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Newsline - October 14, 1998


In his address to the Federation Council on 14 October, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov filled in more details of his government's economic plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1998). Primakov explained that his government's three main tasks are reform of the banking sector and tax system as well as the elimination of companies debts to the government and to one another. He pledged to cut value-added tax and the profit tax and authorize a write-off of enterprise debts owed to the government. According to Primakov, the government will release 50 million rubles ($3.2 million) without "an emission or the participation of banks." Primakov noted that at the point from which his government started work, GDP has fallen 16 percent and real incomes 11 percent. JAC


Contradicting an earlier Interfax report, Primakov told the Federation Council that Russian banks are being divided into three different groups under the Central Bank's restructuring plan: banks that have survived and will continue to work, banks that are failing but are important for the economy and will be saved, and banks that are performing poorly and will be eliminated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1998). Primakov repeated an earlier pledge to continue privatization but elaborated that Russia needs a different kind of privatization. He explained that the Rosneft and Svyazinvest tenders would have sold valuable companies too cheaply. The previous day, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said that the Svyazinvest tender should be canceled because of the low asking price. JAC


Despite offering his resignation last month to protest the reappointment of Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, Federal Securities Chairman Dmitrii Vasiliev told Bloomberg on 13 October that he will continue in his post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 September 1998). Vasiliev said that he was able to reach agreement with Prime Minister Primakov on three economic policy issues of importance to him. Primakov agreed to end any discussion of nationalization, to treat all holders of Russian government debt alike, and to bail out depositors rather than bank owners when restructuring the banking sector. However, Primakov would not agree to lift restrictions on foreign-currency trading. According to Bloomberg, the Russian stock market index dropped 88 percent this year, "making it the world's worst- performing primary index." JAC


The ruble rose 16 percent to 13 rubles per dollar by mid-day on 14 October, its biggest one-day increase in more than a month. The previous day, the ruble rose 5 percent against the dollar. Bloomberg quoted traders who said the Central Bank and commercial banks are propping up the ruble to avoid losses on forward contracts due to expire on 15 October. Another factor they cited was the government's announcement that it will increase the amount of foreign exchange that exporters must convert to rubles from 50 percent to 75 percent. The ruble experienced a similiar strengthening in mid-September. Interfax reported that Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said the exchange rate should be controlled. Earlier, Gerashchenko had said the ruble's exchange rate should be allowed to float (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1998). JAC


Central Bank Chairman Gerashchenko told reporters on 13 October that his bank will save the failing SBS Agro bank. The bank will give SBS Agro an emergency loan in exchange for equity; the government will also increase its shares of Sberbank. Gerashchenko emphasized, according to ITAR-TASS, that the "bank should prop up the banks which can still hold up their heads, which are still keeping afloat." He revealed that a bank restructuring plan was being worked on with the assistance of experts from the World Bank, IMF, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. ITAR-TASS also reported that a special agency would be created at the Central Bank to supervise the reform of the banking sector. JAC


Russian officials have hailed the agreement reached by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke. Prime Minister Primakov told the Federation Council on 14 October that "obviously there will be no strike." He also predicted that "a relaxation in tensions" will occur. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told ITAR-TASS that "real prospects for reaching a political settlement in [Kosova] have emerged." Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the office for international military cooperation at the Ministry of Defense, declared that Russia is willing to send 200-250 observers to Kosova to oversee implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1199. He also told reporters that since Belgrade has agreed to fulfill the requirements of the resolution, Russia will perceive any NATO strikes as an act of aggression. He added that such strikes would mean that other European countries and CIS states, including Russia, could also become targets. JAC


Despite having been diagnosed with "tracheobronchitis," President Boris Yeltsin showed up for work on 14 October, Interfax reported. The previous day, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin of the Communist Party faction called for an urgent medical check on Yeltsin "for the purpose of his constitutional removal from office," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushin said that the issue of Yeltsin stepping down before his term expires is not even being discussed. "Segodnya" speculated that administration staff arranged for Yeltsin to visit Central Asia, despite their concerns about his health, as a kind of "training exercise" to determine whether he can withstand lengthy flights and public appearances. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media- Most group. JAC


Prime Minister Primakov told the Federation Council on 14 October that his government has spent 600 million rubles ($38 million) over the past two weeks to build a national food reserve, Interfax reported He also said that his government has slashed railway tariffs for agricultural products by 50 percent, repealed the 3 percent duty on food imports, and arranged for farm products to flow freely between regions. However, the "Journal of Commerce" reported the previous day that some oblast and city authorities are continuing to enforce regulations intended to keep food prices low and prevent food producers and traders from finding more profitable markets. "Ekonomika i zhizn" reported in its October issue that Russia food imports in September were six times lower than the previous month's level. Responding to earlier reports that Russia has asked the EU for humanitarian assistance, Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told reporters that Russia "did not ask for [food] aid, but "such aid was proposed to it" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1998). JAC


The Constitutional Court began considering the law on the election of Duma deputies on 13 October. It is responding to a request by the Saratov regional legislature, which argues that certain provisions of the law violate the constitution. According to "Izvestiya" on 14 October, the court will focus on the so-called 5 percent barrier that parties have to overcome in which to gain parliamentary representation. Mikhail Mityukov, presidential representative to the court, told reporters that President Yeltsin thinks the law needs a drastic overhaul. Yeltsin favors a majority system rather than the current one, in which deputies are elected on party lists. While Mityukov predicted that more regions will make similar appeals to the court, Yelena Mizulina, Duma representative to the court, told Interfax that the initiative "probably comes from the presidential administration rather than Saratov." JAC


Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev claimed victory on 13 October, two days after the presidential elections. Official results are due on 15 October. The 75-year- old incumbent said "I have been elected president and now I am at peace". He added that he received some three-quarters of votes cast. Opposition parties boycotted the ballot. Aliyev told reporters he foresees "a wonderful future for Azerbaijan in the 21st century--Azerbaijan will develop as an independent nation". He promised to announce programs to help some 800,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the fighting in and around Nagorno Karabakh. JN


The U.S. based National Democratic Institute (NDI) released a preliminary report on 13 October detailing abuses, including ballot box stuffing and intimidation of voters. The NDI report says "further investigation is needed to determine the extent of the irregularities and incidents of fraud that affected the voting, counting, and tabulation processes". It adds that "these flaws give cause for serious concern and raise questions about how the possibility for a second round should be resolved." And the report argued that it is "very disturbing" that the violations appeared to be systematic and that almost all were committed in favor of Aliev. JN


Aliyev says the CIS "will exist even after the year 2000." In an interview published in "Novoye izvestiya" on 13 October, Aliyev said changes are necessary to make the CIS an effective international organization. He criticized the CIS for "not being built on a parity basis but rather revolving around Russia." Aliyev said this situation must be altered and CIS countries should be equal. "It is clear that the CIS charter was written at the bidding of Russia and Russian interests lie at its core," he said. "If the situation does not change, it will be difficult to count on radical transformations, on the commonwealth suddenly becoming an effective international organization," he said. JN


Aliyev speaking to reporters on 13 October dismissed an 11 October "New York Times" report alleging that the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline will not be built, saying the report is "opinion...of a private character that does not represent the opinion of the state" He said he does not think that the issue will be resolved before the end of October. Meanwhile, U.S. State Dept. spokesman James Rubin said in Washington that the U.S. remains committed to the construction of a Baku-Ceyhan pipeline transiting Georgia. Rubin commented that "we remain making the Baku- Ceyhan and the east-west corridor a reality. JN


Agriculture Minister Vladimir Movsisian told reporters in Yerevan on 13 October that the government plans to privatize the remaining 120,000 hectares of state-owned agricultural land, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Most agricultural land in Armenia was privatized in 1991. But a fledgling market infrastructure and lack of machines have severely restricted the volume of agricultural output. Movsisian says the ministry has succeeded in bringing its role and structure into conformity with the existing realities of private land ownership. He says the state's main task now is to engage in a "long-term agricultural planning" and offer "consulting services" to farmers through its "regional scientific centers" that will be set up soon. Movsisian said his ministry will encourage banks to lend more to the agricultural sector at lower interest rates. JN


The World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) announced in Washington, D.C. on 13 October it has approved an $8 million loan to Armenia to help set up a land registration system. The bulk of the loan, more than $6 million, will be used to build a mapping center, survey land, and produce cadastral (public record) maps. The remainder of the funds will be used to establish a central office and 11 branch offices to record land and other property in a chronological record of owners, their rights, and obligations. The loan requires repayment over 35 years with a 10-year grace period. Loans granted by the IDA, the World Bank arm dealing with the poorest nations, carry no interest but charge a small annual fee. JN


Georgian State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze told Caucasus Press that the main result of his meeting with an Abkhaz delegation in Tbilisi on 13 October was the mutual desire not to renew the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. He warned that there are still forces wishing to renew hostilities in Abkhazia and "we must join efforts in struggling against them". Lortkipanidze said the two sides considered issues that are to be discussed at the Georgian- Abkhaz talks in Athens on 16-18 October, in particular the political status of Abkhazia and economic relations between the two sides. He said Georgian and Abkhaz energy and agriculture specialists discussed prospects for relations as well as domestic trade issues and signed an agreement on intentions. Lortkipanidze says military commanders participating in the meeting discussed fulfillment of Abkhaz-Georgian peace agreements. JN


The head of the Abkhaz delegation to the Tbilisi talks, Anri Jergenia, told Caucasus Press on 13 October that scheduling negotiations between Sukhumi and Tbilisi in Athens "does not mean that Russia is losing its peacekeeping importance but indicates that the circle of countries involved in the conflict settlement is expanding." Jergenia characterized the discussions in Tbilisi as concrete: "We discussed all questions regarding the conflict settlement and took one more step toward each other." JN


Reuters reported on 13 October that two shots were fired at former Prime Minister and likely presidential candidate Akezhan Kazhegeldin that day. Kazhegeldin was at a stable he frequents outside Almaty. No one was reported to have been hurt, but Kazhegeldin has canceled a press conference scheduled for 14 October. BP


Tajik law enforcement agencies have disbanded a criminal group in the northern part of the country, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 October. During an operation the previous day in Khujand (the largest city in Leninabad Oblast), 38 people were taken into custody, of whom 18 belonged to the Interior Ministry's special forces. The group is accused of "banditry and kidnapping." Meanwhile in the southeastern suburbs of Dushanbe, a similar operation is under way. Some 13 suspected criminals have been killed and six detained there. BP


Saparmurat Niyazov visited the Mary Region on 13 October to express his disappointment with the cotton harvest there, Interfax reported on 13 October. Niyazov noted that the region has failed to meet its quota for cotton and that the country will now harvest only half of the planned 1.5 million tons. Niyazov instructed Mary officials to find ways to improve future harvests. RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported that Niyazov also lashed out at some officials, saying that they grew fat while the country prepared to go hungry owing to their poor performance. He added that they may be the next to face hunger if the situation does not improve. BP


Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko delivered to the Supreme Council on 13 October a report on his government's activities during the first nine months of this year, Ukrainian Television reported. He said that the cabinet "professionally" overcame "the first wave" of the financial crisis but admitted that "stabilization processes" in Ukraine have not acquired an "irreversible character." Pustovoytenko stressed that the government's main task is to tackle social problems, including the indexation of incomes, increasing the minimum wage, and paying wage arrears. He acknowledged that the government has been unable to prevent the volume of unpaid wages and social benefits from increasing. As of 1 October, the state budget owed 3.2 billion hryvni ($935 million) in back wages. JM


Pustovoytenko also said that the 1999 budget draft may be Ukraine's last chance to overcome "financial instability," Reuters reported. The cabinet is currently working on that document. "The budget must not be based on emotion and simple wishes, but on financial reality," the agency quoted him as saying. He warned that "an unrealistic budget with an unreasonable deficit" may lead to a full-blown financial crisis. The government is expected to draft a budget that provides for a deficit of 0.6 percent of GDP. JM


Following Pustovoytenko's report, the Supreme Council voted on a motion of no confidence in the government, proposed by the Communist, Socialist, and Hromada caucuses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 1998). The motion, which need 226 votes to pass, was supported by 203 deputies with 108 against and 66 abstentions, Interfax reported on 13 October. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko commented that changing the government will not improve the current situation. "Governments change, while people live worse and worse," Ukrainian News quoted him as saying. Pustovoytenko's cabinet is Ukraine's seventh government since the country gained independence in 1991. JM


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he was shocked by the decision of Romania and Bulgaria to allow NATO to use their airspace in case of military action in the Kosova conflict, Reuters reported on 13 October, citing Interfax. Lukashenka said those countries are "taking part in crimes being prepared in the Balkans" and violating "Slavic [sic] unity." "How low do such leaders have to stoop, humiliating their own people? We are talking about our sacred Slavic unity. It has been betrayed and crushed," he commented. He added that the leaders of these countries are exposing their people to the risk of Yugoslav retaliation, arguing that the Yugoslavs would not distinguish between who provided air space and who carried out the bombing. JM


Lukashenka also said he opposes sending Belarusian volunteers to fight against NATO in a possible military conflict in Yugoslavia. Citing a source from within the pro-Lukashenka Liberal Democratic Party, Belapan reported on 12 October that some 200 Belarusian volunteers have expressed their readiness to fight on the side of Yugoslavia in the event of hostilities. Lukashenka stressed that the Belarusian Constitution bans Belarusians from participating in military actions abroad. At the same time, he commented that "if some people go to Yugoslavia, it will be impossible for me to stop them. As a statesman and a president I will fight for Yugoslavia using my own methods," he told Interfax. JM


A poll carried out last month showed that 55 percent of Belarusians would vote for Lukashenka if elections were held today, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 13 October. Last December, Lukashenka had 44 percent backing. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the respondents oppose the Belarusian-Russian Union and favor Belarus as an independent and neutral state. The Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies, which carried out the poll, believes that many Belarusians thus demonstrate their lack of confidence in Russia's liberal reform model. JM


Indrek Kannik, secretary-general of the People's Party, has announced that his party is officially breaking the cooperation agreement with the ruling coalition, ETA reported on 13 October. That move comes after party leader Toomas Hendrik Ilves submitted his resignation as foreign minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1998). Unofficially, however, the party had broken the agreement shortly after it was signed in April. That same month, the People's Party called for the resignation of Environment Minister Villu Reiljan on corruption charges, which in turn prompted demands by the rural parties that Ilves should step down as foreign minister. JC


The four political parties that won the most votes in the recent general elections met on 13 October but failed to form a coalition government, Reuters reported . It was the first time since the 3 October ballot that the People's Party, which won the elections, was included in direct negotiations. Latvia's Way chairman Andrejs Pantelejevs told journalists that he expects talks to continue between his party, Latvia's Way, the Fatherland and Freedom party, and the New Party on 19 October. Latvia's Way continues to insist that Transport Minister Vilis Kristopans be the new premier. The People's Party wants its leader, Andris Skele, to take over that post and has said agreement must be reached on the principles of a coalition before personnel questions can be decided. JC


Following the 11 October local elections, the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and Freedom Union (UW) want to renegotiate their coalition agreement, "Zycie Warszawy" reported on 14 October. AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski said his party may grant some provincial governor posts to the UW on condition that the union give up some posts in the cabinet in favor of the AWS. According to the daily, Krzaklewski's statement sparked indignation among AWS members who believe that the UW's poor performance in the elections does not give it the right to nominate provincial governors. According to the AWS election staff cited by "Zycie" on 14 October, the AWS won a majority of seats in five of Poland's 16 provincial capitals and may rule jointly with the UW or right-wing parties in another five. JM


Czech government officials have decided that a new interpretation of a law could allow some 60,000 people with Slovak citizenship to gain Czech citizenship as well, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 14 October. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky said that the basis for the new interpretation was a ruling by the Czech Constitutional Court last year that granted Czech citizenship to current Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl--who had chosen Slovak citizenship when Czechoslovakia split five years ago. Rychetsky said civil servants will be asked by the government to stop ruling that someone loses Czech citizenship if he/she becomes a Slovak citizen. PB


After a Moldovan Airlines plane carrying more than 100 illegal aliens landed in Prague on 12 October, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman said that the Czech Republic may reinstate visa requirements for Moldovans and some other east European nationals, CTK reported. Moldovan government spokesman Stefan Culea said the refugees are Soviet veterans of war in Afghanistan. Culea said some are Moldovan and the rest mostly Russians and Ukrainians. They requested asylum and were taken to a refugee camp in Moravia. The Czech Interior Ministry said it is preparing a list of countries that may have a visa regime imposed on them in the near future. PB


The Slovak government announced on 13 October that a visa requirement will be reimposed on British nationals effective 15 October, AFP reported. A Slovak government spokesman said the U.K., which reintroduced a visa regime for Slovaks last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1998), is "discriminating" against Slovakia and treating it "like a developing country." The measure was adopted by the government of Premier Vladimir Meciar, who is expected to resign on 29 October. PB


Branislav Slysko, a spokesman for the European Commission in Bratislava, said on 13 October that he is optimistic that Slovakia can soon join the group of "fast track" nations being considered for EU membership, Reuters reported. Slysko said if Slovakia does not join Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Cyprus by December, then he believes it is likely it might join that group by next year. PB


Jozsef Kasza, chairman of the Federation of Hungarians in Vojvodina, told Foreign Ministry state secretary Zsolt Nemeth on 13 October that ethnic Hungarians in the Serbian province expect Budapest to refrain from lending logistical support to NATO if the alliance intervenes in Yugoslavia. He said there are growing indications that in the event of NATO intervention, minorities in Vojvodina could become the target of reprisals by Serbian extremist forces. At a joint session of the Hungarian parliament's defense and foreign affairs committees, representatives of the nationalist Hungarian Justice and Life Party voted against allowing NATO to use Hungarian airspace, while the Hungarian Democratic Forum abstained. The final decision is to be taken by the parliament on 14 October. MSZ


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said on Serbian Television on 13 October that his agreement on Kosova with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke eliminates the danger of NATO military intervention against Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1998). He added that the agreement specifies that the Kosova problem will be solved peacefully and through political means. Milosevic stressed that the agreement is in the interests of Serbia and its citizens. In Prishtina, Milosevic-appointed provincial governor Veljko Odalovic said, "We expect that in the end it will lead us into reaching a peaceful solution.... Let's hope that the life in [the province] will soon be normalized. We are working hard on that." PM


The Serbian government approved an 11-point program on 13 October for solving the Kosova problem, the BETA news agency reported. One key provision calls for elections to executive, legislative, and judicial bodies throughout the province within nine months. A second point is that self-rule will function primarily at the local level. Local government bodies will control the police, the ethnic composition of which will reflect that of the community in question. The Kosova central government will "coordinate" the work of the local police units, which must "give full protection to all citizens and national groups." A third provision says that no one will face legal measures on account of the recent conflict in Kosova except for individuals who committed "crimes against humanity and international law." PM


The Serbian government also approved on 13 October a time-table for dealing with some key elements of the Kosova question. The schedule sets 19 October as the deadline for signing agreements with the "OSCE and other elements"--which presumably means NATO--on verification of Serbian compliance with the Milosevic-Holbrooke pact. The deadline is 2 November for reaching an agreement with the Kosovars on the "basic elements for a political solution...[based on] the Contact Group's proposal of 2 October." By 9 November, rules governing the coming elections must be ready. PM


Many Kosovars are disappointed that NATO has not carried out air strikes against Serbian military targets and are skeptical about the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement, CNN reported from Prishtina on 14 October. Adem Demaci, the main spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army, said the previous day that the Serbian authorities must meet certain preconditions before talks can begin, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Those preconditions include freeing detainees, the return of refugees, compensation to civilians for damage to their property, and starting legal proceedings against those who committed atrocities. Demaci also called on Kosovars to form a "government of national salvation" as quickly as possible. In Tirana, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the agreement "seems to increase the possibility for a political solution," but he added that "Belgrade has never kept its promises in the past." PM


The international Contact Group will meet in Paris on 15 October, Reuters reported the previous day. In Washington, a State Department spokesman said on 13 October that the Serbian authorities must demonstrate "substantial and credible compliance" by 18 October. "We will know it when we see it," he added. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said that the 2,000-strong unarmed Verification Mission will be able to operate inside Kosova without fear of intimidation or being taken hostage. "I think 2,000 people there can determine what's going on. And if there is systematic non-compliance, I think they can report that to NATO," he added. In London, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told BBC television the next day that "we are watching.... [The agreement] is not an end, it is a beginning." PM


Officials of the Serbian Information Ministry served a banning order to the independent Belgrade dailies "Danas" and "Dnevni telegraf" on 13 October. Spokesmen for the independent media said that the capital's other main non- government daily, "Nasa Borba," expects to receive banning orders soon. Banned newspapers may not resume publication as long as the government's recent decree against the independent media for spreading "fear, panic, and defeatism" remains in force (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 14 October 1998). Among the offending articles cited by the Information Ministry in its banning order were items reprinted or summarized from the "Washington Post" and "Die Welt." PM


Veran Matic, who is chief editor of Belgrade Radio B-92 and a spokesman for the independent media, said in Belgrade on 13 October that "it is obvious that Milosevic has started a cleansing of the independent media, expecting that the West will again look the other way in return for the concessions he made" to Holbrooke. Matic's Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) called on the Serbian Constitutional Court to declare the government's decree unconstitutional. ANEM also appealed to the international community and foreign media to protest the Serbian government's actions against the independent media. PM


A parliamentary committee voted on 13 October to clear a group of hard-line politicians of charges that they used the army's intelligence service to spy on their moderate rivals within the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1998). Opposition members of the committee charged that the HDZ members did not present all the evidence before the opposition walked out of the session prior to the vote. Opposition deputies demanded the establishment of a special investigative commission to look into possible misuse of the intelligence services by leading politicians, "starting with the president of the republic," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Muslim Alija Izetbegovic, Serb Zivko Radisic, and Croat Ante Jelavic formally took office on 13 October in Sarajevo. Radisic assumed his post as rotating chair of that body for an eight-month term, the first time that a Serb has held that position. He said that "Bosnia and its two entities have entered a new phase in implementing the Dayton agreement." Radisic added that, in the presidency's work, "democracy must prevail over totalitarianism and tolerance over hate and fear. Every party will promote its own interests but also respect the interests and values of the others," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Romanian President Emil Constantinescu formally requested on 13 October that the parliament vote on the government's decision to allow NATO limited access to the country's air space, Reuters reported. The government's decision to allow NATO planes into Romanian air space in case of "emergency" and other "unforeseen situations" has been criticized for being both too accommodating toward NATO and too hostile toward the alliance. A debate and vote on the issue is expected on 14 October. PB


Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasile said on 13 October that Turkey is interested in buying attack helicopters to be jointly produced by Romania and the U.S., AP reported. Romanian state radio said that Vasile, attending a Balkan conference in Ankara, said Turkish Defense Ministry officials will arrive in Bucharest in the next few days to discuss the issue. Romania tentatively agreed with Bell Textron on a joint venture that was recently deemed too costly for Bucharest to complete. A large Turkish purchase--they are reported to want 120 helicopters--could help salvage the deal in another form. PB


Yves Berthelot, the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission, said in Chisinau on 13 October that the economic reform efforts by Moldova had been noticed, Basa-press reported. Berthelot was in the Moldovan capital for a one-day visit. He met with President Petru Lucinschi, Premier Ion Ciubac, and Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru. Lucinschi said Moldova needed the help of international organizations to "continue implementing reforms" and to overcome the effects of "Russian economic turmoil." PB


Gheorghe Carlan, co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) for Moldova, criticized the leadership of the Transdniester region for failing to reduce the size of its troops as stipulated by the Odessa agreements, Basa-press reported on 13 October. Carlan said after a JCC meeting that it was obvious Tiraspol would not "contribute to the demilitarization of the zone as it was agreed in Odessa." PB


Yordan Sokolov has turned down a request by the Socialist Party to convene an emergency session of the parliament to discuss the government's decision to grant NATO limited access to Bulgarian air space, Bulgarian Radio reported on 12 October. Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov had made the request earlier the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1998). Sokolov said he will pass on the request to the parliamentary commissions on foreign policy and national security. He said a debate on the issue could take place during a regular session of the parliament on 15 October. PB


Bulgaria's deputy minister for industry, Vladimir Kisyov, said on 13 October that some 4,000 workers at arms companies will be laid off by the end of this year, BTA reported. Kisyov said that the restructuring, which will take place at some 400 weapons-producing and other related companies, is needed to increase efficiency in the face of a decrease in demand for Bulgarian weapons. PB


by Floriana Fossato

The ongoing political struggle in the port city of Vladivostok is fiercer than ever, at a very bad time.

The election of the mayor of Vladivostok degenerated into confusion last month when the local electoral commission, in a last-minute decision, ordered that the name of the controversial incumbent, Viktor Cherepkov, be deleted from the ballot. It based that decision on his alleged use of municipal funds to support his campaign. Subsequently, the results of the election were declared invalid. It is likely that the Russian Supreme Court will have to rule on the allegations against Cherepkov.

The debate over the mayor is an important one in Vladivostok, which has a population of 800,000 and is eight time zones east of Moscow. Cherepkov is both loved and hated by most citizens for his eccentric style and his feud with regional governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. That feud has caused much hardship for citizens.

For example, in a city where ambulances have been on strike for the past few months to protest 19 months of unpaid wages, the regional and municipal administrations have been unable to decide who should support the service financially. Cherepkov told an RFE/RL correspondent that "ambulance service employees are not the city's responsibility." He added that he "could create an alternative ambulance service in five minutes" but "would not do so, because the governor would immediately come up with another source of conflict."

Frustrated locals say that over the last few years, it has become increasingly "difficult even to survive" in Vladivostok, despite the possibilities stemming from the region's proximity to Asian markets.

For years, the city suffered from a severe shortage of energy and water supplies. Many neighborhoods in the hilly city experience protracted water and energy cuts. And even in the city's main hotels, hot water is available for just a couple of hours a day.

Aleksandr Ghelbakh, press secretary of the local energy company "Dalenergo," which is at the center of the energy crisis, told RFE/RL that "this is a non-payment crisis, not an energy crisis."

Cherepkov and Nazdratenko have often traded accusations of corruption and mismanagement. Despite recognizing the drawbacks of the situation, many citizens told RFE/RL before the mayoral elections that they would likely support Cherepkov because "despite his devotion to astrology and eccentric practices, if he wants, he can get things done. For instance, he built much needed new roads very quickly."

Cherepkov and his aides have denied critics' claims that the roads, like other projects, were part of a plan to attract citizens' support. The English-language newspaper "Vladivostok News" last month reported that city hall had paid for a discotheque four days a week for much of the summer, at a cost of more than $900 per night. Disc jockeys reportedly frequently reminded the crowds that the mayor was sponsoring the event, but the mayor's office has said the organizers' main goal was to "give young people something to do."

In the mayoral elections, some 40 percent of the voters showed up at polling stations--a sufficient number for the vote to be validated, said Ilya Grichenko, the chairman of the local electoral commission. However, preliminary results issued by the commission indicated that more than half of the voters who cast ballots voted against all candidates. Russian media said officials at some polling stations complied with the order to strike Cherepkov's name from the list of candidates, while others simply refused to do so. The chairman of the regional Duma, Sergei Dudnik, called the commission's decision a mistake because Cherepkov had not yet been found guilty of committing the alleged irregularities.

Both Dudnik and President Boris Yeltsin's representative in the region, Viktor Kondratov, had appealed to Yeltsin to urge that Cherepkov's name be left on the ballot, warning of possible unrest. Kondratov said tensions were building in the region "because of unlawful acts...against the background of deteriorating economic problems." According to Kondratov, who is not seen as sympathetic toward Nazdratenko, the situation was being deliberately exacerbated so that "the whole indignant population" of Primorskii Krai would take to the streets on the 7 October All-Russian protest action. (In the event, about 3,000 people gathered in the central square of Vladivostok to protest wage arrears and to burn an effigy of President Boris Yeltsin.) Vitalii Kirsanov, head of the Far Eastern Branch of the State Customs Committee, says the imports to Primore have declined by half since the ruble crisis hit Russia. In comments reported in the "Vladivostok News," he said importers prefer to re-export their goods, rather then unload their ships. Kirsanov added that traders are reluctant to ship and deliver goods, preferring to wait for the stabilization of the ruble.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Vladimir Stegni, head of the regional department of International Economic Relations and Tourism, predicted that the devaluation of the ruble would heavily hit Primore because the region imports 80 percent of its goods, including foodstuffs, from China, South Korea, and Japan.

Shuttle trade, particularly between the Far East and China, is rapidly decreasing. Many traders provide the region's markets with affordable goods have been working at a loss since the crisis began. And many, particularly from China, are halting their activities. This is the second article in a three-part series on Russia's Far East by Floriana Fossato, an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.