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Newsline - June 29, 2000




GOVERNMENT APPROVES 'LIBERAL' ECONOMIC PROGRAM...

The cabinet of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 28 June approved the main parameters of its 10-year socio-economic policy as well as its 18-month economic program, Interfax reported. According to Kasyanov, the government's program for the next 18 months will be confirmed by a resolution within two weeks, while the final version of the 10-year program will not be ready until the fall. Among the policy areas still needing further refinement is pension reform. The 18-month plan calls for tight control over government spending and ensuring passage of tax reform legislation in the State Duma, among other things. In general, it is highly declarative in nature (the program is available at ). In an interview with "The Moscow Times" on 29 June, Western economists said they are encouraged by the government's adherence to liberal economic principles. However, Renaissance Capital's Roland Nash noted that "Russia is a master at producing economic programs. There's always big question marks over whether they are implemented." JAC

...AS PREMIER SAYS GOVERNMENT HAS SINGLE ORIENTATION

Prime Minister Kasyanov dismissed reports that there have been disagreements among cabinet members, noting that the government is composed of "like-minded" individuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2000). Kasyanov has reportedly been critical of the 10-year program, whose chief author is Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref. According to Gref on 28 June, one of the long-term program's chief goals is to narrow the gap between rich and poor and raise overall living standards. In addition, according to "Novye izvestiya" on 29 June, the program calls for a "new social contract" between state and citizen, with the former guaranteeing stable rules for business interactions, a normal tax system, and the "decriminalization of the economy." The program also aims for ensuring minimum annual GDP growth of 5 percent. JAC

MEDIA-MOST EXECUTIVE CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF

Soon after Moscow airport border guards denied him permission to leave the country on 28 June, Media-Most First Deputy Chairman Igor Malashenko was allowed to depart for Austria, where he was due to give a speech (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000). A border guards spokesman said that the delay had been caused by the need to "to fully check [his] documents." Malashenko, however, said that it was part of the Kremlin's campaign against his company. "Izvestiya," which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, concluded that the incident shows that "the authorities intend to keep up the pressure on the company but do not know how to do it" and their intended "'victims' use this clumsiness to their advantage." According to a border guard spokesman cited by "The Moscow Times," Malashenko was cleared to leave after 20 minutes but had waited for NTV journalists to arrive at the airport. JAC

PUTIN REPORTEDLY SUPPORTS COMPROMISE BETWEEN UPPER, LOWER HOUSES...

According to an unidentified senior presidential administration official, the Kremlin was not surprised by senators' rejection of the bill reforming the Federation Council on 28 June and expects the State Duma to override the upper house's veto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000). The official added that it is unfortunate that senators also rejected a bid to form a conciliatory commission composed of members of the two chambers to work on the legislation. Following his meeting with President Vladimir Putin after the vote, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said that Putin also expressed regret that senators had not supported the idea of a conciliatory commission. The president also called on members of the two houses "to work further to reach an agreement," Yakovlev said. State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev expressed similar sentiment, but the leader of the pro-Kremlin faction, Boris Gryzhlov, said he saw "no need for initiating any conciliatory procedures." JAC

...AS SHAIMIEV SUGGESTS REFERENDUM ON IMMUNITY

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev on 28 June suggested holding a nationwide referendum "on whether immunity [from criminal prosecution] is needed for deputies of all levels." Some officials, including presidential envoy to the State Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov, have accused regional leaders of opposing the plan to reform the upper house because they are afraid of losing their immunity (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 May 2000). Shaimiev noted that "the Duma will become cleaner after such a referendum." Media reports on the 28 June debate in the Federation Council show that while most governors oppose the legislation on the Federation Council, some have already accepted it will inevitably come into force. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 June, Boris Maltsev, speaker for Tomsk Oblast's parliament, noted that "our situation is like that of a bride on her wedding night. Whether she wears her underwear or not, what will happen will happen. We will no longer gather in our present form." JAC

LOWER HOUSE JOINS UPPER HOUSE IN CALLING FOR CONSTITUTION CHANGES

State Duma deputies approved on 28 June a proposal that President Putin "initiate the formation of a body for drafting constitutional amendments," Interfax reported. The proposal was sponsored by Fatherland-All Russia faction leader Yevgenii Primakov, who has called for altering the constitution in the light of President Putin's proposals to reform the Federation Council. Primakov wants to limit the powers of the new council to approve states of emergency and the use of Russian troops abroad. Members of the Federation Council passed a similar measure the same day (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 June 2000). In an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 June, Duma deputy speaker (Unity) Lyubov Sliska argued that a "radical reconsideration of the [federal] constitution" is "completely ill-timed," since the 1993 constitution "is still very far from having exhausted its potential." JAC

HEAVY FIGHTING CONTINUES IN CHECHNYA

Fierce fighting continued on 29 June for the fourth consecutive day near the village of Serzhen-Yurt south of Grozny, dpa reported. Russian military spokesmen claimed that some 120 of the estimated 200-strong Chechen force have been killed, while federal forces incurred no further losses over the previous 24 hours. But AFP quoted an unnamed Chechen spokesman as claiming that almost 100 Russian troops have died in the fighting and that another 25 Russians died on 28 June as a result of accidental Russian artillery bombardment of Russian positions. LF

ASSASSINATION BID SUSPECT ARRESTED IN CHECHNYA

The Russian Security Service has detained four men suspected of perpetrating the 1995 Grozny car bomb attack on the then commander of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Anatolii Romanov, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 June (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 9 October 1995). Romanov suffered serious head injuries in that bombing, from which he has not recovered. LF

YABLOKO JOINS COMMUNISTS AGAINST TITOV IN SAMARA

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 June that the regional organizations of the National-Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), the Communist Party, and Yabloko are all supporting the candidacy of Viktor Tarkhov, the former chairman of the oblast Soviet of People's Deputies and until recently vice president of the Alyans oil company, in the 2 July gubernatorial elections. Former State Deputy (Communist) and Movement to Support the Army leader General Albert Makashov, who failed to collect enough signatures to run in the Samara ballot, had called on the regional NPSR to back Tarkhov. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the "unholy alliance" with the NPSR and the Communists has caused a split within the ranks of the regional Yabloko branch. Polls have shown Tarkhov with single-digit support, compared with backing of more than 60 percent for Konstantin Titov (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 June 2000), who resigned as governor following his poor showing in Samara in the March presidential elections. JC

RUSSIA, INDIA TALK WEAPONS

During a five-day trip to Russia, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes met with Russian President Putin in Moscow on 28 June to discuss the purchase of Russian-made weapons. Fernandes was reported to be negotiating contracts for 100 T-90 tanks, an aircraft- carrying cruiser, and a production license for Su-30 MKI fighter jets. He also focused on Putin's upcoming visit to New Delhi, which is scheduled to take place in October. Interfax reported on 28 June that Fernandes will also meet with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov. JC

ANOTHER FORMER KGB OPERATIVE GIVEN TOP POST

Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the former head of the Russia's foreign intelligence service, has been appointed deputy foreign minister with the rank of federal minister, Interfax reported on 28 June, citing presidential spokesman Aleksei Gromov. Trubnikov was also named the president's special envoy to the CIS. During the Soviet era, he worked for the KGB in India and Bangladesh, according to Reuters. JC

DUMA DECLARED SMOKE-FREE ZONE

State Duma deputies voted on 28 June to ban smoking on their premises. According to the resolution, legislators took that action "with a view to disseminating the idea of a healthy life and improving labor productivity." Deputy (Liberal Democrats) Aleksei Mitrofanov put the action into a broader context, claming that the decision was "part of a larger campaign against Western tobacco monopolies that control the Russian market." Vladimir Grebenyuk, deputy chairman of the Committee for Regulations and Organization of the Duma's Work (Russian Regions), objected to the move, saying that the lower house needs "normal conditions for work" and appealed for specially designated smoking areas. Duma deputy speaker Artur Chilingarov, who presided over the vote, lamented the absence from the chamber of speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a confirmed smoker, who he said would have enjoyed one last puff within the parliament's walls, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 June. JAC




CHARGES AGAINST ANOTHER ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING SUSPECT DROPPED

Investigators have dropped the preliminary charges they brought last November against pollster Nairi Badalian, who was accused of abetting the five gunmen who murdered eight senior officials and parliamentary deputies in the Armenian parliament on 27 October, Noyan Tapan reported. Badalian had been held in custody since his arrest last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). He is the fourth suspect against whom charges have been dropped for lack of evidence. LF

ARMENIAN LAW ON STOCK EXCHANGE ENCOUNTERS RESISTANCE

After several unsuccessful attempts, the Armenian parliament on 28 June passed in the first reading the law "On Regulating the Securities Market," Noyan Tapan reported. The debate on the law had been postponed several times, reportedly as a result of lobbying by individuals who tried to argue that its adoption was counter to national interests. Parliamentary deputy speaker Tigran Torosian accused the owners of the Yerevan Stock Exchange of obstructing passage of the law, according to Armenpress, cited by Groong. He argued that without such legislation "all our efforts to attract investments in the Armenian economy will be in vain." LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE APPROVES MEMBERSHIP FOR ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN

Apparently yielding to pressure from the U.S., the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted on 28 June to admit both Armenia and Azerbaijan to full membership in the council, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Both countries have been guest members since 1996. The Legal and Political Committees of the assembly concluded that admitting both countries simultaneously would contribute to democratization and to a solution to the Karabakh conflict. The Political Committee had considered last month postponing Azerbaijan's admission, which it proposed should be contingent on the conduct of the parliamentary elections due in November (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 21, 26 May 2000). Council of Europe Secretary-General Walther Schwimmer said on 28 June that the two countries' accession will probably be formalized by the Committee of Ministers in November. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO CUT ARMED FORCES

Parliamentary deputies voted by an overwhelming majority on 28 June to reduce the armed forces from their present strength of 47,500 to 38,414, Caucasus Press reported. Ministry of Defense forces will be cut from 27,000 to 20,000, Interior Ministry troops from 7,900 to 6,400, and the border guard force from 3,600 to 3,000. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Edward Warner had recommended such cuts on a visit to Tbilisi last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2000). Revaz Adamia, who chairs the parliament's Security and Defense Committee, had advocated slashing the size of the armed forces even more dramatically, from 44,000 to 8,000, according to Caucasus Press. The Ministry of Defense has experienced serious funding problems in recent months. LF

DISPLACED PERSONS IN WESTERN GEORGIA DEMAND ALLOWANCES...

Representatives of the estimated 80,000 Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia currently living in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi have demanded a meeting with Georgian Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili, Finance and Economy Minister Zurab Nogaideli, and members of the Abkhaz government in exile, Caucasus Press reported on 28 June. The displaced persons have not received their cash allowances for six months or the flour they are entitled to as humanitarian aid since April. A local Georgian official predicted that if measures are not taken quickly to alleviate the plight of the displaced persons, "we will not avoid a social explosion." But former Abkhaz Interior Minister Givi Lominadze, who heads the Abkhazeti Georgian parliamentary faction, played down that danger, saying that the situation in Zugdidi does not differ greatly from that elsewhere in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

... AS REGIONAL GOVERNOR OFFERS TO RESIGN

Also on 28 June, Caucasus Press reported that President Eduard Shevardnadze has rejected an offer by Bondo Djikia, the governor of Mingrelia and Upper Svaneti, to step down if his resignation would contribute to defusing tensions in the region. Djikia accused unnamed forces of playing on the displaced persons' frustration in a deliberate attempt to destabilize the situation in the region. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT WRAPS UP VISIT TO BELGIUM

Nursultan Nazarbaev on 28 June ended a two-day official visit to Belgium and left for France, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev met in Brussels with Belgian State Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and with businessmen, including representatives of fuel and energy companies, whom he urged to invest in Kazakhstan. He also held talks with European Commission President Romano Prodi and with NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson. LF

HUNGER STRIKERS IN KAZAKHSTAN DECIDE TO REFUSE LIQUIDS

The Alash party activists who began a hunger strike in Almaty late last month to protest the planned parliament debate on legislation permitting the private ownership of agricultural land have decided to stop taking liquids, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported on 28 June (see "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 16 and 23 June 2000). That decision was prompted by the parliament's decision to schedule the debate for next week. The hunger strikers want the draft bill withdrawn from the parliament's agenda. LF

JUDGE REJECTS KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN'S REQUESTS

Presiding military judge Nurlan Ashyrbekov on 28 June rejected eight requests made by a lawyer for former Bishkek Mayor and opposition Ar-Namys Party Chairman Feliks Kulov, whose trial began the previous day, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov is charged with abuse of his official position in his former capacity as interior minister. His lawyer had demanded an open trial to which domestic and international observers would be admitted and that President Askar Akaev be called as a witness. Some 80 Kulov supporters who have been staging a protest picket in Bishkek since mid- March congregated outside the court on 28 June to demand Kulov's acquittal. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' LINGUISTIC SKILLS TO BE ASSESSED

The Central Electoral Commission on 28 June announced the creation of a special seven-strong sub- commission charged with setting written and spoken tests in the Kyrgyz language for potential presidential candidates, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The date of the poll has been set for 28 October. The Kyrgyz parliament last month adopted legislation designating Russian an official language to be used at all levels, alongside Kyrgyz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2000). LF

IMF PRESSURES UZBEKISTAN TO MAKE CURRENCY CONVERTIBLE

Robert Rosenberg, who is the IMF's permanent representative in Tashkent, warned on 28 June that further delays in making Uzbekistan's currency fully convertible could prove dangerous, Interfax reported. An IMF mission that arrived in Tashkent earlier this month has discussed with the Uzbek cabinet the possible social and economic consequences of liberalizing currency regulations. Rosenberg warned that the present exchange rate and restrictions are a deterrent to foreign investors. President Islam Karimov pledged last year that the Uzbek som would become fully convertible as of 1 January 2000 (see "RRE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1999). LF




NGO NOTES 'DISASTROUS' SITUATION OF BELARUSIAN-LANGUAGE EDUCATION

The Belarusian School Association has sent a letter to Education Minister Vasil Strazhau deploring the situation of Belarusian-language education, Belapan reported on 27 June. The association argues that the "disastrously low" percentage of schoolchildren in Belarusian-language classes is attributable to the lack of Belarusian-language colleges and universities where they could continue their education in Belarusian. He also pointed to "the open hostility of officials at different levels toward the Belarusian language." The association says it can cite many examples where Belarusian-language schools have been ordered to offer instruction only in Russian. The organization proposes that the government establish a Belarusian National University and open Belarusian-language groups at other institutions of higher education. A 1990 law obliged the government to "Belarusianize" public life in the country by 2000, but President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ignored that bill and strengthened the Russification of Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN COURT OKAYS PRESIDENTIAL DRAFT BILL ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

The Constitutional Court on 29 June ruled that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's draft bill on introducing constitutional amendments in line with the 16 April referendum is legal and should be implemented, Interfax reported. The court added that its verdict is final and not subject to appeal. Kuchma proposed to amend the constitution in line with three questions approved in the referendum: giving the president the right to dissolve the parliament, abolishing lawmakers' immunity from criminal persecution, and reducing the parliament from 450 to 300 deputies. Kuchma sidestepped the approved question about the introduction of a bicameral parliament, pledging to set up a team of experts to tackle the issue later. JM

ESTONIA CONDEMNS RUSSIAN DUMA AT PACE

Estonian parliamentary deputy Kristiina Ojuland, head of the Liberal Democratic Reformist faction at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, heavily criticized the Russian State Duma for seeking to prevent its members from travelling to Strasbourg for a PACE debate on Chechnya. Calling the act "unlawful," Ojuland, in her capacity as the PACE faction's head, said that the Duma's decision impedes a "legal and lawful" solution to the situation in Chechnya, BNS reported. Two Duma deputies from the Yabloko faction, Aleksandr Shishlov and Sergei Ivanenko, also expressed their anger over the Duma withholding travel funds for the delegation. The two paid for the travel costs themselves. MH

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SUGGEST 'BALANCE SHEET' OVER SOVIET OCCUPATION

At a press conference on 28 June, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga suggested drawing up a "balance of losses" sustained by the country during the nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation, LETA reported. The president said this would demonstrate to the world the damage caused by the Soviet Union, but she stopped short of calling for compensation. "Russia has not recognized the fact of Latvia's occupation, therefore there is no hope for compensation for losses during that occupation," said Vike- Freiberga. She added that demanding compensation would significantly damage Latvian-Russian relations. A bill on such compensation demands was signed into law in Lithuania earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000). MH

POLISH RAILWAY WORKERS SPLIT OVER NATIONWIDE STRIKE

The Forum for the Defense of National Railway Transport has called a nationwide strike of railway workers for 30 June, PAP reported on 28 June. The forum decided on the strike after it had failed to reach an agreement with the government on wages, layoffs, and government subsidies in the railway sector. However, the forum's three major trade unions, which represent some 80 percent of railway workers, have said they will not take part in the strike. Poland's State Railway Company has run up a debt of $1.4 billion. A quarter of the company's 190,000-strong workforce faces layoffs in the next two years. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC REJECTS SLOVAK ROMA ASYLUM APPLICATIONS

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told his Slovak counterpart, Eduard Kukan, in Warsaw on 28 June that the Czech Republic has not approved any of the 345 requests for political asylum submitted by Slovak Roma this year and that it has already rejected 123 such applications, CTK reported. Meanwhile, TASR reported from Vyse Lhoty, northern Moravia, that some of the asylum applicants have already withdrawn their applications and asked to return home because the hygienic and sanitary conditions at the asylum center there are so poor. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT'S CONDITION STABILIZES IN AUSTRIAN HOSPITAL

President Rudolf Schuster on 28 June was transported to the Innsbruck clinic in Austria that successfully treated Czech President Vaclav Havel two years ago. Doctors at the clinic said Schuster's condition has "markedly stabilized" owing to the use of special blood- oxygenation equipment that is not available in Slovak hospitals. Reuters cited a member of the doctors' team now treating Schuster as saying it is too soon to tell whether his brain has been affected by the lack of oxygenation, but the medic added that it is "theoretically possible that the president will not suffer any long-term damage." MS




ALBRIGHT RENEWS CAMPAIGN AGAINST MILOSEVIC...

Speaking in Berlin on 29 June, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called for the ouster of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. "As far as U.S. policy is concerned, we want to see Milosevic out of power, out of Serbia and in The Hague" to face charges of war crimes, AP reported. She noted that the widespread poverty in Serbia is the result not of foreign sanctions but of "the mismanagement and thievery of a regime that has enriched Milosevic's cronies, while leaving everyone else with scraps." Albright called for support from abroad for the "courageous political and municipal leaders, journalists, students and other activists trying to assemble the nuts and bolts of freedom" in Serbia. She added that Milosevic "is now waging war against the democratic aspirations of his own people--a people that deserves far, far better." PM

...MEETS WITH SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS

Albright and her German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, met in Berlin on 29 June with Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic and representatives of the Social Democratic Union, the Civic Alliance, and Serbian Renewal Movement, Reuters reported. An unnamed senior State Department official told reporters that "what we see happening, and they discussed, was the gelling of democratic forces in Serbia and the need to remain united." PM

SIT-IN BY MAYOR LEADS TO RELEASE OF SERBIAN ACTIVISTS

Opposition Mayor Zoran Zivkovic led a sit-in outside the police headquarters in Nis on 28 June to demand the release of eight activists from the Otpor (Resistance) student movement and three news photographers. Police took the 11 people into custody at a demonstration, which was intended to satirize the proposed presentation of the Order of the National Hero to Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2000). An unnamed police official told Reuters that "the rally was not banned, but it was not approved, either." Police released the 11 people after holding them for two hours. PM

ECONOMISTS: SERBIAN GOVERNMENT RUNNING UP RECONSTRUCTION DEBT

Just one day after the Belgrade authorities announced measures to tighten control over businesses that have debts, a leading economics institute issued a report saying the government itself has become a major debtor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000). The Institute for Market Research's chief research economist Slobodan Milosavljevic told reporters in the Serbian capital on 28 June that "the time has come [for the government] to start paying for months-long activities on reconstruction and raw material purchases," Reuters reported. The Milosevic government regularly gives extensive publicity in the state-run media to its reconstruction campaign. PM

KOSOVA SERBIAN POLICE 'FOLLOWING ORDERS'?

UN spokeswoman Nadia Younes said in Prishtina on 28 June that all 23 Serbian police in Shterpce handed in their "conditional resignations" that day to protest what they called "increased tensions" in the area and "bad working relations" with UN staff. She added that the Serbs "were following orders" but did not say from whom. Younes noted that a crowd of local Serbs led by outsiders recently "destroyed" the UN office in Shterpce, AP reported. PM

SPLIT IN SERBIAN NATIONAL COUNCIL

Slavisa Kostic, who heads the central Kosova branch of the Serbian National Council (SNV), told the private Beta news agency in Gracanica on 28 June that his organization has "broken off contacts" with Archbishop Artemije and other leaders of the main body of the SNV, following their decision to resume cooperation with the UN civilian administration in the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2000). Kostic said that Artemije refused to meet with him and his delegation without Artemije's closest aides present. PM

UNCHR BACK TO WORK IN NORTHERN MITROVICA

UNHCR spokeswoman Paula Ghedini said in Prishtina on 28 June that UNHCR officials resumed work in Serb-held northern Mitrovica after receiving guarantees of their safety from local Serbian leader Oliver Ivanovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2000). He promised to provide 50 unarmed guards for the UNHCR staff, AP reported. PM

BRITISH, FRENCH COMPANIES TO MODERNIZE KOSOVA POWER PLANT

NPower, which is a subsidiary of Britain's National Power Plc in partnership with France's Alstom Power Centrales, signed a $38 million contract in Prishtina on 28 June to overhaul the lignite-powered Kosova-B power plant, Reuters reported. NPower's Project Director Bob Huntington told reporters: "Our primary objective is to deliver reliable power for the Kosovan [sic] people for the winter. We know Kosovo is politically unstable but we are comfortable with the [European Agency for Reconstruction] as partners and we foresee more projects in Kosovo and the Balkan region. We are not here to do one job and run," he added. PM

DJUKANOVIC: MONTENEGRO TO PAY DAMAGES TO CROATIA

President Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica that his government is prepared to pay damages to Croatia "if necessary" to compensate for Montenegrin participation in Milosevic's campaign against the Dubrovnik area in 1991-1992 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2000). He did not elaborate, "Vesti" reported on 29 June. PM

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAW PUT FORWARD FOR BOSNIA

Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, and Robert Berry, who heads the OSCE mission there, unveiled a proposed freedom of information law in Sarajevo on 28 June. Opposition deputies from the Social Democrats and New Croatian Initiative then took the first steps to submit the measure to the parliament for approval. Petritsch, who has the authority to declare the bill a law if the parliament does not approve it, said that the proposal "will take Bosnia-Herzegovina several steps closer to Europe. It will take Bosnia-Herzegovina closer to a true civil society," AP reported. Barry added that "the initial reaction of bureaucrats is to dislike intensely a law like this because it takes away the shield of anonymity that otherwise cloaks the action of bureaucrats. [But] the public and the media like it very much." PM

GREECE TO WITHDRAW FORCE FROM ALBANIA

A government spokesman said in Athens on 28 June that the military contingent that Greece sent to help restore order in Albania in 1997 will soon return home. "The agreed time for this force's stay in Albania had elapsed. Following a decision by the leadership of the Defense Ministry, this force is leaving soon, having completed its work," he added. The total contingent is 137- strong, but 30 of the Greeks will remain in Albania as military instructors. Unnamed Greek Defense Ministry sources told AP that the Albanian parliament did not approve an extension of the mandate for the peacekeepers, but the sources did not elaborate. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT CHANGES RULES OF ELECTORAL GAME...

The government on 28 June approved an ordinance raising the electoral hurdle from 3 percent to 5 percent of the vote. Two-party alliances will need a minimum of 8 percent to gain representation, while alliances of more than two parties will require an additional 1 percent for each other member of the alliance. Presidential candidates will need 300,000 supporting signatures, instead of the current 100,000, to qualify to run in elections for the head of state, Romanian Radio reported on 29 June. MS

... AND PARTIES ABOUT TO CHANGE ELECTORAL PHYSIOGNOMY

Alliance for Romania (APR) Chairman Teodor Melescanu on 28 June confirmed media reports that former Prime Minister Teodor Stolojan is promoting an alliance between the APR and the National Liberal Party (PNL) that would support Melescanu's presidential candidacy and Stolojan for premier. APR Deputy Chairman Marian Enache said the alliance could "counterbalance" the "dominant position" of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania. PNL Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica said the PNL "welcomes" Stolojan's decision to make a political comeback but declined to specify how advanced the talks with the APR are. MS

ROMANIA DE-CRIMINALIZES HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONS IN PRIVATE

The Chamber of Deputies on 28 June approved an amendment to the Penal Code whereby homosexual relations will be an offense only if "conducted in public." Such relations are still described as "perverted sexual acts" and as "unnatural," however. The public display of homosexual behavior carries a sentence of five years in prison, compared with the two-year sentence for offensive heterosexual acts in public, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The amendment was opposed by the Greater Romania Party, which said it offends the "Orthodox spirit" of the nation and its traditions. The Romanian Orthodox Church has protested the amendment on similar grounds. Spokesmen for the ruling coalition said the amendment was a "compromise" intended to fend off renewed monitoring by the Council of Europe. The Senate has still to debate the amendment. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES MILITARY REFORM PROGRAM

The cabinet on 28 June approved the guidelines for military reforms submitted by the Defense Ministry. The document must now be approved by the parliament. Defense Minister Boris Gamurai said the program extends over 12 years and would be implemented in three stages. Among other things, it provides for an unspecified reduction in the number of troops while increasing the number of professional soldiers serving on contracts and granting higher budget allocations to the army. MS

CHINESE PREMIER IN BULGARIA

Visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and his Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Kostov, signed five economic and cultural cooperation agreements and discussed ways to increase trade turnover between their countries, Reuters reported on 27 June. The next day Zhu met with President Petar Stoyanov. During his two-day visit to Bulgaria, the Chinese leader said his country "respects the path of development chosen by the Bulgarian people" and that China sees Bulgaria as playing a "stabilizing role" in the Balkans, the BBC reported, citing Xinhua and BTA. MS

BULGARIAN BANK CHIEF ACCUSES GOVERNMENT OF 'UNDERVALUED' PRIVATIZATION

Chavdar Kanchev, director of Bulgaria's largest commercial bank, has said the government's plans to sell Bulgarbank to an Italian-German consortium for some $700 million are unjustified and undervalue the bank's assets, AP reported on 28 June. A statement released by the Bulgarbank managing board supported Kanchev's criticism of the government, saying the $700 million to be paid by the UniCredito Italiano-Allianz AG consortium represents only 7.5 percent of the net value of the bank's assets. Normally, it added, the price should be "60 percent above" the value of those assets. Kanchev said he has sent two reports to Kostov but the premier ignored them and refused to meet with him. MS




NEITHER AGREEMENT NOR SUSPECTS IN STAROVOITOVA CASE


By Jan Cleave

Opinions remain divided over who killed Galina Starovoitova. The family and close associates of the late State Duma deputy continue to assert she was killed in connection with her activities as a politician and public figure, but both official and independent bodies investigating the case believe that other factors may have played a major role.

Starovoitova was gunned down in the stairwell of her apartment house on the Griboedov Canal in late November 1998 after returning from Moscow. Her aide Ruslan Linkov was seriously wounded in the attack. In the manner of contract killings in Russia, the assassins--thought to have been a man and a woman--left their weapons at the scene of the crime.

Initially, many theories were touted about the murder, most of them related to Starovoitova's activities as a passionate defender of democracy, human rights, and interethnic cooperation. At the time of her killing, Starovoitova had been in St. Petersburg to take part in the Northern Capital coalition of democratic forces, which she had founded to challenge Governor Vladimir Yakovlev in the upcoming municipal elections. Several weeks earlier, she had denounced the Communist faction in the Duma for not censuring Albert Makashov over his anti-Semitic comments made on the floor of the lower house. And it was rumored that she had been about to expose corruption in high places, perhaps even reveal who had killed St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Mikhail Manevich the previous year.

Starovoitova's family remains convinced that the popular politician was slain for political reasons. Speaking to the "Moscow Times" late last month, Olga Starovoitova linked her sister's murder to the latter's attempts to expose those who abuse high office for personal gain: "She tried hard to make the country's budget transparent and believed legislators should be able to trace where state money goes. This, of course, was rather irritating for those on the receiving end of improperly directed budgetary funds." Declining to suggest who might have ordered her sister dead, Olga Starovoitova noted simply that "there are enough corrupt people here." Close associates of Galina Starovoitova, including other democratic reformers, have sought to explain her murder by similarly pointing to her tireless crusade against corruption and for a state based on the rule of law.

However, Andrei Konstantinov, head of the independent, St. Petersburg-based Agency of Journalistic Investigations, points out that many theories about Starovoitova's murder took root before an official investigation had gotten under way. In an interview with RFE/RL earlier this week, Konstantinov recalled that immediately after Starovoitova's killing, the media reported that contract killers had committed the crime using "super-weapons." Later, it transpired that one of those weapons was an old submachine gun whose magazine had been clamped tight with a piece of wood and failed to function after the third shot, while the other was a homemade pistol. "No serious force (sila)," he argued, would undertake such a high-profile political murder with such weapons.

Like the Federal Security Service (FSB) agents conducting the official investigation into Starovoitova's murder, Konstantinov believes that the motives for her killing were of an "economic" rather than "political" nature. Based on an investigation conducted independently by his agency, Konstantinov notes that around the time of Starovoitova's death, her supporters in St. Petersburg were waiting for a "large sum of money" to arrive from Moscow for use in the campaign for the upcoming elections to the city's Legislative Assembly. Starovoitova herself, he said, had "given to understand" that such a sum existed. Yet that money never arrived from Moscow and its whereabouts remain unknown. "I think that the reason [for Starovoitova's murder] is to be found namely [in this missing money] and not in the struggle between some political parties," Konstantinov concludes, implying that Starovoitova may have been killed because she knew something about what had happened to that money.

While the investigations into Starovoitova's murder continue, her family and friends have been seeking to ensure that her name remains unsullied by unfounded press allegations. Earlier this month, Olga Starovoitova and Ruslan Linkov won a libel case they had brought against "Komsomolskaya pravda" over a December 1998 article based on the account of a television journalist who after the murder had arrived at the Griboedov Canal before the head of police. That article suggested that Linkov had not been seriously wounded in the attack and had in fact been an accomplice to the assassins. Galina Starovoitova was described as an "unsterile" politician who was one of the founders of three dozen companies involved in smuggling money abroad.

Some 18 months after filing suit (the trial was repeatedly postponed owing to the television journalist's refusal to show up in court), the prosecution was able to prove that Galina Starovoitova had founded no companies whatsoever. On 2 June, a St. Petersburg court ordered "Komsomolskaya pravda" to publish a retraction of the allegations it had made against the murdered politician and her aide.

Meanwhile, the longer the investigations into Starovoitova's murder fail to yield results, the smaller the chances of finding her assassins and establishing the motives for that crime. The FSB has a dismal record of solving high- profile murders--not least in St. Petersburg, which under Governor Yakovlev's rule has been dubbed Russia's "crime capital." Ironically, Starovoitova had been among those oppositionists actively seeking to ensure the city would one day shed that somber sobriquet.


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