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Newsline - July 13, 2000




TAX POLICE TARGET ANOTHER BIG BUSINESS...

The Federal Tax Police have launched criminal proceedings against top officials at AvtoVAZ, Tax Police head Vyacheslav Soltaganov announced on 12 July. Two months ago, tax police raided AvtoVAZ branches throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). At the time, a tax police spokesman said the raids were connected with an investigation into charges of fraud, withholding foreign-currency proceeds from exports, and tax evasion. Now AvtoVAZ is suspected of producing 280,000 cars with the same identification number in order to avoid paying some $600 million in taxes, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 July. An AvtoVAZ spokesman told the daily that the charges are "absurd" and that it would have been "physically impossible" to commit the alleged crime. JAC

...PROMISE MORE CRACKDOWNS...

In remarks to reporters on 12 July, Soltaganov said that more criminal cases will be launched against managers at other top Russian companies. The same day, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev said he received the impression from IMF officials in Moscow that the international financial organizations assess positively the government's effort to ensure "the observance of tax legislation, regardless of the size of the taxpayer." He added that recent actions by law enforcement agencies should not scare away foreign investors who value the rule of law. JAC

...AND SEEK EXPANDED POWERS

Soltaganov also told reporters that during a meeting with Vladimir Putin the same day he had asked the Russian president to give the tax police control over all money flowing into and out of Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Soltaganov said his talks with Putin focused on capital flight and money-laundering. State Duma deputy and leader of the Russian Regions faction Oleg Morozov, who also met with Putin on 12 July, said that the president believes that the recent actions of law enforcement agencies against some large commercial structures should not be interpreted as the government's attempt to revise the results of privatization. In an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" on 12 July, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov adopted a similar tone, saying that "today, oligarchs have no immunity and that is why law enforcement bodies are doing their regular job concerning [the oligarchs'] companies." JAC

TAX MINISTER SAYS LUKOIL NOT IDEAL TAXPAYER AFTER ALL

When asked about LUKoil's being granted an award in May for its good record of paying taxes, Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev told reporters on 12 July that the award was based on information that the company had provided and might have not been given if tax officials had had at the time all the information now at their disposal. Referring to the tax case against LUKoil, Bukaev noted that "tens of millions of dollars" are involved. Tax police officials recently revealed that a criminal case has been launched against top LUKoil officials on suspicion of tax evasion (see RFE/RL Newsline,"11 and 12 July 2000). JAC

MEDIA-MOST PLEADS INNOCENCE

The Media-MOST Group's press service released a statement on 12 July maintaining that "all agreements between Media-MOST and Gazprom as well as all deals concluded between the two companies were based on economic expediency for both sides and were in strict accordance with Russian laws," Interfax reported. The statement continues that the company considers "the federal prosecutors' interference in these relations as an unprecedented abuse of power for the purpose of establishing control over" mass media that the authorities find "objectionable." The previous day, an official at the Prosecutor-General's Office, Vasilii Pimenov, claimed that his office has discovered that Media-MOST's contract with Gazprom "was not quite legally correct." He noted that Gazprom provided guarantees for Media-MOST to borrow money from abroad, for which Gazprom--and by extension one of its largest shareholders, the state--would have been liable in case of default. Also on 12 July, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said that Media-MOST had broken the law, but he declined to be more specific. JAC

KVASHNIN WANTS ROCKET FORCES UNDER CENTRAL COMMAND

At a 12 July meeting of top military commanders, General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of the General Staff, called for the Strategic Rocket Forces to be brought under the direct control of the General Staff. Currently, the force is a separate branch of the military. Kvashnin added that the number of ICBMs operated by the Strategic Rocket Forces can be halved by 2006 by not replacing the SS-18s and SS-24s that have to scrapped under START-II, "The Moscow Times" reported, quoting a Defense Ministry official who requested anonymity. Downsizing the missile force, Kvashnin argued, would allow the military to increase funding for the conventional forces and fight two local conflicts simultaneously. Interfax quoted the first deputy chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Valerii Manilov, as saying that by 2003 military command wants to boost the number of troops in the "southwestern and Central Asia strategic regions" by 50,000. JC

LOWER, UPPER HOUSES TRY TO FORGE COMPROMISE...

State Duma deputy Valerii Grebennikov (Fatherland-All Russia) told reporters on 12 July that members of the Federation Council will present 12 new amendments to President Putin's bill reforming the Federation Council. On 13 July senators will submit these new amendments to the Conciliation Commission formed to consider the bill that the State Duma passed and the Federation Council rejected on 28 June (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 July 2000). Reporting on the commission's meeting the same day, "Izvestiya" said that Duma deputies and Federation Council members considered three main issues: the date at which new members of the Federation Council would assume their positions, the right of regional leaders to appoint representatives to the upper house, and the procedure for dismissing those representatives. The commission has until 14 July to finalize its work. JAC

...AS KREMLIN COMPLAINS OF PRESSURE FROM GOVERNORS

In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 July, deputy head of the presidential staff Vladislav Surkov complained that "two- thirds of the members of the Conciliation Commission subscribe to a non-constructive stance" and that senators "are really pressuring deputies [from single-mandate districts]" to support their positions. He claimed that there are "already cases where unknown person are phoning deputies' families" and there have been "calls from [local] prosecutors' offices to various deputies." According to Surkov, governors are threatening those deputies who are in private business that their businesses will suffer and some are even trying to "blackmail" the Kremlin into forcing their way onto the proposed State Council, a new advisory body that would be composed of regional leaders (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 July 2000). Surkov also commented on a recent Interfax report listing the members of the new body and suggested that this "was a very approximate list." JAC

PUTIN CONGRATULATES SYRIA'S NEW LEADER

President Putin has congratulated Bashar al-Assad on his being confirmed as president of Syria, Russian agencies reported on 12 July, citing a press release by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Putin expressed the hope that the "multi-faceted and mutually beneficial cooperation" promoted under Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, will be developed further. He also noted that Moscow is disposed toward "constructive interaction" with the new Syrian leader on a number of issues, including securing a Middle East peace settlement. JC

RUSSIAN MILITARY HAILS APPOINTMENT OF GANTEMIROV

First Deputy Chief of Russian Army General Staff Colonel General Manilov told ITAR-TASS on 12 July that he believes Beslan Gantemirov's appointment as first deputy to interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov will help stabilize the situation in Chechnya. Manilov said that both Kadyrov and Russian presidential envoy for Southern Russia Viktor Kazantsev were consulted before Gantemirov was named to that post. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii termed Gantemirov's appointment "good news," describing the former Grozny mayor as "a strong player who has many supporters in Chechnya." Alluding to the fact that the two men were on opposing sides during the 1994-1996 war, both Yastrzhembskii and Kazantsev expressed the hope that they will be able to work together "fruitfully." LF

GANTEMIROV OUTLINES PRIORITIES

Gantemirov told ITAR-TASS on 12 July that his main priorities in his new capacity as first deputy to interim Chechen administration head Kadyrov are to destroy what remains of the Chechen resistance and to replace the federal law enforcement bodies in Chechnya with local equivalents. He said that he receives information on Chechen fighters' locations and plans more swiftly than do the Russian forces. He said that Chechnya should for the moment remain within the Russian Federation, but with a greater degree of autonomy than that currently enjoyed by Tatarstan. He added that "economic independence is more important for Chechnya than political independence." Gantemirov said he will not withdraw his candidacy for the 20 August by-election to the State Duma because he wishes to determine exactly how great his support among the Chechen population is in preparation to run for the post of Chechen president at an unspecified date. LF

INGUSHETIA REGISTERS NEW INFLUX OF CHECHENS

Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev told Interfax on 12 July that Chechens are fleeing their republic in increasing numbers in response to last week's threats by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to launch a new attack aimed at seizing control of the town of Gudermes. Aushev said between 1,200 and 1,500 Chechens arrive in Ingushetia daily, while no more than 500 return from there to Chechnya. Russian military officers have also predicted Chechen attacks on other towns in lowland Chechnya, including Grozny, where most of the new arrivals in Ingushetia come from, Aushev said. The mayor of Gudermes and the Russian military commandant in Chechnya had denied on 10 and 11 July, respectively, that Chechens are fleeing those towns in fear of a new Chechen offensive. LF

TERRORIST BOMBING THWARTED IN DAGHESTAN

Federal Security Service (FSB) officials said on 12 July that their Daghestan operatives had succeeded in locating and dismantling explosives laid under the Karlan-Yurt-Kizlyar branch railway in Daghestan, Interfax reported. That railway is used by both passenger and military traffic. The FSB spokesmen said the explosive was almost certainly laid by Chechen field commander Khattab's men. LF

CRIME RATE INCHES DOWN

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo announced on 12 June that Russia's crime rate declined 1.7 percent during the first six months of 2000 compared with the same period the previous year, Interfax reported. He added that the number of serious crimes dropped by 7 percent this year, including a significant reduction in the number of property crimes such as apartment break-ins and auto theft. JAC

GOVERNOR LAUNCHES REPOPULATION PROGRAM

The Penza Oblast administration has launched a new program under which a "young couple" receives a house in the countryside in exchange for producing agricultural crops and children, ITAR- TASS reported on 13 July. Penza Governor Vasilii Bochkarev explained that if a couple produces one child, they will receive a 25 percent housing subsidy, while four children will mean they receive their house for free. According to the agency, the oblast has already ordered the construction of the first 100 homes under this program. In his recent state of the union message, President Putin pointed to the Russia's population decline as one of the country's most acute problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). In Penza Oblast, the number of births dipped 5 percent in 1999 compared with the previous year. JAC




ARMENIAN CHURCH IN ST. PETERSBURG RE-CONSECRATED

Catholicos Garegin II, the patriarch of All Armenians, presided over the re-opening and re-consecration of St. Catherine's Armenian Church in St. Petersburg on 11 and 12 July, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The church was closed after the 1917 October Revolution. The consecration of the altar and the main church took place on 11 and 12 July during two separate ceremonies in which Patriarch of All Russia and Moscow Aleksii II also participated. St. Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev and Armenian clergy from the diaspora also attended the ceremonies. Garegin II said the re-opening of the church will further strengthen the friendship between Russia and Armenia. LF

TURKISH PRESIDENT WRAPS UP VISIT TO AZERBAIJAN

Addressing the Azerbaijani parliament on 12 July, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said that Turkey will not endorse any plans for resolving the Karabakh conflict that are unacceptable to the people of Azerbaijan, AP reported. He also expressed interest in increasing Turkish investments in Azerbaijan providing the country's legislation is amended to facilitate such investment. Sezer also told parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov that while Turkey is prepared to import Azerbaijani gas from the Shah-Deniz Caspian deposit, it also intends to abide by an earlier agreement to purchase Turkmen gas to be exported via the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline. LF

KARABAKH LIBERATION ORGANIZATION ACCUSES AZERBAIJANI JUSTICE MINISTRY OF 'TREASON'

The Karabakh Liberation Organization founded early this year issued a statement on 11 July saying that the Justice Ministry's refusal to register the movement is a betrayal of Azerbaijan's national interests, "525 gazeti" reported. The Ministry had ruled that the organization's call for a new war to restore Azerbaijani jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh violates both Article 8 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, which defines the defense of the country's territorial integrity as the prerogative of the president, and the law on political parties, which bars those groups from propagating military activities. The organization's leader, Akif Nagiev, estimated membership in his organization in March at more than 10,000. LF

GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL REJECTS CORRUPTION FINDINGS

Djamlet Babilashvili on 12 July refused to open criminal proceedings against several senior officials whom the Control Chamber last week identified as responsible for misappropriations within the energy sector that led to chronic electricity shortages, Caucasus Press reported. Babilashvili said the findings of the chamber do not constitute adequate grounds for legal action. On 13 July, Mikhail Saakashvili, the parliamentary faction leader of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia, slammed Babilashvili's ruling, which he described as proof that "the prosecutor's office is part of the corrupt system we have declared war on." LF

GEORGIAN CUSTOMS OFFICERS INTERCEPT RADIO-ACTIVE CARGO

Georgian customs officers found a container containing radio- active caesium-137 on board a Romanian vessel chartered by Turkish Petroleum when the ship docked at Poti, Caucasus Press reported on 12 July. The ship's crew had no documentation for that cargo. President Eduard Shevardnadze is to issue a special decree obliging the owner of the cargo to remove it from Georgian territory. Caesium-137 causes irreparable damage to the human immune system. LF

GEORGIAN REBEL COLONEL'S COMRADES IN ARMS DETAINED, CHARGED

Three supporters of Colonel Akaki Eliava, who was shot dead by Georgian security officials on 9 July, have been detained for three months and will be charged with illegal possession of weapons, Caucasus Press reported on 12 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). The three men were traveling with Eilava when their car was intercepted by Georgian road police near Zestafoni on 9 July. LF

KAZAKH INTERIOR MINISTER DENIES RUSSIAN 'SEPARATISTS' ESCAPED

Kazakhstan Interior Ministry spokesman Argyn Ospanov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 12 July that there is no truth to a Russian press report that two of the men convicted last month by a court in East Kazakhstan Oblast on charges of separatism have escaped from a labor camp in Arqalyk, in northern Kazakhstan. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" had reported on 12 July that the two had escaped. Thirteen people received prison sentences ranging from four to 18 years on charges of plotting to overthrow the authorities in East Kazakhstan Oblast and declare the region a Russian Altai republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2000). Ospanov said that the East Kazakhstan Oblast Court has reduced by up to three years the sentences handed down by the Oskemen City Court to 10 of the accused. LF

COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCES ON FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER'S BODYGUARDS

After reviewing the court case against two former bodyguards of former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the Almaty City Court decided on 11 July not to revise the jail sentences of three-and-a-half years handed down to them in April for illegal weapons possession, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). Lawyers for the two men, who are members of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan which Kazehgeldin heads, said they will appeal the sentences before Kazakhstan's Supreme Court. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, special adviser on CIS affairs to the U.S. secretary of state, held talks in Bishkek on 12 July with Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev on bilateral relations and regional security, including the security of Kyrgyzstan's borders, Interfax reported. Sestanovich reportedly said that Washington considers it necessary to send U.S. observers to monitor the 29 October Kyrgyz presidential election. LF

TAJIKISTAN REGISTERS RISE IN FOREIGN TRADE

Tajikistan's foreign trade turnover for the first six months of 2000 amounted to $728.7 million, which is an increase of 17 percent or $103.2 million over the corresponding period in 1999, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 12 July. Exports for the first half of this year totaled $393.8 million, which is 31 percent more than in the first half of 1999. Aluminum accounted for more than half of all exports. Also on 12 July, Interfax quoted the head of investment policy at Tajikistan's Ministry of Economics and Foreign Economic Relations, Aleksei Kozlov, as predicting that foreign investment in Tajikistan will double over the period 2001-2005 to reach $170 million. LF




EU TELLS BELARUS TO GIVE OPPOSITION ACCESS TO STATE MEDIA

French Ambassador Bernard Fassier, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, told Belarusian officials on 12 July that the union will recognize the upcoming parliamentary elections in Belarus only if Minsk gives the opposition parties access to state media and expands the powers of the parliament, AP reported. Meanwhile, Interfax- Belarus reported, members of the Russian State Duma sent an appeal to Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka urging him to make the Belarusian vote democratic. PG

BELARUS'S GDP, INFLATION UP

GDP rose 4 percent in the first half of 2000 compared with the same period last year, Belapan reported on 12 July. But at the same time, consumer prices rose 45 percent during the first five months of 2000, the highest inflation rate among the countries of the CIS, Interfax-Belarus reported on the same day. PG

BELARUS HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS CONCERNED ABOUT MISSING ORT CAMERAMAN

Leaders of the Belarusian human rights community have expressed their "utmost concern" about the fate of Dmitrii Zavadskii, a Minsk-based ORT cameraman who has been missing since 7 July, Belapan reported on 12 July. In a joint statement, those groups noted that Zavadskii has become one of a growing number of people who have disappeared in Belarus, including opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. Meanwhile, the news agency reported, the acting minister of internal affairs, Mikhail Udovikau, met with Zavadskii's wife. He told her that the authorities are doing everything possible to find her husband. PG

KREMLIN SAID TO CONTROL BELARUS BETTER THAN ITS OWN REGIONS

Alyaksandr Patupa, the president of the Belarusian Association of Entrepreneurs, told Belapan on 11 July that the Russian government now exercises more control over Belarus than it does over many of its own provinces. "It is easier for Moscow to deal with Lukashenka than with Primore, Bashkortostan or Tatarstan, not to speak of Chechnya," he commented. PG

BERLIN TO BACK KYIV ON AID, DESPITE DISCORD OVER REACTORS

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 12 July that Berlin will support Ukraine in its efforts to obtain IMF assistance for its economic development. This indication of German backing came despite a disagreement on how Ukraine will replace the power- generating capacity of Chornobyl once that nuclear plant is shut down. Ukraine wants to build two additional nuclear power plants, while Germany insists that its money be used to fund other kinds of power-generating facilities. PG

UKRAINIAN ECONOMIC STATISTICS IMPROVE

Ukraine's GDP grew 5 percent in the first half of 2000 compared with the same period a year earlier, AP reported on 12 July. A rise in industrial production accounted for most of the growth, while agriculture continued to decline. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko announced that Kyiv has largely solved its energy crisis by eliminating barter arrangements and boosting cash collection, Reuters reported. PG

IFC PLANS TO BEGIN INVESTING IN UKRAINE

Peter Vojke, the president of the International Finance Corporation, told Ukrainian officials on 12 July that his group plans to begin investing in the Ukrainian economy, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He said that this decision reflects the conclusion of IFC officials that the present Ukrainian government is committed to reforms. PG

UKRAINE, RUSSIA CONTINUE TALKS ON SEA OF AZOV

The eighth round of bilateral negotiations on the status of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and also on the delimitation of the Black Sea began in Kerch on 12 July, ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides continue to disagree over the Sea of Azov, with Ukraine calling for its delimitation and Russia urging that it be jointly exploited. PG

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT TO SEEK NEW CONDITIONS TO NRG DEAL?

"Aripaev" on 12 July reported that the government may seek new concessions from the U.S. company NRG, which is to purchase a 49 percent stake in the country's main power plants. According to the business daily, those conditions would be related to the price of electricity supplies. But the Economics Ministry responded to that report the same day by saying the deal is not being renegotiated. Meanwhile, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported that a study by the British law firm Allan & Overy negatively assesses the NRG deal and suggests that the state's obligation to buy electricity for 15 years at a predetermined price violates EU norms. Finance Minister Siim Kallas had said earlier that the deal is expected to be concluded by 28 July, and he reminded the board members of the power utility Eesti Energiawho oppose the deal--that they work for the state. Three influential business associations, including the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are urging the government to back off from the deal. MH

LATVIAN PROSECUTORS CHIDE JOURNALISTS FOR FALSE REPORT

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 12 July publicly criticized the Russian-language "Chas" for falsely claiming massive sexual abuse of adopted Latvian children in Sweden, BNS reported. Prosecutors said that the article in question falsely attributed the accusation of sexual abuse in Sweden to the Children's Rights Protection Center of Riga, Janis Gulbis. Gulbis said he would not file suit against "Chas" since the newspaper has since printed a retraction of the story. The article quoted Gulbis as saying that 60 percent of children adopted from Latvia by Swedes are sexually abused, triggering a slew of inquiries to the Swedish authorities before the retraction appeared. MH

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VETOES CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION LAW

Valdas Adamkus on 12 July vetoed controversial amendments to the election law, saying it would be "misleading" to change the system three months before the scheduled October general elections. In his veto statement, Adamkus wrote, "The law means overhauling the election system just before parliamentary polls without broader discussions with the public or political organizations," ELTA reported. The amendments, passed by the Conservative-controlled parliament on 4 July, would have simplified the elections in the 71 single-mandate constituencies by eliminating the need for a second round: instead of requiring a run-off if no candidate obtains more than 50 percent of the vote, a first-past-the- post system would be used (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2000). Opposition parties criticized the amendments for their timing and for apparently unfairly benefiting the ruling Conservatives. MH

LITHUANIAN NAZIS DENIED REGISTRATION AGAIN

The Justice Ministry on 12 July refused to register the Lithuanian National Social Party. The party, led by Mindaugas Murza, is the successor organization of the Union of Lithuanian National Social Unity, which itself was denied registration nine times as a public organization. The Justice Ministry said that the party's statutes violate constitutional norms in areas such as equality and democracy; among other things, it cited the party's assertion of the superiority of the Lithuanian nation, BNS reported. This was the first time Murza had attempted to register the neo-Nazi party. MH

LEFT ALLIANCE BACKS POLAND'S EU MEMBERSHIP DRIVE

Leszek Miller, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, rejected reports that he and his group are not prepared to continue to support Warsaw's efforts to join the EU, AP reported. He said that his party, which currently leads in polls, will continue that policy even after the elections. Meanwhile, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel told officials in Warsaw that the EU could accept the first new members in 2005, two years later than Polish leaders hope for, Reuters reported. PG

POLAND, RUSSIA TO BEGIN PIPELINE TALKS

Polish Economics Minister Janusz Steinhoff told ITAR-TASS on 12 July that Warsaw and Moscow will begin talks "within days" on the construction of a second branch of the Yamal-Western Europe gas pipeline. Steinhoff added that the plan does not call for the new pipeline to run through Ukraine. PG

POLISH POLICE SMASH PROSTITUTION RING

Polish police announced on 12 July that they had broken up an international gang involved in trafficking in women and forced prostitution, dpa reported. Police spokesman Zbigniew Matwiej said that "Polish, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Ukrainian women were kidnapped, abused and forced into prostitution. He added that the gang had used brutal methods- -including the breaking of legs--to prevent the women from escaping. PG

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER REJECTS VERHEUGEN CRITICISM

Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus on 12 July said that members of the European Commission are "nervous" and "afraid to admit that they do not want the EU to expand," CTK reported, citing Czech Radio. Klaus was responding to Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen's statements the previous day that "speculation about a slowing down of the enlargement process is frustrating and destabilizing EU candidates" and that Klaus now "holds the view that it is not in the interest of candidates to join the EU as the organization now exists." Klaus said the statements attributed to him by Verheugen are "untrue." "If the European commissioners believe we should be passive and not voice our view, I shall reject that position," he commented. MS

CZECH DEPUTIES REJECT LIFTING PEERS' IMMUNITY

The Chamber of Deputies on 12 July rejected requests by the Prosecutor General's Office to lift the parliamentary immunity of former Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta and Christian Democratic Party deputy Ludmila Muellerova, CTK reported. Basta has been accused of abusing his position to obtain information on the privatization of a company headed by ODS deputy chairman Miroslav Macek. He denied the accusation. Muellerova was accused of tax evasion while manager of a company. She had earlier asked the chamber to lift her immunity so that she could prove her innocence but later said the indictment was based on "groundless allegations." MS

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 12 July wrongly attributed to ODS leader Vaclav Klaus a statement criticizing President Vaclav Havel's declaration that the use of force might be considered as a possible option in the ongoing Serbian- Montenegrin crisis. That statement was in fact made by Prime Minister Milos Zeman.

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

The government on 12 July approved a draft law amending the constitution, CTK reported, quoting Deputy Premier Lubomir Fogas. Under its provisions, EU technical norms can be introduced by government decree and, on gaining the approval of the parliament, EU legislation is to take priority over Slovak laws. The draft also provides for changes in the judicial system and sets up the office of ombudsman for the protection of human rights . Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) cabinet members did not back the draft, which fails to introduce some of the constitutional changes demanded by the SMK. The amendment will now be submitted to the parliament, where it needs the support of at least 90 out of the 150 deputies in order to pass. MS

MARTONYI SLAMS U.S. AMBASSADOR FOR LOBBYING

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi has accused U.S. Ambassador to Budapest Peter Tufo of promoting U.S. commercial interests by criticizing Hungary's plans to upgrade its current MiG-29 fighter jets, and by offering U.S.-built F-16 combat airplanes to replace their Soviet-era counterparts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 12 July 2000). Speaking to reporters in Lisbon on 12 July, Martonyi said " a commercial element is clearly involved" in Tufo's remarks. MSZ




G-8 MINISTERS SLAM MILOSEVIC'S CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

The foreign ministers of the U.S., U.K., Germany, Russia, France, Japan, Italy, and Canada issued a statement in Miyazaki, Japan, on 13 July ahead of the G-8 summit on Okinawa from 21- 23 July. The ministers expressed strong concern "about the motivation for and the possible consequences of the revision of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia constitution," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 11 July 2000). At the insistence of Russia's Igor Ivanov, who worked to tone down the language of an original Western draft, the statement did not mention Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by name. Germany's Joschka Fischer and France's Hubert Vedrine stressed that Ivanov and his delegation sought to play a constructive role and show that Russia wants to help prevent future Balkan conflicts. Fischer argued that the statement is "exclusively aimed at Milosevic. Whether you name him or not makes no difference." Ivanov, however, said that the problem in the Balkans "is not something that can be reduced to one question or one person." PM

DJUKANOVIC TO RUN FOR YUGOSLAV PRESIDENCY?

Alliance for Change leader Milan Protic said in Belgrade on 12 July that Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic would be the "best candidate" to oppose Milosevic in eventual direct elections for the Yugoslav presidency, "Danas" reported. The Social Democrats' Vuk Obradovic also proposed that the opposition select Djukanovic as its joint candidate, "Vesti" added. A spokesman for Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement said that the question of a Djukanovic candidacy will be on the agenda when Serbian opposition and Montenegrin leaders meet in Sveti Stefan on 14 July. PM

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT SACKS 16 JUDGES

The legislature voted on 12 July to fire 14 pro-opposition judges in Belgrade and two in Pozarevac, Reuters reported. Dragan Veselinov, who is a deputy for the Vojvodina-Sandzak coalition, said that the move is aimed at "turning judges into slaves, whose verdicts will now suit the regime." PM

SERBIAN JOURNALIST TO GO ON TRIAL

Officials of the military court in Nis said on 12 July that journalist Miroslav Filipovic will go on trial on 25 July for "spreading false news reports" and "espionage" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2000). PM

DID YUGOSLAV ARMY PLAN MONTENEGRIN COUP?

Federal army units in Montenegro went on a high state of alert during the recent emergency session of the Montenegrin parliament and were prepared to move against the Montenegrin authorities if they had called for an immediate referendum on independence, Montenafax news agency reported on 12 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). The independent news agency cited unnamed "important military circles" in Podgorica as its source. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. PM

KARADJORDJEVIC PRINCE DIES

Prince Tomislav Karadjordjevic died in Oplenac on 12 July after what his family described in a press release as a long and serious illness. He was the second son of King Aleksandar of Yugoslavia and the brother of King Petar II, who was Yugoslavia's last monarch. Tomislav was born in Yugoslavia in 1928 but spent most of his life in England, moving back to Serbia in 1991. Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, who is Tomislav's nephew and the claimant to the throne, plans to attend his uncle's funeral on 16 July, AP reported. Aleksandar holds a British passport and will require a Yugoslav visa from Milosevic's government to enter Serbia. PM

SERBIAN PRIEST WOUNDED IN DRIVE-BY SHOOTING

Unidentified gunmen shot and wounded Father Dragan Kojic and two seminary students near Kllokot on 12 July. U.S. peacekeepers found the three men by the side of a road and took them to Camp Bondsteel. They are in stable condition pending surgery, Reuters reported. Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration, said: "I am not only shocked but deeply depressed that today criminals choose religious men as their targets. It is totally unacceptable that this kind of revenge killing substitute itself for justice," he added. PM

MS. KARADZIC TAKES STOCK

Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, the wife of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, attended a meeting in Pale on 12 July to mark the 10th anniversary of her husband's founding of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). She stressed that his "work was not in vain because [Bosnian] Serbs have gotten their state," also known as the Republika Srpska, AP reported. "Serbs now live in relative peace, without fear that a great tragedy will happen to them again," she added. The SDS, she argued, "never had any war in its program...or any idea about ethnic enmity." Referring to her husband's indictment for war crimes, she argued that "everybody knows the attitude of the international community toward our party and my husband. It was not something that depended on us, but on the needs and aims of the international community regarding this region." She added that the SDS was "shaken" by SFOR troops' arrest of former party leader Momcilo Krajisnik in April. PM

RACAN APPEALS FOR CALM...

Speaking in Zagreb on 12 July, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan criticized speculation in the media and elsewhere on possible cabinet changes in the fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2000). He stressed that such reports are not helpful. He added that he will be glad to discuss the composition of the government with his coalition partner Drazen Budisa when Budisa returns to Zagreb, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The prime minister argued that he does not want a clash with Budisa. Racan stressed, however, that his Social Democrats will not yield to what he called pressure from its smaller coalition partners, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM

...AS DOES MESIC

"Jutarnji list" reported on 13 July that unnamed sources close to President Stipe Mesic say that he is concerned that the dissent within the governing coalition may damage Croatia's image abroad. Mesic reportedly believes that such publicity is particularly unhelpful at a time when Croatia has been steadily improving its reputation abroad and when the economically important tourist season is in full swing. Mesic hopes that the tensions can be put aside soon and without recourse to early elections, the Zagreb daily added. His aides say that he supports Racan and the prime minister's efforts aimed at promoting political stability. PM

NEW CROATIAN BANK CHIEF NAMED

The lower house of the parliament on 12 July approved the nomination of Zeljko Rohatinski as the governor of the Croatian National Bank, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

QUESTIONS RAISED OVER ROMANIAN LIBERAL-APR ALLIANCE...

Romanian Radio on 13 July described the meeting the previous day between the leaderships of the National Liberal Party (PNL)-Alliance for Romania (APR) as "a step backward." It said the two sides decided to ask their respective Standing Bureaus to reconsider whether an alliance or merger is feasible. The PNL National Conference on 15 July will take a final decision on the matter. Both Radio Bucharest and Mediafax reported that the APR continues to insist on the candidacy of its leader, Teodor Melescanu, and the PNL on that of former Premier Theodor Stolojan. But the news agency said they have agreed to run on a joint list and that the APR will later be "absorbed" by the PNL. Stolojan did not participate in the meeting but said earlier on 12 July that he is willing to join the PNL if a merger take place. He added that he does not insist on being the alliance's presidential candidate. MS

...WHILE RIGHTIST ALLIANCE MAKES PROGRESS

National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) leader Ion Diaconescu and the two co-chairmen of the Union of Rightist Forces, Adrian Iorgulescu and Varujan Vosganian, signed a joint declaration on 12 July confirming the intention of their parties to set up an alliance by 1 August, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They said they still hope the PNL will join the alliance and that former Premier Victor Ciorbea's National Christian Democratic Alliance and other "civic formations" will follow suit. They also agreed to back President Emil Constantinescu's candidacy for a second term and the candidate for premier that Constantinescu proposes. That candidate is incumbent Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu, with whom the PNTCD leadership met again on 12 July, assuring him that it backs his reform program. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT 'NOT RUSHING' TO PROMULGATE PARLIAMENTARY REPUBLIC

Petru Lucinschi on 12 July told journalists that the text of the law passed by the parliament on changing the semi-presidential system into a parliamentary one has reached him "only now" and that he will "not rush" into deciding whether to promulgate the law or veto it. He has two weeks to make that decision. Lucinschi pointed to the 10 July ruling by the Constitutional Court that his initiative for a legislative amendment enlarging the presidential powers is in line with the basic law's provisions. Lucinschi hinted that he may ask the parliament to approve a referendum on both his initiative and the law approved by the legislature. Presidential Counselor Mihai Petrache said Lucinschi will "almost certainly" veto the law, adding that Moldova is facing "a constitutional clash." MS

BULGARIA, GEORGIA TO COOPERATE IN MILITARY AFFAIRS

Defense Minister Boiko Noev on 11 July told his visiting Georgian counterpart, David Tevzadze, that he will propose to the government that it supply Georgia with military equipment that has been decommissioned, BTA reported. Noev told journalists that he has in mind two landing craft for the Georgian navy. He also said that "it is in Bulgaria's interest that Georgia develop a strong and stable statehood under the leadership of President [Eduard] Shevardnadze." The two armies' deputy chiefs of staff signed an agreement on cooperation between their respective Defense Ministries in 2000. Among other things, the agreement stipulates that Georgian forces will participate in military exercises in Bulgaria held within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program. MS




POWERLESS IN KYRGYZSTAN


By Eric McGlinchey

Kyrgyzstan is increasingly turning to authoritarian rule, but beneath its tough exterior, the country's government appears extremely fragile. Recent parliamentary elections, the OSCE concluded, were marred by a high degree of interference by state officials in the electoral process. And this abuse of power, the U.S. State Department notes, calls into question Kyrgyzstan's international commitments to democracy and respect for the rule of law. But as disturbing as this authoritarianism is, field research in the country's regions reveals something even more alarmingnamely, how dangerously weak and ephemeral President Askar Akaev's authoritarian rule may prove to be.

By giving his prosecutor-general and central election commission free rein to intimidate, de-register, and imprison independent-minded candidates, President Akaev undermined the Kyrgyz parliament both as an alternative branch of power and as a credible institution of representative rule. Moreover, Akaev has not demonstrated any ability to effect his desired alternative to representative democracy: coherent, centralized power. On the contrary, rudderless and sitting atop an ethnically and regionally divided society, Akaev's presidential administration has become the sick man of Central Asia.

Governments, even authoritarian ones, require legitimacy. By undermining the parliamentary elections, Akaev's government has lost whatever legitimacy it once had. Of course, legitimacy need not always be based on principles of representative democracy. Islam Karimov's regime in Uzbekistan, for example, employs a mix of militarism, nationalism, and state socialism to maintain centralized and often brutal power. Nursultan Nazarbaev's government in Kazakhstan, presiding over a rich natural resource base and the largest per capita foreign investment in the CIS, points to economic stability and a vision of spreading wealth as justification for its sometimes heavy-handed rule.

Akaev, however, can rely on neither Kazakhstan's natural resources nor Uzbekistan's ethnic homogeneity. And as recent protests in Bishkek and western Talas show, he can bully but not silence the increasingly restless population. Akaev appears not to understand that his power, propped up in the past decade by Western aid, stemmed from his image as Central Asia's only reformer. As that image dissolves, Akaev's government risks becoming a facade with few constructive links to society.

The cracks in Akaev's chain of command are already visible. Terrified that his field officers may seek to defend local interests rather than those of the top leadership, Akaev has attempted to maintain compliance through the constant rotation of oblast governors and raion akims. Over the past two years, turnover of appointed village and town administrative heads has averaged 80 percent, reaching 132 percent and 116 percent in Chui and Naryn Oblasts, respectively.

Frequent administrative reshuffling is not unique to Kyrgyzstan. What is unusual in the Kyrgyz case, however, is the state administration's inability to deliver. At best, the Kyrgyz parade of cadres is a local joke. Responding to the author's questions as to the whereabouts of the frequently absent state administrator to Karakol, one assistant asked "who knows?" while another smiled and added "who cares?"

At worst, the constantly changing face of local authority is disruptive to the fabric of local society, as freshly appointed local akims are often indifferent to the recent history of their new jurisdictions. The new Kyrgyz akim in the overwhelmingly Uzbek southern city of Uzgen, for example, initiated a street clean-up and thereby tapped the services of local Uzbek school children. In this way, he ignored the impact of such a move on the latent tensions that have existed between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan since the Osh riots 10 years ago in which at least 200 people died.

By most accounts, ethnic tensions have grown since 1998. Border controls between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have become increasingly draconian, making Uzbeks in souther Kyrgyzstan feel ever more isolated. Few people in southern Kyrgyzstan believe those ethnic tensions will subside any time soon. A 1998 Kyrgyz Institute of Regional Studies survey conducted among 1,000 respondents in the south of the country revealed that 45 percent of those interviewed in Osh and only 25 percent of respondents in Djalalabad believe interethnic relations will change for the better in the near future. Equally alarming, the study found that only a small number of local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz (11 percent each) believe the state administration has the ability to mediate ethnic conflict should it arise.

It is to Akaev's credit that his administration has carefully avoided exacerbating ethnic tensions. In contrast to the divisive nature of the country's worsening poverty and its low intensity border war with Uzbekistan, Akaev's clumsy authoritarianism seems to have given opposition leaders in the north and south a new sense of common cause.

In addition, now that the very system of representative government is at stake, the line between moderate and radical opposition in Kyrgyzstan is disappearing. Joint statements by leading opposition figures and parties, backed by sources as diverse as the Russian State Duma, the U.S. State Department, and the OSCE, have become the norm in the independent Kyrgyz press. And although this concern abroad may reflect complex international agendas, the concern in Kyrgyzstan is real and immediate. For the Kyrgyz, representative institutions offer the potential for peace in a divided society. Akaev may have forgotten this, but the Kyrgyz opposition, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Russians, north and south, have not. The author is a Ph.D. candidate in politics at Princeton University and an IREX research fellow currently in Central Asia.


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