CHIRAC VIEWS RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD AS "PERSONAL VICTORY" FOR YELTSIN.
French President Jacques Chirac says the Russia-NATO Founding Act is a "great victory for Russia and a personal victory for [Russian President] Boris Yeltsin," Reuters and AFP reported yesterday. Speaking to journalists after meeting with Yeltsin during a brief stopover in Moscow, Chirac said Yeltsin displayed vision in affirming Russia's interests while recognizing "the need to ensure peace through this historic accord." Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 17 May again denounced the Russia-NATO deal as an "act of capitulation."
IMF APPROVES RUSSIA'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM, RELEASES LOAN TRANCHE.
The IMF's board on 16 May approved Russia's 1997 economic targets and agreed to resume disbursements of a three-year loan worth $10.1 billion, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. Disbursements of about $697 million each will be issued quarterly. Before each disbursement, an IMF team will review whether Russia is adhering to its economic targets. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has said that the IMF credits will allow the government to keep its promise to pay all pension arrears and some wage arrears by the end of June.
RUSSIAN, JAPANESE DEFENSE MINISTERS SIGN PROTOCOL.
Defense Minster Igor Rodionov and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kyuma, met in Tokyo on 17 May and signed a protocol on the creation of a bilateral working group of defense officials. Rodionov expressed Russia's desire for Japan's participation in a new Pacific security organization, adding that Russia would be interested in holding naval exercises with Japan and the U.S. He added that U.S.-Japanese security was "necessary" for the stability of the region. Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, a member of the Russian delegation, assured the Japanese that aid from Russia to North Korea did not represent a threat as it was only "minor deliveries" of spare parts. He denied Russia had sent any MiG-29s to North Korea. This was the first visit by a Russian defense minister to Japan at least since the beginning of this century.
JAPAN DROPS OBJECTIONS TO RUSSIAN ENTRY INTO G-7.
Also during Rodionov's visit, Japan announced it is withdrawing its objection to Russia joining the G-7 at the group's summit next month in Denver, Colorado, according to Reuters and AFP. Japan was the sole G-7 country opposed to Russian membership. Its objections were related to the former Soviet Union's annexation at the end of World War II, and Russia's continued possession, of the four southern Kuril Islands. But while Japan is no longer objecting to Russian membership in the G-7, a Japanese official said it would be pointless to include Russia in talks on international finance or aid to developing countries because Russia's "market economy is still insufficient." Russia, and earlier the Soviet Union, has been sending observers to G-7 summits since 1991.
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL IN MOSCOW.
Kofi Annan held talks in Moscow on 17 May with Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin backed Annan's plans for reforming the UN, noting that Russia will intensify its cooperation with the organization and pay its dues on time, Russian agencies reported. Annan told journalists that the UN is interested in increasing its role in mediating the conflicts in Tajikistan and Abkhazia in conjunction with Russia. The UN has observer missions in both regions.
PRODUCTION-SHARING LIST PASSED IN FIRST READING.
By a vote of 229 to 95, the State Duma has passed in the first reading a draft law that lists natural deposits to be offered for development on a production-sharing basis, Russian news agencies reported on 16 May. The bill lists five oil and gas fields, one gold deposit, and one iron ore deposit in which foreign companies would be allowed to invest in exchange for a portion of the resources extracted. The law on production-sharing, passed in 1995, cannot be applied until a list of authorized sites is approved. The failure of several previous attempts to pass such a list has deterred foreign investment. Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia denounced the bill as a "theft of the country's natural resources." But Nikolai Ryzhkov, head of the left-leaning Popular Power faction, argued that without foreign investment, the deposits in question would have to be shut down.
YABLOKO SEEKS NO CONFIDENCE VOTE IN GOVERNMENT.
Arguing that the government, not the budget, should be "sequestered," Grigorii Yavlinskii has said his Yabloko faction is collecting signatures to call a vote of no confidence, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 16 May. Yabloko will also demand that the implementation of the 1997 budget be halted and that the Duma reject the government's proposed budget cuts. Yavlinskii slammed the government for seeking 108 trillion rubles ($19 billion) in budget cuts while not making any concrete proposals to increase revenues. A no-confidence vote is unlikely to pass, since the Duma risks dissolution by Yeltsin if it votes no confidence in the government twice within three months. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced on 16 May that the government has not made a final decision on the size of the budget cuts and is willing to negotiate with the Duma, Russian news agencies reported.
REACTION TO ANTI-CORRUPTION DECREE.
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has praised Yeltsin's latest anti-corruption decree (see RFE/RL Newsline, 16 May 1997) but cautioned that the provision requesting family members of officials to release income and property declarations is a violation of human rights, Interfax reported on 17 May. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko said the decree would "improve the moral climate" in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev also welcomed the decree but said it was issued three years too late. Seleznev added that the effects of the decree would depend on how it is enforced. If the anti-corruption campaign is restricted to officials like former presidential adviser Sergei Stankevich, he argued, the decree would become a "laughing-stock throughout Russia."
STANKEVICH RELEASED FROM POLISH PRISON.
Sergei Stankevich was released from prison by the Polish prosecutor's office on 16 May, RFE/RL's correspondent in Warsaw reported the next day. The Russian authorities accuse Stankevich of taking a $10,000 bribe in 1992 and are continuing to seek his extradition. Stankevich will have to report to the Polish police twice a week. Polish commentators view his release as politically motivated. The daily Rzeczpospolita on 17 May cited an unnamed Polish prosecutor as saying his office had been under "pressure from above" to release Stankevich.
DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER CHARGED.
Army Gen. Konstantin Kobets has been charged with taking bribes, abusing his office, and illegal possession of firearms, Interfax reported on 16 May, citing aides in the Military Procurator's Office. The main charge involves alleged bribes from firms that were awarded contracts to build military housing. Kobets, currently hospitalized with a heart ailment, has denied the charges. He became famous when he defended the White House during the attempted August 1991 coup. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin leveled the corruption allegations against Kobets last July. At the time, Kobets was considered a leading contender to replace Pavel Grachev as defense minister.
THREE CHARGED IN MOSCOW CEMETERY BOMBING.
Valerii Radchikov, the first head of the Foundation of Afghan War Invalids, has been charged with orchestrating the November 1996 bombing in Moscow's Kotlyakovskoe Cemetery, Russian news agencies reported on 16 May. Two unnamed Afghan war veterans who allegedly carried out the bombing have also been charged. The explosion during a memorial service for another former head of the Afghan War Invalids foundation killed 14 people and injured nearly 50. Radchikov and five others were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the bombing last month.
CHECHNYA CELEBRATES PEACE ACCORD.
Thousands of Chechens congregated in Starye Atagi, near Grozny, yesterday to celebrate the peace accord signed on 12 May in Moscow by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Addressing the rally, Maskhadov insisted on compliance with his April decree on disbanding informal military units but said the units' members are free to join the national guard, the presidential guard, or the republic's police force. Maskhadov also affirmed his determination to crack down on crime and secure the release of seven journalists abducted over the past three months. A congress of the so-called Gen. Dudaev Army and Dzhokhar's Way movement scheduled for yesterday was postponed because maverick field commander Salman Raduev, who heads the movement, is still recovering from a recent assassination attempt, Radio Mayak reported.
INDEPENDENT WINS DUMA BY-ELECTION IN MAGADAN.
Prominent local lawyer Vladimir Butkeev was elected to the State Duma from Magadan Oblast yesterday, ITAR-TASS reports today. Butkeev, who was running as an independent, won a plurality of some 13.5% of the vote in a crowded field of 14 candidates. He replaces Valentin Tsvetkov, who was elected governor of Magadan last November.
MINERS PROTEST IN VLADIVOSTOK.
More than 1,000 coal miners protested outside the Primorskii Krai administration building on 16 May, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Although local media have reported that 51 trillion rubles ($8.8 billion) will be transferred to the krai to pay the miners, that money has not yet arrived. Even if it is paid soon, it is expected to cover only back wages through January. Miners are demanding payment of wage arrears at least through March before they resume coal shipments to power stations. Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko met with miners' representatives for three hours and agreed with their demand that a federal government commission be sent to Primore to examine the energy crisis.
YELTSIN SIGNS LAND OWNERSHIP DECREE.
Yeltsin has signed a decree making it easier for property owners to buy the land on which their buildings stand, Russian news agencies reported on 16 May. Until now, most owners of privatized enterprises have been unable to buy such land. The decree covers only urban real estate, not agricultural land. The parliament has not yet passed a land code that would set the regulations for overall land reform. A version of a land code approved by the Duma in May 1996 was rejected by the Federation Council the following month.
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT INVITES POPE TO VISIT.
At a meeting in the Vatican on 16 May, Eduard Shevardnadze invited Pope John Paul II to visit Georgia, AFP reported. Shevardnadze also held talks in Rome with Italian leaders and with officials of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which will implement a special program to increase agricultural production and crop yields in Georgia, according to ITAR-TASS. A declaration on political and economic cooperation and several bilateral agreements were signed, including one on military cooperation, Interfax reported.
AZERBAIJAN BELATEDLY RATIFIES CFE FLANK AGREEMENT.
The Azerbaijani parliament ratified the 1996 CFE flank agreement on 16 May, 24 hours after the official deadline for doing so expired, ITAR-TASS reported. A senior official in Baku told Interfax yesterday that the provision stating that signatory states may cede part of their armament quotas to Russia or permit the stationing of Russian troops on their territory does not apply to Baku. Azerbaijan was the last signatory state to ratify the accord. The Moldovan parliament approved it on 15 May, according to BASApress.
KAZAK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES RUSSIAN OFFICIALS.
Nurusultan Nazarbayev told a journalists' conference in Almaty at the weekend that Kazakstan "has no debts to Russia," according to Interfax and AFP. Nazarbayev was responding to Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Aman Tuleev's statement that Kazakstan owes Russia 134 kilograms of gold and 6.5 tons of silver. The Kazak president claimed Russia owes Kazakstan $480 million in rent for the Baikonur space center. He also noted that Russia is doing little to promote "equality and respect for the sovereignty of other CIS countries." And he criticized Russia's military presence in other CIS countries, notably Armenia and Tajikistan, which, he said, reflected a "pro-communist mentality" in the Russian bureaucracy.
NEW TAJIK AGREEMENTS.
President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed several agreements in Bishkek on 16-17 May. The two leaders agreed to a general amnesty, continued prisoner exchanges, and a plan to hand over 25% of the seats in the Central Election Committee to the UTO. They also agreed to allow 500 UTO members into Dushanbe to protect their representatives on the committee. The issue of legalizing the UTO has still not been fully resolved, and disarming UTO armed formations remains an issue. The government says this step must be completed before a reconciliation council can begin planning new parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place no later than summer 1998. The UTO argues that the four or five months needed by the government for this process would hinder its chances in those elections.
NEW PRESIDENT FOR MONGOLIA.
Natsagiyn Bagabandi of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party won yesterday's presidential elections. He took just over 60% of the vote to beat incumbent Punsalmagin Ochirbat, who received about 30%. Bagabandi has promised to slow the pace of reform in Mongolia, claiming the "shock therapy" reforms introduced by Ochirbat and his Democratic Coalition have lead to widespread unemployment and poverty in Mongolia. However, the Democratic Coalition still has a majority in Mongolia's parliament.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN U.S.
U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaking before his meeting with Leonid Kuchma in the White House on 17 May, reiterated his belief that a successful, democratic Europe requires a successful, democratic, and progressive Ukraine, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. Earlier, Kuchma and U.S. Vice President Al Gore co-chaired the first session of the U.S.-Ukraine Bi-national Commission. The two leaders told a press conference afterward that Ukraine and the U.S. have agreed to begin negotiating an agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation. Kuchma also told reporters he hopes Ukraine's charter agreement with NATO will be ready for initialing by 30 May. Meanwhile, the U.S. space agency NASA announced on 17 May that a Ukrainian cosmonaut, Col. Leonid Kadenyuk, is scheduled to be aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it lifts off in November.
TATARS DEMONSTRATE IN CRIMEAN CAPITAL.
Some 10,000 ethnic Tatars demonstrated yesterday in Simferopol to mark the 53rd anniversary of the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars, dpa reported. The demonstrators gathered in Lenin Square to demand assistance for the 250,000 Crimean Tatars who have returned to Crimea in the past five years. The Tatars were deported to Soviet Central Asia in 1944 under communist leader Joseph Stalin for alleged cooperation with the German occupation forces during World War II. The demonstrators said some 100,000 returnees still have no flats, and tens of thousands of them are unable to find jobs.
BELARUS SECURITY COUNCIL CHIEF MEETS WITH LEBED.
Belarusian Security Council Secretary Viktor Sheiman met with former Russian national security chief Aleksandr Lebed on 17 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Lebed was quoted as saying that the proposed Russian-Belarus union is "necessary" and "just" because it meets the interests of both countries. The previous day, a spokesperson for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the president opposes Belarus joining the Russian Federation. Moscow has reportedly proposed Belarus become part of the Russian Federation in recent talks, while Russian President Boris Yeltsin recently suggested that the two countries' planned union may result in their merger.
ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER ON PROTECTIVE TARIFFS.
Mart Siimann told Postimees in its 17 May issue that his minority government will resign if the parliament rejects the government's draft law on protective tariffs, ETA reported. The introduction of such tariffs is a prerequisite for accession to the World Trade Organization. It is also stipulated in the coalition agreement between the Coalition Party and the Rural Union. Opposition deputies say they will oppose the draft law because they fear it will harm Estonia's reputation abroad as a tariff-free economy and reduce Estonian products' competitiveness on markets abroad. They also point out that while the bill is intended to protect local farmers, it provides for tariffs on 1,700 categories of commodities, some of which are not produced in Estonia. The parliament is due to continue with its first reading of the bill today.
LATVIA ATTRACTS MORE PER CAPITA FOREIGN INVESTMENT THAN ESTONIA, LITHUANIA.
According to a recent EBRD report on the economic situation in the Baltic States, Latvia was ahead of Estonia and Lithuania in terms of per capita direct foreign investments last year, BNS reported yesterday. The report states that in 1996, such investments reached $68 in Latvia, $45 in Estonia, and $21 in Lithuania. Latvia lags behind Hungary ($184), the Czech Republic ($117), and Slovenia ($80). EBRD experts also predict that Latvia will have the lowest inflation rate among the Baltic States in 1997. They forecast that inflation in Latvia will not exceed 10% this year and that in Estonia and Lithuania, it could reach 12% and 13%, respectively.
LITHUANIAN OFFICIAL CRITICIZES RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD.
Parliamentary Deputy Chairman Romualdas Ozolas says the Russian-NATO Founding Act will reduce the possibilities of ensuring the security of Baltic countries, BNS reported on 16 May. Ozolas issued a statement arguing that Russia's domination of NATO has been pre-programmed into the working procedures for a proposed NATO-Russian Council. He added that the founding act, due to be signed in Paris on 27 May, will "complicate NATO's efficacy and diminish the West's support possibilities for those countries seeking NATO membership "
POLISH PRIME MINISTER PRAISES DRAFT CONSTITUTION.
Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told nationwide TV on 17 May that Poland's new constitution is "people friendly" and does not impose a worldview or way of life on anyone. He said it guarantees basic rights and liberties and contains certain new rights. Cimoszewicz also commented he was irritated by "nonsensical arguments" against the constitution. Some Polish opposition parties, including the Solidarity trade union, are opposed to the draft constitution. Pro-Catholic right-wing forces have criticized the draft for not giving precedence to Christian values and for failing to protect human life from the moment of conception. A nationwide referendum on the draft constitution is due to take place on 25 May.
CZECH PRESIDENT IN WASHINGTON.
Vaclav Havel met with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen in the U.S. capital on 16 May to discuss the cost of bringing the Czech military up to NATO standards, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. The talks also focused on cooperation between the U.S. and Czech armies as well as the Czech Republic's willingness to invest in its defense and to participate in the collective defense of Europe. Havel told reporters the same day that his informal meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington was friendly and covered such issues as NATO expansion and European integration. Havel met with Clinton the previous night at a birthday party for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
TOP CZECH OFFICIALS AGAINST DEVALUING CROWN.
Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and his main rival, opposition Social Democratic Party Chairman Milos Zeman, said during a TV debate yesterday that they see no reason why the Czech crown should be devalued. Last week, the Central Bank had to intervene to support the crown when the Czech currency came under pressure. Central Bank Governor Josef Tosovsky told Czech TV that the bank is ready to intervene again, should the value of the crown start declining again. "This is what currency reserves are for," said Tosovsky.
REFERENDUM IN SLOVAKIA TO POSE FOUR QUESTIONS.
The Central Referendum Commission announced on 16 May that ballots with four questions--three on Slovak entry into NATO and one on direct presidential elections--will be distributed, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. The previous day, Internal Affairs Minister Gustav Krajci refused to print ballots that included the elections question, arguing that the Constitutional Court had not yet decided whether it was possible for a referendum to change the constitution. The government had appealed to the court to make a ruling, but the court determined that the government was not entitled to make such an appeal. Premier Vladimir Meciar said on nationwide radio on 16 May that he will respect the court's verdict. He added he expects that the round table talks between all political parties, which he initiated, will help improve Slovakia's reputation but will not put a stop to the confrontation between the coalition and the opposition.
POLITICAL BRINKMANSHIP IN ALBANIA.
Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino meets with representatives of other opposition parties today to finalize their demands for changes to the election law. Fino will then try again to persuade President Sali Berisha to agree to the new provisions, which deal with proportional representation, access to the media, monitoring, and control over electoral commissions. Berisha himself would have to decree any changes, since on 16 May he dissolved parliament and called elections for 29 June. It is unclear how far in advance of the vote the law can still be amended. The opposition over the weekend again hinted it might boycott the ballot if current law remains unchanged. Berisha told supporters in Lac yesterday that he will not modify the law.
PRODI DENIES THREAT TO LEAVE ALBANIA.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in Rome yesterday denied reports that he has pledged to cut short Operation Alba unless the elections go ahead on schedule. He said his earlier remarks about the need for the Albanians to help stabilize their country themselves were not meant as a "threat, but just [as] a serious observation." In Vlora, representatives of the Salvation Committees controlling numerous southern towns met over the weekend and rejected Berisha's demand that the local committees disband. In Ulcinj in Montenegro, a local ethnic Albanian politician told BETA news agency over the weekend that more than 100 trucks carrying scrap iron arrive illegally from Albania each day. And in the Albanian industrial town of Elbasan, five men were killed in gang warfare yesterday.
TENSE WEEKEND IN KOSOVO.
Posters appeared in Pristina over the weekend calling on ethnic Albanians in the name of the local Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) to abandon shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova's policy of non-violence and launch an armed struggle. For his part, Rugova's deputy Fehmi Agani said in Belgrade that he does not know if the UCK really exists. On 16 May, unidentified attackers shot an ethnic Albanian dead on the Prizren-Djakovica road, while two Serbian police were wounded in the village of Srbica. Soon after the attack on the policemen, Serbian authorities arrested at least 30 Albanian students. The next day, students at the underground Albanian university in Pristina protested the arrests. Meanwhile, the trial opened in Pristina today of 18 Kosovars charged with terrorism as alleged members of the UCK, Nasa Borba reported this morning.
DID BRITAIN'S RIFKIND OBSTRUCT WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATION AGAINST MILOSEVIC?
The Observer wrote yesterday that former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind blocked a U.S. request last year to turn over jointly collected intelligence data to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Court President Antonio Cassesse also appealed in vain to Rifkind to release the telephone intercepts that might have proven a link between Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leaders. The London weekly added that Rifkind refused to change the orders of British peacekeepers to enable them to arrest indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic. The paper also charged that the Milosevic regime secretly paid $160,000 to Rifkind's Conservative Party through a lobbying firm.
MILOSEVIC MEETS BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS.
The Serbian president met in Belgrade on Friday with Momcilo Krajisnik, the ethnic Serb member of the Bosnian joint presidency, and with Republika Srpska Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic to discuss implementing the recent economic agreement between Belgrade and Pale, Nasa Borba reported this morning. Meanwhile in nearby Vojvodina, Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin met with his federal Yugoslav counterpart, Milan Milutinovic, on 16 May. They signed a protocol reaffirming the rights of each country's ethnic minority on the other's territory, including the right of individuals to declare their membership in an ethnic minority group. They also noted there are no outstanding issues between Belgrade and Bucharest but that economic links could be stronger.
CROATIAN CURRENCY BECOMES LEGAL TENDER IN EASTERN SLAVONIA.
The kuna went into circulation today in eastern Slavonia, which is gradually being reintegrated into Croatia. Meanwhile, Serbian deputies for the first time since 1991 took their seats in the government of Osijek-Baranja county, in Osijek, on 17 May. The county leader is once again the Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) Branimir Glavas, but his deputies are now the Independent Democratic Serbian Party's (SDSS) Mirko Blagojevic and the independent Anica Horvat. An RFE/RL correspondent also reported from Osijek that the HDZ and the SDSS have reached a power-sharing agreement for the towns of Vukovar and Beli Manastir.
NEWS FROM AROUND FORMER YUGOSLAVIA.
Rail traffic resumed yesterday on the line between Tuzla, located on Bosnian federal territory, and Doboj, in the Republika Srpska. In Podgorica, some leaders of the Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) charged Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic with acting as if he were already the party's presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. The DPS' organization in Cetinje underscored the point by nominating his rivals Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and parliamentary speaker Svetozar Marovic for the presidency. And in Macedonia, an exercise sponsored by NATO and involving up to 1,000 troops ended on 16 May.
FORMER PRESIDENTIAL AIDE NOMINATED ROMANIA'S INTELLIGENCE CHIEF.
President Emil Constantinescu yesterday nominated Costin Georgescu as chief of the Romanian Intelligence Service. The 55-year-old Georgescu managed Constantinescu's election campaign in 1992 (see RFE/RL Newsline, 6 May 1997). He is a construction engineer by profession and a deputy of the National Liberal Party. He will have to resign that position if the parliament approves his nomination, as it is expected to do, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES NEW DRAFT LAWS.
The government yesterday approved amendments to the Law on Education doing away with provisions that were viewed as discriminatory by the Hungarian minority. The amendments provide for instruction in the mother tongue at all levels of education and abolish the provision stating that national minorities must study subjects such as history or geography in Romanian. The executive also change the name of the ministry from Ministry of Public Instruction to Ministry of National Education. In addition, it approved a draft law on the National Bank giving it full independence and responsibility for stabilizing the national currency and prices by controlling the money supply.
ROMANIAN PREMIER ON LABOR UNREST.
Victor Ciorbea says "obscure forces" are trying to manipulate people who are genuinely hit by temporary hardships as a result of economic reform. He said those who are suffering most are not "the noisiest." In an interview with RFE/RL on 16 May, Ciorbea said the government has no intention to "give into force and intimidation attempts." He was responding to a demonstration in Bucharest one day earlier protesting the government's economic policies. The same day, some 600 heavy truck drivers drove through Bucharest and honked their horns as they passed government headquarters. The demonstrators were protesting the cabinet's intention to institute a road tax.
MOLDOVAN PREMIER ON BASIC TREATY WITH ROMANIA.
Ion Ciubuc says the pending basic treaty with Romania must reflect "today's realities [and] the interests of both countries and their constitutions." Addressing a news conference in Chisinau on his return from a visit to Romania on 17 May, Ciubuc said the draft of the treaty "should be thoroughly prepared" to avoid "leading to tensions." He said the treaty must be "one of friendship and cooperation and not one of fraternity, as some people think." Earlier reports said Romania was insisting on a document that mentioned the "special relationship" of the two countries based on their unity of culture, history, and language, Infotag reported.
IMF TEAM BEGINS WORKING WITH BULGARIA ON CURRENCY BOARD.
A team of IMF officials has arrived in Sofia for two weeks to assist Bulgarian officials in setting up the currency board of the National Bank. An RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 16 May that the IMF views the setting up of the board as the "key" to Bulgaria's economic reform and stabilization program. The board will tie the lev to the German mark and will strictly limit the amount of currency the bank can issue, making the money supply dependent on the bank's hard-currency reserves. The agreement with the IMF also prohibits the National Bank from providing cheap credits to cover budget deficits or the losses of state enterprises.
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT TO DEBATE "MACEDONIAN-LANGUAGE ISSUE."
The parliamentary National Security Committee plans to debate the so-called "Macedonian-language issue" at its first session. An RFE/RL Sofia bureau correspondent says the dispute has clouded relations between Sofia and Skopje for almost six years. Bulgaria has insisted for more than a century that Macedonian is a dialect of Bulgarian. Skopje say this linguistic claim is a "thin disguise" for territorial ambitions toward Macedonia that date back to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. In other news, BTA reported on 16 May that the spiritual leader of the country's 800,000 strong Muslim community, Hadzhibasri Hadzhisherif, has died in Sofia aged 69.
Wahhabism in the CISby Bruce Pannier
Last week, a violent confrontation broke out between rival Muslim groups in the Dagestani village of Chabani-Makhi. Members of the Wahhabi group clashed with those of local Tariqat Sufi orders. Two people were killed and three hospitalized. Eighteen Wahhabis were briefly taken hostage until special police sealed off the village and restored order. These events underscore the tensions that have arisen in many Soviet successor states following the relaxation of Soviet-era restrictions on religious proselytizing.
The Wahhabi movement is looked upon with suspicion in several CIS states. A Sunni group, the Wahhabis have been active in Central Asia and Muslim regions of the Caucasus since 1992. The group has a reputation of going beyond simply teaching their form of Islam. It is usually well funded -- mostly by Saudia Arabia -- helps construct mosques, and distributes Korans in local languages. But the Wahhabis' presence in the North Caucasus and the Fergana Valley, in Central Asia, is resented by other sects, particularly the various Sufi orders that have been present in the Muslim areas of the CIS for centuries.
The Wahhabi movement originated in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century as a reformist Sufi movement aimed at cleansing Islam in Arabia. The Wahhabis advocated an orthodox view of Islam that refuted practices adopted by some Muslims after the death of the Prophet Muhhammad. Wahhabism rejected magical rituals and the veneration of saints or any human being, something that had become commonplace among Sufi orders. It united the Arabian tribes in the mid-18th century and provided the foundations for the modern state of Saudi Arabia in the early 20th century. The Wahhabis' aggressive proselytizing complements its strict interpretation of Islam and hence has often been labeled fundamentalist.
Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus was preserved, first in Tsarist Russia and then in the Soviet Union, through Sufi orders (Tariqat is a term that denotes the Sufi brotherhoods, which can be Sunni or Shia). The main order was Naqshbandiya Sufism. Sufism was the major vehicle for spreading Islam to countries outside Arabia. Though Islam had spread north into the Caucasus and Central Asia during the Arab invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries, Sufism penetrated Central Asia in the 12th century and the northern Caucasus in the early 18th century. Its success was largely due to its ability to adapt some local beliefs or customs into Islam--for example, the five pillars of Islam set down in the Koran.
As the religion spread from Arabia, it was recognizable that one of those pillars, the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the holy site in Mecca, was beyond the means of most of the faithful. Sufis recognized that insistence on this religious obligation would complicate the conversion process in areas far from Mecca. In place of the Hajj, many Sufi orders substituted pilgrimage to the tombs of saints, who were usually the founders of, or inspiration for, the various Sufi orders.
The emergence of groups such as the Wahhabis poses a dilemma for Muslims in the former Soviet Union, some of whom have kept Islam alive by clinging to their familiar Sufi orders, which differ from culture to culture and country to country. While some people are willing to accept Wahhabi interpretations of Islam, others remain satisfied with the religion the way it has been practiced in their region or even village for years, if not centuries. Sufi masters especially object to the arrival of outsiders, particularly the Wahhabis, who are teaching that these masters and the tombs of previous masters do not deserve any special respect.
For heads of state, it is equally disturbing that Wahhabis reject secular forms of government. The group is the first among the Islamic orders to be mentioned in Central Asian press as potentially disruptive, though no state has yet gone so far as to ban Wahhabi activities. It was thus inevitable that the Wahhabis would come into conflict with the established religious orders.