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Newsline - April 12, 1995

President Yeltsin interrupted his vacation in Sochi on 11 April to visit Nalchik. In his talks with reporters, he said he had not made a decision on whether to seek re-election, Russian Public Television reported. However, Interfax quoted an anonymous source close to the president who said he would announce his intention to run again before the celebrations to commemorate the victory over the Nazis so that he can greet visiting dignitaries as "the most likely candidate to be president until the end of the century." Yeltsin said that, during his vacation, he is keeping in constant contact with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov (to prepare for the WWII celebration), and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. Yeltsin said he is planning some personnel changes but did not give details, NTV reported. * Robert Orttung

The Duma has left the issue of a no-confidence vote in the government off its agenda this week, acceding to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's decision to withdraw his support for the move, NTV reported 11 April. However, Sergei Glazev, leader of the Democratic Party of Russia, said he would raise the issue again on 13 April, Interfax reported. If a faction calls for a vote of no confidence, the Duma must consider the issue within a week. A group of Duma factions bringing together 130 deputies from Stability, Russia, New Regional Policy, and the Party of Russian Unity and Concord announced they would vote against any move to express no confidence in the government. Glazev called the initiative an "abrupt strengthening of the government's influence" in the Duma, NTV reported. * Robert Orttung

In an interview published in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 12 April, Duma Press and Information Committee Chairman Mikhail Poltoranin defended a law that would replace state subsidies for the mass media with tax breaks. The Duma approved the law in its third reading on 7 April. Poltoranin said the law would help the financial position of independent as well as state-owned publishing houses and TV and radio companies. He told Ekho Moskvy on 11 April that the law was passed quickly to counter the possibility of government interference in the mass media through subsidies. A similar law passed by the Duma last year was turned down in the Federation Council on the grounds that it would enable the Duma to gain monopoly control over the media by using the new funding system. Poltoranin denied those charges and claimed the law was passed "completely" for the benefit of journalists, to "broaden the freedom of the mass media" and give it an "economic base." * Laura Belin

Noting that the amount of cash in circulation grew by only 3% in the first quarter of 1995, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais predicted there will be a noticeable improvement in living standards by June, Interfax reported on 11 April. The same day, Ekho Moskvy reported Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin as saying inflation will be running at only 1-1.5% a month by the end of the year. Labor Minister Gennady Melikyan, however, believes that inflation will soon be reduced to 4-5% a month but it will be difficult to maintain that rate. Interviewed in Izvestiya on 12 April, Economic Freedom Party leader Konstantin Borovoi and Vice President of the Association of Russian Banks Vyacheslav Zakharov rejected the government's forecast. Borovoi said talk of financial stabilization is "pure bluff," contending that a 1% inflation rate by year's end would result in 20 million unemployed and an intolerable level of social tension. Zakharov argues that the predictions are faulty because the government will be unable to cover the budget deficit with securities and will end up turning to the Central Bank for money to pay wages. * Penny Morvant

On 11 April, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow rejected charges that the Russian assault on Samashki on 8 April caused heavy civilian casualties, ITAR-TASS reported. He claimed artillery attacks were directed only against resistance strongholds in forest areas west of the town. Also on 11 April, the Chechen defense council chaired by President Dzhokhar Dudaev issued a statement accusing Russia of gratuitous brutality and affirming its commitment to a peaceful solution, Reuters reported. Umar Avturkhanov, head of the Committee for National Accord, told Interfax he believes federal troops will succeed in neutralizing Dudaev's forces by mid-May. On 12 April, the Los Angeles Times quoted Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, as charging that virtually all Russian troops in the city are guilty of looting and added that the Chechens "had exchanged one fascism for another." Moscow News reported that he has fallen out with his former opposition colleague Avturkhanov. On 11 April, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said the Chechen government of national revival is "very ineffective" and that federal authorities will have to teach its members--including Prime Minister Salambek Khadzhiev--many skills, Interfax reported. * Liz Fuller

The OSCE Permanent Council agreed on 11 April to a mandate for an assistance group to be set up in Chechnya, an OSCE press release stated. The agreement had been delayed for several weeks while the Russian delegation awaited instructions from Moscow. Sandor Meszaros, the Hungarian diplomat appointed to head the mission, said the mandate will cover all of Chechnya and neighboring regions, international agencies reported. The mission will have the following tasks: the promotion of respect for human rights; fostering the development of democratic institutions; assistance in holding elections; facilitating aid delivery and the return of refugees; the promotion of a peaceful resolution to the crisis "in conformity with the principle of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation"; and help in restoring law and order. It will be based in Grozny and is to begin working in a "week or two," Meszaros said. * Michael Mihalka

The sweeping reform of the Russian military establishment said to have already been approved in principle by President Yeltsin was featured in the 11 April issue of Komsomolskaya pravda. The paper called the reform "complex and painful" and said implementation is likely to begin this summer. The process will take eight to 10 years. Under the new organization, the minister of defense would be a civilian who would formulate both "military and military-technical policy" and provide financial and logistic support to the armed forces. Current First Deputy Minister of Defense Andrei Kokoshin was named as a prospect for the newly defined post. Command and control of the armed forces would be vested in the general staff, and its chief would be directly subordinate to the president--not to the defense minister. The paper speculated that Col.-Gen. Andrei Nikolaev--the current border troops commander--would fill that position. The high commands of the individual service would be eliminated and their functions taken over by smaller main directorates in the general staff. A reduction in the total strength of the armed forces would ensue, first to 1.5 million and then to 1.2 million, while the number of military districts would be cut from eight to six, and the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets would be eliminated. In light of the Chechnya conflict, the Internal Troops would be considerably strengthened. In a related matter, Interfax the same day reported that Yeltsin had ordered a government conference on "Military Reform in Russia" to be held in Moscow on 19-21 April. * Doug Clarke

The Russian armed forces will be reduced by 217,000 troops in 1995, following a cut of 385,000 the previous year, Col.-Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, told the Duma on 11 April. He also said the military cannot yet afford to transform itself into an all-professional force, Interfax reported. As examples, he explained that a contract office costs the state 12-15 million rubles a year compared to 3 million for a conscript soldier. "Such a burden of expenditures will break the state's spinal cord," he said. Kolesnikov praised the recent conscription law passed by the Duma which lengthens military service and eliminates a number of deferments. * Doug Clarke

The Federation Council has refused to support a 24 March Duma draft law which would have restricted conscripts to serving only in the armed forces or the border troops, Interfax reported on 11 April. Petr Shirshov, chairman of the Council's Security and Defense Committee, said, "If we prohibit the draft into the railway and interior ministry troops and other forces, our defenses, our security, and our statehood will be harmed," Interfax reported. Shirshov also revealed that his committee had unanimously approved the bill to increase military service and reduce deferments and indicated that the bill might be sent directly to President Yeltsin for signing without debate in the Council. Meanwhile, a group of Russian youth organizations called on students to participate in mass actions to protest the bill and threatened a nationwide students' strike. * Doug Clarke

The vice president of the commercial Yugorsky Bank, Vadim Yafyasov, was shot dead in Moscow on 11 April, Western agencies reported. Police gve no possible motives for the killing. Yafyasov is the latest victim in a series of contract killings that have claimed the lives of numerous businessmen, bankers, and journalists, including TV journalist Vladislav Listev and investigative reporter Dmitry Kholodov. * Penny Morvant


Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov said President Saparmurad Niyazov has appealed to the international community to grant Turkmenistan the status of a neutral state, Interfax reported on 11 April. He claimed that his republic has the support of many Asian countries and that Ukraine, which participated in tri-partite talks on cooperation with Turkmenistan and Iran in Tehran on 8-9 April, also supports the idea. Shikhmuradov argued that Turkmenistan could be given the status of a neutral country on the basis of a 1907 international covenant defining neutrality. He said such status would not be incompatible with Turkmenistan's ties to the CIS. In other news, Indonesian President Suharto, who held talks with Niyazov on 11 April, expressed interest in purchasing more Turkmen cotton. Although no amount for the potential purchase has been cited, Turkmen cotton constitutes about 1% of all Indonesian imports. * Lowell Bezanis

Russian helicopter gunships have been repeatedly flying attack missions along the Tajik border since the latest round of fighting erupted there on 9 April. The use of gunships has been vital at several besieged areas along the border with Afghanistan. Roads leading to some military posts have been mined or bombed by rebels, according to a Western source. Twenty-nine border guards and 170 rebels have died in five days. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov has appealed to Moscow to increase its aid and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Albert Chernyshev said, "complimentary measures to reinforce the border will be taken," AFP reported. Rakhmonov also urged UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to put the matter before the UN Security Council. The UN envoy currently in Tajikistan, Ramiro Piriz-Ballon, had to call off a meeting with Tajik Islamic leader Said Abdulloh Nouri when one of the trucks in his convoy struck a land mine. The meeting was scheduled to take place in northeastern Afghanistan, AFP reported. Meanwhile, Radio Kabul said Russian aircraft had bombed positions in Afghanistan's Takhar province. Russia's air force command denied the report. * Bruce Pannier

The Coalition Party and Rural Union alliance and Center Party on 11 April reached an agreement on the new Estonian government, BNS reported. Prime Minister-designate Tiit Vahi is scheduled to present his 14 member cabinet on 12 April to President Mart Laar, who has three days to approve it. The Center Party will have five ministers, including its chairman, Edgar Savisaar, as interior minister. Coalition Party Deputy Chairman Riivo Sinijarv and Endel Lippmaa will be foreign and European affairs ministers, respectively, while the party's administrative secretary-general, Andrus Oovel, will be defense minister. The new government will probably be sworn in on 17 April. * Saulius Girnius

At least nine of the 100 or so Asian refugees who were confined to two railroad cars for two weeks while Latvia unsuccessfully tried to deport them to Russia have escaped from the holding camp at Olaine, Reuters reported on 11 April. The Russian-language newspaper SM Sevodnya published complaints by the escapees that the conditions at Olaine were no better than on the train. They said the heating system at the camp had broken down. Interior Ministry press center head Normunds Belskis said the escape had been "well organized" and was probably aimed at complicating Latvia's negotiations with its neighbors on illegal immigrants, BNS reported. * Saulius Girnius

Agriculture Minister Vytautas Einoris was elected on 8 April to the Seimas from the Kaisiadorys district, RFE/RL reported on 10 April. Einoris, nominated by the ruling Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party, defeated Homeland Union candidate Liudvikas Sabutis by 451 votes. In elections on 25 March, none of the five candidates won a majority, forcing a run-off between Sabutis, who won 38.4% of the votes, and Einoris (28%). Algirdas Brazauskas won the seat in October 1992, but gave it up on becoming president in February 1993. Sabutis received the most votes in four previous by-elections, but all were declared invalid because less than 40% of eligible voters participated. While 43.97% of eligible voters voted on 25 March, only 43% cast ballots on 8 April. * Saulius Girnius

Eighteen opposition deputies, headed by Belarusian Popular Front leader Zyanon Paznyak, staged a hunger strike in the parliament on 11 and 12 April, Reuters reported. The action was to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's proposed referendum questions. The parliament rejected three of the four questions: one on enabling the president to dissolve the parliament, one giving the Russian language state status, and one introducing Soviet-era state symbols. The only question approved was the issue of establishing closer ties with Russia. Lukashenka told the parliament that the referendum will take place regardless of the vote and that he will dissolve the legislature if it violates the constitution. His speech was jeered by deputies. The hunger strikers refused to leave the parliament and were eventually dragged out of the building by the police. Foreign Minister Uladzimir Syanko regretted the strike, saying it would create a sensation abroad and had caused the most "unfavorable political situation" Belarus had experienced to date. * Ustina Markus

Ukrainian Radio on 11 April reported that the parliament has rejected the privatization plan submitted by head of the State Property Committee Yurii Yekhanurov. Yekhanurov told the parliament that of the 2,000 enterprises slated for privatization last year, only 1,003 have passed to private hands. He said that the greatest opposition had come from the agricultural sector. On a more positive note, he said the creation of auction centers has allowed individuals to become owners of enterprises outside their regions . Yekhanurov said the parliament's decision to reject his plan will have little real influence and that privatization will continue. * Ustina Markus

Polish Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy has been invited to Moscow to participate in the ceremonies on 9 May marking the 50th anniversary of the allied victory in Europe, Polish media reported. President Lech Walesa's spokesman said that Oleksy has been pressing for an invitation, ignoring Walesa's decision not to go to Moscow but to preside instead over ceremonies in Warsaw. He accused Oleksy of not discussing his decision with the president. But according to the premier's spokeswoman, Oleksy has requested a meeting with the president several times to discuss the issue. Walesa's decision to stay in Warsaw for the V-Day commemorations came after German Chancellor Helmut Kohl failed to invite Walesa to the Berlin celebrations. Kohl has invited the leaders of only four countries: the United States, Britain, France, and Russia. * Jakub Karpinski

Czech police on 12 April announced the arrest of two men involved in "extensive trade with cocaine." The head of the National Anti-drug Center said the arrests ended a two-year undercover operation called "Blizzard," during which Czech policemen worked closely with colleagues from Germany, Britain, and the U.S. Some 700 kilograms of cocaine were seized during the operation. The arrested men were a Czech émigré from the Netherlands, who headed the drug ring, and a Czech entreprenuer. A large number of weapons were reportedly seized during house searches following the arrests. * Jiri Pehe

The Slovak cabinet on 11 April approved its memorandum on economic policy, Sme reports. The draft, submitted by Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik, is intended to strengthen the trust of the IMF in the government's reform program. The fund delayed the third installment of Slovakia's stand-by loan earlier this year. The cabinet also approved a bill on supporting small and medium-sized businesses. * Sharon Fisher

Jan Sitek, during his visit to the U.S., met on 11 April with Secretary of Defense William Perry, Pravda reports. The two leaders signed an intergovernment treaty on protecting secret military information. The document determines which information is to be exchanged between Slovakia and the U.S. Perry said the treaty signaled that the two countries "have reached a new phase of security cooperation," adding that the U.S. wants to help the country widen its activities with NATO. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, during a one-day visit to Slovakia on 11 April, met with President Michal Kovac, Premier Vladimir Meciar, and Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk to express "strong" support for Slovakia's membership in the EU and NATO. But he stressed the importance of further reforms, noting that only countries that have "shed the Communist system and are clearly open, tolerant, and democratic" will be welcome, Reuters and Sme reported. * Sharon Fisher

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development ended its annual meeting with the issue of funding for the Slovak nuclear power plant at Mochovce dropped from the agenda, international agencies reported on 12 April. Slovakia had requested that the EBRD delay taking a decision on a loan to fund the completion of the Soviet-built reactor. Austria has campaigned against the reactor, and Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock told Slovakia on 10 April that adherence to strict nuclear safety standards should be a requirement for EU membership. * Michael Mihalka

Roma representatives from across Hungary elected a 53-member national Roma government at a meeting near Budapest on 9 and 10 April, international and Hungarian media reported. The new body will represent Roma interests in areas such as local self-government, rural development, employment, housing, and education. According to official estimates, 500,000 Roma live in Hungary; but unofficial estimates put the number at almost 1 million. Under the 1993 legislation on minorities, the Roma government will receive about $500,000 to finance Roma causes, a senior Internal Affairs Ministry official said. * Jiri Pehe

International media on 11 and 12 April reported on the fighting throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, observing that Bosnian Serb forces have besieged the "safe area" town of Gorazde, in the eastern part of the country. An estimated 13 artillery shells pounded the city in the early evening of 11 April, prompting the UN to call for NATO planes to pass over the area. Bosnian government radio reported casualties, including "tens wounded," but those accounts remain unconfirmed. Intensifying clashes between Bosnian government forces and Bosnian Serbs on Mount Majevica in the northeast were reported on 11 April. The Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA said that Serbian forces prevented a communications tower in the area from being taken. * Stan Markotich

Reuters on 11 April reported that UN officials have been unable to forge an agreement with Bosnian Serbs on the reopening of Sarajevo airport, closed two days earlier when Bosnian Serb fighters sprayed bullets at a U.S. plane transporting relief supplies. Also on 11 April, Bosnian Serb soldiers removed a heavy gun from a UN storage site near Sarajevo, only to return it several hours later without explanation. Meanwhile, the Croatian news agency Hina, citing Bosnian television, quoted Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic as asking the UN and NATO to take action to prevent Serbian attacks on Sarajevo and "to declare a demilitarized area within a 20 km-radius of the city." Izetbegovic also warned Bosnian Serbs besieging Sarajevo of an all-out attack if their actions do not cease. He also threatened not to opt for an extension of the cease-fire, due to expire on 30 April, should Belgrade fail to recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina or if the Bosnian Serbs reject an international peace plan, The International Herald Tribune reported on 12 April. * Stan Markotich

According to Hina on 11 April, Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak has announced that President Franjo Tudjman has resolved to demobilize some 30,000 troops. The demobilized soldiers will return to civilian jobs, especially in regions where production is adversely affected by labor shortages. "We'll demobilize our men but this will not reduce our combat readiness," Susak was quoted as saying. But he did not specify which troops will be affected by the decision. * Stan Markotich

Reuters and Nasa Borba on 11 April reported that a top Croatian spokesman has called for the removal of Asians and Africans from UN contingents in Croatia, soon to be known as UNCRO. The spokesman said that European troops better understand Croatia's problems and have more clout with the local Serbs. It is also well known that Croatia hopes that greater European involvement in UNCRO would mean more European support for Zagreb. Croatia regards the Jordanian, Argentine, Nepalese, and Kenyan units in particular as mainstays of the Serbian black market economy, and President Franjo Tudjman has criticized the Third World contingents as undisciplined and unprofessional. The UN, however, says that host countries do not determine the ethnic composition of peacekeeping forces, which must reflect the heterogeneous nature of the world body. * Patrick Moore

Klaus Kinkel on 11 April arrived in Skopje on a one-day visit, international agencies reported the same day. Kinkel met with President Kiro Gligorov, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, Foreign Minister Stevo Crvenkovski, and other officials. He said the Greek embargo against Macedonia was a "mistake" and called on both sides to settle their dispute quickly. He also said that the EU members are showing solidarity with Greece but that the other 14 members are not trying to conceal the fact that the Greek embargo is "wrong." Kinkel promised to facilitate closer ties between Macedonia and the "European and transatlantic structures." He noted that it is particularly important that Macedonia be admitted into the OSCE. * Stefan Krause

Ion Iliescu, at a press conference on 11 April, delivered a long speech reminiscent of a "state of the nation" address. He said Romania has achieved a certain degree of macroeconomic stabilization and that there are signs that the country's political life is "maturing." Romania is increasingly perceived abroad as an "oasis of stability," he said. Iliescu praised his country's efforts to join Euro-Atlantic structures, stressing that Romania's decision to push for integration into NATO was based solely on defensive needs. He added that Romania was interested in consolidating relations with its neighbors, singling out those with Hungary, which he described as "normal." Iliescu expressed hopes that a basic treaty with that country could be signed soon. Finally, he deplored the early start to the election campaign, which, he said, could put a strain on political life at a time when political and social peace were needed. Elections are scheduled for fall 1996. * Dan Ionescu

Some 20,000 people on 11 April marched through downtown Bucharest to protest a wage freeze in the state sector and other economic and social policies of Romania's current left-wing government. The protest was staged by the National Confederation of Romanian's Free Trade Unions--The Brotherhood, the country's biggest labor organization. Union representatives the same day reached an agreement with the government aimed at defusing the tension, but demonstrators continued to rally for several more hours. Also on 11 April, railway workers in the town of Pascani took control of the local station and depots, disrupting rail traffic throughout the whole region. Transport Minister Aurel Novac pledged to try to meet most of their demands for better working and living conditions. But the action continued until the early hours of 12 April, when it was ended by the police. * Dan Ionescu

About 2,000 students on 11 April blocked traffic in downtown Chisinau, while several hundreds more picketed the headquarters of the state TV and Radio Company. According to Interfax and Radio Bucharest, the demonstrators requested firm guarantees that their social and political demands--including that Romanian rather than Moldovan be proclaimed the country's official language--be met. Negotiations with a government commission have apparently been deadlocked over the past few days. The students' protest is now in its fourth week. * Dan Ionescu

The Bulgarian parliament on 11 April adopted the state budget on its first reading, the domestic media reported the following day. The budget was approved by the government on 30 March. It provides for a deficit of 47 billion leva ($700 million) or 5.6% of GDP. Expenditures are estimated at 387 billion leva ($5.8 billion) and revenues at 340 billion leva ($5.1 billion). GDP is expected to amount to 800-850 billion leva ($12.0-12.8 billion), while it is estimated that inflation will drop to 40-50% from 121.9% in 1994. Prime Minister Zhan Videnov said average wages in industry will rise to 8,922 leva ($135) in 1995, Standart reported. * Stefan Krause

Aleksander Meksi arrived in Moscow on 10 April for a two-day visit, dpa and Interfax reported the same day. Meksi and his Russian counterpart, Viktor Cherno-myrdin, signed on 11 April five agreements on economic and scientific cooperation, including accords on the prevention of double taxation and mutual investment protection. They also initialed a friendship and cooperation treaty that will go into force after being signed by the presidents of the two countries. Meksi's visit to Moscow is the first by an Albanian premier in 30 years, AFP reported on 10 April. Moscow and Tirana broke off diplomatic relations in December 1961 and did not restore them until 1990. * Fabian Schmidt and Stefan Krause

Albanian Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi, on a two-day visit to Croatia, has denied accusations that his country is violating the UN embargo against rump Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 11 April. Hina cited Serreqi as saying that Albania respects and will continue to respect the embargo but that small amounts of fuel are being smuggled into rump Yugoslavia. The foreign minister said the accusations are aimed at neutralizing Albania's efforts to focus attention on the rights struggle of ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province. He told Croatian radio that "a solution for Kosovo must be part of the overall solution" to the war in the former Yugoslavia. Serreqi and his Croatian counterpart, Mate Granic, signed a protocol on cooperation between their two ministries. * Stefan Krause

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave