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Newsline - October 16, 1997


The State Duma on 15 October postponed a vote of no confidence in the government following a last-minute appeal from President Boris Yeltsin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Shortly before the vote was to take place, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced that Yeltsin had phoned him twice to ask communist deputies to withdraw their appeal for a no-confidence vote. He quoted Yeltsin as saying that he does not want early parliamentary elections and that the government will "draw conclusions from the criticism voiced today." He also offered to create a "round table" involving all branches of government. Following Seleznev's remarks, the Duma took a recess, after which the communist faction called for delaying consideration of the confidence motion until 22 October. That motion passed with 228 votes, just two more than the 226 needed for passage. The Agrarian, Popular Power, and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia factions all supported the motion.


The pro-government Duma faction Our Home Is Russia (NDR) opposed the decision to postpone the no-confidence vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In an interview with RFE/RL, Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of NDR argued that Russia now faces yet another week of "mutual recriminations and uncertainty," during which the state will be "paralyzed." He noted that Yeltsin asked communist deputies to withdraw, not merely delay, their demand for a no-confidence vote.


Duma Speaker Seleznev on 16 October announced that Yeltsin has agreed to meet with the prime minister and the speakers of both houses of the parliament on 20 October, Interfax reported. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, like Seleznev a prominent Communist, said that during negotiations with the government, the opposition will seek the dismissal of some cabinet members, including First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. Ilyukhin also said the opposition will demand "broad access to the media." The previous day, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised Duma deputies that the lower house will be given its own newspaper and a regular program on state-owned television, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Chernomyrdin also said Seleznev will be invited to join public councils to be formed at Russian Public Television and Russian Television, the nationwide networks that broadcast on Channels 1 and 2.


In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 15 October, Yabloko leader Yavlinskii blasted the Communists for their tactics over the no-confidence vote. Yavlinskii argued that the Communists had first drafted a confidence motion criticizing economic reforms, which "no one but they could vote for," and had then backed off from a no-confidence vote. In his speech to the Duma earlier that day, Yavlinskii said the Communist Party must share responsibility for the current state of affairs in the country, since most Communists and their allies voted for the 1997 budget and for other government initiatives. He added that "the left-wing majority [in the Duma] will do what it is told." Yavlinskii has frequently described his own movement as the only "real opposition" in the parliament, charging that the government has a secret alliance with the Communists and with Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.


The Federation Council on 15 October voted to appeal to the Constitutional Court against Yeltsin's refusal to sign the trophy art law and the law on the government, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The Duma and the Council overrode Yeltsin's vetoes of both laws earlier this year. Although Article 107 of the constitution requires the president to sign laws within seven days if the parliament overrides his veto, Yeltsin charged that unconstitutional voting procedures were used to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority in the parliament. The Duma recently appealed to the Constitutional Court against Yeltsin's refusal to sign the law on the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997).


Also on 15 October, the Federation Council appealed to the government to allocate more funds to the State Tax Service and the court system. The resolution said funding for the tax service was 1.13 trillion rubles ($193 million) short of budgeted levels in 1996 and 800 billion rubles down on projected amounts for the first eight months of 1997. During the first nine months of this year, the Constitutional Court faced a funding shortfall of 2.2 billion rubles, the Supreme Court 5.5 billion rubles, arbitration courts 37 billion rubles, and other federal courts 343 billion rubles. The same day, the Council approved a law outlining the method for calculating the subsistence level (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1997). However, deputies failed to override a presidential veto of a law on protecting Lake Baikal, ITAR-TASS reported.


The Duma on 15 October asked its Security Committee to prepare an appeal to the Prosecutor-General's Office to examine recent allegations by Duma deputy Konstantin Borovoi, Russian news agencies reported. Borovoi alleged that there is widespread corruption and lobbying on behalf of corporate interests within the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1997). The Security Committee will ask prosecutors to investigate whether Borovoi can be charged with "slandering the Duma."


Some 3,000 agricultural workers demonstrated outside government headquarters on 15 October in a protest organized by the opposition Agrarian Party of Russia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Duma Speaker Seleznev, Popular Power faction leader Nikolai Ryzhkov, and Communist Duma deputy Vladimir Semago were among the politicians who addressed the demonstration. According to ITAR-TASS, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin met with representatives of the demonstrators and promised them that the government "will work in close contact" with representatives of agricultural workers to solve the problems of the agrarian sector. The draft budget for 1998 calls for sharp cuts in agricultural subsidies.


Former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh told ITAR-TASS on 15 October that he believes the criminal case against him will not go to court because, he stressed, he has committed no crime. He argued that he declared and paid taxes on a $100,000 payment from the Swiss firm Servina, which, according to Kokh, purchased the rights to his forthcoming book on privatization. "Segodnya" argued on 11 October that the 1995 law on state service prohibits officials from collecting fees or royalties for speeches or publications based on their civil service. The newspaper argued that Kokh is therefore not legally entitled to receive payment for a book about privatization in Russia.


Pavel Gusev, the editor in chief of the popular Moscow daily "Moskovskii komsomolets," has resigned as minister of information in the Moscow city government, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 October. He had held that post since January 1992. Gusev will continue to advise the Moscow government but will not draw a salary in that capacity. "Kommersant-Daily" argued that Gusev's resignation may be connected with a recent court complaint filed by Moscow Prosecutor Gennadii Ponomarev, who charged that anti-monopoly legislation does not allow officials to conduct business activities (such as running a newspaper). As minister of information, Gusev was responsible for placing advertisements on Moscow streets. "Moskovskii komsomolets" has consistently supported Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. During the last year, it has published a number of articles implicating some federal government officials, especially First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, in crimes or corruption.


Writing in "Izvestiya" on 15 October, economist Andrei Illarionov accused unnamed leading businessmen of continuing the "bank war" sparked by controversial privatization auctions in the summer and of coordinating their actions with the government's communist opponents. Illarionov charged that Russia's "fat cats" are angry because the government ended its long-standing practice of in effect subsidizing commercial banks through loan guarantees and allowing the banks to handle budget funds. He accused the businessmen of fighting back by "generously paying the media under their control," threatening to release compromising information about government figures, and even resorting to "Stalinist" warnings that Russia's national security is threatened. (The last point is an apparent reference to Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii's recent charge that U.S. citizen Boris Jordan, who heads a bank linked to Oneksimbank, has gained access to state secrets.) Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya."


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 October questioned the motives behind an investigative series published in "Izvestiya" last month on alleged crimes committed by Gennadii Konyakhin, the mayor of Leninsk-Kuznetskii, Kemerovo Oblast. Yeltsin praised the "Izvestiya" reports and sent a special investigative team to Kemerovo. Konyakhin has since been arrested. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that the "Izvestiya" series was inspired either by one organized crime group to discredit another or by the Kremlin to launch the president's battle against corruption in the regions. The 16 October "Izvestiya" published an angry front-page article denying that the series on Leninsk-Kuznetskii was "paid for" or motivated by anything other than the search for the truth. "Izvestiya" lamented that Russian journalists have stopped believing in one another. It also warned that such cynicism could eventually cost journalists not only the public's trust but media freedom as well.


The Primorskii Krai Court has ruled that the regional legislature acted within its powers when it suspended Viktor Cherepkov as mayor of Vladivostok and appointed Yurii Kopylov acting mayor, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 October. The court overturned a ruling by a Vladivostok district court that had declared Kopylov's appointment illegal. Primore's top prosecutor and presidential representative have also denounced the Kopylov appointment, and a criminal case was recently opened against Kopylov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 8 October 1997). Cherepkov, who remains hospitalized following an operation, does not recognize the krai legislature's action and has designated Nikolai Markovtsev to serve as acting mayor during his convalescence. Kopylov also checked into hospital recently with heart problems, according to the 16 October "Kommersant-Daily."


The Orel Oblast Court on 15 October rejected appeals by two would-be candidates in the upcoming gubernatorial election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Sergei Isakov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Vladimir Kapustyanskii, a former head of the Orel branch of the Interior Ministry, say they were unfairly denied registration by the regional electoral commission. They have vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, but the case is unlikely to change the outcome of the race. Current Governor Yegor Stroev is expected to win the 26 October election hands down.


Akhsarbek Galazov and Ruslan Aushev, the presidents of North Ossetia and Ingushetia, and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin have signed a 50-point program outlining measures to be undertaken jointly to deal with the aftermath of the November 1992 fighting in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 October. The Russian government is required to ensure that the 1998 budget includes funds for the reconstruction of housing for families whose homes were destroyed. The program also targets the region's high crime rate and provides for a conference of representatives of federation subjects to discuss the situation in the North Caucasus. The signing of the program was delayed for several weeks because Galazov had been ill.


Some 80 gunmen attacked the Dushanbe headquarters of the presidential guard during the early morning of 16 October, killing up to 14 servicemen, including five officers. Four of the gunmen were also killed. Presidential guard commander Gafur Mirzoyev said the identity and affiliation of the attackers are unknown. President Imomali Rakhmonov will personally monitor the Interior Ministry investigation into the attack. At a meeting on 14 October in Dushanbe, the opposition field commanders who control Lenin and Kofarnikhon Raions, east of Dushanbe, had agreed to comply with United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri's orders for tougher discipline and a halt to looting and unauthorized attacks. They had also agreed to cooperate with government forces in the fight against crime and unauthorized military formations, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and Interfax on 16 October.


Kamal Kharrazi met in Dushanbe on 15 October with President Rakhmonov to discuss bilateral relations, the implementation of the peace accord, and the situation in Afghanistan. Kharrazi also met with Prime Minister Yakhya Azimov with whom he discussed the possibility of increased Iranian investment in prospecting for oil and gas in Tajikistan and of creating a quadrilateral commission for trade and economic cooperation in Central Asia, according to ITAR-TASS. At a meeting with Nuri, the UTO leader expressed his gratitude to the Iranian leadership for its role as a guarantor of the peace process. In Tehran, however, Minister of Culture Ataollah Mohajerani issued a statement on 15 October protesting the removal of signs in Farsi from shop fronts and other public places in Dushanbe as well as the closure of a Farsi-language bookstore in the Tajik capital.


A member of the lower chamber of the parliament has called on the government to do everything in its power to expedite the payment of wage arrears to the 2,000 workers from the Achisay Polymetal Plant, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 16 October. The workers and their families began a protest march to Almaty earlier this month but were intercepted by police near the city of Turkestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 15 October 1997). Meanwhile the marchers released a statement to Kazakh and foreign journalists appealing to all political parties and movements for their backing. Miners in the eastern city of Leninogorsk have organized a support group, which has begun to collect food and money to be sent to the marchers.


Meeting in Bishkek on 15 October, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev said their countries will increase the volume of bilateral trade at least tenfold in 1998, ITAR-TASS reported. Total turnover between the two countries so far this year is less than $6 million.


Heidar Aliyev has submitted to the parliament a draft law calling for an amnesty for those serving prison sentences for desertion and other military crimes, Turan and Interfax reported on 15 October. The amnesty covers not only servicemen who participated in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but also invalids and people whose close relatives or underage children died in the war. In a swipe at the Azerbaijan Popular Front government, Aliyev said it is unjust that people should serve prison terms for military crimes committed during a period of "havoc and anarchy" in the armed forces. This anarchy, Aliyev continued, resulted from the "absence of a regular army, discipline, and military command."


Commenting on his talks in Paris with his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, Levon Ter-Petrossyan expressed satisfaction that France gives a high priority to relations with Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. Chirac termed bilateral relations "favorable." Both presidents were cautiously optimistic about the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, but Ter-Petrossyan later made it clear that Armenia will attend the Moscow summit on Karabakh proposed by Chirac and Russian President Boris Yeltsin only if representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh are also invited. No date has yet been set for that meeting. Ter-Petrossyan rejected suggestions that discord exists between Armenia and Karabakh over the peace process. Ter-Petrossyan also appealed to Chirac to release former ASALA activist Varouzhan Karapetian, currently serving life imprisonment in France for his role in the 1983 Orly airport bombing, in which seven people were killed.


Crimean lawmakers on 15 October voted to make Russian, rather than Ukrainian, the official language of the region and to have the clocks there conform to Moscow rather than Kyiv time, Interfax reported. The vote was 56 to 4 in favor of the language change; most of the other deputies, who represent the Crimean Tatars, abstained. The regional body took the step on the basis of a provision in the local constitution allowing the Crimean parliament to make Russian the official language until more people there have learned Ukrainian. But Kyiv has not approved the peninsula's constitution. This latest action by the Crimean legislature, which is dominated by ethnic Russians, sets the stage for a new confrontation between the region and the Ukrainian central authorities.


Leonid Kuchma and the parliament each took steps on 15 October that are certain to anger the other. Kuchma allowed the deadline for signing or vetoing the new election law to pass without doing either, Ukrainian media reported. His aides have said he will ultimately sign the bill, which lays down the regulations for the spring 1998 elections, but his failure to sign has already outraged many legislators. Meanwhile, the parliament voted to increase the minimum wage and pension so they will be above the poverty level, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 16 October. Government spokesmen said the action will bust the already fragile state budget.


The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists issued a statement on 15 October urging the Belarusian parliament to seriously modify a media bill that would allow the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to ban the importation of foreign publications and to jam foreign broadcasts. Because most opposition newspapers are printed abroad and because the most important independent radio and television stations broadcasting into Belarus are also foreign, such a bill would give Minsk a dangerous media monopoly, the IFJ said.


Latvian Ambassador to the U.S. Ojars Kalnins told RFE/RL on 15 October that the Baltic-U.S. charter is essentially complete and that only a few "fine" points remain to be resolved. Kalnins was speaking after two days of talks at the State Department in Washington between U.S., Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian senior diplomats. He said there are no obstacles to the signing of the charter by the presidents of the four countries, expected to take place in early December. Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Albinas Januska was somewhat less upbeat, saying that small differences between the Baltic States have blocked the conclusion of the charter. He told BNS that the differences are not big, rather over "issues of tactics." The charter is a non-binding document that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described earlier this year as an "umbrella that allows us to cooperate on the basis of shared values and goals."


The cabinet on 15 October approved the 1998 draft budget, BNS reported. Revenues are set at 6.886 billion litas ($1.72 billion) and expenditures at 7.581 billion litas ($1.895 billion). This provides for a budget deficit of 695 million litas or 1.6 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 697.9 million litas or 1.9 percent of GDP planned for 1997. It is estimated that next year GDP will grow by 7 percent and that annual inflation will not exceed 6 percent. The draft will be submitted to the parliament for discussion on 17 October. Meanwhile in Moscow, Lithuanian and Russian delegations are reportedly putting the final touches to the bilateral border treaty.


The Freedom Union has said it will support Jerzy Busek, a longtime Solidarity activist, as the country's next prime minister, Polish media reported. Solidarity Electoral Action named Busek as its candidate for the premiership on 15 October. President Aleksandr Kwasniewski is reported to have agreed to formally nominate Busek on 17 October, while the Roman Catholic Church has said it backs Busek, despite the fact he is a Protestant in overwhelmingly Catholic Poland. Busek was widely quoted by Polish media on 15 October as saying he will focus on improving the social protection of Polish citizens, health care, and pensions. Meanwhile, Freedom Union leaders have said more talks are needed before a full government team can be announced.


Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 15 October said if it is impossible to hold the NATO accession referendum on 16 November, the cabinet will decide on joining the organization without such a vote, Hungarian media reported. In a telephone conversation with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, Horn stressed that the parliamentary dispute over the referendum is not directed against accession. Solana said he considers the matter a domestic political issue. During his recent visit to Prague, President Arpad Goncz said Hungary's NATO accession must have priority over all other issues, since the "country's development for centuries" is at stake.


Ivan Szabo announced on 15 October that owing to conflicts within the opposition Hungarian Democratic People's Party, he is resigning as its chairman and parliamentary faction leader, Hungarian media reported. He pointed to the fact that although the party's caucus had agreed not to vote on the issue of the NATO referendum, only six members abided by that agreement. Szabo will remain faction leader until 30 October, while deputy chairman Gyorgy Rasko is now acting head of the party.


Ambassador to Bosnia Richard Kauzlarich and Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic signed an agreement in Banja Luka on 15 October that makes $1 million available for restoring roads, railroads, and houses on Bosnian Serb territory. Kauzlarich said work will begin immediately on rebuilding a major bridge in Banja Luka, which, he added, is evidence of Washington's willingness to help Bosnian Serbs who respect the Dayton agreements. Meanwhile, Plavsic told Banja Luka Television that her recent electoral agreement with her rival Momcilo Krajisnik covered only parliamentary elections and that a presidential vote was "not mentioned" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1997). Krajisnik told Pale media on 13 October that elections will take place later this year for the Republika Srpska presidency and for the Serbian seat on the Bosnian joint presidency.


A UN police spokesman said in Sarajevo on 15 October that a special police formation guards the home of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic in Pale. The spokesman added that the heavily armed police formation is illegal under the Dayton agreements. Meanwhile in Prague, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck told RFE/RL that indicted war criminals "should not have a good night's sleep until they are in The Hague," where the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is based. Shattuck added that it is "very likely" that Karadzic will be arrested soon and sent to the Dutch city for trial. And in Washington, CBS Television charged that a prominent indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal is living openly in Foca, where he committed his alleged crimes, and that NATO troops present there are unwilling to arrest him.


The Hague-based tribunal announced on 15 October that it has issued a subpoena demanding that six witnesses living on Bosnian government-controlled territory appear next week to testify in the case of three Muslims and a Croat. The four are charged with having committed atrocities against Serbs in 1992 at the Celebici prison camp. Only one of the witnesses, General Jovan Divjak, has agreed to testify, RFE/RL reported on 16 October. Divjak is a Serb who held a Bosnian army command throughout the war. After the Dayton agreements were signed, he and many other Serbian or Croatian officers were purged by the Muslim authorities and replaced with Muslims.


Representatives of the UN, which is administering eastern Slavonia in its transition from Serbian to Croatian control, ruled in Vukovar on 15 October that the Serbian flag can be displayed at official functions if the Serbian minority wants it. Croatian members of the Vukovar City Council had objected to having the Serbian flag displayed at council meetings. The UN said, however, that Croatian law guarantees any minority the right to use its national flag alongside the Croatian one. Meanwhile in Belgrade, a UN spokeswoman said no one knows yet when exactly Croatia will take full control of eastern Slavonia. She added that Secretary General Kofi Annan is not satisfied with the overall state of affairs there, and that the Serbian population remains disquieted about the possible return of Croatian control.


Police authorities in Podgorica announced on 16 October that they arrested 11 men from Belgrade and Novi Sad allegedly sent by the Serbian authorities to carry out unspecified tasks in conjunction with the 19 October Montenegrin presidential election. The vote pits Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who favors more autonomy for Montenegro, against President Momir Bulatovic, a supporter of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The police said the arrested men had a telephone number of a member of Bulatovic's security team who was to tell them exactly what to do. Most are unemployed and were promised a large amount of money should Bulatovic win. The police added that all of those arrested have a criminal record and that some of them were paramilitaries in Croatia or Bosnia.


Montenegrin Supreme Court President Ratko Vukotic said in Podgorica on 16 October that 9,000 people have asked that their names be added to voter registration lists in time for the upcoming election. Western monitors present during the first round of presidential voting in September charged that many eligible voters, primarily Djukanovic supporters, had been left off the lists. In Belgrade, "Danas" reported on 15 October that communist politicians close to Mirjana Markovic, who is also Milosevic's wife, have given $2 million to Bulatovic's campaign.


Spokesmen for the Democratic League of Kosovo, the leading ethnic Albanian political organization in Serbia's southern province, said in Pristina on 15 October that Serbian police have staged a crackdown in three ethnic Albanian villages near Djakovica. The spokesmen added that police mistreated some 100 Albanians in the raids, which were made in response to an armed attack on a Serbian police station two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1997). On 16 October, Radio Pristina reported that one person was killed in an attack on a police station in Klicina. Meanwhile in Pristina, ethnic Albanian student spokesman Bujar Dugoli said the students will continue their street protests unless the Serbian authorities implement a 1996 agreement with the Albanians on restoring Albanian-language education in Kosovo. On 1 October, the police broke up the first major demonstration in years in Pristina.


Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said in Tirana on 15 October that Yugoslavia must fulfill some basic conditions before Tirana can consider holding what he called top-level bilateral talks, BETA news agency reported. Milo said Belgrade must first implement the 1996 education agreement and end what he called police repression of the Kosovars. Belgrade, he continued, must also conclude agreements with Tirana on border and consular affairs, as well as on economic relations and trade.


Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis said in Tirana on 15 October that the "development of Albania benefits Greece. Better cooperation with Greece benefits Albania." He told his Albanian counterpart, Fatos Nano, that Greece will provide a $72 million loan to Albania and that Greece will continue its efforts to help rebuild Albania's police force. The prime ministers signed agreements on fighting crime and illegal immigration, promoting military cooperation, and cooperating on infrastructure projects. They also agreed to open a Greek consulate in Korca and to set up three new crossing points along their border. Simitis said Greece will take steps to give legal status to many Albanian migrants illegally staying in that country. Nano pledged to make Greek-language schooling more readily available to Albania's Greek minority.


Victor Ciorbea on 15 October said the "revolutionaries" staging a hunger strike in Bucharest are "blackmailing" the government. Earlier, the premier had said the joint commission tasked with examining whether "revolutionaries" qualify for special privileges will include experts from the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor-General's Office, members of the parliament's two chambers, and representatives of the "revolutionaries," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A protocol on setting up the commission was signed with "revolutionaries" representatives. But Dan Iosif, one of the leaders of the hunger strikers, said the "revolutionaries" are demanding that the government withdraw the draft amendment to the law, instead of simply postponing the debate on the legislation. He added that the hunger strike will continue.


Also on 15 October, former President Ion Iliescu again visited the striking "revolutionaries" and encouraged them to persist in their demands, prompting Ciorbea to comment that he hopes the strikers are not being manipulated. Culture Minister Ion Caramitru on 15 October threatened to resign over the government's decision to postpone the debate on the amendment. The next day, Iosif accused Iliescu, Ciorbea, and other leaders of seeking to make political capital out of the strikers. He added that the protesters intend to "ask for political asylum in the U.S." The Party of Social Democracy in Romania faction walked out of the Senate debates after National Peasant Party Christian Democratic Senator Serban Sandulescu accused Iliescu and Iosif of "destabilizing the country." And Sandulescu resigned from the commission overseeing the law's implementation to protest President Emil Constantinescu's position on the strikers, Radio Bucharest and Mediafax reported.


Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat and his Transdniestrian counterpart, Stanislav Hajeev, have agreed on a number of "confidence-building" measures, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 15 October. The agreement provides for exchange visits to military units situated in the security zone and on military maneuvers. Nikolai Lepihov, Hajeev's deputy, said Pasat handed Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov a message from President Petru Lucinschi. Sources close to Smirnov said the message deals with the preparations for the CIS summit scheduled to take place in Chisinau on 22-23 October. Lucinschi asked Smirnov to "intensify control" over the so-called "voluntary organizations" of Transdniestrian paramilitary "in order to avoid any provocations" during the summit.


Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists, told journalists in Chisinau on 15 October that his party will appeal to the Constitutional Court against the parliament's rejection of the proposed plebiscite on the law on land sale and purchase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997). Voronin said the parliament's decision to disregard the 245,000 signatures supporting the referendum "once again demonstrates the anti-people, destructive nature" of the legislature, BASA-press and Infotag reported.


Klaus Kinkel, on a one-day visit to Sofia on 15 October, told a news conference that the "decision on Bulgaria's admission to the EU and NATO has already been taken and the only question is when and how." After talks with President Petar Stoyanov, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, Kinkel pledged that Germany will remain a "reliable partner" in Bulgarian efforts to join the Euro-Atlantic organizations, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported.


Emil Danielyan and Liz Fuller

Recent developments may either give new impetus to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process or deadlock it once again.

Over a 10-course gourmet dinner in Strasbourg on the eve of the 10-11 October Council of Europe summit, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, decided to invite the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Levon Ter-Petrossyan and Heidar Aliev, to Moscow for talks under the auspices of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, which since 1992 has been engaged in mediating a settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

Russia and France, together with the U.S,. are the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group, and Yeltsin said that U.S. participation would be welcome. He did not, however, indicate whether Arkadii Ghukasyan, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, would also be invited. Ter-Petrossyan and Aliyev on 10 October issued a joint statement calling for talks within the framework of the Minsk Group that would include all three parties to the conflict.

Their statement also described as "encouraging" the most recent draft peace plan proposed by the Minsk Group. That plan envisages a "step-by-step" approach to resolving the conflict whereby a decision on Nagorno-Karabakh's status is to be preceded by the withdrawal of Armenian forces from six occupied raions in Azerbaijan, the lifting of Azerbaijan's blockade of Armenia, the repatriation of displaced persons and refugees, and other confidence- building measures.

Azerbaijan gave its written consent to those proposals on 8 October. The following day, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparyan said that Yerevan has officially accepted the plan "as a basis for further negotiations" but has unspecified serious reservations about it.

The Karabakh Armenian leadership, for its part, has consistently advocated a "package" solution to the conflict that would resolve all contentious issues within a single framework document. The Karabakh Armenians argue that a phased solution is dangerous because it obliges them to withdraw from the Azerbaijani territory under their control--their main bargaining chip--but gives no guarantee that Baku will not attack Nagorno-Karabakh after the first stage of the peace process. Having regained its lost territories, they reason, oil-rich Azerbaijan may be tempted to solve the dispute by force.

Naira Melkumyan, Nagorno-Karabakh's permanent representative in Yerevan, announced on 11 October that Stepanakert has formally rejected the "step-by-step" peace plan. She said a withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani territory is possible only if there are international guarantees of Nagorno-Karabakh's "security and future status." She also proposed that Armenia and a number of foreign countries, including Iran, act as guarantors of Karabakh's security.

Ghukasyan has similarly proposed a role for Iran in the peace process. The U.S., however, will reject such a proposal out of hand, and Azerbaijan and Turkey (which is a Minsk Group member) are likely to express reservations. Moreover, Iran is not a member of the OSCE, which Armenia and Azerbaijan have just termed the most appropriate forum for talks on resolving the conflict.

Diverging views within the Armenian leadership could pose a further obstacle to the peace process. Speaking at a press conference on 26 September, Ter-Petrossyan affirmed that "unilateral demands" for Nagorno-Karabakh's secession from Azerbaijan are unrealistic and will not be tolerated by the international community. Ter-Petrossyan said Armenia must be ready to make "serious concessions" if it is to become a "normal country" and if it is not to lose more in the long run. He drew a parallel with the Croatian Serbs, who lost their self-proclaimed republic in 1995.

Predictably, Ter-Petrossyan's statements were condemned by the Armenian opposition as "capitulation and surrender." But some influential members of the Armenian leadership--including Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisyan (both former war-time leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh) and hard-line Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan--are likewise believed to harbor objections.

Some Armenian observers have speculated that Ter-Petrossyan's 26 September statements were a diplomatic ruse aimed at preempting international pressure over the Armenians' refusal to recognize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. By blaming the Karabakh Armenians for that refusal, those observers argue, Ter-Petrossyan wanted to create the image of a "realist" leader having to deal with "intransigent nationalists." But Ghukasyan's repeated offer to cede part of Karabakh's de facto independence and conclude an accord creating a confederation with Baku that would preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity in effect renders such an argument irrelevant, if not invalid. At the same time, Baku will appear obdurate if it refuses--as it almost certainly will-- to discuss the "confederation" option for Nagorno-Karabakh.

Paradoxically, while Ter-Petrossyan's and Ghukasyan's expressed willingness to compromise over Karabakh's future status could expedite a breakthrough in the peace process, disagreement over long-term security guarantees for the Karabakh population could just as easily deadlock it--unless, that is, the OSCE agrees to provide those security guarantees for Karabakh in order to exclude Iran. In fact, this may be precisely what Ter-Petrossyan, a consummate strategic thinker, has in mind.

Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.