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Newsline - April 7, 1995

Deputy Prime Minister Yury Yarov said the Duma's 12 April no-confidence vote in the government will not succeed, Interfax reported on 6 April. He said the vote has more to do with pre-election maneuvering than the details of Russia's agreement with Kiev to restructure Ukraine's debt. A majority of the deputies in the Duma (226) must support the motion for it to succeed. If the vote does pass, the president can either replace the government or disagree with the Duma vote. If the Duma passes it again within three months, the president must either replace the government or call new Duma elections within four months. Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin said events will develop according to the constitutional provisions if the Duma denies the government its support, Russian TV reported. * Robert Orttung

Nezavisimaya gazeta doubted recent statements by Yeltsin's advisers that he has no intention of postponing the parliamentary and presidential elections, according to the 6 April edition of the paper. The presidential office's recent denunciations of those predicting that Yeltsin will postpone the elections, provides the best proof that the allegations are true, according to the paper. "Absurd ideas would not be rebutted so hotly," it claimed. Nezavisimaya gazeta speculated that the denunciations will continue until the 50th anniversary of World War II, when many foreign leaders will visit the country. Then, according to the paper's scenario, Russian Public Television will begin a campaign of "no change for the stake of stability." * Robert Orttung

Alexei Vedenkin, currently the most visible "fascist" in Russia, announced plans to work with the Great Russia bloc, NTV reported on 5 April. He claimed to "have enough money to win 60% of the seats in the Duma." Vedenkin said he had been building up a financial base since 1990. He has been extremely successful, he claimed, because he had the support of the U.S.S.R. Council of Ministers, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, and the KGB. According to his account, the leaders of those institutions understood even then that nationalism would play an important role after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. He also denied that he is a fascist and announced that he will sue all media outlets that have dubbed him one and use the proceeds to rebuild churches. * Robert Orttung

Miners in Primorsky Krai downed tools on 6 April to protest a four month-delay in wage payments, Russian and Western agencies reported. Twenty-seven miners at the Avangard pit in the city of Partizansk have already been on hunger strike since 29 March; 16, however, have been brought to the surface in critical condition and hospitalized. The local railway, an ore refinery, and a transport company were also reported to be on strike. According to Reuters, regional legislative officials said they would urge Trans-Siberian railroad workers to join the stoppage as well. Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin and Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov say money from the federal budget to pay the miners is reaching Primorsky Krai on time, Ekho Moskvy reported. The local public prosecutor's office said Primorskugol officials had misused money from the state budget earmarked for salaries. According to Izvestiya, cited by Reuters, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais said the problem was two-fold: nonpayment of bills by coal consumers and "laxity or even plain stealing concealed by the overall problem of debts." * Penny Morvant

Commenting on reports that Yeltsin had signed the law on the Federal Security Service (FSB), a senior Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK) official said the new service will be able to infiltrate foreign organizations and criminal groups, institute inquiries, carry out preliminary investigations, maintain its own prisons, demand information from private companies, and set up special units and front enterprises, Interfax reported on 6 April. The spokesman said the FSB's duties will include foreign intelligence activities to boost Russia's "economic, scientific, technical, and defense potential" and to ensure the security of all government bodies. He said the FSB is the legal successor to the FSK and the latter's personnel will not have to reapply for their jobs but will be simply transferred. The FSK employs more than 75,000 people. Human rights groups say they fear the security body's enhanced powers could be used to crack down on civil liberties rather than to fight organized crime. * Penny Morvant

Russia's Interior Ministry (MVD) and the U.S. Secret Service announced on 6 April that they will cooperate in the fight against money-laundering, counterfeiting, and other international economic crimes, Western agencies reported. K. David Holmes Jr., deputy assistant director of the Secret Service, said that in a recently concluded two-week seminar the services had identified "several criminal cases . . . with direct associations in Russia and the United States." He declined to elaborate, but Boris Tereshchenko of the MVD's Economic Crimes Department said the Americans are helping Russia in a counterfeiting case by analyzing the paper and ink used to produce the fake notes. He said money-laundering in Russia isa major international problem. * Penny Morvant

About 90 Duma deputies have asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the use of the army in Chechnya, Ekho Moskvy reported on 6 April. The deputies maintain that the constitution does not allow the president and his cabinet to deploy the armed forces by decree. Speaking on behalf of the group, Communist deputy Anatoly Lukyanov told Ekho Moskvy the Chechen events demonstrate that the president and government "simply do not respect either the constitution or our laws." The court has not said when it will consider the deputies' request. On 5 April, the Duma approved the first reading of a law instructing the government to begin negotiations with the Chechen authorities toward a peaceful settlement of the crisis. A second reading of the draft law is scheduled for mid-April. * Laura Belin

Despite an agreement in principle to station a permanent mission in Chechnya, Russia did not agree to proceed at the weekly OSCE meeting of the Permanent Council on 6 April, Western agencies reported. That means the European Union is unlikely to conclude an interim trade accord with Russia when the foreign ministers meet on 10 April. Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Relations Oleg Davydov again repeated his accusation that the EU action, which he viewed as foregone, is more economically motivated than concerned with human rights violations in Chechnya, Interfax reported. He was particularly critical of France, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, saying Russia is France's number one competitor in aluminum, nuclear materials, and provision of space services. * Michael Mihalka

As part of a campaign to promote the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Russia has agreed to join in a UN Security Council resolution not to use nuclear weapons against a signatory of the NPT unless it or its armed forces are attacked, Interfax reported on 6 April. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Grigory Karasin said that if nuclear weapons were used or threatened against a non-nuclear state that adhered to the NPT, then the members of the UN Security Council would take measures to provide the victim with the necessary assistance in accordance with the UN Charter. Karasin said Russia hopes the resolution will strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime and further international stability and security. * Michael Mihalka

The Russian oil company LUKoil is preparing to float bonds for Russian and foreign investors in two installments over the next few months, firm president Vagit Alekperov announced to Russian and Western agencies on 5 April. The first, planned for May or June, is reserved for foreign investors and should bring in "at least $300 million," Alekperov said. The Russian portion of the issuance should come in the fall. The bonds will be guaranteed by 11% of the state-held shares in LUKoil, a big Russian oil conglomerate with activities ranging from extraction to distribution. The proceeds of the bond issue will be used for technical equipment, rebuilding refineries, new deposit operations, and repaying debts due to the state which amount to more than 1 trillion rubles ($200 million). In 1994, LUKoil accounted for 15% of Russian oil production. * Thomas Sigel

In a televised speech that was excerpted in the 7 April edition of Rossiiskaya gazeta, Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn denounced Russian politicians of all persuasions for succumbing to pre-election "fever and hysteria." Eight months before scheduled parliamentary elections, he said, Duma deputies and party leaders were devoting more energy to campaign strategy than to improving the lives of Russians, which is a "shame." Solzhenitsyn added that by autumn, the "pre-election epilepsy" would afflict all Russians. He proposed limiting campaign activities to the four weeks before elections, as is done in England. Solzhenitysn criticized Duma deputies in particular for not passing laws on crime, corruption, or local self-government in recent months. He said deputies design their speeches and actions not to serve "the fatherland" or "the people," but only "my faction, my party, my personal use and profit." * Laura Belin

At its opening session in Dushanbe on 6 April the new Tajik parliament elected the chairman of the Popular Party of Tajikistan, lawyer Safarali Radzhabov, as its speaker by an overwhelming majority, Interfax reported. Radzhabov was the only candidate nominated for the post, following President Emomali Rakhmonov's statement that the head of state and parliament speaker should not both come from the same region. Abdulmadzhid Dostiev (like Rakhmonov a native of Kulyab), who had been tipped as a possible candidate, was elected first deputy speaker. * Liz Fuller

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry held talks on defense and economic cooperation with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Defense Minister Rustam Akhmedov, and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov on 6 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. They agreed on setting up a working group to study the prospects for bilateral cooperation and a program for joint actions including the training of Uzbek officers. Karimov identified threefactors which threaten Uzbek independence: "imperialist ambitions in Russia . . . which are intensifyingdaily," "the threat from the south . . . fundamentalism," and the problem of "how to ensure irreversibility," Interfax reported. Karimov is seeking "close cooperation" with the U.S., whose presence in Central Asia he termed a "guarantee of stability" adding, however, that the U.S. had a "distorted picture" of Uzbek and regional affairs. Karimov rejected the standing Kazakh proposal for a Eurasian union, saying it would undercut Uzbek independence. He expressed sympathy for the Ukrainian military doctrine (which does not mention Russia but regards any country that follows a consistently hostile policy as an enemy) and urged the U.S. to help strengthen that country's independence. Perry expressed concern for the slow pace of democratic reform in Uzbekistan but praised the republic as "an island of stability in a troubled area." * Lowell Bezanis

East European parliaments began a regular dialog with the European Parliament on 5 April, international agencies reported. Parliament leaders from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia attended a session on pre-membership strategy for Eastern Europe. Ivan Gasparvic from Slovakia said they would discuss the implementation of the Schengen accord at their next session. Romania's Radu Berceanu said he hoped the meetings would speed the entry of the East into the EU. Hans van den Broek, EU commissioner for foreign affairs, said he is seeking cooperation in political as well as economic matters. He added that entry into the EU for the six countries is only a matter of time. * Michael Mihalka

Interfax on 6 April quoted parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz as warning that Russia has threatened to cut gas supplies to Ukraine due to its outstanding debt. But Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Pynzenyk denied that Russia has made such threats. Segonya reported that Gazprom has reduced supplies but said this was due to planned maintenance work on pipelines and was not a punitive measure. Meanwhile, Gazprom denied that it had anything to do with supply cuts to 4,000 Ukrainian enterprises. * Ustina Markus

Alyaksandr Abramovich, head of the Belarusian Central Election Commission, has said candidates in the May parliament elections will receive 600,000 Belarusian rubles ($50) for their campaign, Interfax reported on 6 April. Each registered candidate will also be entitled to one radio slot and the free publication of his or her campaign platform. Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Mechyslau Hryb said he believes many districts will need runoff elections because no single candidate will receive the half of the votes necessary to win. * Ustina Markus

Ingvar Carlsson, during a six-hour visit to Tallinn on 4 April, met with President Lennart Meri, outgoing Prime Minister Andres Tarand, Foreign Minister Juri Luik, and Premier-designate Tiit Vahi. BNS reported. Carlsson discussed with Tarand the introduction of visa-free travel between the two countries and Estonian relations with Russia. He said Estonia could count on Sweden's support to join the European Union and asserted that Sweden would not remain indifferent if Estonia were attacked by an aggressor. Carlsson gave similar pledges to Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas and Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius in Vilnius on 6 April. He also discussed the problems of refugees trying to reach Sweden through the Baltic States and the safety of the atomic power plant at Ignalina. Carlsson postponed a visit to Latvia scheduled for 5 April to attend an important Swedish parliament session. * Saulius Girnius

Prime Minister Maris Gailis on 6 April bowed to international pressure by agreeing to move the 100 or so Asian refugees from two train wagons at the Karsava railroad station to a planned internment center at Olaine, 25 km south of Riga, Reuters reported. Foreign Ministry official Martins Virsis held talks in Moscow with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Krylov on the refugees and succeeded in obtaining assurances that Moscow would accept those refugees who could prove they had come from Russia. Virsis said the Latvian immigration police had acted too hastily in trying to deport the refugees without the involvement of the Foreign Ministry. * Saulius Girnius

NATO and EU officials highly praised Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy's decision to continue Polish foreign policy pursued since 1989 but gave no firm commitments on a timetable for possible Polish membership. Oleksy told reporters in Brussels on 6 April that he expects Poland to join NATO within three years and the EU by 2000. But European Commission chairman Jacques Santer said he opposes "fetishizing dates," according to Rzeczpospolita. Meanwhile, Gazeta Wyborcza quoted unnamed NATO sources in Brussels as expressing concern over Poland's delay in establishing structures for democratic control over the military In other news, the first line of Poland's only underground, planned since 1925 and under construction sporadically since 1951, was scheduled to start running in Warsaw on 7 April, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. * Louisa Vinton

A five-meter Star of David on 6 April was erected at the former Terezin concentration camp, north of Prague, from where more than 100,000 Jews and other inmates were dispatched to extermination camps during World War II. The steel and iron star was placed close to a cross with a crown of barbed wire in the cemetery at the entrance to Terezin's "Small Fortress." A group of American Jewish activists who last year visited Terezin complained that there was no monument to the Jews who died in the town's ghetto. The cemetery itself is a memorial to Terezin inmates who died in a typhus epidemic in the last months of the war and after the camp's liberation. Under communism, Terezin was portrayed simply as a site where anti-fascists were housed and then transported to death camps, without mentioning that the vast majority were Jews. A museum of the Jewish ghetto was opened at Terezin in 1991. * Steve Kettle

Michal Kovac, in a statement read to the parliament on 6 April, responded to an address by Premier Vladimir Meciar the previous day on the Slovak Information Service. Meciar told parliament deputies that since its creation, the SIS has opposed his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, and he accused SIS officials of shadowing him (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 April 1995). Kovac called Meciar's address "a pitiful example of how presumptions and disinformation can be confused with incontestable reality or facts." He accused Meciar of creating "an illegal parallel structure of intelligence activity" opposed to the president and other individuals. The parliament the same day reapproved a law allowing state secretaries to vote in cabinet sessions in place of ministers and transferring the Office of Industrial Property to Banska Bystrica on 1 May. * Sharon Fisher

The Slovak Finance Ministry on 31 March removed the license of Prva Slovenska Investicna Spolocnost (PSIS), Narodna obroda and Praca reported on 7 April. Harvard Investment, which is run by the father of MDS deputy Ivan Lexa, and Agroinvest were given temporary control over the PSIS portfolio. PSIS representatives say they will take every legal step to have the decision overturned. The PSIS is a shareholder in the firm that publishes the opposition daily Sme. * Sharon Fisher

An opinion poll conducted by the FOCUS agency in March shows that the Presidency is the most trusted institution in Slovakia and television the least. Confidence in the president has fallen only 1% since November to 66%, while trust in Slovak Television has plummeted from 51% to 40%. Confidence in the Constitutional Court has dropped from 61% to 55%, in Slovak Radio from 60% to 54%, in the parliament from 57% to 51%, and in the government from 52% to 44%. The government, which took office in mid-December, has advocated changes bringing Slovak Television and Radio under its control. * Sharon Fisher

The 7 April Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that UNPROFOR troops the previous day fired smoke shells at Serbs near Sarajevo. The Serbs had ignored an ultimatum from the peacekeepers to stop firing on the capital's only supply road, which crosses Mt. Igman. Serbs also shelled the government-held suburb of Hrasnica, killing at least two. News agencies reported US Undersecretary of State Richard Holbrooke as warning that the cease-fire is beginning to come apart. Outside Sarajevo, government forces pressed Serbian troops in the Doboj area and claimed to have surrounded the key Serbian television relay tower at Stolice, near Tuzla. Nasa Borba on 6 April reported that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has asked the UN to allow in shipments of oil "for agricultural purposes." NIN on 7 April, moreover, quotes his deputy, Nikola Koljevic, as warning Serbia that there will be "a civil war" among Serbs if Belgrade ever recognizes Bosnia-Herzegovina. * Patrick Moore

Hina on 6 April quotes Foreign Minister Mate Granic as saying UN Security Council Resolution 981, which transforms UNPROFOR into UNCRO under a changed mandate, is the strongest document in Croatia's favor that the body has ever approved. He now wants negotiations, first with the international community and then with the Serb rebels, on extending Zagreb's sovereignty throughout its internationally recognized territory. He also noted that of the prewar population of 650,000 in Serb-held areas, only about 200,000 remain. Even about 120,000 Serbs have left, Granic said. UN officials added that there are no signs of demilitarization in Sector East around Erdut and Vukovar, which Serbia reportedly intends to keep because of its oil and agricultural wealth. The 7 April Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted that Croatia and Hungary have signed an agreement aimed at protecting the rights of the roughly 30,000 ethnic Croats in Hungary and the 25,000 ethnic Hungarians in Croatia, many of whom have become the victims of Serbian "ethnic cleansing" in Sector East. The treaty is based on Council of Europe norms. * Patrick Moore

Nasa Borba on 7 April quotes Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic as saying that Resolution 981 is unacceptable to his people. He blamed the new measures on the alleged domination of the Security Council by the U.S. and Germany. He accused the international community of trying to drive the Krajina Serbs "into a ghetto." Martic warned against attempts to station peacekeepers on Croatia's borders with Bosnia and Serbia, saying "there are no borders between Serbian territories." * Patrick Moore

Nasa Borba on 7 April reports that Radio Elmag, the first independent radio station in the rump Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, is in dire straits. Government demands for fees and taxes is threatening to drive the station out of existence. Radio Elmag may become the latest victim in rump Yugoslavia's efforts to crackdown on the independent media. This campaign culminated in late 1994, when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic attempted to eliminate the independent daily Borba, now reincorporated as Nasa Borba. * Stan Markotich

Dumitru Iuga, leader of the Radio and Television Free Trade Union, has ended his hunger strike after 36 days, Romanian Television reported on 6 April. Iuga told journalists in Bucharest that he reached the conclusion that his protest, "in its present form, is no longer useful." Several other union members who fasted in solidarity with Iuga also ended their action. Iuga said he intended to use "totally different forms of protest in the future." He added that the authorities' handling of the conflict proved they had a plan to eliminate "by any means" candidates for the Radio and Television Administrative Council who were considered "troublesome." Since the parliament will hold new elections for the remaining eight seats on the council, continuing the strike would mean to "abandon the struggle," Iuga argued. In other news, subway workers ended their strike on 5 April, after the government agreed to a wage increase of 67,000 lei ($36). * Michael Shafir

Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca, in an interview with Radio Bucharest on 6 April, said that following talks with his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, he hoped Russia better understands Romania's motives for pursuing integration with NATO. He said Romania sees no conflict between its efforts to become a NATO member and having good relations with Russia. Also on 6 April, Tinca met with Russian Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Sumeiko, who repeated his support for the withdrawal of Russia's 14th Army from the separatist Dniester region. Presidential spokesman Traian Chebeleu said the same day that relations with NATO are a matter to be decided between individual countries and the organization. * Michael Shafir

Presidential spokesman Traian Chebeleu on 6 April told a press conference in Bucharest that Romania has played no role in the strikes in Chisinau and elsewhere in Moldova. He noted that "there are forces in Chisinau that try to blame Romania every time something goes wrong there." Also on 6 April, Radio Bucharest reported that Alexandru Scerbanschi, head of the commission set up by President Mircea Snegur to deal with the strikers' demands, has canceled a meeting with the strikers' committee "for health reasons." International agencies reported that thousands of strikers continued their protest on 6 April, halting traffic in the city and chanting anti-government slogans. * Michael Shafir

The government's latest proposed amendment to the land law caused a scandal in the parliament on 6 April, Bulgarian newspapers reported the following day. The Socialist majority has proposed to restitute land on the basis of declarations submitted by owners when they joined farm cooperatives under communist rule. Vladislav Kostov of the Union of Democratic Forces said these declarations, submitted under pressure, were invalid, since many depicted the plots of land as smaller than in reality. Vasil Gotsev, deputy chairman of the UDF's National Coordinating Council, said the proposed amendment violates the right of ownership. One UDF deputy was expelled from the parliament for improper conduct. A vote was not taken on the amendment due to continuing disorder. * Stefan Krause

The Bulgarian National Bank on 6 April lowered the prime interest rate to 65% from 72%, Demokratsiya reported the following day. A BNB official said the rate was lowered because of low inflation in the first months of 1995, not because the government had insisted. As a result, production and investment are expected to be stimulated, but there may be disturbances on the currency market. BNB Governor Todor Valchev, however, said the bank is capable of keeping the lev's exchange rate under control. * Stefan Krause

European Court of Justice Advocate General Francis Jacobs on 6 April said the court should dismiss a complaint over Greece's trade blockade against Macedonia, AFP reported the same day. He said the complaint, filed by the European Commission in April 1994, fell outside the jurisdiction of the court, as questions of national security are up to each country to decide. According to Reuters, Jacobs said that given historical tensions in the Balkans, it is not completely unreasonable for Greece to fear war. The court, which is not obliged to follow Jacobs' opinion, is unlikely to rule on the case before the fall. Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said his country "can only be entirely satisfied." The Macedonian Foreign Ministry considered Jacobs' position to be the "inauguration of a new form of economic violence." It expressed its "deep shock at such a stand encouraging economic blockades in the settlement of bilateral problems." * Stefan Krause

The Albanian Foreign Ministry has denied recent media reports that petrol and oil continue to be smuggled from Albania into Montenegro, Reuters reported on 6 April. It said "the Albanian government has taken the necessary measures to eliminate the smuggling of fuel in violation of UN sanctions." Reuters also quotes a senior police official as saying that smuggling from Albania to Montenegro has decreased since Romania and Bulgaria began to offer cheaper oil products. Albanian sanctions coordinator Arben Petrela said Albania's fuel imports dropped from 172,000 tons in the last three months of 1994 to 54,000 tons in this year's first quarter. But Gazeta Shqiptare carried a story on 6 April about large-scale oil smuggling on Lake Shkoder, which borders Montenegro. * Fabian Schmidt

The Albanian parliament has ratified a treaty on the return of 1,574 kilograms of gold, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 7 April. The U.S. and Albania signed the treaty on 10 March. Worth some $13 million, the gold was stolen by Germany during the occupation in World War II and later handed over to a commission, made up of the U.S., Britain, and France, for safekeeping. The Albanian parliament agreed that the U.S. can keep gold worth some $2 million for reparations to American citizens whose property in Albania was confiscated by the communists. Britain sanctioned the agreement in 1992. France has declared its willingness to return the gold without preconditions, but an accord has not yet been signed. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave