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Newsline - January 2, 1995

RUSSIAN ASSAULT ON GROZNY CONTINUES. Despite Russian President Boris Yeltsin's statement to a meeting of the Russian Security Council on 26 December that the "first military stage" of the campaign to bring Chechnya back under Moscow's control was at an end, and his announcement in a televised address on 27 December that he had given orders to halt the bombing of Grozny, air raids on the city continued on 28-29 December. Russian government officials denied, however, bombing an oil refinery on the western outskirts of Grozny, claiming that it had been sabotaged by Chechen militants. The Russian leadership ignored an offer by Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev on 29 December to begin "unconditional negotiations," and rejected his proposal on 30 December for a New Year's cease fire on condition that Russian troops begin withdrawing from Chechen territory, according to the Boston Globe of 31 December. After what The Washington Post (31 December) termed a relative lull on 30 December, the following day, after renewed aerial bombardment, Russian troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships launched a major assault on Grozny and succeeded in occupying several administrative buildings in the town center despite ferocious resistance from Chechen forces. Fierce fighting continued on 1 January for control of the presidential palace; more Russian troops were brought into Grozny after nightfall, according to Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who claimed that Russian troops controlled the city center but estimated that it would take "another five to six days" to establish complete control of the city. Dudaev's whereabouts are not known, nor are there any reliable figures on either military or civilian casualties over the past two days. * Liz Fuller

INTERNATIONAL REACTION. On 1 January US National Security Advisor Anthony Lake expressed concern over Russia's military tactics in Grozny and the ensuing high number of civilian casualties, but reiterated US support for Russia's territorial integrity, Western agencies reported. Incoming Senate majority leader Robert Dole hinted that continued violence could affect future US economic aid to Russia. The Turkish Foreign Ministry likewise issued a statement on 1 January casting doubt on the chances of achieving peace in Chechnya by brute force and regretting civilian casualties. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev reiterated his argument, voiced at a news conference in Moscow on 30 December, that the Russian military intervention in Chechnya was "a tragedy," but that Moscow had no alternative, given that it could not tolerate secession. * Liz Fuller

GAIDAR: USING FORCE IN CHECHNYA "CRIMINAL." "We lost the battle for Russian democracy in Chechnya, now we must do everything to prevent losing it in Russia proper," Egor Gaidar, once Yeltin's acting prime minister and the architect of market-oriented reform in Russia, told RFE/RL on 1 January. The use of force against the breakaway republic was a "crime" and those who had committed it should be put on trial, Gaidar said, adding that not only Yeltsin but also those Russian officials who either had planned or implemented the events in Chechnya must be held responsible. According to Gaidar, the Russia's Choice parliamentary faction, of which he is the leader, was going to reconsider an earlier decision to take part in the Russian government, perhaps recalling its members in the government. (Currently, four members of Russia's Choice occupy minister or deputy minister positions in Chernomyrdin's cabinet, including First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais.) In early December the Russia's Choice parliamentary faction decided to refrain from recommending the resignation of their ministers from the government, but Gaidar said that the situation has changed and must be reevaluated.The head of Yeltsin's staff, Sergei Filatov, was quoted by the Boston Globe on 31 December as downplaying the damage to Yeltsin's position resulting from the Chechen crisis; he said that the rupture between Yeltsin and his former allies in the democratic reform movement was "only temporary," and that "there is no danger to reform or democracy, everything will return to the previous state." * Julia Wishnevsky and Liz Fuller

GORBACHEV, OTHERS WARN OF DICTATORSHIP. Interviewed by Nezavisimaya gazeta on 31 December, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev warned that Russia was sliding into dictatorship with its handling of the Chechen crisis. Gorbachev said all policy decisions in Russia are taken by a "small group that has taken refuge in the palace (Kremlin)"--a development that signals "the regime's shift to dictatorship." Indeed, according to some sources, only a handful of top government officials have supported the use of force against the rebel Caucasian republic, while polls have shown that a majority of ordinary Russians opposed it. At the same time, the Russian VIPs who have condemned reported atrocities in Chechnya include the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexii II, a number of top military generals--such as Boris Gromov, the last commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan and now a deputy defense minister--and the overwhelming majority of President Boris Yeltsin's former liberal allies. In an interview with RFE/RL (also on 31 December), one such former supporter, Sergei Yushenkov, chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, condemned the invasion as an indication that "a police regime, supported only by fascists and ultranationalists has been formed in Russia." * Julia Wishnevsky

YELTSIN PONDERS PEACE IN NEW YEAR ADDRESS. Late on 31 December Yeltsin delivered his televised New Year's address to the nation, emphasizing prospects for peace in 1995, also summarized by ITAR-TASS. While mentioning Chechnya only once by name, it was clear that the situation in the war-torn region and conflict in general were paramount for Yeltsin, as he directed "greetings to those...who are maintaining the security of our country, defending its borders." Yeltsin also directed special remarks to Russians living abroad, "in the countries of the CIS and the Baltic region," saying that Moscow government remained firmly committed to "do everything possible to defend (their) legal rights and interests." * Stan Markotich

SOSKOVETS SAYS WORST OVER FOR RUSSIAN ECONOMY. In a New Year's interview, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said Russia had survived the first stage of reforms--freeing prices and opening up the economy--and must now stabilize production and revive economic activity, Western and Russian agencies reported. He argued that there was no further danger of an economic catastrophe but said the government could not afford to ease up on reforms although Russians were getting increasingly fed up with them. He acknowledged that investment had been low in 1994 and highlighted problems in debt payment but also noted that inflation and interest rates had fallen and savings had risen. The government's major priority in 1995, he said, was to increase investment. He ruled out higher taxes but noted there was some room for spending cuts in the agricultural and coal mining sectors; he admitted, though, that such cuts could provoke considerable opposition. Soskovets' assessment of the economic situation was more optimistic than many reported in preceding days. Both Economics Minister Evgenii Yasin and former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, leader of the 12 December parliamentary caucus, expressed the fear on 29 December that the Russian intervention in Chechnya would sabotage the government's stabilization plan. Yasin told RIA on 1 January that 3 trillion rubles ($850 million) would be needed to rebuild Chechnya, an estimate that did not include the cost of the military operation or restoring the republic's oil industry. * Penny Morvant

PRIVATIZATION CHIEF CALLS FOR STATE TAKEOVERS. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Polevanov, who succeeded Anatolii Chubais as chairman of the State Property Committee in November, has described some privatization as a threat to state security and says he is preparing a law on nationalizing enterprises in certain sectors of the economy including the aluminum, oil and gas, and military industrial sectors, agencies reported on 31 December. Polevanov said he was worried about the influence of foreign investors, who were buying sufficient shares to gain representation on companies' boards. He claimed to have the support of Yeltsin and part of the government for his policies; Chubais is said to be against Polevanov's nationalization line. * Penny Morvant

AZERBAIJAN OPPOSITION FORMS ALLIANCE TO OVERTHROW PRESIDENT. A number of former highly-placed Azerbaijani officials have formed an alliance with the aim of overthrowing President Heidar Aliyev and revising the terms of the "deal of the century" signed in September, 1994, between the Azerbaijani leadership and a consortium of eight Western oil companies, a correspondent for Radio Liberty in Baku reported on 30 December. The individuals involved are former-president Ayaz Mutalibov (who has lived in exile in Moscow since his ouster by the Azerbaijan Popular Front in May, 1992); ex-prime minister Suret Huseinov, who was dismissed for his alleged involvement in an abortive coup in October, 1994; former defense minister Rahim Kaziev; and the leader of the Talysh secessionist movement, Alikram Gumbatov. The two latter men had escaped from a high-security prison in Baku where they were being held on charges of crimes against the state in late September 1994. * Liz Fuller

BAN ON DASHNAK PARTY UPHELD. On 29 December the Armenian Ministry of Justice upheld the temporary ban imposed the previous day by President Levon Ter-Petrossyan on the activities of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsyuytun) on the grounds that a clandestine terrorist organization subordinate to the ARF(D) was allegedly engaged in racketeering and smuggling drugs from Beirut to Moscow, that it had perpetrated the murders of former Armenian KGB Chairman Marius Yuzbashyan in 1992 and former Erevan Mayor Ambartsum Galstyan in December 1994, and that it was planning further political assassinations, a correspondent for Radio Liberty in Erevan reported. Spokesmen for the Dashnak party have denied the existence of such an organization.The Ministry of Justice ruled that the ARF(D) violated existing legislation on political parties and on the legal status of foreign nationals living in Armenia. * Liz Fuller

NEW TAJIK MINISTERS NAMED. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov has named the chief of his personal staff, 56-year-old Talbak Nazarov as foreign minister, and 52-year-old Tukhtaboy Gafurov, a former deputy prime minister, as economy minister, Interfax reported on 29 December. Izatullo Khayeyev, a former minister of foreign economic relations, was appointed the new head of the presidential staff. * Liz Fuller

AGREEMENT WITH LATVIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ASSOCIATION. On 30 December Prime Minister Maris Gailis and Local Governments Association (LGA) Chairman Andris Jausleinis signed an agreement protocol for the year 1995, BNS reports. The protocol provides that the government coordinate with the LGA all bills and regulations dealing with local governments. It forecasts that the 1995 revenues to local governments from land, income, and other taxes will be 152.3 million lati ($277 million). * Saulius Girnius

POPULARITY POLL IN ESTONIA. A poll conducted by the EMOR research company in December showed that Prime Minister Andres Tarand, former Supreme Council Chairman Arnold Ruutel, and parliament chairman Ulo Nugis were the most popular political figures in Estonia, BNS reported on 29 December. Tarand was supported by 66% and opposed by 6%, with similar ratings of 66% and 17% for Ruutel, and 59% and 17% for Nugis. The ratings for the leading opposition party leaders, Coalition Party Chairman Tiit Vahi (49 and 26) and Centrist Party leader Edgar Savisaar (48 and 34), were higher than those for former Prime Minister and still Pro Patria Party Chairman Mart Laar (32 and 48). * Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIA REFUSES RESIDENCY TO FORMER SOVIET ACTIVIST. Ceslovas Blazys, director of the Lithuanian Migration Department said that immigration authorities had turned down the residency request of Valerii Ivanov, the former leader of the pro-Soviet Edinstvo organization, and have asked him to leave the country by 22 January, BNS reported on 28 December. If Ivanov does not depart by that time he could be forcibly deported and not be allowed to return to Lithuania for five years. Ivanov, a Russian citizen born in Lithuania, was released in October after serving a three-year sentence for participating in the January 1991attempt to overthrow the Lithuanian government. Ivanov speaks operly of his plans to continue political activiities among Lithuania's Russian community and immigration officials believe that he could be a threat to the country's security and public order. * Saulius Girnius

LUKASHENKA PASSES ANTI-CORRUPTION DECREE. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree against corruption in the private sector on 30 December, Reuters reported. The decree referred to a growing wave of crime in the country's private commercial structures which was blamed on the lack of regulation in private businesses. The decree gave the government the right to dissolve private businesses which violated the country's price-setting policies, and allocated more money to law enforcement agencies to fight crime. The Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Mechyslau Hryb, criticized the decree, saying it was unnecessary since existing legislation already dealt with corruption. Other officials said the decree gave security forces more power which they feel could impinge on democratic freedoms. * Ustina Markus

SPECIAL COMMISSION TO HAMMER OUT DIFFERENCES IN UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW. Representatives of various parliamentary factions and President Leonid Kuchma's administration have formed a commission to work out the main points of contention in a constitutional law on the division of powers, which parliament initially approved on 28 December. Reuters reported that, despite strong opposition among deputies, the Communist-dominated legislature gave its preliminary approval to the controversial legislation, which would boost the constitutional powers of the president and sharply limit parliament's authority. Many deputies and observers have voiced doubts that the legislation would receive the required two-thirds vote in its current form. As it stands, the law would give Kuchma the power to appoint a Cabinet of Ministers, dissolve parliament if it dragged its feet on economic reforms and subordinate local elected officials to the president. Parliament would have the authority to launch impeachment proceedings against the president under certain conditions. Kuchma has insisted that the law was critical to ensure implementation of badly-needed reforms. * Chrystyna Lapychak

POLISH ZLOTY SHEDS FOUR ZEROS. Poland on 1 January introduced a new currency that lops four zeros off the bank notes currently in circulation, international agencies report. One US dollar will now buy 2.4 new zloty, compared with 24,000 old zloty. The redenomination is aimed at simplifying accounting and finances, which since the hyperinflation of 1989-1990 have involved numbers in the billions and trillions. The new and the old zloty will exist side by side over the next two years, during which the old one will gradually be removed from circulation. Five new bills, featuring great Polish kings, and nine coins are to be introduced. The currency transformation will cost the Polish Central Bank the equivalent of $20 million. Bank Chair Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz was quoted by AFP as saying the revaluation showed the Polish currency was getting stronger. * Jan Cleave

HAVEL CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL HOLES TO BE PLUGGED. President Vaclav Havel on 1 January called on the Czech parliament to pass a law that would finally enable a Senate to be created. The Czech constitution provides for a bi-cameral legislature but Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and other leading politicians have repeatedly said a Senate, which would review and amplify the work of the current assembly of deputies, is unnecessary. In his televized New Year's Day address, Havel warned that the absence of constitutional institutions could undermine the rule of law in the country and weaken citizens' faith in politicians and democratic institutions. He also called on parliament to fulfill another constitutional provision, the reform of regional government and administration throughout the Czech Republic, before the next parliamentary elections due in 1996. * Steve Kettle

KLAUS ON CZECH REPUBLIC'S GOALS IN 1995. In an interview with TV Nova on 1 January, Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus said that the chief objective of his government in 1995 is the reform of the country's welfare system. According to Klaus, welfare and social payments should be paid in such a way that "only those who need them get them." The prime minister argued that new laws providing for such a reform must be adopted in 1995 because "1996 is an election year...and a reform of the welfare system will cause conflicts among political parties." Asked about the question of the Senate, Klaus said that he did not consider the establishment of the parliament's upper chamber as a topical issue. "I will neither hinder nor accelerate [the creation of the Senate]", Klaus said. Speaking about foreign policy goals, the prime minister said that in 1995 the Czech Republic will intensify its efforts to gain membership in the European Union. He argued that the country's four immediate neighbors are "our most natural partners." * Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK PRESIDENT'S NEW YEAR'S ADDRESS. On 1 January Michal Kovac spoke on Slovak Television and Radio about developments during the past year. He noted that Slovaks went to the polls three times, survived a dramatic governmental and parliamentary crisis, and witnessed an economic turnaround and an improvement in the country's international position. According to Kovac, the solution to the crisis in March had both negative and positive effects; the creation the cabinet headed by Jozef Moravcik calmed the political scene, increased the trustworthiness of Slovakia abroad and improved the country's economic position, giving reason for optimism in 1995. The results of the parliamentary and local elections were, in Kovac's opinion, a legitimate expression of the will of Slovak citizens which must be respected, and the new cabinet should remain in office for the entire term. Among negative developments during the year which deserve priority attention, Kovac noted the high unemployment rate in several regions, the low standard of living for pensioners, and the difficulties for new graduates to find employment. Emphasizing the importance of understanding and political cooperation, Kovac appealed to Slovak citizens not to surrender to apathy and to cease all hositily and hatred. Kovac said his relations with Premier Vladimir Meciar have improved and he hopes that the spirit of reconciliation will spread throughout the political scene as well as among citizens. * Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT HOLDS MEETING IN ZILINA. Lured by free beer, wine and sausage, on 23 December some 20,000 Slovaks attended a public meeting of government members and their political parties as well as Matica Slovenska Chairman Jozef Markus in Zilina's Andrej Hlinka Square. Meciar proclaimed that the political crisis is solved and that everything was done for the sake of "peace, democracy and to renew normal political and social development," Slovenska Republika reported on 27 December. He criticized his political opposition and said that the functioning of the current parliamentary system allows for permanent instability. One possible solution to this problem would be to switch to a presidential system, Meciar said. * Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 1995 BUDGET, PLANS PRICE HIKES. By a vote of 251 to 83 with one abstention, the Hungarian parliament last week approved a government budget providing for a deficit of 282.6 billion forint ($2.5 billion), international agencies report. Unlike its predecessors, the 1995 budget does not include charges for servicing Hungary's gross foreign debt of $27.55 billion; those charges total some 164.3 billion forint. Meanwhile, the daily Nepszabadsag on 29 December reported on price hikes that are to go into effect in 1995 as part of socialist Premier Gyula Horn's austerity program. Consumer prices for natural gas and electricity will soar by 53 and 65% respectively. Telephone charges are to increase by 50%, railroad fares by 20%, and gasoline by an average of four forint per liter. The newspaper also reported that producer prices of foodstuffs may go up by as much 25%, owing to an expected increase in value-added tax. Inflation in Hungary reached 20%in 1994, down from 23%the previous year. * Jan Cleave

YET ANOTHER BOSNIAN CEASEFIRE... The holiday period witnessed a series of diplomatic developments affecting the Bosnian crisis. First, international media reported on 24 December that a ceasefire between Bosnian Serb and government forces came into effect that day. Implementing a truce was part of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's package of promises to former US President Jimmy Carter earlier in the month. International media then reported on 28 December that UN commander General Sir Michael Rose got Muslim rebel leader Fikret Abdic to agree to the truce. UN representative Yasushi Akashi also played a role in the ongoing shuttle diplomacy. On 29 December, Politika quoted a UN spokesman as saying that the ceasefire had cut military activity in the embattled republic as a whole by 60%. Nonetheless in Sarajevo, December saw at least one explosion per day in apartment complexes, with four explosions taking place on the 26th alone. Vjesnik ran the story on 29 December. On the 31st, Sarajevo marked the 1,000th day of the Serb siege. * Patrick Moore

...AND A NEW STAGE IN THE "PEACE PROCESS." The Los Angeles Times reported on 1 January that the Christmas ceasefire had been transformed into a four-month truce running to 1 May. During that interval the Contact Group plans to sponsor peace talks "on the basis of the acceptance of the peace plan of the Contact Group as a starting point," even though there is no mention of the plan in the actual ceasefire agreement. Reuters noted that the formulation used for the new talks marks a climb-down from the Group's earlier take-it-or-leave-it position on its own proposal and constitutes a concession to the Serbs. They will also benefit from the ceasefire's provision that freezes present battle lines, disengages the Serb and government forces, and positions UNPROFOR units between them. A similar arrangement has enabled the Serbs to hold onto their conquests in Croatia virtually undisturbed for the past three years. It nonetheless remains unclear whether either side is interested in anything more than a brief respite in the fighting during the harsh winter. The New York Times quoted Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic as saying that a test of Serb intentions will be whether they observe the ceasefire in Bihac in particular. In any event, the BBC reported on 2 January that Rose met with Serbian and government commanders at the Sarajevo airport the previous day and began work on establishing local ceasefire committees. * Patrick Moore

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES TRY TO TAKE OVER INDEPENDENT DAILY. The Serbian press has reported in recent days on the latest attempt by President Slobodan Milosevic to consolidate his nearly complete control over the media. The daily Borba is his latest target, and since 26 December two versions of the paper have appeared. The one is edited by current editor-in-chief Gordana Logar and is produced by the majority of Borba 's staff. The other is headed by Dragutin Brcin, a career communist functionary appointed by Milosevic in his latest attempt to take over the paper by using shaky legal arguments. Logar told the BBC on 27 December that she and her staff could probably continue publishing for another two weeks, but that they expect more trouble because of the government's hold over printing facilities. She added that the authorities were irked by Borba's policy of reporting "all the news," including some Bosnian topics that the official media ignore. Her paper is now running daily accounts of support for it from journalists, human rights groups, and political figures from all over the world. * Patrick Moore

ROMANIAN LEADERS ON 1994-1995. President Ion Iliescu said on 30 December that the year that passed had been "rich insofar as [ Romania's] foreign relations are concerned" and had marked important achievements on the road to the country's integration in the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. On these aims of Romania's foreign policy, Iliescu said, there was a full consesnsus of all Romanian political forces. Iliescu was interviewed by Radio Bucharest in a special program on the year that passed and the year 1995. Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu said in the course of the same broadcast that the government had done all it could to ease the burden of the "present difficult economic situation" and one of its main preocupations in the new year would be to help those with lower incomes. Vacaroiu said monthly inflation in 1995 would not be higher than 2.2% and annual inflation would not exceed 29%. * Michael Shafir

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS LIFTING CHIEF JUDGE'S IMMUNITY. A parliamentary committee rejected a request by the chief prosecutor to lift the immunity of Supreme Court Chief Judge Zef Brozi, international agencies reported on 29 December. Chief Prosecutor Alush Dragoshi had accused Brozi of wrongfully ordering the release of a Greek citizen convicted of drug smuggling, but the committee ruled parliament was not empowered to lift his immunity. At a news conference Brozi suggested Dragoshi was just the instrument of a plan by President Sali Berisha to have him removed. Brozi was the only prominent Democratic Party official to criticize party leader Berisha for backing a referendum on a new Albanian constitution in November that was, in any event, defeated by the voters. * Fabian Schmidt

MACEDONIAN POLICE EXPEL KOSOVAR LEGISLATORS. Twenty members of the former parliament of Kosovo and two journalists of the Kosovar exile daily Rilindja were arrested by Macedonian police on 25 December and expelled to Kosovo, Borba reported on 27 December. Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova and the Albanian parliament sharply criticized the expulsions, Reuters reported on 29 December. The legislators had fled Kosovo for exile in Macedonia after the old communist-era parliament of Kosovo was abolished by the Serbian government in 1990. After the abolition the members of parliament, led by President of Parliament Ilaz Ramajli, met illegally on 7 September 1990 in Kacanik and adopted a constitution which declared Kosovo a full-fledged Yugoslav republic. Later a referendum on independence and free elections on the basis of the Kacanik constitution were held in Kosovo. To date, however, the new parliament elected in May 1992 as the legislature of the Kosovar shadow state has not met. Instead, the Kosovar exile government was appointed by Ramajli's parliament, which continued its work until December 1993 when its term ended. * Fabian Schmidt

IVAN KOSTOV ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF BULGARIA'S UNION OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES. Ivan Kostov was elected chairman of the National Coordinating Council of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) on 29 December. Kostov was supported by eleven of the 15 parties that are members of the UDF coalition. Demokratsiya reported that Vasil Gotsev and Krum Slavov were elected as his deputies, while Christo Biserov is the new chief secretary. Ivan Kostov had served as finance minister from 1990 until 1992 in the governments headed by Dimitar Popov and by former UDF leader Filip Dimitrov. As finance minister, Kostov succeeded in slowing down inflation considerably and maintaining good relations with international lenders despite Bulgaria's decision to suspend payments of its foreign debt. On the other hand he was widely criticized by those who consider his policies responsible for increasing unemployment and the decline in living standards in Bulgaria. In a first statement after his election Kostov said that his main priorities will be to prevent further splits within the coalition, to coordinate the parliamentary work of the opposition parties and to regain the trust of the Bulgarian electorate. * Stefan Krause