FOREIGN, DEFENSE MINISTERS TO STAY ON
One day after sacking the entire government, President Boris Yeltsin on 24 March praised the work of Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev during a Kremlin meeting with officials in the presidential administration. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Russian news agencies that the praise can be taken to mean that Yeltsin wants Primakov and Sergeev to remain in their posts. On 23 March, Yastrzhembskii announced that "Russian foreign policy is based on long- term national interests, and changes in the government cannot influence its course," Reuters reported. The same day, Primakov said "the dismissal of the government has nothing to do with changes or prospects for changes in Russia's foreign policy," Interfax reported. Primakov is scheduled to attend a meeting of the international Contact Group on Yugoslavia on 25 March. LB
GUESSING GAME ON NEW PREMIER BEGINS
A new cabinet is expected to be appointed before Yeltsin's informal visit to Japan scheduled for 11-13 April. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii told NTV on 23 March that acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is the "most likely" person to be nominated for the post of premier. The 35-year-old Kirienko was virtually unknown a year ago, when he headed an oil company in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Yeltsin's surprise dismissal of the government revived speculation that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii may be in the running to succeed Chernomyrdin. Yavlinskii returned to Russia from Germany when he heard about the dismissals. A sharp critic of the government, Yavlinskii negotiated for possible cabinet posts in May 1996 and March 1997 but turned down invitations to join the government after concluding he would not be given control over important policy decisions. LB
WHO WOULD DUMA BE WILLING TO CONFIRM AS PREMIER?
Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 23 March appealed to State Duma deputies to support Kirienko's candidacy should Yeltsin nominate him for prime minister. Under the constitution, the Duma has the right to confirm prime ministerial nominees. But Valentin Kuptsov, a prominent member of the Communist Party, told ITAR-TASS that neither Kirienko nor Yavlinskii would be "acceptable." Other possible candidates for the job, such as First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, would also have trouble obtaining approval from the Duma. (The majority of Duma deputies strongly opposed a Saratov law adopted last November that legalized the purchase and sale of farmland.) Nonetheless, the Duma may approve a nominee it finds distasteful since the constitution allows the president to dissolve the Duma if the lower house votes three times to reject the president's nominee for prime minister. LB
SOME OBSERVERS SEE BEREZOVSKII'S HAND IN SHAKEUP...
Several Russian newspapers, including "Izvestiya" and "Moskovskii komsomolets," on 24 March argued that the influential businessman Boris Berezovskii helped engineer the dismissal of the government. Berezovskii recently returned to Moscow after spending several weeks in Switzerland. During a lengthy interview broadcast on NTV on 22 March, Berezovskii said the government has made many mistakes. Since his own dismissal as Security Council deputy secretary last November, Berezovskii has repeatedly predicted Chubais's imminent ouster. "Izvestiya" said Berezovskii turned against Chernomyrdin only recently, after the prime minister approved the transfer of Central Excise Customs Service bank accounts to Oneksimbank as well as the upcoming sale of 75 percent plus one share in Rosneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 20 March 1998). Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya." "Moskovskii komsomolets" is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Both newspapers frequently criticize Berezovskii. LB
...BUT YASTRZHEMBSKII DENIES YELTSIN WAS INFLUENCED
Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii on 23 March said the decision to sack the government was Yeltsin's alone, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii denied that Yeltsin had any meetings or telephone conversations with Berezovskii before making the decision and said the timing of the move--which came shortly after Berezovskii's return to Russia- -was purely coincidental. The spokesman also said Yeltsin had not been influenced by his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, or his economics adviser, Aleksandr Livshits. During his 22 March interview with NTV, Berezovskii described himself as an "unpaid adviser" to Yeltsin's chief of staff. He also questioned whether Chernomyrdin or Yeltsin would be "electable" presidential candidates in 2000. LB
CHERNOMYRDIN LOOKS TO FUTURE ELECTIONS
Chernomyrdin put a brave face on the news of his dismissal, which shocked the Russian political establishment. At a 23 March press conference, he vowed to concentrate on preparations for the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 1999 and 2000, respectively. As has been his practice, Chernomyrdin declined to say whether he plans to run for president. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia movement, argued on 24 March that the former premier might be the only candidate from the "party of power" in the next presidential election, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, recent events are likely to take Chernomyrdin out of contention as a strong presidential candidate. Opinion polls indicate that even as prime minister, Chernomyrdin's chances of reaching the second round of a presidential race were slim. LB
CHUBAIS NOT WORRIED ABOUT FINDING NEW JOB
Former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais on 23 March did not reveal his next workplace but said he is swamped with job offers, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais said he had submitted a letter of resignation to Yeltsin in early February, and he hinted that he would have resigned earlier but did not want to give in to a campaign waged against him in fall 1997 by what he called a "group of oligarchs." He also noted that Yeltsin sacked the government at the "calmest moment," when no political or economic crisis was looming, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, acting Prime Minister Kirienko confirmed on 23 March that Chubais is still a candidate for the post of chairman of the board of Russia's electricity giant Unified Energy System. That post will be filled at a company board meeting in early April. LB
NEMTSOV TO CONVENE MEETING ON HELP FOR OIL INDUSTRY
Kirienko on 23 March asked First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov to hold a meeting within two days on measures to aid the Russian oil industry, which has been hurt by falling prices for oil on international markets. Following a meeting with Kirienko, Nemtsov said the government will consider reducing excise duties for oil and gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1998). However, he noted that the government must "walk a tightrope" since budget revenues will suffer if those excise duties are sharply reduced, ITAR-TASS reported. (Oil prices rose on 23 March following an agreement among OPEC nations to cut oil production, but prices are still well below average 1997 levels.) Nemtsov also said Kirienko asked him to hold a meeting in the coming days on how to pay wages and pensions on time. Nemtsov's future role in the government remains unclear. LB
GOVERNMENT MAY BACKTRACK ON CUSTOMS BANK ACCOUNTS
Former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais announced on 23 March that the government may revise its decision to transfer bank accounts of the Central Excise Customs Service to Oneksimbank, Russian news agencies reported. He acknowledged that the decision to transfer those accounts without holding a tender had been "unwise" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1998). A May 1997 presidential decree ordered the government to move away from the use of "authorized" commercial banks to handle state funds. That decree allowed for exceptions but said commercial banks would have to win open tenders and pay fees for the right to perform transactions with state funds. LB
ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR COALITION GOVERNMENT...
Speaking in Simferopol and Sevastopol on 23 March, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov claimed not to have been surprised by the sacking of the cabinet and called for the appointment of a coalition government, including representatives of the opposition, an RFE/RL correspondent in Kyiv reported. The Communists have long advocated forming a government that would be supported by a majority in the Duma and Federation Council. However, Yeltsin rejected a coalition government proposal in January. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 23 March appealed to Yeltsin to hold roundtable talks involving opposition representatives and a meeting of the "big four" (president, prime minister, and speakers of both houses of the parliament) to discuss the new cabinet appointments, Russian news agencies reported. LB
...WHILE HIS APPEAL IS LIKELY TO BE IGNORED
Speaking to journalists on 24 March, First Deputy Duma Speaker Ryzhkov predicted that the new cabinet will "not be a coalition government based on the Duma majority," Reuters reported. He added that the new government will be committed to "continuing the course of reforms. (In a televised address on 23 March, Yeltsin said he decided to dismiss the government in order to give a "new impulse" to economic reforms.) Ryzhkov also said he thinks many ministers will retain their posts in the new government. He made those remarks after meeting with acting Prime Minister Kirienko, who is to hold consultations with members of all Duma factions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY UNFAZED BY DISMISSAL
International reaction to Yeltsin's surprise dismissal of the government on 23 March was calm. Speaking to journalists in Ghana, U.S. President Bill Clinton noted that Yeltsin "has the right to constitute the government as he sees fit." Clinton added that he sees "no reason to believe" that the government changes will adversely affect U.S.-Russian relations, AFP reported. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said he did not anticipate any changes in Russia's relations with Italy or Europe. Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto predicted Russian-Japanese relations will remain on course. (Russian officials have stressed that Yeltsin's visit to Japan will go ahead next month as scheduled.) German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel admitted to being surprised by the developments and said it is "difficult to evaluate the situation" in Russia. But he added that he assumes "Russia's reform policies will continue," Reuters reported. LB
CHECHENS WELCOME RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT'S DISMISSAL...
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 23 March welcomed President Yeltsin's decision to dismiss Chernomyrdin's cabinet, which he termed "an obstacle to improved relations" between Russia and Chechnya, Interfax reported. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov said he hopes the new Russian government will implement the agreements that its predecessor signed with Chechnya. Udugov said the resignation of Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, who "had made his career on the Chechen war," could help stabilize relations. LF
...WHILE TRANSCAUCASUS REACTIONS MIXED
Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan said the appointment of a new Russian premier will not impact on bilateral ties, which are based "on common interests," Interfax reported. In Tbilisi, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Minister of State Niko Lekishvili expressed the hope that the new Russian cabinet will take tangible steps to overcome recent tensions in bilateral relations. An unnamed Azerbaijani government source said Chernomyrdin was "a balanced, pragmatically-minded manager linked to the oil sector," who therefore had a special understanding of Azerbaijan's needs. The source expressed concern that his dismissal will negatively affect Baku's relations with Moscow. LF
MISSIONARIES FREED AFTER FOUR-DAY HOSTAGE ORDEAL
Two Mormon missionaries working in Russia were released on 22 March, four days after they were taken hostage. Andrew Lee Propst and Travis Robert Tuttle, both U.S. citizens, were set free outside the city of Saratov. A spokesman for the Saratov branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) said no ransom was paid for their release, ITAR-TASS reported. On 23 March, two suspects were arrested in connection with the kidnapping, and an FSB official said they had confessed to the crime. AFP reported that Saratov authorities have advised U.S. Mormons living in the region to move elsewhere in Russia, although the agency said Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has promised to protect missionaries in the region. LB
ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER AGAIN QUESTIONS POLL RESULT...
Former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan told journalists in Yerevan on 23 March that he would have been elected president with 53.3 percent support in the first round of voting if the 16 March poll had been free and fair, Interfax reported. Demirchyan claimed that supporters of Prime Minister and acting President Kocharyan are exerting "enormous pressure" on his campaign supporters. He called on the media to help ensure that the 30 March runoff is free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian also claimed that the 21 March arrest of four men, among whom were volunteers campaigning for him, was part of a deliberate attempt by the Armenian authorities to discredit him. The Armenian Interior and National Security Ministry said the men have been charged with illegal possession of arms and fake police identity cards. LF
...WHILE ELECTORAL COMMISSION CONFIRMS RESULT
Also on 23 March, the Central Electoral Commission released the final results of the first round of voting, which differed from the provisional results by only 0.1 percentage point, ITAR-TASS reported. Commission secretary Armenui Zohrabyan explained that a computer error was to blame for the discrepancy of 60,000 votes between the two sets of figures, according to Noyan Tapan. The final results show Kocharyan polled 38.76 percent and Demirchyan 30. 67 percent. Kocharyan said on 23 March that he is opposed to Demirchyan's proposal that the election law be changed. He suggested that Demirchyan submit his proposals to the Constitutional Court, Interfax reported. Kocharyan said it is "strange" that Demirchyan had not publicly voiced his objections to the current law before the first round of voting. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES FORM NEW ALLIANCE
Representatives of five major opposition parties and 20 public organizations attended the constituent congress of the Movement for Democratic Elections in the Azerbaijani capital on 19 March, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. The movement wants to ensure there are no violations during the presidential and local elections scheduled for fall 1998. Representatives of the Party of National Independence of Azerbaijan and the Social-Democratic Party told Turan that they will not join the new alliance as it does not include any pro- government party. LF
CENTRAL TAJIKISTAN BECOMES TROUBLE SPOT
Another six policemen were killed and four seriously wounded in the Kofarnikhon region of Tajikistan, 20 kilometers east of Dushanbe, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 23 March. Fighting broke out again the next day when government troops arrived in the region, and reports from the area say another 13 people have died. These latest attacks, like earlier ones, are being blamed on armed units of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). But Interior Ministry officials say some of those units have left their assigned base areas in defiance of the UTO leadership. Meanwhile in Dushanbe, a bomb went off some 200 meters from the parliament building on 24 March, injuring two people. BP
KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS
Apas Jumagulov resigned on 24 March, RFE/RL correspondents reported. President Askar Akayev accepted his resignation and appointed the head of the presidential administration, Kubanychbek Jumaliev, acting premier. A joint session of the parliament is scheduled for 25 March to discuss appointing a new prime minister. BP
KYRGYZ PASSPORTS TO REFLECT NATIONALITY OF HOLDERS
The government's press service on 20 March announced that a special decree on ethnic minorities has been passed, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Under that decree, members of ethnic minorities can change the "nationality" listed on their passport to reflect their true nationality. Many people in Kyrgyzstan are still designated as one of the titular groups from the former Soviet republics: Uyghurs, for example, are registered as Uzbeks, Turks and Kurds as Azerbaijanis, and Meskhetians as Georgians. BP
KYRGYZSTAN, RUSSIA SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov and Russian acting Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu have signed an agreement on cooperation in civil defense and emergency relief, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 23 March. Russia will help train Kyrgyz teams in mountain rescue techniques and emergency relief. Shoigu said he hopes a similar system of coordinating relief efforts in times of emergency can be devised for the entire CIS. BP
DEMONSTRATORS SENTENCED IN BELARUS
A Minsk court has sentenced 29 people for taking part in anti-government demonstrations on 22 March, Reuters reported on 24 March. Igor Lazarchuk, a member of the opposition Belarus Popular Front, said three of those sentenced will spend 10 days in jail for their attempts to deliver paper birds with broken wings to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's residence. The demonstrators said the birds represent a crushed Belarus. The other 26 were given one-day sentences or fines of up to 5 million Belarusian rubles (some $100) for not keeping to the prescribed route of the rally. PB
MINSK HALTS TRADING OF CURRENCY
The Belarusian Central Bank ordered that all financial transactions in the Belarusian ruble between residents and non-residents be stopped, BelaPAN reported on 23 March. Currency dealers also reported that all financial accounts have been frozen. The moves are an attempt by the government to prevent a further slide of the beleaguered currency. The central bank was put under direct government control the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1998). PB
YELTSIN, CHERNOMYRDIN PHONE WITH KUCHMA
Russian President Boris Yeltsin and former Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin each called Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 23 March to discuss the changes in the Russian government, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin stressed that foreign policy and bilateral relations will not change, Kuchma said. Kuchma said Chernomyrdin expressed his appreciation for the president's role in developing closer relations. The Ukrainian president, for his part, thanked Chernomyrdin for his efforts in bringing to fruition the long-term economic program recently signed in Moscow. PB
ODESSA DEPUTY MAYOR ARRESTED
Mykhailo Kuchuk, the deputy mayor of Odessa, was arrested on 23 March by Interior Ministry officers and charged with abuse of authority, the "Eastern Economist" reported. The arrest is seen as part of an ongoing power struggle between Odessa Mayor Eduard Hurvits and Odessa Oblast Administration Chairman Ruslan Bodelan, who is challenging Hurvits in the mayoral race. The whereabouts of regional administrator Ihor Svoboda, who was reportedly kidnapped at the beginning of this month, are still unknown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 17 March 1998). PB
ESTONIAN COURT RULES GOVERNMENT CANNOT IMPOSE TARIFFS
The Supreme Court on 23 March ruled that the law on customs tariffs, which gives the government the right to impose such duties, "partly contradicts" the constitution, ETA and BNS reported. The court decided in favor of an appeal by Legal Chancellor Erik-Juhan Truuvali, who argues that the law gives "too wide powers" to the government and that the parliament should have the right to establish customs tariffs. The court's decision cannot be appealed. The draft of the law had been strongly opposed by the opposition, which believes tariffs would harm Estonia's image aboard. As a compromise, the parliament included in the final version of the law a provision whereby the government must seek the parliament's consent to introduce tariffs for a period exceeding six months. JC
LATVIAN PREMIER HOPES FOR REFORMIST GOVERNMENT IN MOSCOW
Guntars Krasts said on 23 March that he hopes the new Russian government will pay more attention to reforms, international cooperation, and good-neighborly relations, BNS reported. He said it was difficult to explain the worsening of Russian-Latvian relations following the pensioners' rally at the Riga City Hall earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1998). Krasts also urged that "serious negotiations" be launched between Riga and Moscow to "smooth contradictions" that have emerged in recent weeks. Also on 23 March, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis said he will convene a meeting of the National Security Council on 25 March to consider developments in relations with Russia. JC
POLISH CARDINAL SAYS CROSS WILL STAY
Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the head of Poland's Roman Catholic Church, said that a controversial cross near the Auschwitz concentration camp will not be removed, despite protests from Jewish groups, AFP reported on 23 March. Cardinal Glemp said the issue is "non-negotiable" and that the cross will not be removed just because some people do not like it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998). PB
CZECH SKINHEAD SENTENCED FOR RACIALLY MOTIVATED MURDER
The Prague City Court on 23 March sentenced 19-year-old Petr Zbornik to a prison term of 14 and a half years for the racially motivated murder of Sudanese student Hassan El-Amin Abdelradi last November. He was also charged for grievous bodily harm, having stabbed in the arm Abdelradi's fellow student, Abdul Kharim Rahman. Sixteen-year-old Jan Schimperk, who swung a metal chain at Kharim Rahman during the attack, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half months in prison, which he will serve in a special confinement for youths. Both appealed the sentence, which will now be heard by the High Court, CTK reported. MS
KOVAC TO HEAD SLOVAK OPPOSITION PETITION DRIVE
Former President Michal Kovac is to head a petition drive organized by the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition and the Hungarian Coalition to protest the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's (HZDS) intention to change the electoral law. Under the current law, both individual parties and alliances of parties must pass a 5 percent threshold. The HZDS, however, wants to add 5 percent to that figure for every member in an alliance. The drive is also aimed at demanding the election of the country's president by popular vote, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. The gathering of the 100,000 necessary signatures will start on 25 March, the day marking the 10th anniversary of the anti-communist demonstration in Bratislava. MS
RUGOVA CLAIMS VICTORY
Tadej Rodiqi, the chairman of the Republican Election Commission of Kosovo, announced on 23 March in Pristina that shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova was re-elected in the 22 March elections with more than 90 percent support, ATA reported. Campaign spokesmen of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo called the vote "the Kosovars' declaration of trust and support in their leaders and in their peaceful and democratic policy." The spokesmen added that "Rugova's re-election as president of the republic legitimizes and strengthens his position as the leader of the people of Kosovo in [possible future] negotiations" with the Serbian government, the shadow-state's information office reported. FS
SERBIA, KOSOVARS RELAUNCH EDUCATION AGREEMENT
Serbian Minister without Portfolio Ratomir Vico and Rugova adviser Fehmi Agani signed an agreement in Pristina on 23 March to restore Albanian-language education in government school buildings. The agreement seeks to put into practice a document that was signed by Rugova and then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in September 1996 but subsequently proved a dead letter. According to the Vico-Agani text, Pristina's Albanian Studies Institute will resume work by 31 March and the entire Albanian-language state school system will be functioning by the end of June. Ethnic Albanians launched a boycott of the state school system seven years ago following the introduction of a centralized curriculum from Belgrade. They subsequently introduced a private school system, but that system is short on classrooms and supplies and lacks international accreditation. PM
AGANI OPTIMISTIC ON AGREEMENT...
Agani said in Pristina on 23 March that he hopes that agreement on reopening Albanian-language educational institutions will not meet the same fate as its 1996 predecessor. He stressed, however, that Serbia has recently encountered great difficulties as a result of its policies in Kosovo and is no longer in a strong enough political position to disregard any agreement it reaches with the Kosovars. In Tirana, the daily "Republika" commented that the Kosovars will not be satisfied with the education agreement alone and will demand the full restoration of human rights. PM
...BUT SERBIAN STUDENTS, PROFESSORS SLAM IT
A spokesman for the main Serbian students' union in Kosovo said in Pristina on 23 March that the Vico-Agani agreement constitutes a "betrayal of [Serbian interests in ] Kosovo and a blow to the sovereignty of Serbia." He added that Serbian and Montenegrin students oppose letting ethnic Albanians design their own curriculum, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. The spokesman announced the start of protests, which "will last until the questions of Kosovo and of [instruction at] Pristina University are solved once and for all." The Serbian Faculty Council at the university passed a resolution condemning the agreement as "illegal and unconstitutional." Rector Radovan Popovic told a rally of some 10,000 students, faculty, and local Serbs that the text "means the collapse of the Serbian state." He added that the university "will remain Serbian" and that anyone may study there but only "in the Serbian language." PM
SERBIA EXPELS NGO MONITORS FROM KOSOVO
Serbian authorities have expelled six U.S. non-governmental election monitors from Kosovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1998), ATA reported . The men from the San Francisco-based organization Peace Workers were arrested by police on 21 March and sentenced by a Pristina court to 10 days in jail. The U.S. embassy in Belgrade protested the sentencing. FS
ALBANIA LAUNCHES PLAN FOR KOSOVO
The government recommended to the international community on 23 March that Kosovo receive a self-governing republican status such as Montenegro enjoys within Yugoslavia and the Republika Srpska has within the Bosnian state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1998). Prime Minister Fatos Nano will present the plan to the meeting of the international Contact Group slated for 25 March in Bonn. PM
EU WARNS CROATIA
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, his Austrian counterpart Wolfgang Schuessel, and Luxembourg's Jacques Poos told Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic in London on 23 March that the EU is dissatisfied with Croatia's behavior toward the union. The three ministers called Granic's attention in particular to President Franjo Tudjman's recent refusal to receive a delegation from the EU and demanded that Tudjman meet with representatives from Brussels in the near future. The EU has recently criticized several public remarks by Tudjman as nationalist and disrespectful of Bosnia's sovereignty. PM
BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIME SUSPECTS ARRESTED
The Sarajevo Prosecutor-General's office on 24 March announced the arrest the previous day of 28-year-old Dragan Pejic, a former soldier in the Bosnian Serb army, on suspicion of war crimes during the Bosnian war. The statement did not specify the crime. It was the second such arrest within the past few days. Police of the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation arrested Milomir Tepes on 22 March on charges of war crimes in eastern Bosnia. The UN police will soon rule on whether Tepes's arrest was in keeping with internationally agreed upon rules on arresting and detaining war crimes suspects in Bosnia. UN police officials added that they have not received any information from the Yugoslav authorities on the whereabouts of Mirsad Hasanovic, the director of the Sarajevogas Company, whom Serbian police arrested in Sid on 22 March. PM
MORE CORRUPTION CHARGES IN ALBANIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY
Interior Minister Neritan Ceka on 23 March charged former Deputy Interior Minister Agim Shehu with having misappropriated some $1 million in ministry funds. Ceka claims that police funds were spent on organizing Democratic Party demonstrations, "Koha Jone" reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into possible abuse of office by Shehu between 1994 and 1997. Inspectors from the state anti- corruption agency recently found documents showing Shehu used what were reported to be unethical practices in granting government contracts. FS
ROMANIAN PREMIER NULLIFIES AGREEMENT WITH OPPOSITION
Victor Ciorbea told journalists on 23 March that the draft budget for 1998 has already been submitted to the parliament and will not be amended, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nor will the privatization law be modified to meet the demands of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), Ciorbea and National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) chairman Ion Diaconescu stressed. Both leaders denied rumors that a "deal" has been cut with the PDSR to replace Ciorbea as premier after the parliament approves the budget. Former Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu said the PDSR is "amazed" that the PNTCD is going back on what was agreed at the 20 March meeting with Ciorbea. He added that the PNTCD will vote against the budget. MS
ROMANIA, GERMANY SIGN ENERGY ACCORDS
Romanian Prime Minister Ciorbea and visiting German Economics Minister Gunther Rexrodt have signed two agreements on cooperation in the energy sector, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 23 March . The first accord provides for the delivery of 500,000 cubic meters of gas per year by Ruhrgas AC to the state- owned company Romgaz. The second stipulates that Bayernwerk will provide the Renel electricity company with know-how for the modernization of production facilities. Renel is currently being privatized. Rexrodt, who headed a large delegation of potential German investors, called on Bucharest to continue on its reform course and to remove bureaucratic hurdles hindering foreign investments. MS
ROMANIAN WEEKLY CALLS FOR 'FINAL SOLUTION'
In an editorial published on 16 March in the xenophobic weekly "Atac la persoana," editor in chief Dragos Dumitru says the recent events in Kosovo demonstrate that U.S. policy is based on force and on the principle of "whoever is not with us is against us." He says NATO's "Terminator plans" are based on inciting national minorities and that the only possible defense against such plans is "the elimination of dangerous national minorities through any available means," ranging from "cultural assimilation to physical extermination." Dumitru says that after Serbia, Romania will become NATO's "next target" and that, "painful as this may sound, we have to prepare for the final solution." In a hint to the Hungarian ethnic minority, he ends the editorial by saying that "perhaps this [intention] should be displayed on multi-lingual signs." MS
ANTI-COMMUNIST COALITION IN MOLDOVA?
Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), says that despite his party's victory in the 22 parliamentary elections, the PCM might not participate in the next coalition government. Voronin told an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau that the PCM would agree to a coalition with the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMPD) and with the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD) only if those formations would "accept most of our electoral platform, which is unlikely." He spoke after meeting with President Petru Lucinschi on 23 March. PMPD leader Dumitru Diacov said a coalition between his party, the Democratic Convention of Moldova, and the PFD cannot be ruled out and that "the chances of cooperating with the Communists are few." MS
IMF LAUDS BULGARIA
Anne McGuirk, the chief IMF representative in Bulgaria, said on 23 March that Bulgaria has achieved financial stability since the setting up of the currency board last year and that the IMF is "confident" that Sofia's "ambitious program for economic growth" is now feasible. She said the IMF is considering extending a three-year loan to Bulgaria to support economic recovery but added that the final decision will be made in April or May. An IMF delegation recently met with ministers in charge of the economy. MS
YELTSIN SACKS GOVERNMENT
by Floriana Fossato
Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who is known for his bold and unexpected moves, shocked politicians and observers on 23 March when he fired Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the entire government. That move came on the heels of Yeltsin's return to the Kremlin following more than a week of political inactivity owing to what was reportedly a respiratory sickness. Most observers in Moscow believe the move is intended to signal that the president is firmly in control and will not allow others to make--or even be perceived to be making--political decisions in his place.
Political analysts Sergei Markov and Andrei Piontkovskii told RFE/RL that, above all, the move "benefits Yeltsin" and also gives a "partial boost to the positions of the reformers." At the same time, they say, Yeltsin's decision and the way it was announced "is a blow and a warning to Chernomyrdin." According to the two analysts, Yeltsin has been worried by recent Kremlin infighting over who will succeed him in the year 2000.
According to many commentators, in the last few months powerful Russian financial and business tycoons who control media outlets seemed to be consolidating their support for Chernomyrdin, who was premier for more than five years. Those commentators say Yeltsin was possibly disturbed by signs of Chernomyrdin's new independent stance.
Former First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, the Chernomyrdin government's perceived top economic reformers, have been locked in a power struggle with some of Russia's main financial tycoons over control of the economy. Among the tycoons were those who played a key role in backing Yeltsin's 1996 re-election, including Boris Berezovskii.
Berezovskii said in an interview with NTV broadcast on the evening of 22 March that Yeltsin could not be elected president for a third consecutive term in 2000. He said that "even though Yeltsin is now undoubtedly the number one political figure, I believe he will not be electable in 2000." He added that "new authorities should not cash in on the mistakes of their predecessors but build on the positive achievements of today's regime."
Many observers were surprised by the businessman's remarks. Political analyst Markov said Yeltsin may have viewed Berezovskii's comments as a "provocation" or as a challenge to Yeltsin's authority. And Markov noted that Yeltsin's move shows "the president wants to decide himself who will be the best candidate for the 'party of power' in the next presidential election."
Appearing on NTV a few hours after the Kremlin announcement, Yeltsin said he has "instructed Chernomyrdin to concentrate on political preparations for the presidential elections in the year 2000." He added that "for us, the 2000 elections are very important. One can say that this is the future destiny of Russia." The president praised Chernomyrdin as "thorough, reliable, and trustworthy," adding that "we have worked together for more than five years. He has done a lot for the country." But Yeltsin also argued that "Russia now needs a new team that can get real results." Some commentators in Moscow have interpreted those remarks as Yeltsin's farewell to Chernomyrdin.
Yeltsin said Chernomyrdin's cabinet did well in some areas but "is lagging behind in the social sphere." He said that a new team will have to concentrate more on economics and less on political infighting. He also stressed repeatedly that the dismissal of the government does not mean a change of the reform course.
Following his meeting with Chernomyrdin on 23 March, Yeltsin signed separate decrees firing not only the premier but also Chubais and Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. Political analyst Markov said Chubais, who has recently been suggested as a new board chairman of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems, will likely continue acting alongside other reformers. Kulikov's future is viewed as less easy to predict. Chubais has said he will remain a member of Yeltsin's "team" but did not say in what capacity.
In a sign that he remains committed to reform, Yeltsin appointed 35- year-old Sergei Kirienko as a first deputy prime minister who will also act as chief of the government. Kirienko, who served as fuel and energy minister in Chernomyrdin's government, is seen as an ally of Nemtsov. Kremlin sources tell RFE/RL that Kirienko's name as a temporary replacement for Chernomyrdin was suggested by Nemtsov. Analysts believe that Kirienko's appointment may be only temporary and that Nemtsov's position in the government may be strengthened.
Under the constitution, Yeltsin has two weeks in which to name a new premier. The appointment must be approved by the State Duma, and most observers agree that Kirienko's approval by the Communist- and-nationalist- dominated lower house of the parliament could prove "problematic." Communist leaders in the Duma have already said their faction will not support Kirienko's candidacy.
However, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said late on 23 March that Kirienko is the "strongest and the most real candidate" for the post. Most experts say that Yeltsin will likely be able to find a compromise with the Duma on the issue since it would be in the interests of neither Yeltsin nor the legislators to start a confrontation now.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.