MOST SERIOUS ACCIDENT TO DATE ON SPACE STATION "MIR"
A cargo supply craft crashed into the space station "Mir" on 25 June, puncturing one of the station's modules and knocking out half of its power supply. Russian space officials said the three astronauts on board the station--two from Russia and one from the U.S.--are not in danger but that a space walk might be needed to fully assess the damage, according to Interfax. A launch of another resupply ship to "Mir," scheduled for 27 June, has been postponed, Reuters reported. The station has been reoriented toward the sun so that its functioning panels can absorb more solar energy. Experts are now consulting on how to maximize the craft's reduced energy supplies. Since February, astronauts on "Mir" have had to put out a small fire and repair systems for generating oxygen, removing carbon dioxide, and cooling the station.
RUSSIAN BORDERS GUARDS FIRE ON JAPANESE FISHING BOAT
Two Japanese fishermen were injured on 26 June when their vessel came under fire from a Russian border guard patrol boat. The fishermen were near one of the disputed southern Kuril Islands, which are claimed by both Russia and Japan. The boat returned to Japan, and the two injured men were taken to the hospital. Japan has already filed a protest with the Russian Embassy in Tokyo asking for an immediate investigation. Japanese-Russian relations had been improving recently. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, commenting on the recent Summit of Eight in Denver, Colorado, said on 25 June that the meeting has "opened a new chapter in Japanese-Russian relations," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.
YASTRZHEMBSKII UNHAPPY WITH MEDIA COVERAGE OF SUMMIT
Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii says the Russian media underestimated Boris Yeltsin's achievements at the recent Summit of Eight in Denver, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 June. In particular, he criticized an article published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 June that argued that Russia changed its position on UN sanctions toward Iraq after being admitted to the group of industrialized nations. Yastrzhembskii disputed the paper's claim, saying Yeltsin had made clear in Denver that Russia does not support additional sanctions against Iraq. He also said journalists "would perform a very useful service for Russia, Russia's prestige, and the consolidation of society" if they better understood foreign policy issues. "In no other country in the world have I come across a press that so mercilessly and incorrectly" reports on the foreign policy successes of the country's leadership, Yastrzhembskii added.
CHERNOMYRDIN ARRIVES IN CHINA
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin arrived in Shenzhen, in southern China's Guangdong Province, on 26 June for a three-day visit to discuss military and economic ties, Russian media reported. Shenzhen is a so-called special zone that borders on Hong-Kong and that China has often used as an example of its economic successes. "We intend to do this back home," Chernomyrdin told reporters. He later flew to Beijing where he is to meet with top Chinese officials.
WORLD BANK APPROVES ANOTHER LOAN TO RUSSIA
The World Bank has approved an $800 million loan to restructure Russia's social welfare system, Interfax reported on 25 June, citing Andrei Bugrov, a World Bank official in Moscow. Bugrov said the first installment of the loan--$300 million--is due on 26 June and will be used toward paying pension arrears and developing non-governmental pension funds. The next installment of $250 million is scheduled to be issued in the fall, and the last will follow in spring 1998. The World Bank on 5 June approved six loans to Russia worth a total of nearly $885 million. Johannes Linn, the bank's Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, said at the time that the bank plans to extend up to $12-13 billion in credits to Russia by the year 2000.
CHUBAIS CLAIMS GOVERNMENT HAS PAID ALL PENSION ARREARS
First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told a government meeting on 26 June that the government has kept its promise to pay all pension arrears by 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais said some 2.75 trillion rubles ($477 million) have been transferred to Russian regions to pay back pensions. He called on Pension Fund officials and regional leaders to make sure that the money reaches pensioners by the evening of 30 June. Federal officials have frequently complained that regional authorities misappropriate federal funds earmarked for paying pensions or wages for state workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1997). Meanwhile, State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh told ITAR-TASS on 25 June that the government may consider raising the pension age (currently 55 for women and 60 for men).
VYAKHIREV CLAIMS GAZPROM HAS PAID ALL DEBTS
Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev told Interfax on 25 June that the gas monopoly has paid its debt to the state in full. He said the company transferred 14.5 trillion rubles ($2.5 billion) to the state budget in May and June. Russian media reported earlier this month that Gazprom did not fulfill its promise to pay 5 trillion rubles to the state by 10 June.
OFFICIAL SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL NOT BACK DOWN ON SOCIAL POLICIES
Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev on 25 June repeated that the government will impose some reductions in social benefits without parliamentary approval, although he did not specify which benefits would be cut by executive order, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Duma recently voted down almost all the government's proposals to limit eligibility for social support. Sysuev urged a conciliatory commission of government and parliamentary representatives to continue meeting during the summer recess to try to reach a compromise on the benefits reductions. But he accused the Communist-led opposition in the State Duma of seeking to force changes in government policies by creating a "very tense situation" by the fall. Sysuev warned that although he does not favor early parliamentary elections, the executive may consider disbanding the Duma in the fall if the situation worsens.
YELTSIN SUSPENDS JUSTICE MINISTER
Yeltsin issued a decree on 25 June suspending Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev until an investigation into media reports discrediting him has been conducted, Russian news agencies reported. "Sovershenno sekretno" recently published frames from a videotape allegedly showing Kovalev with nude women at a Moscow club said to be frequented by gangsters. Kovalev has said the videotape was fabricated. However, Interfax reported that Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has confirmed the authenticity of the video and said at least five copies of it exist. Interior Ministry officials have denied that sources within the ministry leaked the video to "Sovershenno sekretno."
COMMITTEE BEGINS DRAFTING LAW ON NATIONALIZATION
State Property Committee Chairman Kokh says his committee has begun drafting a law on nationalization, Russian news agencies reported on 25 June. Kokh noted that in accordance with Russia's Civil Code, nationalization can take place only if property owners are compensated. However, "Kommersant-Daily" and Interfax on 25 June both quoted Kokh as welcoming the privatization law recently approved by the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). If passed by the Federation Council and signed by Yeltsin, that law would give the state the right to appropriate privatized property without compensating new owners if they had failed to meet either investment commitments or obligations to employees. Kokh did not comment on that provision of the law.
REACTION TO ROKHLIN'S APPEAL TO YELTSIN
The political council of Our Home Is Russia (NDR) will decide on 30 June whether State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin will remain in the pro-government movement, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 June, citing NDR Duma deputy Roman Popkovich. Rokhlin recently issued an appeal blaming Yeltsin for the war in Chechnya and disastrous conditions in the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). Even if the NDR expels Rokhlin, he will not be removed as Defense Committee chairman unless a majority of Duma deputies approves such a move. Yeltsin has not yet responded to Rokhlin's appeal, but an unnamed senior Defense Ministry official told Interfax that the appeal was aimed at "disrupting [military] reforms and pushing the army toward havoc." Rokhlin strongly supported the July 1996 appointment of Igor Rodionov as defense minister. Yeltsin sacked Rodionov in May.
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN GREET DENVER SUMMIT STATEMENT ON KARABAKH
Officials in Baku and Yerevan have expressed support for the statement on Nagorno-Karabakh released by the US, Russian, and French presidents during the recent Summit of Eight in Denver. The statement calls for a swift negotiated settlement of the conflict "taking into consideration the interests and concerns of all parties." Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade said the statement was "very important and timely" and conducive to "a just and peaceful solution," according to RIA Novosti and Turan. Armenian presidential spokesman Levon Zurabian said on 25 June that Armenia agrees with the Denver statement and that both Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have already given a formal response to the most recent peace proposals advanced by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Minsk Group, according to the Yerevan News Service on 25 June. The U.S., Russia, and France are co-chairmen of the group.
IMF LOAN TO ARMENIA
The IMF on 23 June approved the second annual tranche of a three-year loan to Armenia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The first half of the $47 million tranche will be released on 30 June. The IMF noted Armenia's success in cutting inflation to below 6% in 1996. At the same time, it noted that "relaxed" fiscal policies during the presidential election campaign contributed to raising the budget deficit to 9.35% of GDP and that the situation this year remains "fragile." The IMF said Armenia needs to improve the targeting of social benefits in order to help the poorest strata of the population.
EBRD LOAN TO AZERBAIJAN
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has approved a loan of more than $21 million to upgrade Azerbaijan's hydro-electric capacity, RFE/RL reported. The loan is for a project, co-financed by the Islamic Development Bank and the EU, to replace three generators at the Mingechaur Hydroelectric plant and rebuild a back-up high voltage transmission line from the plant to Baku.
GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE IN AZERBAIJAN
President Heidar Aliyev issued a decree on 25 June merging the Ministries of Trade and Foreign Economic Relations into a new Ministry of Trade, Interfax and Western agencies reported. A state-owned company producing consumer goods was also abolished, and its director, Rafig Khalafov, promoted to the position of deputy prime minister, according to Reuters. Addressing a televised government session, Aliyev said the reshuffle is part of an ongoing process intended to expedite the "lagging" economic reform process. Aliyev also issued a second decree calling on the National Bank to draft a program for the reform of state commercial banks.
CHECHNYA CRITICIZES AZERBAIJAN OVER OIL TRANSIT
Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, head of the Chechen national oil company Yunko, has harshly criticized unnamed forces in Azerbaijan who, he said, are trying to exclude Chechnya from negotiations on the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya, Interfax reported on 25 June. Yarikhanov said the Azerbaijani leadership wants a bilateral agreement with Russia but that this would lead to an "impasse." Both Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Natik Aliyev (no relation), the head of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), have said there is no need for a new agreement. Natik Aliyev told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 June that it is up to Russia to settle its differences with Chechnya. He said he told Chechen officials who visited Baku that "there is nothing to discuss." He stressed that it is "very important politically" for Azerbaijan to export oil via Russia.
BUBONIC PLAGUE REPORTED IN KAZAKSTAN
A man in western Kazakstan has been diagnosed with bubonic plague, according to AFP. Health authorities in Kazakstan said on 25 June that both the man and his family have been quarantined, along with the doctors and nurses treating him. Faizullah Bismildin, the head of the Kazak Health Ministry's epidemiology department, said the man had probably been bitten by a flea carried by a rat and that he was likely to die from the disease. He added that the country is infested with rats.
HEROIN FOUND IN CAR FROM TAJIK EMBASSY IN KAZAKSTAN
RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty report that the Procurator General's office released a statement on 26 June saying a large amount of heroin has been found in a car belonging to the Tajik Embassy in Kazakstan. The value of the haul was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Law-enforcement officials are investigating the driver.
BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT PROMISES TO IMPLEMENT REFORMS
The government on 25 June signed a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank agreeing to implement an economic reform package next year, an RFE/RL Washington correspondent reported. The reforms include reducing currency controls and privatizing small enterprises. The bank will provide loans of up to $100 million a year if Belarus fulfills its commitments and ensures the irreversibility of the reform process. The previous day, Christopher Willoughby, the bank's resident representative in Minsk, said Belarus continues to back away from reforms and is increasing state interference in the economy. The bank and the IMF both suspended their lending programs to Belarus in late 1995 because the government was not proceeding with reforms.
BELARUS ARRESTS FOUR FOR TRYING TO SMUGGLE OUT URANIUM
A spokesman for the State Security Committee told journalists in Minsk on 25 June that four people--one Belarusian and three foreigners--have been arrested for trying to smuggle two kilograms of radioactive uranium out of the country. He said the four were recently arrested in the city of Brest. They were charged with illegally obtaining the uranium and trying to smuggle it abroad, where they hoped to sell it for $100,000. The spokesman said initial tests had shown the uranium to be radioactive but not enriched to weapons-grade quality.
UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER MAY HAVE TO UNDERGO SURGERY
Pavlo Lazarenko may have to undergo surgery, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 25 June, citing the chief doctor of the hospital in which Lazarenko is hospitalized. "An operation is not ruled out, however the date has not been set yet," he commented. Doctors initially diagnosed exhaustion as the cause of the prime minister's illness, but it has since been reported that he is suffering from "varicose veins and arterial sclerosis." Lazarenko was "temporarily" dismissed by President Leonid Kuchma on 19 June, ostensibly for health reasons. First Deputy Prime Minister Vasily Durdinets was appointed acting prime minister the same day (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1997).
U.S. OFFICIAL IN BALTICS TO DISCUSS CHARTER
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ronald Asmus arrived in Riga on 25 June for talks with Latvian officials on a draft Baltic-U.S. charter, BNS reported. Earlier in the week, Asmus had visited Tallinn and Vilnius to speak with officials there. He told a news conference in Vilnius that the proposed charter is a "statement of shared values, principles and the common vision that we have of a new, free, democratic, undivided Europe." The document contains no security guarantees but does provide for cooperation in defense. It will be politically, but not legally, binding and is reportedly aimed at convincing the Baltics that the U.S. regards them as fully fledged members of the West. During his visit to Estonia, Asmus confirmed that the document should be signed at a "very high level."
The parliament has begun to discuss the abolition of the death penalty, BNS reported on 25 June. Last year, President Algirdas Brazauskas urged a discussion on the issue; since then, the execution of prisoners sentenced to death has ceased. There are currently nine prisoners sentenced to death in Lithuania. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Vilmorus market research center in early June shows Brazauskas heading the field of potential presidential candidates. He won 27.2% of the vote, followed by Valdas Adamkus, the U.S. environmentalist of Lithuanian origin, with 24.7%. Parliamentary Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis scored 8.4%. A poll conducted last month by Baltic Surveys, a Lithuanian-British company, had shown Adamkus in the lead.
POLISH DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY
President Aleksander Kwasniewski met in Warsaw on 25 June with Bulgarian Vice President Todor Kavaldjiev, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent reported. Kavaldjiev also held talks with other Polish officials on bilateral and international security issues. Among the issues discussed were boosting agricultural trade and the repayment of a big grain loan Poland made to Bulgaria last winter. Also on 25 June, German President Roman Herzog arrived in Poland for an official visit. He is scheduled to travel to Gdansk. Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz starts a two-day working visit to France and Holland on 26 June.
POLAND FAVORS WIDER NATO ENLARGEMENT
Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said in Strasbourg on 25 June that the enlargement of NATO should not be limited to the handful of countries expected to be invited to join next month, Reuters reported. Addressing the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, he said membership invitations expected to be issued to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary should be only a first step.
CZECH COMMUNIST-ERA PRISONERS WILL BE COMPENSATED
The Czech government on 25 June agreed to make one-time compensation payments to political prisoners of former Communist governments in then Czechoslovakia, CTK reported. Health Minister Jan Strasky told reporters the government voted to pay a total of around 400 million crowns ($12.6 million) to those who were sent to prisons and labor camps for political reasons. Each political prisoner will receive 625 crowns ($21.5) for every month spent in a Communist jail between February 1948, when the Communists seized power in Prague, and November 1989, when the "Velvet Revolution" took place.
CONTINUED CRITICISM OVER SLOVAK HISTORY BOOKS
Hans van den Broek, the EU foreign affairs commissioner for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, told journalists in Brussels on 25 June that he has demanded Slovakia withdraw a book, published with the help of EU funds, disclaiming the persecution of Slovak Jews during World War II. He was speaking at a meeting with Slovak Foreign Minister Zdenka Kramplova. The controversial book, The History of Slovakia and the Slovaks by Milan Durica, was published by the Ministry of Education and has been recommended by Bratislava as a handbook for history lessons in Slovak schools. Among other things, the book claims that conditions in Jewish labor camps in Slovakia were "close to the normal living conditions of the Slovak population."
FIVE SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTIES AGREE TO FORM ALLIANCE
Slovakia's Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Movement, Democratic Union, Social Democrats, and Green Party agreed on 25 June to form a political bloc, RFE/RL's Bratislava office reported. The coalition, which will span the political spectrum and will most likely be called the Slovak Coalition, will cooperate with the coalition of Hungarian ethnic parties. The agreement is to be ratified by the leaderships of the five parties on 28 June.
HUNGARIAN COMMISSION REJECTS REPORT ON PRIVATIZATION SCANDAL
A parliamentary commission on 25 June rejected a report drafted by Tamas Deutsch of the opposition Young Democrats on the so-called Tocsik scandal, Hungarian media report. Marta Tocsik, a consultant who in 1996 was paid more than 800 million forints ($5.3 million) for mediating between the state privatization agency and local governments over the division of income from the sale of state enterprises, was eventually dismissed and charged with mismanagement, fraud, and forgery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1997). Deutsch's report said members of the government carried "institutional responsibility" for failing to properly exercise control. But the government-supporting majority on the commission, as well as one representative of the opposition Smallholders Party, voted six to four to reject the report. The Smallholders wanted Prime Minister Gyula Horn and Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze to be personally blamed for the scandal.
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE "KALASHNIKOV AFFAIR."
The parliamentary Defense Committee on 25 June decided to set up an ad hoc commission to investigate the non-delivery of Kalashnikov automatic guns paid for by Croatia, Hungarian media report. Commission chairman Jenoe Poda told the daily "Vilaggazdasag" that the commission will try to find out what happened to the $985,000 that Croatia paid to the Hungarian company Technika Foreign Trade in 1990 for a shipment of rifles. The agreement stipulated the delivery of 10,000 Kalashnikovs in four shipments. Three shipments were delivered, but the fourth never reached Croatia. Technika has since been liquidated by the APV Rt privatization agency. A Hungarian lawyer representing Croatia has filed a claim with the APV Rt, demanding the return of the money plus interest.
ALBANIAN FINANCE MINISTER REFUSES TO SIGN ANTI-PYRAMID DECREE
Arben Malaj on 25 June refused to countersign a presidential decree to regulate pyramid investment schemes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). The Socialist Party cabinet member said that while preparing the text, President Sali Berisha had altered several key aspects of an earlier draft presented by the multi-party government. Malaj added there is now little hope of ending the standoff before the 29 June elections. "Dita Informacion" charged on 26 June that Berisha issued the decree shortly before the vote to detract attention from political disputes surrounding the elections and to deny the government enough time to review the changes. The government had worked on legislation to make stable companies out of some of the pyramids that were also operating other businesses. The aim was to allow the pyramids to repay at least some of the investors' original outlays.
VRANITZKY TRIES TO MEDIATE REMAINING ALBANIAN ELECTION CONFLICTS
OSCE mediator Franz Vranitzky on 25 June met separately with Prime Minister Bashkim Fino and the Central Election Commission to solve the remaining disputes before the elections. Vranitzky made clear that it would be "a catastrophe for all sides" if the election results appeared dubious, "Koha Jone" reported. He announced a detailed plan for the election work of the OSCE monitors and the multinational forces. He also told Fino that the cooperation between both institutions is developing well, "Dita Informacion" wrote. He then held talks with Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano to discuss the dispute over the closing time of the polling stations.
TENSIONS RISE IN VLORA
Two members of the Democratic Party were killed in Vlora and one injured, according to "Albania" on 26 June. The circumstances of the killings are unclear, but "Albania" blamed the incident on "gangs of the Socialist Party." According to "Dita Informacion," the city is plagued by gang-wars. One group said it will actively fight Zani Caushi, who is a gang leader and independent candidate for the parliament, "Indipendent" wrote. Meanwhile, the 140th public meeting of the city's rebel committee turned into a massive anti-Berisha rally on 25 June, according to "Koha Jone." Luftar Petroshati, the head of the committee, claimed to have information that "polling stations in Vlora will be blown up on election day." He added that residents of entire districts have received anonymous threats not to leave their homes to vote.
SERBIA'S MILOSEVIC PROMISES NOT TO YIELD ON KOSOVO
President Slobodan Milosevic visited several towns in Kosovo on 25 June and told enthusiastic crowds of local Serbs that he will never give up "even a single piece" of the province. He also promised prosperity, saying that next year a highway will be built to connect Kosovo with Montenegro and the sea. It was his first visit in two years to the province, which has a 90% ethnic Albanian majority. Milosevic launched his political career roughly 10 years ago by portraying himself as the defender of Kosovo's Serbs. Local and foreign observers said his latest trip should be seen in connection with the presidential and parliamentary elections due later this year.
SERBIAN WAR VETERANS LAUNCH PROTEST
Several hundred veterans and invalids from Serbia's wars in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia launched a demonstration in Belgrade on 26 June, BETA reports. They want full recognition of their legal status as veterans and invalids and all the benefits to which that status entitles them. They also want full survivors' benefits for the widows and children of their dead comrades. Seven of the veterans began a hunger strike in Belgrade on 17 June. Veterans protesting in Nis criticized the new anti-Milosevic government in that city for also being insensitive to veterans' issues, "Nasa Borba" wrote on 26 June.
Outgoing federal Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic named Veljko Knezevic ambassador to Croatia on 25 June in Belgrade, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. Knezevic is currently charge d'affaires in Zagreb. In Athens, Greek Foreign Minister Kostas Simitis called for the readmission of federal Yugoslavia into the international community. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Radoje Kontic was on a one-day visit to Greece aimed at bolstering economic links, including Yugoslav use of the port at Salonika. In London, Yugoslav negotiators said that Belgrade can repay only $480 million of the $2.4 billion it owes to foreign commercial banks as part of its share of former Yugoslavia's debt. And in Belgrade, the Democratic Party blasted the Socialists' proposal to increase the number of electoral districts from nine to 29. The Democrats charge that the proposal will give the Socialists more power at the expense of the smaller parties.
ROUNDUP FROM FORMER YUGOSLAVIA
Slovenia on 25 June became a full member of the U.S.-sponsored program for economic development in southeastern Europe. It had earlier objected to the project, saying it wants integration with Central Europe and not with the Balkans. Croatia continues its opposition to what President Franjo Tudjman says is a veiled attempt to resurrect the former Yugoslavia. In Washington, the World Bank said it will delay a decision on a $30 million loan to Croatia until 1 July because of a request for the postponement by the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). And also in the U.S. capital, Congress voted on 24 June to end funding for the Bosnian peace mission on 30 June 1998.
ROMANIAN PREMIER ON U.S. VISIT
On his return from the U.S. on 25 June, Victor Ciorbea said the eight-day visit prevented a "serious risk of deterioration" in relations between Bucharest and Washington following the U.S. decision to exclude Romania from the first wave of NATO enlargement, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said that the U.S. has already set up a team to conduct talks with Romania on the envisaged "strategic partnership" between the two countries, adding that the Romanian side will establish its team in the next days. Ciorbea also said his country will continue its drive to be admitted to NATO in the first wave.
NEW ROMANIAN POLITICAL PARTY IN OFFING
Teodor Melescanu, who recently resigned from the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), told a press conference in Bucharest on 25 June that the group that left the PDSR will establish a new political formation, called the Alliance for Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A committee has been set up to organize gathering the 10, 000 signatures required by law for the registration of a political party. Melescanu said the party will, above all, strive to advocate moral principles in politics and to fight corruption. It will be a center-left, Social-Democratic formation, he said.
HUNGARIAN MINORITY PARTY THREATENS TO WITHDRAW SUPPORT FROM ROMANIAN COALITION
Bela Marko, the chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), says his party may withdraw its support for the ruling coalition in the parliament, Romanian media report. Marko says the coalition is procrastinating on passing amendments to the education law agreed on with the UDMR. The amendments provide for instruction in the mother tongue at all levels of education and do away with the obligation to have history and geography taught in the Romanian language. Unless the amendments are immediately passed, the law cannot apply in the school year beginning 1 September. A majority of senators representing the largest coalition party, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) opposes the cabinet's intention to have the amendments adopted by government ordinance (which ensures implementation before the parliament has approved the law).
TRANSDNIESTRIAN LEADER ACCUSES CHISINAU OF INTRANSIGENCE
Igor Smirnov on 25 June said the leadership in Chisinau was to blame for the lack of progress in the talks on defining the breakaway region's special status, ITAR-TASS and Infotag reported. Smirnov claimed the Moldovan leaders were adopting an "intransigent" position because of the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in Moldova in 1998. Anatol Taranu, the head of the Moldovan negotiating team, rejected the accusations, saying Chisinau has offered to meet more frequently with Tiraspol's negotiating team but that offer was rejected. He added it was to be expected that the talks would be a long and difficult process.
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT PASSES AMENDED PRIVATIZATION BILL
The parliament on 25 June approved the privatization program for 1997-1998, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. The passage of the bill required two rounds of voting because deputies representing parties that support the coalition refused to accept the draft submitted by the government. After negotiations, the government agreed to include changes proposed by the opposition Popular Front and Party of Revival and Accord. The amended bill was passed with their support. The Socialist Unity-Edinstvo party opposed the passage of the bill in both rounds of voting. The program envisages the privatization of 580 state enterprises.
HOLLOW VICTORY FOR MILOSEVIC IN MONTENEGRO
by Patrick Moore
Montenegro's ruling Socialists have endorsed Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's candidacy for the federal Yugoslav presidency. They have not given him all the political concessions he wanted, however, suggesting that the conflict between Belgrade and Podgorica is far from over.
The governing body of Montenegro's Democratic Socialists Party (DPS) met in Podgorica on 23 June and endorsed Milosevic to become president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by a vote of 56 to 31 with 10 abstentions. All three deputy chairmen of the party, including Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, voted against Milosevic.
Barred by the Serbian constitution from a third term in office as republican president, Milosevic is trying to hold onto power by taking over the federal presidency instead. That largely ceremonial office has been held since 1993 by Zoran Lilic, who has faithfully done Milosevic's bidding throughout his tenure. Pundits have been speculating for months that Milosevic would try to take over from Lilic--who also cannot serve in that office again following the expiry of his current term on 25 June--and to expand the powers of the federal presidency, thereby turning that office into a real center of authority.
Toward that end, Milosevic needs to make some changes in the constitution. The first is for the direct election of the federal president in order to give himself greater authority and legitimacy.
Under the current system, both houses of the parliament (Federal Assembly) would elect Lilic's replacement by a simple majority. This, in itself, is no problem for Milosevic, since he has a comfortable majority in both houses. But if he seeks to change the constitution to increase his legitimacy or powers, he will need to attract additional allies to muster the necessary two-thirds majority. It may prove difficult for him to do so and still hang on to all the parliamentary supporters he has now.
Moreover, if he seeks to weaken the parliament, he risks massive opposition from Montenegro In the lower house (Chamber of Citizens), each deputy represents 65,000 constituents. But in the upper house (Chamber of Republics), Serbia and Montenegro each have 20 representatives, even though Serbia's population is ten times that of Montenegro.
Many Montenegrin politicians thus fear that the proposed direct elections--or any other constitutional changes Milosevic may try to make--would greatly reduce their republic's influence in federal affairs by weakening the role of the parliament, in which Montenegro obviously plays a role much larger than its 600,000-strong population would justify. The Montenegrins' ultimate concern, moreover, is that the constitutional changes would be simply the first in a series of moves by Milosevic to eliminate the proud mountain republic's autonomy. It thus came as no surprise when, on 23 June, the same DPS body that endorsed Milosevic also decisively rejected his call for a constitutional change to permit direct presidential elections.
Tensions between Serbia and Montenegro are nothing new and have deep historical roots. What is new is that the DPS, which was long loyal to Milosevic and to his lieutenant, incumbent Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic, has now split into two rival factions. Bulatovic remains the chief of the pro-Milosevic group. He has charged his critics with corruption, with neglect of northern Montenegro's development, and with misuse of the intelligence services. He has also sought a special party congress in the hope that he can use it to defeat the opposition once and for all.
The opposition is headed by Djukanovic, a flamboyant leader who is widely believed to have made his fortune as a war profiteer while federal Yugoslavia was under tight sanctions. Now, however, Djukanovic denies Bulatovic's accusations and argues that Montenegro needs all sanctions to be lifted in order to restore shipping and tourism, which are its prime sources of hard currency. He charges, moreover, that Milosevic's policies are responsible for some sanctions remaining in place. Djukanovic's ultimate argument is that Montenegro alone must be in charge of Montenegrin affairs and that Bulatovic is little more than a satrap of an arrogant Belgrade-based leadership.
The issues in the current dispute between Podgorica and Belgrade are serious and complex--and hardly likely to go away soon. When Lilic's term ran out on 25 June, upper house speaker Srdja Bozovic took over as interim president. The constitution says that elections must be held within one month, but so far Milosevic is the only candidate.