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Newsline - December 13, 2000




SPANISH SUPREME COURT TO RULE ON GUSINSKII CASE

According to a Media-MOST spokesman on 12 December, a court in the town of Sotogrande in Spain refused to allow the extradition of Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii to Russia and ordered that his case be heard by Spain's Supreme Court, Interfax reported. Gusinskii was then transferred to Madrid, where Spanish Supreme Court Judge Baltasar Garzon ordered he be kept behind bars so that he cannot flee the country. According to Reuters, Interpol has asked that its Moscow bureau provide confirmation that the case against Gusinskii is not political. National Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov told ITAR-TASS that Russia will confirm the international arrest warrant for Gusinskii in the near future. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, who is in Italy with Ivanov, said his department is sending Spain a package of documents related to Gusinskii's case. Gusinskii was arrested in Moscow earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2000). JAC

PUTIN SAYS FEDERATION REFORMS WERE CONSTITUTIONAL...

Addressing a reception in the Kremlin on Constitution Day, 12 December, President Putin declared that "living according to the constitution and the law is not only a necessity and a matter of civic responsibility, it is the privilege of free people who know the value of their rights and who recognize the same rights for others." He continued, "Only in this case are we not separate citizens but Russia's people, not a population but a civil society, not a geographic space, but one country, a power that unites, the Russian people." Putin also spoke about his package of administrative reforms of the Russian Federation, noting that "all of our actions related to the federal reform, such as the restructuring of the Federation Council, are strictly within the limits of the constitution." JAC

...AS LEGISLATORS PREPARE FOR MORE CHANGES

According to Putin, Russia "has to pull [itself] together, and we have to pull the state together, and we will do it." In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 9 December, State Duma deputy (independent) Vladimir Ryzhkov expressed a different point of view, suggesting that Putin's federation reforms have "eroded" the constitution. Ryzhkov also said that he expects the basic law to be altered in 2001. On 12 December, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said he believes that once work on the state symbols package is completed, it will be time to continue work in the constitutional sphere. According to Stroev, the constitution contains many gaps, which up till now have not allowed the creation of an orderly system of power. In an interview with "The Moscow Times" on 13 December, Nikolai Chiplakov, a 66-year-old labor safety specialist, said "I would believe in the power of the Constitution if only somebody could guarantee that the Constitution itself will not be changed at any given moment." JAC

U.S., RUSSIA AGREE TO BOOST MILITARY COOPERATION

Meeting in Moscow on 12 December, General Anatolii Kvashnin, head of Russia's General Staff, and General Henry Shelton, chairman of the U.S. military joint Chiefs of Staff, reached several agreements aimed at forging closer contacts between the two countries' militaries. Those agreements provide for military exchanges, joint exercises, and the setting up of a working group to help combat international terrorism. Interfax quoted Kvashnin as saying that the cooperation aimed at fighting terrorism would involve exchanges of information and experience. The Russian military leader also underlined Moscow's position on the immutability of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Shelton, for his part, noted that sales of Russian arms to Iran might destabilize the situation in the region, but he added that he and Kvashnin did not discuss the issue. JC

MOSCOW HOPES FOR 'NEW LEVEL' OF TIES WITH NATO

The 15 December NATO-Russia Joint Council meeting could give "an additional impulse to the process of thawing relations between Russia and the North Atlantic alliance," according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement released on 12 December. The statement continued that it is important for Moscow to attain a "new level of relations" with NATO. At the same time, Interfax quoted an unnamed ministry official as saying that the Atlantic alliance's hope to open a diplomatic mission in Moscow over the next few months is "overambitious." The joint council is to convene at the level of foreign minister at the end of this week. JC

PUTIN ARGUES FOR PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO ECONOMIC REFORM

In an interview with Cuban Television and the Prensa Latina agency on 11 December, Russian President Putin said that the Russian economy is showing signs of stabilization but much work remains to be done, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin depicted himself as a pragmatic centrist, noting that "it is by no accident that the political leaders with a leftist orientation favor market reforms, while supporters of liberal economics support the measures of the president directed at strengthening the Russian state." He continued, "All this occurs not by accident, because the last several years have made it obvious that one without the other cannot effectively exist." Putin added that in his opinion, the most correct approach today is a pragmatic one, "oriented toward the interests of the majority of the population." JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN FAILS TO BRING CONSTITUTION IN LINE?

The first deputy head of Yabloko's faction in the State Duma, Sergei Ivanenko, has submitted a formal request to Justice Minister Yurii Chaika, asking him to give his expert evaluation of the new constitution of Bashkortostan, Interfax reported on 12 December. Legislators in Bashkortostan approved a law on 3 November bringing the republic's constitution into conformity with the federal constitution. However, according to Ivanenko, even a superficial analysis shows that the declaration of Bashkortostan's legislators does not correspond to reality. Ivanenko notes, in particular, that the new constitution includes the text of the 1994 power-sharing treaty between Bashkortostan and Moscow, which was rejected by the Constitutional Court last summer, according to the website lenta.ru. President Putin recently declared that the process of bringing regional laws into conformity with federal ones is now almost complete (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 December 2000). JAC

FAR EASTERN RESIDENTS REMAIN IN THE COLD

Despite the arrival of a federal interdepartmental task force led by Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu in Primorskii Krai, homes in three villages, Zarubino, Rudnii, Khrustalny, and one town, Partizansk, in Primorskii Kraii lack heating, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 December. At a press conference in Vladivostok on 7 December, Shoigu called on krai authorities to declare a state of emergency in the raion where the towns are located (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 December 2000). At that time, the Emergencies Ministry released a report naming the officials it holds responsible for the current energy crisis. These included the heads of several companies, the directors of municipal heating organizations, and some local municipal executives. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO REASSURE GEORGIA

Aslan Maskhadov has issued a statement expressing his concern that "serious crimes" committed by some Chechens on the territory of Georgia may compromise what he termed the "centuries-old friendship" between the Chechen and Georgian peoples, Caucasus Press reported on 13 December. Maskhadov also denied that Chechen fighters receive arms or money via Georgian territory. In a separate edict, Maskhadov decreed that any Chechens who commit crimes on Georgian territory are "enemies of the Chechen people" and should be condemned to death. Russian media have repeatedly claimed that Chechen field commanders, including Ruslan Gelaev, are ensconced in Georgia's Pankisi gorge and engage there in criminal activities, including abductions. LF




AZERBAIJAN DENIES HOLDING ARMENIAN POWS

Contrary to recent claims by an Armenian NGO, there are no Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan, the independent "525 gazeti" on 12 December quoted Azerbaijan National Security Ministry press spokesman Araz Gurbanov as saying. The chairwoman of an Armenian NGO had made that claim at a press conference in Yerevan on 8 December, according to Snark as cited by Groong. Gurbanov said Azerbaijan is not currently holding either Armenian prisoners or hostages, adding that some 5,000 Azerbaijanis are still missing. In October, the Armenian National Security Ministry had rejected a claim by its Azerbaijani counterpart that Armenia is holding 1,474 Azerbaijani prisoners of war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2000). LF

NEGOTIATION ON RELEASE OF ABDUCTED UN OFFICIALS UNDERWAY IN GEORGIA

The persons who abducted two UN military observers in Abkhazia's Kodori gorge on 10 December contacted regional governor Emzar Kvitsiani two days later to demand a ransom for their release, Caucasus Press reported. Kvitsiani told the independent Georgian TV station Rustavi-2 later on 12 December, however, that agreement had been reached on the observers' unconditional release. A UN spokesman in Tbilisi said it is hoped the observers will be released within days, Reuters reported. Meanwhile the UN has suspended patrols of the region where the abduction took place. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS BUDGET IN SECOND READING...

Deputies have approved the 2001 budget in the second reading by a vote of 127 to 31, Caucasus Press reported on 12 December. Revenues are set at 839.7 million laris ($420 million), and expenditures at 1.117 billion laris. Under pressure from the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia faction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000), the draft was amended to allocate another 4.1 million laris to the autonomous Republic of Adjaria, $6.6 million to the "power" ministries, $2.6 million to the Interior Ministry, $2.5 million to the high-mountainous regions, and 350,000 laris to enable internally displaced persons to set up their own small businesses. LF

...STRIPS DEPUTY OF IMMUNITY

The parliament's Committee on Procedural Issues on 12 December lifted the immunity of parliament deputy Pridon Indjia, Caucasus Press reported. Fellow deputies had voted the previous day to strip Indjia of his immunity to allow his arrest on charges of organizing mass disturbances in the Martvili Raion of western Georgia during the October 1999 parliamentary elections. Indjia, who is a former minister of communications, is currently believed to be in France. LF

GEORGIA DENIES IT RECEIVED OFFICIAL ADVANCE NOTIFICATION OF ARMENIAN VISIT TO ABKHAZIA

The Georgian Foreign Ministry on 8 December denied Armenian claims that Armenia's Foreign Ministry informed Tbilisi in advance of a "working visit" by Armenian diplomats to Georgia's breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, according to Snark as cited by Groong. The Georgian Foreign Ministry said it had been informed only that an Armenian delegation planned to meet in Sochi with Armenians from Abkhazia. Armenia's Ambassador in Georgia, Georgii Khosroev, said last month that the Georgian Foreign Ministry had been informed of the planned visit before it took place (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 45, 17 November 2000). LF

DISPUTE OVER EXPORT OF KAZAKH OIL TO UKRAINE CONTINUES

The office of Kazakhstan's Minister of Energy, Industry and Trade, Vladimir Shkolnik, issued a statement on 12 December accusing Nurlan Balghymbaev, who is the president of the state oil company KazakhOil, of violating the law by refusing to make the company's transactions public, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Shkolnik also took issue with Balghymbaev's assertion in the parliament last week that the export of Kazakh crude for refining at Ukraine's Kherson oil refinery is legal. He again called for a halt to such exports. LF

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 6 December incorrectly quoted Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev as expressing his opposition to the export of Kazakh crude to Ukraine. The Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Trade had argued in a letter to Toqaev last month that such exports are not rational.

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT PROPOSES NEW TAXES, LIFTING MORATORIUM ON LAND OWNERSHIP

Addressing a joint session of the two houses of the parliament on 12 December, Askar Akaev advocated raising taxes both on food production and land by the end of this year, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He rejected deputies' objections to raising the land tax. Akaev also proposed lifting immediately the moratorium on the private ownership of land imposed by the parliament two years ago. Deputies recently voted against doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). In addition, Akaev suggested that beginning in 2001, raion and town administrative heads should be directly elected. But he said that the governors of the country's seven oblasts will continue to be appointed by the president. LF

TURKISH MINISTER VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

Turkish Minister for Relations with Turcophone states Abdul-Halik Cay met in Bishkek on 12 December with President Akaev, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The two men reportedly discussed a Turkish project for construction of a highway that would link the two countries. One week earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem had assured his visiting Kyrgyz counterpart, Muratbek Imanaliev, in Ankara of Turkey's continued political and economic support for Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). LF

REVIEW OF ACQUITTAL OF FORMER KYRGYZ VICE PRESIDENT ADJOURNED

Owing to the illness of the presiding judge, the Bishkek City Court on 12 December adjourned indefinitely its review of the acquittal of former Vice President Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov was arrested in March of this year and went on trial in June on charges of abuse of his official position while serving in 1997-1998 as minister of national security. He was acquitted in August, but the Board of the Kyrgyz Military Court annulled that verdict one month later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August and 12 September 2000). LF

CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST

Charges of hooliganism have been brought against Albert Korgoldoev, the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee's representative in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 12 December. Korgoldoev has gone into hiding to avoid arrest. Journalist Beken NazarAliyev and Cholpon Ergeshova of the Coalition of NGOs face similar charges. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH UN SECRETARY-GENERAL...

Imomali Rakhmonov met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 12 December in Palermo, on the sidelines of a UN meeting on transnational crime, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two men discussed the contribution of the UN to post-conflict rehabilitation in Tajikistan and the situation in Afghanistan. They called for greater efforts by the so-called Six-Plus-Two group (China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well as Russia and the U.S.) to mediate an end to the civil war in Afghanistan. It was agreed that Annan will visit Tajikistan in 2001. LF

...AND RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY

Rakhmonov also met in Palermo on 12 December with Sergei Ivanov to discuss Afghanistan and Tajik-Russian relations, ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmonov characterized as important the recent Russian and U.S. proposals to halt the fighting by imposing new sanctions on the Taliban. The Taliban have said they will boycott talks with the opposition Northern Alliance if such sanctions are imposed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000). Rakhmonov was in Moscow from 9-11 December en route for Italy and was scheduled to meet during that stopover with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, according to ITAR-TASS on 9 December. LF

MINISTRY OF HEALTH DENIES TAJIKISTAN FACES TYPHOID EPIDEMIC

Senior Tajik Ministry of Health official Bandisho Shoismatulloev has denied claims that a typhoid epidemic in Tajikistan poses a danger to the health of the population of neighboring Uzbekistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 11 December. He said that while the number of cases of the disease had risen by more than 50 percent during the first 10 months of this year compared with 1999, the epidemiological situation in those regions of Tajikistan that border on Uzbekistan is normal. Interfax on 7 December had quoted Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Hamidullo Karomatov as saying that 4,500 people in Tajikistan have contracted typhoid in the last two months alone. LF




U.S. EMBASSY SAYS BELARUSIAN TV REPORTS FABRICATED

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk has denied reports by Belarusian Television alleging that at a meeting at the Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, former U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Daniel Speckhard recently urged the EU on behalf of the U.S. administration to introduce trade sanctions against Belarus (see RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000), Belapan reported on 12 December. "First of all, Ambassador Speckhard has not been to Garmisch-Partenkirchen since February 1998... Secondly, Ambassador Speckhard has never called for economic and trade sanctions against Belarus. Finally, Ambassador Speckhard has not spoken on behalf of the U.S. Administration since he departed Minsk as he now works for all 19 nations at NATO and reports to the Secretary General, Lord Robertson," the embassy said in a statement. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT EXAMINES INTERVIEW IMPLICATING KUCHMA...

The packed parliament hall on 12 December repeatedly rang with shouts of indignation and applause as lawmakers were shown a 24-minute video tape featuring an interview with Major Mykola Melnychenko, a former officer in President Leonid Kuchma's bodyguard service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000). Melnychenko, who secretly taped Kuchma for an unspecified period, alleges that the president gave an order to Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and presidential staff chief Vlodymyr Lytvyn to murder journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The former bodyguard also maintains that the president instructed Security Service Leonid Derkach and other officials to eavesdrop on government and opposition politicians and to stifle independent media. "I gave an oath of allegiance to Ukraine, to the people of Ukraine. I did not break my oath. I did not swear allegiance to Kuchma to perform his criminal orders," Melnychenko said on the video tape. JM

...QUESTIONS SECURITY SERVICE CHIEF, INTERIOR MINISTER...

Later the same day in the parliament, Security Service chief Leonid Derkach denied that his service bugged "the offices of high-ranking officials," as charged by Melnychenko on the video tape, Interfax reported. Urged by one lawmaker to step down because there is allegedly "blood on his hands," Derkach replied that "there is and will be no blood on my hands." Subsequently, Interior Minister Kravchenko told lawmakers that he "received no instructions from Kuchma regarding Gongadze." Kravchenko declined to answer the question whether his voice is recorded on "Moroz's tape," which allegedly proves his complicity in Gongadze's disappearance. Kravchenko did not respond to proposals from lawmakers to step down for the period of the investigation of the Gongadze case. JM

...ENDS SITTING IN TURMOIL

Even later the same day, following a heated debate, the parliament failed to pass a resolution recommending that the president fire Security Service chief Derkach and Customs Service head Yuriy Solovkov. The resolution was proposed in connection with the search at Kyiv airport of the three deputies who brought the video tape of Melnychenko's confession into the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000). The lawmakers blame Derkach and Solovkov for ordering the search and violating the deputies' immunity. After an abortive vote on the resolution, a group of lawmakers tried to storm the parliamentary Presidium, while speaker Ivan Plyushch announced the closure of the day's sitting. Some 100 lawmakers remained in the parliamentary chamber, making various proposals and attempting to collect signatures in support of Plyushch's ouster. JM

BALTIC, SWEDISH PREMIERS DISCUSS NICE SUMMIT

Goran Persson told his Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian counterparts--Mart Laar, Andris Berzins, and Rolandas Paksas--in Stockholm on 12 December that corruption and organized crime might become stumbling blocks to their joining the EU, ELTA reported. He said that the distribution of votes at the EU Council of Ministers was the most difficult issue at the summit. Persson stated that during its presidency of the EU, which is to begin on 1 January, Sweden will try to complete negotiations with EU candidate countries on as many chapters as possible and to draw up a schedule at next June's summit for the admission of new members. Paksas also had separate talks with Persson before and with Berzins and Laar after the joint meeting. SG

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT IN ESTONIA

Ferenc Madl flew to Tallinn with his Estonian counterpart, Lennart Meri, from Helsinki, where they had attended the opening of the Third World Congress of the Finno-Ugric Peoples, BNS reported on 12 December. The presidents expressed satisfaction with the Nice summit, which Madl noted "showed that the European Union's enlargement hasn't got stuck." Madl declared that Estonia will have the full support of Hungary when it starts membership negotiations with NATO. He also held talks with parliament chairman Toomas Savi and Tallinn mayor Juri Mois. Madl travelled to Tartu today for meetings with city leaders and Tartu University Rector Jaak Aaviksoo. SG.

ESTONIA HAS HIGHEST INFLATION RATE AMONG BALTIC STATES

The consumer price index in Estonia rose by 0.6 percent in November compared with October and the year-on -year rate of inflation was 5.7 percent, BNS reported on 8 December. In Latvia, the corresponding figures were 0.4 and 1.6 percent and in Lithuania 0.4 and 1.5 percent. SG

NEW LITHUANIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL APPOINTED

President Valdas Adamkus on 12 December signed a decree appointing Antanas Klimavicius prosecutor-general, BNS reported. Earlier that day the parliament had voted 97 to zero with 14 abstentions (from Conservatives and Liberal Union) to approve his candidacy. The 51-year old Klimavicius had headed the Interrogation Department of the Special Investigations Service. In late November, the parliament restored to the president the authority to appoint the prosecutor-general, resulting in the resignation of Kazys Petnycia who had been appointed to a seven-year term in 1997. SG

POLISH NURSES STAGE SIT-IN AT HEALTH MINISTRY

Several hundred nurses occupied the Health Ministry in Warsaw on 12 December to begin what they called an indefinite sit-in to demand wage hikes. "We want the government to take responsibility for the lack of funds for the health sector and for the fact that in desperation, nurses leave patients without care," the PAP quoted one nurse leader as saying. Nurses, who earn an average of 700 zlotys ($160) a month, are demanding an immediate average increase of 500 zlotys. Meanwhile, the government has proposed an 11 percent increase in their wages next year. Nurses' protests continue in more than 50 hospitals throughout the country. JM

GERMANY PAYS COMPENSATION TO FAMILIES OF GDANSK POST OFFICE DEFENDERS

Fifty relatives of the war-time defenders of the Gdansk Post Office received compensation amounting to 5,000-10,000 German marks ($2,250-$5,500), following a ruling by a German court in Cologne in October, PAP reported on 12 December. The Polish Post Office in Gdansk was the first building attacked by Nazi Germany in early hours of 1 September 1939. Those defenders taken prisoner were sentenced by a Nazi court and executed. A ceremony at which the compensation checks were handed over took place in the Gdansk Town Hall. JM

CZECH, AUSTRIAN PREMIERS REACH COMPROMISE AGREEMENT ON TEMELIN

Meeting in Melk, Austria, on 12-13 December, Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel reached a compromise agreement on the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK and dpa reported. Under that agreement, the plant, which is due to go on line in March, will not be launched until a new assessment of both its possible impact on the environment and its safety is carried out under EU supervision and in line with EU standards. EU commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who attended the meeting, mediated the compromise. Under the agreement, the two sides also pledged to secure the free movement of people and goods between their countries, but Schuessel avoided replying to a journalist's question as to whether this amounts to a ban on the possible resumption of border blockades by Temelin opponents. MS

FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER ELECTED CZECH OMBUDSMAN

Otakar Motejl was elected the Czech Republic's first ombudsman by the Chamber of Deputies on 12 December. Motejl, whose candidacy was proposed by President Vaclav Havel, received 125 votes, CTK and AP reported. Supreme Audit Office member Marie Hoskova, proposed by the Senate for that post, who was backed by 14 deputies, and computer expert Vaclav Trojan, also proposed by Havel, received 5 votes. The chamber will elect a deputy ombudsman in January 2001. MS

CZECH COMMISSIONER CRITICIZED OVER 'MORAVIAN RULING'

The extraparliamentary Moravian Democratic Party (MDS) is to take legal action against government commissioner for human rights Petr Uhl, accusing him of "abuse of power," CTK reported on 12 December, citing MDS chairman Ivan Drimal. In a letter addressed earlier this year to Slovak deputy Premier Pal Csaky, Uhl recommended that no representatives of the Moravian Association of Slovakia be included on the Slovak Council for Nationalities, as the Moravians are not recognized in the Czech Republic as a separate nationality. Uhl is also opposed to introducing that nationality as an option in the 2001 census. Also on 12 December, the General Council of Czech Television dismissed General Director Dusan Chmelicek, who was appointed to that post in January. Among other things, Chmelicek has been criticized for having prevented the broadcast of a program critical of the Sazka lottery company, which might have caused the television to lose revenues. MS

HUNGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SAYS HOLOCAUST COMPENSATION TOO SMALL

The Constitutional Court on 12 December unanimously struck down a compensation law as discriminatory. The Federation of Jewish Communities challenged that law by arguing that while families of victims of the 1956 anti-communist uprising received 1 million forints ($3,300), relatives of the victims of the Holocaust were given only 30,000 forints ($100). In other news, the parliament approved a bill annulling court verdicts handed down against who participated in the 1956 uprising. Justice Minister Ibolya David called the measure "a missing link in the legal and moral rehabilitation of the victims." MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER NAMES NEW FINANCE, HEALTH MINISTERS

Viktor Orban on 13 December announced that Mihaly Varga, political state secretary at the Finance Ministry, will replace Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai, who is to be appointed governor of the Hungarian National Bank as of 1 March. Orban also told Hungarian Radio that Health Minister Arpad Gogl is leaving the cabinet to become head of the National Health Institute. He will be replaced on 1 January by Istvan Mikola, head of the National Blood Supply Service. MSZ




UN'S KLEIN CHARTS BOSNIAN NEEDS, SUCCESSES...

Jacques Klein, who is the UN's chief representative in Bosnia, told the Security Council in New York on 12 December that the UN must invest more money in its Bosnian mission if it hopes to complete its work there by 2002. He argued that the international community has not been sufficiently tough in implementing the 1995 Dayton peace accords, cracking down on crime and corruption, or in arresting important war criminals, Reuters reported. Among the international community's successes in Bosnia, he cited the establishment of a professional police force and freedom of movement. As the UN's next main task, Klein stressed that "rapid establishment of control over state borders is key to the consolidation of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and international [identity] in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including with respect to its neighbors," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Bosnia's often porous borders have attracted smugglers, human traffickers, and other criminals. PM

...BUT DUTCH AMBASSADOR CRITICAL

Dutch Ambassador to the UN Peter van Walsum told the Security Council on 12 December that the international community has pumped $5 billion into Bosnia since the beginning of 1996. The political and economic situation nonetheless remains "disconcerting," Reuters reported. He stressed that only the Muslims "seem to take the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina really seriously." The loyalties of Serbian and Croatian politicians lie outside Bosnia, he suggested. PM

BOSNIAN UN AMBASSADOR QUITS

Bosnia's Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey announced his resignation in a letter to the Bosnian joint presidency, "Dnevni avaz" reported on 13 December. He said that it is time for his countrymen to do more to help themselves and not expect foreigners to solve Bosnia's problems. Sacirbey did not give a reason for his resignation. He said that he is willing to serve his country in other, unspecified capacities. The Sarajevo daily suggested that Sacirbey might pursue a business career, possibly with Serbian-American businessman and former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic. PM

U.S. WARNS BOSNIAN SERBS ON KARADZIC PARTY

U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Thomas Miller said in Banja Luka on 12 December that Washington will not continue to provide funds for the Republika Srpska if the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic joins the government, Reuters reported. Miller added: "We are not interested in working with whoever is a prime minister if it includes a government that includes the SDS. U.S. assistance anywhere in the world is not entitlement. We do not owe anyone anything." Elsewhere, Luke Zahner, who is a spokesman for the OSCE, told Reuters that the Republika Srpska needs a government of experts if it is to attract the support of donor countries. PM

BOSNIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS: YUGOSLAV LEADER MUST CONDEMN WAR CRIMES

Sejfudin Tokic, Miro Lazovic, and Zdenko Martinovic remain disappointed with Belgrade's new leaders after a fact-finding trip to Yugoslavia, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 13 December. They noted that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has not condemned Serbian war crimes in Bosnia. Tokic stressed that Kostunica and his government must condemn those atrocities and pledge to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal as a precondition for good relations with Bosnia. The Social Democrats insisted that Belgrade's future relations with Bosnia must be conducted through Bosnian government institutions and not with the SDS. PM

COMPROMISE IN THE OFFING ON DIVIDING EX-YUGOSLAV ASSETS?

The heads of the state banks of the former Yugoslav republics failed to agree in Belgrade on 12 December on a formula for dividing the former state's assets, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Slovenia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia endorsed a recommendation made by the IMF, but Bosnia backed a proposal put forward by the European Central Bank. Macedonian and Yugoslav bankers have suggested compromise formulas that combine some points of each of the two proposals. Yugoslav National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic said that Yugoslav assets worth $477 million are being held by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. He added, however, that all the gold belonging to the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia was spent long ago by the late Marshall Josip Broz Tito, "Vesti" reported. PM

HEIR TO SERBIAN THRONE MOVES BACK HOME

Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic said in Belgrade on 13 December that he has moved permanently to Serbia from the U.K., where he was born and raised. He added: "I really wanted to come home and live here. I have been a refuge for 55 years," AP reported. Aleksander said that his "role is to respect the government...to help create new jobs for the people, and to attract foreign investments." Later the same day, he and his family are slated to host Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle and other dignitaries for a celebration marking the feast day of a saint closely linked to the Karadjordjevic family, "Danas" reported. Aleksandar is the first claimant to a Balkan throne to permanently move back to his family's country of origin since the fall of communism. PM

FORMER SERBIAN LEADER CLAIMS 'CLEAN CONSCIENCE'

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said in a Belgrade television interview that he has a "clean conscience" and "sleeps well" at night, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 12 December. He added that he considers the Hague-based tribunal "illegal" and "part of a mechanism for the destruction of the Serbian nation." In related news, Milosevic's son Marko has filed law suits against the Belgrade dailies "Blic," "Glas," and "Novosti" for allegedly slandering him in articles they published recently about the sources of his wealth, AP reported. And Slobodan Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic has begun a one-year unpaid sabbatical from her teaching position at Belgrade University, "Politika" reported. PM

MILOSEVIC AIDE QUESTIONED BY SERBIAN POLICE

Serbian police detained Mihalj Kertes for questioning on 12 December and continue to hold him, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. Kertes was head of the customs service under Milosevic and was considered a close ally of the former leader. Kertes was widely regarded as having abused his position to amass huge wealth for himself and the regime. Police detained him after he recently told the Belgrade weekly "Nedeljni Telegraf" that Milosevic's cronies "blackmailed" and otherwise pressured him into transferring customs money into the regime's coffers. In related news, a Belgrade court indicted six Serbian election officials on charges of fraud in tallying the results of the 24 September presidential elections. The court ruled that there was no evidence to link Milosevic himself directly to the fraud, Reuters reported. PM

POLICE INVESTIGATING POSSIBLE KOSOVAR SHAKEDOWN CAMPAIGN

UN police in Kosova are investigating complaints by an unspecified number of Kosova women that men claiming to be from the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) recently press-ganged their sons into joining the guerrillas, Reuters reported from Gjilan on 12 December. The police are also investigating claims by other Kosovars that guerrillas have demanded money for the UCPMB. A spokesman for the guerrillas denied the charges, adding that some impostors may be extorting payments, allegedly in the name of the UCPMB. Elsewhere, the Belgrade daily "Danas" of 13 December quoted U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery as saying that the UCPMB made a major mistake in thinking that it could provoke Yugoslav forces into launching a crackdown in the Presevo area, and that the international community would intervene as a result. PM

DANISH OFFICIAL TO HEAD UN KOSOVA MISSION

Denmark's Defense Minister Hans Haekkerup will soon succeed Bernard Kouchner as head of the UN civilian mission to Kosova, the "Frankfurter Rundschau" reported on 12 December. PM

IMF REPORT CRITICAL OF ROMANIAN PERFORMANCE...

In a report on Romania's economic performance, the IMF Executive Board praises progress in renewing economic growth but emphasizes that the government has failed to reduce state-budget arrears and to privatize the banking system. The IMF also said new pressures have been placed on the budget by accepting demands for wage increases in the state sector. It said Romania's performance compares "unfavorably" with that of other EU Central and East European candidates. Romania has the highest inflation rate in the region. The fund recommended the speedy privatization of state-owned enterprises, which account for the largest share of the budget deficit, and said that deficit must not exceed 3 percent of GDP, Mediafax reported. MS

...WHILE WORLD BANK SAYS NEARLY HALF LIVE UNDER POVERTY LINE

According to a World Bank report on Central and East European economic performance, 40 percent of Romanians live below the poverty line, Romanian Television reported on 12 December. The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), which won the November elections, has announced it wants to negotiate with the IMF a new agreement, providing for a 4-4.5 percent deficit. MS

NEW ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO TAKE OVER THIS MONTH

The new government, which has yet to be approved by the parliament, is to take over on 29 December, governmental spokeswoman Gabriela Vranceanu-Firea announced on 12 December. She said an agreement on the date was reached at a meeting between Prime Minster Mugur Isarescu and Adrian Nastase, the PDSR candidate for the position of premier. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER MAKES OFFER TO VORONIN

In an open letter to the Party of Moldovan Communists leader Vladimir Voronin on 12 December, parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov, leader of the Democratic Party, asked Voronin to withdraw his presidential candidacy and to negotiate with the other parliamentary parties on a joint candidate for that post, BASA-press reported. Diacov warned Voronin, who garnered 59 votes in the last round of the presidential elections, that he has no chance of being elected and that the support he received in the last round was owing to "behind-the-scenes maneuvering" (presumably by President Petru Lucinschi) aimed at dissolving the parliament. Diacov and the other leaders of center-right parties met on 12 December to discuss the electoral impasse. MS

BULGARIA MULLS OPENING ALL COMMUNIST POLICE FILES

The parliament on 12 December began debating a draft law amending earlier legislation on opening the files of communist-era secret service employees and collaborators, Reuters reported. The amendment, proposed by the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), envisages the opening of all these files ahead of the 2001 elections. Under legislation passed in 1997, only the files of "public figures" are accessible. The opposition and some observers suspect that the SDS might use the amended law during the election campaign to target its critics. MS

BULGARIA CANCELS VISA-FREE TRAVEL AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA

Bulgaria on 12 December unilaterally abolished a 1978 free travel agreement with Russia, dpa reported. The move follows the EU decision to lift travel restrictions on Bulgarians. A note handed by the Foreign Ministry to the Russian ambassador to Sofia said the EU decision made it necessary to bring Bulgarian national legislation, including travel requirements, into line with that of the EU. MS




BUT WHAT ABOUT 2004?


by Michael Shafir

The outcome of the 10 December presidential runoff in Romania has generally been met with a sigh of relief. In a landslide, Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) candidate, former President Ion Iliescu, defeated extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) candidate Corneliu Vadim Tudor and will return to the post he occupied from 1990 to 1996. Ironically, Iliescu's impressive victory was secured with the help of many of those who until recently had denounced everything the PDSR candidate stood for: his communist past, his record as Romania's first post-communist head of state, and even his right to contest the presidential elections for what they claimed is his third (unconstitutional) mandate. The explanation, as one Romanian journalist put it is simple: the electorate has chosen the lesser of two evils.

With 66.83 percent of the vote in his favor, Iliescu had managed to enlist the support of two out of every three citizens who cast their ballot. Tudor trailed with 33.17 percent backing. Turnout, however, was low. While 65.31 percent of the electorate turned out to vote in the first round, that figure dropped to 57.5 percent in the runoff--some 20 percent down on 1996. Large-scale absenteeism, reflecting disenchantment with politics in general, has thus increased, despite appeals by virtually the entire non-PRM spectrum to "stop extremism" by voting for Iliescu. But disenchantment with political alternatives also means disenchantment with democracy, and it is precisely this attitude on which extremist, "anti-system" parties build. Obviously, the PRM has not been able to do so in 2000. But what about 2004?

The question is justified, since exit polls had revealed contradictory findings. On the one hand, Tudor had quite clearly exhausted his backing in the first round, gaining only another 745,000 votes in the run-off; Iliescu did much better, increasing his backing by more than 2,620,000 votes. On the other hand, of those who had voted for outgoing Premier Mugur Isarescu in the first round, 79 percent supported Iliescu in the second but 21 percent switched to Tudor. Similarly, 15 percent of those who supported National Liberal Party candidate Theodor Stolojan voted for the extremist alternative, as indeed did 23 percent of those who had supported Alliance for Romania candidate Teodor Melescanu in the first round. This indicates that Tudor might have exhausted his support for now but might find new reserves in four years time.

The bulk of center-right parties' supporters either heeded the call to vote for Iliescu despite their beliefs or stayed away from the ballot. While the PRM finished first in 19 counties in the 26 November parliamentary elections, Tudor beat Iliescu last weekend in only one out of Romania's 42 counties. Transylvania and the Banat, which had shocked many by providing much of the PRM support, overwhelmingly backed Iliescu on 10 December, and the younger voters no longer supported Tudor. All this, it is claimed, gives reason to rejoice. Indeed, it does. However, part of the young electorate and part of the Transylvanian electorate simply stayed away from the ballot in the runoff. It may not do so in 2004.

After all, Tudor's support amounted to one-third of the vote and the PRM has one-fifth of parliamentary seats. This leaves the other parties represented in the legislature in a dilemma: should the National Liberal Party, the Democratic Party and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania opt for outright opposition to the envisaged PDSR minority government, they risk pushing the PDSR back into the arms of the PRM, where it had rested from 1992 to 1995. Should they, on the other hand, collaborate with the PDSR, they risk losing their identity and, furthermore, giving the PRM the advantage of running in 2004 as the only "genuine opposition" formation. This, in itself, would be an invitation to harvest even more protest votes in 2004 than in 2000.

The PDSR, in turn, can afford neither to stall on reforms nor renege on its electoral promise to take steps to alleviate widespread social problems. It is not unlikely that either of those two developments would cause a split in the PDSR between those pushing for reforms and for measures likely to promote EU integration, on the one hand, and those opposing such measures. A split between those considered close to the PRM on minorities issues and those less nationalistic is also quite likely.

Adrian Nastase's government will probably opt for the reform alternative. But where will Iliescu be? Has he learned the lessons of his previous failures? The answer to this question is crucial since it might reveal whether in 2004 the PRM will be able to ride an unstoppable protest wave triggered by continued stagnation or whether its simplistic demagoguery will have lost its appeal by then.


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