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Newsline - March 13, 1995

The State Duma, which appointed Sergei Kovalev Human Rights Commissioner in January 1994, has voted to remove him, Interfax reported on 10 March. Sergei Baburin's nationalist Russian Way group proposed the motion, which passed by a vote of 240 to 75 with three abstentions. Kovalev, a member of the Russia's Choice group, was named 1994 Man of the Year by Izvestiya for exposing official disinformation on the violence in Chechnya. However, Kovalev's critics complained that his anti-war stance increased international pressure on Russia. Russia's Choice issued a statement saying the vote placed the Duma on the same moral level as the Communist regime that imprisoned Kovalev in 1974 for his defense of human rights, Russian TV reported on 10 March. On the same day, Kovalev told Russian TV he was not "distressed" by the Duma vote, saying, "I have a higher mandate." * Laura Belin

Boris Uvarov, the chief investigator in the case of the assassination of television journalist Vladislav Listev, said two prime suspects have been cleared after being identified as repairmen who had worked on Listev's apartment, Interfax reported on 12 March. But Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Oleg Gaidanov insisted, "We are more and more certain we will find the killers," AFP reported. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov told the newspaper Trud that the dismissals of Moscow head Prosecutor Gennady Ponomarev and Moscow police chief Vladimir Pankratov were a "misunderstanding" that would be canceled by executive order or reversed in court. * Laura Belin

Russia is proposing a non-aggression pact with NATO if the alliance decides to expand eastward, The Washington Post reported on 11 March. One U.S. official said the proposal is yet another sign that Russia has changed its unequivocal opposition to NATO expansion. However, details of a possible pact remain unclear. The Russian ambassador to the U.S., Yuri Vorontsov, said Russia would ask for "guarantees that NATO is not directed against us." He added that a mutual nonaggression pact could form the basis of those guarantees and take effect when NATO admits new members. * Michael Mihalka

On 10 March, Chechen forces repulsed a mass Russian attack on the town of Argun, east of Grozny, Russian and Western agencies reported. On 12 March, Russian planes bombed Argun after the expiry of an 11 March ultimatum calling on Chechen defenders in Argun, Shali, and Gudermes to surrender within 24 hours, according to AFP. In a statement issued by Interfax on 10 March, the head of the Moscow-based Chechen government of national trust, Yaragi Mamodaev, advocated a 45-day ceasefire beginning on 15 March during which time his government would conduct a survey to determine whether the Chechen population desired complete independence from Russia. In a commentary published in The Washington Post on 10 March, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev denied that he was seeking "complete independence" and affirmed his readiness for negotiations with Russia on a solution to the conflict "based on international law." He called for an immediate unconditional ceasefire, internationally mediated negotiations between the Russian and Chechen governments, and new parliamentary and presidential elections in Chechnya later this year. * Liz Fuller

Oleg Boiko, president of the Olbi firm and the chairman of the board of directors of the National Credit Bank, resigned as executive committee chairman of Russia's Democratic Choice, Yegor Gaidar told the party's council on 11 March, Russian TV reported. Boiko resigned because he disagreed with the party's criticism of Yeltsin's policy in Chechnya. Also at the council meeting, Sergei Yushenkov, the State Duma defense committee chairman, said the party should end its close relationship with Yeltsin and become a completely independent political party that supports Gaidar for president. Gaidar has not announced his intentions yet. The party called for the resignation of the power ministers and constitutional amendments regulating the activity of the Security Council and the president's security service. * Robert Orttung

Questioning the mental competence of his leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Duma member Vyacheslav Marychev announced his withdrawal from the Liberal Democratic Party's parliamentary bloc on 10 March , Interfax reported. On the same day, the party's press office published a statement expelling him for "breaching faction discipline and incompetence in legislative activities" as well as his "constant buffoonery" in the parliament. Marychev had been the party's point man in St. Petersburg and one of Zhirinovsky's top advisers. * Robert Orttung

The Duma passed a vote of no confidence in Interior Minister Viktor Yerin and acting Prosecutor General Alexei Ilyushenko because of their failure to tackle the crime wave, Russian media reported on 10 March. The motion was proposed by Russia's Choice and the Communist Party. It is unlikely to result in the resignation of Yerin or Ilyushenko, as both men have the support of President Boris Yeltsin. Commenting on the vote, Alexei Manannikov, deputy chairman of the Federation Council foreign affairs committee, said he was surprised that the Duma had not expressed a lack of confidence in Federal Counterintelligence Service Director Sergei Stepashin or Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who are responsible for the operation in Chechnya, Segodnya reported on 11 March. Another council member, Viktor Kurochkin, said "the power ministers must be put on trial--not over [Vladislav] Listev's death but over Chechnya." * Penny Morvant

Russia's GDP dropped 47% over the past four years, according to a government report prepared for the United Nation's Anti-Poverty Summit in Copenhagen, Interfax and AFP reported on 11 March. Industrial output fell by half and agricultural production dropped 25%. The report attributed the sharp decline to "new conditions under the market economy and the inability of most Russians to adapt to it rapidly." * Thomas Sigel

Russia will lose up to $1 billion if it fails to finance new communication satellites on time and will be forced to purchase Western satellites and equipment, Russian Space Agency general director Yuri Koptev told Interfax on 10 March. If satellites are not replaced, Koptev said Russia would have only one operational satellite in 1996. Currently, six of the 10 Gorizont communication satellites are already out of service. In 1995, three new systems and one Express satellite must be put in space while one Ekran satellite will be replaced. Meanwhile, 80-85% of the ground infrastructures, including 7,000 relay stations for TV Channel 1 and more than 4,000 relay stations for Channel 2, can operate only in conjunction with domestic communication satellites. Koptev said the use of foreign satellites would require replacing part of the ground equipment, thus increasing expenses. * Thomas Sigel

Fauziya Bairamova, the leader of the Tatar Party of National Independence Ittifak, said her organization will switch to hard-line opposition to President Mintimeir Shaymiev, Interfax reported on 10 March. She lost her race in Naberezhnie Chelny against Rais Belyaev, the former leader of the local Communist Party, where she ran in the 5 March elections. "The Tatar people sold me out for packs of tea which were handed out by certain candidates," she said. Bairamova said seven nationalists went on a hunger strike to protest the results. * Robert Orttung

The All-Russian Association of Independent Professionals chairman Petr Filippov, Soldiers' Mothers leader Lyubov Lumar, and Economic Analysis Institute Deputy Director Mikhail Dmitriev announced on 10 March their intention to set up an electoral association called "Against Crime and Corruption," Segodnya reported on 11 March. Noting that "corruption in the judiciary, the replacement of arbitration by gangsters' showdowns, [and] the penetration of the police by organized crime . . . have exhausted citizens' patience," they call on all those who support the rule of law to set aside differences on social and economic policy and strive together to restore justice in Russia. Filippov argues that the best way to achieve that goal is to elect professionals to the parliament who will enact fair and workable legislation on taxation and commercial practices. * Penny Morvant

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev upheld on 11 March a Constitutional Court decision that declared the Kazakh Parliament illegitimate. Earlier in the week, Nazarbaev had vetoed a measure which cited irregularities in the elections of March 1994. However, at an 11 March news conference, he said the court's 10 March overruling of his veto is in keeping with the constitution, according to Interfax. As a result, all power is now concentrated in the president's hands but Nazarbaev was quick to add that he will not be a dictator and that human rights will be observed. Nazarbaev has appointed Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin to head a new government and has retained the services of the deputy premiers, the defence, interior, finance, and foreign ministers, as well as the counterintelligence chief, AFP reported. Nazarbaev said he expects to hold new elections in 2-3 months. * Bruce Pannier

Hayrettin Uzun, General Manager of Turkey's national pipelines company Botas, said on 7 March that Azeri oil will be transported both by the railways and the existing pipeline to Batumi in Georgia and then shipped to Turkey by tankers, pending the construction of a new pipeline. The arrangement, in which Turkey would receive oil in return for building part of the pipeline on Turkish territory, has yet to be finalized, according to EBA Newsletter of 9 March. * Lowell A. Bezanis

In an appeal circulated to delegates at the Copenhagen Conference on Social Development on 10 March, the Armenian Relief Society protested the Armenian government's unexplained closure of the women's weekly newspaper Aragast, according to an RFE/RL correspondent. * Roland Eggleston & Liz Fuller

Ousted Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia was shot by his bodyguards on orders from Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, according to a Trud interview with his widow Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia summarized by Reuters on 10 March. When Gamsakhurdia's death was first reported in early January 1994, Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia said her husband had committed suicide. * Liz Fuller

The IMF managing director, Michel Camdessus, said the fund will mediate in the debt talks between Russia and Ukraine, the Financial Times reported on 13 March. He said the two standby arrangements concluded with each country in March are indirectly related and that the IMF must coordinate stabilization programs for both countries. He added, "We must make sure that in helping one, we do it in a way which is compatible with the interests of the other." In order to qualify for a $1.8 billion standby loan from the IMF, Ukraine must reschedule its $2.5 billion debt with Moscow. * Michael Mihalka

The Group of 24 industrialized countries on 10 March warned Eastern Europe that if reforms do not continue, aid will cease, Reuters reported. A statement released that day said there were concerns about "the possible effects on the pace of reform resulting from certain recent political developments. . . . Recipient governments are encouraged to continue pursuing active reform policies, [which] are important to the future development of G-24 assistance." A senior official at the European Commission said that the recent ouster of the reform government in Estonia and developments in Slovakia are on people's minds but added that the warning extends to all countries in the region. The commission coordinates aid from the G-24, which has pledged 74.7 billion ECUs since 1989. Another official noted that compared with the $100 billion a year that eastern Germany receives from the federal German authorities, aid to the region has been modest. * Michael Mihalka

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty began live news broadcasts from their new operations center in Prague on 10 March. A statement released by the U.S. radios says that broadcasters from the Russian, Ukrainian, South Slavic, and Latvian services delivered the first newscasts from studios in the former Federal Assembly Building. RFE/RL broadcasts news and current affairs programs in 21 languages to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Responding to an offer from the Czech government and president to relocate to Prague, President Bill Clinton ordered last July that RFE/RL move to the Czech capital from Munich, Germany, where the radios have been based since 1951. Congress approved the President's decision in August 1994. RFE/RL broadcasts from Prague will expand over the next three months, and the Munich facility will be closed down by 30 June. * Jiri Pehe

Ukrainian Television on 11 March reported that while Ukraine's population exceeds 52 million, the country attracted only some $200 million in foreign investment in 1994. In contrast, the Czech Republic and Hungary, each of which has only one-fifth of Ukraine's population, secured $1.4 billion and $750 million, respectively. Much of the blame for this lies with the government and the legislature, the report said. But it is hoped that recent legislation aimed at encouraging investors and the plan to make substantial headway in privatization this year will help change the situation. Meanwhile, IMF head Michel Camdessus arrived in Kiev on 10 March, international agencies reported. With regard to Ukraine's energy debt with Russia, Camdessus said he had raised the subject with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during his recent visit to Moscow. Camdessus met with parliament speaker Olek-sander Moroz, who argued that the IMF's demand that Ukraine's budget deficit be kept down to 4.2% was unrealistic. He suggested that 7.2% was a more likely figure. * Ustina Markus

Interfax on 12 March reported that a bomb exploded in Crimea near the home of Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Arkadii Demidenko, killing the person holding the device and breaking several windows. Demidenko has not ruled out that he was the target of the explosion, and police are investigating a possible link between the latest explosion and threats against Crimean Prime Minister Anatolii Franchuk. * Ustina Markus

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of Russia's Liberal Democratic Party, attended the Belarusian Liberal Democratic convention in Minsk on 11 March, Interfax reported the same day. Zhirinovsky told the convention that Russia now has two enemies, the U.S. and China, which have masterminded the stillbirth of the CIS and provoked armed conflicts in Russia. He said the West is using differences between the Russian president and mayor of Moscow to stage a coup d'état, which, he claimed, will take place on 18-25 March. If the coup fails, he continued, two Russian nuclear power stations will be blown up and a U.S.-led UN contingent will enter Russia on the pretext of protecting remaining nuclear power stations. * Ustina Markus

Ruth Harkin, president of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation, headed a delegation of banking, telecommunications, transport, and energy specialists who visited Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia on 6-10 March, BNS reported. The purpose of the tour was to help American companies find suitable partners for investments. Several agreements were reached, including a saw mill project worth $4 million in Lithuania and telecommunications projects in Latvia. President Bill Clinton expressed support for strengthening economic ties with the Baltic States at a conference on trade and investment in Eastern Europe that took place in Cleveland in January. The tour can be seen as a concrete follow-up to the conference. * Saulius Girnius

Lithuanian Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius told a press conference on 9 March that the Dutch electronics company Philips appears to have won the contest to convert the former Soviet military airport at Zokniai to commercial use, BNS reported the next day. Philips estimates that the reconstruction can be carried out within a year at a cost of about $24 million and that the investment can be recouped within seven years if there are at least 13 flights a day. Zokniai is one of the largest air bases in Europe. After runways and lighting are repaired and a new navigation system installed, it will be a major competitor among European commercial airports. * Saulius Girnius

Polish Primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp statement on 10 March that "the PRL [Polish People's Republic] still exists and there's no need to create a PRL II" drew sharp protests from the ruling coalition. Glemp was referring to Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy's pledge in his inaugural address that Poland faced no threat of a "PRL II," despite the presence of former communists in the government. Glemp also described work on the new constitution as "defense of the ancien regime," Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 11-12 March. Spokesmen for both the government and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) issued protests asserting that the ruling coalition is seeking a dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy and suggesting that Glemp was to blame for any impasse. The Constitutional Commission, headed by SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski, has been unable to reach agreement with Poland's denominations on how to define Church-state relations in the draft constitution. * Louisa Vinton

The Freedom Union (UW), Poland's largest opposition party, adopted a "charter of economic freedoms" in Sopot on 11-12 March. UW Chairman Tadeusz Mazowiecki endorsed former Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka as the party's presidential candidate, whereas UW parliament floor leader Bronislaw Geremek supported former Labor Minister Jacek Kuron, Radio Warsaw reported on 13 March. UW members remain deeply divided over whether to seek an election alliance with other "post-Solidarity" parties or a "historic compromise" with the postcommunist Democratic Left Alliance. Tension is also building over an anticipated contest for the chairmanship between Mazowiecki and economic reform architect Leszek Balcerowicz, who recently joined the UW. Balcerowicz made a major address in Sopot arguing that "a party dominated by emotion . . . cannot be effective politically" and stressing that even the most brilliant election program need not bring victory without effective organization. Most rank-and-file UW members apparently favor a solution keeping both Mazowiecki and Balcerowicz in leadership positions. * Louisa Vinton

Up to 2,000 German soldiers who died in the Czech Republic during World War II will be buried in the same cemetery as Russians, Americans, and other war dead, Czech media report. The remains of the German soldiers were collected from western and northern Bohemia but have been kept in a workshop in Cheb while the town council decided what to do with them. The council originally approved a plan by the German war graves organization for the Germans to have their own cemetery, but the council that took office after local elections last November rejected the idea. A compromise whereby the Germans will be buried alongside some 200 Russian soldiers and 70 Americans, Belgians, French, Hungarians, and Poles was approved by the Cheb council on 10 March. * Steve Kettle

The Slovak parliament on 10 March voted to strengthen the powers of the cabinet office, particularly as regards control over ministries and enterprises, Sme reported the next day. State secretaries will be able to vote in place of ministers at cabinet discussions, and the government will be able to appoint the leadership of various central organs of the state administration. The parliament also approved a cabinet proposal to create the new Ministry of Construction and Public Works. Critics said these measures were another attempt to centralize power. Meanwhile, another round of talks on the Hungarian-Slovak treaty on 10 March in Budapest ended without any results, Pravda reported on 11 March. The next round is due to begin on 14 March in Budapest. * Sharon Fisher

A worldwide conference of workers and labor parties was held in Banska Bystrica on 11-12 March. Organized by the Association of Slovak Workers, which is a member of Slovakia's governing coalition, the conference was attended by 189 delegates from 44 countries. The delegates approved an open letter to governments stating that the UN Social Development Summit in Copenhagen "is proof of the inability of all governments to solve tragic problems," Pravda reported. The statement was particularly critical of the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU. The next conference is scheduled to take place in Paris in 1996. * Sharon Fisher

At a press conference on 12 March, Hungarian Finance Minister Lajos Bokros, flanked by Prime Minister Gyula Horn and Hungarian National Bank President Gyorgy Suranyi, announced a series of harsh economic measures designed to reduce the country's spiraling debts, MTI and Western news agencies report. Bokros announced that as of 13 March, the forint will be devalued by 9% in order to improve the competitiveness of exports while curtailing consumption. He said that wage controls will be introduced at state-owned companies and an 8% duty imposed on all imports beginning 20 March. Bokros also announced that as of 1 July, the government will pay family allowances only for low-income citizens and that in September, general tuition fees will be introduced at state-owned universities. He argued that the measures were necessary to restore international investor confidence in Hungary. Disagreeing with the measures, Minister for Social Welfare Pal Kovacs and Bela Katona, minister without portfolio in charge of the secret services, offered their resignation. * Edith Oltay

Hina on 12 March reported on Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's address to the UN Social Development Summit in Copenhagen, on his press conference with U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and on his statement upon returning to Zagreb. The president said "the current international presence [meaning UNPROFOR] may continue to perform functions related to its mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina and functions essential to the continued implementation" of a package of agreements regarding Croatia and its Serbian-held territories. "The US has pledged to assist Croatia in restoring its sovereignty over the whole of its territory," and there will be "international control of Croatia's borders with Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina." Tudjman stressed that the current UNPROFOR mandate will end on 31 March, as he declared in January, and that any future agreement will "ensure the main task of Croatian state policy, which is to control the Croatian borders." * Patrick Moore

This is how Croatian UN Ambassador Mario Nobilo described to the BBC the problems in negotiating a new mandate for "an international presence" in Croatia. He added that Zagreb wants to reintegrate the 30% of its territory held by rebel Serbs "by peaceful means" but stressed that Croatia would take back Krajina by force to prevent a lasting partition of the country. The BBC commented that it will be harder to negotiate the new mandate than the old one, and the BBC's Croatian Service in its 13 March British press review concluded that total confusion reigns as to what Tudjman's statements will mean in practice. It is clear, however, that he insists on an international force of Western troops to patrol his borders with neighboring republics, which a Serbian diplomat in Washington called "a non-starter" for all Serbs. * Patrick Moore

Numerous questions surround the Croatian president's declarations. To what extent had he been bluffing on wanting to end UNPROFOR's mandate? What forms of pressure have been exerted on him by Washington and Bonn in the meantime? What incentives might he have been given? Has he emerged as the winner in the current diplomatic game by obtaining a Western presence to guard at least some major crossing points of Croatia's international borders? How big will that force be and how large the continued "international presence" in Krajina? What if Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs fight to prevent the arrival of NATO or other Western troops on their borders? What will happen on the front lines and in Croatia's domestic and international politics if the de facto partition indeed continues? * Patrick Moore

In addition to ongoing harassment against rump Yugoslavia's independent media, Belgrade authorities appear to be readying for a sustained campaign against charitable organizations. Among those targeted is the Soros Foundation, which last week was attacked in the state-run press and by government officials. The independent daily Nasa Borba on 11-12 March reported that officials from Serbia's Education Ministry joined the assault, describing the work of the foundation in supporting student scholarships and stipends as "illegal." * Stan Markotich

Unknown offenders vandalized some 130 Christian Orthodox tombs in Kumanovo during the night of 10-11 March, AFP reported on 12 March. The incident followed a similar incident involving about 40 Albanian tombs on 20 February. Meanwhile, deputies from the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity ceased their boycott of parliament sessions, Vecer reported on 10 March. The boycott began in late February in protest at the crackdown on the Albanian-language university in Tetovo. Also on 10 March, Nova Makedonija reported that Gerd Ahrens, coordinator of the working group on ethnic and national minorities at the Geneva Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, met with representatives of the Macedonian government to discuss higher education in Albanian and possible forms of local self-administration. The talks will continue in Skopje on 30 March. * Fabian Schmidt

The National Council of the Liberal Party '93 on 11 March voted not to sign the Democratic Convention of Romania's revised protocols of 17 February. The decision appears to have caused a split within the party. Several leading figures in the PL--including deputies Crin Antonescu, Stelian Tanase, and Ioan Ghise--warned that the PL's withdrawal from the CDR could lead to political isolation. Tanase told a Radio Bucharest correspondent that efforts were being made to set up a new liberal party to replace the PL within the CDR. Meanwhile, the National Committee of the Party of Civic Alliance on 12 March said it dismissed as "an ultimatum" the demand that it sign the February protocols in order to remain within the CDR. PAC President Nicolae Manolescu stressed that his party had been coerced into making the decision to leave the CDR. * Dan Ionescu

Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 10 March met in Brussels with European Commission President Jacques Santer, Reuters reported. The meeting, attended also by Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu and EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek, focused on Romania's ties with the EU. Iliescu and Santer discussed Romania's long-term prospects for EU membership and how it can take full advantage of its association agreement with the EU, which went into effect on 1 February. An EU spokesman said after the meeting that the commission urged Romania to step up its economic and political reforms if it wanted to entertain realistic hopes of joining the EU. Iliescu was on his way to Copenhagen to attend the UN Social Development Summit. * Dan Ionescu

Albanian and U.S. forces began a joint military-medical exercise on 12 March, Populli PO reported the same day. The exercise, which is taking place in the northwest of the country, focuses on evacuations from mountainous areas. Turkish, British, French, and Bulgarian Troops are also participating in the maneuvers. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave