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Newsline - September 11, 2000




MOSCOW-BASED NEWSPAPER CHALLENGES PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS

Presenting the results of nationwide reporting over the past six months on the March 2000 presidential election, "The Moscow Times" on 9 September concluded that "enough falsification" occurred "to question the legitimacy of the vote." In dispatches written from Saratov, Novosibirsk, Kursk, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Kaliningrad Oblasts, Primorskii Krai, and the republics of Daghestan, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, Bashkortostan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Mordovia, and Chechnya, the daily documented both blatant and subtle election manipulations. It alleged that in Daghestan alone, it is possible to "definitively document about 88,000 votes stolen from other candidates and given to candidate Putin." And it suggests that many of the 1.3 million new voters in the 2000 elections were mostly fictional. Unidentified long-term OSCE election observers reportedly expressed "disgust" at the "cheery tone of the day-after [election] OSCE commentary" (see http://www.moscowtimes.ru/09-Sep-2000/todays_issue.htm). JAC

DEFENSE MINISTRY CONFIRMS PLANS TO SLASH TROOPS' RANKS...

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 8 September confirmed earlier reports that by 2003, Russia's armed forces will be trimmed by about 350,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000). Ground forces will be reduced by 180,000 servicemen, while the navy will lose 50,000 troops and the airforce about 40,000. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy the same day, Colonel General Eduard Vorobev, State Duma Defense Committee deputy chairman (Union of Rightist Forces), said that the armed forces general staff will set up a special agency to manage the streamlining, which will affect not only combat units but also auxiliary services. Vorobev added that he favors increasing the number of servicemen on contract and sharply reducing the number of soldiers drafted. "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 9 September that the decision to slash the armed forces by one-third must have been taken at the 11 August Security Council meeting. It added that the true author of the reform is neither Sergeev nor General Staff head Anatolii Kvashnin but the presidential administration. JAC

...AS EXPERTS CRITICIZE REDUCTION IN GROUND FORCES

In an interview with "The Moscow Times" on 9 September, Alexander Pikaev of the Moscow Carnegie Center suggested that the distribution of the cuts among the various services is ill- advised: "Downsizing the army of such a land power as Russia is like having the United States disband its navy." He suggested that the troops of other federal agencies would be a better target for cuts. "Segodnya" the previous day reached a similar conclusion, noting that troops of the Federal Government Communications and Information Agency and Railway Ministry could easily become Defense Ministry structures since "rails can be laid and communications established without uniforms." It also argued that some of the functions performed by Interior Ministry troops could "quite easily be performed by the army's spetsnaz detachments." JAC

PUTIN COMMENTS ON GUSINSKII, BEREZOVSKII...

In an interview with CNN's Larry King broadcast on 8 September, President Vladimir Putin declined to characterize the arrest of Media- MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii and the transfer of Boris Berezovskii's shares in Russian Public Television (ORT) as issues of freedom of the press, suggesting instead that the Russian government is simply implementing existing laws. Media-MOST, according to Putin, "has been in the red, with credit and debts, and has not returned, according to creditors...$300 billion worth of debt." With regard to ORT, he said that freedom of expression is not the issue because "the owner of 51 percent, the government, by the charter, already has any right to define the policies of that company." Also, Putin declined to discuss his religious views in detail but did admit that he always wears a cross that his mother gave to him and that he had it blessed at the Tomb of the Lord in Israel. JAC

...AS BEREZOVSKII PROTEGE LOSES TV FORUM

Russian Public Television pulled the weekly controversial Sergei Dorenko Show off the air on 9 September--just two days after Boris Berezovskii named Dorenko, along with some 20 other people, as a trustee to manage his shares in ORT (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000). Konstantin Ernst, ORT general director, issued a press release explaining that the decision was taken because Dorenko refused to stop commenting on the conflict "between the state and private shareholders of ORT," according to Interfax. Dorenko, for his part, insisted that President Putin was himself behind the decision to cancel his show: "I meet with the president once a month, and without his decision, nobody can touch a hair on my head." In an interview with NTV on 8 September, Berezovskii praised Putin's response to his naming of trustees to manage his shares, saying that a "constructive dialogue with those in authority" has begun. JAC

PUTIN ADMITS HE COULD HAVE HANDLED 'KURSK' DISASTER DIFFERENTLY...

In his 8 September interview with CNN's Larry King, Putin also conceded that with hindsight, he could have acted differently during rescue attempts to save the crew of the sunken "Kursk" nuclear submarine. "The only thing that could have been changed was...possibly to halt my working meetings, to suspend them at my place of vacation.... I could have gone back to Moscow...but that would have been a [public relations] move... From the point of view of PR, that could have looked better." Putin revealed there had been suggestions that he travel to the site of the disaster and possibly even go down on the Russian rescue submersible. Asked by King if the security forces would have allowed that to happen, he replied, "In such a situation, I would not ask security. Security serves me, I don't serve security." JC

...WARNS AGAINST NMD...

With regard to U.S. plans to implement a limited national missile defense system, Putin underlined Moscow's stance that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty must remain unchanged in order not to upset the nuclear balance established during the Cold War. "If we disrupt that balance," he said, "we'll put the whole world before this really great danger, which will not serve the interests of Russia or other countries." The most important thing is to preserve today's balance of interests and "jointly try to avert all these dangers," he added. JC

...SAYS RUSSIAN COURT MUST FIRST DECIDE ON POPE'S FATE

Asked about U.S. businessman Edmond Pope, who has been detained in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison since April on spying charges, Putin said that Pope's case must first be dealt with in court and then, "depending on the situation and certainly in the spirit of good relations between our two countries, we'll see what we can do." In response to a question about the health of Pope, who in the past has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer and is reported to be currently very weak, Putin said that "if it comes to the situation where it's up to me to make the decision, then naturally [Pope's health] will be taken into consideration." And the Russian president responded to King's suggestion that Moscow might want to exchange Pope for Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent who spied for Russia, by saying that "I wouldn't like to trade these things, it's not my job to bargain." JC

PUTIN URGES STRONGER ROLE FOR UN...

Speaking at a news conference on 7 September on the sidelines of the UN Millennium Summit in New York, President Putin said the UN Security Council should be the only body empowered to authorize the use of force to resolve global conflicts, noting that it would do so on behalf of the "entire world community." Putin also argued in favor of creating conditions whereby "any minor violation of a Security Council decision would be perceived as an action undermining the very foundation of the world order." He noted that Moscow backs Japan's becoming a permanent member of the Security Council, and in a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Putin said Moscow favors Germany's membership in that body, too, according to "The Moscow Times" on 9 September. At the same time, the Russian president warned against any "hasty steps" in reforming the council, stressing that the opinions of all UN members must be taken into account. JC

...MEETS WITH CASTRO...

The following day in New York, Putin met with Cuban President Fidel Castro for some 50 minutes at Russia's UN mission. Reuters quoted Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as saying after the meeting that the two sides expressed satisfaction with the development of bilateral relations, "which are being restored after a period of decline" following the collapse of the USSR. Ivanov added that Putin and Castro expressed "the firm intention" to continue developing those relations as well as trade and economic ties. Putin is expected to visit Cuba before the end of this year. JC

...WITNESSES SIGNING OF TYUMEN OIL DEAL

Shortly after his meeting with Castro, Putin attended the signing of an agreement between the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank whereby the latter will guarantee loans extended to the former by Germany's Commerzbank. According to Interfax, a $292 million credit line will be opened soon and used to modernize the Samotlor oil field in Siberia. Ex-Im Bank officially approved the $500 million loan guarantee in spring of this year. Earlier the U.S. State Department had postponed the conclusion of the deal because some Western oil companies claimed that TNK had cheated them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2000). JC

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA SEEKS POLITICAL SETTLEMENT IN CHECHNYA

Putin told CNN's Larry King on 8 September that Moscow is seeking in cooperation with the Chechen population to resolve the war in Chechnya peacefully, ITAR-TASS reported. He said since the end of large-scale hostilities, the Chechen population is becoming more actively involved in political developments. And he noted that he was surprised by the 62 percent turnout in the 20 August election for the deputy to represent Chechnya in the State Duma. LF

RUSSIA DENIES CHECHENS CAPTURED THREE SENIOR OFFICERS

A spokesman for Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 10 September denied claims made earlier that day by the London-based Chechen Information Center of President Aslan Maskhadov that Chechen forces captured two Russian colonels and a general in the Grozny suburb of Chernorechie the previous day, Reuters and AFP reported. Yastrzhembskii's spokesman also denied Chechen claims to have inflicted heavy casualties on Russian forces in fighting on 9 September. LF

AFGHAN DIPLOMAT DENIES MOSCOW SUPPLIES MILITARY AID TO NORTHERN ALLIANCE

Gholam Sahi Gayrat, who represents the ousted but internationally recognized Afghan government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, told journalists in Moscow on 8 September that government is grateful for Moscow's "active moral, political, and diplomatic backing" but denied that Russia has sent military aid to Ahmed Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance in its battle against the Taliban forces, Russian agencies reported. Nor has Massoud ever requested such aid, Gayrat said. Also on 8 September, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the Tajik Defense Ministry has already prepared a camp for the use of Massoud's men if they are forced to retreat into Tajikistan after the Taliban captured the town of Talukan last week. The newspaper quoted a Russian officer in Dushanbe as saying, "We have been feeding Massoud for so long that it would be a shame to abandon him now." LF

MOSCOW DENIES RUSSIAN MISSILE HIT 'KURSK'

Russia on 8 September denied a report in the "Berliner Zeitung" that the "Kursk" nuclear submarine sunk during maneuvers in the Barents Sea last month after being hit by a Granit missile fired from the Russian warship "Petr Velikii" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000). The Federal Security Service issued a statement saying that there is "no basis" for the information carried in the German daily. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who is heading the commission investigating the disaster, said through his spokeswoman that the report was "nonsense," noting that cruisers never carry real warheads during exercises. And Captain Vladimir Kasatonov, the commander of "Petr Velikii," said he is "outraged" by the report. In an interview with Interfax on 8 September, Kasatonov said that while his vessel had launched missiles--without warheads--during last month's maneuvers, the "Kursk" could not have been in the area of one of those launches "even in theory." JC

DEATH TOLL RISES TO 13 IN LAST MONTH'S BOMBING IN MOSCOW

A 19-year-old woman who was badly burned in the 8 August bomb explosion in the Pushkinskaya metro station died in the hospital late on 10 September, Interfax reported the next day, citing the Moscow City ambulance service. This brings the total number of deaths in the bombing to 13. Twelve people who survived the blast remain hospitalized. JC

LEBED LAUNCHES NEW POLITICAL PARTY TO CHALLENGE FEDERAL REFORMS

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor and former presidential nominee Aleksandr Lebed announced on 9 September the formation of a new party, called Union, whose goal will be to campaign for economic independence for those regions that are rich in natural resources, Interfax reported. According to the agency, proposed changes in the way taxes are collected have contributed to the new party's emergence: for example, the federal government plans to collect the bulk of value- added tax and then redistribute those revenues through a compensation fund. Lebed and other governors have bitterly criticized the planned changes (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 19 July 2000). At Union's founding meeting, a statement was signed by Lebed, Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov, members of the local legislature, and the leaders of the local branches of several political parties, including the Communists. JAC

PUTIN OVERTURNS MORE REGIONAL LAWS

President Putin on 9 September suspended a decree issued by Adygei President Aslan Dzharimov that restricts migration to the republic, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, the decree has been in force since 30 May 1994 and is incompatible with federal law. Since becoming president, Putin has suspended a number of regional leaders' decrees, including those of the presidents of Ingushetia and Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 May 2000). Last June, Putin signed a resolution suspending several resolutions issued by Dzharimov that also ran counter to the federal constitution (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 June 2000). JAC

ALMOST 1 MILLION PEOPLE BEHIND BARS

Some 980,000 people are currently serving sentences or are in pre-trail custody in Russia, Interfax reported on 8 September. Kamil Bakhtiarov, acting head of the Justice Ministry's prison department, told the agency that about 120,000 people have been released from prison or pre-trial custody under an amnesty program this year and that the total number might reach 250,000 people by 26 November. As of 1 July, Russia's population totaled 145.1 million, according to the State Statistics Committee. JAC




ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN VOWS TO CAMPAIGN FOR PRE-TERM ELECTIONS

Artashes Geghamian, who heads the nationalist Right and Accord parliamentary bloc, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 8 September that his party plans to collect "hundreds of thousands" of signatures to demand pre-term parliamentary elections. Geghamian claimed that the population no longer trusts the present parliament, elected in May 1999. He said the signature collection campaign will begin as soon as the trial of those accused of the 27 October parliament killings is over. Geghamian held exploratory talks last month on the possibility of cooperation with Stepan Demirchian, chairman of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), which is the junior partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliamentary majority faction. But Demirchian subsequently pledged his support for Miasnutiun after Prime Minister Andranik Markarian threatened to strip the HZhK of its remaining goverment posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 29 August 2000). Geghamian downplayed his failure to establish an alliance with Demirchian, claiming that he nonetheless enjoys the support of "the overwhelming majority of the population." LF

INSPECTORS SAY RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE IN ARMENIA CONFORMS WITH CFE REQUIREMENTS

Turkish and German officers who inspected the Russian military base at Giumri in northern Armenia last week said the quantity of military hardware deployed there does not exceed the limits to which Russia is entitled under the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, Noyan Tapan reported on 8 September. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS REAFFIRM COMMITMENT TO RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT

After their meeting in New York on 7 September on the sidelines of the UN Millennium Summit, Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev stressed their commitment to a peaceful solution of the Karabakh conflict and underlined the importance to that process of continuing what Kocharian termed the "important and useful dialogue" that they began last year, Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian conceded that it is premature to speak of concrete results from that dialogue, while Turan quoted Aliyev as saying that the talks have yielded no results to date. Kocharian stressed the willingness of both parties to find a solution to the conflict. Aliev, in his address to the summit, argued that it will be impossible to achieve peace and security in the South Caucasus until the "foreign military presence" in the region is withdrawn, meaning the Russian military bases in Georgia and Armenia. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE WARNS AZERBAIJAN OVER JOURNALIST'S ARREST

Lord Russell Johnston, who is president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has written to Azerbaijan's parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov to inform him that the 22 August arrest of Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," may delay Azerbaijan's admittance as a full member of the council, Turan and AP reported on 8 and 9 September. Russell Johnston requested clarification of the charges of terrorism and attempted hijacking brought against Arifoglu, noting that "the obligation to guarantee freedom of expression and the independence of the media is a key commitment your country has undertaken to become a member of our Organization." On 7 September, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov said it would not be "a tragedy" if Azerbaijan were not admitted to full membership in the Council. LF

AZERBAIJANI SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS ARRESTED JOURNALIST SATISFIED WITH JAIL CONDITIONS

National Security Ministry press secretary Araz Gurbanov told journalists on 9 September that there is no truth to claims by Arifoglu's lawyer that the detained journalist's rights are being infringed or that an attempt has been made to poison him, Turan reported. Gurbanov said that Arifoglu is allowed to receive books, newspapers, and food brought by his relatives and to hold unlimited meetings with his lawyer, Vidadi Mahmudov. Mahmudov had quoted Arifoglu as saying that he is strip-searched both before and after his meetings with Mahmudov. On 8 September, the committee to defend Arifoglu's rights submitted a request to the Baku municipal authorities to stage protest pickets on 12 and 13 September outside the State Radio and Television building and the Prosecutor-General's Office. LF

INTERIOR MINISTER DENIES CHECHENS HAVE TRAINING CAMPS IN AZERBAIJAN

Ramil Usubov told Turan on 9 September that there are no Chechen training camps in Azerbaijan, nor are Chechen fighters undergoing medical treatment in Azerbaijani hospitals. Daghestan's Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov had told a cabinet meeting in Makhachkala the previous day that his ministry has determined the names of Azerbaijani doctors who have treated wounded Chechens, according to Interfax. Magomedtagirov had made similar allegations in an interview published in the Azerbaijani independent newspaper "525 gazeti." LF

RANSOM DEMANDED FOR ABDUCTED GEORGIAN OFFICIAL

Kidnappers have demanded a $250,000 ransom for Shalva Marchemashvili, a regional official from Georgia's Akhmeta Raion, which borders on Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported on 9 September. Marchemashvili disappeared four months ago. His car was discovered several days later close to a Chechen-populated village whose inhabitants denied any knowledge of his disappearance. LF

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES AGAIN ATACKED IN GEORGIA

Georgian police and security officials fired blank anti-tank shells and used force to disperse an outdoor gathering of Jehovah's Witnesses in the town of Natuliki in northwestern Georgia on 8 September, AP and Caucasus Press reported. A security official told AP the congregation had been warned not to assemble in the town, which lies in the security zone on the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. LF

GEORGIAN SCIENTISTS WARN OF ROCKET FUEL LEAK

Georgian scientists have alerted the government to the threat posed by leakage of rocket fuel stored at former Russian military facilities in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. According to Institute of Physics and Organic Chemistry director Avtandil Dolidze, there are 120 tons of such fuel stored near the west Georgian town of Khobi and another 480 tons near Kutaisi, "Segodnya" reported on 7 September. Ukrainian officials have suggested that leaks of such fuel are responsible for the mass poisoning in Mykolayiv Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2000). LF

PENSIONED GEORGIAN POLICE OFFICERS PLAN MASS PROTESTS

Some 13,000 former Georgian police officers vowed on 8 September to stage countrywide protests if they do not receive pension arrears for the past 10 months totaling 8 million lari ($4 million), Caucasus Press reported. Also on 8 September, a senior pension fund official told Caucasus Press that total pension arrears amount to 18 million lari and that it is unlikely that arrears for last year will be paid. LF

PROTESTERS BLOCK HIGHWAY IN WESTERN GEORGIA

Some 300 people blocked the main east-west highway in Tkibuli, western Georgia, on 11 September to protest electricity cuts and demand that normal power supplies be restored, Caucasus Press reported. LF

FIRE EXTINGUISHED AT NUCLEAR POWER PLANT IN KAZAKHSTAN

A fire at the Mangyshlak nuclear power plant in western Kazakhstan during the night of 7-8 September was extinguished after two or three hours, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. No damage was reported to the plant's reactor. The cause of the blaze is not known. LF

CIS INTERIOR MINISTER CONCLUDE KYRGYZ MEETING

At the end of their annual meeting in Cholpon-Ata, interior ministers from the CIS states signed a joint three-year program of measures to combat terrorism, religious extremism, organized crime, and drug-smuggling, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 8 September. They also agreed to set up an anti-terrorism center in Bishkek, according to AP. LF

KYRGYZ FORCES REPEL ANOTHER MILITANT ATTACK

Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topoev told journalists in Bishkek on 9 September that government forces drove back two attempts by Islamic militants to cross the Tajik-Kyrgyz border on the mornings of 8 and 9 September, Interfax reported. He said more than 80 militants and 27 Kyrgyz servicemen have been killed during clashes over the past month. Topoev also said it is not necessary to mount a coordinated large-scale operation by forces from several Central Asian countries in order to neutralize the remaining scattered small groups of militants, according to ITAR-TASS. Meeting with Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev in Bishkek on 8 September following the CIS interior ministers' meeting, Tajik Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov denied that there are any militants' training camps on Tajik territory or that the militants transit Tajikistan en route from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

SEVENTH PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL FAILS KYRGYZ KANGUAGE TEST

Businessman and parliamentary deputy Arslan MAliyev failed the mandatory Kyrgyz language examination for presidential candidates on 8 September, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He is the seventh of 19 prospective candidates who has failed to qualify to register for the poll. The previous day, the Central Electoral Commission's Linguistic Commission similarly failed Omurbek Subanaliev, one of two candidates from the opposition Ar-Namys party. The second Ar-Namys candidate, former vice president and Bishkek mayor Feliks Kulov, has not yet sat the examination. LF




EUROPE TO SEND THREE TECHNICAL OBSERVERS TO BELARUSIAN POLLS

The Council of Europe and the European Parliament have approved the OSCE recommendations to send a limited technical assessment mission to the 15 October legislative elections in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 8 September. Wolfgang Berendt of the Council of Europe told RFE/RL that the technical assessment mission will consist of himself, Jan Marinus Wiersma of the European Parliament, and, "most likely," Adrian Severin of the OSCE. The group is to arrive in Minsk three days before the ballot takes place and spend a total of five days there. Last week, OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck said that a final assessment of the elections in Belarus will be based on information gathered by his mission, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and Belarus's NGO called the Central Coordinating Council for Monitoring Elections. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES DISRUPT GAY FESTIVAL IN MINSK

Shortly after the "Gay Pride-2000" festival got under way at a Minsk club on 7 September, electricity supplies to the club were cut off and the club's owner asked the participants to leave, saying he was under pressure from the authorities, Belapan and AP reported. Police sent by the mayor's office kicked participants out of the club and disrupted seminars and film screenings, festival spokeswoman Tsina Klykouskaya told AP. The organizers of the festival--the Belarusian Lambda Gay and Lesbian League--had applied for permission to march through Minsk on 10 September but failed to obtain it because the group is not registered with the Justice Ministry. The group had tried to register earlier but was denied registration on technicalities. JM

IMF MISSION ARRIVES IN KYIV AMID HOPES FOR RESUMPTION OF LOAN

An IMF mission arrived on 11 September in Ukraine to hold talks with the government on further reforms in the country's economy, AP reported. The mission is also expected to examine the government's 2001 budget plans. The fund suspended its $2.6 billion loan to Ukraine last fall owing to inefficient reforms and weak governance. Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said in a recent interview with "Zerkalo nedeli" that he is "absolutely optimistic" about obtaining new credits from the fund this year. "At the macro-level, we have managed to maintain or even somewhat optimize the goals set in our joint program with the IMF," Yushchenko noted. Meanwhile, citing a "source in Washington," Interfax reported that "practically all" participants in the IMF Board of Directors meeting last week spoke in favor of "resuming constructive cooperation" with Ukraine. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET REPORTS REPAYMENT OF PENSION ARREARS

Premier Viktor Yushchenko on 10 September said he has fulfilled his pledge to pay off pension arrears by 15 September. "I want to apologize to all our pensioners for what they had to go through. The government has done everything possible in order to avoid a repeat of such a situation," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying. At the beginning of this year, wage arrears in Ukraine stood at 1.25 billion hryvni ($230 million). Yushchenko also pledged that the government will seek to increase pensions. The average monthly pension in Ukraine is some 50 hryvni ($9.2). JM

DID CHECHENS WANT TO KILL PUTIN IN YALTA?

Ukraine's Security Service chief Leonid Derkach said on 9 September that his service foiled a plan to assassinate one of the CIS leaders at the 18-19 August CIS summit in Yalta, Interfax reported. Derkach added that the service was informed from abroad about the planned assassination and arrested four Chechens and "several persons from Middle East countries." Besides Russian President Vladimir Putin, the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Ukraine attended the CIS summit. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES NEW MILITARY CHIEF

Lennart Meri on 8 September asked the parliament to confirm Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts as commander of the Defense Forces. Kouts, who is the current head of the Border Guards, has broad support from both the ruling coalition and the opposition, ETA reported. Meri the same day nominated Justice Ministry Deputy Chancellor Priit Kama for the post of legal chancellor. The parliamentary opposition, however, voiced concern at Kama's political affiliation, as he is a member of Prime Minister Mart Laar's Pro Patria Union. The opposition also said that the post should be held by someone with more experience, noting that the 28-year old Kama, though already a lecturer at Tartu University, is too young. MH

LI PENG VISITS TALLINN

Chairman of China's People's National Congress Li Peng visited Estonia on 8-9 September to promote bilateral relations. Li praised Estonia's economic development during a meeting with President Meri and parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi, adding that China supports Estonia's bid to join the EU, ETA reported. Also on 9 September, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) held their 10th annual congress in Tallinn, which was opened by deputy parliamentary speaker Tunne Kelam, according to BNS. While the focus of the congress was Chechnya, China's human rights record was also sharply criticized. Organizers said it was coincidental that the congress took place at the time of Li's visit. A meeting of the international commission examining the crimes of communism likely prompted Li to cut short a trip to Vilnius earlier last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2000). MH

LATVIAN PREMIER DENIES CONTROVERSIAL VOTE HURT STABILITY

Andris Berzins has denied that the controversial vote not to strip parliamentary deputy Janis Adamsons of his immunity weakened the stability of his government. While Berzins noted on 8 September that it was strange that coalition member For Fatherland and Freedom voted "together with the opposition," the "vote has not impaired" the stability of the coalition, BNS reported. Earlier, Berzins had called the vote, in which several members of his own party, Latvia's Way, sided with the opposition, a "slap in the face" for democracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000). Former Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs, another Latvia's Way member who was accused by Adamsons of being linked to the so-called "pedophilia scandal," was more outspoken: "Latvia will be rocked by numerous unpleasant things in the future," hinting at the affair being larger than Adamsons's agenda, LETA quoted him as saying on 7 September. MH

THREE NAZIS REGISTERED TO TAKE PART IN LITHUANIAN ELECTIONS

Zenonas Vaigauskas, head of Lithuania's Central Electoral Commission, confirmed on 8 September that three members of the illegal National Social Union have registered to run in the 8 October general elections. Vaigauskas said, "If we had refused to register their candidacies, we would have been taken to the Higher Court and would have undoubtedly lost the case," BNS reported. The State Security Service said earlier it has evidence that the three candidates forged some of the 1,000 signatures necessary to be registered. Vaigauskas said that despite charges being levied against the three Nazis, they remain innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The three are running in individual constituencies, thus their party affiliation does not play a role in the registration process. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT VETOES MASS PRIVATIZATION BILL

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 11 September vetoed a controversial mass privatization bill that would have offered every Pole a share of state assets, including ownership rights to state-owned apartments and land, Reuters reported. Last week, the Sejm passed the bill, approving more than 50 amendments proposed by the Senate. "The bill is wrong from the legal point of view, miscalculated economically, and socially unjust," Kwasniewski commented to journalists. Commentators say AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski is actively using the mass privatization bill in his election campaign to boost his low support. Some 1,000 people picketed the presidential palace on 8 September to demand that Kwasniewski sign the bill. JM

GERMAN OFFICIAL SAYS REALISTIC DATE FOR POLAND'S EU MEMBERSHIP IS 2005, 2006

German Deputy Foreign Minister Christoph Zoepel said on 9 September that a realistic date for Poland's accession to the EU is 2005 or 2006, Polish Television reported. Zoepel noted that by that time, Poland will have been able to prepare its border crossing points in the east and catch up on passing economic legislation in line with EU norms. Zoepel made his remarks in Biala Podlaska, eastern Poland, where he was attending a conference of Polish and German Social Democrats. JM

AUSTRIANS AGAIN BLOCK CZECH BORDER POINTS

Austrians protesting the planned launch of the Temelin nuclear power plant blocked several border crossings with the Czech Republic for about 80 minutes on 8 September, CTK and Reuters reported. Also on 8 September, German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said his country will "continue to insist that the plant meets international safety standards," adding that there "should be no doubt that we oppose the plant.... Our experts do not consider it safe." For his part, Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber told journalists in Vienna that the "extraordinary [Austrian] protests against Temelin" are a "consequence of the arrogant stance of the Czechs" who "believe that Temelin is no business of Austria and Germany." The daily "Pravo" reported on 8 September that the launch of the facility has been postponed owing to repeated water leaks from the reactor's cooling system. MS

FICO CALLS ON SUPPORTERS TO VOTE IN SLOVAK REFERENDUM

Robert Fico, leader of the Smer (Direction) party, called on his supporters on 9 September to participate in the referendum on early elections scheduled for 11 November, Reuters and CTK reported. The maverick politician said his party will not seek to influence anyone over how to vote, but he added that he personally supports early elections. Fico also said that regardless of the referendum's outcome, "Smer will never negotiate on possible cooperation with [former Premier Vladimir] Meciar." Observers say that the participation in the referendum of supporters of Smer, whose backing is estimated at some 20 percent, may mean the minimum 50 percent turnout required by law for the vote to be valid will be achieved (see also "End Note" below). MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT PARTY WANTS TO ANNUL MECIAR AMNESTY

The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) wants to amend the constitution to annul the amnesty granted by Meciar to those who participated in the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1997, KDH Deputy Chairman Vladimir Pasko told journalists on 8 September. According to CTK, the passage of such an amendment is doubtful owing to the fact that the Hungarian Slovak Coalition (SMK) conditions its support on meeting demands that are unpopular with the other coalition partners, including the return of land confiscated from that minority in 1945 and the approval of the EU Charter on Minority and Regional Languages. The SMK also opposes the intention to revise the country's territorial administrative division so that the region inhabited by Magyars would be divided into three separate counties. MS

HUNGARY CONCERNED ABOUT SLOVAK ADMINISTRATIVE REORGANIZATION

Hungary is concerned about the plan to revise Slovakia's territorial administrative division in Slovakia (see above), MTI reported on 9 September, citing a Foreign Ministry press release. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth told Stefan Markus, Slovak ambassador to Budapest, that the planned re-division contravenes several international agreements signed by Slovakia and in particular the Slovak-Hungarian basic treaty and several Council of Europe documents. Budapest believes that the change would worsen the chance of ethnic Magyars to "influence their own affairs and use their mother-tongue in contacts with the authorities" and would thus negatively impact Hungarian-Slovak relations. Markus replied that the envisaged revision is only "in the draft phase" and that the Slovak government is examining ways to meet the Hungarian minority's demands. MS




KOSTUNICA DRAWS LARGE CAMPAIGN CROWDS...

Some 20,000 people turned out in the small western Serbian town of Cacak in a show of support for Vojislav Kostunica, the leading Yugoslav opposition candidate for president, Reuters reported on 8 September. Cacak, with a population of only some 50,000, was the site of the first anti-government rally in July 1999. Kostunica, who has a large lead over Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in opinion polls ahead of the 24 September election, told the crowd that Milosevic's government "insulted you and you need to exact your revenge." He said "not their kind of revenge, but rather in our way--with your pencil and your vote for the truth--not lies." Two days later, leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, the bloc of parties that nominated Kostunica, continued a 12-day marathon campaign tour of 50 cities and towns by visiting Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac. Democratic Party head Zoran Djindjic said "we don't accept forbidden cities in Serbia." A crowd of some 300 attended the opposition rally. PB

...MEETS WITH MONTENEGRIN LEADER

Opposition presidential candidate Kostunica met with Montenegrin speaker Svetozar Marovic in Sveti Stefan on 9 September, Reuters reported. Marovic said Montenegro "expects the democratic representatives of Serbia and Montenegro to sit down and arrange all aspects of our union." He said Podgorica is "ready to help the democratic forces in Serbia and Kostunica." Kostunica has criticized the decision by the Montenegrin government to boycott the elections. PB

ERSTWHILE ALLY WOULD NOT SUPPORT MILOSEVIC IN SECOND ROUND

Tomislav Nikolic, the ultranationalist candidate for Yugoslav president, said on 8 September that his Radical Party--a coalition partner in President Milosevic's government--would not support the incumbent in a second round of voting for the presidential post, AP reported. Nikolic said the Radicals would support the opposition candidate in such a case. Nikolic also alleged that the government is planning to fix the elections, particularly the vote in Kosova, the Fonet news agency reported. In other news, former Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic confirmed on 8 September that he has resigned from all positions in the government, including that of Milosevic's personal adviser for economic issues. He refused to say why he had resigned, but independent media reported that it is because of his objection to the influence wielded by Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic. Lilic preceded Milosevic as Yugoslav president. PB

SERBIAN POLICE BEAT STUDENTS, RAID ELECTION OFFICE

Seven members of the student opposition group Otpor (Resistance) were hospitalized in Vladicin Han on 8 September after being beaten by police, Reuters reported. Aljosa Drazovic of Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Fund said police held the students for questioning after they were detained for posting banners. Shortly after being released, they were taken back to the station and beaten with batons and chains. The ordeal ended after a few hundred people gathered at the station and demanded their release. In Belgrade on 8 September, police raided the offices of the independent Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID), removing computers and other materials. According to the CESID's Sobodanka Nedovic, the police said "they were searching for evidence of possible criminal acts." Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said CESID is "an American outpost" and that it "will not be an observer at the elections." He added that no monitors from Western countries considered hostile to Milosevic will be allowed. PB

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER MAKES STOPS IN KOSOVA, MONTENEGRO...

George Papandreou ended a two-day visit to Yugoslavia on 8 September with visits to Kosova and Montenegro, Reuters reported. In Prishtina, Papandreou rejected the idea of independence for the southern Serbian province, saying: "we are not in favor of dividing people but uniting them within a united Europe. We would like to have a multicultural society and we are not in favor of an ethnically-cleansed society." Papandreou met with Kosova's UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, the commander of the NATO force in Kosova, Lieutenant-General Juan Ortuno, and Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders. In Podgorica, Papandreou met with Montenegrin Premier Filip Vujanovic, who said the two discussed the situation in Yugoslavia ahead of the election as well as Montenegrin-Greek ties. PB

...IS PESSIMISTIC ABOUT PROSPECTS FOR FAIR ELECTIONS

Papandreou warned in Athens on 9 September of "negative effects" if fraud, violence, and other abuses take place during the 24 September presidential and general elections in Yugoslavia, AP reported. Papandreou, who made a controversial visit to Belgrade and spoke with President Milosevic last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000), said: "I can say that the initial messages that we have are not encouraging." PB

CROATIA PRESENTS EVIDENCE AT THE HAGUE

A Croatian government delegation visited the war crimes tribunal at The Hague on 8 September to present new evidence in the case of General Tihomir Blaskic, a Croatian commander sentenced by the court to 45 years in prison, AP reported. The delegation, which is headed by Deputy Premier Goran Granic and Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic, met with the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, and the tribunal's vice president, Florence Mumba. The delegation's evidence was discovered in the archives of former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who died in December. Many believe Blaskic was framed by high- level Croatian officials. The sentence against Blaskic caused outrage in Croatia. It is the longest to be handed down to date by the tribunal. PB

MACEDONIA'S OPPOSITION CLAIMING VICTORY

Branko Crvenkovski, the head of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, said on 10 September that the opposition is headed for a "great victory" in local elections, dpa reported. Although official results have not yet been made public, Crvenkovski, who is also the head of the opposition bloc For Macedonia Together, claimed that the opposition won the mayoral offices in Skopje, Ohrid, Stip, Kocani, Veles, and Gevgelija. He said he hopes "[Premier Ljubco] Georgievski will fulfill his pledge and call early parliamentary elections." Georgievski had said he would do so if his government coalition lost by more than 10 percentage points to the opposition. Violence was reported in ethnic-Albanian dominated western Macedonia, with eight people injured in clashes between supporters of the ethnic-Albanian opposition Party for Democratic Progress and the coalition partner Democratic Party of Albanians. PB

BOSNIAN OFFICIALS SACKED FOR OBSTRUCTING RETURNS

Fifteen Bosnian officials were sacked on 8 September by the international community's high representative in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, for obstructing the return of refugees and of seized property, AP reported. A spokeswoman said the 15 "ignored, obstructed, and failed to enforce laws they were tasked to implement, pursuing an extra-legal agenda of abusing their offices." PB

BOSNIAN PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED

Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic was admitted to a New York hospital on 9 September with pneumonia, Reuters reported. Izetbegovic, who currently chairs the country's tripartite presidency, was attending the UN's Millennium Summit. The president, 75, plans to retire next month owing to bad health. PB

HUNGARIAN POLITICIAN TO RUN IN ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Gyorgy Frunda was chosen by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania's (UDMR) Council of Representatives on 9 September to be its presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for November-December. Frunda was backed by 59 council members, while 34 members voted for UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes. Toekes's candidacy was proposed by the UDMR's Cluj branch. One day earlier, the bishop announced he was resigning from the Bihor branch and joining the Cluj one. He accused the leadership of the former to have undergone "political and moral decay." For some time, Toekes has been openly challenging the UDMR leadership, headed by Bela Marko. MS

ROMANIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WITHDRAW FROM RULING COALITION

The Social Democratic Party (PSDR) on 8 September announced it is withdrawing from the ruling coalition, following its decision to run on joint lists with the Party of Social Democracy in Romania in the November parliamentary elections and later merge with that party. The National Peasant Party Christian Democratic announced on 9 September it will demand the labor and social affairs portfolio, which will become vacant following Smaranda Dobrescu's resignation from the cabinet last week. But Prime Minster Mugur Isarescu says he has "not yet" accepted Dobrescu's resignation and will discuss it with the leadership of the ruling coalition, Mediafax reported on 10 September. MS

POLICE DETAIN SUSPECTS IN ROMANIAN TRADE UNION LEADER'S MURDER

The Iasi police commander on 11 September told workers at the Tepro plant who continue to protest the murder last week of trade union leader Virgil Sahleanu that "the assassins have been identified, questioned, and are under arrest," Mediafax reported. He said the chief suspect was Tepro Director-General Victor Balan and that a total of seven people have been detained. MS

PRIMAKOV SAYS CHISINAU, TIRASPOL ACCEPTED RUSSIAN DRAFT

Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian state commission for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, told a forum of the Danish Institute for International Relations in Copenhagen on 9 September that the sides involved in the conflict have both accepted the Russian draft as a basis for negotiations, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking in Chisinau the same day, the Moldovan chairman of the state commission for the settlement of the conflict, Vasile Sturza, said that "considerable progress" has been made in the negotiations. He added that Moldova rejects any "federalization idea" and Tiraspol's claim that the idea is incorporated in the Russian draft is out of touch with reality, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Sturza said Chisinau insists that the agreement incorporate the 1997 Moscow memorandum stipulating that Moldova is a "sovereign and indivisible state." MS

BULGARIA EXPELLS TWO MORE FOREIGNERS

Bulgaria on 8 September expelled another two foreigners. The Interior Ministry said a man from Chechnya and a Georgian citizen were ordered to leave the country. Last week, two Russians accused of involvement in international arms trafficking were deported. MS




WILL THE HZDS DITCH MECIAR TO GAIN POWER?


By Daniel Butora

Former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is desperately seeking to overcome its isolation on the domestic political scene. In its search for the right partners, it may find some unlikely allies, including Pavol Rusko, who controls the country's main private television station.

Meciar's personality defined Slovak politics for most of the 1990s and isolated the country internationally (Bratislava failed to receive an invitation to join NATO or to begin "fast-track" negotiations to join the EU). Moreover, his style polarized the country into those forces that supported Meciar and those that opposed him.

At the same time, Meciar's leadership was a major factor in his party's electoral success. When Meciar announced he was leaving politics late in 1998, the party's popularity was reduced by half. Only after he returned to politics a few months later did it reach its current level of some 25-30 percent. That backing gives the party a clear lead in all national polls, but not enough to win a majority.

This leaves the party with a dilemma: it cannot remove Meciar, because it depends upon his popularity, but if he remains leader, it cannot put together a coalition government either. Only the radical Slovak National Party, led by Anna Malikova, has openly declared its readiness to revive its alliance with the HZDS.

The May 1999 presidential elections proved that while Meciar has many supporters in Slovakia, there are many citizens who strongly disapprove of his strong-arm style. Meciar was defeated by Rudolf Schuster in that ballot by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin. Since then, the HZDS has been searching for an arrangement that would allow the party to maintain the popularity it enjoys with Meciar as leader but make it possible for other parties to join the HZDS in a coalition government.

The HZDS's most likely partner is Smer (Direction) of parliamentary deputy Robert Fico. Once a leading luminary of the postcommunist Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), Fico founded Smer as an alternative to both the HZDS and the four parties in Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's government. Smer quickly became the second most popular party in the country, after the HZDS; and Fico, whom his opponents describe as an indisputable populist, leads in some polls as the country's most respected politician.

It is interesting that Fico's support comes mainly from those who voted for the current ruling parties but have become disillusioned with Dzurinda's government, although he also receives support from those interest groups that back Meciar, including the nuclear lobby. While such groups would like to see the HZDS and Smer form a government, Fico's supporters would not welcome a deal with Meciar. Fico himself has said he sees no possibility of forming a coalition with Meciar, and he criticizes Meciar as often as he finds fault with the current government.

In Bratislava's political circles, there has been talk for some time of Meciar's stepping down as head of the HZDS and moving to a position such as party honorary chairman. Such a move could pave the way to a coalition with Smer and possibly other parties in Dzurinda's government. At the same time, such a move would not be without risk. If Meciar were to step down before the elections, the HZDS could lose a significant number of voters.

Against this background, Pavol Rusko is a potentially key political player. His TV Markiza is the most important entity on the Slovak media scene. It played a crucial role in Meciar's 1998 defeat and remains critical of the HZDS. But that criticism might be directed elsewhere if Rusko were to back Meciar's quitting as head of the HZDS to make room for himself. Rusko is known to be very ambitious, having said he would like to be prime minister one day. In the meantime, he is building his own influential media empire.

But while some observers believe Rusko might replace Meciar as HZDS chairman, others suggest he might take over as head of one of the smaller parties in the current government, such as the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), which was established by President Schuster. If Rusko were to become the chairman of the SOP, TV Markiza's positive coverage of the HZDS and Smer might result in a smooth transition of power within the HZDS and the establishment of a new government. As speculative as this may seem, there is already evidence of a warming in relations between Meciar and Rusko.

The wild card, however, is how the current government parties would react to such a development. Some, including the SDL, might be tempted to join an HZDS-Smer tandem and might even be welcomed into such a grouping. Others, such as Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, will try to win over Fico to their side.

The 11 November referendum on early elections, which was organized by the HZDS and recently supported by Fico, will give an indication of the strength of the current coalition. If the necessary 50 percent of the voters fail to turn out to vote, the government will score a political victory and receive the moral support to remain in power for the next two years. If voters cast their ballots in favor of early elections, however, the parliament will have to make a final decision on the elections. In such an event, it will be interesting to see how the various political parties act. But it will be even more interesting to see how TV Markiza covers the story. The author works for RFE/RL's Slovak Service.


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