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Newsline - March 23, 1995

Moscow First Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Gerasimov has been picked to succeed his former boss, Gennady Ponomarev, as city prosecutor, Russian Radio reported on 22 March. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and acting Prosecutor General Alexei Ilyushenko approved Gerasimov's appointment, which was suggested by Ponomarev. Ponomarev was sacked on 7 March in the aftermath of the 1 March murder of Vladislav Listev. Gerasimov resigned to protest Ponomarev's dismissal, but his resignation was not accepted. Yeltsin first proposed Deputy Prosecutor General Oleg Gaidanov to replace Ponomarev, but Mayor Yury Luzhkov refused to approve the appointment. * Laura Belin

During a debate on 21 March, the State Duma described the condition of non-Russian ethnic groups living in Russia, as a "crisis," Russian television reported. At the hearings, the Committee for Inter-Ethnic Relations presented a set of recommendations asking the president and government to distance themselves from proposals to abolish ethnically-defined administrative entities in the Russian Federation since such a move would destabilize relations between different ethnic groups, Interfax reported. There are currently 21 ethnically-defined republics. The committee also recommended suspending privatization of land in areas with a mixed population and traditions of communal land use as well as a greater government role in preventing specific ethnic groups from gaining a monopoly on the privatization of land. * Robert Orttung

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai has proposed that federal and local administrative bodies be reorganized and that the number of regional subdivisions of the federal ministries be reduced, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 23 March. He argued that there is a management vacuum because the federal ministries continue to send out orders to local enterprises, but those enterprises have become independent and no longer listen. When producers have problems, they often turn to local authorities for help, but those officials have no resources to provide. The result is a drop in output and a collapse of social infrastructure. The deputy prime minister suggested that a consolidation of federal bodies in the regions and republics would make them more responsive to local conditions. He asserts that a streamlined federal government might even have prevented the rise of Dzhokhar Dudaev in Chechnya by using federal resources more efficiently. Shakhrai also advocated stronger ties between the regions "on a horizontal level" without federal participation. * Robert Orttung

Speaking in Tbilisi on 2 March before traveling to Armenia for talks with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev called on Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's forces now surrounded in the town of Argun to surrender unconditionally, Interfax reported. Grachev again accused unnamed organizations in Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan of channeling financial and military support to Dudaev. Also on 22 March, Interfax quoted Russian State Duma deputy Lev Ponomarev, who met with Dudaev in Chechnya on 20 March, as affirming that the Chechen president is aware that he is losing control over the situation in Chechnya and is prepared to accept an offer by Russian Federation Council Deputy Chairman Ramazan Abdulatipov for unconditional talks on a settlement of the Chechen conflict. * Liz Fuller

The Duma has rejected an amendment to Russia's citizenship law that would have allowed discrimination on the basis of nationality, AFP and Interfax reported on 22 March. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposed the amendment to allow ethnic Russians living in former Soviet republics to claim Russian citizenship without waiting six months, as is required of other ethnic groups. Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin initially refused to call a vote on the amendment, which he said contradicted "the fundamental articles of the Russian constitution." Only 50 deputies, including 39 from the LDP, voted in favor of the amendment. * Laura Belin

The Federation Council approved the anti-inflation, pro-market reform budget for 1995 on 23 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. It passed with 99 votes for, 24 against, and six abstentions. The budget must now be submitted to President Boris Yeltsin within five days. He has 14 days to sign it, but is expected to do so without delay. The document projects spending of 248.34 trillion rubles ($52 billion at current exchange rates) and revenues of 175.16 trillion rubles ($37 billion) for a deficit of 73.18 trillion rubles ($15.4 billion), equivalent to 7.7% of GDP. Passing and adhering to a tight 1995 budget have been key conditions the government had to meet in order to receive a $6.4 billion standby loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will be used to offset the deficit. Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov said, "Today is a good day for everyone." Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin said Russia's economy is emerging from years of crisis and projects growth by 1997 if current policies continue. On 20 March, he said the annual inflation rate is expected to fall to 15-20% in 1996 or 1997, from about 300% last year. Meanwhile, the key goal for 1995 remains financial stabilization. * Thomas Sigel

The U.S. company Western Union has launched a ruble transfer service inside Russia, Interfax reported on 22 March. A spokesman for the company, which specializes in international cash transfers, said it plans to open branches in all Russian cities with a population of more than 500,000 in 1995-96. More than 100 branches, which are usually in commercial banks, have already been opened in Russia and other CIS member states. Western Union entered the Russian market in 1992. The commission for ruble and hard currency transfers, which will be carried out by branches in Rossiysky Kredit and Mezhekonomsberbank offices in 10 Russian cities, will be 9% of the sum transferred. * Thomas Sigel

Goskomstat, Russia's State Statistics Committee, has released key economic indicators for January and February 1995, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported on 22 March. GNP was down 4%; industrial production fell 2.7%; foreign trade was up 4%; real incomes were down 4%. While January inflation was close to 18%, in February it dropped to 11%. * Thomas Sigel

Only 680 Russians went abroad for good in the first two months of 1995 as compared with 1,200 during the same period of 1994, Interfax reported on 22 March. According to Igor Kochetkov, an official of the visa and registration department (UVIR), the United States and Germany were the most popular destinations. Kochetkov added that emigration would probably be higher if the West had not toughened its immigration policy. On the same day, UVIR head Sergei Alpatov said the department had granted more than a million passports for travel abroad by 1 January 1995. He expressed concern at the growing number of commercial enterprises offering foreign passports, pointing out that it is illegal and a form of fraud. In order to save time, he said people pay "dubious firms up to $200 for fraudulent passports, which are quite often seized at the border." * Penny Morvant

In talks with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev on 22 March, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher rejected a request for President Yeltsin to have an expanded role at the G-7 summit in June, international agencies reported. Speaking before the meeting, Christopher ruled out any aid cut-off to Russia, noting such an action would hurt Americans "at least as much or more than we hurt the Russians." Christopher and Kozyrev discussed NATO expansion but the Russians provided no formal response to the letter on NATO-Russian relations which U.S. President Bill Clinton has sent to Yeltsin. Kozyrev assured Christopher that the Russian parliament would ratify START-2. Some progress was made on the issue of Russian conventional arms sales to Iran but Christopher and Kozyrev were scheduled take up the more contentious issue of Russian aid to the Iranian nuclear program on 23 March. * Michael Mihalka

Following the disbanding of the Kazakh parliament, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has wasted little time in issuing new decrees. Nazarbaev has often said he would make the fight against crime one of his priorities and on 18 March, at a conference of law enforcement agencies, he said, "The Interior Ministry's daily reports look like front-line dispatches," according to Interfax. However, going beyond talk of a war on organized crime and drug trafficking, some of his more recent decrees have included restrictions on advertising, compulsory psychiatric treatment for alcoholics and the insane, and the need for advance permission to go on hunger strikes. Newspaper editors claim the restrictions on advertising could bankrupt Kazakhstan's independent press and at least one diplomat is quoted as saying, "What really makes me jump is the introduction of psychiatric treatment for people who are deranged, but who defines it?" Reuters reported. * Bruce Pannier

Growing concern is being expressed by the international community over Turkey's military incursion into Iraq, international news agencies reported on 22 and 23 March. Although the European Union has not taken a position, several key members including France, Germany, and Britain have expressed their concerns publicly. Sweden and Denmark have also been critical and Norway has banned arms exports to Turkey. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in an attempt to close a growing rift among NATO members, said Washington has received assurances that the scope and duration of the operation will be limited. Iraq, which had remained silent until now, protested Turkey's violation of Iraqi sovereignty and demanded a withdrawal of Turkish troops on 22 March. Meanwhile, the same day unnamed military analysts cited by Reuters claimed the big show of force involved is likely to yield little against the hardened, highly mobile Kurdish guerrillas. A retired Turkish military officer was quoted as saying the incursion was a "disaster." * Lowell Bezanis

After more than four years of heated discussion and amendments, the new draft Armenian Constitution is now ready for submission to the legislature, parliamentary press secretary Vahan Mkrtchyan told Interfax on 22 March. Contrary to the parliamentary opposition's insistence, rather than having parliament endorse it, a national referendum on adopting the constitution has been planned. The draft "strengthens the role of the centralized state" but at the same time gives parliament the right to pass a vote of no-confidence in the president and to impeach him should he violate the country's national security interests. The president may disband parliament one year after its election. * Liz Fuller

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's charges that the intelligence services of unspecified foreign powers were involved in last week's failed coup attempt in Baku have been echoed by an unconfirmed Turan News Agency report on 22 March. Turan quoted National Security Minister Namik Abbasov as stating on 19 March that a group of individuals carrying documentation identifying them as Russian special services operatives had been killed during fighting at the OPON base in Baku two days earlier. * Liz Fuller

The Crimean parliament on 22 March voted to dismiss Prime Minister Anatolii Franchuk and Deputy Prime Minister Andrii Senchenko, Western and Ukrainian news agencies reported the same day. Both were appointed last year by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Deputies charged Franchuk with being too sympathetic to Kiev's demands and voted to replace him with Agriculture Minister Anatolii Drobotov, who in his acceptance speech appealed to Crimean legislators to end their internal political squabbling and get down to drafting a new Crimean Constitution by mid-May, as ordered by Ukraine. Deputy Premier Arkadii Demydenko announced after the vote that the rest of the government was resigning. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Justice Ministry issued a statement calling the Crimean move illegal and stressing the power to dismiss the Crimean premier lies with the Ukrainian parliament. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Interfax on 22 March reported that the State Duma voted by 260 to five to issue a statement saying it was seriously concerned about the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations following Kiev's 17 March decision to abolish the Crimean Constitution and presidency. ITAR-TASS the previous day reported that Crimean President Yurii Meshkov wrote to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian parliament, and the people of Russia asking that pressure be put on Kiev to conclude a treaty with the Republic of Crimea in accordance with the Crimean Constitution. * Ustina Markus

The Ukrainian legislature on 22 March voted by 232 to 81 to give preliminary approval to the 1995 budget, Reuters and AFP reported the same day. The move brings Ukraine one step closer to clinching a $1.8 billion stand-by loan from the IMF for economic reform. The budget foresees a budget deficit of 7.3% of GDP, or 3.5% by Western calculations. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Ihor Mityukov told UNIAN on 22 March that an agreement has been reached in principle by Ukraine's donor countries to provide Kiev with a $5.5 billion assistance package in 1995. * Chrystyna Lapychak and Ustina Markus

Interfax on 22 March quoted Alyaksandr Abramovich, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, as saying the elections are in danger of being canceled because the government has not released the necessary funds for the vote to take place. Unpaid electoral staff have responded by refusing to check signatures on candidates' support lists. Belarusian Radio reports that among those running for deputies seats are former Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich, former Defense Minister Pavel Kazlouski, Chairman of the National Bank of Belarus Stanislau Bahdankevich, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Mechyslau Hryb, and KGB head Uladzimir Yahorau. The nationalist opposition plans to run candidates in every district, while the Green and environmental parties are collecting signatures for some 35 candidates. * Ustina Markus

Latvian and Belarus Agriculture Ministers Arijs Udris and Vasili Leonau signed a interministerial cooperation agreement on 23 March, BNS reported. The agreement provides a legal basis for cooperation in the veterinary, breeding, and agricultural mechanization spheres. The ministers also discussed exporting Belarusian mineral fertilizers from Latvian ports, especially potassium through Ventspilis. * Saulius Girnius

Tiit Vahi, chairman of the Coalition Party and Rural Union alliance (KMU), which won 41 of the 101 seats in the Estonian parliament, on 22 March said that his party was abandoning its hopes for a government alliance with the Reform Party (19 deputies) and turning to the Center Party (16 deputies) instead, BNS reported. Vahi noted that the KMU is allied with the Rightists (5 deputies). But the strength of this alliance is unclear: in the vote for deputy parliament chairmen on 21 March, the Rightists did not back Rural Union Chairman Arnold Ruutel. As a result, Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar was elected first deputy chairman and Ruutel second deputy chairman. * Saulius Girnius

A statement, signed by 36 Seimas deputies, calling for a no-confidence vote in parliament deputy chairman Juozas Bernatonis was submitted to chairman Ceslovas Jursenas on 21 March. The deputies charge that Bernatonis violated the constitution by unilaterally adjourning the Seimas session on 12 March before a vote on a resolution on Chechnya could be taken. Bernatonis on 22 March said he had acted properly and would explain his action when the Seimas discusses his fate in April. Jursenas is to visit Spain and Portugal from 26-31 March, BNS reported. * Saulius Girnius

The Constitutional Commission has again postponed (until 4 April) a decision on the shape of Church-state relations in the draft constitution. Commission Chairman Aleksander Kwasniewski told that body on 21 March that he had reached agreement with Church officials. The compromise, as reported by Gazeta Wyborcza the next day, said that: "The state, Churches, and religious denominations are autonomous and independent in their spheres" (a concession to the Church) and "Churches and religious denominations do not participate in the exercise of state authority" (a concession to the Democratic Left Alliance [SLD] and other left-wing parties). The controversial phrases "separation" and "neutral worldview" were to be omitted, and the constitution would state that "public authorities maintain neutrality in questions of religion or worldview." But Bishop Episcopate Secretary Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek denied on 22 March that agreement had been reached, saying "neutrality" could lead to the propagation of atheism. * Louisa Vinton

Jacek Kuron has won first-place votes from 2,385 members of the Freedom Union (UW) in the straw poll that is to guide the party in its choice of presidential candidate, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. Former Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka came second with 1,024 first-place votes, followed by former Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz with 799, Civil Rights Spokesman Tadeusz Zielinski (who has withdrawn his name from consideration) with 582, and Supreme Court Chairman Adam Strzembosz with 249. The vote is non-binding, and UW leaders are believed to favor Suchocka's candidacy, as she is more acceptable to right-of-center and Catholic voters. But Kuron's stronger popularity among the rank-and-file UW members will give him a persuasive argument at the party's congress on 1-2 April, when the final choice will be made. * Louisa Vinton

The Czech government on 22 March approved plans to tighten controls on private security firms. Interior Minister Jan Ruml told reporters after a cabinet meeting that the country has some 3,000 such firms, employing between 40,000 and 60,000 people. At present, there are few restrictions on founding a security firm or private detective agency, many of which are believed to be run by former members of the communist police and security forces. Several instances of security firm employees using violence against innocent citizens have been reported. Under a draft law approved by the government, every firm will need a special license from the Interior Ministry, and owners of security agencies will have to prove they are reliable, Czech media report. There will also be controls on employees of security firms carrying weapons. * Steve Kettle

Transportation and Communications Minister Alexander Rezes on 22 March announced that projects will be accelerated in the sectors overseen by his ministry, Narodna obroda and TASR report. He noted that the country's highway network will be completed by 2005, 15 years earlier than planned. Other projects include the transformation of the railway system by 2000 (to include an express railway line between Kosice and Bratislava); meeting current European standards in telecommunications by 2000; building an international reputation for Bratislava's Stefanik airport; and the development of stronger ties between the Vienna and Bratislava airports. * Sharon Fisher

The Board for Television and Radio Broadcasting on 21 March recommended that Markiza Blatne, Inc. receive a license for Slovakia's third terrestrial channel (TA 3), Pravda reports. The nine-member board includes only two representatives of the parliament opposition. Three other companies competed for the license: TV Sever (which already has a regional license in Zilina), MAC TV, and TV 3 Slovakia (a Swedish joint venture). The holder of the license will have 360 days to start broadcasting, and the channel is expected to eventually reach 65% of the population. The board also recommended the firm VTV Cable, Zarnovica for a satellite broadcasting license. The parliament is expected to make a final decision on the licenses in May. * Sharon Fisher

Thousands of students demonstrated in Budapest and throughout the country on 22 March to protest government plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education from September, one year earlier than planned, MTI reports. Student representatives handed Finance Minister Lajos Bokros a statement criticizing the decision as unjust and inadequately thought out. Bokros told the students that the introduction of the tuition fees was necessary to save the country from bankruptcy. Several opposition parties, together with the youth group of the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party, expressed their support for the students. * Edith Oltay

International media reported on 23 March that Bosnian government forces are continuing their offensive around Tuzla. The Majevica hills to the northeast of the town and Kalesija to the southeast are at the center of a drive to cut Serbian land and electronic communications. Elsewhere, Serbs hijacked three UN armored vehicles near Sarajevo and to the east of the capital. UN spokesmen said their captured hardware often resurfaces at Bosnian Serb headquarters in Pale with fresh camouflage paint. In Pale, Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic warned that "until now . . . we've only been defending ourselves and we still haven't ordered a counteroffensive." Finally, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher: "War is on the point of erupting again in Bosnia." * Patrick Moore

Slobodna Dalmacija on 23 March reports that the Muslims have arrested three of their own military police for the supposed abduction and murder near Bihac on 8 March of Bosnian Croat General Vlado Santic. Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic has sent his condolences to the Croats. The Split daily claims, however, that he is still alive and argues that the only thing that is clear is that nothing is really known for sure. The incident threatens to trouble the Muslim-Croatian alliance, even though there may have been personal or commercial, rather than political or military, reasons behind the general's drunken argument with Muslims in a bar two weeks ago. * Patrick Moore

Hina on 22 March reported that the Croatian Constitutional Court threw out a government-imposed sales tax on the independent satirical weekly Feral Tribune. The former culture minister slapped a stiff pornography tax on the Split newspaper last July, a decision that a lower court upheld. Feral Tribune often tests the boundaries of good taste but is no more pornographic than some mass-circulation periodicals run by the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). Its real offense in government eyes was to be a merciless critic of the HDZ and President Franjo Tudjman in particular. The pornography tax was considered by many as evidence of the HDZ's desire to quash what little remains of a free press. * Patrick Moore

International media reported on 22 March that following a formal request from Croatian authorities, Interpol has issued an warrant for the arrest of accused war criminal Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan. Based in Serbia's Kosovo province, Arkan is the leader of the notorious paramilitary "Tigers," alleged to be responsible for some of the fiercest ethnic cleansing campaigns throughout the former Yugoslavia. This latest warrant charges Arkan with genocide. Croatian Interpol officials said earlier warrants issued at Holland, Sweden, and Germany's request have expired. * Stan Markotich

Public prosecutors in Pristina announced that the trials of nine of the 200 ethnic Albanian former policemen arrested in November 1994 will begin on 5 April, Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service reported on 22 March. The Albanians are charged with creating a Kosovar shadow state Defense Ministry and with "endangering the integrity of Yugoslavia." The trial of ethnic Albanians accused of forming a shadow state police force in Pec will also begin in April. Meanwhile, Albanian President Sali Berisha called for a dialogue between Albania and Serbia, adding that the Albanian government supports the autonomy of Kosovo. That statement implies that Albania has dropped its demand of an independent Republic of Kosovo. * Fabian Schmidt

Emil Constantinescu on 22 March was re-elected president of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), Romanian Television reported. He received 13 of the 17 votes of the convention's electoral body, composed of its Executive Committee and Steering Council. The other two contenders were Deputy Chairman of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) Ion Ratiu and President of the Democratic Unity Party Nicu Stancescu. The PNTCD backed Constantinescu, rather than Ratiu, who ran as the candidate of the World Union of Free Romanians. The CDR is in a crisis following the decision of several member parties not to sign the convention's revised protocols. Those parties have since been expelled from the alliance. * Michael Shafir

Moldovan parliament chairman Petru Lucinschi said students protesting in Chisinau against the directive to replace courses on the history of Romanians with one on Moldovan history were "extremists" who had also burned Moldovan history books. Citing ITAR-TASS, Romanian Television on 22 March reported that Lucinschi called on the demonstrators to respect the country's constitution, stop their protests, and begin negotiations with the authorities. Parliament deputy chairman Nicolae Andronic said that there were forces behind the student demonstrations who aimed at Moldova's destabilization. He commented that the demonstrations offer separatists the opportunity to accuse Chisinau of "pro-Romanian leanings" on the eve of a referendum in the Dniester Republic on the withdrawal of the Russian 14th Army. * Michael Shafir

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic Development Rumen Gechev on 22 March announced that the large-scale privatization of state-owned enterprises will start by the end of 1995, dpa reported the same day. Some 150 large enterprises will be privatized, partly by direct sales and partly through a voucher system. The vouchers will have a nominal value of 500 leva ($7.50) each, and their total value will be 100 billion leva ($1.5 billion). Voucher owners will be able to exchange the vouchers for shares, which can then be traded on the stock exchange. Gechev expects 4 million Bulgarian citizens to participate in the coupon privatization. He said Bulgarian and foreign investors will be treated equally. Privatization by direct sales, which started in 1992, will continue, although it has not been successful to date. Enterprises in the military-industrial complex and public utilities are excluded from privatization. * Stefan Krause

Sali Berisha, at a press conference marking the third anniversary of the Democratic Party's election victory over the Socialists, said his government plans to create the most liberal standards for investments in the Balkans to attract foreign capital, international agencies reported on 22 March. He said he was "in favor of total privatization in industry and agriculture," noting that the private sector currently accounts for 55% of GNP. * Fabian Schmidt

The European Commission has decided to release the first installment, worth $19.3 million, of a $45 million aid package to Albania, following its assessment that Albania has begun the economic and political reforms demanded by the IMF. The Albanian Finance Ministry presented the 1995 budget after consultations with the fund in mid-March. The release of the remaining $25.7 million will depend on Albania's human rights and economic record, Reuters reported on 22 March. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave