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Newsline - October 2, 1998


The release of details of First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov's draft economic program triggered a flurry of clarifications and denials by Russian government officials. Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov stressed that no single program as yet exists, adding that six are currently under discussion. He explained that now "we are talking about a system of measures that will establish the starting principles for the government's future economic program." One of the most controversial elements of Maslyukov's plan proved to be the proposed ban on the buying and selling of hard currency by individuals. However, Primakov said talk of monopolizing the influx of foreign currency into Russia is "sheer nonsense." The Central Bank's press office, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 2 October, also dismissed the idea of banning the dollar as "nonsense." On the other hand, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov seemed to embrace the idea, telling Interfax that "not a single country in the world permits the simultaneous circulation of two currencies." JAC


"Kommersant-Daily" on 2 October reported that Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov strenuously objected to the program during a presidium meeting the previous day. Without mentioning how it obtained such a detailed account of the proceedings, the newspaper said that Zadornov critiqued the program paragraph by paragraph. "Moscow Times" quoted Western economists who said that parts of the plan if implemented might not be disastrous. It quoted economist Ralph Sueppel of JP Morgan saying, "These measures do everything possible to push up hard currency reserves, which is what the government needs to do to avoid complete default. The danger may come if in a few months the situation stabilizes and everyone thinks these measures are good. There is nothing in the plan saying that they are temporary." JAC


Maslyukov's proposed program would severely diminish the power of the Central Bank by transferring some of its powers to a committee for coordinating monetary and credit policies of state financial bodies. According to Interfax on 1 October, the committee would be made up of representatives from the Central Bank, Federal Securities Commission, Sberbank, Vnesheconombank, and the Ministries of Finance and Economy. The plan would also slash the number of commercial banks in the country by raising the minimum capital requirement to 20 million ECU ($17 million). Under the program, only a few entities would be allowed to conduct transactions with hard currency. Exporters would have to go through a laborious process of obtaining and presenting letters of credit--not dissimilar to the system that existed in the Soviet economy. Both importers and exporters of raw materials would have to qualify under a government tender simply to do business. JAC


Aslan Maskhadov, who assumed the functions of prime minister in July following the resignation of acting Premier Shamil Basaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1998), dismissed the entire cabinet on 1 October, together with the heads of all republican agencies and organizations. He also abolished the posts of first deputy prime minister but introduced eight deputy prime ministerial posts. Three of those deputy premiers will have responsibility for the Ministries of Economics, Oil, and Construction, all of which Maskhadov severely criticized, according to Interfax. Maskhadov said the old cabinet will continue in office until he reveals the composition of its successor, adding that 15-20 percent of ministers will retain their posts. LF


Russian Deputy Foreign Ministry Georgii Mamedov met in Moscow on 1 October with Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Safari to discuss international and regional cooperation and nuclear non-proliferation, Russian agencies reported. The previous day, the Duma faction of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Duma faction had called on the Duma to adopt a statement calling increased cooperation with Iran, Interfax reported. Zhirinovsky was a member of the Duma delegation that, headed by speaker Gennadii Seleznev, visited Tehran in late September. During that visit, Zhirinovsky held private meetings with the Iranian security minister and other senior officials. Also on 1 October, Caucasus Press reported that a senior Iranian naval commander had told Iranian media that Iran intends to increase its military presence in the Caspian. LF


"Rossiiskaya gazeta" published a full list of the members of the presidium of the Russian government on 2 October. Included are the prime minister, the two first deputy prime ministers, and the ministers for interior, defense, foreign affairs, economy, finance, and state property. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak, Gennadii Kulik, and Valentina Matvienko are also members. Eight governors have been tapped to participate. These are leaders of inter-regional associations, such as Nikolai Merkushin (Greater Volga), Eduard Rossel (Urals), Viktor Ishaev (Far East and Trans-Baikal), Vladimir Chub (North Caucasus), Vladimir Yakovlev (Northwest), Viktor Kress (Siberian Accord), Anatolii Lisitsin (Central Russia), and Yegor Stroev (Black Earth). JAC


The White House press service quickly disputed Sverdlovsk governor Rossel's claim on 1 October that President Boris Yeltsin had agreed to his suggestion that the dollar be banned and a ruble backed by government reserves of precious metals be introduced. Nonetheless, the report continues to garner attention. On 2 October, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote that the White House denials are not convincing, in part because "three days before devaluation Boris Yeltsin stated that there will be no devaluation." Another reason for skepticism, according to the newspaper, is that the government's draft economic program calls for the restricting of the free circulation of the dollar. "Kommersant-Daily," on the other hand, argued that Rossel's idea was unlikely to win support in part because it would require that the ruble printing presses be locked away in order to be successful. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, while sources for funding of "Kommersant-Daily" are unknown. JAC


Prime Minister Primakov appeared to suggest that the IMF would have to take the blame for any actions his government might take if the next $4.3 billion tranche from the IMF is not forthcoming. Without the IMF's help, he said, the government "would have to take unpopular measures." In an interview with "Vremya MN," Mikhail Kasyanov, deputy minister of finance, said that Russia has "no grounds at all to raise the question [of the next tranche]." He added that "the government is only starting to consider its program. By 12 October, the date of the IMF delegation's arrival in Moscow, we will have to complete the document to submit to them." IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus told reporters that "what is needed is a government with a clear strategy for going ahead and we don't see it yet." JAC


The U.S. has granted refugee status to seven "victims of political repression" from the Republic of Kalmykia, the "Moscow Times" reported on 2 October. Three adults were either friends or associates of Larisa Yudina, the editor of "Sovietskaya Kalmykia," an opposition newspaper, who was killed in what widely believed to be retaliation for her investigations into corruption in the republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June and 26 August 1998). Because of their association with Yudina, they had received death threats, while one was beaten and another confined to a psychiatric hospital. They fled with their children to Moscow, where they were denied the status of "forced migrants" by both the Federal Migration Service and the Moscow migration service. JAC


After a small delay, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that it has finally received two-months worth of soldiers' back wages. According to the Ministry's press spokesman, the troops themselves will receive the money in "a matter of one or two days." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" concluded on 1 October that despite the slowness with which both military and civilian personnel have been paid, only "the Russian army's worker and employees" will participate in the general strike on 7 October. "Officers will not be able to have their say because career servicemen are not allowed to take part in political actions," the newspaper added. JAC


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters on 1 October that Russia is ready for a center-left democratic party. At the same time, Luzhkov denied claims made by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that he has formed an election alliance with the Communists. He added that his approach to "major political and economic questions was similar to that of the Communist Party." In particular, he explained that private property that doesn't work should be nationalized and if state property is ineffectively managed then it should be privatized. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Luzhkov supported the election to the Duma of former Federal Frontier Service head Andrei Nikolaev, and in return for the favor, Nikolaev created the Union of People's Power and Labor, which has formed key alliances with other movements. Last week Nikolaev signed an agreement of cooperation with Zyuganov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1998). JAC


Reuters on 2 October reported that State Duma members abandoned their plan to sue Finance Minister Zadornov after he reassured them money owed them would be forthcoming. According to Interfax on 1 October, the Finance Ministry owes 203.4 million rubles ($12 million) to the Duma, while the Duma itself has unpaid bills totaling 149 million rubles. The Moskva Hotel, where many deputies live during parliamentary sessions, has threatened to evict the legislators for their growing tab. The Duma's heating system has reportedly been cut off, while deputies have been denied transport and printing services. Duma head of staff Nikolai Troshkin told reporters that the Duma does not have a single sheet of paper and cannot duplicate deputies statements any more. JAC


Javier Solana arrived in Yerevan from Baku on 1 October on the last leg of a Transcaucasian tour that he said is aimed at deepening the Alliance's "good relations" with the three countries of the region, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Following talks with Prime Minister Armen Darpinian on regional initiatives, Solana said there is "space for further cooperation" between NATO and Armenia, which Darpinian said has a "very serious future." Solana said he does not consider Armenia's close military cooperation with Russia an obstacle to relations with NATO. General Mikael Harutyunian, Armenian army chief of staff, said that his talks with Solana will focus on Armenia's involvement in the Partnership for Peace program and on future cooperation, including training of officers and joint military exercises. A senior Armenian Foreign Ministry official told RFE/RL on 30 September that Yerevan will not seek NATO membership in the foreseeable future. LF


Georgia has rejected an Armenian demand for compensation for the cost of building a gas pipeline from Russia via Georgia to Armenia during the early 1990s, Caucasus Press reported on 1 October. David Eliashvili, head of the Georgian company Transgazprom, termed the Armenian claims groundless, pointing out that Yerevan is in arrears in paying transit fees. In December 1997, Armenia and Russia created a joint venture to manage supplies of Russian natural gas to Armenia. Under a subsequent agreement signed in July 1998, that joint venture assumed ownership of Armenia's natural gas infrastructure. LF


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 September lays the blame for the ongoing confrontation between the Azerbaijani opposition and authorities over the upcoming presidential poll on the National Democratic Institute. The daily claims that the institute openly backs the opposition, which embarked on "mass acts directed against the president" only in August after the NDI proposed postponing the presidential poll until a later date. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, termed the NDI's activities a violation of all the laws of international ethics and interference in the internal affairs of a foreign state. It suggested that the U.S. wants the poll to be flawed by procedural violations on the assumption that a compromised and weak Aliyev would be more susceptible to U.S. pressure. LF


As of 1 October, the Georgian Finance Ministry had transferred to the Central Electoral Commission only 100,000 lari ($74,000) of the estimated 1.53 million lari needed to finance the 15 November municipal elections, Caucasus Press reported. The ministry's budget has been sequestered, and the Central Bank has failed to transfer funds to the ministry because of its debts to the state. Also on 1 October, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze and Prosecutor- General Djamlet Babilashvili assured the Georgian parliament that they will take all necessary measures to prevent any interference by the "power" bodies in the voting. LF


Parliamentary deputy Boris Kakubava has reached agreement with Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze on convening a congress of Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war in Batumi, Caucasus Press reported. Representatives of the displaced persons were prevented from holding that congress in Tbilisi in late September as originally planned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 28 September 1998). LF


Two sisters on the staff of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Esmira and Ilhama Namiqqizi, were attacked and beaten at a Baku metro station on the evening of 30 September, ANS-press reported on 2 October. Rauf Arifoglu, editor of "Yeni Musavat," told journalists that the newspaper had received "numerous" threatening telephone calls in recent weeks. On 29 September, Esmira Namiqqizi had published an article criticizing several officers of the Interior Ministry's Anti-Gangster and Anti-Terrorism Department. LF


Presidential press spokesman Zafar Saidov has denied allegations by an Afghan Taliban leader that Tajikistan provided an airbus to transport Iranian- and Russian-supplied arms to anti-Taliban rebels on Afghan territory, Reuters reported on 2 October. In a radio broadcast the previous day, a Taliban leader had claimed that a pilot who recently defected to the Taliban forces said he had flown a planeload of ammunition from southern Tajikistan to Bagram, north of Kabul, for delivery to opposition commander Ahmed Shah Massoud. LF


In a joint statement released on 1 October, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri issued an ultimatum to rebel field commanders to surrender their arms within one week, Reuters and Interfax reported. According to the ultimatum, any maverick groups that fail to comply will be forcibly neutralized. The document is directed primarily against the military formations commanded by Said Mukhtor Yurov and Rafshan Gafurov, which operate east of Dushanbe. Also on 1 October, ITAR-TASS reported that the contact group of ambassadors of states that are guarantors of the 1997 General Peace Agreement have issued a statement welcoming the agreement reached between the Tajik leadership and opposition on the resumption of cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1998). LF


Talks between President Saparmurat Niyazov and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Holubchenko in Ashgabat have failed to yield an agreement on how Kyiv should pay its estimated $704 million debt for Turkmen gas supplied in 1996-1997, Interfax reported on 1 October. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had proposed that Kyiv would supply commodities to cover part of that debt. Nor was agreement reached on several proposed bilateral construction projects, including a bridge across the Amu-Darya River in eastern Turkmenistan and the reconstruction of compressor stations. LF


In a bid to stave off the depletion of its reserves, the Ukrainian National Bank (NBU) has sharply tightened procedures for purchasing foreign currency, Ukrainian News reported on 1 October. The new rules stipulate that foreign currency can be purchased by authorized banks only if their customers produce the required documentation, which includes foreign trade contracts and tax and customs clearance. Banks are obliged to provide the State Tax Administration with information about customers wanting to buy foreign currency, including passport details of customers' employers and accountants. Permits for purchasing foreign currency are to be issued by NBU regional departments. "The situation is deadly: the country's trade turnover will practically be paralyzed," the agency quoted one banker as saying. JM


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists on 1 October that he has the impression that the new Russian government is borrowing much of the economic experience accumulated by Belarus over the past four years, Interfax reported. Commenting on his meeting earlier this week with Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1998), Lukashenka said Primakov "spoke about state regulation and a socially-oriented market economy." He said he sees the model chosen by Primakov as "the best possible" for Russia. And he added that Primakov is tackling his new duties with "youth-like enthusiasm." JM


Lukashenka also said Belarus has food reserves larger than it had in the Soviet era. He announced that he will make trips to the regions next week to make sure that "the necessary measures have been taken to ensure the country's self-sufficiency in food." But he admitted that the Russian crisis is continuing to hurt the Belarusian economy. JM


At a constituent congress of the Belarusian Confederation of Entrepreneurs , Lukashenka said commercial banks in Belarus have lost $200 million because of the financial crisis in Russia, AP reported on 1 October. "For what purpose did you buy those papers?" he asked businessmen, referring to Russian government short-term treasury bills, which have become virtually worthless owing to the crisis. "The best bank is a sock in your own country," he added. Lukashenka assured entrepreneurs that he supports their association but warned them against political involvement. "If you want to maintain relations with the president or state bodies, [do not become involved in] politics, electoral blocs, or political associations," Belapan quoted him as saying. JM


Belarusian First Deputy Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau blamed the IMF on 1 October for issuing "old textbook recipes" to fight crises in developing economies, Reuters reported. "The fund's enforced policies in a range of countries have deepened and even caused the crisis," he told a news conference. He added that Belarus achieved a "certain success" while following "its own recipe." JM


Martynau also said the problem of Western ambassadors who were evicted from the Drazdy residential compound near Minsk is an "obstacle" in developing relations with a number of countries. He said Belarus has offered 40 alternative residences to the ambassadors. He added that special missions from Germany, France, and Italy have examined the proposed locations but have made no decision on whether to accept them. A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Minsk told Reuters that the U.S. is not interested in Belarus's proposals. "We view the eviction from Drazdy as a violation of the Vienna convention and we can agree only to the reinstatement of the previous status of the residence in Drazdy," she said. JM


In an interview with Reuters on 1 October, Guntars Krasts said that Western pressure on Latvia to ease citizenship requirements for its Russian-speaking minority is a "mistake." He said that such pressure is harmful and raises doubts about the value of joining the EU. And he added that by exerting pressure, the EU is behaving like Moscow did before Latvia quit the Soviet Union in 1991. Latvians are to vote in general elections and a referendum on amendments to the citizenship law on 3 October (see also "End Note" below). JC


Gediminas Vagnorius said in Brussels on 1 October that the EU risks undermining reforms in Lithuania if it does not invite the Baltic State for membership talks next year, according to AP. "It would have a negative impact on the stability of our country...[and] a negative [impact] on our public opinion," he noted. The EU has told Lithuania that it needs to modernize its administration and reform its economy before it can start talks. Vagnorius commented that "Lithuania will do all it can to resolve its problems.... We'll make so much progress that it will be impossible not to invite us." JC


With local elections due in Poland on 11 October, the ruling coalition and the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) are accusing each other of limiting the incomes of local governments, "Zycie Warszawy" reported on 2 October. A government draft law on local budgets stipulates that local taxes will account for only 4 percent of the budget of a powiat (middle tier of local administration), while 96 percent will be provided by the central government in the form of subsidies and subventions. The coalition Freedom Union says the SLD that predetermined the composition of local budgets by "lobbying branch interests" when laws defining local government powers were being passed. Premier Jerzy Buzek thinks that the powiat budgets are nevertheless "quite large" and that their composition may be changed next year. JM


Mikulas Dzurinda, leader of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), said on 1 October that Vladimir Meciar's departure from the political scene will be "a relief for Slovakia," AFP reported. Dzurinda added that Meciar's appearance on television on 30 September was "a sad spectacle." Former Premier Jan Carnogursky., leader of the Christian Democratic Party, said decency had never been Meciar's strong point and the appearance was "definitely his last." And another former premier, Jozef Moravcik, said Meciar's appearance on television was "a very confused performance" that showed Meciar "was not quite normal." A tearful Meciar had ended his television appearance singing "With Lord God I take my leave, I never hurt any of you," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. MS


The National Bank of Slovakia on 1 October announced it will no longer intervene to support the Slovak crown within the 7 percent fluctuation boundary, thus in effect allowing the national currency to float against foreign currencies, AP reported. The move, which is expected to result in a devaluation of the Slovak crown, was mainly prompted by the growing balance of payments deficit. In other news, SDK spokesman Martin Lengyel told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bratislava that the courts may have to decide on the legality of privatization deals concluded under the outgoing Meciar government. MS


Minister of Cultural Heritage Jozsef Hamori and Peter Feldmajer, chairman of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, have signed an agreement on collective compensation for properties confiscated under communism. The Jewish community will receive a $63 million annuity representing the value of its 152 schools and other buildings. The first 608 million forint ($2.9 million) installment of the annuity will be paid in 1998. In other news, the Hungarian Calvinist Church said in a statement it expects its pastors who are also parliamentary deputies not to voice opinions contrary to the views of Christian ideology. The statement comes in the wake of a recent statement made in the parliament by a Calvinist pastor, Lorant Hegedus of the Justice and Life Party, which was denounced by the opposition as racist. MSZ


Opposition critics say the Budapest tabloid "Kurir," whose publication was suspended by its owner on 1 October, was a victim of the new cabinet's preferences for more conservative newspapers. "Kurir" was owned by Postabank, whose top management was fired by the government several weeks ago, when the government gained majority ownership of the bank. Laszlo Kovacs, chairman of the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party, said "it is unacceptable to suspend newspapers critical of the government on the pretext of financial difficulties." MSZ


The Security Council voted on 1 October to condemn the recent massacres of ethnic Albanians in Kosova but did not assign blame for the killings or authorize NATO to intervene militarily against Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1998). British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who holds the rotating chair of the highest UN body and who called the special session, said that the vote is a "clear, direct message" to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to "immediately investigate and punish those responsible" for the killings. Russian and Chinese diplomats told reporters, however, that their governments want further information on the massacres before assigning blame. Slovenian Ambassador Danilo Turk told CNN that "diplomacy still has a job to do" before the Council can authorize military action. CNN concluded that "it is not clear if there is the international will" to take tough measures against Belgrade. PM


The state-run Tanjug news agency reported that the government on 2 October issued an invitation to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to visit that country before finishing his forthcoming report on Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1998). The previous day, Yugoslav Ambassador to the UN Vladislav Jovanovic said in New York that he hopes Annan will rely on "real information" on the massacres, and not that supplied by international humanitarian organizations. Jovanovic suggested that the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) might be responsible for the killings and called for an investigation by forensic teams consisting of Serbian and foreign experts. The diplomat also urged the UN to investigate the murders of Serbian civilians and police in Kosova. Jovanovic warned against authorizing NATO air strikes against his country, saying that such intervention would only "make matters worse" and place the international community on the side of "separatists and terrorists." PM


The State Department issued a warning to U.S. citizens on 1 October to leave Yugoslavia. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave a closed-door briefing to the entire Senate on the security situation in Kosova. She later told reporters that diplomacy will be given an additional chance to resolve the crisis but added that NATO is "now prepared to act." Secretary of Defense William Cohen said that the deadline for NATO to decide on intervention will come "soon." Robert Gelbard, who is the U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, told the BBC that the massacres leave Serbia with "no credibility at all." In New York, Ambassador Greenstock said that "it looks as though Milosevic will only understand the use of force or the threat of the use of force. That is what we are now preparing. If it's necessary, we will use it... If unity [of the Security Council on intervention] is not possible, then we'll have to make our own decisions according to the circumstances." PM


Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 1 October that Western countries are manipulating the reports of atrocities in Kosova to justify military attacks on Serbia. "All media and all agencies in charge of waging a special, psychological war have joined this orchestrated campaign by Western powers against the Serbian people.... Maybe we are incapable of hitting each one of their planes, but the West should be aware that their soldiers will be our targets no matter where they are, if we can get at them." The former paramilitary leader added that there are "some territories where it will be easy to do so." Observers suggested that this might be a reference to SFOR troops in Bosnia. The next day, Mirjana Markovic, who is Milosevic's wife, compared the U.S. to a "bellicose giant who picks adversaries who cannot defend themselves." PM


The Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 1 October saying that the recent killing of civilians in Kosova showed "the readiness of Belgrade's authorities to continue their policy of aggression, genocide and ethnic cleansing" against Kosovars. The statement stressed that the massacres are only "one episode in the endless cruelties of the Serbian military and police forces" and charged Serbia with having massacred hundreds of civilians since February under the pretext of fighting the UCK. The statement called on the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to bring to justice the "perpetrators of these crimes and those in Belgrade who ordered them." The statement also called for NATO intervention in Kosova to "end Serbian violence [there]." FS


Zivko Radisic, who is the newly elected Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and who will soon occupy the rotating chair of that body, told the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 2 October that his Socialist Party is totally independent of its Yugoslav namesake, Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia. Radisic said he would not have run for the presidency if he did not believe "in the future of Bosnia- Herzegovina," but he added that that state consists of two legally equal entities and three equal peoples. He said he regrets that Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who is a member of the same electoral coalition as he is, was not reelected but said that he expects he can work with her successor, Nikola Poplasen. Radisic called that Hague-based war crimes tribunal a "political court directed exclusively against the Serbian people," adding that war criminals must first answer to their own ethnic group. PM


In Sarajevo on 1 October, representatives of the OSCE, which supervised the 12-13 September Bosnian elections, barred a Croatian local council member from Siroki Brijeg and a Serbian deputy to the Republika Srpska legislature from taking their seats. The move was punishment for violations of the election rules by their respective parties, the Croatian Democratic Community and the Serbian Radical Party. The election supervisors fined a Muslim-led coalition in Tuzla $700 for arranging for its supporters to vote in their own homes. In Lukavica, the joint government approved a draft agreement with Croatia on Bosnia's use of Croatia's port of Ploce. The joint presidency and parliament, as well as the Croatian legislature, must ratify the text before it becomes binding. PM


Albanian President Rexhep Meidani approved the new cabinet list that Prime Minister-designate Pandeli Majko presented to him on 2 October. The composition is little different from that of the outgoing government of former Prime Minister Fatos Nano, Reuters reported. Ingrid Shuli of the Social Democrats replaced fellow party member Gaqo Apostoli as public works and transport minister, and Socialist Kadri Rrapi succeeded party colleague Anastas Angjeli as labor minister. Angjeli will take over the finance portfolio from Arben Malaj. The parliament must vote on the cabinet within 10 days. PM


Former President Sali Berisha told a press conference on 1 October that "the leadership of the Democratic Party would like to inform Albanians and the international community that the newly nominated prime minister interrupted his university studies for a year owing to a serious mental illness." He did not elaborate, nor has Majko commented on that claim. Berisha added that his party had offered a dialogue but President Meidani had declined to consult with his party before asking Majko to form a new government. FS


Unidentified attackers threw a hand-grenade at the apartment of the secretary of the Greek Consulate in Gjirokastra on 30 October, AP reported. A room was damaged but there were no injuries. Several explosions have occurred in Gjirokastra this year, but no one has claimed responsibility. Meanwhile, Europe's soccer's governing body, UEFA, has postponed a match between Albania and Greece because of the continuing political instability in Albania. The Euro 2000 qualifying match was scheduled to take place in Tirana on 10 October. FS


Deputy Education Minister Mihai Korka said it is "absurd" to limit teaching in the envisaged "Petofi-Schiller" multicultural university to minority languages and that his ministry will not agree to carry out the decision unless tuition there is conducted in the Romanian language as well. Observers stress that Education Minister Andrei Marga, a main opponent of "ethnic universities," did not participate in the government meeting that adopted the decision on 30 September. Paul Porr, deputy chairman of the German Democratic Forum, said his organization was not consulted, adding that the German minority "does not need" a separate university. Observers also stress that the government-proposed compromise is illegal unless the Chamber of Deputies changes the article prohibiting higher education in separate minority state universities approved by the chamber's Education Commission, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 1 October. MS


Romania's GDP in the first six months of 1998 has dropped by 5.2 percent, compared with the same period last year, the National Statistics Board said on 30 September. The balance of trade deficit for the same period has grown to $1.66 billion, compared with $1.36 billion in the first half of 1997. Exports dropped by 8.9 percent and imports by12.8 percent. MS


Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 30 September told Reuters that Russia's objections to the setting up of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force for Southeastern Europe were "groundless and based on the outdated concept of a world divided into spheres of influence by the major powers." Agreement on establishing such a force was reached in Skopje on 19 September. Vlaikov said the force is "not directed against any country, neither was it an attempt to limit the influence of any state." The Russian Foreign Ministry on 29 September argued that the force is an attempt to limit Russia's role in the region. MS


by Jan Cleave

When Latvian voters go to the polls on 3 October, they will be asked to vote not just in elections to the Seventh Saeima (or parliament) but also in a referendum on amendments to the citizenship law. The latter of those two ballots, which asks whether voters favor removing the so-called "naturalization windows" and granting citizenship to all children born after independence if their parents request it, has dominated the run- up to election day. Nonetheless, pundits will be watching closely after polling ends to see which of the 21 parties competing in the elections win entry to the legislature and which of the personalities leading those parties gain the upper hand in post- election negotiations on forming a new government.

According to opinion polls, the likely winner of the elections will be the right-of-center People's Party, founded early this year and led by the charismatic former Prime Minister Andris Skele. Since February, the People's Party has led opinion polls ahead of the two largest ruling coalition partners: the centrist Latvia's Way, a strong advocate of the amendments to the citizenship law, and the nationalist-rightist Fatherland and Freedom party, which initiated the 3 October referendum and is the only major party openly opposed to the amendments. In a poll conducted by the Latvijas Fakti research center earlier this week, Skele's party secured 19 percent of the vote, followed by Latvia's Way (15.6 percent) and the Fatherland and Freedom party (14.1 percent).

The popularity of the People's Party may be largely attributed to Skele himself, whose reputation as a reformer was molded during his premiership from December 1995 to July 1997. During that period, Latvia had its first balanced budget and the groundwork for the country's continued economic success was laid- -achievements that in the wake of the Russian financial crisis are likely to be valued by the electorate. With regard to the issue of citizenship, Skele has said he believes the amendments are vital to Latvia's bid to join the EU and NATO and to improving the country's image abroad. His party's platform, however, does not address the issue of how to improve relations with Russia.

Another new formation whose popularity stems largely from its leader is the aptly named New Party (9.4 percent). Founded earlier this year, the New Party is led by Raimonds Pauls, who was a well known entertainer in the 1970s and 1980s. Its platform embraces both leftist and centrist ideology, promoting state control over the economy and closer ties to Russia while favoring tax cuts for private entrepreneurs as well as backing EU and, to a lesser extent, NATO membership.

The other two parties that look set to overcome the 5 percent barrier are both on the left of the political spectrum. The Social Democratic Alliance (9.2 percent) is headed by Juris Bojars, who, as a former KGB employee, is barred from running for the Saeima. His party seeks to appeal to that part of the electorate that has suffered most under Latvia's tough economic reforms, favoring a strong role for the state in the economy. The National Harmony Party (8.2 percent), which brings together former Communists and independence activists, also favors heavy state control over the economy and is opposed to NATO membership.

Analysts suggest that the undecided voter (7.6 percent of the electorate, according to the latest Latvijas Fakti poll, was undecided on the eve of the elections) may help the Farmers Union, a member of the ruling coalition, and Democratic Party Saimnieks, which quit the government earlier this year, to overcome the 5 percent hurdle. And the so-called "shy voter"--one who is unwilling to reveal to pollsters his preference for one of the more radical parties--may be instrumental in assisting formations such as Joahim Zigerist's extreme nationalist Popular Movement for Latvia or Janis Jurkans's party, which is the successor to the Communists, in their bid to enter the legislature.

While it is difficult to predict the division of parliamentary mandates, analysts believe the Seventh Saeima could be even more fragmented than its predecessor. That would not bode well for the parliament. The numerous factions in the Sixth Saeima as well as the frequent changes of party membership among parliamentary deputies have been held responsible for slowing down and complicating the work of the legislature.

As for the new government, the post-election negotiations on its formation are likely to be tough and protracted. People's Party chairman Skele has made it clear he would prefer a more stream-lined cabinet than the present one. Earlier this week, he told the BNS news agency that a coalition of several parties would not benefit Latvia but "two parties...would be a good result." The opinion polls, however, would seem to suggest a different outcome. This article is based on information provided by RFE/RL's Riga bureau.