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Newsline

Newsline - January 26, 1998



GROZNY NAMES ALLEGED MURDERER OF RED CROSS WORKERS

An aide to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 25 January accused Adam-Shamala Deniev, head of the movement For the Rebirth of the Chechen People of plotting the December 1996 murder of six Red Cross workers in the Chechen village of Novie Atagi. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov told ITAR-TASS the same day that Chechen Prosecutor-General Khovash Serbiev has demanded Deniev's extradition from Moscow to Grozny. Deniev has denied any involvement in the killings and accused the Chechen leadership of seeking to implicate him because of his political activities, AFP reported, citing RIA. LF

RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS AGAIN FAIL TO MAKE PROGRESS

Delegations headed by Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Chechen Foreign Minister Udugov held three-hour talks in Nazran on 23 January but failed to reach a compromise on the wording of Article 1 of a comprehensive treaty, Russian agencies reported. Udugov warned the next day that the issue of Chechnya's status could be manipulated by candidates contesting the Russian presidency in 2000 if the issue has not been resolved by then. LF

DUMA REJECTS DRAFT LAWS ON STATE SYMBOLS

The State Duma on 23 January rejected two versions of a federal constitutional law on Russia's state symbols, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Just 108 deputies supported the version submitted by President Boris Yeltsin, while 243 voted against and seven abstained. The president's version would have established the double-headed eagle as the state emblem, a white, blue and red Russian flag, and a song by the composer Mikhail Glinka as the national anthem. The Duma also voted down a Communist-backed version of the law that would have reinstated the red flag and the Soviet-era national anthem as the state symbols. The Communist draft was supported by 273 deputies, with 75 voting against and three abstaining. Federal constitutional laws require the support of two-thirds of the Duma (300 deputies) rather than a simple majority. LB

DUMA DECLINES TO INTRODUCE 'IMPERATIVE MANDATE'...

The Duma has rejected a proposal to allow factions to strip some members of their mandates if they violate party discipline. A proposal to introduce the "imperative mandate" was voted down when the Duma approved a new set of regulations on 22 January, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a member of the Communist faction, has advocated introducing the imperative mandate, saying the 225 Duma deputies elected to the chamber on party lists should be obliged to cooperate with the group that offered them a seat in the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August and 2 September 1997). LB

...BUT COMMUNISTS RETAIN LEVERAGE OVER ALLIES

The new regulations approved by the Duma provide for the annual re-registration of Duma factions, "Segodnya" reported on 23 January. The rules allow the Communist faction to retain leverage over its allies, the Agrarian and Popular Power factions. Both of those factions would fall short of the 35 members required for official registration if the Communist faction recalled deputies elected to the Duma as Communists and "donated" to the Agrarian and Popular Power groups. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 January that Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin could split the Communists in the Duma if he decided to form his own Duma faction. However, Rokhlin told the newspaper that he will not form his own faction without the blessing of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who, he said, has so far told Rokhlin he would be against the creation of such a group. LB

DUMA DEMANDS 'URGENT MEASURES' ON COAL MINES

The Duma on 23 January appealed to Yeltsin to take "urgent measures" to provide for safe working conditions in coal mines, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. According to the resolution, accidents at coal mines in 1996 killed 174 miners and injured 3,350. In 1997, accidents killed 277 miners and injured 15,180. The Duma resolution claimed that 38 miners have already been killed in work-related accidents this year. An 18 January explosion at a coal mine in Vorkuta (Komi Republic) killed 27 miners. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 23 January that workers at the Komsomolskaya coal mine have called for a nationwide extraordinary congress of miners. They blame the "increasing number of tragedies" in coal mines on "thoughtless" government policy on restructuring the industry, insufficient financing, and a lack of funds for safety measures. LB

COMMISSION RECOMMENDS REVISING TAX CODE BY 1 FEBRUARY

The government commission on economic reforms has recommended that the government send a revised tax code to the parliament by 1 February, Russian news agencies reported on 24 January. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who chaired the commission meeting, acknowledged that the code still needs substantial revisions. However, he argued that the government should resubmit its version to the Duma before deputies begin considering other tax code proposals. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 January, seven alternative tax codes have been submitted to the Duma, and versions backed by Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel are considered the "most promising." The daily also reported that State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok is displeased with the Finance Ministry's revisions to the code and has tried unsuccessfully to delay the submission of the new version to the government for approval. LB

YELTSIN, NAZARBAYEV MEET

Yeltsin met "informally" with his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, outside Moscow on 23- 24 January, Russian media reported. The two presidents later released a statement calling for the Russian and Kazakh governments to finalize by 1 March the terms for Russia's continued use of the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The statement also called for the two countries to complete a draft Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, which would then be given to the other three littoral states--Turkmenistan, Iran. and Azerbaijan--for review. Both sides confirmed their desire for the transport of oil from western Kazakh fields to world markets to begin "as soon as possible." BP

PRIMAKOV MEETS WITH CHEVRON PRESIDENT

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with the president of the U.S. company Chevron in Moscow on 23 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The two discussed the activities of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. Russian "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Rossiiskaya gazeta" recently reported that Kazakhstan is seeking to replace consortium director-general Vladimir Stanev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). The Chevron president said he favors transporting oil from the Tengiz field in northern Kazakhstan to the new Russian terminals at Novorossiisk, which, he said, is the shortest, most economical route for carrying oil to world markets. Kazakh President Nazarbayev has hinted that he will support whoever can get oil from his country to world markets first. BP

GREECE TO EXTRADITE SUSPECT IN EMBEZZLEMENT CASE

Greek Justice Minister Evangelos Giannopoulos told ITAR-TASS on 24 January that Greece plans to extradite Andrei Kozlenok, who is wanted in Russia on charges of embezzling some $180 million in state funds through a fraudulent contract with the State Committee on Precious Metals (Roskomdragmet). However, Giannopoulos said that if Kozlenok appeals to the Greek Supreme Court, the extradition process could take several months. The Roskomdragmet case threatens to become politically explosive if Kozlenok is tried in Russia or cooperates with Russian investigators. In addition to former Roskomdragmet Chairman Yevgenii Bychkov, several other high-ranking former officials may have been involved in the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1998). LB

SOBCHAK SAYS WILL RETURN WHEN HEALTH PERMITS

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak says he will return to Russia as soon has he has finished a course of medical treatment in Paris, where he has been since mid-November. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 January, Sobchak said his treatment will require another one- and-a-half months. Russian investigators are seeking to question him in a corruption case against his former associates, but Sobchak said he does not trust Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov or Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, because, he alleged, they have not punished the investigators who "caused me to have a heart attack" during an interrogation in October. Sobchak also confirmed that he plans to run for the Duma when he returns from France (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"14 November 1997). LB

PRIVATE CONVICTED FOR CAUSING AMMO DEPOT BLAZE

A military court has sentenced private Sergei Chugaev to 10 years in prison for causing a fire last April at an ammunitions depot, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. Some 300 billion old rubles ($50 million) in damage was caused by the fire and accompanying explosions at the depot in Bira (Jewish Autonomous Oblast). Chugaev is said to have caused the fire by accidentally dropping a cigarette while on duty. Some analysts have argued that explosions at Russian arms depots have been set deliberately to conceal illegal arms sales (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1997). LB

'FINANCIAL TIMES' ENDS PUBLICATION WITH 'IZVESTIYA'

As of late April, the "Financial Times" and "Izvestiya" will no longer jointly publish "Finansovye izvestiya," a Russian-language supplement to "Izvestiya" dealing with economic news, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 January. "Finansovye izvestiya," which has appeared twice a week since October 1992, will continue to be published after April but will no longer include materials from the "Financial Times." Ben Hughes, the "Financial Times" regional director for continental Europe, explained that although the joint project has been successful, the "Financial Times" plans to concentrate on developing its market in the U.S. "Kommersant-Daily" speculated that the London-based newspaper may have ended the project in order to remain independent of large financial groups. LUKoil and Oneksimbank are major investors in "Izvestiya." In recent months, news coverage in "Kommersant- Daily" has been sympathetic to Oneksimbank's business rivals and political opponents. LB

RUSSIAN DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT BALTIC CHARTER, NATO EXPANSION

The Russian State Duma on 23 January passed a resolution expressing concern about the U.S.-Baltic partnership charter, Russian news agencies reported. The resolution said the charter is seen by the Baltics as "a step toward [their] admission into NATO." It warned that NATO expansion is incompatible with the Founding Act signed by Russia and NATO last May. In addition, the resolution expressed the hope that protection of human rights in the Baltics will be improved when the Baltic charter is implemented. Also on 23 January, the Duma approved a resolution asking the Russian president and government to devise a program to counteract NATO expansion. The resolution described NATO enlargement as the "most serious military threat to our country since 1945" and charged that NATO member states "have not renounced the use of force as a method to resolve foreign-policy problems." LB

COUNCIL OF BALTIC SEA STATES ISSUES DECLARATION

In a declaration following the 22-23 meeting in Riga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998), the prime ministers of the 11 member countries of the Baltic Sea Council confirmed their desire to promote regional cooperation in order to establish a Europe "without dividing lines." The council discussed various economic issues, focusing on a proposal to create a "Baltic Ring" that would link the gas and electricity systems of the eastern and western Baltic shores. It also extended the mandate of an organized crime task force, set up at the previous council meeting in 1996. JC

CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS EU EXPANSION MUST NOT HARM RUSSIAN INTERESTS...

Addressing the council on 23 January, Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin warned that EU enlargement must not be at Russia's expense. "It is important that, in the context of the forthcoming expansion of the EU, the trade and economic interests of Russia and other members of the CIS are taken into consideration," Interfax quoted him as saying. Chernomyrdin also stressed that Russia is prepared to assume a leading role in creating a "climate of mutual confidence" in the Baltic Sea region, BNS reported. He added that Russian President Boris Yeltsin's October 1997 offer of security guarantees to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania affirms Moscow's desire to base security in the Baltic region "not on balanced military potential but on practical cooperation and confidence." At his meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl the previous day, Chernomyrdin had stressed that Russian-EU cooperation must complement the union's eastward expansion, dpa reported. JC

...WARNS LATVIA'S ULMANIS OVER RUSSIAN MINORITY

At his 23 January meeting with Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis, Chernomyrdin stressed that Moscow considers the situation of Russian speakers living in Latvia to be a "priority issue" in Russian-Latvian relations. He warned that if Riga does not take concrete steps to grant ethnic Russians citizenship, it cannot count on progress in its relations with Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, Chernomyrdin welcomed Ulmanis's efforts to meet the recommendations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on improving the situation of Latvia's ethnic Russians, who constitute some 40 percent of the Latvian population. In an interview with the Russian news agency, the Russian premier said it is "unacceptable for people living in the middle of Europe at the end of the 20th century to be humiliated the way Russians are in Latvia." JC




ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP RIFT DEEPENS

Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian has again pledged support for Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan and his government, saying that Kocharyan's resignation is "impossible," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 23 January. Sarkisian charged that the Armenian Pan-National Movement stage-managed three recent attacks on senior officials as a pretext for demanding the government's resignation. He added that the three officials targeted had been warned in advance. But Deputy Interior Minister Major-General Artsrun Markaryan, who was wounded in a shooting on 21 January, refused to comment on Sarkisian's allegations, saying he does not want the attack on him to be exploited for political ends. National Security and Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian told the newspaper "02" on 24 January that the APNM's reaction to the shootings is aimed at destabilizing Armenia. LF

ARMENIAN RULING PARTY MOVES TO STRENGTHEN ITS POSITION

Also on 23 January, Defense Minister Sarkisian said the "Armenian armed forces will not intervene in the political struggle," ITAR- TASS and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The defense minister claimed that people whom he refused to identify had sought unsuccessfully to recruit the support of senior army commanders against the government. "Golos Armenii" quoted Khachik Stamboltsian, a former prominent APNM member, as claiming that the APNM is creating its own armed units to counter those loyal to Vazgen and Serzh Sarkisian. The newspaper added that weapons are being distributed to the movement's Yerevan branches. "Azg" reported that Mesrop Harutyunian, the editor of the official daily "Hayastani Hanrapetutytun," resigned on 23 January at the request of the National Assembly. LF

NAGORNO-KARABAKH OFFICIALS RESPOND TO YEREVAN

Zhanna Krikoryan, a spokeswoman for the government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has rejected criticism by Armenian Presidential press spokesman Levon Zurabian as "unfounded," RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported on 23 January. Zurabian had told RFE/RL three days earlier that statements by Karabakh president Arkadii Ghukasyan in support of Armenian Premier Kocharyan constitute interference in Armenia's internal political affairs. Krikorian argued that neither Stepanakert nor Yerevan can be considered to have a monopoly on the unresolved Karabakh conflict. On 24 January, the NKR government issued an official statement condemning "irresponsible leaders" of the APNM for linking the recent shootings in Armenia to disagreement over how to resolve the Karabakh conflict. The statement said the charges were "provocative" and intended to destabilize Armenia. It called on all Armenian politicians to be "guided by pan-national rather than parochial interests." LF

STROEV IN YEREVAN...

Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev met with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan and parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsian in Yerevan on 23 January, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. Stroev later told journalists that talks focused on Nagorno- Karabakh and that Ter-Petrossyan had made proposals for gradually resolving the conflict, which the Armenian leader had asked to be passed on to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. Stroev expressed support for Ter- Petrossyan's insistence on resolving the Karabakh conflict through concessions. But he noted that rejection of such an approach by hard-liners within the Armenian leadership would not impact on Russian-Armenian relations, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Ter-Petrossyan affirmed that there are no outstanding problems in Russian-Armenian relations, but Stroev noted mutual concern that economic cooperation accords are not being fully implemented. LF

...AND BAKU

Karabakh also figured prominently in Stroev's talks with President Aliyev and parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov in Baku on 23- 24 January. Stroev said that Moscow continues to support a peaceful solution to the conflict and Azerbaijan's territorial integrity but warned against pressuring the conflict sides to take "hasty decisions." Stroev affirmed that Russian relations with all three Transcaucasian states are improving, but Aliyev stressed that Russia's deliveries of arms to Armenia and the presence of Russian military bases in Armenia and Georgia are hindering an improvement in bilateral relations. Stroev assured Aliyev that those bases "are not directed against Azerbaijan." Meanwhile, the Russian State Duma on 23 January voted overwhelmingly in favor of ratifying the Russian-Azerbaijani and Russian-Armenian treaties on friendship and cooperation, signed last July and August, respectively. LF

KAZAKH UNIONS SAY GOVERNMENT FIGURES ARE WRONG

The Federation of Trade Unions claims the government's figures on unemployment and migration are grossly inaccurate, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. The official unemployment figure is 4 percent but the unions say 25-28 percent is more realistic. Despite government claims that emigration has slowed and is offset by immigration, the unions say that in the last nine months of 1997, 230,000 people left Kazakhstan while only 28,000 moved to the country, of whom most are ethnic Kazakhs. The unions have sent a letter to President Nazarbayev asking him to seek to rectify the social situation in the country. BP




UKRAINE EXPECTS TO RECEIVE IMF LOAN

Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko has said the IMF will approve a 94.1 million hryvna ($49 million) stand-by loan for his country on 26 January, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Tyhypko led a delegation to Washington last week for talks with IMF and World Bank officials. He said the meetings went well and that Kyiv has made "important steps in fiscal and monetary policies." An IMF mission is scheduled to go to Kyiv in February to evaluate the situation. PB

CRIMEAN LEADER PRAISES KUCHMA ON VETO

Crimean parliamentary speaker Anatoliy Hrytsenko has praised President Leonid Kuchma for vetoing an election law as unconstitutional, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. Kuchma said a provision in the legislation would permit only Ukrainian citizens living in Crimea to be elected to its parliament, which, he argued, is a violation of the Ukrainian Constitution. He also said it is too early to switch to a proportional election system, as stipulated in the bill. Such a move could inflame political infighting on the peninsula, he added. Hrytsenko called Kuchma a "constitutional guarantor." Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, however, has sharply criticized the veto. PB

KWASNIEWSKI SIGNS AGREEMENT ON RELATIONS WITH VATICAN

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has signed the long- disputed Concordat on relations with the Vatican, AFP reported. The agreement was shelved over the past four years by the Sejm, dominated by former Communists until last fall's elections. Kwasniewski's spokesman said the signing of the Concordat is a "move towards reconciliation." The Concordat deals with such issues as religious education, Catholic marriages, and burials in Church-owned cemeteries. PB

WALESA'S NEW PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS

The new political party of former President Lech Walesa held its opening congress in Wroclaw on 24 January, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Walesa said his Christian Democratic Party of the Third Polish Republic will support the Solidarity Electoral Action, which won last fall's elections. Walesa said his party, which espouses Roman Catholic values, hopes to attract some of the 52 percent of eligible voters who did not participate in the last election. Walesa added that he is "too active and independent" to run for president again. PB

SEJM APPROVES BUDGET

The lower house of parliament voted by 254 to 173 to pass the 1998 draft budget on 23 January, AFP reported. The draft envisages GDP growth of 5.6 percent, a 1.5 percent budget deficit, and inflation at 9.5 percent. The Senate has 20 days to propose amendments, though no major changes are expected. PB

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS TO SUPPORT CABINET

The Executive Council of the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD), meeting in Brno on 24 January, recommended that its deputies support Josef Tosovsky's cabinet in the parliamentary vote of confidence scheduled for 27 January. The party's deputy chairman, Zdenek Skromach, told CTK that it was a "choice of the lesser of two evils". One day earlier, Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said that at the meeting with leaders of the main parliamentary parties, Vaclav Havel had warned Social Democratic leader Milos Zeman that elections in June may not be possible if the CSSD does not support Tosovsky's government. Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told journalists in Prague on 24 January that his Civic Democratic Party's leadership has recommended its deputies not to support the government. MS

EXTREMIST CZECH LEADER ACQUITTED

A Prague court on 23 January acquitted ultranationalist Republican Party leader Miroslav Sladek of incitement to racial hatred. The accusations were based on remarks Sladek had made during a demonstration in Prague in early 1997 against the signing of the Czech-German reconciliation agreement. "We can only feel sorry that during World War II we slaughtered so few Germans," Sladek had told demonstrators. The court ruled that the remarks "must be judged in the context of his entire speech" and that they did not constitute incitement to racial hatred. Sladek was immediately released from prison, where he had been held for more than two weeks. MS

CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN SLOVAKIA

The presidents of 11 CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan Countries met in Levoca, eastern Slovakia, on 23-24 January to discuss strengthening civil society in their countries. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists after the summit that his country hopes first to join the EU and then integrate into other European structures. The presidents declined to comment on developments in Slovakia, but many said they will pay close attention to the country's upcoming presidential elections. Poland's Aleksander Kwasniewski said Warsaw supports Bratislava's efforts to gain access to NATO and the EU but added that Slovakia's policies need to be "clear and predictable," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. MS




MORE VIOLENT INCIDENTS IN KOSOVO

Two Serbian policemen were wounded when unidentified persons attacked their car in the Kosovar town of Malisevo on 24 January. Some 150 Serbian police then entered Malisevo, hitting passers-by and attacking some private homes belonging to Albanians. Four Albanians were wounded, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina on 25 January. Meanwhile in Grabanica on 24 January, unidentified persons threw a hand grenade at a policeman's home. On 22 January, masked gunmen killed Serbian local politician Desimir Vasic on the Srbica-Klina road. The gunmen prevented police from retrieving his body for some time, and the police were finally able to do so only with the help of helicopters and armored vehicles. The incidents appear to be part of a growing spiral of violence involving the Serbian police and the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army in areas west of Pristina. PM

SERBIAN IMPATIENCE GROWS

Mayor of Zvecan Desko Petkovic told several thousand Serbs at Vasic's funeral on 25 January that "state agencies should take all legal measures to eradicate Albanian terrorism in Kosovo as soon as possible and to guarantee peace and safety to Serbs and Montenegrins." Meanwhile in Pristina, Serbian intellectuals, opposition politicians, and Orthodox Church leaders called for an end to violence and for an urgent dialogue between Serbs and Albanians. Speakers criticized Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, saying he has proved incapable of leading Serbia or solving any of its problems. And in Belgrade, the opposition Citizens' League of Serbia issued a declaration condemning the spread of "terrorism" in Kosovo. The league charged that the Milosevic leadership is fomenting "chaos" in Serbia in order to maintain its grip on power. PM

ALBANIA CONCERNED OVER KOSOVO

The Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 23 January condemning police repression and the use of force by the Serbian authorities in Kosovo. The statement added that Serbian behavior violates internationally accepted norms and principles of human rights, state-run television reported. And in Pristina, shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova called for international "intervention" and unspecified measures to prevent an escalation in Kosovo. PM

MORE POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN MONTENEGRO?

A bomb destroyed the car of the commander of special police forces in Podgorica on 24 January, and a second bomb blew up the car of a private individual. A police official told the daily "Pobjeda" that "there are indications that the two blasts might be the beginning of acts of sabotage as a continuation of the political conflict in Montenegro." The special police recently helped put down violent street protests on behalf of outgoing President Momir Bulatovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1998). PM

KARADZIC BACKERS CLIMB DOWN

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and parliamentary speaker Dragan Kalinic, who represents Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), agreed in Banja Luka on 24 January to hold the next legislative session on 31 January in Teslic, north-central Bosnia. Each of the two rival factions in the Bosnian Serb parliament had planned to hold its own session on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). The Plavsic-Kalinic agreement appears to rule out the possibility that in the near future, the SDS and its allies will set up their own break-away legislature. PM

OBSTACLE REMOVED TO BOSNIAN FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

Representatives of the new Bosnian Serb government of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik on 23 January reached agreement with their counterparts from the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation on a joint design for automobile license plates. Many observers feel that there can be no freedom of movement in Bosnia as long as each ethnic group has its own license plates, which makes it easy for nationalists to spot and intimidate people of other ethnic groups. PM

PETITION DRIVE AGAINST CROATIAN VAT

Some 6,000 persons signed a petition to Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa in Split on 25 January demanding that the new value-added tax be reduced from 22 percent to 18 percent. The Croatian People's Party and the independent trade unions are sponsoring the petition drive, which is to be extended throughout Croatia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Dalmatia's largest city. The previous day, President Franjo Tudjman visited the Finance Ministry, which the unions and opposition parties have sharply criticized in conjunction with the VAT. Tudjman, however, praised the ministry, saying its work is as important to Croatia now as was the work of the Defense Ministry during the 1991-1995 war, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. PM

CROATIAN LIBERAL PARTY FOUNDED

Vlado Gotovac and some 800 supporters launched the Liberal Party in Zagreb on 24 January. Gotovac is the former presidential candidate of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS), which he and his followers quit late last year after losing a power struggle to Drazen Budisa, Gotovac's long-time rival. In 1997, the Social Democrats replaced the HSLS as the main vote-getter among the opposition parties. PM

EUROPEAN OFFICIALS ASK ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS TO END BOYCOTT

High-ranking representatives of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in Tirana on 23 January that the Albanian parliament should step up work toward completing the text of a new constitution. They also asked the opposition Democratic Party to end its boycott of the parliament and participate in the drafting of the new constitution, "Dita Informacion" reported. But Democratic leader Sali Berisha told a rally of some 3,000 supporters in central Tirana the following day that he will continue to demand the resignation of the government and new elections, "Koha Jone" reported. FS

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT USES STOLEN CARS

Officials of a special police unit currently investigating car theft told "Koha Jone" of 25 January that "dozens" of luxury cars used by high-ranking Albanian government officials were stolen in Italy or Germany. Police said they will ask the anti-corruption agency to investigate all state institutions to find out the origins of cars currently used by officials. Investigators suspect that government officials in recent years have often made requests to buy cars from legal importers at market prices but have then bought cheaper, stolen cars on the used car market in Durres, pocketing the difference. FS

LULL IN ROMANIAN COALITION TENSIONS

National Peasant Party Christian Democratic chairman Ion Diaconescu and Democratic Party chairman Petre Roman have agreed that their parties will refrain from making statements to the press while they seek to find a solution to the coalition crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 23 January. Two days later, National Liberal Party leader Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, who is mediating the conflict, said the Democrats may decide to withdraw their cabinet ministers but remain in the coalition while supporting a minority government of the Democratic Convention and the Hungarian Democratic Federation. Minister of Research and Technology Bogdan Teodoriu, a Democrat, said that postponing the party's decision to withdraw from the government is "possible," depending on the negotiations. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REFUTES ANTI-HUNGARIAN ALLEGATIONS

Andrei Plesu, in an interview with the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" cited by Mediafax on 25 January, refuted recent allegations in the Romanian media that Hungarian investments in Romania are very large and prove there is a plan to take over Transylvania. Plesu, who is accompanying President Emil Constantinescu on an official two-day visit to Hungary from 25-26 January, said that at the end of 1997, total Hungarian investments in Romania amounted to only $38 million or 1.1 percent of total foreign investments. Plesu also said he saw no reason why a Hungarian university should not be set up in Romania , which, he said, would help the ethnic Hungarian minority "preserve its identity." He added that the "joint enemy" of both countries is "extreme nationalism." MS

ROMANIAN EXTREME NATIONALISTS ALLEGE ATTACKS

Gheorghe Funar, the extreme nationalist mayor of Cluj, has claimed that a stone was thrown at him while he sat in a restaurant in the town center and that it barely missed its target. Local police investigating the incident said the stone was probably thrown by children, Mediafax reported on 25 January. The same day, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), accused President Constantinescu of "complicity in an assassination attempt." The PRM press office said a leaflet saying "I was looking for you" and signed by Laszlo Toekes, the honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, was found on the windshield of his car. In December 1997, the special guards provided for Tudor were withdrawn. Tudor had protested that move, claiming he is the target of an assassination plot. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER RUNS ON PRO-PRESIDENTIAL TICKET

Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc is listed second on the list of the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova bloc for the March parliamentary elections. On 23 January, the Central Electoral Commission registered the bloc, which is composed of the Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova, the People's Democratic Party, the Civil Party, and the New Force Movement, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Also on 23 January, Infotag reported that the leaders of the Jewish community in Chisinau are asking police and prosecutors to investigate the case of Maricica Livitski, the leader of the Party of Socio-Economic Justice, whom they accuse of having misappropriated donations from U.S. Jewish groups. They allege that Livitski channeled those donations to a charity fund headed by her for use in enlisting support for her election campaign. MS

BULGARIA SENDS DOCUMENTS ON 1968 INVASION TO PRAGUE

Former Bulgarian President Zhelu Zhelev on 23 January said he will send Czech President Vaclav Havel declassified documents on Sofia's involvement in the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Zhelev said the documents include conversations between Bulgarian communist leader Teodor Zhivkov and Moscow's ambassador to Sofia. He said he received the documents from Russian President Boris Yeltsin and was giving them to Havel to mark his re-election as Czech president, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. He added that it was "shocking" to see "how excited" Zhivkov and his aides had been about the use of military force against civilians. MS

BULGARIA TO RECEIVE WORLD BANK LOAN

World Bank director for southeast Europe Kenneth Lay on 23 January confirmed that the bank will loan Bulgaria $400-600 million over the next three years to help the country's reform program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1997). Also on 23 January, several hundred pensioners demonstrated in Sofia protesting against low pensions and rising prices, Reuters reported. MS




POLITICALLY MOTIVATED UNREST IN NORTHERN ALBANIA


by Fabian Schmidt

Recent unrest sparked by local policemen in the northern city of Shkoder highlights the continued weakness of government institutions in Albania. Control over the police is a sensitive issue for a cabinet trying to establish public order and confidence following last year's widespread public disorder. Observers fear that the country may once again experience a vicious circle of lawlessness and violence if the government is unable to crack down on organized crime. To achieve that goal, it needs a reliable police force that is immune to corruption and capable of maintaining political neutrality.

The Shkoder uprising, in which local policemen staged an armed rebellion against the Tirana-appointed police chief, proves that achieving that goal will be no easy task. The government has repeatedly accused the opposition of seeking to jeopardize efforts to establish public order by using its strong influence in the provinces and by creating separate power centers in some parts of the country. While local governments dominated by the opposition Democratic Party (PD) have in the past staged protests against Tirana (for example, one-day strikes by municipal workers), Shkoder was the first city in which policemen took up arms to protest an Interior Ministry order. Moreover, the Shkoder unrest came only weeks after Interior Minister Neritan Ceka had claimed the Democrats are deliberately promoting violence to destabilize the country and press for new elections.

Each rival political bloc has long accused the other of using politically motivated violence. But following a series of 15 bomb attacks in Gjirokaster since mid-December, each of those blocs has employed harsher language. During the same period, a large number of policemen were killed or wounded in separate incidents throughout the country. Ceka blamed the attacks on the opposition, saying it is "pursuing a policy of banditry and inciting the population to keep weapons and set off explosive devices."

The opposition, for its part, has tried to portray those incidents as acts of political terrorism, despite being unable to name a convincing motive for some of the killings. For example, the Democratic Party claimed that three people killed in the northern city of Tropoja in early January were murdered for political reasons by government-hired killers. Several days later, the party staged a large protest rally in Tirana to demand the resignation of the government. Following that demonstration, however, prosecutors presented evidence pointing to blood feuds between local families.

Nonetheless, the Shkoder incident proves that mutual recriminations between the Socialists and the Democrats are accelerating the rise of political violence. Various factors contributed to that incident. First, there is an ongoing rivalry between center-leftist Tirana and the center-rightist local government in Shkoder. Second, the central government distrusts the local police force, which has been largely loyal to the Democrats in the past. And third, Tirana suspects that Shkoder officials were involved in smuggling oil to Montenegro during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995. It argues that the Shkoder police force must either have turned a blind eye or was itself involved.

On 5 January, the central government appointed Mithat Havari as Shkoder police chief to strengthen central control over the local force. Havari, who comes from the southern city of Vlora, previously worked was previously police chief in the southern city of Berat, which has been plagued by crime since the unrest last March. In Berat, he was successful in reestablishing order and gained a reputation of a tough police chief. But he also became unpopular for firing suspected corrupt colleagues and keeping other crime suspects in prison, despite protest rallies by up to 300 locals demanding their release.

The conflict that broke out over Havari's appointment suggests the government's suspicions about the local police were justified. Ceka said that the surrender of the rebel policemen was a "victory for rule of law." But the more difficult task at hand is now to continue building a police force that the population can trust. There is a real danger that the Shkoder incident was an overture for another armed political conflict that would halt Albania's recovery if the country's rival political blocs were to fail to find a common language.


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