YELTSIN 'SATISFIED' WITH UN-IRAQ AGREEMENT
President Boris Yeltsin has said he is satisfied with the agreement reached between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported on 23 February. According to Yeltsin, an agreement was already close the previous day. Interfax quoted Yeltsin as saying "Hussein has given the word. The UN Security Council meets on Tuesday. Let us await the results." The Russian president also praised his country's diplomats for their efforts in resolving the crisis, noting "Russia has from the start been advocating a peaceful solution." BP
RUSSIA, JAPAN FINALLY SIGN FISHING AGREEMENT
Following 13 rounds of discussions between Russian and Japanese representatives over nearly three years, visiting Foreign Minister Keidzo Obuchi and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov signed a fishing agreement in Moscow on 21 February. Under that agreement, Japanese fishermen have the right to fish about 2,500 tons of fish and octopus annually in the waters around the Kuril Islands. In return Japan will pay $400,000 yearly and donate funds to develop Russia fisheries on islands in the western Pacific. BP
OBUCHI, PRIMAKOV MEET...
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with his Japanese counterpart, Obuchi, on 22 February to discuss a wide range of issues, ITAR-TASS and Kyodo reported. The two ministers agreed that peaceful means must be used to resolve the Iraqi crisis, and they discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula. Obuchi agreed to speed up the process for Russian businessmen to obtain a Japanese visa and promised to help Russia gain entry into the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation group and the World Trade Organization. The two also agreed that a bilateral peace treaty formally ending World War Two would be signed by the year 2000 and that their deputy foreign ministers will meet in Tokyo next month to begin discussions on the treaty. BP
Following his meeting with President Boris Yeltsin on 23 February, Obuchi said Japan will provide $1.5 billion for construction of housing for the Russian military. Yeltsin announced he will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto from 11-13 April in Kawana, Japan. In the spirit of the first informal meeting between the leaders of the two countries, which took place in November and was dubbed the "meeting without neckties" Yeltsin encouraged Foreign Minister Primakov to trade neck-ties with Obuchi. BP
DUMA REJECTS BUDGET IN FOURTH READING
The State Duma on 20 February rejected the draft 1998 budget in the fourth reading. In two votes, only 191 and 187 deputies supported the document, short of the 226 needed for passage, Interfax reported. Earlier that day, the Duma had rejected by 282 to 64 the most important of the 12 government-backed amendments to the budget. Only the Yabloko faction supported that amendment, which would have made the allocation of 27.9 billion rubles ($4.6 billion) in spending conditional on receiving enough revenues to cover the expenditures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 February 1998). The Duma is to consider the budget in the fourth reading again on 4 March. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said he was disappointed by the Duma's vote but expressed hope that a "reasonable compromise" on the budget can be found. LB
SELEZNEV BLAMES GOVERNMENT FOR BUDGET VOTE
Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev blamed the government for the Duma vote, charging that the government "finds it much easier" to work without a budget, Russian news agencies reported on 20 February. A government directive issued last December set monthly spending in 1998 at one-twelfth of total 1997 expenditures, pending the adoption of a budget. That spending level is significantly lower than that foreseen by the draft 1998 budget. Seleznev also noted that without a budget, the Duma is unable to monitor the government's allocation of funds and cannot request examinations of government spending by the Audit Chamber. Meanwhile, Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin on 20 February began collecting signatures for a vote of no confidence in the government. He is unlikely to be able to collect the 90 signatures needed to call such a vote unless Communist leaders decide to back his efforts. LB
DUMA BANS TORTURE BUT NOT DEATH PENALTY...
The Duma on 20 February voted by 348 to nine to ratify the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, Interfax reported. Earlier that day, the Duma had ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 1998). However, deputies rejected ratification of a protocol on banning capital punishment. Abolishing the death penalty is a condition of membership in the Council of Europe, which Russia joined in February 1996. Hundreds of Russian prisoners remain on death row, although no executions have been carried out since August 1996. LB
...APPROVES LAW ON TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY
The Duma on 20 February passed a law "on ensuring the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation," which would prohibit the secession of any part of the federation, Russian news agencies reported. Territorial exchanges with neighboring foreign states could occur only if such an exchange were approved by the legislature of the Russian region containing that territory. The law would allow the president to deploy the armed forces immediately if a "non-international" armed conflict developed that threatened Russia's territorial integrity. The president would only have to report his action to both houses of the parliament. Article 102 of the constitution empowers the Federation Council to approve presidential decrees establishing martial law or a state of emergency. Yeltsin did not declare either in Chechnya and never sought the Council's approval for the deployment of troops there. LB
OPPOSITION RALLY BEFORE RED ARMY DAY
Some 15,000 people attended a rally on Moscow's Lubyanka Square on 22 February marking the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Red Army, ITAR-TASS reported. Defenders of the Fatherland Day (formerly Red Army Day) is celebrated on 23 February. Leaders of several communist groups attended the rally, along with members of the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power Duma factions. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, the leader of the Movement to Support the Army, predicted that the opposition will take to the streets in April or May to "force the regime to resign," Interfax reported. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called for holding a nationwide protest on 9 April. He also charged that there are few ethnic Russians in the government and presidential administration. Zyuganov recently called for policies to revive the (ethnic) Russian people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). LB
ANOTHER SUSPECT ARRESTED IN KHOLODOV CASE
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 19 February arrested Vladimir Morozov, a major in the Airborne Troops, in connection with the October 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, "Kommersant-Daily reported on 21 February. Morozov is a former subordinate of Pavel Popovskikh, the first suspect to be arrested and charged in the Kholodov case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 13 February 1998). On 20 February, Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov said former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who has already been questioned on the Kholodov murder, may again be interrogated on the matter, ITAR-TASS reported. LB
CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS BACK RADUEV
A congress of some 10,000 Chechen freedom fighters in Grozny on 21 February unexpectedly evolved into a massive demonstration of support for maverick field commander Salman Raduev, ITAR-TASS reported. The congress was convened by acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev with the express aim of condemning Raduev's claims of responsibility for the failed 9 February attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Basaev and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had argued that those claims, which Raduev has since retracted, constitute "anti-state activity." Raduev told journalists on 22 February that he has resolved his differences with Chechen leaders and will work with them "as a united team to strengthen our state and construct an Islamic republic." LF
ANOTHER GOVERNOR CALLS FOR LEGALIZING PROSTITUTION
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has become the second regional leader to advocate legalizing prostitution in order to combat the spread of AIDS. Ayatskov told Interfax on 21 February that the Saratov legislature is drafting a bill that would allow registered brothels. Prostitutes would have to undergo regular medical examinations, and customers would have to practice "safe sex," he said. According to Ayatskov, such a law would also increase the oblast's revenues, since prostitutes would pay taxes "to the regional budget rather than to pimps." Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Leonid Gorbenko has advanced a similar proposal, but some analysts say federal crime legislation would have to be changed before regions could legalize prostitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1997). LB
GOVERNOR WANTS FULL-TIME DEPUTIES IN UPPER HOUSE
Leningrad Oblast Governor Vadim Gustov argued in an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 20 February that the law on forming the Federation Council should be changed. Under current legislation, the top executive and top legislative officials from each region become deputies in the Council "ex officio." They work in the upper house of the federal parliament only two or three days each month. Gustov argued that the system impedes the Council's legislative work. He advocated making half the Council members full-time deputies chosen specially for that job in regional legislative elections. But Gustov supported retaining the right of leaders of republics and governors of oblasts, krais, and okrugs to become Council deputies automatically. LB
HEALTH EXPERTS SOUND ALARM ON TUBERCULOSIS
Representatives of international medical organizations warned on 18 February that shortages of medicine and improper use of antibiotics are facilitating the spread of tuberculosis in Russia, especially the drug-resistant form of the disease, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. New York-based doctor Alexander Goldfarb told journalists that medical workers and patients often do not understand that antibiotics must be taken daily for several months, even after symptoms have disappeared. Goldfarb added that 20 percent of Russian prison inmates are believed to have drug-resistant tuberculosis. Some 22,000 Russian citizens died of tuberculosis last year, and another 2.2 million are estimated to have the disease, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 13 February. The government recently approved an anti-tuberculosis program calling for 17.5 billion rubles ($2.9 billion) in spending from 1998 through 2004. LB
RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS INITIAL ECONOMIC PROGRAM
Viktor Chernomyrdin and Valery Pustovoytenko, meeting in Kyiv on 20 February, initialed a 10-year economic cooperation program, AFP reported. Chernomyrdin, who was in the Ukrainian capital to prepare for President Leonid Kuchma's trip to Moscow, said the program "deals with all main aspects of economic relations between our two countries." The agreement is to be signed by Kuchma and his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin. Chernomyrdin said the program will more than double bilateral trade in the next decade. Last year, the volume of trade between the two countries was some $15.3 billion. Chernomyrdin also extended a $180 million technical credit to Ukraine toward the construction of two new nuclear reactors needed to enable Kyiv to permanently close Chornobyl, the "Eastern Economist" reported on 21 February. PB
YELTSIN HAILS IMPROVEMENT IN RELATIONS WITH UKRAINE
Russian President Yeltsin announced on 20 February that Russia and Ukraine left behind "the most difficult phase" in their relations last May, when the two countries signed a wide-ranging friendship treaty and an agreement on dividing the Black Sea Fleet, Russian news agencies reported. He added that Moscow has since made some concessions to Kyiv, such as the bilateral agreement not to charge value-added tax on each other's imports. But Yeltsin said such concessions were worth making in order to protect the "friendship" between the two countries. He attributed the progress in bilateral relations to more frequent meetings and telephone conversations between himself and President Kuchma. Kuchma paid an informal visit to Moscow in late January and is to make a state visit to Russia on 26-27 February. LB
LUZHKOV WANTS RUSSIAN JURISDICTION OVER SEVASTOPOL
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov promised on 21 February to demand "that Sevastopol be placed under Russia's jurisdiction again," Interfax reported. Addressing a group of Sevastopol residents and Black Sea Fleet sailors, he again denounced the "forced Ukrainianization" of ethnic Russians and warned that "relations between Ukraine and Russia will never be transparent or sincerely fraternal if injustice continues with regard to Sevastopol and Crimea." Luzhkov came to Sevastopol for the opening of a new apartment block for families of Black Sea Fleet sailors, which was funded by the Moscow city government. Russia renounced all territorial claims on Ukraine in a treaty signed last May, but Russia has not yet ratified that treaty. LB
ABDUCTORS RELEASE ONE UNOMIG HOSTAGE
The 20 armed supporters of former Georgian President Zviad Gamasakhurdia who have been holding four UN military observers and six Georgians hostage in the west Georgian village of Djikhaskari since 19 February released two of the Georgians on 21 February and an Uruguayan captain the following day. But the kidnappers are now demanding that the Georgian Interior Ministry forces surrounding the village be withdrawn and that the Georgian authorities cease hounding Gamsakhurdia's followers. They also want talks between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and members of Gamsakhurdia's government. Shevardnadze agreed to this last demand on 22 February. The previous day, following appeals by Czech President Vaclav Havel and Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, Shevardnadze ruled out the use of force to secure the hostages' release. He agreed that UN representatives should join the Georgian security officials engaged in negotiating the hostages' release. LF
KARABAKH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
Speaking on Armenian television on 19 February, one day before the 10th anniversary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast Soviet's appeal to the Soviet leadership to transfer the oblast to Armenia's jurisdiction, Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan criticized the Karabakh policy of former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan as counter-productive. Karabakh Prime Minister Leonid Petrossyan said on 19 February that Baku and the international community should recognize that the Karabakh Armenians' determination to build an independent state is unshakable. Former Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed said in Stepanakert on 20 February that the ongoing Karabakh mediation effort by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is "moving in the wrong direction," according to Interfax. Also on 20 February, the Azerbaijani parliament condemned the visit to Karabakh by Lebed and some 30 other Russian State Duma deputies as "open support for separatism" and an "example of double standards," Turan reported. LF
CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST HASANOV
Former Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov has been charged with abuse of power and with forgery, Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov (who is not related to Hasan) announced on 20 February. Those charges could carry a prison sentence of up to eight years, Interfax reported. Hasan Hasanov was fired on 16 February for misappropriating Turkish credits to finance construction of a luxury hotel and casino complex. He is also implicated in drug-trafficking, according to Turan on 21 February. LF
IRAN DENIES ENDORSING CASPIAN AGREEMENT
The Iranian Embassy in Moscow has denied Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov's claim that President Mohammed Khatami wrote to his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, earlier this month approving the Turkmen-Azerbaijani agreement on delineating those countries' sectors of the Caspian, Interfax reported on 21 February. In an official press release, the embassy affirmed that Tehran continues to insist that all matters related to the Caspian should be resolved jointly by the littoral states. On the eve of a trip to Moscow, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told "al Hayat" on 21 February that Iranian-Russian cooperation is in the interests of both countries and is not directed against the U.S., ITAR-TASS reported. LF
CHANGES IN KAZAKHSTAN'S TOP ECONOMIC POSTS
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed a decree dismissing Aleksandr Pavlov as finance minister and replacing him with his deputy, Sauat Mynbayev, ITAR- TASS and AFP reported on 20-22 February. National Bank Chairman Uraz Jandosov has been appointed first deputy prime minister and chairman of the State Investment Committee. He is replaced by his deputy, Kadyrjon Damitov, who is also adviser to the prime minister. Akhmetzhan Yesimov, until now first deputy prime minister, is to take over as head of the presidential administration. BP
TROUBLES IN SOUTHERN UZBEKISTAN
Uzbekistan's southwestern Surkhandarya Oblast was the scene of a shooting and a major narcotics bust last week, ITAR-TASS reported. Uzbek authorities revealed on 22 February that five days earlier, a dispute had broken out between Uzbek border guards over food rations. One of the guards shot dead eight of his colleagues before being disarmed. Meanwhile on 21 February, customs guards seized 444 kilograms of various narcotics from two citizens of Kazakhstan. BP
KYRGYZ ORGANIZATION ENDORSES AKAYEV FOR THIRD TERM
The Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan on 20 February endorsed President Askar Akayev as a candidate for the 2000 presidential elections, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" the same day carried an article by the group's chairman, Sopubek Begaliev, calling on Akayev to run again. But under the Kyrgyz Constitution, a president may serve only two terms in office. Akayev was elected president of the Kirghiz SSR in October 1990. He was elected president of Kyrgyzstan in October 1991 and again in December 1995. BP
EU RESOLUTION WARNS BELARUS OVER 'ARBITRARY ARRESTS'
The European Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning what it considers arbitrary arrests in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 February. The parliament cites the case of two youths currently standing trial on hooliganism charges, who were held in pre-trial detention for six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1998). The resolution calls for the boys to be released. It also cites the beating of film director Yury Khashchavatsky and claims that Belarusian officials routinely intimidate independent media. The resolution reiterated that there will be no further cooperation between the EU and Minsk until the government introduces legal reform and improves the human rights situation in the country. PB
OSCE ACCUSES UKRAINE OF CURTAILING PRESS FREEDOM
The head of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe delegation in Kyiv has accused the Ukrainian government of violating press freedom, the "Eastern Economist" reported on 23 February. Kare Vollan, who leads an OSCE team of election observers in Ukraine, said "the forced closure of one newspaper and the potential imposition of an extraordinarily severe payment on a second are highly disturbing." Vollan was referring to the closure of "Pravda Ukrainy" over an alleged registration irregularity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998) and the levying of a 3.5 million hryvnya ($1.84 million) fine against "Vseukrainskiye Vedomosti" for a mistaken report about a soccer player transfer. Both newspapers support opposition candidate Pavlo Lazarenko and his Hromada party. PB
GDP DECLINES IN UKRAINE
The State Statistics Committee reported on 20 February that GDP fell 0.8 percent and that inflation was 1.3 percent in January. The Ukrainian government has predicted a rise in GDP in 1998 after several years of decreases. The monthly drop was blamed on a devastating 11.7 percent decrease in industrial production in January. PB
BALTIC STATES SUPPORT POSSIBLE GULF STRIKE
Latvia has said it is ready to send non-combat assistance for a possible U.S.-led military strike against, BNS and Reuters reported on 20 February. A Latvian Foreign Ministry spokesman said any Latvian involvement would not include troops or weapons. The following day, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry announced it is putting together a team of specialists in humanitarian aid and unspecified technology to support a possible strike. And in Tallinn, Estonian President Lennart Meri's office said in a statement that he has ordered a medical team to be ready to join a Gulf coalition force within 48 hours of such a request. Last week, the Baltic presidents issued a joint statement backing the UN resolution on destroying chemical and biological weapons in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). JC
RUSSIAN DUMA DELEGATION IN TALLINN
At the end of its four- day visit to Tallinn, a delegation from the Russian State Duma told journalists in the Estonian capital that it regards the establishment of citizenship requirements as Estonia's internal affair, ETA and BNS reported on 20 February. Yelena Mizulina, head of the delegation, recommended that all individuals born in Estonia be granted citizenship of that country. At the same time, she noted that the situation of ethnic Russians is "not quite as dramatic" as suggested by the Russian media. Oleg Mironov, a member of the Communist Duma faction, said that the signing of a Estonian-Russian border agreement should not be tied to the issue of Estonia's ethnic minority. He added that those ethnic Russians who have sought neither Estonian nor any other citizenship are "to a certain extent to blame for their problems." JC
LATVIAN RIGHT-WING PARTY STANDS FIRM ON CITIZENSHIP LAW
The Fatherland and Freedom Party, a member of the ruling coalition, announced at its conference on 21 February that it will exert "all political efforts" to ensure that the citizenship law remains unchanged during the current parliament's term, BNS reported. Delegates to the conference stressed their commitment to ensuring that Latvian citizenship is not granted to those children born to non-Latvians since 1991, as proposed by the Harmony party. Under the coalition agreement, no changes are to be made in the citizenship law by the current legislature. JC
KOHL, CHIRAC IN POLAND FOR WEIMAR TRIANGLE TALKS
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac have expressed their hope that Poland will quickly join the EU and NATO, Reuters reported on 21 February. Their meeting in the western Polish city of Poznan with President Aleksander Kwasniewski was the first time the leaders of the three countries had attended the so-called Weimar Triangle talks, begun in 1991 to include Poland in the Franco-German alliance. Warsaw's accession to Western organizations and the prospect of buying European hardware to bring the Polish military up to NATO standards were the main topics of discussion at the one-day meeting. PB
HAVEL ACCEPTS SKALICKY'S RESIGNATION
Czech President Vaclav Havel on 20 February accepted the resignation of Deputy Premier and Environment Minister Jiri Skalicky, CTK reported. Previously, Skalicky had resigned as chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA). On 22 February he said he might also leave the ODA, though not politics. ODA Deputy Chairman Daniel Kroupa will head the party until a national conference elects a new chairman. Kroupa said Skalicky does not consider Miroslav Toser--another ODA deputy chairman, who is involved in the donations scandal--to be "trustworthy." Kroupa added that he has asked Toser to resign "by the national conference." Also on 22 February, Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova announced she is resigning from the ODA but will retain her cabinet post. And ODA spokesman Mojmir Hampl resigned as party spokesman, saying the party "has nothing to tell the voters" and is "paralyzed by personal disputes and personal hatred." MS
RUML ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF FREEDOM UNION
Former Interior Minister Jan Ruml has been elected chairman of the Freedom Union, CTK reported on 22 February. That party was formed, among others, by deputies who broke away from former Premier Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party at the end of 1997. MS
CONSTITUTIONAL DEADLOCK OVER SLOVAK REFERENDUM
President Michal Kovac on 20 February called for a repeat of the March 1997 referendum, following the Constitutional Court's ruling that the failure to include a question on direct presidential elections had infringed the basic law, Reuters and AFP reported. The referendum is to be held on 19 April and will be non-binding. Kovac said that if the parliament elects a new president on 5 March, a new voting procedure would affect only future presidential elections and would not nullify the results of next month's ballot. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told state radio on 20 February that the decision was a "Trojan horse for the Slovak people." He added that when Kovac leaves office on 2 March "the confrontation between the government and the head of state will be over." MS
MECIAR DECIDES AGAINST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY--FOR NOW
Olga Keltosova, the deputy chairwoman of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, has announced that the premier will not run for president in the 5 March ballot, TASR reported on 20 February . She said opposition support necessary to ensure Meciar's election has not yet been obtained and that the party will try to enlist that support for another round. Meanwhile, the Party of the Democratic Left announced the candidacy of writer Ladislav Ballek, while an independent parliamentary deputy nominated Milan Fogas, Reuters reported. Neither is considered to have a chance of achieving the necessary three-fifths support. MS
ARMED GANG FREES CRIMINALS IN NORTHERN ALBANIA
Some 15 masked and armed people stormed the police station in Shkoder on 22 February, after shooting at the building with machine guns and anti-tank weapons from surrounding buildings, Albanian Television reported. The attackers freed some 35 dangerous criminals, some of whom were doing time for murder, as well as an unspecified number of other criminals. They withdrew when police reinforcements arrived from neighboring districts. There were no reports of casualties. Two days earlier, unidentified persons threw two grenades into the courtyard of the police station, and an explosive device went off near Radio Shkoder. The unrest follows a series of arrests on criminal charges of supporters of the opposition Democratic Party, whose stronghold is in Shkoder. FS
INTERIOR MINISTER BLAMES "MONTENEGRIN TERRORISTS"...
Neritan Ceka, in a televised speech on 22 February, claimed that "some of [the attackers involved in the Shkoder incident earlier that day] came from Montenegro." He added that "this cooperation between [local] terrorism and foreign secret services...shows that we have to deal with a group determined to destabilize Shkoder and Albania at a time when the Kosovo question has grown increasingly important. Precisely for that reason..., [the attackers] received no support from the people of Shkoder." Ceka pointed out that the attack came at a time "when the situation [in Albania] has quietened down [and] the fight against crime has produced successes." The minister had previously charged that Belgrade is financing terrorist networks in Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). FS
...AS SHKODER SPINS OUT OF CONTROL
Meanwhile, during the night of 22-23 February, civilians burned down main government buildings in Shkoder. The courthouse, the prosecutors' office, and the main library were destroyed, while the town hall, several banks, and the university were looted and badly damaged. Armed groups took up positions on the main road leading to the city and in the city center, while gunmen attacked and robbed private businesses. The Interior Ministry has sent special troops to restore order. PM
U.S. ENVOY CALLS FOR CALM IN KOSOVO
Robert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, urged both the Serbian authorities and the Albanian population to show restraint amid an atmosphere of growing violence. Speaking in Pristina on 22 February, Gelbard said that "the Kosovo Albanians have to avoid provocations and Belgrade and the government have to demonstrate maximum restraint because Belgrade is the government." He also condemned the recent armed actions by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army: "I consider these to be terrorist actions and it is the strong and firm policy of the U.S. to fully oppose all terrorist actions and all terrorist organizations." PM
SERBIAN-ALBANIAN TALKS BEGIN
Kosovo shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Pristina on 20 February that talks between representatives of the Kosovars and the Serbian government have been going on in secret "for some days" at an unspecified place in Kosovo. The two sides are discussing implementing the 1996 agreement on the reintroduction of Albanian-language education in Kosovo, which, however, has remained a dead letter. The Italian NGO that mediated the 1996 agreement is also taking part in the latest talks. PM
NINE INJURED IN CROATIAN PROTEST RALLY
Some five police and four demonstrators were injured at a rally in central Zagreb on 20 February to protest deteriorating social conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 1998). Police prevented the 10,000 or so demonstrators from holding their rally on the capital's main square, but the protesters then moved to a nearby square, where the meeting took place peacefully. Government officials had banned the meeting, citing "security reasons." PM
TUDJMAN RE-ELECTED HEAD OF RULING PARTY
Some 1,700 delegates unanimously voted to keep President Franjo Tudjman as head of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) on 21 February at the party's convention in Zagreb. Gojko Susak, Ivic Pasalic, Mate Granic, Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, Jure Radic, Andrija Hebrang, and Ivan Aralica were elected as HDZ vice presidents. Tudjman criticized the previous day's protest rally as "politically motivated." He also attacked the domestic opposition and independent media: "Betrayal is as old as Jesus' times, but in our circumstances we need to inform the public who these anti-Croatian lackeys ready to destroy society are. We will not allow Croats to bicker and fight against one another any more." PM
IZETBEGOVIC BLASTS TUDJMAN'S SPEECH
Spokesmen for Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the joint Bosnian presidency, said on 22 February that the Bosnian embassy in Zagreb filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry against Tudjman's speech. Izetbegovic's spokesmen claimed that Tudjman called for a partition of Bosnia along ethnic lines, RFE/RL correspondents reported from Zagreb and Sarajevo. In the Bosnian capital, Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, who is a Croat and a member of the HDZ, said he knows nothing about the formal protest, which cannot be official without his signature. Prlic added that Izetbegovic is one member of the presidency and does not have the right to speak in the name of Bosnia- Herzegovina. PM
IMF NEGOTIATIONS PROVOKE MORE BICKERING AMONG ROMANIAN COALITION
Petre Roman, the leader of the Democratic Party, said the difficulties encountered in the negotiations now under way with an IMF delegation are an indication that Romania needs "a [new] government, capable of adopting a new program for 1998." Roman spoke on 22 February after a joint meeting of the government and the leaders of the coalition. He said the current difficulties are the result of the "mistakes and failures" in implementing the reforms in 1997, which, he said, must "now be paid for." Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said he is sure the negotiations will be successfully concluded "within two to three days" and that Romania will receive the third tranche of the stand-by loan approved last year. MS
EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER CLAIMS LEAD IN POLL
Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 20 February said a poll published in the weekly "Ultima ora" shows that 21.6 percent of the electorate back him for president, while incumbent President Emil Constantinescu is backed by 19.1 percent and former President Ion Iliescu by 18.3 percent. Tudor also said that the Democratic Convention of Romania enjoys the support of 19.5 percent of respondents, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania 17.1 percent, and the PRM 14.3 percent. He did not reveal who conducted the poll and when, Radio Bucharest reported.
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA
Meeting with President Emil Constantinescu in Galati on 21 February, Petru Lucinschi said his country "cannot afford" to participate in the financing of a second reactor at the Cernavoda nuclear plant in Romania, Reuters reported. The two presidents also discussed plans for cooperating with Ukraine on the construction of a gas pipe-line and on setting up so-called Euro-regions. The previous day, Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, who accompanied Constantinescu, to Moldova said that the pending basic treaty between the two countries must be "mutually acceptable" not only to the two countries' governments but also to "public opinion in Moldova and Romania." This may be a hint that Bucharest is exercising pressure on Chisinau to accept a formulation emphasizing the countries' common history. MS
GREEN LIGHT GIVEN TO GAGAUZ-YERI REFERENDUM
The Central Electoral Commission on 20 February approved holding a referendum in the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous republic. The plebiscite will ask voters if they are in favor of a "basic law" for the region. It will take place on 22 March, at the same time as the Moldovan parliamentary elections, BASA-press reported. MS
BULGARIAN MINERS END STRIKE
Bulgarian miners have ended a 10-day strike following negotiations with the government, AFP reported on 22 February, citing BTA. Miners in Zlatograd began the strike on 12 February to demand a 200 percent wage hike. Miners from the Gorubso non- ferrous mining company joined the strike three days later. At talks between miners' representatives and Finance Minister Muravei Radev, it was agreed to reduce the number of administrative workers at mines and grant miners the freedom of negotiating wages. The minister also agreed to study the possibility of a $1.6 million interest-free loan to some of the mines undergoing restructuring. MS
WHEN POLITICS ISN'T THE ANSWER
by Paul Goble
A recent poll in Moldova calls attention to a trend found in many post-communist states: Even those extremely dissatisfied with their living standards no longer assume that the political system will solve their problems.
According to a sample of 1,000 voters in Moldova by the Soros Foundation's Romanian Center for Urban and Rural Sociology, nine out of 10 Moldovans are unhappy with their lives. But despite this unhappiness, some 20 percent said they have no intention of taking part in the 22 March elections, while one-third said they have not decided whom they will support.
Some observers have suggested that these results reflect growing popular apathy, which they link either to a general sense of hopelessness or to the belief that individual voters can have little impact on government actions
While such negative factors obviously play a role in causing people to turn away from political participation, there are at least three other factors at work that suggest turning away from politics may reflect some more hopeful developments.
First, such declines in participation point to the emergence of a civil society--to a space between the population and the state in which individuals can achieve their goals without having to participate directly in the political process. Under communism, virtually everything was decided by the party-state. And with the collapse of communism, many citizens in the region continued to look to the political system to solve all their problems.
But both the inability of the political systems in those countries to do that and the growth of non-governmental institutions in society and the marketplace are leading ever more people to focus their hopes and energies elsewhere. Viewed from that perspective, declines in voting rates may be a measure of just how far these new arrangements have been accepted and institutionalized,. rather than a threat to the new democratic and free market system.
Second, these declines reflect the emergence of a broad consensus on many issues. While the poll tapped into popular differences on such questions as relations with Moscow or the West, its findings suggest that ever more people do agree on certain key issues such as the value of democracy and free markets.
The Soros Foundation poll found that Moldovan voters are deeply split on the question of which party they will support. It also indicated that nearly half of those surveyed favored closer relations with Moscow, while approximately one-third believed that Moldova should seek stronger ties with the EU and NATO.
While such divisions are obviously real, they have not succeeded in splitting society to the point that everyone feels he or she must take part in the vote. Instead, a relatively large proportion of the electorate appears to feel that such choices are at the margin, rather than at the center, of their lives. That, in turn, suggests that there may be a genuine consensus lying behind the differences.
And third, the declines in voter participation suggest that the voters may not actually be as unhappy with their lot as they have told the poll-takers. If the voters in Moldova were genuinely as unhappy as this poll suggests, the experience of established democracies suggests that they would be available for mobilization by one party or another. Unless one assumes that Moldovan politicians are incompetent, their failure to mobilize the electorate suggests that the reported unhappiness may be widespread but not nearly as deep as some might think.
To the extent that these three factors are at work-- and not just feelings of apathy or the lack of a sense of efficacy--declines in political participation in the post- communist countries may in fact be a measure of the institutionalization of democracy rather than a threat to it.