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Newsline - July 21, 2000




MANILOV LINKS UPSURGE IN CHECHEN ATTACKS TO OKINAWA SUMMIT...

First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov told journalists in Moscow on 20 July that the recent increase in Chechen fighters' attacks on Russian targets is an attempt to embarrass Russia on the eve of the G-8 Okinawa summit, Interfax reported. He predicted a swift end to the confrontation in Chechnya between interim administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Kadyrov's deputy Beslan Gantemirov, characterizing the disagreement between the two men as "a misunderstanding that arose on a moral- psychological rather than political level" (see "End Note" below). Manilov also said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov "has intensified his threats" of reprisals against those Chechens who participate in efforts to restore peace to the republic. He added that the concept of conducting peace talks with the Chechen president "is dead on arrival." LF

...AS CHECHEN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS

Maskhadov, for his part, has addressed a statement to the world's seven leading industrial states, which are taking part in the Okinawa summit, urging them to pressure Russia to accept a Chechen peace plan that would end the war in Chechnya, dpa reported on 20 July. That plan envisages an immediate cease-fire that would be monitored by national and international observers. Maskhadov gave the total number of Chechen civilians killed since the Russian intervention on 30 September 1999 as more than 40,000. He warned that the longer the war continues, the greater the danger it will spill over into Georgia and Azerbaijan. LF

KADYROV SUPPORTERS RALLY IN GUDERMES

Some 1,000 Kadyrov supporters congregated "spontaneously" outside the interim administration head's headquarters in Gudermes on 20 July to condemn the "destabilizing" actions of Beslan Gantemirov, Russian agencies reported. But Grozny Mayor Supyan Makhchaev, who is a relative and supporter of Gantemirov, told Interfax on 20 July that the four Grozny district officials whose dismissal by Kadyrov on 17 July precipitated the standoff with Gantemirov will continue to discharge their duties. Makhchaev said that only the presidential representative in South Russia, Colonel General Viktor Kazantsev, or Kazantsev's deputy, Lieutenant General Vladimir Bokovikov, has the authority to fire those officials. Makhchaev described Kadyrov's personnel policy as a dangerous attempt to reappoint Maskhadov supporters to positions of authority. LF

PUTIN TO SHARE IMPRESSIONS OF PYONGYANG AT G-8 SUMMIT...

President Putin arrived in Okinawa, Japan, on 21 July for the G-8 summit and bilateral meetings with U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. ITAR-TASS speculated that Western leaders will show much interest in the results of Putin's recent visit to China and North Korea, "especially in view of the fact that none of them has ever visited Pyongyang." Speaking in Blagoveshchensk, Amur Oblast, on 20 July, Putin described North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as an "absolutely modern man [who] objectively assesses the world situation," ITAR-TASS reported. Putin held talks with Kim the previous day in Pyongyang (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000). The North Korean leader was "well-informed" and had a "good response to [our] talks," Putin said, noting that "discussion was possible on any subject" and that they "found common ground" on most topics. JAC/JC

...AS PRIME MINISTER WILL RAISE ISSUE OF DEBT FORGIVNESS

Addressing reporters on 20 July, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov echoed President Putin's call for upgrading Russia's participation in the G-8 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2000). Kasyanov explained that the financial crisis that hit Russia in August 1998 "slowed down" Russia's integration into the group but now positive trends are apparent in the Russian economy. He added that Russia will raise the issue of its membership in the World Trade Organization at the G-8 summit as well as the issue of forgiveness for Russia's Soviet-era debt. According to Kasyanov, "It's an oversimplification to think that if Russia can pay, it should pay. Russia can pay, but in that case, it would be paying at the expense of carrying out reforms, or of the pace of carrying out reforms." A recent IMF mission to Moscow issued a statement at the end of its trip repeating other calls by that organization to undertake structural economic reforms. JAC

MOSCOW NOT 'OVER-DRAMATIZING' U.S. VOTE ON CUBA INTELLIGENCE POST

Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov told journalists in Moscow on 20 July that he is not inclined to "over-dramatize the situation" surrounding the U.S. Congress bill banning debt rescheduling until Russia closes its electronic eavesdropping facility in Lourdes, Cuba, Interfax reported. According to Kasyanov, it makes "no sense" to link Russia's debts with its intelligence post on Cuban territory. And he commented that the facility is used to monitor the observance of arms control agreements, noting that the U.S. has similar listening posts. Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) argued that the U.S. Congress has "no moral right" to deal with the issue this way since, among other things, a U.S. radar is now operating in Norway in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. "Such a position is more than strange," Rogozin added. JC

BEREZOVSKII, GUSINSKII NEWSPAPERS SAY MEDIA CRACKDOWN COMING...

"Segodnya," which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST group, reported on 20 July that the Kremlin is planning to submit legislation to the State Duma this fall that will make laws governing media behavior "stiffer and may even affect some foreign media operating in Russia." That report follows an article published the previous day in Boris Berezovskii's "Novye izvestiya" about the existence of a Security Council program for "the restoration of order in the informational sphere." The Security Council called the report fictional, but according to unidentified sources cited by "Segodnya," such a plan exists and was authored by officials in the Federal Security Service. The plan was allegedly leaked by presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin JAC

...AS PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS OFFER CONFLICTING STORIES

Meanwhile, presidential representative to the Central federal district Georgii Poltavchenko also dismissed allegations about a new stricter media policy, telling reporters on 20 July that reports about the Security Council's plans to clamp down on the media are "rubbish." As a presidential envoy to a federal district, Poltavchenko is also a member of the Security Council. He noted that he attended the meeting of that body at which various aspects of state and information security were discussed and that "no questions connected with the establishment of loyal media, including in the regions, were raised." However, another presidential envoy, Viktor Cherkesov, told journalists on 7 July that a new broadcast doctrine being developed by the Kremlin should "seriously change the the information environment," adding he plans to launch a television station for his entire North West federal district (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 July 2000). Cherkesov is a former Federal Security Service first deputy director. JAC

TAX POLICE NOW TURN TO ANOTHER GUSINSKII HOLDING

Media-MOST Group spokesman Dmitrii Ostalskii announced on 20 July that the Federal Tax Police have begun an audit of Media-MOST's NTV Plus. The tax police's audit follows a regular audit that was completed on 28 June by the State Tax Service, which had required three months for that task. According to Ostalskii, only two months are usually necessary to complete an audit. He attributed the extra month and the renewed attention of the tax police to pressure from the Kremlin: "The initiative for the audit does not likely come from the tax institutions. It is the initiative of higher offices, from the Kremlin. The one goal is to paralyze the work of companies that make up Media-MOST." Interfax reported the same day that shares on the Russian stock exchange fell 0.5 percent on average in the morning because of the previous day's news that the Prosecutor-General's Office is seeking to freeze Gusinskii's assets. However, shares finished the day 1-1.5 percent higher. JAC

PUTIN CALLS FOR INVESTMENT ASSISTANCE TO OIL SECTOR

President Putin has called on his government to speed up the enactment of production-sharing legislation, Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref told reporters on 20 July. Gref said that the president "has authorized [the cabinet] to prepare the legal basis for the agreement on production-sharing within the shortest possible time and, with its help, to launch the maximum number of projects." Gref also commented that the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects have not been completely beneficial to Russia because they were the first production-sharing agreement projects to be implemented. JAC

DUMA PASSES ANTI-POACHING LAW

State Duma deputies on 20 July approved in the third reading a "law on fishing and the preservation of aquatic biological resources," Interfax reported. Vladimir Izmailov, deputy chairman of the State Fishing Committee, told the agency that the law will create a legal basis for measures to combat poaching as well as provide for full control over exports of fish and other products from the sea. JAC

KREMLIN-SUPPORTED RABBI SAYS THREAT OF ANTI-SEMITISM EXAGGERATED

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 20 July, Rabbi Berl Lazar, head of the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities, declared that he "would not dramatize the situation [regarding anti-Semitism] today," noting there is some anti-Jewish prejudice "in most countries of the world." He also said that the two earlier bombings of his synagogue were "isolated occurrences." In June, Lazar's federation declared him the chief rabbi of Russia, a post already held by Adolf Shaevich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2000). Some members of the Russian Jewish Congress, which is headed by Vladimir Gusinskii, have alleged that Lazar has close ties to the Kremlin, specifically to presidential administration head Voloshin. JAC

'MIR' TO BE MANNED PERMANENTLY IN 2001

The Netherlands-based company MirCorp has announced that beginning next year, the "Mir" space station will be permanently manned, AP reported on 20 July. MirCorp, which provided funding for the mission to the space station this summer, said it will send two cosmonauts to "Mir" in early 2001, replacing them at mid-year with another crew and a "space tourist," U.S. businessman and former rocket scientist Dennis Tito. The company also noted that it can now enter into final negotiations with the "many potential clients who have been awaiting our establishment of a long-term flight schedule." JC




MURDERED ARMENIAN SERVICEMEN'S PARENTS STAGE PROTEST

Dozens of parents whose sons were killed in peacetime army incidents blocked a main thoroughfare near the presidential palace in Yerevan for the fourth consecutive day on 20 July, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. They were protesting what they believe is a deliberate official cover-up of killings and beatings committed by army officers, and they also demanded a meeting with President Robert Kocharian to discuss the issue. Kocharian's spokesman, Vahe Gabrielian, said, however, that the protest "exceeds the limits of what is permissible," implying that Kocharian will not agree to such a meeting. LF

KARABAKH EX-DEFENSE MINISTER DECLARES HUNGER STRIKE

Samvel Babayan, former defense minister and commander of the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, began a hunger strike on 20 July to protest the refusal of the republic's prosecutor-general to transfer to the Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office the ongoing investigation into Babayan's alleged involvement in the 22 March attempt to assassinate Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION THREATENS ELECTION BOYCOTT

Twelve Azerbaijani opposition parties issued a statement on 20 July warning that they may boycott the 5 November parliamentary poll if the present parliament fails to amend the disputed law on elections to incorporate demands by the opposition and the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights or if it amends the law on the Central Electoral Commission to facilitate the control of that body by the ruling authorities, Turan reported. Also on 20 July, the 11 members of the Central Electoral Commission who represent the majority Yeni Azerbaycan party and independent deputies accused the six opposition representatives who are boycotting the commission's sessions of seeking to sabotage the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 29, 20 July 2000). LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS ABKHAZ PROTOCOL

Representatives of 28 extraparliamentary opposition parties and movements have staged a protest outside the UN office in Tbilisi to register their anger at the signing of the 11 July Abkhaz- Georgian protocol on measures to stabilize the situation along the Abkhaz-Georgian internal border, Caucasus Press reported on 21 July (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 28, 14 July 2000). Some protesters called for the replacement of UN special envoy for Abkhazia Dieter Boden, who participated in the meeting at which the protocol was signed, on the grounds that he is "anti-Georgian." LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ENDORSES LAW ON FIRST PRESIDENT

In a statement published on 20 July, Kazakhstan's Constitutional Court ruled that the legislation enacted last month that gives life-long privileges to President Nursultan Nazarbaev does not violate the country's basic law, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 June 2000). The opposition has protested that the law in effect allows Nazarbaev to remain president for life. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S OIL EXTRACTION ON INCREASE

Kazakhstan extracted a total of 14,191 million tons of crude during the first six months of 2000, which represents a 13 percent increase over the corresponding period in 1999, Interfax reported on 20 July. Production of gas condensate increased by 40 percent over the same period to reach 2.254 million tons. LF

KYRGYZ POLICE TARGET HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION

Police in Bishkek on 20 July detained Almaz Dyryldaev, the son of Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights director Ramazan Dyryldaev, and sealed the organization's offices, AP reported. Ramazan Dyryldaev went into hiding on 17 July after police went to his home with an arrest warrant. He told AP by telephone on 20 July from an undisclosed location that he fears for his safety if he is taken into custody. LF

TAJIKISTAN HOPES FOR STRONGER TIES WITH JAPAN

Meeting in Dushanbe with a visiting Japanese delegation headed by parliamentary deputy Muneo Suzuki, Tajikistan's President Imomali expressed the hope that Japan will become "a reliable trade and economic partner," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 July. Rakhmonov stressed the need to create a solid legal basis for economic cooperation and advocated convening a summit to sign the appropriate agreements. He also expressed the hope that Japan will persuade other members of the international community to contribute to the funding of post-civil war reconstruction in Tajikistan. LF

UZBEK POLICE ABDUCT PRACTISING MUSLIM

Police on 17 July detained Bahodir Hasanov, and are refusing to disclose his whereabouts, Human Rights Watch reported on 20 July. Hasanov, whose father and brother are prisoners of conscience, was detained by police in February, September, and November 1999 and subjected to torture. LF




EU'S SOLANA URGES BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TO TALK WITH OPPOSITION

EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Javier Solana had a 50-minute telephone conversation with Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 21 July, expressing his concerns about the preparations for the 15 October parliamentary elections in Belarus, Reuters reported, citing a statement by Solana's office. Solana asked Lukashenka to "assure a free, transparent, and democratic electoral process, and stressed the need to engage in constructive dialogue with the opposition," the statement said. JM

BELARUS WANTS TO LOOK FOR MISSING CAMERAMAN WITHOUT MEDIA 'INTERFERENCE'

The Belarusian embassy in Moscow has released a statement saying that the Belarusian authorities are doing everything possible to find Dzmitry Zavadski, a cameraman for Russian Public Television (ORT), who disappeared at Minsk airport on 7 July. The statement also rejected the allegation that Zavadski was kidnapped by Belarus's secret services. "Zavadski is a Belarusian citizen, and the state itself, without interference from media that are doing nothing concrete to help the investigation but are only fomenting tension, is able to deal with the situation," the statement noted. ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet, whom Zavadski was to meet on 7 July, has said he fears that the Belarusian secret police have kidnapped Zavadski. Many independent commentators in Russia and Belarus share this apprehension, pointing to the former unsolved disappearances of Belarusian oppositionists. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ASKED TO 'SAVE' JAILED LAWMAKER

The lawyer of parlaimentary deputy Mykola Agafonov has sent a letter to President Leonid Kuchma asking him to "save" the life of Agafonov by freeing him from jail for medical treatment, Interfax reported on 20 July. The letter says Agafonov suffers from cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, adding that "the probability that he will live until a verdict [is passed] is very low." Agafonov was arrested after the parliament lifted his immunity in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2000). The Prosecutor- General's Office suspects Agafonov of embezzling $24 million in state funds from an agricultural company he headed from 1992-1997. JM

UKRAINE'S TOTAL DEBT DECREASES, BUT ONLY IN DOLLAR EQUIVALENT

Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov has announced that Ukraine's total debt, which includes the state's foreign and domestic payment obligations, decreased in January-May 2000 by $438 million to total $14.865 billion on 1 June, Interfax reported on 21 June. However, calculated in the national currency, the total debt increased in the same period by 700 million hryvni ($129 million) to 80.5 billion hryvni. Mityukov said the debt increase in hryvni was caused by inflation in Ukraine. Mityukov added that Ukraine's foreign debt stood at $10.599 billion on 1 June. JM

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT SESSION OVER, SHOWDOWN WITH PRESIDENT EXPECTED

The parliament ended its spring session on 20 July by passing legislation on the regulation of the electricity distribution market as well as approving bilateral agreements with the Vatican, ELTA reported. However, the same day President Valdas Adamkus vetoed a law making the Klaipeda port a free zone and vowed to veto several other laws passed recently, including one on the use of polygraphs. Several days earlier, the parliament overrode a presidential veto on a controversial change to the electoral system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). The parliament is due to reconvene in September, but some Conservative members have suggested that the house meet in August. MH

POLAND'S LOWER HOUSE PASSES REPATRIATION BILL...

The 460- strong Sejm has voted by 433 with two abstentions to pass a bill on repatriation that will facilitate the return of those Poles who have remained in the East, in particular, in the Asiatic part of the former USSR, PAP reported on 20 July. A person seeking repatriation must demonstrate that one of his/her parents or grandparents or else two great- grandparents were of Polish nationality. Documents that were issued by the Polish state authorities or Church authorities will be considered sufficient proof, as will former USSR documents confirming the fact of deportation if they contain an entry on Polish nationality. It is estimated that some 20,000 out of the 60,000 Poles in Kazakhstan may seek repatriation to Poland. JM

...WHILE UPPER HOUSE ALLOWS DUAL CITIZENSHIP

The Senate on 20 July amended the Polish Citizenship Act to allow Polish citizens to have citizenship of another country at the same time, PAP reported. Earlier, the Sejm had passed a regulation under which a "Polish citizen cannot be recognized by the authorities of the Polish Republic to be a citizen of another country at the same time." That move angered Poles living abroad who fear that those Poles who have only a passport issued by another country may have difficulties when crossing the Polish border. JM

INFAMOUS CZECH WALL MOVED TO LOCAL ZOO

The infamous wall erected last year in the north Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem to separate Roma inhabitants from the rest of the population has been moved to the local zoo to replace an old fence. The wall was pulled down last November, after harsh criticism at home and abroad. The zoo authorities have placed an ironic inscription on one segment of the re-erected wall reading "rare species, to be seen only in Usti nad Labem zoo," CTK reported. Meanwhile, the French daily "Le Figaro" said on 20 July that although the wall was pulled down, the problem of coexistence between Czechs and Roma remains throughout the country. The daily noted that Roma are still attacked by skinheads, while courts are reluctant to punish perpetrators and discrimination against Roma children persists in schools, CTK reported on 20 July. MS

SLOVAK CHANNEL SAYS LEXA FAILED TO GET ASYLUM IN GRENADA

Fugitive former Slovak Intelligence Chief Ivan Lexa has been refused asylum in Grenada, CTK reported on 20 July, citing Markiza TV. The private television station said Lexa has been abroad since September 1999 and that the asylum request was turned down after Grenada police and the FBI checked his records. Markiza TV also said that Lexa was assisted in his flight from the law by Juraj Siroky, who is honorary consul in Grenada and chairman of the Slovak Ice Hockey Association. Lexa is suspected of participation in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 and other offenses. MS




RFE/RL PRESIDENT SLAMS BELGRADE DECISION AGAINST BROADCASTER

Thomas A. Dine on 20 July denounced Yugoslavia's decision to declare RFE/RL activities in that country illegal as a violation of international law and an indication of the desperation of the Milosevic regime. "Only a government afraid of the truth would try to prevent our journalists from gathering and disseminating information," Dine said in Prague. "We will do everything in our power to protect our journalists and to make sure that they can continue to do their important work." Dine's comments came in reaction to a letter from Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic to Nenad Pejic, the director of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. In that letter, which was a response to Pejic's request to register RFE/RL's bureau in Belgrade, Matic said his government views RFE/RL not as an objective journalistic organization but as a propaganda arm of the NATO coalition against Yugoslavia. "Both Yugoslav journalists and the Yugoslav people know the value of our work," Dine argued. "We will not let them down." PM

SESELJ LASHES OUT AT INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 20 July that independent and anti-government media "must disappear from the political stage," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. He called unspecified independent journalists "foreign spies" and their editorial boards "foreign spy agencies." It is not clear what concrete measures, if any, Seselj or the government plan to take and against whom they might be directed. PM

BELGRADE HARASSES FIRMS ON EU 'WHITE LIST'

The Belgrade authorities are making life difficult for many of the 189 Serbian companies on the EU's "white list" of firms exempt from sanctions, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 21 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2000). Government auditors are closely monitoring the finances of the companies. Other authorities deny the companies licenses to conduct foreign trade. The government has not taken an official position on the "white list" but has let it be known that it is a "badge of patriotism" not to be on it, the daily noted. Some firms have circumvented government restrictions by registering under more than one name. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT TO BE ELECTED BY SIMPLE MAJORITY?

A proposed law on election rules states that the federal president will be elected by a majority of voters casting their ballots, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 20 July. The law does not require a majority of registered voters to participate in the ballot for it to be valid. PM

MS. MILOSEVIC 'BORROWS' FROM U.S. WEB SITE

The far-left United Yugoslav Left (JUL) of Mira Markovic is using an image taken from the web site of the U.S. Bridge company in a current campaign poster, "Vesti" reported on 21 July. The poster shows two workmen constructing a bridge above the words "renewal and development" written in Serbo-Croatian. "Vesti" reproduced the U.S. firm's website image to show that it is one and the same picture. Several weeks ago, some Novi Sad residents viewing a program on "renewal and development" on state-run television saw among the happy construction workers a neighbor who had been dead for five years. PM

MITROVICA SERBS WARN OF MORE PROTESTS

Following the release of Dalibor Vukovic from prison by an ethnic Albanian judge on 20 July, Mitrovica Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic said that local Serbs will again take to the streets to protest any further "undemocratic decision by the international community," AP reported. He praised local Serbs for having "proved that we can fight for justice in a civilized manner" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000). PM

U.S. TROOPS 'FLATTEN' CLANDESTINE KOSOVA BASE

KFOR soldiers "flattened" an illegal paramilitary training ground in the Shterpce area near the Macedonian border on 20 July, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000). U.S. spokesman Major Scott Slaten said in Prishtina that KFOR representatives met with local Serbian leaders before destroying the base but did not specify whether Serbs or Albanians had used it. He added that investigations are continuing. Local Serb leaders had asked KFOR to search the area where the troops found the base, Reuters reported. There have been tensions between U.S. forces and Serbs in Shterpce in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June and 3 July 2000). PM

BOSNIAN SERBS RULE OUT JOINT BOSNIAN ARMY

Meeting in Banja Luka on 20 July, several of the top political leaders of the Republika Srpska rejected the recent call by NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson and the international community's High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch to establish a joint Bosnian army, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 21 July 2000). The leaders stressed that the Bosnian Serbs never agreed to set up a joint army. The leaders added that the Republika Srpska is meeting its obligations to streamline its army by reducing its size. Among those present were Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the joint presidency. PM

MAGLAJ ROAD BLOCKADE ENDED

Bosnian police on 20 July removed several roadblocks in the Maglaj area. Local Muslims, including some former Islamic fighters from the Middle East, recently erected the barricades to protest their eviction from Serbian-owned homes (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 July 2000). PM

AUSTRIAN BANK BUYS STAKE IN BOSNIA

The Raiffeisen Zentralbank Oesterreich announced in all three Sarajevo dailies on 21 July that it has acquired a majority stake of up to 90 percent in Market Banka. The Austrian Volksbank is already active in Bosnia. Raiffeisen has branches in 10 Central and Southeastern European countries, AP reported. PM

PRLIC WILL STAY IN BOSNIAN HDZ

Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic said in Sarajevo on 20 July that he will remain in the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) despite his recent defeat in the bid for a top leadership post in the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2000). PM

CROATIAN RIGHTS GROUP WANTS DEATHS CLARIFIED

Zarko Puhovski of the local branch of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee in the central regions of Banija and Kordun said on 20 June that some 267 ethnic Serbian civilians were killed or "disappeared" during or after the 1995 Croatian offensive in the area. "Until these crimes are solved and perpetrators punished, we cannot speak of the rule of law in Croatia," AP quoted him as saying. The total of dead or missing comes to over 650 if victims from the southern Knin area, whom Puhovski's group reported on in 1999, are included in the tally. PM

CROATIA, MONTENEGRO TO STRENGTHEN TIES

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said in Podgorica on 20 July that his country and Montenegro expect to sign as early as September agreements to promote trade free of "taxes" and to "liberalize" visa requirements. "We will also regulate border policy to ease the flow of people and goods," Reuters quoted him as saying. PM

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS STILL PLAYING 'MUSICAL CHAIRS'

Only one day after deciding to re-launch a center-right alliance with its former partners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000), the leadership of the National Liberal Party (PNL) renewed negotiations with the Alliance for Romania (APR), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 20 July. Participants said the negotiations were "a step forward" and agreed to conclude by next week an agreement on "a possible electoral alliance" with joint parliamentary lists based on equal representation. PNL First Deputy Vice Chairman Valeriu Stoica said the decision on joint candidates for the presidency and the premiership will be made after the agreement is concluded, but APR Deputy Chairman Marian Enache said his party's presidential candidate "remains Teodor Melescanu." On 21 July, the PNL leadership is resuming negotiations with the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic. MS

ROMANIAN POLL SHOWS ILIESCU AHEAD BUT LOSING STEAM

The first public opinion poll conducted after President Emil Constantinescu's decision to withdraw from the presidential race shows that his predecessor, Party of Social Democracy in Romania candidate Ion Iliescu, is still ahead but that the distance between him and the second-placed candidate has been reduced considerably. The INSOMAR poll shows Iliescu ahead of Premier Mugur Isarescu (who has still not declared his intention to run). The former president's backing is 34.5 percent (down nearly 7 percentage points on the previous poll), while Isarescu is backed by 18.5 percent (the same level of support as Constantinescu had before withdrawing). Third place is occupied by former Premier Theodor Stolojan (16.2 percent), followed by Melescanu (13 percent) and Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor (9.1 percent). MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO

The parliament on 21 July voted by 87 to six to override the veto cast one day earlier by President Petru Lucinschi on the law transforming Moldova into a parliamentary republic, Infotag reported. Lucinschi must now sign that bill into law within two weeks. On 20 July, the president returned the law to the parliament, proposing two possible ways to overcome the constitutional impasse: either submit to a plebiscite on 5 November both the law approved by the legislature on 5 July and his own proposal for enlarging the presidential prerogatives or hold early elections in which 70 percent of the seats are decided in single member constituencies and 30 percent on party lists. The 101-seat parliament is now elected entirely on the basis of the proportional system. MS

BULGARIA DISSATISFIED WITH BALKAN STABILITY PACT

President Petar Stoyanov, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova have voiced dissatisfaction with the Southeast European Stability Pact, AP and BTA reported on 20 July. Stoyanov told visiting pact coordinator Bodo Hombach: "If Europe wants to see our continent united, it should invest in this pact." Kostov and Mihailova also criticized the lack of progress in securing Western investments in the region. Kostov complained, in particular, about delays in starting the construction of the new Vidin-Calafat bridge over the River Danube. Hombach urged his hosts not to rely on foreign investment but instead to stimulate the interest of local companies, adding that Western Europe wants to create as many new jobs as possible in the Balkans. He said only three to five Western companies will participate in the construction of the new bridge, while all the other participants will be Bulgarian companies. MS

BULGARIA FACES PROBLEMS WITH NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE

Georgi Kaschiev, head of Bulgaria's Agency for the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy, told AP on 20 July that his country will face mounting problems with storing waste from the Kozlodui nuclear plant. Kaschiev said Bulgaria has no facilities to permanently bury cassettes with used nuclear fuel and other nuclear waste. Although Sofia has agreed to shut down Kozlodui's two oldest units by 2002, he said, "it takes 50 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to fully decommission a reactor after it is shut down." Kaschiev said experts estimate that the Kozlodui plant will release 100,000 tons of radioactive waste during its life span; storing that amount of waste in accordance with international safety standards will cost about $1 billion, he added. Existing temporary storage space can hold waste for up to 10 years and is already 70 percent full, Kaschiev noted. MS

BULGARIA PROTESTS ISRAELI DECISION ON FORMER KING MEMORIAL

Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 20 July said "everything possible" must be done to prevent the plans of the Jewish National Fund to replace a memorial in Israel honoring King Boris III, Reuters reported. Vlaikov said bilateral relations with Israel are "excellent" but the move "would embitter them." After Israeli experts ruled that King Boris III did not act to save Macedonian and Thracian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2000), the fund intends to replace the memorial for the king with two other memorials- -one honoring the victims deported from the two regions that were then were under Bulgarian occupation and the other honoring Bulgarians who saved Jews, without mentioning any names, Reuters reported. MS




MUSCLE-FLEXING OR ATTEMPTED COUP?


by Liz Fuller

On 18 July, Chechen deputy interim administration head Beslan Gantemirov dispatched some 200 militiamen to Gudermes, where the administration of interim Chechen leader Akhmed- hadji Kadyrov is located. Those troops were ordered to comb the town to identify Chechen fighters loyal to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Gantemirov cited two motives for that action: first, the need to cleanse the town in general, and Kadyrov's entourage in particular, of "terrorists, separatists, and nationalists"; and second, his personal objection to the decision taken by Kadyrov on 17 July to fire six local administration heads and police department officials in Grozny and other towns.

Reports differ as to whether Gantemirov confronted his superior, but Chechen military commandant Lieutenant General Ivan Babichev and deputy presidential representative to South Russia Lieutenant General Vladimir Bokovikov reportedly persuaded Gantemirov to back down. The unruly commander eventually withdrew his men the same day to his Grozny headquarters. A meeting between Kadyrov and Gantemirov on 19 July in Gudermes failed, however, to dispel the tensions between the two men.

Kadyrov has offered various explanations for the deterioration in his relations with his deputy. In an interview with Interfax on 18 July, Kadyrov termed Gantemirov's behavior "puzzling and illogical," because, he said, Gantemirov had approved the dismissals of the six officials at a meeting the previous day. The next day, Kadyrov described Gantemirov as "unpredictable" suggesting that the commander could even be plotting a coup. He also told Interfax that the reasons for Gantemirov's objection to the firing of the six officials was that "without these people, who had connived at thievery, Gantemirov's influence has been sharply declining." In the same conversation with ITAR-TASS, Kadyrov said "the real reason for the conflict between Gantemirov and myself is a feud between clans."

All of those statements may contain elements of truth, except perhaps Kadyrov's hypothesis that Gantemirov was planning to overthrow him, which was more probably intended as an appeal to Moscow to take resolute action to rein in Gantemirov. (Even if Gantemirov himself failed to realize that trying to remove Moscow's chosen marionette at this juncture would achieve little, his backers must have been aware of that fact.)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire episode is the light it has shed on the various degrees of support for Gantemirov among Russian military and civilian leaders. Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Chechen military commandant Babichev both unequivocally characterized Gantemirov's action as impermissible and illegal. Yastrzhembskii stressed that it is imperative that "decisions by the head of the Chechen administration, who was appointed to that post by the Russian president, should be fulfilled without fail. Otherwise the new Chechen administration will follow the pattern of the Maskhadov administration, when several centers of power existed simultaneously, bringing about the paralysis of local authority and anarchy" in Chechnya.

But at the same time. Yastrzhembskii said that Gantemirov "still has a chance" to remain in his post. And despite the perception that Gantemirov had acted unlawfully, it appears that no legal action has been taken against him. Interfax on 19 July quoted Bokovikov as saying that criminal proceedings had been opened against Gantemirov, but later the same day Chechnya's newly appointed prosecutor, Nikolai Shepel, said that his office is still considering whether there are legal grounds for doing so.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the western group of forces in Chechnya, blamed Kadyrov for the confrontation. In an interview published in "Trud" on 20 July, Shamanov accused Kadyrov of initiating a "counter-productive" attack on Gantemirov. He went on to argue that "objectively, Kadyrov cannot control the situation in all of Chechnya's districts, and life is promoting to him a coalition method of government." Shamanov also advocated that "at the current stage, a representative of the federal authorities must run the republic, a person who is above clashes between the local clan leaders."

The clear reluctance on the part of both the Russian military and civilian leadership to take action against Gantemirov is understandable. First, it could turn the current conflict in Chechnya into a three-pronged one, with the Russian forces facing attack both from Maskhadov's men and Gantemirov's loyalists. Second, it would be a clear admission that Gantemirov's appointment constituted an error of judgment in the first place. And third, Gantemirov's Chechen militia, acting under Russian military supervision, could still fulfill a useful purpose. The number of Russian casualties would be reduced if the Chechen militia were allowed to take over from the Russian Interior Ministry part of the responsibility for identifying and neutralizing those apparently numerous Chechens who spend part of their time fighting with Maskhadov's men and the rest loafing around their native villages in civilian clothes. But if the militia's track record in "neutralizing bandits" proves mediocre, that in itself would provide a convenient reason for dismissing Gantemirov should his behavior appear to constitute a threat at some point in the future.

Whether Kadyrov will agree to continue to work in tandem with Gantemirov is, however, unclear. Kadyrov told ITAR-TASS on 19 July that Gantemirov is not de jure his deputy, as he has not yet signed any official resolution to that effect.


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