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Newsline - February 10, 1995

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai said elections to a new Chechen parliament could take place in December 1995, at the same time as elsewhere in the Russian Federation, Interfax reported on 9 February. Shakhrai suggested that elections to local Chechen bodies of power could take place earlier. He also disclosed that a referendum in Chechnya was planned in which he hoped the population would vote in favor of abolishing the presidency. Also on 9 February, Central Electoral Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov told Interfax he has no plans to organize or hold elections in Chechnya despite President Boris Yeltsin's decree asking the commission to assist the Chechen Provisional Committee for National Accord to do so. Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Federation's Territorial Administration in Chechnya, Nikolai Semenov, held a conference on restoring the Chechen economy and local administration. One of the speakers was opposition Provisional Council's armed forces leader Beslan Gantemirov who has been restored to his former post as mayor of Grozny. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Col.-Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov, the Russian armed forces chief of staff, told a 9 February Moscow briefing that 1,020 federal troops had been killed in the Chechen war between 11 December and 8 February. Radio Mayak stressed these were only losses suffered by the armed forces and did not include Interior Ministry or Federal Counterintelligence Service troops. Kolesnikov reported that 6,690 Chechen fighters had been "eliminated" and another 671 taken prisoner. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Defense Minister Grachev, who has come under attack for alleged corruption and his mishandling of the Russian operation in Chechnya, rejected press reports that he had a secret foreign bank account and said the real target of the attacks on him was President Yeltsin, agencies reported on 9 February. His critics "want to force President Yeltsin out of office in the nearest future, and I get in their way," he said. Grachev added that the botched Chechen campaign was not the fault of senior commanders but of lower-ranking officers in the field. The defense minister's remarks came on the same day as a report on German television claiming that Russian troops took home more than $4 billion in illegal earnings during their four-year withdrawal from eastern Germany. The program quoted German investigators as saying that the illegal deals, involving cars, electronic goods, fuel, cigarettes, and alcohol, "clearly show the participation or knowledge of generals," Reuters reported. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin issued a decree dismissing Deputy Defense Minister Matvei Burlakov, who has been charged with corruption in connection with his tour as commander in chief of the Western Group of forces in Germany, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. Yeltsin had already suspended Burlakov late last year. The latest decree also announced the dismissal of Deputy Defense Minister Georgii Kondratev, who opposed the Chechen operation. Generals Boris Gromov, Kondratev, and Valerii Mironov were omitted from the list of deputy defense ministers released on 16 January. The 9 February decree does not mention Gromov or Mironov, so apparently they continue to serve in tandem with the officers appointed to replace them. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin and Duma Chairman Ivan Rybkin met on 9 February to discuss draft electoral laws for parliament, Interfax reported. Rybkin said the law for the Federation Council, currently under discussion in the Duma, does not conform with the constitution because it does not propose electing the body directly, but rather, forming it from the heads of legislative and executive branches of the constituent members of the federation. In the aftermath of the events of October 1993, Yeltsin decreed that the council be elected for a two-year transitional period, with each of the Russian Federation's 89 members entitled to two representatives. The majority of council members, however, supported a proposal to have the legislative and executive branches of each unit of the federation nominate candidates who would then stand for popular elections. Seventy-three of 106 council members voting, supported the proposal. There are 176 members. Only 33 members backed a proposal by the council's chairman, Vladimir Shumeiko, to automatically make the heads of the local executive and legislative branches members of the Federation Council, as Rybkin and Yeltsin discussed. On the same day, the Central Electoral Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov told journalists the Duma would probably be elected by temporary regulations approved by presidential decree, Interfax reported. Ryabov explained that he doubted the Duma members would be willing to accept Yeltsin's proposal to change the proportion of deputies elected by single-member district and party list. In 1993, 225 deputies were elected by each method. Yeltsin now wants to have 300 members elected in single-member districts and 150 by party lists. Ryabov claimed Duma deputies support permanently adopting the interim law issued for 1993 elections, but if it is adopted, Yeltsin will veto it, and the Duma will have to find a two-thirds majority to override his veto, which is unlikely, Ryabov explained. Such an eventuality could cause legal difficulties because the constitution stipulates that federal laws regulate parliamentary elections. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

A new bloc called "For a United Russia" will bring together the country's national-patriotic movements to coordinate efforts for the coming elections, Russian National Assembly Chairman Aleksandr Sterligov said at a news conference, Interfax reported on 9 February. The Second Congress of the Russian People decided to form the new organization, to be headed by Federation Council member Pyotr Romanov, at its recent meeting in Volgograd. Sterligov believes that "officers, Cossacks, employees of law enforcement bodies, and agricultural workers" would make up the core of the membership. In spite of the decision to contest the elections, however, he believes that parliamentary government has "discredited itself in Russia" and the people should address the Patriarch of All Russia Alexei II with a request to convene a popular assembly to resolve the country's problems. The assembly would devise new state institutions for Russia and form the new government. Sterligov believes that an active fifth column -- those "working in the interests of Western capital against the Russian people" -- is preventing Russia from overcoming its crisis. He rejected accusations of fascism and reported that the Volgograd conference urged the president to stop Jews in his administration from calling the Russian National Assembly fascist without providing proof. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The 14th Russian army head, Lt.-Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, denied a Reuter's report that he had called for President Yeltsin's resignation, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. He said he never made the interview in the Ekho Kishineva paper cited by Reuters. He also denied rumors that he was a candidate to become the next defense minister. "I am not a graduate of a General Staff academy. I am an army commander and I intend to remain as such," he said. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin has drawn attention to the plight of farm producers resulting from delayed subsidies, Interfax reported on 9 February. In a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Rybkin said the parliament-approved law on government purchases of farm products and food is ineffective because of the cabinet's failure to decide how to implement it, thus putting farm producers in a financial crunch for this year's sowing. The letter said most farms are short of fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides, while 70-80% of machinery and equipment needs repairing. Rybkin also wrote that the majority of farms are insolvent and spoke of "grim prospects" and "dire consequences" that may follow against the "backdrop of other political events." Rybkin urged Chernomyrdin to help pass a government resolution immediately to enforce the law on financing the agro-industrial sector. Meanwhile, the Federation Council suggested on 9 February that the government decide in 10 days about offering 12 trillion rubles (4,170 rubles/$1) in centralized credits to agriculture and related industries. The council also urged the cabinet to lend 4 million rubles to farms for purchasing farm machinery, vehicles, and pedigree cattle in the first six months of 1995. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The latest round of talks on the Karabakh conflict, mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, ended in Moscow on 9 February, Interfax reported. Only one provision of the new draft agreement -- formed by merging the previous Russian and OSCE peace plans -- was agreed on. A major sticking point was specifying the number of parties to the conflict. The Azerbaijani delegation is now insisting that the conflicting parties recognize either two sides (Armenia and Azerbaijan) or four (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Nagorno-Karabakh). On 8 February, a spokesman for the Presidential Press service of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic reiterated that talks on a political solution should not begin until after an international peacekeeping force is deployed in the region.-- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Tajikistan's Central Electoral Commission Chairman Kholmurod Sharipov said registration of candidates for parliamentary elections on 26 February is complete, Interfax reported on 9 February. A total of 399 candidates will contest 181 seats in the new unicameral parliament. The four registered political parties -- the Communist Party, the Popular Party, the Party of Popular Unity and Accord, and the Party for Economic and Political Revival -- have nominated 31 candidates. The Islamic opposition is boycotting the elections and has also rejected Moscow as the venue for the fourth round of UN-mediated talks on a settlement to the conflict. Sharipov dismissed as unwarranted OSCE and UN proposals that the elections be postponed in order to facilitate opposition participation. Speaking in Almaty on the eve of the CIS summit, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva expressed concern at the international community's alleged lack of interest in resolving the Tajik conflict and called for CIS peacekeeping troops in Tajikistan to be given UN status. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


Security and economic integration issues are scheduled to top the agenda at the CIS summit which opened on 10 February in Almaty, international agencies reported. President Yeltsin was particularly enthusiastic about a peace and stability pact proposed by Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev. Before departing for Almaty on 9 February, he said, "I believe that the document on collective security of all countries of the CIS will be signed at the commonwealth summit in Almaty." Earlier, at a meeting of CIS Defense Ministers, the proposed pact was watered down into a memorandum. That meeting also saw the failure of a plan for a common air defense system and external border. Nazarbaev will also use the summit to push for his Euro-Asian Union. Nazarbaev's press secretary, Dulat Kuanyshev, said, "This union will not replace the current Commonwealth of Independent States. It will rather resemble a body like the European Commission within the European Union." This could mean that the union would serve as an executive agent for economic matters within the CIS. President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan also supports the plan which has received a lukewarm reception from the Russians. During a meeting in July with the leaders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Akayev said, "It is our goal to build a Euro-Asian Union that would mitigate the problems arising from an amorphous structure like the CIS," AFP reported. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

A revolt within the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) has cast doubt on the durability of the coalition agreement to replace Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak with Sejm Speaker Jozef Oleksy of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Polish media report. The PSL's main executive council voted on 9 February to accept Pawlak's decision to step down, but the party's 170-strong parliament caucus sharply criticized the move. PSL deputies and senators denounced Pawlak's advisers and leading PSL cabinet members for agreeing to the deal without consulting them, and some urged a probe into corruption allegations against the prime minister. Others argued that the party should demand continued control of prime minister's post or opt to join the opposition. Pawlak's position within the PSL seems badly shaken. Even if the party opts to accept a prime minister from the SLD, the battle over the division of ministerial posts is certain to be fierce, and defections by PSL deputies in any "constructive no-confidence vote" to form a new government appear likely. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Sejm Speaker Jozef Oleksy, after meeting with President Lech Walesa on 9 February, said he has not yet decided whether to try to form a government, Rzeczpospolita reports. Oleksy insisted that the press is responsible for creating the impression that he has already opened talks on a new cabinet. Despite optimistic predictions on 8 February from SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski that the next Sejm session could vote a new prime minister into office, Oleksy said this was "practically impossible." He said his decision depended not only on the stance of the Polish Peasant Party but also on the fate of the 1995 budget. Oleksy indicated he was unlikely to undertake the task of forming a government if the budget were not signed first. The president hinted, however, that he would agree to sign the budget only after discussing it with a new prime minister. Walesa, cornered by journalists at a meeting of military chaplains, said the prospect of Oleksy as prime minister did not please him. But he added that "without the dissolution of the parliament, nothing more can be done." -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian legislature has forbidden the government to implement price hikes without wage increases, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 9 February. Legislators said the population's purchasing power has fallen drastically since President Leonid Kuchma ordered price liberalization in November. They also noted that the government has failed to request an increase in subsidies to state enterprises to cover appropriate wage increases. The legislature earlier this week approved a cash emission to finance, among other things, wage increases. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The Belarusian Constitutional Court has ruled that the law liquidating local councils is unconstitutional and has recommended that the parliament amend it, Belarusian Television reported on 8 February. Parliament deputy Aleh Trusau expressed his personal thanks to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for finally having given a speech in Belarusian, albeit in the Lithuanian parliament. Lukashenka has been criticized by the opposition for speaking in Russian. Meanwhile, the pro-Russian "Belaya Rus" appealed to the president to go ahead with his plan to hold a national referendum on granting the Russian language official status (along with Belarusian) and increasing cooperation with Russia. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The deadline for bids in Estonia's last round of privatization expired at noon on 9 February, BNS reports. Privatization Agency Director General Vaino Sarnet said preliminary interest in the 43 enterprises offered for sale was great--an average of about six bidders per enterprise. The firms include 21 construction and building materials companies, five transportation firms, and three food processing enterprises. The largest of those companies is the Marat knitwear factory, with a total of 1,579 employees. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Hans van den Broek met on 8-9 February in Riga with President Guntis Ulmanis, Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, Finance Minister Andris Piebalgs, and some EU ambassadors in Riga, BNS reports. He expressed optimism that the Baltic States would sign association agreements with the EU before the end of June. When asked for a time frame for the Baltic States' full EU membership, he responded that "We are now really talking about the process and we (should rather) talk about the conditions and what conditions have to be met than try to be speculative about the calendar," Reuters reports. Van den Broek left for Tallinn that evening. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The office of President Vaclav Havel on 9 February appealed a court decision to hand over St. Vitus Cathedral, in Prague Castle, to the Catholic Church. Lubos Dobrovsky, head of the presidential office, told journalists there were doubts about aspects of the December court ruling to return the cathedral and about the Church's legal entitlement to initiate court proceedings, Czech media report. More than half of Czech parliament deputies signed a petition asking the presidential office, which is responsible for the cathedral and maintains it on behalf of the state, to appeal. But Dobrovsky denied that the action was taken because of public pressure. Members of the two Christian Democratic parties in the parliament criticized their fellow deputies for signing the petition. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus warned that the issue should not be allowed to blow up into an "unnecessary" political or public dispute. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Christian Democratic Movement Deputy Chairman Ivan Simko, at a press conference on 9 February, said his party will not participate in a commission charged with examining the Democratic Union's election lists. Dusan Macuska, a member of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia who heads the parliament commission investigating the validity of the DU's mandates, recently called for the creation of a new commission that might include CDM and DU members. Simko argued that Macuska's current commission, consisting only of governing party representatives, did not invite opposition members to be present when its members unsealed the lists three months ago. He suggested that the lists may have been manipulated. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Slovak Foreign Ministry released a statement on 9 February saying recent international press reports about Slovakia's alleged sales of light weapons to Algerian Islamic fundamentalists are false. The ministry said it "denies any link between Slovakia and supplies of arms to extremist, terrorist, and illegal organizations throughout the world." It also noted that Slovakia "adheres to the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other countries and condemns any manifestations of political or military extremism, radicalism, and terrorism." Allegations about Slovak arms sales to Algeria appeared in Le Monde on 4 February. The head of the Slovak government licensing commission, Colonel Ignac Hianik, said he is not aware of any exports of light weapons to Algeria. He added that the allegations are "a provocation" that damages Slovakia's image abroad, Pravda reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Gyula Horn, during a visit to the European Union and NATO headquarters in Brussels on 9 February, stressed his country's commitment to economic reform and said that his government even plans to accelerate the pace of change, Western news agencies report. Horn was responding to a warning by the European Commission that Hungary's failure to stick to its reform program could derail its chances of joining the EU before the end of the century. Doubts about the Horn government's commitment to reform came in the wake of the resignation of liberal Finance Minister Laszlo Bekesi and the government's cancellation of a major privatization deal. Horn said he believed there is a good chance Hungary will become a member of NATO before it gains admission to the EU. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

The BBC's Serbian Service on 10 February reports major violations of the cease-fire the previous day by Bosnian Serb forces in Sarajevo and Krajina Serb units in the Bihac pocket. The UN, meanwhile, has complained again about Serbian authorities barring UN monitors from access to radar at Belgrade airport last week, when Serbian military helicopter flights to Bosnia were taking place. International media report that U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, meeting in Washington, called for strengthening the Croatian-Muslim federation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Hina reports on 10 February that visiting Turkish deputies told their Croatian counterparts that UNPROFOR's mandate in both Croatia and Bosnia needs redefining. The Turks stressed that UNPROFOR should not be trying to keep a peace that does not really exist but rather to make peace. Meanwhile in Krajina, the Serbs announced they will respect agreements in force on reopening the Zagreb-Lipovac highway and the Adria pipeline but will suspend those not yet put into practice. The latter include projects to reopen the railway line through the zone known as Sector West and to restart the water supply for Pakrac. The Serbian authorities also refused some Croatian refugees permission to visit their homes in occupied areas, although some Serbs have been allowed to return to their houses in Novska and Nova Gradiska. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba reports from the Sandzak on 10 February that Rasim Ljajic, general secretary of the mainly Muslim Party for Democratic Action, has called for Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia to recognize one another in their internationally valid frontiers. Zagreb and Sarajevo insist on such recognition as proof that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has abandoned his ambitions to create a Greater Serbia, but Belgrade refuses to do so. The same newspaper also quotes American media sources and an interview with the U.S. ambassador to Croatia in a Zagreb weekly as indicating that Washington has warned Croatia not to expect any U.S. support if it renews the war in Krajina. Finally, rump Yugoslav Foreign Minister Vladislav Jovanovic is reported to be in Athens to discuss the possible opening of a "diplomatic office" in Skopje and its potential effects on Greek-Serbian relations. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 10 February reports that the editorial board of the journal Liberal has called for a journalists strike to protest Belgrade's recent attacks on Serbia's independent media. The board observes that the crackdown amounts to "the despotic regime of Slobodan Milosevic extinguishing the last free light in Serbia." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

The Academic Council of the Skopje Pedagogical Academy has agreed to offer Albanian-language instruction in education, psychology, and sociology, Flaka reported on 9 February. A program is to be worked out for Albanian-language instruction in all departments at the academy. Ethnic Albanian students have been boycotting classes for more than two months, arguing that education courses should be taught in Albanian because their purpose is to train school teachers who will teach in that language. Meanwhile, ethnic Albanian deputies in the Macedonian parliament demanded that the proposed new identification cards should be bilingual. They were overruled by the Macedonian majority. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

The Party of Civic Alliance, a member of the opposition Democratic Convention of Romania, has asked the DCR to sever ties with the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania if the HDFR does not give up its demands for regional autonomy based on ethnic criteria. The HDFR is also a member of the DCR, but its demands for autonomy have been denounced by virtually all other members. PCA Deputy Chairman Nicolae Taran told a press conference on 9 February that the DCR must state explicitly that Romania is "a national, sovereign, independent, unitary, and indivisible state." The HDFR objects to the term "national." Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Traian Chebeleu said at a Bucharest press conference that remarks made by HDFR President Bela Marko in an interview with the BBC were "propaganda" aimed at distorting Romanian realities. Chebeleu objected in particular to Marko's claim that Romania has been trying to assimilate the Hungarian minority since 1918. He also took exception to Marko's designation of the 1918 unification of Transylvania with Romania as an "annexation." -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Employees at the Resita machinery plant went on strike on 9 February to demand big pay increases and protest broken promises. Radio Bucharest reported that negotiations broke down after strikers burst into the hall and forced the plant's director to resign. Leaders of the trade unions representing the strikers said negotiations will not be resumed until the State Property Fund confirms his resignation has been accepted. In late December 1994, some 15,000 workers in Resita staged strikes for eight days. Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu was forced to go there and accept most of the workers' demands. Western agencies quote the strikers as saying the government has failed to keep its promises. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Coal miners union leader Miron Cozma, who led several rampages through the capital in 1990 and 1991, has threatened that miners will take action to demand bigger state subsidies, Radio Bucharest and Reuters reported on 9 February. Cozma, who expects at least 300 union leaders to take part in protest marches and rallies in Bucharest next week, accused the government of seeking to close pits by limiting subsidies. He said if a single pit is closed, miners will press for the government's resignation and block roads across the country. In 1991, Cozma and the miners were instrumental in forcing the resignation of Petre Roman's government. Mine union leaders are demanding that subsidies projected in the 1995 state budget be increased by 25%. The parliament is currently debating the -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Moldovan President Mircea Snegur, before departing for the Almaty summit, said Moldovan priorities at the meeting are mainly economic. Snegur was quoted by Moldpres as saying the decisions about to be taken in Almaty will provide opportunities for Moldovan exports that will prove "vital" for economic reform. Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli told Radio Chisinau he expected the summit to be "more complicated and difficult" than its predecessors, because of problems left unresolved after earlier meetings. He said Moldova's position was that each member country should have its own currency but that it could envisage agreement on a common currency. Sangheli also said Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus will not support the setting up of a Eurasian Union. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The Bulgarian parliament on 9 February elected the members of its 20 commissions, 24 chasa reported the following day. No fewer than 18 are headed by deputies of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party and the remaining two by Bulgarian Business Bloc deputies. The Union of Democratic Forces declined to head any commission, insisting instead that one of the deputy chairmanships of each commission be filled by a UDF member. The Socialists complied with that demand. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The Greek government on 9 February rejected a compromise formula on a customs union between the European Union and Turkey, saying it will maintain its veto until its demands are met, AFP reported the same day. Athens is pressing for Cyprus's admission into the EU. EU foreign ministers agreed on 6 February to open membership talks with Cyprus six months after the union's scheduled institutional overhaul in 1997, while Greece promised to lift its veto on the trade accord with Turkey. Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said that while the Greek position is negative, "the government detects the possibility to continue talks" because there is "room for clearing up and improving the (EU) positions." Turkish officials said their country had met its obligations toward the EU and expects the union to do likewise. Noting that they were negotiating with the EU and not with Greece, they accused that country of continuing to block efforts to achieve a customs union. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos on 9 February said the Albanian Supreme Court's decision to free four ethnic Greeks sentenced for espionage and illegal possession of firearms lays the foundations for resumed political talks between Greece and Albania, Reuters reported the same day. Following their conviction last fall, Athens broke off all contacts with Albania's leadership, saying no dialogue was possible until they were freed. A fifth defendant was released last December by presidential decree. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave