DUMA RATIFIES CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION
By 288 votes to 75 with two abstentions, the State Duma on 31 October voted to approve a law on ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention. First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and General Staff head Anatolii Kvashnin urged Duma deputies to ratify the treaty, which bans the development, production, and use of chemical weapons, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. Kvashnin said chemical weapons currently stockpiled in seven locations in Russia pose a public health hazard. Earlier this year, the Duma postponed ratification of the convention, saying Russia lacks the funds to meet requirements that chemical weapons and production facilities be destroyed within 10 years. In a 30 October letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised that the 1998 budget will earmark 500 million new rubles ($85 million) for destroying chemical weapons, up from 80 million rubles in the government's original draft, Interfax reported.
YELTSIN, JOSPIN AGREE ON IRANIAN GAS PROJECT
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 30 October agreed that a project to develop a gas field in Iran complies with both the letter and the spirit of international law, Interfax reported. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the two leaders agreed that attempts to thwart the contract, which involves the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and the French company Total, are unfounded. The U.S. government has criticized the project but has not taken any concrete action against Gazprom or Total (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). Jospin and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin are to chair a session of the Russian-French intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation on 31 October. The Chernomyrdin-Jospin Commission is modeled after the commission co-chaired by the Russian prime minister and U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
RUSSIA SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON IRAQ
Meeting in Moscow on 30 October with the Iraqi ambassador, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said constructive cooperation between the Iraqi government and the UN disarmament commission is the only "correct" way to have UN sanctions lifted, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told journalists in Cairo on 31 October that Russia disapproves of Iraq's decision two days earlier to expel U.S. disarmament experts. Primakov said the Iraqi action puts Moscow "in a very difficult position." But he added that Russia "strongly objects" to calls for the use of force against Iraq. On 30 October unnamed Foreign Ministry sources told Interfax that Moscow will take "an extremely negative attitude" toward the use of force against any Arab country.
AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR IN MOSCOW
Following talks with Yeltsin on 30 October, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima told journalists that "the Russian side emphasized the advantages of Austria's neutrality" since World War II but made clear that it will not apply pressure to influence Austria's decision on whether to join NATO, Reuters and Interfax reported. Meeting with Klima on 29 October, Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin praised Austrian neutrality and described NATO expansion plans as a "historic mistake," ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin and Klima signed an agreement on scientific cooperation. According to the Russian presidential press service, Klima assured Yeltsin that Austria will work to improve cooperation between Russia and the EU while it chairs the union in the second half of 1998. Klima also said he favors Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.
JAPANESE PREMIER HOPES FOR RAPID SOLUTION ON KURILS
Meeting with Russian Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev in Tokyo on 31 October, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto expressed hope that he and Russian President Yeltsin will settle territorial disputes between Russia and Japan by the end of this century, AFP reported. Japan claims four Kuril islands seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Yeltsin has previously said the dispute is unlikely to be settled for at least a generation . However, appearing on Ekho Moskvy on 30 October, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin did not rule out that Russia and Japan will propose a "revolutionary approach" to solving the problem within the next five or six years. Yeltsin and Hashimoto are to discuss the Kurils and economic cooperation issues during informal talks in Krasnoyarsk Krai on 1 and 2 November.
DUMA REJECTS LAW ON COMBINING SECURITY SERVICES
The State Duma on 30 October rejected a law that would have combined the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and the Federal Agency for Governmental Communications and Information (FAPSI) into a single state security ministry, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The law was proposed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a prominent Communist, said the proposed law is "senseless." He argued that "we have already begun reforming the military without enough money to do so. We have no right to put the security services in the same situation and thus destroy them." Representatives of the FSB, SVR and FAPSI urged the Duma to reject the law at recent hearings called by Ilyukhin's committee, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 30 October.
AIDES DIFFER ON DUMA'S LATEST COURT APPEAL
Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, said the Duma's request that the court rule on whether Yeltsin may seek a third term is "absolutely legitimate," Interfax reported on 30 October. Shakhrai added that the question "should not be left legally unsettled until the year 2000" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). In contrast, Yeltsin's legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov argued that the Duma's appeal shows "contempt" for the president and the court, despite being couched in "superficially legal terms." Krasnov argued that since Yeltsin has said he will not seek a third term, the Duma's appeal reflects "unhealthy suspicion." Meanwhile, in the latest nationwide poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, 65 percent of respondents said they are opposed to Yeltsin's seeking a third term, while only 13 percent were in favor.
GOVERNMENT REJECTS PENSION REFORM PLAN
The government on 30 October rejected pension reform plans prepared by the Labor Ministry and agreed to consider the issue again in December, Russian news agencies reported. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who is also labor minister, presented the plans to the cabinet. He was then criticized by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin for submitting a "rough draft" that had not been approved by Labor Ministry experts. The government was to have considered Sysuev's reform plans during a 23 October meeting chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais while Chernomyrdin was out of the country. However, Chernomyrdin ordered that the meeting be postponed so that he could attend the discussion of pension reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 1997).
YELTSIN PRAISES POWER-SHARING AGREEMENTS WITH REGIONS
During a nationwide radio address on 31 October, Yeltsin said power-sharing agreements between federal and regional authorities have helped "strengthen the federal state" and keep the Russian Federation intact, ITAR-TASS reported. Federal authorities have signed such agreements with 37 of Russia's 89 regions, beginning with the Republic of Tatarstan in February 1994. Most recently, Yeltsin concluded accords with officials from Astrakhan, Kirov, Murmansk, Ulyanovsk, and Yaroslavl Oblasts, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 October. On 1 November, he is to sign a power-sharing agreement with Krasnoyarsk Krai and the Taimyr and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs. Yeltsin did not mention Chechnya in his radio address. Russian officials have sought to sign a power-sharing agreement with Grozny, but Chechen officials have insisted that any agreement with Moscow must recognize Chechnya as an independent state.
INGUSH FUGITIVES PICKET RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT
An unspecified number of Ingush forced to flee their homes in North Ossetia during the fighting five years ago have begun picketing the Russian government building to draw attention to their plight, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 October. The Ingush said their situation has not been improved by the treaty on resolving the conflict signed in September by the presidents of North Ossetia and Ingushetia or by subsequent measures to expedite the return of the Ingush to their homes. Two days earlier, North Ossetian President Akhsarbek Galazov rejected Ingush allegations that an Ingush village was shelled from North Ossetian territory.
MUSLIM REGIMENTS IN RUSSIAN ARMY?
Top Muslim clergymen--including Gabdulla Khazrat Galiulla, the chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Tatarstan, and Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Russian Muftis--met on 28 October with Russian Minister for Nationalities Vyacheslav Mikhailov and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 31 October, citing Tatarinform. The talks focused on the possibility of forming special Muslim regiments in the Russian army and setting up an Islamic University in Russia.
JEWISH CONGREGATION UNABLE TO REGISTER IN BRYANSK
The Bryansk Oblast Justice Directorate has informed a local Jewish congregation that in line with Russia's new religion law, "we are disregarding the application for registration of the Jewish Religious Congregation," the Keston News Service reported on 29 October. An official said the directorate has merely requested more documentation and has not taken a final decision to refuse to register the congregation. The religion law recognizes Judaism as a "traditional" Russian religion, and the Bryansk congregation is a member of the Congress of Jewish Religious Societies and Organizations of Russia, which has been registered with federal authorities. However, the Bryansk congregation was founded in the early 1990s, and the religion law stipulates that the status of "religious organization" can be granted only to groups that have existed in Russia for at least 15 years.
COURT SAYS LEGISLATURE ILLEGALLY SUSPENDED VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR
The Primorskii Krai Court on 30 October ruled that the krai Duma exceeded its authority when it suspended Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov and appointed Yurii Kopylov acting mayor, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, the same court upheld the legislature's action, but the Duma has since reversed its decision to suspend Cherepkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 23 October 1997). Vladivostok prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation against Kopylov. In addition, Cherepkov has vowed to file suit against Kopylov and the krai Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October.
COURT RULES AMBULANCE DRIVERS' STRIKE ILLEGAL
The Sverdlovsk Oblast Court has ruled that a recent strike by ambulance drivers in Yekaterinburg was illegal, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. The drivers staged a four-day strike to protest wage arrears and inadequately equipped ambulances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997). Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii vowed to press criminal charges against the strikers, and city health officials have already asked city prosecutors to open a criminal case into the matter. The officials charge that four elderly people died needlessly during the drivers' strike because the ambulances they summoned were delayed by up to 90 minutes.
VORONEZH LEGISLATURE CRITICIZES NEW HISTORY TEXTBOOKS
The Voronezh Oblast Duma has adopted a non-binding recommendation to teachers urging them not to use an allegedly "anti-Russian" textbook on 20th-century European history, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. The deputies charged that the book, written by Saratov University professor Aleksandr Kreder, is unpatriotic and tendentious, both belittling and distorting Russian history. They also objected to the book's financing by U.S. billionaire George Soros's Cultural Initiative foundation. The federal Education Ministry, however, considers such criticism unfounded. Ministry officials argue that Russian events receive comparatively little treatment because the textbook covers European history as a whole. They also say a group of Russian experts, not foreigners, selected the textbook for publication.
AZERBAIJANI EX-PRESIDENT RETURNS TO BAKU
Abulfaz Elchibey, who fled Baku during the June 1993 insurrection, returned to the Azerbaijani capital on 30 October from his native village of Keleki in Nakhichevan. Elchibey, who is head of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front, told journalists he plans to unite the opposition and to "restore and develop" democracy. Popular Front Deputy Chairman Asim Molla-Zade said in an interview with Reuters that Elchibey plans to contend the October 1998 presidential elections. Turan reported that the Azerbaijani authorities approved Elchibey's return and provided a plane for him to fly from Nakhichevan to Baku. The 1993 insurrection paved the way for the return to power of former Communist Party First Secretary Heidar Aliev.
ARMENIA DENIES PKK OFFICE OPENED IN YEREVAN
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian on 30 October denied a Turkish press report that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has opened an information office in Yerevan. Gasparian told "RFE/RL Newsline" that the Armenian authorities have never cooperated with the PKK. He said the Turkish report is "groundless and provocative and does not help the establishment of cooperation in our region." The "Turkish Daily News" on 30 October cited the Anatolia news agency as reporting that the PKK has opened an office in Yerevan after the Georgian government refused to allow it to open one in Tbilisi
TURKISH PRESIDENT STRESSES NO OPEN BORDER WITH ARMENIA
Speaking in Kars on 30 October at a ceremony to mark the 77th anniversary of the city's capture by Kemalist Turkish forces, Suleyman Demirel again said Turkey will not open a frontier crossing with Armenia until the Karabakh conflict is resolved, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 31 October. (Under the Treaty of Sevres of August 1920, Van, Mush, Bitlis, Erzrum, Kars, and Ardahan were formally ceded to Armenia.) Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gasparian told "RFE/RL Newsline" that Turkey should open a frontier crossing with Armenia. He also argued that as a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, Turkey should establish diplomatic relations with Armenia without stipulating conditions in order to expedite a solution to the Karabakh conflict.
DASHNAK MEMBERS TO MEET ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
Apo Boghikian , a senior member of the banned Dashnak party (HHD), told journalists in Yerevan on 30 October that HHD representatives will meet with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan in early November. Ter-Petrossyan issued a decree in December 1994 suspending the HHD's Armenia organization on the grounds that it sponsored a secret terrorist organization. On 29 October, the HHD was allowed to retake control of its offices in Yerevan and other towns, fueling hopes that the ban on its operations will soon be lifted. But on 29 October, parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan told visiting Russian journalists that political parties financed from abroad should be banned in Armenia, according to ARMENPRESS. The HHD falls into that category.
PROTESTS IN KAZAKHSTAN
The opposition movement Azat began picketing the Kazakh parliament on 31 October in solidarity with the Achisay Polymetal plant workers who are still prevented by police from continuing their protest march to Almaty, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kazakh capital reported. Parliamentary deputy Esenbay Belgibayev told RFE/RL that the government has allocated 150 million tenges ($2 million) to the Achisay plant to pay the wage arrears that the protest marchers are demanding. Employees of the Balhash-Stroy State Construction company also started demanding back wages since1995. In Janatas (Taraz Oblast), workers from the Karatau Plant pitched tents in the central square to express solidarity with the Achisay workers and to demand a total of 515 million tenges in wage arrears. Meanwhile workers at the Aqtau Nuclear Power station in Western Kazakhstan requested permission from the local administration to organize a protest in Aqtau to demand their overdue salaries, which have not been paid since 1994.
RUSSIAN-KAZAKH DEFENSE AGREEMENT SIGNED
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and his Kazakh counterpart, Muhtar Altynbaev, signed agreements in Almaty on 30 October on Russian compensation to Kazakhstan for leasing defense facilities and on the removal of toxic missile fuel from the Sary Shagan testing site, ITAR-TASS reported. Sergeev later told journalists that Moscow may give Kazakhstan additional weaponry, including two mine-sweepers and two patrol boats. It has already agreed to hand over 73 military aircraft. In response to an RFE/RL correspondent's question, Sergeev said Russia is reducing the number of its bases in Kazakhstan but will not leave that country, which he said is Russia's most reliable partner in the region.
UZBEK-TAJIK STANDOFF CONTINUES
As talks between Uzbek and Tajik government representatives continued in Tashkent, Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 30 October denied charges by Gaffar Mirzoyev, the head of the Tajik presidential guard, that Uzbekistan is aiding and abetting anti-government forces in Tajikistan, Interfax reported. Karimov termed the current fighting in Tajikistan "not just a political struggle for power but a struggle between rival clans" to shore up President Imomali Rakhmonov's hold on power. Karimov further affirmed that "Uzbeks will never fight against Tajiks." Also on 30 October, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin said Russia is concerned by the recent reported clashes on the Tajik-Uzbek frontier. He reaffirmed Moscow's readiness to contribute to the implementation of the May Tajik peace agreement.
REBEL COLONEL VOWS TO CONTINUE FIGHTING
Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev on 30 October denied claims by Mirzoyev that his forces were routed after attacking the presidential guard near Tursunzade, 75 kilometers west of Dushanbe. Khudoiberdiev told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 31 October that his men have repelled an attack by government forces. He added that he is prepared to continue fighting for 10 years, if necessary, to put an end to the killings of his supporters in Tajikistan and to win the right to return and live peacefully. The Russian newspaper also reported growing disagreement between the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition over the ongoing repatriation from Afghanistan of UTO fighters.
TURKMEN-UKRAINIAN GAS AGREEMENT
Meeting in Ashgabat on 30 October, Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Holubchenko and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov agreed that Turkmenistan will supply Ukraine with 3 billion cubic meters of gas next year and 20 billion cubic meters in 1998, Interfax reported. In exchange, Ukraine will help Turkmenistan build chemical plants and a bridge across the Amudarya River. The estimated cost of the latter project is $80 million. The question of how Ukraine will settle its outstanding $1.5 billion debts for earlier gas deliveries was not resolved.
UN CRITICIZES BELARUS FOR SOVIET-STYLE POLICE
In a statement released on 31 October, 18 independent experts assembled by the UN Human Rights Commission concluded that the police and militia in Belarus continue to mistreat people much as they did in Soviet times. In an appended response, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Nina Mazai rejected the charges, saying there are only a few irregularities.
UKRAINE REJECTS SMUGGLING CHARGES
Ukrainian Defense Minister spokesman Valeriy Korol has rejected Bosnian and Western charges that seven Ukrainian peacekeepers were involved in smuggling, Ukrainian media reported on 30 October. But Korol said that during the investigation that led to the peacekeepers' exoneration on those charges, it had been discovered that four of them illegally used official vehicles to transport local people. He said the four would be pulled out of Bosnia.
UKRAINE, RUSSIA BEGIN JOINT EXERCISES
Some 15,000 naval personnel from Russia and Ukraine have begun a three-day exercise on the Black Sea, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 October. The 17 Russian ships and 11 Ukrainian ships are simulating a situation of internal conflict within an unspecified country. Ukrainian officials said that despite conducting the exercises with Russia, Kyiv remains committed to expanding ties with NATO.
RUSSIA WANTS TO NORMALIZE RELATIONS WITH ESTONIA
Presenting his credentials to Estonian President Lennart Meri on 30 October, new Russian Ambassador Aleksei Glukhov said he will seek to normalize relations with Estonia, ETA reported. Both nations are victims of their heritage, he said, adding it is a "paradox that even under new conditions, the past continues to poison our relations." Meri stressed Estonia's readiness to cooperate with Russia and argued that bilateral relations should be based on mutual interests, international law, and long-term perspectives. Glukhov also handed over to Meri a document outlining President Boris Yeltsin's offer of security guarantees to the Baltic States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1997).
BALTS TO COORDINATE RESPONSE TO RUSSIAN OFFER
The three Baltic presidents are scheduled to meet in Palanga, Lithuania, on 10 November and will discuss a joint response to Yeltsin's security offer. Meanwhile, Lithuania has turned down the document as a whole, BNS reported on 30 October. A Foreign Ministry statement said that neither a new agreement on mutual security nor a regional pact is necessary. But it noted that Lithuania is not opposed to widening cooperation with Moscow in all areas, according to Reuters.
SLEZEVICIUS OFFICIALLY CHARGED WITH POWER ABUSE
The Lithuanian Prosecutor-General's Office has officially accused Adolfas Slezevicius of abuse of power damaging to national interests and the country's banking sector, Interfax reported on 30 October. A criminal case was opened against Slezevicius in early 1996, shortly after the former prime minister, learning of a crisis at the Lithuanian Innovation Bank, had withdrawn a lump sum plus interest two days before the bank's collapse. Slezevicius, who took office as premier in 1992, was forced to step down in the wake of that incident.
OSCE CRITICIZES LATVIAN LANGUAGE BILL
Wrapping up a two-day visit to Riga, Max van der Stoel, the high commissioner on minorities for the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged Latvia to amend its controversial draft language law and to speed up the naturalization of the country's large Russian minority, Reuters reported. Van der Stoel pointed to provisions of the bill regulating the use of language in the private sphere, which, he stressed, is in "contradiction of international conventions Latvia has signed." The bill recently passed in its first reading in the parliament, but the government coalition is divided over the draft legislation.
POLISH GOVERNMENT TO BE SWORN IN
Poland's new government will be sworn in on 31 October, PAP reported. But the cabinet will not assume full powers until a confidence vote that, according to Solidarity Electoral Action official Andrzej Anusz, has been postponed until 8 November.
CZECH PRESIDENT PUTS OFF TRIP
Chronic bronchitis has forced Vaclav Havel to postpone a planned visit to Britain on 4-7 November, CTK reported on 30 October. The president underwent lung surgery late last year to remove a small malignant tumor. Meanwhile, the Czech government continues to face growing political problems. One coalition party, the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), has called for a review of the government's priorities. Social Democratic opposition leader Milos Zeman has said his party will seek allies to bring down the government rather than wait for what he claimed would be a Social Democratic victory in the next parliamentary elections.
CZECHS, SLOVAKS SEEK TO EASE ROMA PROBLEM
Czech Minorities Minister Pavel Batiska is to go to London to discuss how to ease tensions between the U.K. and the Czech Republic over Romani refugees, CTK reported on 30 October. A day earlier, Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told a television audience that Bratislava has proposed repatriating Roma from Slovakia who now live in the U.K. and France. Meciar also commented that "Slovakia does not consider itself a country whose ethnic minorities are politically persecuted."
SENIOR NATO OFFICIAL SAYS NO NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN HUNGARY
Addressing a Budapest conference on Hungary and NATO, Simon Lunn, the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Assembly confirmed that NATO will not seek to deploy nuclear weapons in Hungary, Hungarian media reported on 30 October. Donald J. McConel, who is responsible for political affairs within the alliance, said accession negotiations show that, in many respects, Hungary ranks first among those invited to join the alliance
CLINTON WEIGHS OPTIONS ON BOSNIA
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said in Seattle on 30 October that President Bill Clinton is carefully considering whether to retain a military presence in Bosnia after SFOR's mandate expires in June 1998. He argued that Washington will do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of the Dayton agreements. Talbott stressed that peace in Bosnia is in the "vital interests of the United States" and that the international community will keep a civilian presence there in any case. Meanwhile in the U.S. capital, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and a high-level NATO delegation discussed Bosnian policy options with Clinton's advisers.
WESTENDORP THREATENS: "BYE-BYE MR. KRAJISNIK."
Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 30 October that he will fire Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency, unless Krajisnik becomes more cooperative within two months. Westendorp called Krajisnik one of the biggest obstacles to the peace process and to reaching agreements on joint documents, symbols, and institutions. "If Krajisnik doesn't deliver [agreements on those issues], then I will say bye-bye Mr. Krajisnik."
BOSNIA'S ELECTRICITY PROBLEMS MOUNT
Zaim Karamehmedovic, the head of Bosnia's main power company, told "Oslobodjenje" of 30 October that there was a blackout the previous day at a thermoelectric plant in Tuzla. He added that Bosnia cannot produce enough power to meet its winter needs and called upon citizens to save energy. Karamehmedovic said power deliveries to Croatia and Slovenia have been suspended. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic said Bosnia's trade imbalance with Slovenia is "disturbing" and must be remedied. In the first eight months of 1997, Bosnia exported $17 million worth of goods to Slovenia but imported $181 million worth.
BULATOVIC FACTION TO BOYCOTT MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT?
Supporters of outgoing President Momir Bulatovic told an RFE/RL correspondent in Cetinje on 30 October that their faction in parliament may boycott future sessions of the legislature following a decision by parliamentary committees to validate the recent presidential election results and dismiss Bulatovic's charges of electoral fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). Some opposition party spokesmen, for their part, said they want the parliament to investigate Bulatovic's responsibility for the current political instability.
SERBIAN POLICE BEAT KOSOVAR STUDENTS
A spokesman for ethnic Albanian student protesters said on 30 October that demonstrations will continue the next week. He charged that Serbian police beat 16 students in Pec alone during the 29 October protests. Local Albanian-language media noted other incidents of police violence against demonstrators across the province, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina.
SERBIAN OPPOSITION TRIES TO FIND JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Opposition leaders continued discussions on 30 October in an effort to find a joint candidate for the 7 December Serbian presidential elections. Names most frequently mentioned include banker Dragoslav Avramovic, former communist party chief Ivan Stambolic, and former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, "Danas" reported from Belgrade on 31 October.
SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT EXPECTED TO BEAT SEVEN CHALLENGERS
The Constitutional Court ruled in Ljubljana on 30 October that Milan Kucan can run for a third term in the 23 November presidential elections. Public opinion polls suggest that none of his seven challengers constitutes a serious challenge and that the president will receive at least 50 percent of the votes in the first round of balloting.
SLAVONIAN BORDER TO OPEN FOR ALL SAINTS' DAY
William Walker, the UN's chief administrator in eastern Slavonia, said in Zagreb on 30 October that the borders of the last Serb-held enclave in Croatia will be open on 1 November. Visits to graves of family and friends on All Saints' Day is an important Roman Catholic custom in much of Central Europe. During the war, Croats were unable to visit graves in Serb-controlled areas. Also in Zagreb, the government announced that progress is being made on the reintegration of eastern Slavonia. The statement added there are more Serbs returning to their old homes outside eastern Slavonia than there are Croats going back to their former residences inside the enclave.
ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT RESTORES COMMUNIST-ERA HOLIDAY
The legislature on 30 October reinstated 29 November as Albania's Liberation Day to mark the end of the German occupation during World War II, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The previous Democratic-dominated government had changed the date of the holiday to 28 November, arguing that the last German soldier left Shkoder on 28 November 1944 and that former communist dictator Enver Hoxha had chosen the 29th simply because Yugoslavia, which was his wartime patron, also marked 29 November.
ITALIAN, ALBANIAN PROSECUTORS TO OPEN JOINT OFFICES
Italian senior anti-mafia prosecutor Pierre Luigi Vigna and Albanian Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi agreed in Tirana on 29 October to open joint offices in their capital cities to coordinate the fight against organized crime, ATSH reported. In other news, Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe envoy Franz Vranitzky opened an OSCE office in Shkoder on 30 October, "Shekulli" reported. It is the organization's first permanent office in Albania outside Tirana.
ROMANIAN 'REVOLUTIONARIES' END HUNGER STRIKE
The 1989 "revolutionaries" who began a hunger strike in Bucharest 23 days ago have ended their fast, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 30 October. The move follows a government proposal that the parliament will not start debating amendments to the law on benefits to the "revolutionaries" until a special commission has reviewed the cases of all 9,000 who enjoyed those benefits until recently. The "revolutionaries" will be represented on that commission, which will also include a deputy, a senator, a member of the Prosecutor-General's Office, and a high Interior Ministry official. In other news, some 5,000 members of the National Syndicate Bloc demonstrated in Bucharest against the government's economic policies.
BUCHAREST STOCK EXCHANGE LIMITS FLUCTUATIONS
The Bucharest Stock Exchange on 30 October narrowed the limits within which stock prices can fluctuate on a single day. The move came after the shares of six firms fell by more than 20 percent amidst the turmoil on the world equity markets. For companies on the exchange's first tier, trading in futures will be suspended if prices rise or fall by more than 20 percent. For those on the second tier, the limit is 35 percent, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In other news, opposition senators on 30 October introduced a motion criticizing the government's policies in the agricultural sector. If the motion is approved by the parliament, the government must implement its recommendations.
IMF CONCERNED ABOUT MOLDOVAN REFORMS
David Owen, currently in charge of Moldovan affairs within the IMF, and Mark Horton, the permanent IMF representative in Moldova, met with President Petru Lucinschi and parliamentary chairman Dumitru Motpan on 30 October. A statement issued later said Horton expressed concern about "the parliament's tendency to revise some provisions in the memoranda signed between Moldova and international finance organizations." He referred specifically to the parliament's 24 October decision to suspend raising energy prices" which, he said, may negatively impact the budget, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. An IMF fact-finding mission has been in Moldova over the past two weeks.
CIUBUC SAYS 'GOVERNMENT CRISIS NOT IMMINENT.'
In an interview with BASA-press on 30 October, Moldovan Premier Ion Ciubuc said a government crisis is "not imminent," provided the parliament " lets the cabinet take care of the country's urgent problems." Ciubuc was responding to an initiative by Socialist Unity-Edinstvo deputies to collect signatures in favor of a government reshuffle. The premier said such a move would only lead to "destabilization." He added that the government has to fulfill its international obligations, saying it is "inconceivable" that the first installment of an IMF $35 million credit was accepted and then the agreed raising of energy prices suspended. Ciubuc commented the parliament is playing a "populist game" that may deprive Moldova of energy resources.
WORLD BANK APPROVES LOAN FOR BULGARIA
The World Bank on 30 October approved a $100 million loan to Bulgaria to help cover Sofia's balance of payments shortfall, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. World Bank project manager Hans Moritz said Bulgaria has paid "a high price for the slow implementation of structural reforms" in the past. He added that the government must now act decisively to "restore confidence and promote economic stability." The loan will be used to reduce losses of and improve financial discipline in state-owned enterprises and to accelerate privatization of the public sector and of banks.
RUSSIAN DUMA POSTPONES BUDGET DEBATE
by Floriana Fossato
Despite a plea by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's State Duma decided not to debate the 1998 budget by 1 November. Analysts say the move suggests the Duma, in which Communists and their allies have a virtual majority, may be seeking more concessions from the Kremlin and the government. President Boris Yeltsin recently promised regular consultations and roundtable discussions with parliamentary and opposition figures. In return, the Communists withdrew a vote of no confidence from the Duma's agenda.
Some of the Communists' political opponents believe other motives lay behind the Duma's decision to delay the budget vote. Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of the pro-government "Our Home is Russia" faction, commented that the Communist leadership "did not want to show to its electorate that it is voting in favor of the budget ahead of the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution [on 7 November]."
On 28 October, the Duma Council scheduled the 1998 budget debate for 12-14 November. The same day, the government approved the guidelines of a compromise 1998 draft budget drawn up by a trilateral commission of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives. The revised budget meets deputies' demands for increased funding of the military, agriculture, and social programs by raising estimated revenues by some 6 percent to more than 360 billion new rubles (some $62 billion) from the original projection of $340 billion rubles. Projected expenditures are also increased.
First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais commented that the new revenues projection "strains the limits of common sense" and cannot be increased further. Despite the government's poor performance in improving tax collection, the main source of additional revenues is expected to come from taxes and the rescheduling of tax arrears.
Also on 28 October, the government approved 10 draft taxation laws, which, according to Chernomyrdin "will ensure the fulfillment of the revenue part of the 1998 budget." The debate in November will begin with consideration of the new draft tax legislation.
Yeltsin's concessions to the opposition included regular, high-level roundtable talks on political, economic, and social issues as well as Duma supervisory boards on two nationwide television channels and two hours of programs weekly on Russian Television devoted to parliamentary procedures. Yeltsin and other top Russian politicians, both from the government and the opposition, have said the roundtable talks, which are scheduled to begin in November, will signal a new era of cooperation, rather than confrontation, between the Duma and the government.
But analysts say those talks are mainly a public relations exercise and will be equally advantageous both for the Kremlin and the Communist opposition. Accused by many critics in Russia and abroad of being unable to work with the Duma in a productive way, Yeltsin obviously stands to gain by showing his ability to draw the Communists to the negotiating table. And for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the roundtable is important because it displays his party's "political weight."
Visiting St. Petersburg recently to mark the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution, Zyuganov told a group of supporters that "today is a new era, and we must avoid such revolutionary uprisings." That message appeared to be directed mainly at critics within his own party and its allies, including Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, the co-leader of the Popular Power faction. Baburin has accused the Communist leadership of giving in to the Kremlin. He commented that by failing to carry out the "no-confidence threat," the Communist opposition "lost political initiative" and showed "it is now in deep crisis." Baburin has also suggested that the Communists may begin to lose popularity in the regions.
The results of recent gubernatorial elections suggest that good relations with the Kremlin can be advantageous for some regional candidates. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev--a former top Communist Party member, turned Yeltsin ally--was recently re-elected as governor of Orel Oblast with more than 94 percent of the vote.
Stroev, who ruled Orel in Soviet times, was one of the first conservative regional bosses to choose cooperation with Yeltsin, instead of confrontation. He formally quit the Communist Party after he was elected Orel governor for the first time in 1993. According to RFE/RL correspondents in the oblast, local media displayed a strong pro-Stroev bias during the election campaign. Mostly subsidized by the regional administration, local media outlets publicized numerous appeals from citizens to vote for Stroev.
Stroev's landslide victory came one week after Aman Tuleev, one of Yeltsin's prominent former foes, was elected governor of Kemerovo Oblast. As chairman of Kemerovo's legislature, and later as a presidential candidate, Tuleev often strongly criticized Yeltsin and members of the government. He softened his criticism when Yeltsin appointed him to the cabinet in August 1996.
After the president appointed Tuleev governor of Kemerovo in July 1997, some observers expected Tuleev to become an opposition voice in the Federation Council. But in televised comments broadcast during a visit to Paris on 28 October, Tuleev argued that Russia's political situation has "stabilized" and that "more cooperation" is needed between Moscow and the regions "in order to attract much needed investment" in regional economies.
The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.