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Newsline - October 13, 2000




IVANOV TO ADDRESS DUMA ON MID-EAST CRISIS...

Having returned to Moscow on the evening of 12 October, after several days of shuttle diplomacy aimed at ending the violence in Israeli territories under Palestinian jurisdiction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 October 2000), Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was scheduled on 13 October to address the State Duma on the situation in the Middle East. A meeting convened at the Russian Foreign Ministry immediately after Ivanov's return was devoted to working out Moscow's strategy in the region, according to Interfax. The ministry later issued a statement urging all parties to the conflict in the region to refrain from violence. Russia is a co-sponsor of the Middle East process; earlier this week Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called upon Moscow to increase its role in that process. JC

...AS DEPUTIES SET TO ISSUE TOUGH RESOLUTION?

Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 13 October, chairman of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee (People's Deputy) Dmitrii Rogozin indicated that the lower house is preparing to issue a strong resolution on the latest events in the Palestinian territories, where Israeli forces carried out a series of air strikes following the murder of two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob. "Israel has, in fact, launched a war against Palestinians, which means a disruption of the entire Middle East peace process," Rogozin said. Those events, he added, force Duma deputies to "dramatically" change a resolution they had been preparing to adopt on the Middle East. "We are forced to give up the mild wording" of an earlier draft, Rogozin commented. JC

RUSSIA, GREECE WELCOME EU DECISION TO LIFT YUGOSLAV SANCTIONS

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, meeting in Athens on 12 October, welcomed the EU's decision to lift sanctions against Yugoslavia. Noting that Greece and Russia are traditional Yugoslav allies, Ivanov noted that it is very important that the two countries coordinate their efforts "to contribute to Balkan stability." Papandreou, for his part, praised Moscow's role, and particularly that of Ivanov, during the recent developments in Belgrade, adding that the Russian foreign minister "can only have a great role to play" in the region. Earlier the same day, Ivanov had paid a short visit to Cyprus. JC

VNUKOVO AIRLINES TO LAUNCH REGULAR FLIGHTS TO IRAQ

Some three weeks after Aeroflot signed a memorandum with Iraq restoring regular flights to Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2000), Russia's Vnukovo Airlines announced on 12 October that by the end of the year, it will operate twice-weekly flights to the Iraqi capital. Interfax reported that the Russian Committee for Cultural, Scientific, and Business Cooperation with Iraq has chartered three Vnukovo planes to Baghdad, the first of which will take off on 27 October. The planes will carry both businessmen and humanitarian aid. AP quoted a Vnukovo spokesman as saying that the airline's flights to Iraq will have an enlarged business-class section. JC

CAR BOMB KILLS TWELVE IN GROZNY

At least 12 people were killed and 20 injured when a car bomb exploded outside a Grozny police station on 12 October. Seven of those killed were members of the pro-Russian Chechen police force, while the remainder were civilians. A spokesman for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told AFP by telephone that the bomb was planted by Chechen fighters belonging to the detachment of field commander Isa Munaev. Russian forces claimed to have killed Munaev in Grozny late last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2000). Russian police on 13 October said they have arrested three men in Urus Martan whom they believe are responsible for the blast, Reuters reported. LF

AGENDA SET FOR FIRST STATE COUNCIL MEETING...

The Presidium of the new State Council held its second meeting on 12 October under the chairmanship of President Vladimir Putin. Following the two-and-a-half hour meeting, presidium member and Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev told reporters that the first session of the State Council, scheduled for 22 November, will discuss Russia's strategic development up to the 2010, Interfax reported. He revealed that the Presidium will gather again on 21 November in order to take care of any final details. JAC

...AS GOVERNOR SUGGESTS RADICAL LEGISLATIVE REFORM

In an interview with "Segodnya" the same day, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov suggested that the constitution be amended to abolish the Federation Council, giving some of its functions to the State Council. He explained that the parliament would then be composed of a single chamber, the State Duma, whose members would be elected by a majority system rather than by party lists. Ayatskov is known for his frequently changing views and for his keen sense of which way prevailing political winds are blowing. JAC

GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CLASH OVER RAILWAY REFORM?

"Kommersant-Daily," in which Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest, reported on 12 October that Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref is unhappy with the plan proposed by Railway Minister Nikolai Aksenenko to restructure his ministry into a state-owned enterprise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2000). Gref reportedly would prefer to form 17 different companies, which would then be joined together in one holding. During the 12 October government session on plans to restructure the railway ministry and industry, Minister for Anti-Monopoly Policy Ilya Yuzhanov suggested that a new independent organ be created to regulate not only railway tariffs but also energy, ports, airports, and telecommunication tariffs, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 October. Yuzhanov also suggested that the proposed new state-owned entity that incorporated parts of the Railway Ministry should not include train stations and railway infrastructure. JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN DISPLEASED WITH GEORGE BUSH THE YOUNGER

Former Prime Minister and State Duma deputy (Unity) Viktor Chernomyrdin issued a statement on 12 October condemning U.S. presidential candidate George W. Bush's comments the previous day during a televised debate. Bush had said that some of the money from the IMF loans to Russia "ended up in Viktor Chernomyrdin's pocket and others." Chernomyrdin said "I can assess these utterances with just one word--unworthy--especially for a person aspiring to the highest post in such a country as the United States of America." He added that "Bush is unlikely to achieve serious success in his political career if the steps he takes in his election campaign are directed toward a revision of economic cooperation with Russia. And, in doing so, he discredits authoritative international institutions as well as Russian politicians." JAC

GUSINSKII SAYS HE'S READY TO TESTIFY--IN ISRAEL

Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii, failing to heed a summons by the Prosecutor-General's Office, announced in a letter to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov that he is prepared to give testimony on Israeli territory, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October, citing Media-MOST's press service. A criminal investigation has been launched into whether Media-MOST has hidden assets abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2000). Gusinskii, who holds both Russian and Israeli citizenship, said he will not give evidence in Russia because there are no guarantees that his constitutional rights will be respected. He added he is prepared to meet with representatives of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office in Israel "at any time convenient for them." Gusinskii was jailed for several days in June and left Russia the following month, saying he had been forced to sign a deal handing over Media-MOST to cover debts to Gazprom. JC

GAZPROM PROFITS SOAR

Gazprom's net profits during the first half of 2000 more than doubled compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported on 12 October. Net profits for the first six months of this year totaled 74.33 billion rubles ($2.1 billion), while total sales revenues amounted to 238.653 billion rubles. According to Gazprom's press service, higher profits resulted mainly from higher oil prices in 1999. JAC

IN THE FSB THEY TRUST

Azalea Dolgova, head of the Russian Association of Criminology, told "Trud-7" of 12 October that according to a survey of businessmen in Moscow, Volgograd, Voronezh and Vladivostok, tax inspectors typically demand 25 percent of a business's tax payment, while customs officials demand 20 percent of total customs duties. She added that $10,000-$15,000 is the going rate for having criminal charges dropped, while a lighter sentence can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000. According to Dolgova, some 3 percent of respondents to the survey considered the only law enforcement agency capable of fighting corruption is the Federal Security Service (FSB). In addition, only 0.4 percent thought corruption is possible in the FSB. Also on 12 October, "Tribuna" reported that 13,833 police officers were charged with crimes in 1999, an almost 4 percent rise over the previous year. JAC

NOBEL PRIZE WINNER LOBBIES PUTIN FOR MORE MONEY FOR SCIENCE...

After an hour-long meeting with President Putin on 12 October, Nobel prize-winning physicist and State Duma deputy (Communist) Zhores Alferov told reporters that with Putin's help, "there will be a new impulse from politics in science and cutting-edge technologies," Reuters reported. Alferov called the meeting "very effective" but declined to say whether Putin had promised more government funding for science. JAC

...AS UPPER HOUSE MEMBER PROMISES TO OPPOSE NEW DUMA HOUSING

Commenting on Alferov's statement the previous day that the 2001 budget includes more than 1 billion rubles ($39 million) for new housing for Duma deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2000), Federation Council member Aleksandr Filipenko said that if such an item does exist and remains in the budget, "I and my colleagues in the Federation Council will of course not vote for it." Filipenko, who is also governor of the oil-rich Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, said that he is happy that the president supports the computerization of schools but noted that his district has already opened 10 Internet-classrooms. JAC

PROTESTING TEACHERS END HIGHWAY BLOCKADE BUT NOT STRIKE...

Teachers in Altai Republic protesting unpaid wages have ended their blockade of a highway leading to Mongolia, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 October. However, the teachers said they will continue their strike, which began on 2 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2000). Altai President Semen Zyubakin has promised to repay some of the teachers' wages in the short term but has asked for more time to make good on the entire seven-month backlog. JAC

...AS HEALTH-CARE WORKERS STILL HAVEN'T RECEIVED THEIR WAGES

Fifty-one regions of Russia owe health-care workers back wages totaling 584.7 million rubles ($20.9 million), ITAR-TASS reported on 12 October, citing the Ministry of Health. According to the ministry, the largest backlogs are in the Far East, which owes some 166.6 million rubles, and Western Siberia, where some 109.2 million rubles in wages have not been paid. JAC

KUZBASS INFANTS PLAGUED BY POOR HEALTH

Local doctors in Kemerovo Oblast believe that only 7 percent of new births in the area can be considered healthy and the number of infants born with defects is growing, RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 7 October. According to the oblast's bureau of medical statistics, the number of premature births from 1997 to 1999 accounted for 3 percent of the total births, compared with more than 9 percent during the first eight months of 2000. Of the babies weighing less than 1 kilogram, only 16 percent survive; of that figure, 64 percent die during their first week. Part of the problem is that hospitals do not have incubators. In addition to lacking the proper equipment, hospitals also have to care for abandoned babies, the majority of which are not adopted because they have neurological disorders. JAC

BUY A SHARE IN A SPACE STATION

MirCorp, the Netherlands-based company that is leasing the "Mir" space station for commercial use, announced on 12 October that it intends to make an initial public offering in February 2001. Shares worth some $117 million are to be listed on the U.S. Nasdaq, London, and Singapore exchanges. Among other things, the company is offering to send "space tourists" to "Mir" in a bid to keep the aging station in orbit. Recently, however, high-ranking Russian government officials suggested that "Mir" should be scrapped and "meager" budget funds used instead for the International Space Station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 October 2000). JC




DEFENSE MINISTER OPPOSES SENDING ARMENIAN TROOPS TO CENTRAL ASIA

Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on 12 October that although Armenia is committed to continuing to participate in the CIS Collective Security Treaty, he would not want Armenian troops to be sent to fight "in Central Asia, Siberia, or anywhere else," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. On 11 October, Armenian President Robert Kocharian, together with the presidents of the five other signatory states to the CIS Collective Security Treaty, signed a treaty in Bishkek on establishing a joint rapid-reaction force to be deployed in the event of aggression or a terrorist attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2000). LF

PEOPLE'S PARTY FAILS TO PLEDGE SUPPORT FOR ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT

The People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), the junior partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliamentary bloc, declined on 12 October to affirm its support for the government of Andranik Markarian, who heads the other member group of Miasnutiun, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian had called on the HZhK on 11 October to signal its unequivocal support for his government's policies. The future of the Miasnutiun bloc has been in the balance for weeks, during which time Markarian has held talks with five other parliamentary parties on cementing an alternative majority alignment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September and 4 October 2000). LF

FORMER PARLIAMENT SPEAKER TO RETURN TO AZERBAIJAN

Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliev, who has lived in the U.S. since resigning as parliamentary speaker in 1996, said on 12 October that he will return to Azerbaijan to contest the 5 November parliamentary election, despite the warrant issued for his arrest on charges of massive embezzlement, Interfax and AP reported. It is unclear whether under Azerbaijani law parliamentary candidates enjoy immunity from arrest. Meanwhile on 10 October the U.S. State Department hailed the Central Election Commission's decision two days earlier to revoke its decision not to register eight parties, including the DPA, to contest the poll under the proportional system, Turan reported. The statement expressed the hope that the commission will take "additional steps" to ensure the fairness of that ballot, as called for by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. That office issued a statement in Baku earlier on 10 October calling on the commission to register those candidates in single-mandate constituencies who had earlier been refused registration (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 11 October 2000 and "End Note" below). LF

RUSSIA WILL NOT INTRODUCE VISA REGIME WITH AZERBAIJAN...

Presenting his credentials to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 12 October, Russia's new ambassador Nikolai Ryabov said Moscow will not introduce a visa requirement for Azerbaijani citizens, Turan reported. Ryabov added that his acceptance of the post of ambassador was contingent on the non-imposition of a visa regime between the two countries. He confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Baku next month, adding that one of the issues to be discussed during that visit is the Karabakh conflict. LF

...BUT PLANS TO DO SO FOR GEORGIA

Newly appointed Russian ambassador Vladimir Gudev said in Tbilisi on 12 October that it is in Russia's interest to impose a visa requirement for persons wishing to enter the Russian Federation from Georgia in order to prevent Chechen and "international terrorists" from entering the country, Caucasus Press reported. A Russian consular official had said earlier this month that Russia will introduce such a visa requirement unilaterally if Tbilisi does not agree to a mutual visa regime. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze predicted on 9 October that Moscow will not impose a visa requirement for Georgia as doing so would hinder communications between Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia and the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia in Russia. LF

FOUR GEORGIAN JAIL BREAKERS RECAPTURED

Georgian police have apprehended four of the 12 men who escaped on 1 October from a Tbilisi security prison, Caucasus Press reported on 12 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 2 and 3 October 2000). The four, who were detained in the west Georgian district of Ratcha, include Loti Kobalia, who headed former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's presidential guard, and Gamsakhurdia's Finance Minister Guram Absandze. LF

KAZAKHSTAN PLANS TO REDUCE BUDGET DEFICIT

The lower house of the parliament has approved government-proposed changes to the current year's budget that reduce the planned deficit and increase spending, Interfax reported on 12 October. Kazakhstan posted a budget surplus of 40.9 billion tenges ($208 million) during the first eight months of this year. The draft proposes lowering the budget deficit from the anticipated 3 percent to 2.7 percent of GDP or 63.8 billion tenges. Echoing estimates voiced last week by Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, the amended draft budget predicts GDP growth this year of 5 percent. Toqaev noted that GDP during the first half of this year grew by 10.5 percent and industrial production by 16 percent. Foreign trade turnover during the same period increased by 70 percent year-on-year. LF

FIRED KAZAKH OIL REFINERY DIRECTOR ACCUSES CANADIAN COMPANY OF MALPRACTICE

Nurlan Bizaqov, who was fired in August as director of the Shymkent Oil Refinery after the refinery was taken over by the Canadian company Hurricane Hydrocarbons, told journalists in Almaty on 11 October that the Canadian company is engaging in unspecified illegal operations, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. He added that he has taken legal action demanding to be reinstated as director of the refinery. Bizaqov also accused Hurricane Hydrocarbons of maintaining two separate pay scales, one for local and one for Canadian personnel, and of repatriating all its profits rather than reinvesting them in oil extraction elsewhere in Kazakhstan. He suggested that the Kazakh government consider renationalizing the refinery, according to Interfax. LF

KYRGYZ ECONOMIC RECOVERY CONTINUES

Statistics released in Bishkek on 12 October show that the economic recovery registered during the first six months of the year is continuing, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2000). GDP grew by 5 percent during the first nine months of the year to 83 billion soms (approximately $1.7 billion). Industrial production increased over the same period by 6 percent to reach 30.8 billion soms, while foreign trade turnover was up by 13 percent year-on-year to $699 million. No data was given for agricultural output, possibly as the country's grain harvest is estimated as 6 percent lower than in 1999. LF

TAJIKISTAN, IRAN DISCUSS AFGHAN CRISIS

Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov met with visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Sadeq Kharrazi in Dushanbe on 12 October, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two discussed the potential threat posed to both their countries by an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting in neighboring Afghanistan. They agreed that the civil war in that country can be ended only by negotiations with a view to creating "a broad-based government" that "would take into account the interests of all sections of the Afghan population." They also reviewed the potential for expanding bilateral economic cooperation. Speaking in Tashkent the same day, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov similarly said that peace in Afghanistan is impossible as long as all that country's ethnic and religious groups are not represented in the government, Interfax reported. Karimov said the composition of that government is of no interest to Tashkent, provided that peace is restored. And he stressed that Uzbekistan is not seeking confrontation with Afghanistan or to interfere in that country's internal affairs. LF

TAJIK FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER'S BODYGUARD CHARGED WITH MURDER

First Deputy Prime Minister Khodji Akbar Turadjonzoda's bodyguard Mukhtor Djalilov, who was forcibly detained by armed men in Dushanbe on 11 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2000), is being held by police on suspicion of robbery, terrorism and murder, AP reported on 12 October, quoting a Tajik Interior Ministry spokesman. Turadjonzoda termed the arrest "a provocation" but declined to comment on the charges that Djalilov faces. LF

UZBEK, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS DENOUNCE NEW EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION

President Karimov and his visiting Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, told journalists in Tashkent on 12 October that the Eurasian Economic Union launched in Astana three days earlier on the basis of the CIS Customs Union is "a time bomb" that could destroy the CIS, Interfax and Reuters reported. Karimov predicted that the new body will not prove capable of resolving problems that its predecessor had created. Kuchma, for his part, posed the question why other CIS members were not invited to join the new body. The two presidents also signed an agreement on 12 October that will facilitate the return to Ukraine of Crimean Tatars deported to Central Asia by Stalin in 1944, according to AP. LF

UZBEKISTAN SEEKS TO PROMOTE FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN PROVINCES

The Uzbek cabinet has adopted a five-year program intended to encourage foreign participation in some 343 joint ventures throughout the country's regions, Interfax reported on 12 October. Most of those joint ventures will engage in the processing of agricultural production or in light industry and the manufacture of construction materials. LF




LUKASHENKA RULES OUT 'YUGOSLAV SCENARIO' IN BELARUS...

Bidding farewell to the Chamber of Representatives of the First Convocation on 12 October, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka assured legislators that there will be no "Yugoslav scenario of the change of power" in Belarus, Belapan reported. "We already experienced that [in 1996] but we had enough sense to go through that calmly, without shooting, toward which we were being pushed," Lukashenka added. He was referring to the confrontation between himself and the Supreme Soviet before the 1996 constitutional referendum, when he ordered armored personnel carriers to cordon off the parliamentary building. JM

...PLEDGES TO FIND JOBS FOR LOYAL LAWMAKERS...

Lukashenka thanked the legislators for having "unequivocally accepted the people's will in 1996 and supported the head of the state by leaving the Supreme Soviet and entering the Chamber of Representatives." He told them that "nobody in the West" is currently questioning the 1996 referendum results. He also complimented the lawmakers for their legislative work, saying that "there are no analogs [of it] in world practice." He promised to find jobs for those deputies who decided not to seek re-election in the 15 October legislative ballot. JM

...CALCULATES COST OF BELARUSIAN 'SERVICES' TO RUSSIA

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported that during his 12 October address to the legislature, Lukashenka "quite unexpectedly" mentioned his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin the previous day. According to Lukashenka, Putin "reproached" Belarus for buying Russian gas at $40 per 1,000 cubic meters while world prices stand at $100. Lukashenka told lawmakers that each year Belarus renders $850 million worth of "services" to Russia, including "military bases, transit, and other services." He added that Russia's use of radar station at Hantsavichy (Brest Oblast) costs another $200 million a year. Therefore, Lukashenka argued, "We should not be badgered for the $200 million in gas debts [to Russia], which we sometimes fail to pay on time." He also said that Belarus's 100,000-strong army defends not only Belarusians but also "Russian brothers," which "costs a lot of money, too." JM

UKRAINE TO LAUNCH SERIAL PRODUCTION OF AN-70 PLANE

The Ukrainian government has decided to begin serial production of the AN-70 military transport plane, Interfax and AP reported. The first plane is to appear by the end of 2002. Ukraine's Defense Ministry plans to purchase one plane a year beginning in 2006. Another buyer will be Russia's Defense Ministry. The AN-70 plane is a Ukrainian-Russian project: the body of the plane will be assembled in the Aviant plant in Kyiv and the Aviakor plant in Samara (Russia), while engines will be built at the Sich plant in Zaporizhzhya and the Salyut factory in Moscow. One AN-70 will cost nearly $50 million. According to State Committee for Industrial Policy head Volodymyr Novytskyy, 110 planes need to be sold to turn a profit. The AN-70 is able to carry a cargo of 35 tons over a distance of 5,000 kilometers. JM

POPE TO VISIT UKRAINE NEXT YEAR?

Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Zhulynskyy said on 12 October that it is possible that Pope John Paul II will visit Ukraine in the summer of 2001, Interfax reported. Zhulynskyy added that such a visit taking place in Ukraine's 10th year of independence "not only would be welcome by Ukrainian Catholics but also would be extremely important to the entire nation." Zhulynskyy was speaking after talks with Archbishop Mykola Yeretovych, the Vatican's nuncio to Ukraine. Yeretovych noted that the pope would like to meet with "representatives of all big denominations in Ukraine without exception" on his visit. The pope has been invited to Ukraine but has not yet visited that country. JM

ILVES EXPLAINS FOREIGN-POLICY PRIORITIES

Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 12 October delivered the traditional semi-annual foreign policy review in the parliament, giving special emphasis to EU integration. "With sufficient political will it would be possible to complete membership talks with more successful candidate countries in 2001," Ilves said, according to ETA. "It is reasonable to believe that during Sweden's EU presidency, breaking developments will take place in EU expansion." Ilves also urged increasing trade with central European countries. In response to questions from deputies, Ilves said, "I'm tired of all the talk about Baltic cooperation" in the context of the three Baltic states entering the EU at the same time, BNS added. MH

COMPENSATION BILL FAILS IN LATVIA

Lawmakers on 12 October defeated a bill calling for Latvia to demand compensation from Moscow for the Soviet occupation. The vote was 14 for and 13 against with 56 abstentions. The bill had been introduced by For Fatherland and Freedom, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, BNS reported. A similar bill recently passed in Lithuania, causing controversy; a commission has put the damage caused by the Soviet occupation of Lithuania at some 80 billion litas ($20 billion). All parties opposed the bill. MH

RECOUNT IN LITHUANIA RESULTS IN ONE-VOTE MARGIN

A recount in the single-mandate district of Plunge-Rietavas resulted in Liberal Union candidate Audrius Klisonis being declared the winner--by a single vote. According to earlier results, Social Democrat Visvaldas Nekrasas had won by five votes, ELTA reported on 12 October. Nekrasas accused the Election Commission of validating several spoiled votes that favored his challenger. His party has since called for yet another recount. The Central Electoral Commission is likely to confirm the election results within a few days, and the new parliament could be convened on 19 October. The total number of seats for the Liberal Union now stands at 35. MH

POLISH PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW TO CURB MONEY LAUNDERING

The parliament voted overwhelmingly on 12 October to endorse a bill on money laundering, PAP reported. The bill provides for appointing a "general inspector of financial information" who will examine all transactions exceeding 10,000 euros ($8,600) based on information from banks, pension funds, currency exchange desks, and other institutions. The inspector is empowered to halt a suspicious transaction for two days and notify a public prosecutor's office about it. The inspector will be appointed and recalled by the prime minister. The Finance Ministry estimates that people involved in such crimes as smuggling and drug trafficking launder as much as $3 billion a year in Poland. "[The law] interferes too deeply with the citizen's rights and freedoms by allowing too many institutions to look into bank files," the adviser to the head of the Association of Polish Banks commented to AP. JM

CZECH, AUSTRIAN INTERIOR MINISTERS FAIL TO AGREE ON TEMELIN PROTESTS

Meeting in Vienna on 12 October, Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and his Austrian counterpart, Ernst Strasser, failed to reach agreement on Prague's demand that Austria act to end the blockade of border crossing points by opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant. Strasser said Vienna is not willing to encroach "by even a millimeter" on the right of demonstrators to freedom of assembly. Respect for this right, Gross countered, must not hinder the free movement of people and goods at borders. Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel the same day said his country will bring up the Temelin issue at the EU Biarritz summit next weekend. Schuessel dubbed Czech Premier Milos Zeman's claim that Prague is being penalized for having supported EU sanctions against Austria "a bizarre conspiracy theory." MS

EU EXPECTS 'TERMINATION OF BLOCKADES'

European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Fiori told CTK on 12 October that the commission is "closely monitoring developments" at the Czech-Austrian border and "hopes the current blockades...will be soon ended." Fiori said the commission has "not yet" received any request from Prague to discuss the blockades. He added that "in his own opinion," these are "not in harmony" with the Czech-EU association agreement but said that he believes "the situation will soon calm down." MS

SLOVAKIA BACKS CZECHS OVER BORDER BLOCKADES

Jan Figel, Slovakia's chief negotiator with the EU, said on 12 October that the Czech decision to appeal to the EU over Vienna's failure to act against the blockade of the border was "a logical step" given that under the EU integration process "bilateral maters are becoming multilateral." Figel also noted that Chancellor Schuessel's announcement that he will bring up the Temelin issue at the EU's Biarritz summit (see above) is reminiscent of Austria's position during the dispute with Slovakia over the launching of the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear plant. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION FAILS TO SECURE EXTRAORDINARY PARLIAMENTARY SESSION

A motion to convene an extraordinary session of the parliament to debate the government's failure to cope with unemployment was defeated on 12 October owing to the lack of a quorum, CTK reported. The motion was moved by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party. MS

SLOVAKIA'S LARGEST STEELMAKER SOLD TO U.S. COMPANY

The Kosice-based VSZ steelmaker, which is the largest employer and largest steelmaker in Slovakia, has been sold to the Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel concern, CTK reported on 12 October, citing Radio Twist. The steelmaker will be renamed U.S. Steel Kosice, and U.S. Steel will invest up to $700 million to modernize the plant and also take over its debts. No details were given as to how much U.S. Steel paid for the Slovak plant. MS

VERHEUGEN SAYS HUNGARY MEETS EU CRITERIA

Speaking at the joint meeting of the European Parliament and the EU Integration Committee of the Hungarian parliament, EU Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on 12 October that Hungary meets the political and economic criteria of EU membership. He pointed out, however, that health insurance reforms and the country's high inflation rate still need to be tackled. Verheugen said the EU will soon propose that accession negotiations be completed in 2002 for the best-prepared countries. Endre Juhasz, Hungary's chief negotiator with EU, said he cannot understand Verheugen's mentioning 2002 since 2001 could just as well be the target date for new members to join. MSZ

NEW SMALLHOLDERS PARTY FORMED IN HUNGARY

Jozsef Ferenc Nagy and Jeno Gerbovits, who were both agriculture ministers during Hungary's first post-communist government, have formed a new Smallholders' Party in the town of Balatonfoldvar. The founders said they want a party "without Jozsef Torgyan," the current chairman of the Independent Smallholders Party (FKGP). In other news, FKGP parliamentary member Zoltan Szekely was caught by police accepting a 20 million forints ($67,000) bribe in the lobby of a hotel. Szekely, who is chairman of the parliament's Public Procurement Committee, allegedly threatened an entrepreneur with ruin if he failed to hand over the sum. MSZ




LIBERALS LEADING IN POLLS AS SLOVENES PREPARE TO VOTE

The center-left Liberals, led by former Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek, are poised to emerge as the largest single party in Slovenia's legislative elections on 15 October, AP reported. Polls give him some 35 percent. The governing center-right coalition of Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk's New Slovenia Party and Defense Minister Janez Jansa's Social Democrats has only 15-20 percent in the polls. The parliament is the center of political power. Slovenian politics have been characterized since Habsburg times by liberal, Roman Catholic, and leftist currents. Party politics tend to be fractious--there are currently at least three Catholic-based parties. All parties agree on the major policy goals of promoting Euro-Atlantic integration. President Milan Kucan, who has only limited powers, has let it be known that he considers his fellow former communist Drnovsek as the leader best able to put together a stable cabinet. Bajuk is the first Slovenian prime minister since independence in 1991 not to have a communist past. PM

SLOVENIAN-SERBIAN RELATIONS ON THE MEND

Slovenian Foreign Minister Lojze Peterle and State Secretary Mitja Drobnic received Zarko Korac at Mokrice castle on 12 October. Korac is a leader of the Serbian opposition and is tapped to be the next Yugoslav foreign minister, "Delo" reported. Peterle told reporters after the meeting that he expects rapid progress in developing political, economic, and cultural ties between Slovenia and Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000). Drobnic is slated to go to Belgrade for talks on 13 October. PM

CROATIA SETS CONDITIONS FOR BELGRADE TIES

The Croatian government agreed on 12 October that any improvement in relations with Belgrade will be contingent on the Serbian authorities' policies vis-a-vis the arrest and punishment of war criminals and on Serbia's position regarding "the aggressive policies of [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic." Other conditions center on Belgrade's stance toward its ethnic minorities, its policy on refugee returns and missing persons, and its attitude on the question of the Prevlaka peninsula, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN LEADER OFFERS CONCESSION TO MONTENEGRO

In an apparent reversal of policy, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 12 October that "one must respect the will of the Montenegrins if they decide [in a referendum] that they do not want to remain part of the [Yugoslav] federation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2000). He added, however, that he believes most Montenegrins prefer to remain in the federation. Representatives of the Serbian opposition are slated to hold talks on 13 October with Predrag Bulatovic and other leaders of Montenegro's Socialist People's Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2000). Elsewhere in Belgrade, supporters of Kostunica and backers of Milosevic held inconclusive talks in the evening of 12 October on a possible power-sharing arrangement in the Serbian government. Reuters reported the next day that Serbian parliamentary elections will take place on 24 December. PM

SERBIA, U.S. TO MEND TIES

In yet another change in a previously held position, Kostunica took a conciliatory line toward the U.S. after talks in Belgrade on 12 October with President Bill Clinton's adviser James O'Brien. Kostunica said he regretted that there has been what he called a "gap in communication" between Washington and Belgrade and that "we hope we will bridge that gap and our relations [will] normalize, "The New York Times" reported. O'Brien said that Kostunica must first clarify some "technical issues" before diplomatic relations are restored. The daily noted that Kostunica, who has often been a sharp critic of the U.S. and its Balkan policy, must move carefully in view of the widespread anti-American sentiment in Serbia. Some observers have noted that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has not been among the steady stream of visitors to Belgrade in recent days. PM

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL HAILS NEW SERBIAN LEADERSHIP

Lord Robertson said in Sofia on 13 October that "we look forward to the day when a newly democratic Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will again take its place alongside its neighbors in the Euro-Atlantic community," AP reported. PM

MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION QUITS PARLIAMENT

Deputies from five opposition parties, including the Social Democrats and the Party of Democratic Prosperity, left the parliament on 12 October, MIC news reported. The deputies will not return until the governing parties agree to discuss what the opposition regards as significant irregularities and violence in the recent elections. The government and most international observers do not regard the incidents sufficiently important to have affected the overall outcome of the vote. Carlo Ungaro, who is the OSCE's ambassador to Macedonia, said, however, that some armed incidents in Ohrid were "serious." He added that the OSCE will send experts to Macedonia to investigate and ensure that such incidents do not take place in the future. PM

BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES SUSPECT BLOWS HIMSELF UP

Janko Janjic killed himself with a hand grenade in Foca on 12 October as German peacekeepers attempted to arrest him. Four of the Germans were injured, two of them seriously, Reuters reported from NATO headquarters in Brussels the next day. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted Janjic for having directed and participated in the torture and rape of "many" Muslim women in 1992 and 1993. He was a paramilitary and police commander. In 1997, he offered to sell his story to U.S. CBS Television for $2,500. He said he would "tell everything. How I slit throats, killed them, and dug their eyes out...you can tape me." PM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES ROMANIAN OFFICIALS...

President Petru Lucinschi received Romanian Deputy Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu and Romanian chief of staff general Mircea Chelaru on 12 October, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Ungureanu said a protocol on European integration to be signed by the joint Romanian-Moldovan commission the next day provides for ways of assisting Moldova in adopting legislation in line with that of the EU. Lucinschi said that a number of joint projects now under way might help Moldova achieve EU integration. Chelaru told Lucinschi that military relations between the two countries are "exemplary" and contribute to "strengthening the stability climate in Europe." Earlier on 12 October, Chelaru and his Moldovan counterpart, General Mircea Coropceanu, signed an agreement on military cooperation. Chelaru said the accord "lays the ground for a strategic partnership" between the two states and will create a "joint security space" within the Balkan Stability Pact framework. MS

... SAYS 'NOT INTERESTED' IN ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL TERM

In an interview with the Russian-language daily "Kishinevskie novosti" on 12 October, Lucinschi said he would "never agree" to be elected to a second term by the current parliament, Infotag reported. He said the differences between himself and the legislature over the issue of the "parliamentary republic" are differences "of principle" and cannot be bridged. The same day, parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov told journalists in Chisinau that he is "not interested" in the position of head of state and believes the president elected under the amended law must be a politically independent personality. MS

BULGARIA WANTS FREE TRADE ZONE WITH YUGOSLAVIA

Bulgaria is examining the possibility of setting up a free trade zone with neighboring Yugoslavia, Deputy Premier Petar Zhotev told journalists on 12 October after a meeting of the cabinet. He said liberalizing trade with Belgrade would help both countries overcome losses resulting from the 1999 Kosova crisis, Reuters reported. The plan under consideration also includes joint infrastructure projects, the building of a new border checkpoint, and upgrading a highway that links Sofia with the Serbian border. MS




AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP MAKES TACTICAL CONCESSIONS


By Liz Fuller

On 5 October, Azerbaijan's prosecutor-general approved the release from pre-trial detention of opposition "Yeni Musavat" newspaper editor Rauf Arifoglu, who had been arrested in late August and charged with terrorism, involvement in an airplane hijack, illegal possession of arms, and planning a coup d'etat. On 8 October, the Azerbaijani Central Electoral Commission complied with President Heidar Aliev's request to reverse its ruling barring from the 5 November parliamentary poll all but five of the 13 parties that had applied to contest that ballot under the party list system. Aliyev explained that request by pointing to the need to "provide all levels of the population with the opportunity to express their political views."

Politicians and observers in Baku attribute those tactical reversals partly to pressure from the U.S. State Department and partly to the desire not to jeopardize Azerbaijan's acceptance as a full member of the Council of Europe, which is largely contingent on the 5 November poll being recognized as free, fair, and democratic and on an end to harassment of the media. The U.S. State Department last week had deplored the ban and called on the Azerbaijani authorities to allow the opposition Musavat Party and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan to contest the party list mandates.

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar characterized both Aliev's appeal to the Central Election Commission and that body's subsequent decision as politically motivated, while Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) Chairman Etibar Mamedov said that the election commission's turnabout demonstrates that the commission is not an independent agency and does not obey the law. Possibly in order to avoid laying itself open to such accusations, the commission initially rejected Aliev's request, arguing that no constitutional grounds existed for lifting its ban and proposing that President Aliyev raise the issue in the outgoing parliament. But meeting again one day later, the commission complied with Aliev's request. The head of the Azerbaijani NGO For A Civil Society argued that neither the law nor the constitution gives the election commission the right to comply with Aliev's request, irrespective of the motives behind it.

How many people hold that opinion is a matter for conjecture. But the election commission's seemingly reluctant compliance with Aliev's directive is unlikely to augment public confidence in its efficiency and objectivity. In mid-September, the independent daily "Zerkalo" published the results of two surveys conducted among 50 political observers, journalists, and politicians. In the poll carried out in February, only 8.1 percent of respondents said they believed that the November parliamentary elections would be less free and fair than that in 1995; by September, when the second survey was taken, the percentage who shared that view had risen to 27.3 percent.

Suspicions that the outcome of the poll is being determined in advance are by no means confined to the opposition. Echoing recent claims by Azerbaijan Popular Front Party member Fazil Gazanfaroglu, former Baku Mayor and ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party member Rafael Allakhverdiev told "Zerkalo" in early October that the heads of local election commissions have already received instructions from a member of the presidential administration about which candidates should be "elected."

The decision to allow all 13 political parties to register to contest the party list seats is unlikely to have a major impact on the outcome of the poll. First, only 25 of the total 125 seats are to be distributed under the proportional system. Second, those 25 mandates will be divided only among those parties that surmount the minimum threshold of 8 percent of the vote. Observers consider that besides the Yeni Azerbaycan Party, the AHCP, and the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party--all of which are already formally registered--only Musavat and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan have any chance of winning parliamentary representation under the proportional system. The Central Election Commission's decision does mean, however, that Musavat party chairman Gambar, can contest a seat in the new legislature. Since the death in late August of former AHCP chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, Gambar, who heads Musavat's party list, has become the most respected and influential opposition political leader.

A total of 1,008 candidates have applied to register to contest the remaining 100 parliamentary mandates in single-mandate constituencies, of whom the Central Election Commissions had formally registered 365 as of 9 October. Of that number, 122 are independents, 126 represent Yeni Azerbaycan, 34 the Azerbaijan Popular Front conservative wing, 24 AMIP, and 17 Musavat. Eleven small parties have registered between one and four candidates each.

Almost every day, the Azerbaijani opposition and independent press reports incidents in which prospective opposition candidates in single-mandate constituencies have been refused registration by local election commissions. But even before the 5-6 October demonstration of people's power in Belgrade that brought down President Slobodan Milosevic, Azerbaijani voters were protesting such refusals. In Tovuz, additional police had to be brought in from neighboring raions to disperse a crowd of 1,500 people angered by the local election commission's refusal to register a Musavat party candidate.

It remains to be seen whether the Yugoslav example, together with the realization that Azerbaijan's leadership is both vulnerable to international pressure and prepared to violate the law in responding to that pressure, will result in a massive "protest vote" against Yeni Azerbaycan. If it does not, the 8 percent minimum threshold and the large number of opposition parties and candidates seeking to win the protest vote are likely to limit opposition representation in the new legislature.


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