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Newsline - July 17, 2000




BEREZOVSKII TO GIVE UP IMMUNITY?

Interfax reported on 17 July that Boris Berezovskii has announced he plans to resign as a deputy in the State Duma, a position that carries with it immunity from criminal prosecution. According to the agency, Berezovskii will resign to protest the "authoritarian" policies of the Russian central government. "I do not want to take part in the dismantling of Russia and the imposition of authoritarian rule," he said. The same day, Berezovskii testified for two hours to Prosecutor-General Office's chief investigator Nikolai Volkov over the Aeroflot case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 1999). According to the agency, Berezovskii is now a witness rather than a suspect in the case. In an interview with the "Financial Times" on 17 July, Berezovskii said that Kremlin is persecuting the rich, and he called for a general amnesty for those who committed economic crimes during the 1990s. JAC

CHUBAIS GIVEN ONE MONTH REPRIEVE

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin told reporters on 14 July that his agency will carry out an additional probe into how Unified Energy Systems (EES) sold its shares to foreigners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2000). Stepashin also rejected EES head Anatolii Chubais's charge that the Audit Chamber's recent objections were of a political rather than legal nature, declaring that "the Audit Chamber will not participate in political infighting." "Izvestiya" argued on 15 July that by deciding to extend its investigation, the chamber avoided either having to send materials to the Prosecutor-General's Office immediately or giving up on the matter entirely. And as a result, Chubais now has one month to gather documents and formulate legal arguments supporting his position. JAC

...AS HE SEEKS TO OVERTURN LAW CAPPING FOREIGN OWNERSHIP...

Chubais on 14 July sent a letter to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov requesting that he task the Justice Ministry with asking the Constitutional Court whether a 1997 law restricting the share of foreign shareholders in EES to 25 percent is in accordance with the constitution. Currently, foreign shareholders own some 33 percent of the company. JAC

...IMPATIENT FOR MEETING WITH PUTIN

When asked on 14 July about the prospect of a round-table meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Russian business leaders, Chubais said he regrets that more than a week would have to elapse before such a meeting could be held. According to Union of Rightist Forces faction leader Boris Nemtsov, the round table will be held after Putin returns to Moscow from the G-8 summit in Japan. "Segodnya" reported on 14 July that a preliminary list of invitees to the round table includes some 24 names, such as Berezovskii, former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, MDM- bank head Aleksandr Mamut, Alfa Group head Mikhail Fridman, Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii, Interros Group head Vladimir Potanin, LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov, and YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovskii. JAC

KREMLIN DENIES ACTIONS AGAINST OLIGARCHS STEM FROM DELIBERATE POLICY

Following earlier comments by another deputy chief of presidential staff, Vladislav Surkov, that it would be wrong to try to settle old scores (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2000), deputy chief of the presidential staff Dmitrii Kozak told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 July that past "violations in the sphere of privatization can and must be amnestied" since a comprehensive revision of the results of privatization could plunge the country into chaos. Kozak also rejected the assumption that recent criminal cases launched by the Office of the Prosecutor-General against some members of Russia's business elite are part of a "planned action" against the country's oligarchs. Presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov made a similar comment on 14 July, noting "there is no need to see some sort of policy in these proceedings" against Norilsk Nickel, EES, and LUKoil. "If there is no basis for the investigations, then pertinent measures should be taken against those who initiated them," he added. JAC

AIDE QUITS KREMLIN TO WORK MORE CLOSELY WITH BEREZOVSKII?

President Putin finally accepted the resignation of first deputy chief of the presidential administration Igor Shabdurasulov on 15 July. Shabdurasulov, who had first offered his resignation last March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000), told reporters that he had asked Putin to accept his resignation, citing disagreements on a number of recent Kremlin policies. In particular, he is critical of the Kremlin's relationship with party Unity, the arrest of Media- MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii, and President Putin's reforms of how the Russian Federation is administered, according to ITAR-TASS. Shabdurasulov, who was formerly the head of Russian Public Television, said he plans to launch a "new large media holding" and will hold talks with several companies in which Berezovskii holds significant stake, including Russian Public Television and TV-6, the newspapers "Nezavisimaya gazeta," "Kommersant-Daily," and "Novye izvestiya," the "Ogonek" magazine, and the radio station Nashe Radio. JAC

DEFENSE MINISTER, GENERAL STAFF CHIEF 'MINIMIZE' DIFFERENCES...

Following a three-hour meeting with President Putin and chief of General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin in Sochi on 16 July, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told journalists that the rift between himself and Kvashnin over the future of the Strategic Rocket Forces has been partly bridged. "We reduced the available options to those that minimized our differences, but there are still several possible variants," he said. He added that the three leaders had come to a "unified assessment" of the state of Russia's armed forces. This was the second meeting between the three in two days: Putin had summoned Sergeev and Kvashnin to the Kremlin on 15 July, one day after Sergeev slammed Kvashnin's proposal on the future of the rocket forces as a "psychotic attack." Kvashnin has suggested that those forces be brought under central command and downsized so that scarce funds can be channeled to the conventional forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 July 2000). JC

...WHILE PUTIN SAYS NO REORGANIZATION JUST YET

Shortly after Sergeev's outburst against Kvashnin on 14 July, Putin sought to smooth over the intensifying dispute between his two top military officials. There is no reorganization of the rocket forces yet but a "discussion between military specialists," the president commented. Such a "serious principal decision," he added, "cannot be taken within a closed circle but they cannot be debated in public [either]." Military analysts have suggested that Kvashnin enjoys the backing of the presidential administration and the Security Council. Meanwhile, Sergeev said on 16 July in Sochi that Putin has ordered an "objective assessment and clarification" of the state of the armed forces before a Security Council meeting scheduled for the end of this month. JC

PUTIN URGES SECURITY GUARANTEES FOR NORTH KOREA

In an interview with Japan's "Yomiuri Shimbun" newspaper and Kyodo news agency, Russian President Putin urged extending "real security guarantees" to North Korea so that Pyongyang's missile program would cease to be the "main means" of ensuring its national security, Reuters reported on 16 July. "We suggest that a settlement of the North Korean missile problem is possible within the realization of our idea of creating a global system of controlling the non-proliferation of missiles and missile techniques," Putin commented. According to Reuters, the Russian president welcomed North Korea's pledge not to carry out any more missile tests and praised talks between Pyongyang and Washington on the issue. Putin is scheduled to visit North Korea later this week, following a trip to China that begins on 18 July. JC

FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS TALL SHIP INCIDENT COULD FURTHER DAMAGE TIES WITH FRANCE

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow views the impounding of the Russian tall ship "Sedov" at the French port of Brest as "illegal" and causing "further serious damage to Russian-French" ties, Interfax reported on 14 July. At the request of the Swiss trading company Noga, which says the Russian government owes it $800 million (see RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000), French bailiffs seized the vessel on 13 July; a French court order ordered its release two days later but ruled that the "Sedov," billed as the largest tall ship in the world, must remain in French waters at least until 21 July, when another legal hearing is to take place. Some 115 youths are aboard the ship, which according to Reuters is owned by the Murmansk Technical University. The university has said it cannot be held accountable for the Russian government's alleged debts. French-Russian ties have cooled following Paris's sharp criticism of the Russian campaign in Chechnya. JC

BASAEV CLAIMS CHECHEN RESISTANCE TO RUSSIA INCREASING...

In a recent interview recorded with the independent Azerbaijani News Service television station, Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed that resistance to the Russian military in Chechnya is increasing and that his men will not capitulate, AP and Reuters reported on 14 July. "We won't stop fighting before we free the whole Caucasus," Reuters quoted Basaev as saying. Speaking in Moscow on 14 July, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said he is convinced that there is no future political role in Chechnya for Basaev, whom he characterized as "one of the most uncompromising field commanders" whose "neutralization" is "imperative." Yastrzhembskii also again ruled out any political talks with President Aslan Maskhadov or other Chechen field commanders, affirming that "the federal center believes that the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya must be brought to a conclusion." And Yastrzhembskii again excluded any international mediation in the Chechen conflict. LF

...AS CHECHEN OFFICIAL PREDICTS SURRENDER OF MORE FIELD COMMANDERS

Interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told Interfax on 14 July that 50 fighters currently in Chechnya's Vedeno gorge will surrender within the next few days and that relatives of field commander Turpal-ali Atgeriev have contacted him to discuss the conditions on which Atgeriev is prepared to surrender. Kadyrov said three other "middle-ranking" field commanders are waiting to see whether and on what conditions Atgeriev surrenders before deciding whether to do likewise. Kadyrov's deputy, Beslan Gantemirov, on 14 July declined to discuss rumors that he has reached an agreement with Atgeriev to guarantee the latter's security in the event that he lays down his arms. LF

NEW FIGHTING FLARES NEAR GROZNY

Russian military spokesmen on 17 July claimed to have killed 50 Chechen fighters the previous day in large-scale fighting at Novogroznenskii involving helicopter gunships, Reuters reported. On 15 July, a woman cook was killed and six Russian servicemen injured by four mines that wrecked a Russian military train north of Grozny. And on 16 July, police thwarted what they termed another attempt to assassinate Grozny Mayor Supyan Makhachev by laying a remote-controlled landmine on the road he travels to his office each day. Makhachev has already survived several assassination attempts. LF

UPPER, LOWER HOUSES FAIL TO FORGE COMPROMISE...

Members of the Conciliatory Commission, formed to consider amendments to the bill reforming the Federation Council, ended their deliberations on 14 July without reaching agreement. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 15 July that State Duma deputies will now try to override the Federation Council's earlier veto of that bill during a 19 July extraplenary session, ITAR-TASS reported. According to leader of the Russian Regions faction Oleg Morozov, a key stumbling block for the commission was Duma deputies' refusal to support an amendment giving regional leaders the right to recall their representatives to the new Federation Council. JAC

...AS DEPUTIES PREPARE TO OVERRIDE UPPER HOUSE'S VETO

Although Duma deputies characterized the commission's work as having ending in a "complete collapse," Federation Council deputy speaker Vladimir Platonov assessed the work of the commission more positively, noting that its members had agreed on 15 of 16 proffered amendments. However, according to deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Viktor Pokhmelkin, Duma statutes prohibit deputies from adopting any of the amendments since no final compromise was reached; therefore, he commented, "there is no choice but to return to the first draft." Unity faction leader Boris Gryzhlov suggested that President Putin may choose not to sign the law even if the Duma deputies override the veto. JAC

TOP ECONOMIC ADVISER RAISES CONCERNS ABOUT HIGHER RUBLE, INFLATION

Presidential envoy to the G-7 and economic adviser Illarianov told reporters on 14 July that the competitiveness of the Russian economy has been decreasing and the breathing space created by the devaluation of the ruble in 1998 may soon disappear, Interfax reported. A stronger ruble and an influx of foreign currency are eroding the competitiveness of Russian goods, according to Illarianov. He added that the economic situation in the country still looks "pretty good," with the resumption of growth in industrial production last month. However, he said, 2.6 percent inflation in June is "worrying" and was likely caused by regional authorities having postponed necessary price hikes until after elections. The same day, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Gordeev called for writing off some 70 billion rubles ($2.5 billion) in debts and rescheduling another 40 billion rubles owed by the agricultural sector to the state. JAC

FSB SAYS IT'S NOT SPYING ON YABLOKO

According to AP on 14 July, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Patrushev has sent a letter to Grigorii Yavlinskii denying that his agency is spying on the Yabloko head or has sought to recruit activists of the movement to do so. The FSB, he reportedly wrote, "firmly observes the principle that it is inadmissible to restrict the rights and freedoms of man and citizen, except in cases which are directly stipulated by law." Last month, two St. Petersburg students who have worked as activists for Yabloko said that the FSB tried to recruit them to spy on the movement. Shortly thereafter, Yavlinskii claimed that he himself was under FSB surveillance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 23 June 2000). JC

JOURNALIST DIES FOLLOWING ATTACK

Igor Domnikov, a reporter with "Novaya gazeta," died on 16 July after being hospitalized since 12 May following an attack outside his home by an unknown assailant armed with a hammer. The editor of "Novaya gazeta" told Ekho Moskvy earlier that an investigation had shown the beating was linked with Domnikov's "professional activities with 'Novaya gazeta.'" Some reporters had also suggested that it was a case of mistaken identity because another journalist from the same publication who resembled Domnikov and had been investigating corruption in the oil industry lived in the same building as Domnikov. JAC




ARMENIA, EU, IRAN DISCUSS ENERGY COOPERATION

Representatives of the EU have held talks in Yerevan with Armenian and visiting Iranian government officials on the EU's possible involvement in construction of the planned $120 million gas export pipeline from Iran to Armenia, Caucasus Press reported on 15 July. The Iranian delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli and Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Raagozar, also met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, IRNA and Armenpress reported. During those talks Adeli welcomed the recently adopted program Armenian government program to develop the country's southern Meghri region, which borders on Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2000). Markarian proposed construction of an oil pipeline from Iran to Armenia and of a refinery in Meghri. LF

THREE ARMENIAN SOLDIERS DESERT, KILL EIGHT

Three Armenian servicemen who deserted from their unit in Vardenis Raion in south-eastern Armenia on 13 July killed a total of eight people, including two police officers and a child, in two separate incidents later that day, Interfax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. One of the three soldiers was wounded in the second shootout and was taken into custody on 13 July; the other two other were apprehended on 17 July. "Hayots ashkharh" reported on 15 July that shortly before, one of the three servicemen had been court-martialed for insulting his commanding officer. Prime Minister Markarian has expressed his condolences to the families of the eight people killed, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS CASPIAN

A Russian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister and presidential envoy for the Caspian Viktor Kalyuzhnyi met behind close doors in Baku on 13 July with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev to discuss expediting an agreement between the five Caspian littoral states on the status of that sea, Turan and ITAR- TASS reported. Aliyev said he believes disagreements on that issue can be resolved. Kalyuzhnyi also proposed creating a "strategic and economic center" to address Caspian-related problems, including ecological problems and commercial shipping. Meeting the following day with Natik Aliev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, Kalyuzhnyi proposed that the Caspian littoral states agree to jointly develop oil and gas deposits whose ownership is disputed, including the Kyapaz (Serdar) field, to which both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan lay claim, according to Turan. Kalyuzhnyi said ownership of four fields is disputed between Russia and Kazakhstan but that he does not consider Turkmenistan's claim to part of the Azerbaijani and Chirag oil fields valid. LF

GEORGIA, U.S. DISCUSS CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN MILITARY BASES

During talks in Tbilisi on 14 July with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili, Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, who is adviser on the CIS to the U.S. secretary of state, again said that the U.S. is prepared to meet part of the financial cost of the closure of Russia's military bases in Georgia, Russian agencies reported. A third round of Russian-Georgian talks on the timetable and conditions of the closure of those bases begins in Moscow on 29 July. Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze said last week that Tbilisi will reject Moscow's proposal made last month that its base in Gudauta be transformed into a support center for the CIS peacekeeping troops currently deployed in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2000). Under an agreement signed last November, Moscow is to vacate that base by 1 July 2001. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, ADVISER APPEAR AT ODDS OVER ABKHAZ PROTOCOL...

In his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 17 July, President Shevardnadze expressed approval of the joint protocol signed in Sukhum on 11 July by Abkhaz and Georgian government representatives, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2000). Shevardnadze termed that document a step toward establishing "normal relations" with the Abkhaz side. But Interfax on 14 July quoted Shevardnadze's adviser on international legal issues, Levan Aleksidze, as complaining that the protocol was hastily prepared and not adequately reviewed by the Georgian side and consequently contains formulations that have angered Georgians. Specifically Aleksidze condemned the pledge by both sides to take legal proceedings against persons calling for the use of force to resolve the conflict, pointing out that this could be applied to persons calling for military intervention in Abkhazia by the international community. LF

...WHILE LEADER OF GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS REJECTS THAT DOCUMENT

Also on 14 July, Tamaz Nadareishvili, who is chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, told Iprinda that the parliament will suspend cooperation with the Georgian leadership unless the latter abjures the 11 July protocol. Nadareishvili said the leadership of the parliament and government in exile is demanding a meeting with Shevardnadze and Zhvania to discuss that document (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 28, 14 July 2000). LF

GEORGIA SEEKS TO CO-OPT AUTHOR OF POLAND'S 'SHOCK THERAPY'

Georgian presidential adviser for economic reform Temur Basilia told Caucasus Press on 15 July that on Shevardnadze's initiative an economic council will be established and headed by Polish economist Leszek Balcerowicz, who oversaw Poland's successful transition to a market economy. The World Bank is conducting talks with Balcerowicz on that issue, Basilia said. Shevardnadze in his 17 July radio broadcast said that the proposal that Tbilisi engage Balcerowicz's services originated in the U.S., which will cover all expenses involved, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ITALIAN POLICE RELEASE KAZAKHSTAN'S EX-PREMIER

Akezhan Kazhegeldin returned from Rome to London on 14 July after the Italian Ministry of Justice ruled there were no grounds for his further detention, Reuters reported. Kazhegeldin had been detained on his arrival in Rome two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2000). The 'Wall Street Journal" on 17 July quoted an unnamed Italian government official as saying that the Italian authorities had realized that the Kazakh government's request for Kazhegeldin's arrest may have been politically motivated. Kazhegeldin's lawyer Charles Both accused Astana of abusing the Interpol system in the hope of preventing Kazhegeldin's cooperation with an ongoing U.S. investigation into possible financial irregularities by top Kazakh officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Kazhegeldin's successor as premier Nurlan Balghymbaev. The Kazakhstan Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 17 July, however, that Astana played no part in Kazhegeldin's detention by the Italian authorities. LF

BOMB KILLS ONE IN TAJIK CAPITAL

One person was killed and four people injured, including three children, when a jeep belonging to the EU's humanitarian mission exploded in Dushanbe on 16 July, Russian agencies reported. A bomb that exploded during the night of 12-13 July in a building adjacent to the Dushanbe police headquarters caused major damage but no injuries, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 July. President Imomali Rakhmonov convened a meeting of senior law enforcement officials on 13 July to discuss the crime situation, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF




BELARUS TO ASK INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS TO MONITOR ELECTIONS

Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna announced on 14 July that Belarus will invite international observers to monitor the parliamentary elections scheduled for 15 October, Belapan reported. Yarmoshyna said "we are absolutely sure that international observers will come, at least from CIS countries." The OSCE is expected to make a decision on observers to the Belarusian elections next month. Last week the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly passed a resolution urging the government to begin "real" talks with the opposition on holding democratic elections, instead of continuing with the government-sponsored "socioeconomic" dialogue. JM

BELARUSIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO STICK TO TOUGH MONETARY POLICY

Uladzimir Yarmoshyn said on 14 July that the government is not going to print unsecured money because of the difficult financial situation in the country, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported. Yarmoshyn added that Belarus has been carrying a tough monetary policy over the past six months and managed to narrow the gap between the street and official exchange rates of the Belarusian rubles. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MAKES NEW APPOINTMENTS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Mikhail Dzyamchuk as deputy prime minister in charge of science, education, and health care, Belarusian Television reported on 14 July. "I need a man...who has lived through the time of confusion, chaos, and disintegration, when he did not know where he had to go and to whom he had to report," Lukashenka commented on Dzyamchuk's nomination. He also appointed Vadzim Papou as agricultural minister and Uladzimir Tsalko as head of the Committee for Dealing with the Aftermath of Chornobyl. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER REPORTS ON CABINET ACHIEVEMENTS TO PARLIAMENT

Viktor Yushchenko told the parliament on 15 July that the country's GDP grew by 5 percent in the first half of 2000, compared with the same period last year. He added that budget revenues increased by 10.5 percent during the first six months of 2000 and that almost all of it was collected in cash instead of through barter or offsets. Yushchenko noted that this year's growth has enabled the government to pay off debts to pensioners and cut back on unpaid wages to government workers, while the real income of the population increased by 11.8 percent. Yushchenko said there is no immediate threat of a new financial crisis although inflation is on the rise: 1.7 percent in April, 2.1 percent in May, and 3.7 percent in June. It is expected to total 18.7 percent by the end of the year. JM

UKRAINE HAS NEW FUEL AND ENERGY MINISTER

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has appointed Serhiy Yermilov as fuel and energy minister, Interfax reported on 13 July. Yermilov commented after his nomination that his aim is to stabilize energy supplies to Ukraine and modernize the fuel and energy sector. Yermilov replaced Serhiy Tulub, who resigned last month over disputes with Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko on how to reform the troubled fuel and energy sector. Kuchma also appointed Vadym Kopylov as Yermilov's deputy and head of the state-run Naftohaz Ukrayiny. JM

MORE NEGOTIATIONS ON ESTONIAN POWER PLANT DEAL

The fate of the deal to sell a 49 percent stake of Estonia's main power plants to U.S. company NRG Energy remains uncertain as the two negotiating sides failed to agree on supplementary terms and as opposition to the deal grows. Talks between the two sides over an "unforeseen obstacle" failed to solve that problem on 13 July, and further sessions have been postponed so that NRG can review all the supplementary issues, BNS reported. Recently, the government made assurances that no new conditions will be imposed on NRG (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2000). Although trade unions recently began to oppose the deal, Social Minister Eiki Nestor repeated that "the social conditions of the NRG deal are a very strong reason to approve the contract," noting the job guarantees and investment conditions included in the agreement, ETA added. MH

OTTAWA UPSET BY ESTONIAN PRESIDENT'S REMARKS

The Canadian government has filed an official protest with the Estonian Foreign Ministry over the contents of a speech by President Lennart Meri at Toronto's ESTO festival on 10 July, "Postimees" reported on 17 July. In his speech, which was posted in English on his website but subsequently removed, Meri criticized Canada for failing to support Estonia more actively in its pursuit of NATO membership and for failing to expand trade with that Baltic country. The Estonian president called on Estonian Canadians to put pressure on the Canadian government to change its policies. In other comments, Meri criticized Canadian immigration officials for restricting the number of Estonians who could attend the ESTO festival. MH

LATVIAN-AUSTRALIAN EXTRADITION TREATY SIGNED

Latvian Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka and Australian Ambassador Stephen Brady signed a bilateral extradition treaty on 14 July, LETA reported. Discussion over the document was expedited owing to the case of Australian subject Konrads Kalejs, who is accused of war crimes during World War II in Latvia. The Latvian government approved the treaty on 11 July, but that document still requires ratification by the parliament. Brady emphasized that the Australian government will cooperate with Latvia on the prosecution of all war criminals and that the government will do all it can to put the treaty into practice soon. Latvian prosecutors say they will make a decision about charging and requesting extradition for Kalejs in the very near future. MH

POLISH PARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL MASS PRIVATIZATION BILL

The Sejm on 14 July voted 222 to 213 with two abstentions to approve the so-called enfranchisement bill, which stipulates that every Polish adult receive a share of state assets. In particular, tenants of municipal or cooperative flats will be granted full or part ownership rights to their homes. Others will receive coupons in special funds managing some shares in companies undergoing privatization. The ruling Solidarity Electoral Action sees the enfranchisement bill as an act of historical justice for those who have not benefited from former legislative provisions granting shares free of charge to workers of privatized companies. The post-communist Democratic Left Alliance and the liberal Freedom Union (UW) opposed the bill, saying the bill will have a negative impact on public finances. "Today's decision is a triumph of populism and a disaster for society," UW leader Leszek Balcerowicz commented. JM

POLAND'S COMMUNIST-ERA SECRET FILES TO BE OPENED IN 2001

Leon Kieres, head of the National Remembrance Institute, told PAP on 15 July that in the second half of 2001, secret files of the communist-era security services will be open to people who were wronged by those services. Kieres said while the institute was formally opened on 30 June, it will take time to set up and organize the work of the institute's 49 regional branches. The institute is made up of three sections: the Main Commission for Prosecuting Crimes against the Polish Nation, the Public Education Office, and the Archives and Files Office, which will grant access to secret files. Kieres estimates that the institute may employ up to 1,500 people. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

President Vaclav Havel has appealed to the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the recently passed amendment to the electoral law, CTK and AP reported on 15 July, citing presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek. Havel, whose veto of the legislation was overruled by the Chamber of Deputies last week, wants the court to establish whether increasing the number of electoral districts from eight to 35 and the introduction of a new threshold for coalitions of parties violate the constitutional principle of proportional representation based on free competition. Prime Minister Milos Zeman told reporters that he "respects" Havel's right to appeal to the court but does not believe the amendment infringes on the basic law. Christian Democratic Party leader Jan Kasal and Freedom Union spokesman Patrik Nacher welcomed Havel's decision to appeal against the amended legislation. MS

CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL NATIONAL BANK LAW

The Chamber of Deputies on 14 July voted 121 to 32 with 19 abstentions to approve amendments to the National Bank Law that would curtail the bank's independence vis-a-vis the government, CTK and AP reported. Under the amended legislation, the bank must consult with the cabinet about its policies. In addition, its budget would come under parliamentary control and the cabinet would have the right to appoint new members of the bank's board a right that until now has been a presidential prerogative. The bank must also present at least semi-annual reports to the legislature. The law was drafted by the opposition Civic Democratic Party and passed with the support of the ruling Social Democratic Party. The Senate has yet to approve the bill. MS

SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER TO STAY IN GOVERNMENT

Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova told journalists on 15 July that "for now" she will not resign from the cabinet, Reuters and CTK reported. She spoke after a meeting of the Party of Democratic Left's (SDL) National Committee, which endorsed her continued membership in the government. Schmognerova and SDL leader Jozef Migas have blamed each other for the drop in the SDL's popularity, and rumors about Schmognerova's alleged imminent resignation caused the Slovak crown to fall against the dollar. Migas said nobody in the SDL leadership questions Schmognerova's qualifications. Schmognerova is regarded as one of the main reformers in the cabinet. MS

SLOVAK POLITICAL PARTIES TO MERGE

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and Democratic Party leader Lubomir Harach on 14 July signed an agreement whereby the Democratic Party will be merged into Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, AP reported. The agreement must be validated by an extraordinary congress of the Democrats scheduled for 26 August. Dzurinda said he will now concentrate on bringing about a similar merger with the Christian Democratic Movement, whose former leader, Jan Carnogursky, has resigned as party leader. Carnogursky is an opponent of Dzurinda. Also on 14 July, Dzurinda briefly visited in Innsbruck President Rudolf Schuster, who doctors say is continuing to make a good recovery. MS




MONTENEGRIN RULING PARTY ACCEPTS OPPOSITION OFFER OF TALKS

Svetozar Marovic, who is the speaker of the Montenegrin parliament and a member of the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS), said in Podgorica on 15 July his party accepts an opposition offer of talks on the republic's political future (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 July 2000). "If they really want talks, we'll talk.... We [propose] that the talks start as early as next week," the private Beta news agency reported. Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic added that it is "exceptionally important" that his DPS enter talks soon with the Socialist People's Party (SNP), which is loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and with the pro- independence Liberal Alliance, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 16 July. SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic said that "everyone who wants the best for Montenegro" should welcome Marovic's statement. PM

SLOVENIA PRESENTS MONTENEGRIN RESOLUTION TO UN

Slovenian diplomats, acting on behalf of Montenegro, presented the Security Council on 14 July with a copy of the Montenegrin parliament's resolution rejecting Milosevic's recent constitutional changes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). Samuel Zbogar, who is Slovenia's deputy ambassador to the UN, wrote the council that his government considers the Montenegrin decision to be of "great importance, adopted in the crucial moments for the future of the Republic of Montenegro, as well as for the future of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," AP reported. PM

NO BIG NEWS FROM SVETI STEFAN MEETING

Leaders of the Montenegrin government and Serbian opposition ended a one-day meeting in the resort town of Sveti Stefan on 14 June by issuing a "mildly-worded joint statement" that pledged themselves to further talks but to little else, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2000). That same day, army commanders headed by Chief-of-Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic met in Podgorica to "assess the level of combat readiness and give instructions for concrete tasks in the coming period," Tanjug reported but did not elaborate. PM

EU PROMOTES CITY-TO-CITY COOPERATION

Javier Solana, who is the EU's chief spokesman for foreign and security policy, is slated to host a group of mayors from EU countries and from Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova on 17 July. He recently wrote EU mayors that the advent of "local elections in Serbia and in Kosovo in the autumn makes it even more urgent to consider how to step up cooperation with local cities and districts," Reuters reported. The Serbian mayors are from the opposition- run towns of Nis, Novi Sad, and Pancevo. The Kosova towns of Leposaviq, Gjilan, and Suhareka are also represented by their mayors, as is Podgorica. On the EU side are the mayors of Athens, Dortmund, Barcelona, Lille, Bologna, Konstanz, and the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. PM

LARGE TURNOUT FOR KARADJORDJEVIC FUNERAL

More than 3,000 people attended the funeral of Prince Tomislav Karadjordjevic in Oplenac, Serbia, on 16 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2000). Crown Prince Aleksandar led the mourners from the royal family. Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle and Bishop Sava of Sumadija officiated. Mourners came from many places in the former Yugoslavia and from abroad. Among the political personalities present was former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who called Tomislav a great friend and supporter of the Bosnian Serbs, "Vesti" reported. Known among his admirers as "the prince with a big heart," Tomislav was active in numerous charitable activities after returning from England to Serbia in 1991. Muslims and Croats in Bosnia tend to regard him as a Serbian nationalist. PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS REPORT GROWING TENSIONS

The Party for Democratic Action, whose leaders include Mayor Riza Halimi, said in a statement on 16 July that "the latest explosions [near Serbian military or government facilities] have been followed by rising political tensions and aggravation of citizens' security...mass searches of apartments and detentions of [ethnic] Albanians," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2000). The statement added that "a state of emergency is gradually being introduced in the area without being formally declared." It is clear that tensions are on the rise in southwestern Serbia, but reliable information on developments in the region is often difficult to come by. PM

VOTING REGISTRATION EXTENDED IN KOSOVA AMID DIFFICULTIES

An unspecified number of Belgian peacekeepers evacuated a group of OSCE election registrars from the mainly Serb town of Leposaviq in northern Kosova on 16 July. The troops intervened after receiving reports that some 40 hard-line Serbs were en route to Leposaviq from Mitrovica to disrupt the voting registration. On 14 July, Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, extended the registration deadline from 15 to 19 July to enable potential voters, including a group of Serbs in Leposaviq, to register for the fall local elections. On 15 July, the moderate Gracanica-based Serbian National Council said in a statement that it urges Serbs to end their boycott of the elections and take part in them where sufficient security is assured, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH BLOWN UP

On 16 July, an explosion involving 30 kilograms of unidentified explosive materials destroyed the medieval Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah near Fushe Kosova. The building had been extensively damaged during the 1999 conflict and was not guarded by NATO troops. KFOR is investigating, AP reported. PM

KOSOVAR ALBANIANS BLOCK HIGHWAY

A wedding party of ethnic Albanians blocked the Prishtina-Prizren road near the capital on 16 July after Swedish peacekeepers refused to let them fly the Albanian flag from their car, as is the local custom. The Swedes argued that displaying the flag would cause undue tensions in the Serbian village of Caglavica along the route. The Albanians responded that they fought for their flag in the 1999 conflict and demanded that KFOR assert its authority in all Serb-populated areas in the province. In the end, the Swedes returned the confiscated flag to the Albanians, AP reported. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS DEMONSTRATE FOR UNIVERSITY

Some 2,000 people demonstrated in Skopje on 15 July to demand that the underground Albanian-language university in Tetovo be transformed into a full-fledged state institution. They reject a compromise proposal from the OSCE aimed at making the university a recognized but private establishment (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report" 28 April 2000). The parliament is slated to vote on the OSCE proposal on 18 July, AP reported. The Tetovo university question is one of the most acrimonious in Macedonian politics. PM

BALKAN AGREEMENT IN OHRID

The interior ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia agreed on unspecified joint measures to combat organized crime, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 16 July. The Macedonian and Albanian ministers also signed an agreement on preventing illegal traffic and migration across their common border. The Macedonian and Bulgarian ministers signed a similar pact in June. PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT REAFFIRMS PROPERTY RIGHTS

In a long- awaited move, the parliament on 14 July confirmed the right of all citizens to the property they owned before the 1991- 1995 war. In cases where a citizen is unable to re-acquire a former home or property, the government will provide assistance to enable them to obtain something similar, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN PARTY KEEPS JELAVIC

Meeting in Sarajevo on 15 July, delegates to the party congress of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of Bosnia-Herzegovina re-elected hard-line chairman Ante Jelavic. He stressed that the HDZ is a "modern, centrist" party. Spokesman Zoran Tomic told Reuters that the HDZ's newly-adopted statute "formally and legally" made the party independent of its Croatian counterpart. The delegates did not elect the party's leading reformer, Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, to one of the five deputy positions. Prlic told reporters: "My political concept has not received a majority of votes, so now I will think about my future political engagement," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2000). He told "Dnevni avaz" of 17 July that the HDZ "has closed the door to democratic change." Prlic added that he will make his future political plans known "in a few days." PM

ROMANIAN MINISTER SLAMS HUNGARIAN PRESS

Romanian Environmental Minister Romica Tomescu said the Hungarian press misinformed the public when it claimed that the Aurul mining company, which caused the cyanide spill into Tisza River in January, resumed its operations with the approval of the authorities, Hungarian media reported on 15 July. Tomescu said that a trial run is under way at the mine and that all parties, including the Hungarian authorities, had been informed about it (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2000). In other news, lawyers representing two small business owners in Hungary's tourism industry have filed a lawsuit against Aurul, seeking compensation for loss of income due to the decrease in tourism along the Tisza. MSZ

ALLIANCE FOR ROMANIA REMAINS AMBIVALENT ON ELECTORAL PACT...

The National Council of the Alliance for Romania (APR) on 14 July named APR leader Teodor Melescanu as the party's candidate in the fall presidential elections and said talks with the national Liberal Party (PNL) on setting up "a new political structure" will continue. The APR says its main condition for the continuation of the discussions with the PNL is support for Melescanu as president and Stolojan as premier. Negotiations with the PNL are to continue throughout August and a decision is to be taken by the National Convention in September, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Meanwhile, preparations for running on separate lists are to continue, and Melescanu said talks will begin on a post- electoral coalition with the Party of Social Democracy in Romania and with the Democratic Party. MS

...WHILE LIBERALS ARE EMBROILED IN CONFLICT

Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes on 15 July tendered his resignation in protest against the PNL's decision to continue negotiations with the APR. PNL National Council Chairman Nicolae Manolescu also resigned from the party, and the PNL's decision was criticized by many other prominent PNL council members. The resignations followed the PNL National Council's decision of the same day to continue talks with the APR and postpone deciding on the alliance's future until 18 August, when an extraordinary PNL congress is to be convened. This decision was virtually forced on the council by PNL First Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica, who one day earlier had received an endorsement from 39 out of the 46 local branches chairmen to continue the talks and convene an extraordinary congress. MS

ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY SAYS PNL SHOULD QUIT GOVERNMENT

National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) First Deputy Chairman Ioan Muresan said on 16 July that the PNL cannot remain in government and hold talks with the opposition at the same time. He added that it would be "normal" for the PNL to withdraw from the cabinet. On 14 July PNTCD Chairman Ion Diaconescu accused the PNL of "duplicity" and said running on joint lists is no longer possible, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations the PNL is conducting with other formations. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT TO POSTPONE RATIFYING MOLDOVAN TREATY?

Romanian parliamentary deputy Mihai Dorin told journalists in Chisinau on 14 July that the Romanian parliament will postpone ratifying the basic treaty with Moldova. The treaty was initialed by the two countries' foreign ministers in Chisinau in late April. Dorin, a PNTCD member, said the Romanian parliamentary deputies are now primarily preoccupied with the fall election campaign. Deputy Petru Bejenaru, a member of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said his formation has "doubts" whether the treaty will be approved and objects in particular to the compromise formulation mentioning "a common language" instead of "the Romanian language." Bejenaru also said the PDSR is opposed to the failure to mention in the treaty the 1939 Ribbentrop- Molotov pact, Romanian radio reported. MS




'OFFICIAL' RELIGION AND 'UNOFFICIAL' FAITH


by Paul Goble

An official at Turkmenistan's Council for Religious Affairs has acknowledged that his government agency controls the selection, promotion, and dismissal of all Sunni Muslim mullahs and Russian Orthodox clergy in that republic.

Last week, Mered Chariyarov, a longtime official at the Turkmenistan Council, told a representative of the Keston Institute, an Oxford-based religious rights watchdog organization, that his state body has registered only Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity and actively controls the assignment of Muslim mullahs and Christian priests and hierarchs.

That policy leaves Turkmenistan in violation of the principles of the OSCE. Indeed, it could become the basis for Ashgabat's expulsion from that organization. But what is more significant, it also threatens to recreate the Soviet-era division between tightly controlled "official" Churches and often radicalized "unofficial" religious activities.

The re-emergence of such underground religious groups, particularly among Muslims who had significant experience with them in Soviet times, could contribute to the rise of precisely the kind of fundamentalist challenge to political stability in Central Asia that both regional leaders and many outside powers say they most fear.

As was the case during the Soviet period, both the requirement for registration and the ability to assign religious leaders appear to give the government enormous power over those believers who do register: the regime is allowed to pressure religious leaders into cooperating with the state by informing on their congregations or even to place secret police agents in place of genuinely religious people.

But this Soviet approach also had the effect of depriving the mullahs and Christian clergy who participated in such "official" Churches of their authority and of driving many of the religious leaders and their followers underground into "unofficial" congregations far beyond the control of the state and often in clear opposition to it.

For no other faith was that trend greater than Islam. On the one hand, Islam does not have a clergy as such. Any believer who can read the Koran can serve as a leader. And on the other, the communist authorities were contemptuous of Islam, an attitude that appears to have made them particularly clumsy in promoting their own "official" version.

Indeed, across Central Asia, followers of what was sometimes called "underground" or the "non-state" version of Islam simultaneously subverted efforts by the Communist Party authorities to maintain control and provided a popular foundation for the small, pro- independence parties that emerged at the end of the Soviet period.

With the collapse of Soviet power, many expected that this system of official registration and government intervention in the lives of religious groups would end. Some thought that an end to government interference would be a hallmark of the expected democratic transformations of their countries. Many others had that expectation because they believed the authorities would recognize how counterproductive such involvement was.

But nowhere has the state entirely withdrawn from its involvement with religion. Virtually all post-Soviet governments have retained the Soviet practice of requiring religious groups to register with the authorities in order to operate legally, and most have kept the Soviet-style councils for religious affairs to monitor the situation often, as in Turkmenistan, with the same officials in the same positions.

Until now, however, none of these regimes has admitted to using these councils to control the assignment of religious leaders. It is possible that Turkmenistan is the only one that is now doing so, but both the existence of similar councils in other post- Soviet states and the continuity in structures and personnel in these bodies in many of them suggest that the Turkmenistan admission indicates a far larger problem.

Nowhere is this problem likely to be greater than across the predominantly Islamic countries of Central Asia. To the extent that governments there are following Ashgabat's lead, they seem certain to produce precisely what they say they most fear: a religious population increasingly alienated from governments that appear, as did the Soviet regime until the very end, far more powerful and stable than they in fact are.


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