statement follows NATO candidate countries' sharp response to a comment by permanent state secretary in the German Defense Ministry Walter Kolbow. Kolbow had suggested that Russia's "consent" would be necessary for NATO to enlarge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2000). The ambassador reaffirmed to Landsbergis that NATO's open-door policy is endorsed by the German government. MH

RUSSIAN DESIRE TO LEASE IGNALINA REJECTED

Officials from Lithuania and the EU have turned down the Russian proposal to lease the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, BNS reported. On the first day of a donors conference in Vilnius on funding the partial shutdown of the controversial power plant, Russian Deputy Energy Secretary Bulat Nigmatulin had said that Russia could lease the facility and modernize it in the process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2000). "Russia's proposal would not help to solve this problem," Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said at the Vilnius conference. The EU insists on the closure of the facility. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT SLAMS PREMIER'S INVOLVEMENT IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 21 June criticized Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's involvement in Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski's presidential campaign, PAP reported. "In my opinion, the prime minister's decision creates a new wrong tradition in Poland," Krzaklewski said. "The question arises whether laws and bills prepared by the government will be [the cabinet's] own proposals or will stem from Marian Krzaklewski's presidential campaign needs," Kwasniewski added. Krzaklewski had announced earlier the same day that the leaders of the parties and groups constituting the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) will become members of his electoral committee. Buzek heads the AWS Social Movement, a component of the AWS. Krzaklewski commented that Buzek's participation in his electoral committee is "completely normal," adding that the duties of committee members are "honorary" rather than political. JM

POLAND'S ECONOMY EXPANDS, BUT UNEMPLOYMENT REMAINS HIGH

The Main Statistical Office reported on 21 June that Poland's economy grew by 6 percent in the first quarter of 2000. The economy expanded compared with the 1.4 percent growth in the same period last year but slowed from 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 1999. The economy grew by 4.1 per cent in 1999 and is expected to increase by 5.2 per cent in 2000. Meanwhile, unemployment in May stood at 13.5 percent, down from 13.7 percent in April. Last year's May unemployment was 11.6 percent. By the end of May 2000, 2.45 million people were registered as jobless in Poland. The highest unemployment rates were reported in the provinces of Warmia- Mazury (23.3 percent), Lubusz (18.3 percent), Zachodnie Pomorze (17.8 percent), Kujawy-Pomorze (17.5 percent), and Lower Silesia (16.3 percent). JM

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS BANK SALE MUST BE CANCELED

Vaclav Klaus, the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies and leader of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, is demanding that the sale of the troubled Investnicni a postovni banka (IPB) to the Belgian-owned Ceskoslovenska ochodni banka (CSOB) be canceled, the daily "Pravo" reported on 22 June. Klaus said that Prime Minister Milos Zeman and the government as a whole had acted upon the "erroneous information" that 12 billion crowns ($319 million) were siphoned off from the IPB and dispatched abroad. He added that Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik acted "in agreement with" the Belgian owners of the CSOB and that "it is the Czech taxpayer's money that has been siphoned off." And he argued that the deal can be attributed to the "omnipotent influence of [National Bank Governor Josef] Tosovsky, who does not like banks slipping out of his control." MS

CZECH RADICAL RIGHT LEADER TO BE RELEASED FROM CUSTODY?

A court in Rakovnik, central Bohemia, has ruled that Vladimir Skoupy, leader of the radical right National Alliance, be released from custody within three days unless the Prosecutor-General's Office lodges an appeal, CTK reported on 21 June. On 7 June 1999, the same court had sentenced Skoupy to a one-year term in prison, suspended for four years, finding him guilty of supporting a movement aimed at suppressing citizens' rights and freedoms and of defamation of a race. The radical leader, who is a Holocaust denier, committed the same offenses at demonstrations organized by his movement in Prague in August and October last year as well as last February, when he was taken into custody for breach of the conditions of his suspended sentence. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT BANS DOUBLE PARTY MEMBERSHIP

The parliament on 21 June approved in the second reading a law that bans membership in more than one political party, CTK reported. The bill was initiated by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the junior coalition Party of the Democratic Left. Observes say the legislation is directed primarily against Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, who is setting up a Slovak Democratic Christian Union without having disbanded the Slovak Democratic Coalition. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION COMPLAINS OF 'MEDIA ISOLATION'

The HZDS says the government is attempting to drive it into "media isolation." In a statement to CTK on 21 June, HZDS deputy chairman Jozef Bozik, citing data produced by the Memo 98 monitoring organization, says Slovak Television has devoted a mere 14 percent of its coverage to the HZDS and most of that coverage was negative. Bozik says the same applies to Slovak Radio. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES DROUGHT AID

The government on 21 June approved allocating 5.9 billion crowns ($132.4 million) to the agricultural sector to compensate farmers for losses caused by the drought in East Central Europe. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists that 4.9 billion crowns of the aid approved will be in form of subsidies, while the remaining billion will be granted to farmers as loans, Reuters reported. The cabinet also approved a national Program for Fighting Corruption. Among other things, the program envisages setting up a special prosecutor's office to deal exclusively with corruption cases, CTK reported. MS




UN SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS BOSNIAN MISSION

The Security Council voted 14 to zero on 21 June to extend the mandate of the 21,000 SFOR troops and 1,600 international police until 19 June 2001. Russia abstained to protest the refusal by the organizers of the Brussels international conference on Bosnia in May to invite representatives of the Belgrade regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov said that Russia boycotted the Brussels gathering because it allegedly served to "further isolate and...blockade Yugoslavia." He added, however, that he agrees with the "general thrust" of the resolution extending SFOR's mandate, AP reported. Chinese Ambassador to the UN Wang Yingfan voted for the resolution but said that excluding Belgrade "does not help peace," Reuters reported. PM

CANADA SAYS MILOSEVIC NOT ACCEPTABLE PARTNER

But Canadian representative told the Security Council on 21 June that "the Belgrade regime under the leadership of indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic has consistently sought to actively undermine the implementation of the [1995] Dayton peace agreement [on Bosnia]. As my government made clear at [the Brussels] meeting, we look forward to the day when a democratic Yugoslavia begins to participate constructively in the peace implementation process throughout the region," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. PM

BOSNIAN EDITORS PROTEST PRESSURE ON PRESS

The editors-in- chief of several leading periodicals issued a joint statement in Sarajevo on 21 June to protest recent financial and other pressures by the Muslim authorities on the press, "Oslobodjenje" reported. The editors of the dailies "Oslobodjenje" and "Dnevni avaz" and of the weeklies "Slobodna Bosna" and "Dani" expressed solidarity in the face of "every form of pressure against the freedom of the press." They demanded that the authorities act only in accordance with the law and called upon local representatives of the international community to "energetically" respond to any attempt to curtail the freedom of the press. The editors specifically called on the authorities to unblock the bank accounts of "Dnevni avaz," which the tax authorities recently froze. PM

BOSNIAN NON-NATIONALISTS TO FORM COALITION?

Leaders of several non-nationalist parties and coalitions are expected soon to agree on forming an "alternative bloc" to fight the nationalist parties in the November general elections, "Slobodna Bosna" reported on 22 June. Some of the politicians in question are Zlatko Lagumdzija, Haris Silajdzic, Milorad Dodik, Kresimir Zubak, Safet Orucevic, and Jadranko Prlic. Silajdzic, moreover, has rejected an offer from Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic to form a coalition with his nationalist Party of Democratic Action, the weekly added. It is not clear, however, whether such an electoral pact between the non-nationalists will materialize. Differences in personalities and political programs have often prevented such cooperation in the past. PM

DEL PONTE HAILS CROATIAN COOPERATION WITH TRIBUNAL

Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, thanked President Stipe Mesic in Zagreb on 21 June for Croatia's cooperation with the tribunal. She noted that she now has the documents she needs to investigate charges of war crimes surrounding Croatia's 1995 offensives against Serbian forces, the VOA's Croatian Service reported. Del Ponte went on to Dubrovnik to discuss issues arising from the 1991 Serbian and Montenegrin shelling of that historical town with Croatian Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic. She said that she will also raise the issue of Dubrovnik with the leaders of Montenegro, which is the next stop on her current Balkan trip. PM

DECANI MONASTERY SHELLED

Unknown persons fired six mortar shells at the historical Serbian Orthodox Decani monastery during the night from 21 to 22 June, dpa reported. Father Sava, who is a moderate Serbian political leader and who lives and works in the monastery, said that nobody was injured and damage was slight. On 21 June, a series of incidents involving KFOR troops and local Serbs in northern Mitrovica left two Serbs injured, a UN spokeswoman said in Prishtina, AP reported. Two Serbian policemen and one security guard were injured in a series of explosions in Bujanovac and Presevo in southwestern Serbia bordering Kosova. Serbian authorities blamed "Albanian terrorists" for the explosions, Reuters reported. PM

DIENSTBIER 'UNSETTLED' BY SERBIAN SITUATION

Jiri Dienstbier, who is the UN's special envoy for human rights in the former Yugoslavia, said in Belgrade on 21 June that Kosova is undergoing organized "reverse ethnic-cleansing" as ethnic Albanians force out Serbs and other members of minority groups, AFP reported. Turning to the situation in Serbia, Dienstbier said that he recently told regime officials that their country cannot be destabilized from the outside if it is not first destabilized internally, CTK reported. He urged the officials not to treat their political opponents as "enemies of the state or terrorists." Dienstbier called members of the Otpor (Resistance) student movement "young, educated, and open-minded people. They reject violence.... They want dialogue with the government, but it is refused to them." The former Czechoslovak foreign minister added that he is "unsettled" by "the growing atmosphere of violence, in which several people have been killed, including politicians and journalists." PM

GENERAL PERISIC 'HONORED' BY LOSS OF RANK

Former chief of the General Staff and General Momcilo Perisic said in Belgrade on 21 June that the military court that recently stripped him of his rank in the reserves has no legal right to make such a decision, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2000). He added that while the loss of one's rank is a great disgrace in "normal and decent countries," he considers it "plus" in a country like Milosevic's Serbia. Perisic added that he is proud of his record during 37 years in the military and stressed that he prevented the authorities from using the army against protesters in 1996 and 1997. PM

DRASKOVIC HEARING POSTPONED

Montenegrin authorities on 21 June postponed for one day the court hearing in Podgorica of two brothers charged with involvement in a recent attempt to kill Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2000). At the request of the prosecutor, the authorities replaced Svetlana Vujanovic, who is the wife of the prime minister, with Zoran Zivkovic as judge. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Civic Alliance leader Goran Svilanovic denied reports by the state-run Tanjug news agency that the two brothers had previously served as bodyguards for him and his colleague Vesna Pesic. Svilanovic stressed that "it is well known that neither Pesic nor I ever had a bodyguard," AP reported. PM

ROMANIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS TRIGGER CONFLICTS ON THE LEFT....

Bucharest Mayor-Elect Traian Basescu on 21 June told Romanian Radio that Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) in Romania Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase is a "perestroikist" who represents "hair-styled communism." Basescu was responding to Nastase's 20 June statement that Bucharest voters had backed the PDSR en masse and that the mayor is "walking on PDSR territory" in the capital. Basescu said Bucharest voters elected their representatives to be served by them and not the other way around. He added that Nastase is incapable of understanding this because of his communist mentality. MS

...AND ON THE RIGHT

National Liberal Party (PNL) First Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica has said the local elections showed the PNL is the strongest formation on the right and that successful opposition to the left is possible only if all rightists rally around the PNL, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported on 21 June. The leaderships of the PNL and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) meet on 22 June to discuss the future of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR). PNTCD Deputy Chairman Ioan Muresan said ahead of the meeting that his party is offering the PNL 50 percent of the slots on the CDR lists and that if the offer is rejected "we shall go out separate ways" in the 2000 parliamentary elections (see also "End Note"). MS

NATO COMMANDER SAYS NO PLANS TO STATION TROOPS IN BULGARIA

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Joseph Ralston on 21 June told journalists in Sofia that NATO has no intention of deploying forces in Bulgaria or in any other non-member country, AP and dpa reported. He spoke after meeting with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, and members of the cabinet. The talks focused on the situation in the Balkans and Bulgaria's preparations for admission into the organization. MS




WILL THE 'BUCHAREST SURPRISE' MATTER THIS FALL?


By Michael Shafir

The surprising victory of Democratic Party candidate Traian Basescu in the runoff for the post of Bucharest general mayor has produced some amusing debates among analysts. Those analysts have been joined by some foreign correspondents whose lack of familiarity with the Romanian political scene is all too evident. Basescu entered the race after the Democrats had dropped their initial candidate, whom the polls showed performing poorly, and had already produced a mini-surprise by qualifying for the runoff against Sorin Oprescu, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania's (PDSR) candidate. The gap between Basescu's 41.1 percent backing in the first round and Oprescu's 17.2 percent, however, seemed far too large to be bridged.

But when the ballots were counted on 19 June, Basescu had produced nothing short of a miracle: he received 9,815 votes more than did Oprescu. Although a very small margin, this was sufficient to open the doors of the mayoral office. The PDSR had seemingly managed a "Phoenix-like" performance in the capital: defying all predictions, a leading member of the ruling coalition Democratic Party had dashed the aspirations of Ion Iliescu's party to return to power after the parliamentary and presidential elections in the fall.

"Romania's ruling coalition narrowly won a victory", reported a correspondent for a major news agency. Those more familiar with the Romanian political scene know better, however. While nominally part of the coalition, the Democrats have time and time again caused coalition crises, and no one was personally more involved in engineering those crises than Basescu, who is also a deputy leader of the party. Others attributed Basescu's triumph to his alleged "charismatic personality," though the capable bald manager who heads the Transportation Ministry can be considered anything but charismatic.

In fact, there are simpler explanations for his electoral triumph. For example, voters must have wondered what credentials the surgeon Oprescu has to manage a capital city that is successfully competing with Tirana for being Europe's dirtiest (stray dogs and rats are in abundance) and unsafest place on the Continent.

To conclude from the "Bucharest surprise" that the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) may still "save" the parliamentary elections is to oversee a few significant "details" available in print--both small and large. First, Basescu's victory notwithstanding, each of the six sectors into which Bucharest is divided will have PDSR mayors and the PDSR will have a majority on the town's council. Since 1992, Bucharest has appeared to be a CDR "fiefdom." In fact, the PDSR has always won local elections in districts outside larger towns. This time, however, the party won 53 percent of all large cities and 48 percent of all county-capital towns. This indicates that a major shift is under way among the Romanian electorate in favor of the main opposition party, which has continued to win smaller towns and the countryside. Out of the total of 2,957 mayoral posts contested on 4 and 18 June, the PDSR won 1,051.

At the same time, the performance of the Democrats is indeed impressive. Somehow they managed to divest themselves of any responsibility for the economic debacle engineered by the ruling coalition and to place second after the PDSR in all contests decided by the 4 and 18 June elections--mayoral, local councilors, and county councilors. They will now have 392 mayors, 11 of whom are town mayors and seven of whom are mayors in county capitals. This is a 4 percent increase over 1996, before the party returned to the government. The Democrats are entitled to look with optimism toward the fall elections. But this optimism must be qualified. Petre Roman, the party's leader, has repeatedly proved in the past that he is incapable of supporting a popular "number 2," and he is undoubtedly now watching Basescu suspiciously.

Third place in terms of mayors, local councilors, and county councilors was taken by the Alliance of Romania (APR), which has 283 mayors. The PDSR, the Democrats, and the APR are all "descendants" of the National Salvation Front and, as such, all three belong to the category of "successor parties" to the former Communist Party. Come the fall elections, they may well form the next coalition.

Should this happen, the CDR would certainly lament the "short memory" of Romanians. However, the CDR should engage in some self-examination before "externalizing guilt." The CDR and National Peasant Party Christian Democratic leader Ion Diaconescu, responding to calls that he assume responsibility for the electoral debacle, dismissed any possibility of his stepping down. There is thus little hope that the CDR--regardless of its makeup in the fall parliamentary elections-- will be able to undo much of the damage already done.

In the local elections, the CDR placed not only behind the three leading formations mentioned above. In terms of mayors elected (147), it trailed the National Liberal Party (251), independent candidates (159), and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (148). Even if the National Liberals return to the CDR fold for the parliamentary elections, the prospects for those who seemed to signal "change" in 1996 are far from encouraging. And in view of the PDSR's record on reform, the "change to change"--to cite Chalmers Johnson's classic title--is unlikely to signal a new beginning for Romania. Rather, one can expect a return "to square one," which will only widen the gap between Bucharest and those East Central European capitals already playing at other chess tables, such as NATO and the EU's fast-track.


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