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Newsline - May 28, 1996

President Boris Yeltsin flew to Grozny on 28 May to meet with local residents and Russian troops, AFP reported. The day before, Yeltsin initialled an agreement signed by acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow on a complete ceasefire beginning at midnight on 31 May. The two also signed an agreement on the release within two weeks of all hostages and other persons forcibly detained, Russian media reported. The ceasefire is based on the 30 July 1995 demilitarization agreement. The issue of Chechnya's future status vis-a-vis the Russian Federation was not raised, but ITAR-TASS on 27 May quoted the head of the Russian presidential commission on federation power-sharing, Sergei Shakhrai, as saying that a document has been prepared that gives Chechnya "a series of special powers within the context of the Russian Federation." The Chechen delegation is to continue talks in Moscow with members of the Russian government commission on Chechnya. -- Liz Fuller

Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov took his campaign to the southern region of Rostov Oblast, Russian media reported on 27 May. In Rostov-na-Donu, he issued a statement promising to implement programs to benefit Cossacks if elected president, ITAR-TASS reported. He also told a group of about 8,000 in the mining village of Novoshakhtinsk that he would increase state support for miners and guarantee all citizens the right to work, rest, and housing. This is Zyuganov's penultimate campaign trip before the first round of the presidential election. In early June, he will visit several regions in Siberia. -- Laura Belin

Zyuganov's party is traditionally strong in the south, and the KPRF received about 27% of the vote in Rostov Oblast in the December 1995 parliamentary election. However, the bulk of Russian television coverage of Zyuganov's 27 May trip was devoted to anti-Communist protesters. Russian Public TV (ORT) did not report Zyuganov's promises to Cossacks but mentioned Cossacks who picketed the KPRF leader. Russian TV (RTR) reported that pickets greeted Zyuganov at every event of the day and blocked the entry road to Novocherkassk. NTV, Russia's most influential private network, also led with the pickets, quoting one who recalled a massacre at a workers' demonstration in 1962, at which at least eight people were killed. NTV closed its report by mentioning that unlike Yeltsin, Zyuganov is a poor improviser on the campaign trail, and "in the coming days he will hardly be able to tell voters anything new." Hecklers at Yeltsin rallies are rarely, if ever, shown on national television. -- Laura Belin

Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov and Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov signed an appeal calling on residents of their region to back President Yeltsin in June as a guarantor of stability, RTR and Radio Rossii reported on 27 May. Russia needs a president who stands above political parties, and all votes cast for representatives of a "third force" will work to Gennadii Zyuganov's advantage, the document asserted. The appeal is mainly aimed at pro-reform voters, traditionally strong in the region's capital, who might be inclined to support Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii in the first round of the presidential election. Yavlinskii helped draft the economic reform program Nemtsov implemented in Nizhnii Novgorod in 1992. In the December 1995 Duma elections, the Communist Party finished first in the region with about 18% of the vote, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia came in second with 12%, and Yabloko and the pro-government Our Home Is Russia each received about 10%. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin on 27 May signed a bill raising the minimum pension by 10% to 69,575 rubles ($14) a month as of 1 May, Ekho Moskvy reported. The bill was passed by the Duma on 17 April and the Federation Council on 15 May. Deputies had earlier sought to increase pensions by 20% but agreed to the smaller increase after Yeltsin signed a decree doubling compensation payments for those on the minimum pension. -- Penny Morvant

At a Kremlin ceremony on 27 May, President Yeltsin signed two power-sharing agreements: one with Irkutsk Oblast and the Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Okrug (AO), and a another with the Republic of Chuvashiya, Russian media reported. Yeltsin hailed the trilateral agreement with Irkutsk Oblast and the Ust-Orda Buryat AO as unique among the 14 similar agreements that the federal government has signed with other constituent members of the Russian Federation. It outlines the division of powers and responsibilities between Moscow, Irkutsk, and the Ust-Orda Buryat AO, located within Irkutsk Oblast. Posturing as the builder of a new, stronger Russian state, Yeltsin argued that the power sharing agreements had already proven themselves as the basis of a new federalism in Russia, which he said was based on the principle of giving the regions "the kind of independence which they can handle...within the framework of the constitution." -- Scott Parrish

A delegation led by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev met with Yang Hyong-sop, chairman of the North Korean Supreme People's Assembly, and other leading North Korean officials on 27 May, Russian media reported. Seleznev will not, however, be received by reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The Duma speaker expressed satisfaction with improving bilateral ties but added that further development of cooperation requires not only good will, but progress on issues like North Korea's debt to Russia. Tightly controlling media coverage, North Korea refused entry visas to journalists from ITAR-TASS, Interfax, and RIA-Novosti who asked to accompany Seleznev, although it granted one to a correspondent from the pro-communist newspaper Pravda. In February, Pyongyang slammed ITAR-TASS for its coverage of a hostage-taking incident at the Russian embassy (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 February 1996). -- Scott Parrish

Richard Oppfelt, the U.S. businessman whom the Federal Security Service (FSB) accused of espionage and claimed to have expelled from Kamchatka on 10 May (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 and 14 May 1996) has denied the FSB allegations, AFP reported on 27 May. Oppfelt said that while in Kamchatka, he and a Russian naval officer discussed the possible conversion of a decommissioned naval base into a commercial fishing plant. The FSB, he added, later used a tape of these business discussions to attempt to browbeat him into confessing to espionage. Oppfelt was later released after refusing to confess. A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it has "no reason" to believe Oppfelt was spying, and has requested a clarification of the incident from the Russian government. -- Scott Parrish

The Russian Army has been undergoing a critical re-evaluation of its hardware in light of its experiences in Chechnya, according to Ogonek no. 21. At a recent meeting in Khankal, the head of the Defense Ministry's armor section, Col. Gen. Aleksandr Galkin, said that 225 of the 2,221 armored vehicles sent into action were destroyed in the first 45 days of the war, including 62 tanks. This does not include vehicles that were damaged and subsequently repaired. In response to these high losses, a conference in February 1995 ordered emergency measures, including the fitting of reactive armor to the sides of tanks. The article concluded: "On the one hand, industry is supplying the army with bad technology, on the other, the army does not know how to use it." -- Peter Rutland

Teachers at a majority of schools in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatiya, went on strike on 27 May, ITAR-TASS reported. They are seeking the payment of back wages and assurances that their holiday pay will be disbursed on time and are threatening to cancel graduation exams if their demands are not met. The republican authorities are waiting for 248 billion rubles ($49.6 million) in federal subsidies to cover the holiday pay. A local union representative said that teachers refrained from disrupting exams last year after they were assured payment would soon be forthcoming; however, they did not receive all their holiday money until the start of the new school year. Teachers throughout Russia have repeatedly protested against wage arrears and low federal funding of education. -- Penny Morvant

The Constitutional Court began on 27 May to review the legality of one of the articles of President Yeltsin's controversial June 1994 decree on organized crime, ITAR-TASS reported. Through his lawyer, the plaintiff, Valerii Shchelukhin, argues that the provisions on "collecting evidence against those suspected of belonging to a criminal group without the institution of criminal proceedings" and permitting suspects to be held for up to 30 hours without charges are unconstitutional and violate human rights. Shchelukhin, who is currently being held in a pre-trial detention center, is also contesting the constitutionality of the clause in the Criminal Procedures Code that excludes the time the accused spends studying the case against him from calculations of the period of detention. This, he argues, allows preliminary detention to be extended at the whim of investigators, Ekspress-khronikha reported. -- Penny Morvant

Participants in the All-Russian Conference on the Struggle against Ecological Crimes, held in Moscow on 27 May, noted a sharp increase in the number of crimes against the environment and were critical of the measures taken against offenders. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zaveryukha said 5,800 cases related to the environment were examined in 1995, up 57% on 1994, ITAR-TASS reported. However, according to Deputy Supreme Court Chairman Anatolii Merkushov, only three of the 20 articles in the Criminal Code covering crimes against the environment are used in practice--those on illegal hunting, fishing, and tree-felling; over the past five years, no more than 10 people have been convicted of more serious crimes, such as air and water pollution and illegal use of radioactive materials. -- Penny Morvant

Oksana Dmitrieva, the head of the Duma budget subcommittee, detailed some of the ways in which the government is getting around IMF restrictions on the budget deficit in Finansovye izvestiya on 28 May. She claimed that a $2 billion German loan had been shifted from March to April in order to "lower" the first quarter deficit from 28 trillion rubles ($5.6 billion, or 5.5% of GDP) to 17 trillion. Second, under a new "clearing" procedure, instead of paying taxes firms are allowed to ship goods to other companies who are owed money by the government. The IMF limited such "taxes in kind" to 9 trillion rubles for 1996, but 16 trillion rubles have already been allowed, the government claiming that these "taxes" fall under the 1995 budget. Third, the Finance Ministry is evading IMF limits on direct borrowing from commercial banks by issuing government guarantees to firms, allowing them instead to borrow from banks to pay taxes. -- Peter Rutland

The CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (MPA) met in Bishkek on 28 May to discuss the ongoing crisis in Tajikistan and ways to assist Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, Russian Federation Council and MPA Chairman Yegor Stroev said that the representatives from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus will form a separate MPA based on their 29 March Quadripartite Agreement. RTR reported that Stroev also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov to discuss bilateral relations. Meanwhile, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, on an official visit to Baku, told RFE/RL on 27 May that any efforts to create "new alliances" run counter to the goals of the CIS. -- Roger Kangas

A high-profile project to restore the tomb of the 12th-century Sufi mystic, Ahmet Yassawiy, in Turkistan, Kazakhstan, has gone awry, the Turkish paper Cumhuriyet reported on 27 May. A March 1995 report prepared by the inspectorate of the Prime Minister's Office uncovered a host of legal irregularities in connection with the project, but the problems were subsequently ignored for about one year. Some $2 million allocated by Turkey for the project are thought to have been misapproriated. The restoration, organized by the Turkey Foundations General Directorate, was only 20% complete six months after it was supposed to be entirely finished in September 1994. -- Lowell Bezanis

A U.S. delegation headed by Malcolm Toon landed in Dushanbe on 27 May, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported the same day. Toon has been making trips to former Soviet republics in order to gather information on U.S. servicemen who have been registered as missing in action since World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Some of them are believed to have been taken to the USSR and forced to live in Soviet republics. In return, the U.S. has been giving the former Soviet republics information on Soviet servicemen reported missing in the Afghan War. -- Bruce Pannier

Leonid Kuchma signed a decree on 27 May ousting Ukrainian Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk and replacing him with First Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, Ukrainian and Western media reported. Kuchma said at a government meeting that Marchuk failed to resolve Kyiv's wage debt crisis and pursue economic reforms because he was more concerned with his political image and popularity. Since his appointment as premier in July 1995, Marchuk had complained that he lacked sufficient powers to govern. Lazarenko is a former governor of Kuchma's native Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and although he is not seen as a radical reformer, he is considered a loyal political ally of the presidential administration. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

The abrupt dismissal of Yevhen Marchuk prompted varied reaction from across Ukraine's political spectrum, Ukrainian agencies reported. Regional governors, many centrists, and right-wing forces supported the move as necessary because Marchuk had strayed too far from the president's policies. Leftists said President Kuchma is more concerned with clan interests than with the good of the country. Observers speculated that Marchuk's growing opposition to a national referendum on the new draft Ukrainian constitution, which Kuchma promotes, prompted the measure. Many believe Marchuk may replace Oleksander Moroz as speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament and lead a full-fledged opposition against the president. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Leading members of the Belarusian Popular Front, Yuriy Khadyka and Vyacheslau Siuchyk, were interviewed on Belarusian TV on 26 May. Both had gone on a hunger strike after being arrested for organizing the 26 April demonstrations in Minsk. They were released from jail but had to be hospitalized after refusing to eat for a number of days. Forbidden to travel before their pending trial, Siuchyk and Khadyka said they regarded themselves as political prisoners. S. Novikau, head of the investigative group looking into the charges against the two men, said the charges include organizing group activities, disrupting public order, and impeding public transport during the demonstrations. Khadyka and Siuchyk's lawyer, N. Dudarava, defended the men saying they did not organize those activities and were denied the right to see an attorney from the moment of their arrest. The interviewer compared the 26 April demonstration to the Russian White House siege in 1993 and noted that no one interfered with the judicial process after that event. -- Ustina Markus

Former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said Russian Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin told him in a private conversation in Moscow that Russia will cease imposing double import tariffs on Estonian goods, BNS reported on 27 May. Laar noted that at a meeting that the Council of Europe sponsored on East European economic reforms the previous week in Poland, the Estonian delegation refuted Yasin's statement that Russia imposed duties on different kinds of goods and not on different nations. Laar pointed out that the probable change in Russian tariff policy could be due to its desire to join the World Trade Organization whose principles forbid the implementation of tariffs for political reasons. -- Saulius Girnius

The Statistics Department announced that the number of crimes in Lithuania in the first four months of 1996 was 20,700 or 1.6% more than in same period in 1995, Radio Lithuania reported on 27 May. The number of violent crimes grew by 118% and of drug-related crimes by 54%. There were 1,190 robberies, a 41% increase, and 2,585 burglaries, a 29% rise. Car thefts, however, declined by 23% and other thefts by 9%. The number of crimes solved by police increased from 38% in the first two months of 1996 to 42% in the first third of this year. -- Saulius Girnius

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski met on 27 May for an hour-long conversation with the Polish Primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Polish dailies reported the next day. Kwasniewski said the state and the church should seek a compromise concerning the constitution, which is still being drafted by the Sejm. He also expects parliament to make a decision soon on the concordat that has awaited ratification since July 1993. The public disclosure of a confidential letter on ratification of the concordat sent by the Vatican to the Polish government had aggravated church-state relations (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 May 1996). -- Jakub Karpinski

Col. Andrzej Kapkowski, the new chief of the State Protection Office (UOP), fired on 27 May four high ranking UOP officers: Gen. Marian Zacharski, adviser to the UOP chief, the chief of the Intelligence Directorate Gen. Bogdan Libera, the chief of the Investigation Directorate Gen. Wiktor Fonfara, and his deputy Col. Wojciech Dylewski. All four were involved in the activities leading to spying allegations against former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy. The internal UOP commission investigating UOP activities related to the Oleksy case found many infringements, Polish dailies reported on 28 May. Former President Lech Walesa promoted Zacharski, Libera, and Fonfara to the rank of general in December of last year. Zacharski was an active spy in the 70s in the U.S. where he was sentenced to life imprisonment and later released in an East-West spy swap. -- Jakub Karpinski

Hungarian Civic Party chairman Laszlo Nagy said Vladimir Meciar's call for creating "clean Hungarian constituencies" was a "propagandistic move," Narodna obroda reported on 28 May. Meciar made the statement during the recent visit of OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel. However, critics have argued that "ethnically clean" territory does not exist in Slovakia. Nagy said ethnic Hungarian Coexistence chairman Miklos Duray did not consult his coalition partners before declaring on 25 May that cooperation between opposition and Hungarian coalition parties should be strengthened to form a union. Nagy added that discussion of the matter should be delayed until the new electoral law is approved. Meanwhile, Coexistence deputy chairman Arpad Duka-Zolyomi told Sme on 28 May that his party is proposing a union of Hungarian parties, not of the opposition as a whole. -- Sharon Fisher

Minority ombudsman Jeno Kaltenbach last week ordered an investigation into government wiretapping following complaints from minority councils in southern Hungary, Hungarian media reported. Kaltenbach said a nationwide investigation was necessary as Greek, Serbian, and German national minority organizations had voiced concern about the secret service's surveillance of their activities. Secret Service Minister Istvan Nikolits first denied any unlawful wiretapping but later admitted that surveillance may have been conducted in an aim to protect the minority organizations from the impact of the Yugoslav crisis near the southern borders. Nikolits is currently preparing a report to present to the parliament. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The Democratic Party (PD), in a mixed system ballot, won the majority in all 115 election districts, and its candidates took 101 of the single-member constituencies. The PD is likely to take the remaining 14 seats during the second round of voting on 2 June, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 28 May. The remaining 25 seats will be divided by proportional representation. Meanwhile, the Democrats held a victory rally in Tirana on 27 May attended by some 10,000 supporters. The opposition Socialists, Social Democrats, and Democratic Alliance, who demand new elections, have called for a rally on 28 May and said they will not participate in a future parliament. Should the parliament meet despite an opposition boycott, the PD would have the power to change the constitution with its two-thirds majority. -- Fabian Schmidt in Tirana

International monitors told OMRI that they observed many irregularities in the elections. The monitors, who asked not to be named, said that in only three voting districts out of at least 15 that they observed were irregularities not decisive in the ballot's outcome. In Kukes, for example, the only polling station there to gain an opposition majority was the one which was internationally monitored. Similar observations were made elsewhere. -- Fabian Schmidt in Tirana

The EU and OSCE monitoring mission, which went all over Albania, has been told to end its work. The monitors postponed a declaration about the outcome and correctness of the elections until 28 May. They met with Socialist Party leader Namik Dokle and Democratic Alliance leader Neritan Ceka, who charged the government with massively manipulating the ballot. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, however, held a press conference on 27 May in which it indicated that the elections were free and fair, citing that it monitored "several polling stations in Tirana." -- Fabian Schmidt in Tirana

The trial began in Rijeka on 27 May of five Muslims arrested in April on charges of "international terrorism." A Croat is also in the dock for complicity. The six are accused of plotting to assassinate former Bihac pocket kingpin Fikret Abdic who has been living quietly in Croatia since his empire crumbled following an offensive by Croatian and Bosnian government troops late last summer. The Bosnian authorities allegedly promised the six individuals $66,000 to eliminate the maverick leader. The Sarajevo government denies any knowledge of the five men and one woman and claims that Abdic and the Croats staged the whole affair as a publicity stunt for his planned comeback. The Croatian police claim to have found evidence, however, clearly linking the Muslims to Bosnian intelligence officials in Bihac. Abdic has charged that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic is afraid of him as a proven vote-getter, Croatian media reported. -- Patrick Moore

The Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina Assembly on 27 May accepted a report on the Dayton peace accords implementation by Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic, Oslobodjenje reported next day. The government concluded that establishing freedom of movement and the return of refugees are its current priorities. When deputies asked whether a law on customs relief for refugees returning from abroad is still in effect, Muratovic replied it is but the law is not applied consistently because the Bosnian side has no border control, Onasa reported. He said there are problems on all federation borders, but the southern border, where the majority of goods entering the federation cross, poses the most difficulties. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Several ministers in the Serbian government are expected to be shuffled out of their cabinet positions, Nasa Borba reported on 28 May, crediting "circles close to the government" for leaking the story. Ratomir Vico, Minister of Information, is one of the ministers expected to leave his post but is slated to remain in the government without a portfolio. His touted successor is Aleksandar Tijanic, director of BK Telekom and confidante of Mirjana Markovic, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's wife and head of her own United Yugoslav Left (JUL) party. It is speculated that Tijanic's likely promotion into cabinet ranks is a de facto means of advancing the political profile and role of Markovic and her party. -- Stan Markotich

Serbian Premier Mirko Marjanovic held a press conference on 27 May, to which the independent news agency Beta was not invited. A Beta journalist attempting to attend the meeting was reportedly barred and told that the press conference was organized for the foreign press corps only. Beta, however, has reported that this official explanation was a ruse and yet another stark demonstration of the regime's animosity toward the independent media. A number of government and pro-government media outlets, including the daily Politika, were on the "guest list." -- Stan Markotich

Traian Chebeleu on 27 May said extremists in Hungary, the Hungarian diaspora, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania put pressure on Budapest to include the controversial Council of Europe Recommendation 1201 in the Romanian-Hungarian basic treaty, Romanian media reported. He rejected the claim that Romania had accepted the recommendation providing for collective rights for ethnic minorities at the time of its admission into the council. Chebeleu claims Bucharest only committed itself to take into consideration that document's stipulations while drafting the recently passed education law. The recommendation's inclusion in the Hungarian-Slovak treaty does not solve existing problems but rather creates new tensions in bilateral relations, Chebeleu added. He further proposed the recently signed Romanian-Yugoslav treaty as a model for Bucharest and Budapest. -- Matyas Szabo

Parents of pupils attending a Romanian-language school in Slobozia, a town in Moldova's breakaway Dniester region, accused the authorities of practicing "cultural genocide" on their children, Moldpres reported on 27 May. In an open letter addressed to Moldovan President Mircea Snegur, the head of the OSCE mission in Moldova, and the ambassadors of the U.S., Ukraine, and the Russian Federation in Chisinau, more than 500 parents protested the compulsory use of the Russian--rather than the Latin--alphabet in the region's Romanian-language schools. The letter also complained that textbooks are decades old, written in the spirit of the bygone Soviet era, and each book is shared by five to 10 pupils. According to the appeal, some 35,000 pupils throughout the region are thus condemned to receive a poor, outmoded education. -- Dan Ionescu

The Bulgarian government and an IMF mission on 27 May "in principle" agreed on a new standby loan, Reuters reported. Finance Minister Dimitar Kostov said Bulgaria should gain around $400 million over the next 20 months from the agreement. IMF mission head Anne McGuirk said under the agreement a "tough reform program" lies ahead of Bulgaria. Prime Minister Zhan Videnov said he will present his IMF-backed reform package to the parliament and the trade unions on 28 May and appealed to them to back it and not delay its implementation. The agreement has to be approved by the IMF board. Meanwhile, Bulgarian citizens will have a last chance to buy privatization vouchers between 1 and 9 June. Sales initially were closed on 8 May with just 40% of those eligible participating. -- Stefan Krause

Zhelyu Zhelev on 27 May called for an overhaul of the current parliamentary system, saying only a stronger presidency can get the country out of its present crisis, Reuters reported. Zhelev said Bulgaria "needs a stronger presidential republic" in this transitional stage and that he will push for changes "within the existing constitution." On state radio, Zhelev said the Socialists' fall from power is inevitable because they "proved unable to lead the country out of the crisis." Meanwhile, former Tsar Simeon said his present visit to Bulgaria will help him assess how he can contribute to the country's transition to democracy but pointed to the "limitations of what anybody can achieve with just...goodwill." He stressed that he is still king and repeated that he does not recognize the 1946 referendum abolishing the monarchy. -- Stefan Krause

The foreign ministers of Turkey, Bosnia, and Croatia held talks in Ankara, Western and Turkish media reported on 27 May. The meeting was part of Turkish efforts to shore up the Muslim-Croat federation, which is one of the cornerstones of the Dayton system. The talks aimed to demonstrate the commitment of all sides to the federation, Bosnia's post-war reconstruction, and the holding of general elections there in mid-September. Discussion also focused on the training of both Bosnian and Croatian soldiers in Turkey. An agreement for a ferry service between the Turkish port Mersin and the Croatian port Ploce was reached. It was announced that the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency will open an office in Zagreb after doing so in Sarajevo, Yeni Yuzyil reported on 28 May. Such tripartite consultations have become regular affairs. -- Lowell Bezanis

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Deborah Michaels