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Newsline - February 2, 1996

Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev agreed that the two houses of parliament should cooperate more on drafting legislation, Russian media reported on 1 February. They vowed not to repeat the experience of the last parliament, in which the Council turned down about half the laws passed by the Duma, and the president returned some poorly-drafted laws to parliament due to technical flaws, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. Working together on legislation may be easier said than done. Although left-wing opposition deputies have a working majority in the 450-seat Duma, at least 99 of the 178 Council deputies are considered "loyal Yeltsinists," while only 28 are consistent "oppositionists," Obshchaya gazeta reported in its 11-17 January edition. -- Laura Belin

Union leaders said on 2 February that about 450,000 Russian miners are continuing to strike and that about 170 of the nation's 245 mines have been shut down, Russian and Western agencies reported. Rosugol said on 1 February that work had stopped that day at 118 of the country's 182 mines and 27 of its 63 opencast pits. Union representatives said about half a million miners had joined the strike. In Vorkuta, at a demonstration in support of the miners on 1 February, about 7,000 residents called on the government to resign because of its inability to pay workers' wages. Presidential economics adviser Aleksandr Livshits said that the government has now paid the 600 billion rubles ($130 million) it owed in wage arrears for 1995. -- Penny Morvant

Deputies voted on 31 January to set up a commission to review the results of privatization from 1992 to 1995, Segodnya reported the following day. The commission has until 6 March to compile a list of issues to be considered in analyzing the first and second stages of privatization, to determine the materials to be used in the analysis, to hear reports from the officials who prepared those materials, and to review the activities of enterprises that broke the law. The paper quoted a Yabloko deputy as saying he believed the material gathered by the commission would be used for political ends in the run-up to the presidential election. -- Penny Morvant

The Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) announced that presidential candidates will be able to spend a maximum of 14.5 billion rubles ($3.1 million) during the campaign, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February. Individual contributions will be limited to about 2.88 million rubles ($610), and legal entities will be allowed to donate up to 288 million rubles ($61,000). Candidates will be required to make all campaign-related deposits and withdrawals at special Sberbank accounts. The TsIK also published detailed rules covering signature collection in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 1 February. Candidates will need to submit at least 1 million signatures by 16 April to be registered, with no more than 70,000 signatures from any one region of Russia. Rules on campaign financing were not enforced during the Duma campaign, and parties seeking registration routinely ignored the prohibition on paying for signatures. -- Laura Belin

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation will not officially nominate Gennadii Zyuganov for president until mid-February, but his campaign continues to attract allies. On 1 February, Oleg Shenin, chairman of the Union of Communist Parties-Communist Party of the Soviet Union, gave Zyuganov's candidacy his blessing, Ekho Moskvy and Russian TV reported. Like Viktor Anpilov's Workers' Russia, which has also endorsed Zyuganov, Shenin's party is small, but its support reduces the chances that a far-left candidate will split the communist vote in June. Shenin estimated that there are 35 million communist and patriotic voters in Russia, enough to decide the presidential election in the first round if they unite behind Zyuganov. About 69 million Russians voted in the December parliamentary elections. -- Laura Belin

The State Duma instructed three of its committees to investigate state spending on defense orders, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January. Aleksandr Vengerovskii of the Liberal Democratic Party, who proposed the measure, said the investigation should not have a negative impact on purchasing programs that have already been adopted. The committees involved are: Budget, chaired by Yabloko member Mikhail Zadornov; Defense, led by Our Home Is Russia's Lev Rokhlin; and Security, headed by the Communist Party's Viktor Ilyukhin. -- Doug Clarke

Presidential Chief of Staff Nikolai Yegorov announced on 1 February that he will "lobby the government and president for the interests of military aviation" at a meeting of the Military Council of the Russian air forces, Izvestiya reported. Yegorov, a member of the council, said aircraft and space technology is "the locomotive which leads the development of all other industrial sectors," Russian TV reported. The chief of staff said that the shortage of money for the air forces was "temporary." Russia has contracts for $6.5 billion in military aircraft abroad in 1996, he asserted. If these plans are realized, he said, Russia would become the second largest arms supplier on the world market, providing significant funds to further develop the air force. According to Russian Public TV (ORT), Russia did not have enough money to buy a single military airplane in 1995 although it needed about 250-300 to preserve military readiness. -- Robert Orttung

Sergei Goncharov, the president of the Association of Alpha Veterans, supports the moves of Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov to reintegrate the security services, according to an interview in Germes (#1-2). When the democrats came to power in 1991, they destroyed the KGB by dividing its functions among a variety of agencies, Goncharov argued. The results were the ineffective responses to situations like the hostage taking in Budennovsk. Goncharov is a close associate of Duma member Aleksandr Lebed. -- Robert Orttung

Zinovii Pak, the new head of the State Committee for the Defense Industry, has proposed a draft program that calls for a smaller but better armed military, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February. The program was jointly developed by the Defense and Economics ministries on the principle of "reasonable sufficiency." Pak was said to have recently told President Boris Yeltsin that a military as large as once existed would be an unnecessary burden to Russia. Unless a program like his draft proposal was adopted, he feared that the defense industry would not survive. -- Doug Clarke

President Yeltsin issued a decree on 1 February on additional measures to ensure the prompt payment of salaries to public sector workers, Radio Rossii reported. It calls for stricter schedules for paying state sector employees, including the military and police. The prime minister is to report to the president on the issue at least every other week and to identify officials responsible for delays. Meanwhile, the deputy commander of the Interior Ministry's Internal Troops told ITAR-TASS on 2 February that his men, including those serving in Chechnya, are experiencing severe financial difficulties. He said troops outside Chechnya are still owed money for November, adding that the Chechen operation had cost the Internal Troops 670 billion rubles (about $146 million) in 1995, but they had only received 88 billion rubles ($19 million) from the government. -- Penny Morvant

A cloud of radioactive gas and steam leaked into the atmosphere from a nuclear reactor at a research institute in Dmitrovgrad in central Russia, Russian and Western agencies reported on 1 February. The gas escaped when a safety valve at the reactor blew on 31 January. Reports on the extent of the contamination varied, but it reportedly posed no threat to the health of institute employees or the local population. -- Penny Morvant

Russia and the IMF have reached a broad agreement on a three-year $9 billion extended fund facility for Russia, Russian and Western agencies reported on 31 January, citing a Russian Central Bank announcement. U.S. President Bill Clinton backed the program. It is unclear, however, whether the IMF economic program, which calls for a further decline in inflation and a tough monetary policy, will be acceptable to Russia. The government recently announced that it will increase social spending and support domestic industry. The IMF Board of Governors is expected to make a final decision on the $9 billion loan in late February. -- Natalia Gurushina

In the first month of 1996, Russia's inflation rate was 4.1%, a marked increase over December's 3.2% but well below the 17.8% rate in January 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February, citing the State Statistical Committee. Prices of food products went up by 4% and non-food products by 2.7% (in December 1995, the figures were 3.4% and 3%). However, prices of services rocketed up by 8.1% (compared with 3% in December 1995). Given the recent pro-conservative cabinet reshuffle, January's inflation increase has sparked concern that the government might not be able to meet its promise to bring the monthly inflation rate for 1996 down to 1.9%. -- Natalia Gurushina

Rebel forces loyal to Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev and Ibodullo Baimatov have advanced to within 15 km of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Reuters reported on 2 February. A spokesman for Khudaberdiyev said the forces "have no intention of entering" the capital but are calling on the parliament to dismiss the government. On 1 February, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said in an address to parliament that he had no intention of dismissing the government and accused "foreign forces" of working to "wipe the republic off the map." Meanwhile, pro-government fighters have gathered in a stadium in Dushanbe and are said to be preparing for a fight with rebel forces that have occupied the southern city of Kurgan-Tyube and the western city of Tursun Zade. In related news, RFE/RL sources reported that as many as 100 Tajik government soldiers are missing as a result of fighting in the Tavil Dara region of Garm. -- Lowell Bezanis and Bruce Pannier

President Boris Yeltsin has sent his security adviser, Yurii Baturin, to Dushanbe for talks with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. Speaking at the airport, Baturin told reporters that the purpose of his visit is "to contribute to a settlement and to defuse the tension in Tajikistan," Russian media reported on 1 February. In related news, Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry and parliament sent a joint appeal to the Tajik president and people expressing concern with the situation in Tajikistan and urging the sides involved to exercise restraint and work toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict, according to an Uzbek TV report on 31 January cited by the BBC. -- Lowell Bezanis and Bruce Pannier

Drug trafficking convictions in Kazakhstan increased by 41% last year, according to an RFE/RL report of 31 January. In his annual address on the state of Kazakhstan's courts and legal system, Justice Minister Konstantin Kolpakov reported a 15% increase in serious crime, noting that 74,000 criminal and 115,500 civil cases were tried last year. He did not give the total number of crimes recorded, but emphasized that the government was cracking down on crime despite a continuing shortage of trained legal personnel and law enforcement officials. He also urged the parliament to adopt a new criminal code. -- Bhavna Dave

The trial of Loti Kobalia, head of the military forces loyal to the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and of four other Gamsakhurdia aides charged with state treason, fomenting civil war, and banditry, opened in Tbilisi on 1 February but was immediately adjourned because the lawyer representing one of the defendants was not present, Ekho Moskvy reported. Former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani, currently on trial for creating an illegal military formation with the intention of reconquering Abkhazia, has been hospitalized in Tbilisi after suffering a heart attack, AFP reported on 2 February. -- Liz Fuller

Hundreds of thousands of miners at the country's state-owned coal pits walked off the job 1 February to protest their employers' failure to pay up to a half year in back wages, Ukrainian and international agencies reported the same day. Union leaders said employees at 106 of Ukraine's 254 coal mines participated in the indefinite walkout, while miners at another 107 pits suspended deliveries to customers, including the steel industry. State metallurgy officials complained the strike could paralyze the industry, which they claim is the country's top exporter and major source of hard currency revenue. The government has blamed metallurgy enterprises for the strike, claiming their failure to pay for coal supplies has caused the financial crunch in the coal sector. Ukrainian TV reported that the Ukrainian government had allocated another nine trillion karbovantsi (around $5 million) to settle the wage arrears in addition to the two trillion karbovantsi it has already allotted. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

On 1 February the Sejm accepted the conclusions of its special commission evaluating the role of the secret services in the spy allegations against the former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy. The commission did not pass judgment on Oleksy's guilt or innocence, but concluded that the secret services did not transgress the law in collecting information on Oleksy, or in transmitting it to former President Lech Walesa. The commission also concluded that former Internal Affairs Minister Andrzej Milczanowski did not transgress the law in passing documents on the affair to the military prosecutor's office, Polish dailies reported on 2 February. -- Jakub Karpinski

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski sent the Sejm the draft screening law which allows citizens to know if they are listed as secret police collaborators, and requires the screening of candidates for high office. Kwasniewski wants to create a Commission of Public Confidence that would have access to files the secret police gathered until 1990. The bill does not provide for any sanctions for collaborators, Polish dailies reported on 2 February. An attempt to expose high officials who had collaborated with the secret police was made in June 1992, but when the internal affairs minister Antoni Macierewicz delivered a list of some 60 officials, the Sejm recalled Jan Olszewski's government responsible for those attempts. -- Jakub Karpinski

Following protests in Germany over the shipment of 235 used nuclear fuel elements to Hungary's Paks nuclear plant, Greenpeace activists are now voicing concerns in Hungary, international and Hungarian media reported on 1 February. The nuclear elements are being shipped from the Greifswald/Lubmin power station in former East Germany, which was shut down after reunification as it did not meet West German safety standards. Greenpeace and Hungarian environmentalists condemn the shipping of "nuclear trash" to Eastern Europe and warn that Hungary's Paks station does not meet Western safety standards either. The management of Paks , however, rejected the protest saying it does not regard Greenpeace as qualified to make a judgment in this matter and that "all four Paks reactors rank among the best 25 of the more than 400 nuclear units in the world". -- Zsofia Szilagy

On 1 February the South Bohemia Police police inspectorate declared that a formal complaint made on 5 January by Romani organizations to them and Czech Interior Minister Jan Ruml accusing South Bohemian police chief Zdenek Pfleger of racism was groundless, CTK reported. Romani representatives accused Pfleger of racism because he sent the only Romani officer on the force to patrol a Romani boxing match saying, "If the blacks are organizing it, let the blacks police it." The complaint demanded Pfleger's removal, stating he had been a hard-line communist and continued to enforce communist practices. The director of the inspectorate told CTK that the decision could be appealed to the head inspectorate of Czech police in Prague. -- Alaina Lemon

The parliament on 1 February approved the appointment of Milan Karabin to replace Karol Plank, whose resignation was accepted by the government on 24 January (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 January). Laws on wages and on relations between trade union organizations and employers were approved, 33 new regional and district court judges were appointed, and the government's industrial policy and goals for transforming the social sphere was discussed. The previous day, parliament passed a banking law introducing mortgage banking and defining the National Bank of Slovakia's powers in relation to commercial banks. * Sharon Fisher

Slovakia's Hungarian coalition on 1 February criticized statements made the previous day by Milan Ferko, who heads the Culture Ministry's language department, Narodna obroda reported. Ferko had claimed the mayors of certain southern Slovak communities acted illegally by passing directives allowing for the use of both Slovak and Hungarian in official contacts. The Hungarian coalition pointed out that although the new language law cancels the previous one, it fails to regulate the use of minority languages. Because the use of one's mother tongue is a constitutional right, the Hungarian coalition believes the directives are legal. Meanwhile, although fines cannot be issued until 1997, four "language consultants" began work on 1 February in three Slovak districts and in Bratislava to supervise the observance of the language law. -- Sharon Fisher

Jukka Paljarvi, the International Monetary Fund representative in Latvia, said the republic would probably be unable to limit its planned budget deficit to 59 million lati ($107 million), BNS reported on 1 February. The assumption that the GDP would grow 2.5-3% in 1996 while inflation would be reduced to below 20% is not likely to be fulfilled. A recent IMF mission recommended that the budget deficit be reduced by increasing the excise tax of motor fuel, keeping pensions and government employee salaries at present level, and improving tax collection. -- Saulius Girnius

Lithuanian deputy foreign minister Rimantas Sidlauskas and Russian ambassador Yurii Sholmov said that enough progress was made during three days of negotiations in Vilnius on 29-31 January to probably allow for the text of a draft agreement on land borders to be initialled at the next round of talks in March or April in Kaliningrad, Radio Lithuania reported on 1 February. Little progress, however, was made in delimiting the sea border and determining economic zones in the Baltic Sea. The latter will be particularly difficult due to possible oil deposits in the D-6 Baltic shelf which Russian companies have plans to exploit, although it is closer to Lithuania. -- Saulius Girnius

French peacekeepers on 1 February killed one Serbian gunman and arrested another in the Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza. The sniping had been going on for about a week, international media reported. It was the first time since deployment began that IFOR admitted to killing someone for shooting at its men. In another development, Onasa news agency reported that IFOR agreed to help refugees from Srebrenica return there because the Dayton agreement provides for freedom of movement. But IFOR also exhibited some of its now familiar waffling, with a spokesman claiming that "we can't compel the Serbs to let these people in." IFOR's mandate was designed by experts to prevent the hamstringing that plagued UNPROFOR, but IFOR's command often appears timid in interpreting that mandate. -- Patrick Moore

NATO used military aircraft in a show of force against Bosnian government troops violating the zones of separation on 30 January, international media reported the next day. This was the first time that the IFOR ground commander had requested air support since the Dayton peace accords came into effect on 20 December. Some 30 Bosnian troops entered a zone controlled by Spanish soldiers 10 kilometers south of the city of Mostar and refused to leave. After an hour, two US A-10 close support aircraft were called in. The Bosnian troops then surrendered their arms, including 300 rifles, six mortars, eight anti-tank rocket launcher and a large number of grenades. No explanation was given as to why the Bosnian forces were in possession of such a large number of weapons. -- Michael Mihalka

Sarajevo dailies over the past week have reported on a polemic between the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the opposition. The issue is the alleged politicization of the military and militarization of the SDA because of the membership of three top generals on the party's steering committee. SDA Vice President Ejup Ganic defended the political role of Generals Atif Dudakovic, Mehmed Alagic, and Sakib Mahmuljin, Onasa reported on 1 February. He said that "generals should participate in [the] further development of the country. They are not here only to fight and get killed." The International Herald Tribune on 2 February, however, notes that the generals' activities is only one issue that has Bosnia's Western allies angry with the Sarajevo government. Other sore points include the government's failure to grant a license to the first independent television station; to approve an amnesty for ordinary Bosnian Serb soldiers; and to send foreign muhajidin home. -- Patrick Moore

The war may be over, but Onasa reported on 1 February that at least two problems will continue to plague Sarajevo for some time to come: water shortages and land mines. There have been reports that Serbs are installing new mines or other booby-traps in flats owned and reclaimed by Muslims in Serb-held territories. The water problems are so serious that Sarajevans may face the next two years with water only every other day and only for a few hours. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Croatia appears to be moving to change its laws to permit speedy extradition of suspected war criminals. Croatia's allies have repeatedly warned it that it must be seen as cooperating fully with the war crimes tribunal as specified in the Dayton agreement. At issue primarily are some Herzegovinian Croats wanted for atrocities against the Muslims in 1993. -- Patrick Moore

Amid reports of corruption by past directors, an acrimonious debate in parliament, and an opposition walkout, Ivan Mudranic of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) became the new director of HRTV. He replaces Ivan Parac, who had charged his predecessor Antun Vrdoljak with corruption. Vrdloljak headed HRTV until about a year ago and was best known for saying that television "must become a cathedral of the Croatian spirit." To the opposition, Vrdoljak had been the embodiment of HDZ domination of the electronic media, from which most of the population gets its news. The opposition walked out of the Sabor when the HDZ deputies blocked a discussion of Parac's revelations and charged Parac himself with corruption, news agencies reported on 1 February. -- Patrick Moore

Nasa Borba on 2 February reported that some 114 legislators from five leading opposition parties--the Serbian Renewal Movement, the Serbian Radical Party, the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, and the Democratic Community of Hungarians in Vojvodina-- were prevented from meeting as a "shadow" government the day before because police would not allow them to gather in the parliament building. The opposition parties met for the first time as a "parallel legislature" on 26 December, following a boycott protest of the governing Socialist Party of Serbia's heavy-handed control tactics. Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic said the latest police action demonstrated Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's intolerance. "Milosevic thinks he can do whatever he wants after Dayton, including halting democratization and privatization...violating human rights...and tossing the opposition out of parliament," he said. * Stan Markotich

Onasa on 1 February reported that Chief Prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia Richard Goldstone said that Belgrade is failing to cooperate with The Hague tribunal. Belgrade's "attitude has always been to refuse to recognize the existence and legality of the court," he said. Goldstone added that while Serbia has agreed to permit an investigator to work in Belgrade, that person was not allowed to refer to themselves officially as a representative of the tribunal, and had to seek and obtain permission from the government to interview witnesses. Goldstone acknowledged that he had accepted such conditions, but stressed that the stonewalling from rump Yugoslav authorities shows no signs of abating: "the person I appointed has waited for months for a visa that has never been granted," he added. -- Stan Markotich

Gheorghe Funar, the leader of the chauvinistic Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), rejected the grounds on which Telecommunications Minister Adrian Turicu of PUNR was dismissed by Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu, Romanian media reported on 1February . Funar said Turicu had been appointed director of the Romtelecom company in accordance with current legislation (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 January), and accused the ruling party of fostering nepotism and corruption in the issue. Following negotiations with President Ion Iliescu and Vacaroiu, the PUNR was asked to present its proposals for a new minister. -- Matyas Szabo

Contrary to Radio Moldova and BASA-press reports of 31 January (see OMRI Daily Digest, 1 February), Infotag on 1 February wrote that the Dniester Supreme Soviet approved by a majority of votes a presidential decree on imposing a state of economic emergency in the region. Votes against were cast by the deputies of the radical left-wing Bloc of Patriotic Forces, and by delegates of the town of Rybnitsa. The state of emergency is mainly administrative, and includes severe restrictions on civic freedoms and political activities. Igor Smirnov, the president of the self-proclaimed Dniester Republic, told parliament that the steps were designed "to withstand a growing [hostile] propaganda campaign," including attempts to upset the region's relations with the Russian Federation. Restrictions on press reporting appear to be the root of the confusion surrounding the Supreme Soviet's debates. -- Dan Ionescu

The Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) on 1 February raised the prime interest rate from 34% to 42%, Pari reported the following day. BNB Governor Lyubomir Filipov said the decision was taken "because of pressure on the currency market and in order to maintain our foreign currency reserves." A commentary in Trud points to the fact that the move came just a week after the Socialist government "gave itself A marks" in all fields of economy, revealing that the government's evaluation are "lies." Over the past months, the lev has steadily declined against the U.S. dollar. The exchange rate for 2 February was a record low of 74.079 leva/$. -- Stefan Krause

The government on 1 February dismissed Gen. Milcho Bengarski as secretary of the interior ministry in charge of monitoring police operations, Reuters reported. Bengarski was officially sacked for failing to help curb the high crime rate, but it seems that the government needed a scapegoat for its failure to deal with the problem of organized crime. Bengarski's dismissal came only days after Doni, one of Bulgaria's most popular pop stars, launched a campaign against crime. His campaign is supported by President Zhelyu Zhelev and many opposition deputies and has so far received much public support and media coverage. -- Stefan Krause

The Democratic Party parliamentary majority adopted a new election law on 2 January, AFP reported the same day. The law was criticized by the opposition, which argued that it deprived smaller parties of any chance of winning in the upcoming elections. The legislation increased the number of directly elected legislators from 100 to 115, and decreased the number of those to be chosen by proportional representation from 40 to 25. Thus, the formal four percent barrier will de facto be increased to an estimated seven to eight percent barrier. Socialist Party deputy leader Namik Dokle also criticized the ballot counting procedures and the share of air-time allocated to the various parties in the election campaign. According to Aleanca Demokratike Deputy Perikli Teta, "The passing of this law shows the Democrats are not prepared to give up power peacefully." -- Fabian Schmidt

Albanian President
Sali Berisha arrived in Malta for a two-day visit on 1 February, Reuters reported. Berisha met with Maltese President Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, as well as opposition leader Alfred Sant. Both sides agreed to speed up cooperation in economics, tourism, education, agriculture, and other sectors. Berisha concluded, "I am very pleased with the talks. We have agreed to intensify our relations in specialized fields like tourism, fish farming and the concept of the freeport." Adami said the Maltese government would encourage Maltese investors to take up opportunities in Albania especially in construction projects, tourism and oil drilling. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled byVictor Gomez and Ustina Markus