Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 13, 1995

Hundreds of thousands of workers throughout Russia attended rallies on 12 April to protest the nonpayment of wages and falling living standards in what Nezavisimaya gazeta of 13 April called the most powerful political action by trade unions in recent years. The day of action was organized by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia to protest the government's failure to fulfill promises made after earlier rallies on 27 October 1994. Demonstrators called on the government to pay its debts, index wages, promote domestic industry, and save jobs. Many also called on the government to resign. According to figures provided by the unions, 500,000 people rallied in the Russian Far East, where the economic situation is particularly bad, Russian and Western agencies reported. In Samara Oblast, marchers carried coffins to represent the death of the defense industry there; in Buryatia, television stations went off the air for two hours; in St. Petersburg, an estimated 60,000 protesters marched down Nevsky Prospekt; and in Moscow, 4,000-5,000 people, including many Communists, picketed government buildings. According to the union, a total of 1.5 million people took part in the protest, but law enforcement officers argued that those estimates were way too high, Russian Public Television reported. * Penny Morvant

The Federation Council rejected a bill on presidential elections by a vote of 95 to 11 with six abstentions, Interfax reported. The draft law had been approved by the Duma on 24 March. The Council added several amendments to the bill which will now be discussed in a conciliatory committee. The Duma can overcome the upper house vote and send the bill to the president with the support of 300 deputies. The Council objected to several features of the bill, including a provision allowing the Central Electoral Commission to set the date of the election if the Council fails to do so. The upper house also wanted to reduce the number of signatures a candidate needs to collect from 1.5 million to 500,000. It further argued that campaign expenses should be covered by the federal budget to give each candidate an equal chance. The Council also rejected the bill on Duma elections by a vote of 113 to 11 with six abstentions, arguing that fewer than half of the Duma deputies should be elected by party list. The president's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, said President Boris Yeltsin would not veto the Duma bill. However, Yelena Mizulina, vice-chairwoman of the Council's Committee for Constitutional Legislation and Judicial Issues, said she hoped the two houses would find a compromise. Less than 300 deputies in the lower house had voted for each of the electoral laws. * Robert Orttung

The Constitutional Court ruled that the phrase "overall number of deputies" in the constitution means 450 for the Duma and that the chamber needs a majority of 226 deputies to pass a law, Radio Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 April. The ruling is important because, until now, the Duma has adopted laws with a majority of the number of deputies actually sitting in the house rather than the number of seats provided for in the constitution. Several seats have been vacant because of invalid elections and, more recently, murders. Ivan Rybkin, for example, was elected Duma chairman with only 223 votes. The court ruled that its decision is not retroactive. * Robert Orttung

Deputies voted unanimously on 12 April in favor of a plan presented by Labor Minister Gennady Melikyan that raises the minimum wage from 20,500 rubles a month to 34,400 retroactive to 1 April and increases it again to 43,300 as of 1 May, Russian and Western agencies reported. Ending a long battle with the government, the Duma rejected a Communist proposal to override the veto imposed by Yeltsin in February on an earlier bill passed by parliament that would have raised the minimum from 20,500 to 54,100 rubles. Yeltsin had said such an increase was unthinkable in the current economic situation. It had also been viewed as an obstacle to a large IMF loan, which was officially approved on 11 April. Commenting on the latest, compromise decision, Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov said it will cost the government an extra 3 trillion rubles. "It will be difficult, but we will find the money," he said. Melikyan said the most important aspect of the change is that it will ease the tax burden on companies, which must pay taxes on wages that amount to more than six times the minimum, Radio Rossii reported. * Penny Morvant

The IMF board of directors officially approved a $6.25 billion standby loan to Russia on 11 April, Interfax reported the next day. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais said, "Russia's Finance Ministry will receive the first installment totaling $1.1 billion before the end of this April." Russia will receive about $500 million a month through the end of this year. Chubais said the loan will help in negotiations with the Paris Club to restructure Moscow's debt. * Michael Mihalka

The ruble continued its inexorable slide against the U.S. dollar, dropping below the 5,000 mark on 12 April, Western and Russian agencies reported. The ruble closed at 5,008 to $1 on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange, down from 4,991 on 11 April. Bankers and dealers were generally optimistic, noting that the decline had been gradual, that it was in line with Central Bank policy, and that it would boost exports. The strong dollar does, however, make life more difficult for the average Russian by increasing the price of imports. Alexander Livshits, President Yeltsin's economic adviser, said the 5,000 mark is a purely "symbolic figure that means nothing," ITAR-TASS reported. He said the fall in inflation (from 18% in January to 9% in March) would make ruble operations more profitable and predicted an "unenviable future" for the dollar, warning people not to save in that currency. * Penny Morvant

Russian Finance Minister Panskov announced that it would take years to index savings in line with inflation as required in a law passed by the Duma, Interfax reported on 12 April. President Yeltsin rejected the savings law twice, but the Duma overturned his veto on 5 April, promising to restore the value of citizens' savings deposited before rapid economic reforms began in January 1992. Panskov said the law would increase Russia's internal debt by 500 trillion rubles. He added that even if 5% of budget revenues were spent on indexing savings, it would take 50 years to pay off everyone guaranteed protection under the law. Panskov said the deputies who voted for it had mainly "their own goals" in mind. * Laura Belin

The decree on transforming the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK) into the Federal Security Service (FSB) went into effect following its publication in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 12 April, Interfax reported. Current FSK director Sergei Stepashin will head the FSB, and the FSK's approximately 75,000 employees will be transferred to the new agency automatically. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin praised the decree, which he said constructed a legal foundation for the activities of Russia's security service for the first time, Russian Radio reported. Ilyukhin added that the Duma had substantially revised the decree, making it "more democratic" and "more specific." The decree substantially broadens the authority of the security service, particularly in connection with fighting organized crime. Critics have warned that the new agency's powers will be comparable to those of the KGB and could be used to curtail civil liberties in Russia. * Laura Belin

The Duma overwhelmingly approved the third reading of a draft law on settling the Chechen crisis, Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 April. The law prohibits the use of the Russian armed forces inside the country and instructs the government to begin peace talks with the Chechen fighters immediately. Duma Chairman Rybkin told Ekho Moskvy he was optimistic that President Yeltsin would sign the law, since its main points had already been approved by government representatives in preliminary discussions. However, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said a new parliamentary commission on peace talks in Chechnya was unnecessary and would only "confuse" matters, since "there is no one to hold talks with" in Chechnya and Russia's main military campaign there is over, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev announced that new conscripts into the Russian armed forces would not be sent to Chechnya, Interfax reported on 12 April. * Laura Belin and Doug Clarke

Defense Minister Grachev, speaking in Irkutsk on 12 April, said, "I have no intention to increase the number of Russian border guards in Tajikistan," Interfax reported. One Russian official said the rebels trying to take power are increasingly well-coordinated but the Russian border troops commander, General Anatoly Chechulin, said, "We will resist all attacks, even if it means a blood bath," AFP reported. The UN tried to negotiate a ceasefire between the commanders of the Russian border guards and leaders of the Islamic opposition, but the attempt was inconclusive. The UN Security Council has criticized the Tajik opposition for violating the ceasefire agreement signed in Tehran last September, Reuters reported. The Russian Duma was unanimous in its condemnation of recent events, calling the actions "treacherous," according to Interfax. * Bruce Pannier

As fighting along the Tajik-Afghan border worsens, spokesmen for the Tajik opposition have put forth their proposals for ending the bloodshed. On 12 April, rebels called on Moscow to replace the Russian-backed Tajik president, Emomali Rakhmonov, with an interim government. Speaking from Kabul, Tajik rebel leader Davlat Usman, said, "The key to the problem lies with the Russians. If they want, the problem can be solved through negotiations," a Western source reported. Meanwhile, Kabul Radio continued to report bombing raids in northern Afghanistan by Russian planes. In a broadcast monitored in Islamabad, the station claimed Russian planes dropped 20 bombs in the Zaftal district of Badakhshan province on 11 April causing civilian casualties, Reuters reported. The Russian government continues to deny that charge but Vladimir Zhirinovsky congratulated "the valiant Russian pilots who bombed out one of the gangster lairs in Afghanistan," according to Interfax. * Bruce Pannier

Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller arrived in Baku on 11 April to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev that will raise Turkey's stake in a $7.4 billion deal to develop oil fields in the Caspian Sea, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Discussions between Ciller and Aliyev will center on the route of an oil pipeline, loans to Azerbaijan, and "ways to intensify military cooperation in light of closer military ties between Russia and Armenia," Interfax reported on 11 April. Turkey paid an estimated $70 million to acquire 5% of Azerbaijan's original 20% share in the deal. Ciller noted that Turkey was signing the contract "not for oil, but for the future of Azerbaijan," which she called "my second homeland," AFP reported on 12 April. Aliyev expressed his support for a Turkish proposal that would involve constructing a pipeline through Turkey; Russia has opposed it, claiming security considerations, time, and cost dictate export from Russia's port of Novorossiisk. The chief of Turkey's pipeline company, Hayrettin Uzun, said the two proposals are not alternatives but rather a complimentary system, Reuters reported on 12 April. * Lowell Bezanis

The Uzbek government ratified a credit agreement with the Export-Import bank of Japan on 31 March for an $85 million loan which is to be used to finance the development of the Kokdumalak oil and gas field, Interfax reported on 12 April. The field, Uzbekistan's largest, is projected to yield 200 million tonnes of crude oil and gas condensate a year. Its cost is estimated at $160 million; financing is to come from Uzbek government sources (15%) and from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, with which Tashkent concluded an agreement last month * Lowell Bezanis

Preliminary results of a census conducted 10-20 January in Turkmenistan indicate that 4,000,460 people live in the republic, 54% of whom dwell in rural areas. About 30,000 more women live in the republic than men, Interfax reported on 12 April. * Lowell Bezanis

President Leonid Kuchma on 12 April stormed out of the parliament during a heated debate on a bill that would give him the right to appoint the prime minister and cabinet without the legislature's approval, international agencies reported the same day. The current law requires the parliament's approval for the posts of prime minister and ministers of defense, foreign affairs, economy, and finance. The new one stipulates that a newly appointed government has to submit its program to the parliament for approval within two months. It also gives the parliament the right to veto the program. Left-wing deputies attacked the bill as anti-democratic and authoritarian. Kuchma reportedly wants the law adopted so that he can form a new government. The parliament last week passed a no-confidence vote in the current cabinet. * Ustina Markus

Conflicting reports have emerged on why nationalist deputies staging a hunger strike were evicted from the parliament building in the early hours of 12 April. Syarhei Naumchik, coordinator of the Belarusian Popular Front, told Interfax that security officials entered the parliament building at night to search for an alleged bomb. Some 200 armed police later stormed the building and threw out the hungers strikers, beating several in the process. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka admitted he had sent in the troops but claimed it was to protect the deputies in the wake of a bomb threat. ITAR-TASS quoted Lukashenka as saying he could think only of the deputies' security when he heard about the bomb. He said he knew nothing about the beatings but claimed the deputies had sought to hinder the bomb search. Prosecutor General Vasil Shaladonau said it would have been impossible for an anonymous caller to report a bomb to the police through the intercom since the dialing numbers are available only to senior government and police officials. An investigation into the events is to be launched. Meanwhile, another bomb was reported to have been planted in the national television and radio building. The anonymous caller who reported it said it would explode if the broadcasts did not stop. Lukashenka ordered the building cordoned off. * Ustina Markus

Alan Mayhew, head of the European Commission's Foreign Affairs Directorate, and representatives of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania initialed the so-called Europe Agreements on 12 April in Brussels, Western agencies reported. The accords must now be approved by the European Parliament, the 15 national parliaments of the Union, and the three Baltic parliaments. Under their terms, the Baltic States will join Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria as associate EU members. Compared with agreements signed by the six Eastern Europe countries, the accords between the EU and the Baltic States are more ambitious as regards the timing of full membership. The Commission statement issued the same day says: "The transition period of the agreements will end at the latest on 31 December 1999 instead of 2004 or 2005." * Saulius Girnius

Latvian and Estonian officials in Riga on 12 April were unable to break the deadlock over a fishing dispute, Reuters reported. Estonian coastguard vessels have frequently detained Latvian trawlers trying to catch herring around the island of Ruhnu in the Gulf of Riga, which Tallinn considers its territorial waters. Aado Luksepp, director of the Estonian Maritime Inspectorate, said that the spawning grounds of the fish were primarily in Estonian waters, since the Dauguva River pollutes Latvia's share. Latvia has threatened to take the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. * Saulius Girnius

Lithuania has not issued a single permit for Russian military planes to fly over its territory this month, although several planes have flown with permits issued in March, BNS reported on 12 April. The low-altitude flight on 29 March of three Russian MI-29 helicopters carrying rockets over residential areas of Vilnius prompted the opposition to call a special Seimas session on 5 April and to propose a total ban on all Russian military flights. Foreign Minister Povilas Gylys noted that permits for military flights have been issued in accordance with temporary regulations adopted on 20 July 1992. He added that a formal protest has already been sent to Russia over the flights. Russia admitted that the pilots violated safety regulations and said they would be punished. The Seimas on 11 April rejected the proposed ban. The Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party faction decided the previous day that a ban was unnecessary and that new flight regulations should be drawn up. * Saulius Girnius

Douglas Hurd, on a one-day visit to Poland on 12 April, said after a meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski that "We in Britain are convinced that Poland will join as a full member of NATO and the EU, that these are irreversible processes." He said it was too early to suggest when Poland might enter the EU. Countries wishing to join have first to implement the necessary economic reforms, and the EU has to amend, among other things, its agricultural policy. In an interview with Rzeczpospolita on 12 April, Hurd said: "There is no link between Russia's meeting its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and decisions about expanding NATO." He invited President Lech Walesa to attend the V-Day celebrations in Britain, but Walesa's office announced that the president will stay in Warsaw. Foreign Minister Bartoszewski will attend the ceremonies in London. * Jakub Karpinski

President Vaclav Havel on 12 April told parliament leaders that a constitutional amendment subdividing the Czech Republic into regions should be adopted before next year's parliament elections to prevent the issue from being politicized during the election campaign. The president was indirectly responding to a statement by Parliament Chairman Milan Uhde one day earlier saying that regions are unlikely to be set up before 2000. The Czech Constitution, adopted in 1992, requires the creation of regions, but the parliament has been unable to pass a constitutional amendment. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has repeatedly said that regional reform is not a priority for his Civic Democratic Party, which dominates the Czech government. Representatives of two coalition parties--the Civic Democratic Alliance and the Christian and Democratic Union--said on 12 April that their parties will push for the creation of regions before the 1996 parliament elections. * Jiri Pehe

Michal Kovac on 11 April signed three laws that he vetoed earlier this year and the parliament recently passed again, Pravda reported on 13 April. The laws are on the residence of foreigners in Slovakia, on the organization of ministries and other central bodies of the state administration, and on the Slovak Information Service. Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement chairman Bela Bugar, at a press conference on 12 April, expressed fear about the possible use of the SIS to discredit opposition politicians. The party's spokesman noted that the HCDM wants the opposition to unite to send the laws to the Constitutional Court for review. * Sharon Fisher

Slovak Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik, meeting with EBRD representatives in London, told bank president Jacques de Larosiere that the Slovak government is opposed to several points of the agreement on the completion of the nuclear energy plant at Mochovce, Praca reported on 13 April. Kozlik said the cabinet's main concern are the high costs of completing the project. He also noted that the recent decision by Standard and Poors to increase the National Bank of Slovakia's rating means that Slovakia should have no problem finding funds from other sources if necessary. The Slovak government is interested in working out a deal involving the EBRD, Electricite de France, and Siemens, together with a loan from Russia and the participation of the Czech Republic, in order to keep down expenses. Meanwhile, Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk on 12 April said that regardless of who builds Mochovce, it must meet current safety standards. Responding to a statement by Austrian Foreign Minister Alias Mock on 10 April that Slovakia will have difficulties joining the EU if it chooses to complete Mochovce, Schenk said he is convinced that when the time comes to decide about EU membership, the problem of Mochovce will be resolved, Sme reports. * Sharon Fisher

Suzuki Motors President Osamu Suzuki told a news conference on 12 April that his firm has stopped exporting cars from Japan to Europe and will sell cars assembled in Hungary through the European dealer network, Western news agencies reported. He said the change is prompted by high European import duties. To meet the demand of the European market, Magyar Suzuki will double its output in 1995 to 40,000 vehicles and increase its work force from 840 to 1,000. The parent firm will invest 2-3 billion forint ($17-$25 million) this year to finance the expansion. Suzuki said his firm plans to raise the Hungarian content in its vehicles to around 80% from the current 52% and increase the Western European content, now about 11%. * Edith Oltay

International media on 13 April continue to report on the escalating violence throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. A mortar shell the previous day hit Sarajevo, wounding at least seven people. Reuters reported that Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic has sent a strongly worded protest to the UN military command saying that all recent allegations of Serbian attacks on Sarajevo are "incorrect [and] tendentious." According to Vjesnik, Bosnian army helicopters attacked Serbian positions, including around Donji Vakuf, in central Bosnia. Hina reports that Serbian forces have launched attacks on several fronts. Meanwhile, representatives of the international Contact Group postponed a scheduled visit to Sarajevo on 12 April, after failing to receive safety guarantees from the Bosnian Serbs. Nasa Borba reported that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, following meetings with representatives of the Contact Group, said that rump Yugoslav recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina in exchange for a lifting of sanctions against Belgrade is not in the offing. Finally, a new suspension bridge was opened in Mostar on 12 April at the site of the historic medieval structure destroyed in late 1993 when fighting erupted between Croats and Muslims. * Stan Markotich

The New York Times on 13 April carries a story suggesting that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and high-ranking members of his regime may be directly responsible for war crimes throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. The story is based in part on documents smuggled out of Serbia by 45-year-old Cedomir Mihailovic, a former member of Serbia's secret police who recently defected. "One of the documents, dated May 24, 1992, appears to include directions from the Serbian state security services in Belgrade on the running of concentration camps in Bosnia," The New York Times reports. If the documents prove authentic, they will provide concrete evidence directly linking Belgrade to war atrocities. Milosevic has consistently denied any direct involvement in the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. * Stan Markotich

Italian regional official Alessandra Guerra, at a press conference in Ljubljana on 12 April, announced that Italy has plans to invest in Slovenia's infrastructure. She said that Italian interest in Slovenia was prompted by a "need for developing the infrastructure between western and eastern Europe" in order to yield "strengthening international cooperation," AFP reported. Slovenian-Italian relations have improved of late, not least because of Italy's decision in early March to cease opposing Slovenian efforts to negotiate associate membership in the European Union (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 March 1995). * Stan Markotich

Senator Mircea Valcu, spokesman for the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), told journalists on 12 April that his party was ready to abide by the pact with the Party of Social Democracy in Romania. With regard to a possible government reshuffle, Radio Bucharest quoted Valcu as saying that the PUNR was entitled to another ministerial portfolio and would be interested in the post of culture minister in the event that it became vacant. The extreme nationalist PUNR joined the government in August 1994. * Dan Ionescu

Romania's first nuclear power plant is expected to begin generating power next month, Atomic Energy of Canada told RFE/RL on 12 April. The Canadian company is helping build the facility, which is located at Cernavoda. The project was started in 1979 by former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu with Canadian government loans and technical assistance. It is years behind schedule and has been plagued by construction problems. Ken Petrunik, vice president of Atomic Energy of Canada, said his company is to assist in the construction of a second reactor in Romania, estimated to cost about $710 million. Romania hopes to cover part of the expenses by selling electricity to neighboring countries. * Dan Ionescu

Some 5,000 students and professors demonstrated again outside the government building in Chisinau on 12 April, Reuters reported. They formed a human chain and chanted such slogans as "Down with the government" and "We are Romanians." Protesters also picketed the building of the state TV and radio company for the second consecutive day, demanding air time and fair coverage of their protest action. In a separate development, Moldovan President Mircea Snegur told a group of Moldovan journalists on 12 April that he was "amazed" at the stance of "various Russian circles" on the Transdniester issue. He singled out the State Duma's recent decision to debate the "inadmissibility" of withdrawing the 14th Russian army from the Dniester region. * Dan Ionescu

Col. Hristo Gatsov, chief of the Bulgarian National Police, resigned on 12 April after a young man died in police custody, Bulgarian newspapers reported the following day. Gatsov, who was appointed police chief in November 1994, said he felt "morally obliged" to quit under the circumstances. Hristo Hristov, a 22 year old, was arrested in Sofia on 6 April and died a few hours later of a massive hemorrhage. The autopsy showed he had a torn aorta and several broken ribs as a result of severe beating. The six policemen who questioned him were arrested; Sofia City Prosecutor Nestor Nestorov said they will be charged with murder. If found guilty, they face prison sentences of up to 20 years or the death penalty. The opposition called for the resignation of Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev, who was quoted by Duma as saying he cannot be considered guilty "in this concrete case." Nachev has refused to step down. Pari reported that personnel changes in Sofia's police force are expected within the next few days. Meanwhile, Standart cited Gen. Mincho Bengarski, secretary at the Interior Ministry, as saying that 18 people have died over the past year owing to "carelessness" on the part of the police." * Stefan Krause

Albanian Defense Minister Safet Zhulali and his Turkish counterpart, Mehmet Golhan, on 12 April signed a military cooperation agreement in Tirana, Western agencies reported the same day. Under the terms of the agreement, Turkey will train Albanian officers and provide material assistance to the Albanian army. Zhulali and Golhan stressed that the agreement is not directed against a third country. Golhan, who was in Tirana on a three-day visit, said his country is concerned about the resumption of hostilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as there is a risk that "the conflict will spill over into the entire Balkans." He said "Turkey will spare no effort to prevent this." * Stefan Krause

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave