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Newsline - May 22, 1995

Passing a resolution advanced by the Communist and Agrarian parties, the State Duma asked the Justice Ministry to examine the legality of the organizing tactics used by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's center-right bloc Our Home Is Russia, Interfax reported on 19 May. Communist Duma deputy Anatoly Lukyanov said Chernomyrdin's movement had violated President Boris Yeltsin's June 1991 decree banning local branches of political parties at work enterprises. That decree was aimed at destroying the Communist Party's network of local branches, and Lukyanov said the ban should apply to all political parties equally. Also on 19 May, Duma Security Committee Chairman and Communist Party member Viktor Ilyukhin filed a request with the Prosecutor General's Office to examine whether state funds were illegally used to finance the founding congress of Our Home Is Russia. Meanwhile, although Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai has been a leading figure in Chernomyrdin's bloc, the Urals regional branch of Shakhrai's Party of Russian Unity and Accord (PRES) announced that it would not cooperate with representatives of the authorities who have led Russia "into a blind alley," Segodnya reported. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Appearing on the NTV current events program "Itogi" on 21 May, Chernomyrdin said he is confident his bloc will win a large number of seats in the next Duma. He said, "the people will understand who is who and whom to follow," since opposition parties only criticize without offering constructive programs. Chernomyrdin confirmed that his movement will continue its activities during the 1996 presidential campaign but denied he would run for president. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin said he has not yet finalized his election plans, Interfax reported on 19 May. Rybkin has been offered the leadership of the new political movement Concord and met with Russian United Industrial Party (ROPP) leader Vladimir Shcherbakov to discuss a possible alliance. Also on 19 May, Duma deputies from the "Russia" group asked Rybkin to lead a center-left bloc. Russia faction member Igor Shichanin told Interfax only a few deputies from his group had joined Chernomyrdin's movement, while the majority prefer a bloc headed by Rybkin, whom he called "an outstanding politician" with "a spotless reputation." Rybkin insists that he is still a member of the Agrarian Party, which has refused to join a broad electoral alliance. For his part, Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin described the chances that Rybkin would lead a center-left bloc as "doubtful," NTV reported on 21 May. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said false rumors of his imminent dismissal were planted by people who want to provoke a quarrel between him and the president, Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 May. Citing a high-ranking Kremlin official, Ekho Moskvy reported that a decree to fire Luzhkov had been prepared but not yet signed by Yeltsin. The weekly Argumenty i fakty reported that Yeltsin was planning to replace Luzhkov with First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, but a spokesman for Soskovets told Interfax the article was a "blatant lie" and "absolutely groundless." -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

At a meeting of his party's Moscow council, Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar called Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky's refusal to form a united democratic electoral alliance a "betrayal" and a "stab in the back," NTV and Russian Public Television reported on 20 May. Gaidar said his party would still work to create a democratic and anti-communist front for the upcoming parliamentary campaign. He said Russia's "capitalist revolution," begun in 1991, had succeeded in making a capitalist economy "a reality" in Russia. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

In an interview with Radio Mayak on 20 May First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais discussed the 1996 draft budget, which the government hopes will be adopted by the end of the year. The draft budget concept will be submitted to the Duma on 15 June. The draft envisages an annual inflation rate of 20% to 25% and an exchange rate of 6,000 rubles to $1. It sets revenues at 273 trillion rubles and spending at 349 trillion rubles. As in 1995, the deficit--4% of GDP--is to be covered by noninflationary sources, Segodnya reported on 19 May. Chubais said tax policy is to be changed considerably with the aim of reducing the burden on producers by scrapping the special tax on enterprises, making tax collection more efficient, and eliminating tax breaks. The government expects to make considerable gains in revenue by reinstating the state monopoly on alcohol products. Chubais said defense spending would remain at the 1995 level. At the cabinet's budget session on 18 May, First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin demanded an increase in military spending. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

On 19 May, Russian President Boris Yeltsin vetoed a law, passed by both houses of the Russian parliament calling for unconditional talks with the Dudaev leadership, on the grounds that it violates the Russian Constitution and that such talks could further destabilize the situation rather than lead to a settlement of the conflict, Reuters and Interfax reported, quoting the presidential press service. On 21 May, Interfax quoted State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Sergei Yushenkov as expressing regret at the veto; both Yushenkov and Duma Communist faction leader Anatoly Lukyanov questioned Yeltsin's argument that the law is unconstitutional. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Russian troops launched a new full-scale offensive against Chechen positions to the southwest and east of Grozny on 19 May, but met fierce resistance, Western agencies reported. A Chechen military spokesman told journalists on 21 May that some 29 Chechens had been killed and 50 wounded in three days of fighting. He also told AFP that the Russian troops had used chemical defoliants; a Russian spokesman denied the allegation. Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov denied Russian claims that federal troops had taken the village of Chiri Yurt in southern Chechnya on 20 May, according to Russian news agencies. Interfax on 19 May quoted Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev as rejecting Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's proposal of round-table talks; Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev denied reports he would meet with Maskhadov on 22 May, adding that he would only hold talks with Chechen military representatives after they complied with demands for a ceasefire and surrendered their arms. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

State Committee on Land Chairman Nikolai Komov told Interfax on 20 May that despite "weak legislative guarantees," there have been "significant structural changes" in land tenure since 1991. He said that since then, the amount of land held by state farms has shrunk from 124 million hectares to 34 million, while the cooperative sector's holdings have increased from 85 million to 137 million hectares and the private sector's from 4 million to 23 million hectares. He added that the number of "land users" (zemlepolzovateli) has increased from 300,000 to 45 million. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The Islamic Conference Organization, the World Islamic League, and World Islamic Congress are engaged in efforts to strengthen Islam as a force in Central Asia, according to allegations by an unnamed source in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Interfax reported on 19 May. The source claimed Muslim extremists have been entering the region through porous borders and have penetrated various parts of Uzbekistan, including the Ferghana valley, Samarkand, and Bukhara. The source said diplomatic and intelligence services of unspecified Muslim countries are involved in the dissemination of religious propaganda and recruiting activities and funds are also being funneled "to virtually every mosque" by Saudi sheiks and the Iranian Corps of Revolutionary Guards. The source also noted that Uzbeks in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan are receiving military and ideological training and illegal groups of Uzbek theological students supported by extremist organizations exist in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There are 20,000 mosques in Uzbekistan at present, according to the source, and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Uzbekistan and Adolat, both banned by the authorities three years ago, are once again active, mainly in the Ferghana valley. If current trends continue, an Islamic revolution is conceivable in five to 10 years, the source predicted. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed a decree establishing an international Islamic studies center in Tashkent, Interfax reported on 20 May. The center is to be founded at the behest of the state-controlled Muslim spiritual board of Maverannahr and is slated to be funded equally by the state and the spiritual board, according the presidential decree. The center will enjoy the status of a research institute within the framework of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences. It will "study the teachings and philosophy of Islam and explore the religious, historic, and cultural heritage of the people of Uzbekistan." -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and opposition leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri concluded their talks and agreed on 19 May to extend the shaky ceasefire, due to end on 26 May, by an additional three months, Reuters reported. The fourth round of the UN-sponsored peace talks to be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, has been rescheduled from 22 May to 24 May. Kazakh spokesman Farkhad Abdukhalikov said the date was changed because the opposition delegation had not yet arrived in the Kazakh capital, according to Reuters. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc.

The OSCE-mediated talks on a settlement to the Karabakh conflict, which resumed in Moscow on 15 May after a three-month hiatus, reportedly achieved little of substance, according to AFP and Interfax. Interfax quoted Finnish diplomat Rene Nyberg on 19 May as stating that the four days of talks had taken place in a "businesslike and open atmosphere," and resulted in unspecified progress towards coordinating a draft agreement. However, the head of the Armenian delegation, deputy foreign minister Vardan Oskanyan, told AFP that the talks ended in "semi-failure" although for the first time the participants discussed the future political status of the disputed enclave. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


President Yeltsin sent an agreement on friendship and cooperation with Belarus to the Russian State Duma for ratification on 18 May, Belarusian radio reported the following day. On 19 May, the Duma voted 249 to zero to prepare for a national Russian referendum on uniting Russia with Belarus. That follows a referendum in Belarus on 14 May which saw a large majority voting in favor of closer economic integration with Russia. Duma deputy Sergei Baburin proposed that the referendum take place on 12 December, the same day as the parliamentary elections. Pravda described the referendum as the first step towards rebuilding the Soviet Union. On 18 May, Belarusian television reported that Russian and Belarusian customs officials have begun working together to bring the country a step closer to a customs union. Meanwhile, the Polish daily Gazeta wyborcza confirmed that Russian customs officers are jointly guarding the Belarusian border. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has asked acting Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk to form a new government, AFP reported on 19 May. Marchuk told Interfax that he wanted to form a cabinet of highly qualified professionals but did not mention any names. The final makeup of the cabinet is to be decided by Kuchma. Meanwhile, some 300 U.S. troops arrived in Ukraine to hold the first joint peacekeeping exercises with Ukrainian troops, AFP reported. About 400 Ukrainian servicemen will participate in the maneuvers, which are part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. The exercises will be observed by Ukrainian Defense Minister Valerii Shmarov and U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The National Bank of Belarus has no plans to issue bank notes with new symbols this year, Belarusian radio reported on 19 May. The electorate voted in a legally binding referendum of 14 May in favor of bringing back Soviet-era state symbols to replace current ones. According to bank officials, replacing the bank notes will cost at least $7 million, which, they say, the bank does not have. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Belarusian Radio on 19 May reported that the Russian Energy Ministry is ready to supply Belarus with energy at "negotiated" rates rather than world prices. Russian Energy Minister Yury Shafranik was quoted as saying that energy prices should not be "fixed" but subject to negotiation. The statement comes in the wake of the Belarusian referendum, in which the electorate voted in favor of closer economic integration with Russia. Belarus is already receiving energy from Russia at reduced rates. In other news, the Belarusian government has agreed to include 12 Belarusian gas and oil enterprises in the joint Russian-Belarusian energy concern Slavneft. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Foreign ministers from the Council of Baltic Sea Countries discussed regional economic cooperation at their annual meeting in Gdansk on 18-19 May, international agencies reported. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev complained about the group's lack of action and the continued infringement of the civil rights of Russian-speakers in Latvia and Estonia. He stressed that Moscow supported the council because "regional cooperation is an element of the new model for European security." Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski said the regional group could play an important role in the EU's strategy to accept new members. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Andris Piebalgs, at an extraordinary session of the Saeima on 19 May, announced he was submitting his resignation as finance minister and would give up his mandate in the legislature, which was suspended when he became minister, BNS reported. Piebalgs also said he would withdraw his candidacy for the fall parliament elections. He noted that the state budget deficit of 70 million lati ($134 million) had been caused by the crisis in the banking system. Prime Minister Maris Gailis refused to accept the resignation, saying he would try to persuade Piebalgs to stay on. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Seimas on 18 May voted by 47 to 42 to restore the validity of diplomas issued by higher communist party schools, BNS reported the next day. The vote revoked the 1990 decision by the Lithuanian Supreme Council not to recognize such diplomas. All parliament groups, except for the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party, strongly opposed the measure, seeing it as an attempt to help place former Communists in positions that require diplomas from higher schools. Rolandas Pavilionis, the chairman of the Lithuanian Rectors' Conference, criticized the vote and said that universities, in accordance with their constitutional right to autonomy, have the right not to recognize the diplomas of higher party schools. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Lech Walesa on 19 May sought to ease Russian concerns about Radio "Free Caucasus," which plans to broadcast from Poland, by saying that Poland "is not interested in a conflict with Russia," Polish media reported. Russia Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said Walesa told him that Polish law does not issue licenses to stations such as "Free Caucasus." Polish and international agencies stress, however, that Walesa does not have direct authority over the matter. -- Jakub Karpinski, OMRI, Inc.

John Paul II, during his visit to the Czech Republic from 20 to 22 May, held talks with President Vaclav Havel, met Church leaders, and held a service at a Prague stadium. According to Rude pravo, the stadium, which can hold more than 100,000 people, was half-empty. Some 250,000 people attended the canonization ceremony in Olomouc on 21 May of Jan Sarkander and Zdislava of Lemberk. The next day, the pope traveled to Skoczow to attend an ecumenical service in a Lutheran church. Some 80,000 Lutherans live in Poland, half of them in the Skoczow region. -- Steve Kettle and Jakub Karpinski, OMRI, Inc.

The Republican Council of the Party of the Democratic Left on 20 May voted to set up a 15-member shadow cabinet that will include chairman Juraj Hrasko and deputy chairpersons Brigita Schmoegnerova (socio-economic issues), Lubomir Fogas (legislation), and Pavol Kanis (non-industrial sector). The party issued a statement saying that the government coalition, rather than solving the country's economic and social problems, is intent on "strengthening its economic and political power, causing conflicts and politically motivated purges, dividing the trade unions, and attacking the president," Pravda reported. In other political news, a congress of the extraparliamentary Christian Social Union on 20 May elected Viliam Oberhauser as party chairman. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Hungary has become the first former East bloc country to sign an agreement on sharing military secrets with the U.S., Western media reported on 20 May. Agreements on general defense cooperation and defense industrial research and development were also signed. Hungarian Defense Minister Gyorgy Keleti said that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke had assured him that despite Russia objections, the U.S. remained undeterred in its drive for NATO expansion. Keleti also said that Hungarian units will participate in Partnership for Peace exercises in Louisiana in August and that Hungary intends to send units to Western-dominated UN peacekeeping operations in the Sinai and Cyprus. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Hungarian Defense Minister Gyorgy Keleti on 20 May announced that Hungary is to begin destroying its "Scud" surface-to-surface missiles in advance of a NATO meeting in Budapest, Radio Kossuth reported. Keleti, who had just returned from a five-day visit to the U.S., indicated that the U.S. would help in the destruction of the missiles. The Scud is a short-range guided missile with a range of up to 300 kilometers capable of carrying conventional, nuclear, or chemical weapons warheads. It was introduced into all Warsaw Pact armies in the mid-1960s. Hungary had one brigade with nine launchers and 24 missiles. In November 1990, then Defense Minister Lajos Fur announced that all the missiles and launchers would be scrapped "without delay." However, later reports suggested that while the launchers were dismantled, the missiles were put into storage. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has said he will take UN troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina hostage if air strikes are ordered against his forces. He also threatened to capture the mainly Muslim UN-declared "safe areas" in eastern Bosnia--Srebrenica, Zepa, and Gorazde--which the UN is considering abandoning under a new plan to scale down its presence. Nasa Borba on 22 May also quotes Karadzic as promising that Bosnian Serb forces will not give up. He added that his government alone among Serbs can recognize the Bosnian government and that it has no intention of doing so. This last remark is in apparent response to media reports that U.S. and British diplomats think they can extract the recognition of the Sarajevo government from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Karadzic is taking part in a session of the Bosnian Serb parliament in Banja Luka, during which his differences with the military are expected to hold center stage. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The Krajina Serb legislature, meeting in the Slavonian town of Borovo Selo over the weekend, passed resolutions in favor of unity with the Bosnian Serbs and rejecting the new UN mandate for peacekeepers in Croatia. The peacekeeping force's new name contains the word "Croatia," which the Krajina Serbs feel is an automatic negation of their claim to independence. Vreme on 22 May reported on rifts within the leadership, namely between those reluctant to attract the ire of Milosevic and those who fear he has already sold out their interests to the Croats. Nasa Borba on 19 May noted how these tensions have extended to the local media and that journalists staged a brief strike the previous day. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

International media reported that there was intense fighting around Brcko in the Posavina corridor on 19-20 May but that the battle fronts in Bosnia were fairly quiet on 21 May. In Banja Luka, the local Roman Catholic bishop continues a hunger strike he began on 18 May to protest Bosnian Serb "terror" against Croats and the destruction of churches. Vecernji list on 22 May says he has received wide support from Bosnian Catholics. Finally, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quotes UN sources as claiming that some 1,400 Croatian troops failed to leave buffer zones in the Dalmatian hinterland as of the 20 May. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Serbia's state-run Borba on 22 May defended Patriarch Pavle against what it called a gross affront by the Ljubljana government against the religious Orthodox leader and Slovenia's 22,000-strong Serbian community. Ljubljana authorities on 18 May denied Pavle an entry visa, saying that while it was not their intention to interfere with religious freedoms, they feared that the Patriarch's arrival could trigger ethnic tensions within Slovenia. Borba, however, insisted that Ljubljana's decision was the product of "cynicism" and "two-facedness." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Radical Serbian Party and alleged war criminal, called for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's resignation on 20 May, accusing him of abandoning the Bosnian Serb republic and the Republic of Serbian Krajina "to satisfy the demands of major powers." Seselj was taking part in a rally outside the medieval orthodox monastery of Gracanica, which was attended by only some 200 people from the 200,000-strong Serbian community in Kosovo. He also criticized Milosevic for not taking "urgent measures to protect Serbs" against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo. The gathering adopted a declaration and formed a National Council for Kosovo, which includes Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic, international agencies reported. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Nevzat Halili, leader of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity--Party for the Peoples' Unity, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, international agencies reported on 19 May. Halili was convicted for preventing police from carrying out their duties in connection with a police raid on the self-proclaimed Albanian-language university in Tetovo. The 17 February raid led to clashes between ethnic Albanians and police in which one Albanian was killed. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

The Romanian government on 19 May discussed a draft law on national minorities, Radio Bucharest reported. Cabinet spokesman Ioan Rosca said that a series of amendments were proposed following the draft's first reading. He commented that the law will seek to define the concept of national minorities and offer guarantees that their members enjoy all fundamental human rights and freedoms. Rosca added that the draft will be discussed again and possibly approved on 24 May, when the government is scheduled to review progress to date in bringing Romanian legislation on minorities into line with Council of Europe documents. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Gheorghe Funar, controversial leader of the extreme nationalist Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), has urged that legal action be taken against the country's main ethnic Hungarian organization, Radio Bucharest reported on 19 May. Funar, in an open letter to Romanian Prosecutor-General Vasile Manea Dragulin, accused the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) of seeking to divide Romania by advocating territorial autonomy based on ethnic criteria and the annexation of some territories to Hungary. He claimed that the UDMR was jeopardizing democratic institutions and the rule of law in Romania. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

A Russian State Duma delegation led by Konstantin Zatulin arrived in Chisinau on 20 May, Interfax reported. Zatulin said the visit was aimed at assessing the chances for a settlement to the conflict in the Dniester region and clarifying the situation of the 14th Russian Army, headquartered in Tiraspol. The delegation was received by Moldovan parliament deputy chairman Nicolae Andronic and also held talks in Tiraspol with Igor Smirnov, the president of the self-proclaimed Dniester republic. Smirnov told the delegation that he was categorically opposed to the withdrawal of the 14th Army because that would "disrupt the balance of forces in the region and destabilize the situation." -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters quoted foreign diplomats as saying that Viktor Chernomyrdin's visit to Bulgaria on 18-19 May gave a boost to bilateral relations. Talks between Chernomyrdin and his Bulgarian counterpart, Zhan Videnov, focused on liberalization of bilateral trade, rebuilding industrial cooperation, and energy projects. A declaration and 15 economic, cultural, and scientific accords were signed, including one on building a pipeline to transport Russian gas from Bulgaria to other Balkan countries. Chernomyrdin warned that rapid expansion of NATO may lead to a new Cold War and a division of Europe. He added that the question of Bulgaria's possible membership in NATO was not discussed in any depth during his visit. Joining NATO is a controversial subject in Bulgaria. President Zhelyu Zhelev advocates membership, while Videnov says NATO has to be reformed first. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

For the first time in three years, leaders of the two biggest trade unions in Bulgaria met to discuss their position on government policy, Standart reported on 20 May. Konstantin Trenchev of Podkrepa and Krastyo Petkov of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria signed a declaration to jointly oppose the government's "monetarist and anti-union policy." They also agreed on further talks to coordinate their positions on social and trade-union issues. Trenchev refused to say whether Podkrepa will change its official decision not to hold talks with the confederation, which it considers to be procommunist. In other domestic news, former Bulgarian party leader and head of state Todor Zhivkov was allowed to leave Sofia on 21 May, Reuters reported the same day. Zhivkov went to his home town, Pravets, where he was received by hundreds of people chanting "Long live Zhivkov." -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Greece's membership in the Western European Union has been put in doubt after the country unilaterally added a special clause to the document ratifying its entry to the defense alliance, AFP reported on 19 May. The clause says Greece will not accept the International Court of Jurisdiction's competence in matters related to national defense. Greece was admitted to the WEU in March on the basis of a document, signed by other members in 1992, in which the court's competence is accepted without any reservation. Alfonso Cuco, a Spanish senator, said the Greek clause can be valid only with the formal agreement of other WEU members. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Chief Supreme Court Judge Zef Brozi has accused the Justice Ministry and the ruling Democratic Party of trying to undermine the independence of the judiciary, Reuters reported on 19 May. According to Brozi, a new draft law placing the judiciary under the financial and administrative authority of the Ministry of Justice is an attempt to muzzle the courts. He also claimed that the government earlier this year tried to undermine the independence of the judiciary by asking the parliament to lift his immunity. The majority of legislators, however, rejected the move. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave