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Newsline - March 20, 1995

President Boris Yeltsin has appointed Valentin Lazutkin to head the Federal Television and Radio Broadcasting Service, which oversees all broadcasting in the country, Russian and Western agencies reported on 17 March. Yeltsin said Lazutkin, who had been first deputy chairman of the broadcasting service, commands the respect of Ostankino employees. Alexander Yakovlev resigned as head of the federal broadcasting service and chairman of Ostankino on 16 March in order to concentrate on building the Russian Party of Social Democracy he launched in February. A replacement for Yakovlev at Ostankino, which is being reorganized into a production company, has yet to be appointed. Lazutkin declined Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's offer to appoint him to the post, Interfax reported. In 1994, Lazutkin resigned as vice chairman of Ostankino after admitting the network's coverage during the 1993 parliamentary campaign had been biased toward Yeltsin's supporters, Reuters reported. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Sergei Gryzunov, the State Press Committee chairman, has responded to charges published in Rossiiskaya gazeta that he mismanaged the committee, Segodnya reported on 17 March. Gryzunov accused the government newspaper of intentionally distorting the facts and called on the government to do some "hard thinking" about whether to continue subsidizing the newspaper. He claimed that Rossiiskaya gazeta received 24.8 billion rubles from the federal budget in 1994, while all other Russian newspapers and magazines combined received only 31 billion rubles. Gryzunov pledged to raise those and other issues in court and said he is confident he will win the case. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin believes that the new Russian Party of Social Democracy (RPSD), led by Alexander Yakovlev, will play an "important role in the election campaign," Russian TV reported on 17 March. He envisions the new political organization as a united, democratic party, according to Reuters. The new organization is intended to support Yeltsin since Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Democratic Choice Party, which formerly had close ties to him, opposes the president's policy in Chechnya. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

At its founding conference, the Moscow branch of RPSD unanimously elected Yevgeny Savostyanov as its leader, Interfax reported on 19 March. Until 2 December 1994, he was deputy director of the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK) and the head of its Moscow department. More recently, he has been an adviser to the chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia. Addressing the conference, RPSD leader Yakovlev said the party has the support of "18 federal organizations," but refused to name them. Savostyanov struck a very different note in his remarks. He said the main problem with the democratic movement since 1991 was its inability to distance itself from the executive branch, obliging it to take responsibility for the errors committed by that branch. Citing one example, he blamed the executive for overestimating the willingness of foreign partners to cooperate with Russia and said that, to some extent, "foreign countries have betrayed our reforms." Savostyanov said the main aim of the party is to build "a regime as favorable for working people as possible" and to achieve "stability meaning the ability to work on the basis of predictable rules and the idea of restoring domestic production." The Moscow branch of the party passed a resolution indicating its willingness to form a coalition with the trade unions. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev ended several days of confusion when he told Interfax on 17 March that his former deputy, Col.-Gen. Boris Gromov, had been dismissed from his post the previous day by a presidential decree. Grachev said Gromov would hold the rank of a deputy foreign minister in his post as expert on military issues at the Foreign Ministry. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

A burst pipeline in Irkutsk Oblast in Siberia leaked about 3,500 cubic meters of oil on 16 March, Russia's Ministry for Emergency Situations said on 19 March. According to Interfax, the oil spilled over an area of 19,500 square meters. Cleanup work has begun, but there is a danger that the oil could seep into a nearby river during the spring thaw. Aging pipelines have led to a series of oil leaks over the past year, causing severe environmental damage in Russia's north. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The Primorsky power station, which provides 70% of the krai's electricity, virtually shut down operations on 17 March owing to a lack of fuel, Kommersant-Daily reported on 18 March. The local power authority Dalenergo owes fuel suppliers in other regions nearly 200 billion rubles. Electricity supplies from Khabarovsk Krai have also stopped, owing to repair work on the power transmission line. According to Interfax, electricity consumers in Primorsky Krai, with the exception of vital enterprises and hospitals, are experiencing severe power cuts. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The State Duma voted overwhelmingly on 17 March to form a commission to consider the fate of the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet, Interfax reported. Konstantin Zatulin, chairman of the Committee on CIS Affairs, had proposed that the commission be drawn from his committee and those on defense and geopolitics. He criticized the draft agreement being worked out by Russian and Ukrainian negotiators as having "little to do with [Russian] national interests." The agency reported that deputies were concerned that they had not seen the package of documents being prepared for Yeltsin's upcoming visit to Ukraine. As a result, the Duma also approved Zatulin's proposal that First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets--due to visit Kiev on 20 March--make a report to the Duma when he returns. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The EU has offered a special relationship to Russia if it drops its objections to NATO's eastward expansion and resolves the conflict in Chechnya, international agencies reported on 19 March. Meeting in Carcassonne, France, the EU foreign ministers said if those conditions are met, NATO should negotiate an agreement with Russia that would include a special consultative mechanism, regular political dialogue, and a mutual non-aggression pact. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The EU's foreign ministers have agreed not to go ahead with an interim trade pact with Russia because not enough progress has been made on assuring human rights in Chechnya, international agencies reported on 18 March. Some of the ministers expressed optimism that the pact could be signed by their next scheduled meeting on 10 April. Russian Foreign Economic Relations Minister Oleg Davydov complained that the EU's decision was economically motivated. "We have learned Adam Smith better than you," he said, according to the Financial Times on 18 March. "You are employing protectionist measures against a weakened Russia." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Several Russian officials reacted harshly to a U.S. Senate vote on 16 March to block U.S. nuclear cooperation with Russia if it goes ahead with its plan to provide further aid to the Iranian nuclear program, Interfax reported. Yury Kotov, director of the Third Asian Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Russia will not "follow instructions by third parties" and will continue cooperation with Iran. On 17 March, Moscow TV reported that Vladimir Lukin, the head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "Not a single international law is being breached." Citing U.S. President Bill Clinton's decision to cancel the Conoco oil deal with Iran, Lukin added, "Now, however, when Clinton has clearly shown that the desire to punish Iran is even stronger than the interests of American companies, it will be far more difficult for Russia to protect a profitable contract to construct the light hydrogen industrial reactor [in Iran]." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Azerbaijani government troops and Interior Ministry forces succeeded in defeating rebel police units on 17 March after fierce fighting in which dozens of people were killed or wounded, Russian and Western agencies reported. Speaking at a press conference on 17 March, President Heidar Aliyev claimed that former President Ayaz Mutalibov and disgraced former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov had masterminded the coup attempt, according to ITAR-TASS. Reuters quoted Interior Minister Namig Abbasov as claiming that the insurgents led by Deputy Interior Minister Rovshan Dzhavadov had planned to assassinate Aliev. Some 200 people were arrested on 17-18 March, including former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov, head of the radical Boz Gurd party, some of whose members were allegedly aligned with the insurgents. Azadlyg, the newspaper of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front, was banned from publishing and Musavat Party leader Isa Gambarov was detained and warned not to speak to the press, Reuters reported on 18 March. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin announced he has almost finished selecting members for a new government. Although opposition from members of the dissolved parliament persists, the threat is apparently not sufficient to prevent Kazhegeldin from travelling to the United States tomorrow for an eight-day official visit, according to Interfax. After Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev called for their resignations last week, 130 of the 177 members of parliament held a meeting and formed the "People's Parliament" with 72 of the deputies participating in a hunger strike. A day later, all but 22 of the deputies had stopped fasting, and by 18 March, only 50 members still supported the opposition, Reuters reported. Vladimir Chernyshov, one of the hunger strikers, was attacked by unknown assailants on 18 March and taken to the hospital with head injuries. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc.

Russian troops killed six people attempting to cross from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, Reuters reported on 18 March. Several hours later, a Russian serviceman was wounded en route from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, to his base. On 17 March, Captain Andrei Romanov was shot and killed in the entryway to his home in Dushanbe. Five other Russian soldiers have been slain away from the border zone of conflict so far this year, and as yet, no one has been charged in the crimes and police have no suspects. Col.-Gen. Valery Patrikaev, commander of the allied peacekeeping forces in Tajikistan, announced on 18 March that he intends to lodge a note of protest demanding a proper investigation of those crimes and the arrest of the culprits. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc.

The World Bank intends to grant Turkmenistan a $25 million credit for an environmental project in the Aral Sea region during the first half of 1995, FIA-Interfax reported on 17 March. -- Lowell A. Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

Although the third summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which met in Islamabad on 14-15 March, ended with an apparent lack of consensus on key proposals, an agreement was signed with the United Nations Drug Control Program for mutual coordination and technical assistance in narcotics control, AFP reported on 16 March. ECO, which made little headway after its establishment by Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan in the 1960s, was recently enlarged to include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Several members are major producers of opium and opium derivatives as well as cannabis products. Key items on the Islamabad summit agenda, notably accords on the establishment of an ECO Bank for Trade and Development, a reinsurance company, an airline, and a shipping company, were not all signed by all 10 member countries. -- Lowell A. Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian parliament on 17 March annulled Crimea's constitution and abolished its presidency, international agencies reported. The move was prompted by threats among Crimean deputies to hold a referendum on reunification with Russia during municipal elections set for 29 April. Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Oleksandr Moroz told reporters that repeated calls for Crimea to bring its constitution into line with Ukraine's have been ignored, despite concessions Kiev has made in favor of the region's autonomy. Ukrainian legislators also voted to launch criminal proceedings against Crimean President Yurii Meshkov for promoting secession from Ukraine, and they moved to disarm his presidential guard. Crimean deputies denounced the Ukrainian parliament's resolution as an affront to the Crimean population, but they stopped short of any retaliatory measures. With the exception of the Crimean Tatars, they appealed to Russian leaders to postpone signing a long-awaited friendship treaty with Ukraine and intervene on the region's behalf. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Chairman of the State Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs Konstantin Zatulin told a closed-door parliament session that sanctions may be considered against Ukraine in response to Kiev's move against Crimea, Interfax reported on 17 March. He said all official Russian state visits to Ukraine should be canceled; the Duma should consider suspending trade and all economic agreements with Ukraine; Russia should demand the immediate repayment of Ukraine's debts to Russia; and measures should be taken to ensure the security of Russian citizens and servicemen in Crimea. But Chairman of the State Duma Ivan Rybkin said the issue of Crimea is an internal Ukrainian affair. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Tiit Vahi, chairman of the Coalition Party and Rural Union (KMU) alliance, which won the most seats in the 5 March parliament elections, held talks with Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas on a possible coalition on 16 March, BNS reported the next day. The Center Party, a possible third coalition member, has not yet held formal talks with the KMU but did meet with members of the Reform Party. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

State Energy Minister Juris Ozolins on 16 March fired Gunars Koemecs, president of state-owned Latvenergo, the largest energy monopoly in Latvia, BNS reported the following day. Prime Minister Maris Gailis dismissed Latvenergo's board on 14 March and placed Ozolins temporarily in charge until a new board is named on 21 March. Koemecs claimed he was fired because when he was industry and energy deputy minister, he dismissed Ozolins from his post as chief of the ministry's foreign affairs department, citing his poor job performance. Koemecs is consulting with lawyers on appealing his dismissal in a civil court. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Sejm on 17 March voted by 303 to 11 with 21 abstentions to overturn a presidential veto of a constitutional amendment that would enable the parliament to remain in session after a dissolution order is issued. President Lech Walesa had argued that the amendment would disrupt the tripartite balance of power. Citing the experience of Hanna Suchocka's government in 1993, which ruled without a legislature for three months, the deputies argued that the amendment restored parliament control over the government. But they seemed most determined to limit the president's room for maneuver. Under the new legislation, the Sejm remains in session until after new elections but can neither alter the constitution, the budget, and electoral laws nor adopt legislation entailing major financial consequences. The president's spokesman warned the Sejm to expect a "determined response" from Walesa. In another move to curtail Walesa's powers, the Sejm voted 346 to 27 to give the National Broadcasting Council the right to select a chairman from among its ranks. The president currently makes that appointment. The legislation must be approved by the Senate. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The Polish conference of bishops, in a communique issued on 18 March, said the new constitution must invoke God as the highest authority, defend human life from the time of conception, and enshrine the principle of "tolerance" rather than "neutrality" on worldview questions, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. "The term `worldview neutrality,' like the `separation of Church and state,' are associated with the postwar practice of favoring nonbelievers and expelling religion from all areas of public life," the episcopate's statement said. Polish Primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp argued in a sermon on 19 March that enshrining the separation of Church and state could facilitate a return to totalitarian practices. But Constitutional Commission chairman Aleksander Kwasniewski of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) told Radio Zet on 19 March that "worldview neutrality" was "a self-evident principle" that must guide the state. Polish leading dailies report that the bishops' tough stance has created a dilemma for the former communist SLD, which wishes to avoid antagonizing its anti-clerical voters but also dreads an all-out war with the Church. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Two of the four governing parties, the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) and the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL), have denied they are planning to leave the coalition, Czech media reported on 20 March. Tensions within the coalition increased on 17 March when Josef Reichman, head of the ODA Secretariat, was formally accused of corruption in connection with a 52-million koruny debt the party owes to a now failed bank. President Vaclav Havel and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus last week discussed the possible implications of the affair, which is the most serious threat to date that the government could break up. But a party spokesman said the ODA did not intend to leave the government. A KDU-CSL spokesman made a similar denial. Reichman is currently being treated for nervous exhaustion in a psychiatric hospital. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Vaclav Klaus on 17 March said again that the issue of the expulsion of millions of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II and the confiscation of their property is "definitively closed," Mlada fronta dnes reported the next day. Klaus was reacting to a speech by German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, who called on the Czech government to open a dialog with Sudeten groups. Klaus has repeatedly refused to do so. Klaus on 19 March met with German Finance Minister Theo Waigel, leader of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, which has long supported Sudeten German demands. The two did not discuss the Sudeten question but Waigel asked Klaus to eliminate "strains" in Czech-German relations, Rude pravo reported. "I don't see any strains whatsoever," Klaus told journalists. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Slovak and Hungarian prime ministers Vladimir Meciar and Gyula Horn on 19 March signed the basic Slovak-Hungarian treaty in Paris, where they are taking part in the Conference on the Pact of Stability from 20-21 March, Pravda reported. The Slovak cabinet approved the wording of the treaty in a late-night session the previous day. The bilateral treaty will have to be ratified by both countries' parliaments, which could cause problems within Slovakia's governing coalition. Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota said the signing of the agreement was "premature." He also called some provisions of the text "unacceptable," particularly the inclusion of Council of Europe Recommendation 1201, which grants national minorities the right to set up autonomous organizations, Sme reported on 18 March. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Slovak President Michal Kovac on 17 March returned a bill passed by the parliament on 6 March that would have transferred the power to appoint and remove the director of the Slovak Information Service from the president to the government, Pravda reported on 18 March. SIS director Vladimir Mitro resigned in February, and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia apparently wants to appoint its own candidate. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

A Russian An-124 transport suspected of carrying Slovak arms to Ecuador was detained by Portuguese authorities in the Azores on 16 March, Reuters reported the following day. The plane was flying from Bratislava to Quito, Ecuador, according to a Portuguese air force spokesman. It landed in the Azores to refuel, where the Portuguese authorities became suspicious. When they inspected the plane, they found it loaded with arms, although the cargo manifest indicated the plane was carrying medical supplies. Ecuadorian and Peruvian troops have clashed over a disputed border area, and while sales of weapons to either party is not illegal, most countries have denounced sending arms to areas where fighting is taking place. Concealing weapons and ammunition as medical supplies is illegal. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

AFP reported on 19 March that Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic sent formal condolences to Federal President and Bosnian Croat leader Kresimir Zubak for the apparent murder of Bosnian Croat General Vlado Santic in the Bihac area on 8 March. The telegram said that "the two of us have been confronted with almost insoluble problems before, but we have managed to solve them successfully." The murky Santic affair has strained Croatian-Muslim relations in recent days, but Slobodna Dalmacija on 18 March quoted Zubak as saying that "for all that we are doing, we need patience, tolerance, and consideration." Bosnian authorities on 15 March arrested three Muslim military policemen in connection with the disappearance of Santic. Nasa Borba on 20 March quotes Bihac Muslim rebels as saying that government soldiers killed Santic and threw his body in the River Una, but Vjesnik reports that "there is no information about his fate." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

International media reported on 19 March that Bosnian Serb forces fired a mortar shell in the direction of a French air transport at Sarajevo airport and that French UNPROFOR positions returned fire. Serb snipers fired on city streets, and gunners hit the Bosnian government's sole supply road along Mt. Igman. In the meantime, a Russian UN observer was arrested by Serbs at a checkpoint outside Sarajevo. A UN spokesman said it was "likely" that the Serbs were "stepping up an organized campaign of harassment." He added that the UN "may use force to neutralize" any position firing on UN aircraft in the future. The Serb reaction to these statements is not known. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told CNN on 18 March that Zagreb has not changed its position in agreeing to a new international presence in Croatia. He maintained that Croatia was firm in saying that UNPROFOR had to go and that the primary task of a new international body under a different mandate would be supervising Croatia's borders. He added that he remained optimistic that both Belgrade and Knin would come round to a negotiated settlement to Zagreb's liking. But The New York Times on 20 March reported that "messy" discussions are under way in UN circles about the composition and mandate of the new force. Croatia wants it to "control" its borders with Serbia and Bosnia, but the most likely mandate on offer will be for the small force to "monitor" its frontiers. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 20 March reported that EU officials have rejected Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's condition that sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia be lifted before Belgrade agrees to participate in a summit on the situation throughout the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic, following meetings with Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias, called on the EU on 17 March to help lift sanctions. He noted that since the EU was the architect of the embargo, "it would be fair if an initiative to lift the sanctions were to come from [that organization]," AFP reported. Finally, Nasa Borba on 18-19 March reported that rump Yugoslavia Foreign Minister Vladislav Jovanovic met with Pope John Paul II on 17 March. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu told Radio Bucharest on 18 March that he visited Bratislava the previous day to discuss the Hungarian-Slovak agreement to sign a basic treaty. He noted that Romania will continue to reject the inclusion in the treaty of "the principle of autonomy based on ethnic criteria." Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu, after meeting with members of parliament parties, told the press that Romania will not agree to enshrining in the treaty Council of Europe Recommendation 1201, which grants national minorities the right to set up autonomous organizations. But Vacaroiu said Romania agreed with the provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. He added that the government's position was backed by the parties at the meeting and that there was consensus on the need to conclude a basic treaty with Hungary. The Romanian premier will attend the final session of the EU Conference on the Pact of Stability in Paris, where he will explain Romania's position on the treaty. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, at a press conference broadcast by Radio Bucharest on 17 March, said the four-party protocol signed on 20 January was "not worth the paper it was written on." Corneliu Vadim Tudor pointed out that two months after the protocol was concluded, his party still had "no access to the decision-making process." Should the Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the government continue to ignore the protocol's provisions, he added, the new National Bloc (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 March 1995) will "find the means to wake them up to reality and save Romania." -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Zhan Videnov and members of his cabinet on 19 March met with the mayors of Bulgarian's 100 biggest towns to discuss the state budget for 1995, Bulgarian newspapers reported the following day. According to Duma, 29 billion leva ($435 million) will be put aside for the needs of cities and villages. Some mayors said that the sum is insufficient and that the communities will run out of money in the summer, 24 chasa reported. Videnov also announced that the country's administrative and territorial reform is the government's top priority. Finance Minister Dimitar Kostov asked for strong budgetary discipline, while Deputy Prime Minister Doncho Konakchiev said the mayors should not plan any new building activities. Meanwhile, Standart reported on 20 March that construction of the water pipeline linking rivers in the Rila mountains to the Iskar dam, Sofia's main water reservoir, has been completed on schedule. The pipeline is designed to alleviate the water crisis in the Bulgarian capital, which has been experiencing strict water rationing since November. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Albanian Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi repeated demands that an overall peace plan for former Yugoslavia must include a settlement of the Kosovo crisis, Reuters reported on 18 March. Albanian President Sali Berisha had earlier called on the Serbian and Kosovar leadership to start talks under international mediation without specifying preconditions, the Albanian-language service of Deutsche Welle reported on 16 March. The Kosovar leadership, which continues to maintain that Kosovo is an independent republic, has expressed its willingness to take part in the negotiations. Mahmut Bakalli, a high-ranking Kosovar official, said meeting Kosovo's demands is a prerequisite for preventing further wars in the Balkans, Nasa Borba reported on 18 March. Meanwhile, Albanian Defense Minister Safet Zhulali said Greece has invited Albania to take part in a military exercise, Reuters reported on 19 March. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias said on 19 March that Greece will resume direct talks with Macedonia under UN auspices in April, AFP reported the same day. Senior officials from both countries and former UN mediator in Yugoslavia Cyrus Vance will meet in New York, Papoulias said. He added that the economic embargo of Macedonia, which Greece imposed in February 1994, will remain in force during the talks. Greek Government Spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said the resumption of negotiations signifies only "Greek participation in the process of mediation" rather than the start of a "dialogue." Any normalization depends on "the attitude of Skopje," Venizelos was cited as saying. Meanwhile, the Greek weekly To Vima on 19 March said the announcement followed strong pressure on both sides from the U.S. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave