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Newsline - May 18, 1995


Vol. 1, No. 96, 18 May 1995
President Boris Yeltsin signed the law on presidential elections, Russian agencies reported on 17 May. The law was rejected at first by the Federation Council, but on 21 April, the State Duma passed an amended version, which was approved by the Council on 4 May. The law sets presidential elections for the first Sunday after the president's term expires in June 1996. In order to register, presidential candidates must collect one million signatures, no more than 7% of them from any one region of the Russian Federation. Campaigns will not be publicly funded, but candidates may create and manage their own election funds. Total campaign expenditures may not exceed 250,000 times the minimum wage; individual donations are limited to 50 times the minimum wage, and contributions from legal entities are limited to 5,000 times the minimum wage. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Yekaterina Lakhova, leader of the Duma faction Women of Russia, announced that her group will campaign for the next parliamentary elections independently, Rossiiskie vesti reported on 18 May. Lakhova described Women of Russia as a "centrist" movement with its own "political niche" and a stable group of supporters. She accused other political parties of thinking about women only "on the eve of elections." Lakhova cited the experience of the Women's Forum, which joined Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko bloc before the 1993 parliamentary elections. That group's leaders were placed too low on the Yabloko party list and were left with no representatives in the Duma. Lakhova said financing the campaign would be her movement's biggest problem, since wealthy donors would be drawn to more powerful blocs. However, she said she was confident of once again clearing the 5% barrier to enter parliament. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zaveryukha will stay away from the new electoral bloc set up by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Interfax reported 17 May. He will instead work within the Agrarian Party. Earlier, Chernomyrdin had said that all members of the government would participate in his bloc. Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has also kept his distance from the new organization. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The new Concord movement, which is led by Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin and includes the Free Russia People's Party, the Socialist Workers' Party, and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, is seeking formal registration with the Justice Ministry, according to Vasily Lipitsky, leader of the Free Russia People's Party, Interfax reported on 17 May. He also said the Russian Youth Union had affirmed its plans to join Rybkin's alliance in a meeting with him on 17 May. According to parliamentary sources quoted by Interfax, Rybkin participated in the founding conference of the Concord movement on 15 May and his aide Nikolai Sakharov was elected head of the new movement's executive council. Rybkin himself said it is still too early to talk about the new coalition and his role in it. Mikhail Lapshin, leader of the Agrarian Party of which Rybkin is a member, said the Duma speaker remains on the Agrarian Party list and rumors that he would lead a left-center bloc are an attempt to discredit him and damage the Agrarian Party, Russian Public Television reported. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Greenpeace has accused Russian customs authorities of letting about 1,000 tons of French toxic waste into the country and then selling it, Interfax reported on 17 May. About 20 Greenpeace activists carrying posters saying "Foreign Waste Collection Point" demonstrated outside the Main Customs Committee building in Moscow to protest the alleged deal; about 10 protesters were arrested. The environmental organization claims that waste containing a cocktail of dangerous substances was illegally brought into the country in January 1994 and sold by customs officials to a private firm that lacks safe storage facilities. It says the materials must be sent back to France, which is ready to accept them, and that the customs officials should be punished. The Customs Committee, however, refuted the charges, saying Greenpeace has distorted the facts. It says it uncovered poisonous waste in a cargo bound for a Urals firm in January 1994 and confiscated it. The customs then hired a company to track down the owner and return the waste, according to a company spokesperson cited by Western agencies. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The number of crimes committed by foreigners in Moscow is increasing, mostly involving drug trafficking and extortion, police official Viktor Seroshtan told reporters on 17 May. He said 516 crimes by residents of countries outside the former Soviet Union were reported in the first four months of the year compared with 460 during the same period in 1994, Russian and Western agencies reported. Seroshtan blamed the increase on transparent borders with the other former Soviet republics which allow criminals to enter Russia more easily. Foreigners are also increasingly falling victim to crimes. So far this year, 300 crimes against foreigners have been reported in the Russian capital, including six murders. The number of violent crimes jumped to 259 from 141 in 1994. Seroshtan said those doing illegal business are most at risk. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Russian senior military commanders oppose the agreements on anti-ballistic missile systems (ABMs) concluded at the recent Moscow summit between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton on anti-ballistic missile systems (ABMs) and NATO's Partnership for Peace, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 17 May. They felt the decision to begin consultations on ABMs could allow the U.S. to deploy "theater" systems as early as next year, possibly providing a strategic cover for the continental U.S. The commanders view recent military exercises between NATO and the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia as preparations for future NATO military operations at the beginning of a war. Sources at Russian Army headquarters also cite NATO plans to move five divisions into the Baltic states. Russia should only cooperate with NATO if it is allowed to base "powerful" forces along its borders, which would require a revision of international treaties. Moreover, they believe Russia should join NATO as an equal and be allowed to veto any decision that conflicts with Russian interests. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

A report prepared by Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin condemning the activities of the Soros Fund was published in Sovetskaya Rossiya on 18 May. Ilyukhin cast doubt on the "philanthropic activities" of the fund, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Russia in recent years. He charged that a number of Soros employees are CIA agents. Ilyukhin said the fund's main function is to train "Soros teachers" and "Soros professors" to "change the mentality of Russian society," which he said would lead to a "terrible degradation of societal, patriotic, and national consciousness." Ilyukhin also blamed alleged speculation by Soros in the Russian stock market for "Black Tuesday" in October 1994, when the ruble lost approximately a quarter of its value. Ilyukhin proposed that the Duma more strictly regulate foreign philanthropic and commercial activities, especially in scientific fields. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Russian retail prices increased an average of 1.5% from 4-10 May, according to Goskomstat, Izvestiya reported on 17 May. Food items were up 1.7%, consumer goods 1.2%, and consumer services 1.9%. Since the beginning of the month, retail prices have increased 2.1% (food items 2.5%, consumer goods 1.2%, and consumer services 3.2%). The average cost of a set of 19 staple items is now at 171,000 rubles ($33.52) per person, a 1.6% increase compared to late April. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian ruble, which has been strengthening against the U.S. dollar since 6 May, slipped 12 points to 5,038 rubles to $1 in MICEX trading on 17 May, the Financial Information Agency reported the same day. Initial supply was $82.17 million and demand $102.51 million. Dealers reported that the Central Bank sold $20.24 million and commercial banks withdrew bids for $100,000 during the session. Analysts said the resumption of the ruble's decline was no surprise and attributed the market environment to commercial banks selling large quantities of currency, thus stimulating a return of ruble supplies to the inter-bank currency market. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.


Vol. 1, No. 96, 18 May 1995
Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan has appointed former Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisyan to head the Department of State Security in place of David Shakhnazaryan, who has resigned, Reuters reported on 17 May quoting the presidential press service. The Armenian intelligence service had incurred considerable negative publicity in 1994 after its agents arrested the deputy to the president's former national security adviser. Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Arutyunyan has been appointed acting defense minister. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov's 17-19 May visit to Moscow is expected to result in the signing of 22 economic and political agreements between Turkmenistan and Russia, Western and Russian media reported on 17 May. The key document to be signed is an agreement on strategic partnership, according to Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. In addition, accords on the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities, fuel and energy cooperation, and various military documents are to be signed. The foreign minister of Turkmenistan was quoted by Interfax as saying Turkmenistan considers Russia to be "a long-term and strategic partner." The agreements constitute a substantive shift in Turkmenistan's orientation back toward Russia. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Yegorov informed Interfax that the amount of ethnic Germans leaving Kazakhstan is two times greater than the number leaving Russia, the agency reported on 16 May. Yegorov said 112,000 Germans have moved to Russia from other CIS countries, while 200,000 have left Russia for Germany in the first four months of this year. Germany and Russia have pledged to allocate 53 billion rubles ($10.5 million) and DM 160 million in 1995 to improve the living standards of ethnic Germans. In early April, German President Roman Herzog visited Kazakhstan but failed to reach an agreement on the protection of an estimated 550,000 ethnic Germans living there. It is unclear how many ethnic Germans remain in Central Asia. On 3 May, Aalam reported that Kyrgyzstan's total population is 4,499,000; how many of the 71,197 people who left the republic in 1994 were ethnic Germans, is unclear. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.


Ivan Korotchenya, the executive secretary of the CIS, said the recent memorandum on economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia "constitutes a qualitatively new basis for the commonwealth," Interfax reported on 17 May. The agreement will be signed at the summit of CIS leaders and governments scheduled to be held in Minsk on 26 May. Korotchenya said the most important items to be discussed at the summit include the CIS convention on human rights, which "directly concerns Russian speakers living outside Russia," a treaty on protecting borders with non-CIS states, and the renewal of mandates for peacekeepers in Tajikistan and Abkhazia. Korotchenya refuted as "groundless and false" claims by some politicians that CIS agreements "don't work" although he did acknowledge that some of them do not work as hoped because of a lack of "political will" among certain CIS member states. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.


Vol. 1, No. 96, 18 May 1995


Leonid Kuchma has said he will support a political truce proposed by deputies from six of the parliament's nine caucuses if his bill on the separation of powers is not approved by the legislature, Interfax-Ukraine and Radio Ukraine reported on 17 May. The three leftist caucuses are refusing to participate. Under the pact, Kuchma and the lawmakers would agree to support the 56 articles in the draft law already approved by a special conciliation commission composed of legislators and administration members. Both sides would pledge to coordinate political reform efforts, immediately approve a new government, and speed up work on a new post-Soviet constitution. They would also declare a moratorium on national referendums on issues related to Ukraine's territorial integrity and on public confidence in either branch of government. Legal specialists however, disagree whether such a pact would have legal weight. Kuchma has repeatedly threatened to hold a non-binding plebiscite on confidence in the parliament and president if his political reform bill fails to be approved by legislators. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The Crimean legislature on 17 May said it will endorse a new Crimean constitution and submit it for Kiev's approval if more than half of those who vote in the 25 June referendum reject the autonomous region's 1992 constitution, Interfax-Ukraine and Ukrainian TV reported the same day. The Ukrainian parliament demanded in April that Crimean deputies draft a new constitution by 15 May. The Crimean legislators also voted to appeal to local councils and send a formal proposal to Kiev to hold a national referendum on economic and political union with Russia and Belarus. But 40 members of the 98-seat Crimean parliament recently appealed to their separatist colleagues and to the Crimean population to respect Ukrainian law and draw up a new constitution in order to refocus attention on the peninsula's economic crisis. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Finance Minister Andris Piebalgs has announced that the government will take control over the country's largest commercial bank, Banka Baltija, BNS reported on 17 May. About a fifth of Latvia's 2.5 million residents have deposits in the bank. Three other banks--Latintrade Bank, Latvian Deposit Bank, and Central Bank--have also suspended operations over the last month. Saeima Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Ojars Kehris has blamed the country's major banks for budgetary problems. In the first quarter of 1995, only 18.2% of planned annual revenues were collected but 23% of planned expenditures were spent. He said banks were too interested in investing resources in currency operations rather than securities. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Lech Walesa and Jozef Oleksy met on 17 May to discuss military and security matters, Polish and international media reported the following day. Defense Minister Zbigniew Okonski said after the meeting that his ministry's staff is to be cut by up to 25%. The two leaders also agreed to a truce after mutual accusations of violating the constitution (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11-12 May 1995). Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on 16 May that Poland is going ahead with the sale of 100 Soviet-designed T-72 tanks to Iran, despite U.S. pressure. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department confirmed the story but added that Poland has agreed to halt subsequent arms sales to Tehran. He said that the U.S. was satisfied with the outcome of discussions with Poland and that the tank shipment "is partial fulfillment of the last remaining contract for conventional arms sales between Poland and Iran." -- Jakub Karpinski, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian embassy in Prague on 17 May protested that Czech media and politicians are conducting an anti-Russian campaign that could damage relations between the two countries, Lidove noviny reports. A statement issued by the embassy complained of a "vociferous campaign in the worst traditions of the Cold War." The statement was issued three days after President Vaclav Havel officially protested to President Boris Yeltsin that troops involved in the Chechnya conflict took part in celebrations in Moscow marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, despite promises that they would not do so. The embassy statement complained that Czech media and politicians did not wait for Yeltsin to reply but instead "rushed to issue wide-ranging statements about relations between the two countries." -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar, speaking on Slovak TV on 16 May, said that if he is unable to find sufficient parliamentary support to remove President Michal Kovac or if Kovac does not resign, he will ask the Slovak people to decide on the question in a referendum. Christian Democratic Movement Deputy Chairman Ivan Simko told Sme that his party is not afraid of such a referendum since Meciar would definitely lose. Kovac responded to Meciar's statements in an address carried by Slovak TV and Radio on 17 May in which he noted that "almost every citizen knows how to judge" who is really "causing tensions and looking for enemies" in society. Also on 17 May, the Association of Workers (ZRS), one of Meciar's coalition partners, sent a statement to TASR saying that the party will not support any further unconstitutional steps against the president. But it argued that Kovac has violated the constitution several times and should therefore resign. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

A new leftist political grouping was founded in Slovakia on 17 May, Narodna obroda reports. Called the Leftist Forum, the group includes the Social Democratic Party, the Party of the Democratic Left, the Movement of Peasants, the Party of Labor of Slovakia (which was formed by breakaway ZRS deputy Miroslav Kocnar), and two youth organizations. Trade union representatives expressed interest in observer status. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Hungarian parliament on 16 May rejected by 251 to 45 with 11 abstentions a proposal to hold a referendum on electing the president by popular vote, Nepszabadsag reported the next day. The motion was defeated on the ground that the plebiscite would be tantamount to amending the constitution, which stipulates that parliament elect the president. The Independent Smallholders Party, headed by Jozsef Torgyan, had collected some 157, 000 valid signatures demanding a referendum on the issue. According to the constitution, a referendum must be held if it is requested by more than 100,000 people. Torgyan charged that the parliament's decision violated existing legislation. He said he would appeal to the Hungarian Constitutional Court. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Hungarian Defense Minister Gyorgy Keleti and U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry on 16 May signed a military research and development agreement, Western news agencies reported. The agreement will allow the U.S. to use Hungary's expertise in areas such as the detection and decontamination of nuclear, chemical, and biological hazards. It also allows the two countries to share and protect certain secret defense information. Keleti told reporters he hoped that the agreement will help Hungary's bid to join NATO. Perry praised Hungary's defense technology and said its continuing cooperation in the alliance's Partnership for Peace program is the "best route" to full membership. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.


Vol. 1, No. 96, 18 May 1995
International media report that Sarajevo underwent heavy shelling on 17 May for the second consecutive day. At least 17 people were wounded. The previous day, at least 5 were killed and 26 wounded. According to Hina, heavy weapons, including tanks and howitzers, have been observed by UN sources, which have also "counted hundreds of detonations." Meanwhile, serious fighting is reported to be continuing in other parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly in the northeastern, western, and northwestern parts of the country. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

The UN Security Council on 17 May unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Zagreb and Croatia's rebel Krajina Serbs to withdraw their forces from UN buffer zones, Reuters reported the following day. The resolution reportedly "notes with satisfaction" the progress to date on troop withdrawals but demands that all troops be removed. Croatian ambassador to the UN Mario Nobilo said that the Croatian withdrawal is 76% complete. Meanwhile, Nasa Borba on 18 May reports that UN envoy to the former Yugoslavia Yasushi Akashi met with Krajina Serb president Milan Martic the previous day. The situation in western Slavonia was a key item on the agenda. Martic insisted that the Krajina Serbs will not be prepared to start a dialogue with Zagreb until Croatian troops in western Slavonia "withdraw to the line where they were on 1 May." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

The trial of three ethnic Albanians who participated in a 1990 gathering to welcome U.S. Senator Bob Dole began in Pristina on 17 May, Kosova Daily Report said the same day. The three men are accused of "hostile activity, disturbing public order, and assaulting police officers" in front of the Grand Hotel in Pristina on 29 August 1990. The Serbian authorities labeled the gathering a "demonstration by Albanian separatists." One of the accused failed to appear in court. If convicted, the three men face prison sentences of between one and ten years. Elsewhere, Serbian police raided the Philology Faculty of the Kosovo shadow-state university housed in a private home in Pristina on 15 May. They beat and detained the owner of the house for several hours. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

The World Bank on 16 May approved two credits totaling $99 million to Macedonia "to help foster recovery" in the republic. An $85 million loan is to be used to "bolster the government's reform program" and "support the implementation of major reforms in the enterprise and banking sectors, accompanied by a social safety net program." A smaller loan worth $14 million is to be used for labor redeployment, social benefit programs, and technical assistance for enterprise restructuring. The World Bank Group also announced the establishment of a resident mission in Skopje. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Senior Ukrainian diplomats met with Romanian officials in Bucharest on 17 May to discuss disputed borders and ethnic minorities, international agencies reported. Ukraine rejects any suggestion that northern Bukovina, southern Bessarabia, and the Serpent Island off the Black Sea coast are not part of its territory. These three regions, as well as present-day Moldova, were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 in the wake of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Ukrainain First Deputy Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told reporters in Kiev on 16 May that "any attempt to re-examine borders . . . can only lead to tragedy." Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasile Sofineti, at a press conference in Bucharest the same day, said recent statements by an adviser to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma that Romania should not be accepted as a member of NATO as long as it maintains territorial demands on Ukraine "do not reflect reality," Radio Bucharest reported. He added that Romania insists that Ukraine condemn the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and that this condemnation be included in the basic treaty with Kiev. Sofineti stressed, however, that Romania has no territorial demands on Ukraine. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Presidential spokesman Traian Chebeleu on 17 May denied recent allegations that President Ion Iliescu was recruited as a KGB agent while a student in Moscow in the 1950s. The allegations were first published by the weekly Academia Catavencu and the daily Ziua and reiterated by Serban Sandulescu, a senator from the opposition National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic. Sandulescu, who is also a member of a special parliamentary commission investigating the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime in December 1989, said his information was based on data made available to the commission. Chebeleu called the accusations "primitive fabrications" by people known to have been "in the pay of different [secret] services." He said that Iliescu will demand--"in line with his constitutional prerogatives"--that the letter of the law be applied. The Penal Code provides for prison terms between three months and three years for the defamation of state and public officials. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The Moldovan parliament has not yet decided whether to accept an invitation from the Russian State Duma to send a delegation to Moscow for discussions later this month on the future of the 14th Army. Dumitru Diacov, chairman of the parliament's Foreign Policy Commission, told Infotag on 16 May that the invitation was received the previous day. Diacov said the commission has been carefully following events related to the withdrawal of the army and was ready "for a constructive dialogue." But he added that "we see no desire to negotiate" on the part of the Duma. Infotag commented that the Tiraspol breakaway authorities will "undoubtedly" accept the Duma's invitation and that their delegation will speak against removing the 14th Army from the region and against the dismissal of Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed. Also on 16 May, BASA-press reported that Lebed will leave for Moscow at the end of the week to attend parliamentary debates on the withdrawal of the 14th Army. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

State Department Coordinator Joseph Presel and his deputy in charge of the new independent states, Ariel Johnson, told Moldovan Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli on 16 May that the U.S. is favorably inclined to continue supporting democratic reforms and the transition to a market economy in Moldova, Infotag reported on 16 May. The U.S, delegation is also scheduled to visit Tiraspol. Interfax reported Pressel as pledging Western aid for the withdrawal of the 14th Army. He noted that Chisinau appeared to be more anxious to solve the problem than the Tiraspol leaders, who nonetheless "are slowly realizing the dead-end nature of their policy." Moldovan President Mircea Snegur told Pressel his country wanted the withdrawal of the 14th Army to take place "as soon as possible." He also said he would meet with Igor Smirnov, leader of the Transdniestrian breakaway region, on 7 June to discuss a special legal status for the region. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The Bulgarian parliament on 17 May approved tougher measures against racketeering and copyright piracy, Reuters reported the same day. Extortion is now punishable by up to 15 years in prison, while the maximum sentence for theft of intellectual property has been raised to five years. Courts may confiscate up to half the property of convicted extortionists. Use of fake documents to transfer money abroad, failure to pay taxes, and drunk driving may also carry a prison sentence under the new law. According to police data, losses incurred by white-collar crime totaled 12 billion leva ($182 million) in 1994, up 80% on the 1993 level. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Zhelyu Zhelev on 17 May asked the Constitutional Court to invalidate a recent amendment to the land restitution law, international agencies reported the same day. The law was passed on 14 April, but Zhelev vetoed it two weeks later, saying it violates the constitution. Parliament overruled his veto on 10 May. According to the amendment, land owners wishing to sell their plots must offer them first to their neighbors and then to the state, which has to decide within two months whether to buy it. Zhelev repeatedly threatened to take the matter to the Constitutional Court if parliament did not take his objections into consideration. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Willy Claes, during his visit to Athens on 16-17 May, said feuds between Greece and Turkey are undermining NATO's efforts to strengthen its southern flank, Reuters reported on 17 May. NATO wants to set up the headquarters of a flexible force of Greek, Turkish, and Italian troops in the Greek town of Thessaloniki, but Ankara wants them to be in Turkey. The dispute has prompted Turkey to block NATO's entire military budget. Claes met with Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, President Kostis Stephanopoulos, Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias, and Defense Minister Gerasimos Arsenis. Arsenis said the present row is the result of NATO's weakness to enforce its decisions, despite Ankara's objections. Claes left for Turkey on 17 May to discuss the issue with Turkish officials. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Thoma Gellci, chief editor of the Socialist Party newspaper Zeri i Popullit, is under investigation in connection with the disappearance in 1991 of $400,000, Koha Jone reported on 18 May. The money was taken from a solidarity fund to buy a printing machine for the newspaper, but the machine never materialized. Gellci has been ordered not to leave Tirana until the end of the legal proceedings. Gellci's predecessor, Perparim Xhixha, was recently put under house arrest. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave