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Newsline - March 16, 1998


President Boris Yeltsin remained at his residence outside Moscow on 16 March. The president's chief doctor, Sergei Mironov, said in a statement released by the presidential press service that Yeltsin still has cold symptoms and a hoarse voice and is to spend part of the day in bed while being treated with antibiotics. The Kremlin statement said Yeltsin's wife, Naina, is also sick. Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, met with the president on 16 March and said Yeltsin's health is improving, although he noted that the president's voice has not regained its full strength, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential spokesmen have not clarified whether Yeltsin is expected to recover in time for a CIS Customs Union meeting on 18 March and a CIS summit to begin the following day in Moscow. LB


The Constitutional Court on 16 March starts hearings in the parliamentary appeal over Yeltsin's refusal to sign the law on cultural valuables after both houses of the parliament overrode his veto of that legislation last spring. The court will not consider the legality of the "trophy art law" itself, although Yeltsin has argued it contradicts international norms. Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the court, admits that the president is obliged to sign laws within seven days if both houses of parliament override his veto. However, Shakhrai argues that the parliament did not in fact override Yeltsin's veto, because illegitimate balloting procedures were used in both chambers. The Constitutional Court previously ruled that Yeltsin may return laws unsigned to the parliament if he concludes there are procedural flaws in the adoption of those laws (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 23 April 1996). LB


The upper house on 13 March rejected a law on expanding Russia's cooperation with Iraq, Russian news agencies reported. Just 30 deputies supported the law, with 70 voting against and three abstaining. Federation Council Deputy Speaker Vasilii Likhachev told ITAR-TASS that the vote does not signify that the upper house has changed its position on cooperation with Iraq. But Likhachev emphasized that any bilateral cooperation must correspond to UN resolutions. Last July, the upper house rejected a similar law on Iraq for the same reason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1997). LB


Also on 13 March, the Federation Council rejected by 89 to seven a law on Russia's territorial integrity, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 14 March. That law would have prohibited any attempt to secede from the Russian Federation and would have allowed the president to deploy armed forces immediately to settle a "non-international" conflict threatening Russia's territorial integrity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1998). It also would have given regional legislatures the right to approve any exchange of territory with neighboring states--a provision that would have made it even more difficult for Russia to resolve territorial disputes with Japan and China. The Council's Committee on Federation Affairs criticized various phrasings in the law. "Russkii telegraf" also reported that the regional leaders may have feared the law would allow even budgetary disputes to be branded "separatist" attempts. LB


Yurii Skuratov has 10 days to consider a State Duma request that a criminal case be opened against Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax on 13 March. The Duma sent the Prosecutor-General's Office videotapes of Zhirinovsky's recent behavior, when he insulted and threw water on fellow deputies. The Yabloko faction has vowed to boycott Duma sessions until Skuratov evaluates Zhirinovsky's conduct (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 1998). If the prosecutor-general decides a criminal case is warranted, the Duma would still have to vote to lift Zhirinovsky's immunity from prosecution. Meanwhile, Zhirinovsky arrived in Tripoli on 14 March for talks with Libyan leaders, AFP reported. LB


First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has sought to dispel speculation that he may leave the government next month if he is appointed chairman of the board at the electricity company Unified Energy System (EES). The government has nominated Chubais to chair the EES board, and his candidacy is to be considered at a 4 April board meeting. In an interview with Russian Television on 15 March, Chubais said he would not have to leave the government in order to work in the electricity company, Reuters reported. EES chief executive Boris Brevnov, a close associate of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, on 12 March said he expects Chubais to be appointed chairman of the EES board, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Anatolii Dyakov, the current chairman, tried to oust Brevnov from the company earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). LB


Former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, whom Chubais has sharply criticized in several recent interviews, responded to that criticism in his own interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 March. Berezovskii again charged that Chubais has a "revolutionary" mentality ill-suited to Russia's current conditions. He compared Chubais to Gorbachev-era Politburo member Yegor Ligachev, who once held fairly progressive views but by 1990 was viewed as a "retrograde." Berezovskii also argued that Chubais's work in the government over the past year has been "catastrophic" and expressed confidence that the first deputy premier's "weeks, if not days, in power are numbered." In addition, Berezovskii charged that Chubais and Nemtsov must "share responsibility" for a steadily "deteriorating" situation in Chechnya. Chubais and Nemtsov were credited with convincing Yeltsin to remove Berezovskii from the Security Council last November. LB


Interfax on 13 March quoted "sources close to Berezovskii" as saying that Berezovskii has been discharged from a Swiss hospital, where he was being treated for spinal injuries he reportedly suffered in a 15 February snowmobiling accident. However, Berezovskii is to continue rehabilitation treatment in Switzerland for another two or three weeks. He flew to Switzerland a few days after his accident and was originally expected to stay for only 10-12 days. LB


Two Russian diplomats left Norway on 15 March, three days after they were accused of spying and declared persona non grata, Reuters and AFP reported. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry denied that it will respond in kind if Moscow retaliates against Oslo's recent decision to bar three other Russian diplomats from entering Norway. In a 14 March interview with NTV, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov argued that Norway acted "inappropriately" by expelling the diplomats and postponing a visit to Moscow by Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. The same day, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek said he will visit Murmansk this month, as planned. Vollebaek noted that despite the spying allegations, "we cannot forget our cooperation with the Russians." Meanwhile, the Russian Federation Council on 13 March voted 95 to four, with two abstentions, to ratify a 1995 Russian- Norwegian agreement on investments, ITAR-TASS reported. LB


On his return to Grozny on 15 March, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has agreed to head a group that will look into the issue of relations between Russia and Chechnya, Interfax reported. Maskhadov also said Thatcher had told him she wants to visit Chechnya. However, Thatcher's spokeman told Reuters on 16 March that Thatcher has "no plans to visit Grozny." In other remarks, Maskhadov said he used his five-day visit to the British capital to seek investments in Chechnya, to reassure London that he is doing all he can to secure the release of two English hostages, and to promote the idea of Chechen independence. PG


In talks in the Ingush capital of Nazran on 13 March, Chechen and Russian negotiators reached agreement on accords whereby Grozny airport may reopen for flights to CIS countries and some $2 million may be donated for Chechen children, Interfax reported. But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin and Movladi Udugov, the leader of the Chechen negotiating team, made no progress on the basic issue dividing Moscow and Grozny: Chechnya's status. Moreover, members of the Chechen negotiating team said the real test of any progress in those talks is whether Moscow will keep its earlier promises, which, they said, it has so far not done. PG


In accordance with an order issued by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, soldiers will not be issued dress uniforms this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. They will receive only winter and summer fatigues. The order is one of a series of cost-cutting measures adopted recently by the Defense Ministry. Sergeev announced on 3 March that the ministry will sell 589 military compounds and 181 buildings in connection with upcoming military reforms. The ministry's press service said the same day that some 13,000 electricity meters will be installed in order to promote energy conservation. The government has vowed to tighten control over energy usage by budget-funded organizations. Military installations frequently fail to pay their energy bills, contributing to the non-payment crisis that leaves utilities unable to pay suppliers and employees. LB


Defense Minister Sergeev on 13 March said 200,000 people are to be drafted this year, of whom 130,000-140,000 will be sent for military service, Interfax reported. Sergeev said those who are in poor physical or mental health will be excluded from the call-up. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Krasnaya Zvezda" reported on 14 March that there are problems with the call-up because local military induction centers are underfunded and therefore procedures for screening potential recruits or rooting out draft dodgers are ineffective. In Moscow, where dodging the draft is most widespread, the authorities plan to introduce programs in schools whereby young people would be prepared, both physically and psychologically, for military service. BP


Air Force Commander Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov says that by the end of this year, personnel will be cut by 125,000, of whom 48,000 will be officers, Interfax reported on 13 March. Kornukov, who is overseeing reforms following the merger between the air force and air defense forces, said the cuts will not effect combat readiness. At the same time, he admitted that current "combat fitness of aviation equipment" is only 45-55 percent. He also said new equipment, including anti-aircraft missiles, will not be available until the year 2000. BP


A military court has found Vladimir Grebennikov responsible for the crash of four Su-27 airplanes in Vietnam in December 1995. Grebennikov was flying the lead plane, an Il-76 cargo plane, into Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay airfield. According to the court, he descended to an "inadmissably low altitude," causing the planes following his aircraft to collide into a mountain side. Grebennikov was immediately released after the court determined that he qualified for an amnesty declared by the Duma last December. BP


Two servicemen died immediately and another on the way to the hospital when a tank overturned on a road from Tuva to Khakassia on 13 March. A military commission is investigating the incident, which is the second involving a tank in recent weeks. During a training exercise near Novosibirsk on 2 February, a tank that had apparently gotten lost in a blizzard suddenly rolled onto the field where the exercise was taking place, killing four soldiers and injuring four others. BP


The government on 12 March issued a directive limiting imports of 35 types of goods through Kaliningrad Oblast, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 13 March. In accordance with a law adopted in early 1996, Kaliningrad--a western enclave that does not border the rest of the Russian Federation--is a "free economic zone," where customs duties and value-added tax are not charged on imports. Among the goods affected by the directive are automobiles, furniture, meat, cigarettes, and several types of alcoholic beverages. "Kommersant-Daily" said the Kaliningrad administration lobbied for the government restrictions in order to help protect Kaliningrad industry from foreign competition. LB


A Tomsk district court has found that the newspaper "Tomskaya nedelya" libeled the city's mayor, Aleksandr Makarov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 March. The court awarded Makarov damages of 91,000 rubles ($15,000) and ordered the newspaper to pay another 30,000 rubles to co-plaintiff Nina Igorenkova, a local official in charge of fighting economic crime. The lawsuit was over one article on the business practices of Makarov's relatives and another accusing the mayor of ordering or carrying out attacks on the property of his political opponents. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that Oleg Pletnev, the editor of "Tomskaya nedelya," also serves on the Tomsk city council and is an outspoken opponent of Makarov. Pletnev has vowed to appeal the ruling. LB


Most of the 2.2 million eligible voters are expected to go to the polls on 16 March to choose a replacement for former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, who recently resigned . None of the 12 candidates is expected to receive the 50 percent of the vote needed for election, and a runoff is expected on 30 March between two of the three front-runners: Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian, former Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan, and former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukian. Observing the elections are 180 OSCE monitors and a variety of officials from the Council of Europe, the CIS, and Russia (see also "End Note" below). PG


Local elections in Abkhazia led to violence on 14 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Several people were killed and many more wounded in clashes between ethnic Abkhazians who wanted the poll to go ahead and ethnic Georgians who opposed the vote. Both Russia and Georgia had denounced the elections as likely to contribute to instability. The previous day, the UN Security Council President Abdoulie Momodou Sallah of Gambia released a statement declaring the vote "illegitimate." PG


Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev sent a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin last week expressing Baku's serious concern about reports that Moscow will supply Armenia with various new weapons systems, including the S-300 missile, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. In a related development, the Azerbaijani Security Council has urged Aliyev not to attend the CIS summit in Moscow on 19-20 March. PG


During a visit to Tbilisi on 13-14 March, Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz signed accords with President Eduard Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials calling for the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to carry Caspian petroleum to the West, ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides also agreed to build power lines and rail roads between their countries, and Turkey committed itself to providing assistance to upgrade Georgian roads. PG


Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze announced on 16 March that he has decided to go to Moscow to attend the summit of CIS presidents on 19-20 March, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi reported. The Azerbaijani Security Council recently recommended that President Heidar Aliyev skip the summit, and Shevardnadze said most members on the Georgian Security Council had advised him to do the same. However, he said he decided to attend the summit "out of respect for my colleagues." Two days of "intensive consultations" between Russian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani officials preceded Shevardnadze's announcement. LB


Three members of the security forces were seriously wounded in a violent incident in central Tajikistan on 14 March, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported. A group of 200 fighters loyal to Mullo Abdullo, who supports the Tajik opposition, attacked the Ali-Galabon check point, beating government soldiers and taking their weapons. Earlier that week, on 9 March, the local headquarters of the Interior Ministry came under fire in Rogun. Said Abdullo Nuri, chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, and Amirkul Azimov, secretary of the Security Council, are scheduled to visit the area on 16 March. BP


Six men who were sentenced to death by a Tajik court last week have appealed to President Imomali Rakhmonov to pardon them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 1998), RFE/RL correspondents reported. The six were found guilty of staging the attempted assassination of Rakhmonov in Khujand in April 1997. The lawyer of 47-year-old Abdulkhafiz Abdullayev, who allegedly masterminded the attempt, said her client has asked for the "humanism and compassion of the head of state for a seriously ill man," ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. Abdullayev is terminally ill and more than twice the age of those convicted with him. First Deputy Chairman of the Tajik Supreme Court Shukhrat Mustafakulov called the verdict "severe" but "just." BP


Ivan Antonovich has accused some Russian media of "misinformation, fabrications, and libel" against President Lukashenka, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Ivanovich said that there has been "a wave of innuendoes, inventions, and fabrications" against Lukashenka and that foreign journalists will lose their accreditation if it continues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 1998). Antonovich also said Belarus had not signed any "secret agreements" with Iran or Syria to help develop technologies for weapons of mass destruction. But he did not rule out other forms of military cooperation with those countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 1998). PB


Nikolay Statkyevitch, head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, was detained by police following an opposition rally in Minsk on 15 March, AFP reported. Statkyevitch led a crowd of 3,000 people protesting the rule of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the fourth anniversary of the constitution, which Lukashenka amended to his advantage after a 1996 referendum. Police detained Statkyevitch for not adhering to the prescribed route. In a televised address, Lukashenka hailed the amendments for making "the defense of real civil rights and freedoms...the backbone" of the constitution. PB


Oleksandr Moroz, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and leader of the Socialist Party, said while campaigning on 13 March that the government is a slave to Western institutions, Interfax reported. Moroz said President Leonid Kuchma and the government "blindly implement Western prescriptions instead of making their own economic policy." He added that Ukraine is being transformed by such policies into a "raw materials provider for other countries." Meanwhile, an IMF delegation left Kyiv on 14 March without agreeing on provisions for releasing the next tranche of an urgently needed loan, Interfax reported. Deputy Premier Serhiy Tyhypko said the IMF may still provide the $50 million tranche but that there are "certain conditions" Kyiv has not yet met. PB


Mustafa Dzhemilev, the head of the Crimean Tatar parliament, said on 13 March that Tatars are dissatisfied with the electoral law and may disrupt elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Dzhemilev said he could not rule out civil disobedience during the 29 March elections if Tatars demands are not met. He added that the Crimean parliament will rule on Tatar demands on 24 March. Dzhemilev said that unless a quota of 14 seats in the Crimean parliament is reserved for Tatars, they will not be represented in the legislature. Dzhemilev said this demand could be met if the parliament rules that all Tatars in Crimea can vote, regardless of their citizenship status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 1998). PB


The international rating agency Moody's has given the City of Tallinn the second- best credit rating among Eastern European cities, ETA reported on 15 March. The rating Baa1 is just one step lower than that of Prague and equals the general rating given to Estonia last September. Moody's said that good management of Tallinn's finances and the expectation that its debts will not rise significantly are responsible for the new rating. JC


Some 500 veterans of the former Latvian SS Legion , which fought with the Nazis during World War Two, gathered in Riga on 15 March to commemorate the unit's 55th anniversary, BNS and Reuters reported. The rally was one of several events in the Latvian capital marking the anniversary, including a procession through the old town on 16 March. Latvia's government has said it will not participate in the events, which local organizations, including Russian-language ones, have sharply criticized. The veterans, for their part, argue that they did not fight for the Germans but against the Soviets. They say they were conscripted illegally and that the Germans lied when they called the legion a voluntary SS unit. After the war, the U.S. confirmed those claims, saying membership in the legion was not an obstacle to immigration for thousands of Latvian refugees. JC


The government has approved a plan to decentralize the state and empower local governments, an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw reported on 13 March. Under the plan, which must be passed by the Sejm, Poland's 49 provinces would be combined to form 12 large ones. The government says the change will cut spending and bureaucracy as well as increase regional power and economic activities. The plan is likely to be opposed by officials from cities that will lose their status as provincial capitals. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has pledged to give economic aid to regions that lose the status of province. PB


Arpad Goncz, speaking at a ceremony in Budapest marking the 150th anniversary of the 1848 revolution, called for tolerance towards Hungary's national minorities, Reuters reported on 15 March. Goncz said that as Hungary moves toward the European Union, it must understand that this process involves respect for the rights and the values of others, not only beyond but also within its own borders. MS


More than 1,000 environmentalists demonstrated in Budapest on 14 March to protest a plan to build an alternative dam to the one originally planned at Nagymaros, AFP reported. The plan was drawn up to satisfy Slovak demands and the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In other news, the Japanese Shinwa car audio manufacturer will set up its first European production unit in the northern Hungarian industrial town of Miskolc. Shinwa will invest $12 million in a facility that will be built this year and a further $8 million to boost capacity production over the next five years. MS


Riot police blocked a peaceful march by Kosovar women on 16 March from Pristina to the Drenica region, where the recent crackdown left more than 80 Albanians dead. Several tens of thousands of Kosovars staged peaceful marches throughout Kosovo on 15 March, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. The Democratic League of Kosovo, which is the leading Kosovar political organization, elected a new leadership and issued a statement calling for "urgent intervention" by the U.S. and EU to end "terror against the Albanian population." Memorial masses for the Muslim Albanians killed in the crackdown took place in all Roman Catholic churches in Kosovo. PM


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced on 13 March that Washington will contribute $1 million to support investigations by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal into Serbia's recent crackdown. The court has already launched an investigation into the affair. PM


A spokesman for Fatos Nano said on 15 March that the Kosovo Albanian leadership was right to reject two recent invitations by the Serbian government to participate in talks to which Belgrade had attached conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 1998). Nano called the Serbian offer "ridiculous," and he justified the Kosovars' demand for international mediation in their relations with Belgrade. Addressing his remarks to Kosovo Albanians, he said that "now, more than ever, Albanians should show self-restraint and calm when faced with provocations that aim to depict the Albanians as terrorists and extremists." FS


Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said on 14 March that Tirana is ready to support a possible NATO deployment in the region by providing airport facilities. He added that Albania is considering asking the U.S. to send a naval task force to the Adriatic. Last week, Albania asked NATO to deploy troops on its border with Kosovo, which the alliance refused to do (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). On 12 March, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo dismissed allegations by the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry that its embassy in Tirana is under threat of terrorist attacks. Albanian officials nonetheless tightened security around the embassy. FS


German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told "Der Spiegel" of 16 March that his goal regarding Kosovo is to obtain the withdrawal of the Serbian "special police from Kosovo and stop the operations against the Albanian civilian population." When he and his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine arrive in Belgrade later this week, Kinkel added, "we will propose help" Serbia return to European institutions in return for cooperation in Kosovo. He said the EU could help Yugoslavia "with access to international financial institutions, the IMF, or the World Bank." Kinkel said he favors extending the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Macedonia and setting up a small border patrol to prevent arms-running from Albania to Kosovo. He added, however, that it is "unnecessary" to send more troops to the region and that Russia and China would not allow it, anyway. PM


Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Skopje on 14 March that maintaining a U.S. military presence in Macedonia would be the best way to preserve security there. He suggested that the UN peacekeepers, which include a U.S. contingent, be replaced by a purely U.S. force when the UN's mandate runs out on 31 August. After that date, Gligorov said, "the best solution would be the arrival of American troops, regardless of how many they are." A solely U.S. force would not have the national rivalries or complex command structure inherent in a multinational operation, he argued. Gligorov added that such a force would also "do away with the possibility that these troops might try to influence" Macedonia's internal affairs. PM


U.S. envoy Roberts Owen, the chief international administrator in the disputed northern Bosnian town of Brcko, announced on 15 March in Sarajevo that he will not decide on the town's future until some point between the Bosnian general elections in September and the beginning of 1999. He said that the delay will give the new Bosnian Serb leadership an opportunity to move ahead with promised reforms. This is the third time that the international community has postponed a decision on Brcko's status, which was the one territorial issue not settled by the Dayton agreement. Bosnian Serbs say they need to keep control of Brcko because it connects the eastern and western halves of the Republika Srpska. The Muslims and Croats, who constituted the pre-war majority of the population, argue that failure to return Brcko to them is tantamount to justifying ethnic cleansing. PM


President Ejup Ganic of the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation blasted Owen's announcement, saying that "justice delayed is justice denied." Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said Owen's decision not to take Brcko from the Serbs reflects the confidence that the international community has in the Plavsic-Dodik leadership. However, hard-line Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik called on Plavsic and Dodik to resign. He reminded them that they have recently said on several occasions that Dodik's government will fall unless Brcko is assigned to the Serbs. PM


Cardinal Vinko Puljic said in Serb-held Banja Luka on 14 March that the UN and the great powers "did nothing" to prevent aggression by the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitaries against Croatia in 1991 and Bosnia in 1992. Puljic added that the wartime international arms embargo served mainly to prevent the Croats and Muslims from defending themselves. The cardinal said that European civilization is doomed if it allows the strong to ride roughshod over the weak. PM


UN officials in Geneva on 13 March announced the appointment of former Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier to investigate human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia. He succeeds Elisabeth Rehn of Finland, who resigned in January to become UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Bosnia. PM


Railway workers held a half-hour warning strike throughout Croatia on 13 March to underscore demands for wage hikes. Management claims it does not have the money to pay the 20 percent wage increase the unions demand. Management also wants to sack 6,000 workers in what it calls an effort to cut losses. The strike is the latest in a series of worker protests to hit Croatia since the beginning of the year, when a value-added-tax came into effect. PM


The parliament voted in a closed session on 14 March to sack Judge Rustem Gjata, the head of the Constitutional Court, for cooperation with the communist-era secret service, "Shekulli" reported. The parliament's lustration commission had demanded the dismissal of Gjata, who switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party (PD) after the fall of communism. The Democrats did not participate in the 14 March session on the grounds that the sacking is politically motivated. Democratic leader Tritan Shehu said the report submitted by the lustration commission was "not convincing." FS


The government on 13 March approved a draft law on ministerial responsibility, Romanian media reported. The law, which is to be submitted to the parliament, is part of a package of laws aimed at bringing Romanian legislation into line with that of the EU. The draft says the parliamentary immunity of ministers can be lifted with a simple majority, instead of the two-thirds majority required for other members of the legislature. In those cases where ministers are not members of the parliament, a special commission set up by the country's president will decided whether legal proceedings can be launched against them. MS


Fist-fights broke out between Uniates (Roman Catholics of the Eastern Rite) and Romanian Orthodox believers in a church in the Transylvanian city of Cluj on 13 March, an RFE/RL correspondent there reported. A court of justice had recently ruled that the church, which had belonged to the Uniates before they were banned by the communist regime in 1948, must be returned to them. The Orthodox oppose the ruling and are, in general, against returning confiscated Uniate churches and properties to their original owners. The local Orthodox bishop and Patriarch Teoctist said they were "saddened" by the "unjust" decision of the court but will no longer oppose it. MS


The Agrarian Democratic Party (PDAR) and the New Romania Party merged on 14 March to form the National Romanian Party (PNR), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Christian Liberal Party decided against becoming a member of the union, but eight of its local organizations nonetheless opted to join. Former PDAR chairman Mihai Berca was elected chairman of the PNR, while Ovidiu Traznea, the former chairman of the New Romania Party, is PNR honorary chairman. Virgil Magureanu, the former director of the Intelligence Service, is secretary-general of the party. MS


An opinion poll conducted by the Opinia research institute suggests that of the 15 parties running in the 22 March parliamentary elections, only five will pass the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, Infotag and BASA-press reported on 13 March. The Party of Moldovan Communists gained 24 percent support, followed by the Right Democratic Convention of Moldova (23 percent) and the Romanian Party of Democratic Forces (nearly 18 percent). The pro- presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc is backed by some 12 percent and the Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova, which won the 1994 elections, by 9.3 percent. MS


Sixteen candidates on the lists of the Party of Social Economic Justice announced on 13 March that they will not be running, Infotag and BASA-press reported. They have accused party leader Maricica Levitschi of attempting to bribe the electorate, saying that, among other things, she has distributed to voters condoms and birth control pills received as foreign aid to Moldova. MS


Former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov says he will agree to join the Socialist Party only if he is rehabilitated by his former colleagues, whom he accused of "treason". Last week, Zhivkov's grand-daughter Evgenia Zhivkova denied reports that her grand-father, who is 86, has rejoined the Socialist Party. Zhivkov told a meeting of party members in a Sofia suburb on 15 March that he does not "want to join through the back door" and that the next Socialist Party congress must first rehabilitate him, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Zhivkov was expelled from the party in 1990. MS


by Liz Fuller

It is possible to identify four factors that--either singly or combined--have influenced voting patterns in elections in the North Caucasus and Transcaucasus over the past few years. None, however, is relevant to the Armenian presidential elections that are taking place on 16 March.

The first factor is the fear of jeopardizing the status quo when fragile political stability has been restored following a period of political chaos, war, and/or economic collapse. That factor played a role in Eduard Shevardnadze's election as Georgian president in November 1995 and in the emergence of his Union of Citizens of Georgia as the largest faction in the parliamentary elections held at the same time. It also contributed to the recent re-election of Ruslan Aushev as president of Ingushetia.

The second, related factor is a desire on the part of individual voters to play safe. Particularly among older voters, there is a preference to vote for that candidate who is perceived as certain to win. This, too, contributed to Eduard Shevardnadze's 1995 presidential election victory and to the re-election in November 1995 of Heidar Aliyev as president of Azerbaijan. It may also have contributed to Aslan Maskhadov's election as Chechen president in January 1997 insofar as Moscow made clear that Maskhadov, who together with former Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed had signed the agreement ending hostilities between Chechnya and Russia, was its preferred negotiating partner.

The third factor is a protest vote against a status quo perceived as no longer tolerable. Voting against a given individual and the policies he stands for explains the meteoric rise in popularity of opposition candidate Vazgen Manukian during the final weeks of the 1996 Armenian presidential election campaign. It also explains why incumbent Akhsarbek Galazov, who tried to distract the North Ossetian electorate's attention from the repercussions of economic collapse by organizing bombastic and elaborate Soviet-style propaganda-cultural galas, lost the January 1998 presidential race to a rival former Soviet party apparatchik, Aleksandr Dzasokhov.

The fourth factor is the practice of restricting or prohibiting the participation of various parties or candidates. For example, the alliance between the suspended Dashnak Party and the Union for Constitutional Rights was refused registration for the July 1995 Armenian parliamentary elections, and the Musavat party was similarly prohibited from registering candidates for seats to be contested under the proportional system in the November 1995 Azerbaijani parliamentary elections.

The pre-term Armenian presidential elections differ from earlier regional election scenarios insofar as on the eve of the poll it was impossible to predict with any degree of certainty which of the main candidates would win. Moreover, factors other than those listed above were in play: nostalgia and the phenomenon of personality or charisma. Karen Demirchian, who was Armenian Communist Party first secretary from 1974 to 1988, appeared set to benefit from the former, and Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian and National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian from the latter. It also seemed possible that Kocharian would profit from a widespread desire for national consolidation, which played a key role in Zviad Gamsakhurdia's election as Georgian president in May 1991.

Whether nostalgia, the phenomenon of personality, and/or the desire for national consolidation will impact on the next Armenian parliamentary elections or whether voters will return to traditional voting patterns is impossible to predict at this point.