NEW REGIONAL FOOD RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED
In a repetition of events in the regions after the mid-August devaluation of the ruble, the Vologda Oblast administration announced on 10 December a ban on the export of milk and meat outside the oblast, while Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed issued an instruction the next day limiting shipments of flour, meat, pasta, butter, and other food products beyond the krai's borders. Sergei Gromov, deputy governor of Vologda Oblast, told ITAR-TASS that measures are necessary in order to defend the interests of the local food industry. Meanwhile, in Yaroslavl Oblast, Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn slashed subsidies for collective farms that sell their products to consumers outside the region who are able to pay higher prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). JAC
IMF SLAMS GOVERNMENT'S TAX PLANS
IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer told reporters in Washington on 10 December that the IMF is "very worried about cutting taxes without improvements in tax collection." Fisher added that while Russia's tax system is overly complicated and needs lower rates, a reduction in value-added tax is ill-advised, Reuters reported. The previous day, Federal Tax Service head Georgii Boos told reporters that IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus believes that Russian taxes should be lowered and that Camdessus "would be revising his position." He added that the government's package of tax cuts is primarily designed to boost economic growth and that tax collection will likely not increase until 2000. Tax policy will be a key issue at upcoming talks with the IMF mission that is scheduled to arrive in Moscow in January. JAC
GOVERNMENT TO SUBMIT BUDGET LATER...
Finance Ministry spokesman Oleg Zhukov told Reuters that the government will probably not submit the budget to the State Duma on 11 December as had been previously scheduled. He cited the need for additional calculations and said it would most likely be submitted over the next few days. The government approved the budget the previous day. According to "Trud-7," the budget is based on an exchange rate of 21.5 rubles per dollar, which is close to the previous day's official exchange rate of 20.86 rubles per dollar. Annual inflation is estimated at 30 percent. The final figure for the budget deficit is 101.5 billion rubles ($4.9 billion), which is 3 billion rubles lower than the budget deficit considered by the Finance Ministry at the beginning of this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998). JAC
...AS FOREIGN CREDITORS REJECT GKO PLAN
The deficit will wind up even bigger should the government not be able to arrange more than $7 billion in new loans from foreign lenders, including the IMF and World Bank, and limit its foreign debt repayments to $9.5 billion, as the budget plan projects. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters on 10 December that the government is "counting on understanding by creditors and investors in restructuring of both foreign and domestic debts." Meanwhile, foreign holders of short-term treasury bonds have rejected the government's plan to start swapping new bonds for old defaulted ones as early as next week. CS First Boston, which co-chairs a committee of foreign banks, issued a statement saying that Russia will "aggravate its financial isolation if it unilaterally imposes unfair restructuring terms on foreign investors." London Club creditors have not yet responded to a government proposal to restructure debt of the Soviet Union, Interfax reported on 11 December. JAC
HOW THE MIGHTY BANKS HAVE FALLEN
Smaller regional banks have displaced some of Russia's once powerful banks from the rankings of the country's largest financial institutions compiled by "Kommersant Dengi," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. Menatep, Inkombank, and Rossiiskii Kredit have plummeted from the ranks of the top 10 based on capital, falling below even the top 200 banks. Meanwhile, the "Moscow Times" reported on 11 December that Gazprombank, Sobinbank, Toribank, and the Bank of Moscow have boosted their standing. The Bank of Moscow, in particular, soared from 32 to 8 on a ranking compiled by the Rating Information Center, increasing its capital from July to October by 48.7 percent, the daily reported. Former customers of Menatep, Most and Promstroibank have withdrawn only 33 percent of their accounts from Sberbank, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 December. JAC
DUMA COMMITTEE FORMED TO INVESTIGATE STAROVOITOVA CASE
The Duma on 9 December formed a committee to investigate the murder of slain deputy Galina Starovoitova. Deputy Valerii Vorotnikov (Communist Party) will chair the committee and Nikolai Astafiev (Liberal Democrat Party) will be his deputy, "Segodnya" reported. The committee will report to the Duma after 20 January on the results of its investigation and on how much money it has spent. JAC
DUMA, FOREIGN MINISTER ENGAGE IN MORE NATO-BASHING
The so-called Anti-NATO group within the Duma wants to link ratification of START-II to a guarantee of no further NATO expansion. Interfax reported on 10 December that any recommendation adopted by the group would be non-binding. Deputy speaker and member of the People's Power faction Sergei Baburin, who heads the group, said NATO's eastward expansion signifies "a systematic destabilization" of Europe aimed at creating a new world order that excludes Russia and Serbia. The same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that attempts to place NATO at the center of a world collective security system are "counter productive" and "extremely dangerous." JAC
CHECHEN BEHEADING SUSPECT ARRESTED
Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Atgeriyev told ITAR-TASS on 11 December that Grozny has arrested Apti Abitayev in connection with the beheading of four Western hostages. Atgeriyev said that the Chechen authorities are continuing the search for others involved. The previous day, Grozny officials indicated that they would be happy to have the assistance of Britain's Scotland Yard for the investigation. And they showed a seized film in which the hostages were forced to confess to being agents of Western and Israeli intelligence services. Also on 10 December, Chechnya's senior prosecutor, Mansur Tagirov, was abducted on 10 December by as yet unidentified individuals and then released the next day. PG
CHECHNYA TO EXPEL ARAB TERRORIST GROUP
Deputy Premier Yusup Soslanbekov told the "Al-Hayat" newspaper on 10 December that Grozny intends to expel an Arab terrorist group led by Hattab, a native of Jordan, ITAR-TASS reported. Soslanbekov said that his government opposes the republic being converted into a "terrorist morass." But neighboring republics reportedly closed their borders with Chechnya on 10 December in order to prevent terrorists from moving to their territories. PG
YELTSIN BACK AT KREMLIN
President Boris Yeltsin reported for work at the Kremlin on 11 December, two days after leaving the hospital to recuperate at his home in the country. On his agenda are meetings with several top aides. JAC
RIGHTIST DEMOCRATS HOLD FOUNDING CONGRESS
The new coalition of rightist democrats held a founding session on 10 December in a Moscow hotel. According to "Izvestiya," the question of leadership of the new alliance was avoided by having Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's adviser Aleksander Yakovlev give the opening address and head the alliance's political commission. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov will chair the regional commission, former Federal Tax Service head Boris Fedorov the economics commission, former acting Premier Yegor Gaidar the program commission, and former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais the organization commission. Former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, deputy chief of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev, and mayors of several cities such as Abakan, Tolyatti, Tambov, and Tver also participated in the conference. Fedorov told reporters that he would not want to be in a party headed by Gaidar or Chubais and that "people who have less chance of attracting votes will be less visible." JAC
SOLZHENITSYN TURNS 80
Celebrated Russian writer and Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn turned 80 on 11 December. President Yeltsin signed a decree granting Solzhenitsyn the order of Saint Andrei, according to press spokesman Dmitrii Yakushin, Interfax reported. "Kommersant-Daily" called Solzhenitsyn the only writer living in Russia who can be called great without a second thought. JAC
NO DETAILS YET ON MURDER OF ARMENIAN DEFENSE OFFICIAL
Armenian authorities on 10 December announced they have formed a special prosecution team to investigate the murder of Deputy Defense Minister Vagram Khorkhoruni earlier that day, ITAR-TASS reported. Yerevan has not yet provided any further details on this latest of a series of murders of Armenian officials. PG
AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS RESUME HUNGER STRIKE
Seven newspaper editors on 10 December continued their hunger strike to protest the government's crackdown on press freedom, Turan reported. The protest began on 18 November but was interrupted for the previous 10 days as a result of disagreements among the organizers. After several days, the seven will be replaced by other journalists, who will then be replaced by a third group. The journalists say they will continue their protest until the government ends its "pressure" on the press. PG
SHEVARDNADZE URGES INTERNATIONAL GROUPS TO PROTECT REFUGEES...
Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze called on international groups to provide more help to protect refugees from Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Shevardnadze said that what is taking place in Abkhazia is a form of "ethnic cleansing and genocide." PG
...WHILE OPPOSITION PROTESTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY
Some 400 opposition supporters staged a protest in Tbilisi on 10 December to call attention to what they say are human rights abuses by President Shevardnadze, ITAR-TASS reported. A few of the participants clashed briefly with the police. The protesters called on the UN to investigate and assess the events that led to the overthrow of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. PG
GEORGIAN OFFICIAL SEEKS COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA
Georgian State Minister Vazha Lordkipanidze told Interfax on 10 December that his recent meetings with Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov have convinced him that there are no "objective obstacles" to improved ties between the two countries. Lordkipanidze added that Georgia's involvement in an East-West transport corridor is not directed against Russia in any way. At the same time, however, the Georgian leader said that Tbilisi is not exploring "prospects for cooperation with NATO" at the present time. PG
TAJIK GOVERNMENT OFFERS ZIYOYEV GOVERNMENT POST
The government has offered UTO field commander Mirzo Ziyoyev the post of deputy defense minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1998), Interfax reported on 11 December. The UTO nominated Ziyoyev as defense minister several times but the government rejected that nomination on each occasion. The head of the UTO press service, Sulton Hamadov, said that if Ziyoyev accepts the offer, he will likely be named chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and have a seat on the Security Council. BP
HUMAN RIGHTS IN KAZAKHSTAN CRITICIZED
At a 10 December roundtable discussion in Almaty to mark the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the deputy director of Kazakhstan's International Bureau on Human Rights, Jemis Turmagambetova, criticized the country's progress in this are, ITAR-TASS reported. Turmagambetova said Kazakhstan has "only declared" the right to freedom of speech but has done nothing to implement it. She added that laws on elections are "not fully developed" and do not meet internationally recognized standards. BP
AZAMAT TO BECOME POLITICAL PARTY
Leaders of Azamat have decided to turn the movement into a registered political party, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. Petr Svoik, Murat Auezov, and Galym Abelseitov said that the first session of the new party will be held before year's end. They also criticized the political activities of former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who they say has become more concerned about his own political agenda and is paying little attention to the plight of the nation. Kazhegeldin intended to run in presidential elections next month but is barred from doing so because of misdemeanor charges. Auezov said that since there is no way to stop the 10 January presidential elections, it is all the more important to form political parties that take "into consideration the realities and current situation in the country." BP
OFFICIAL SAYS $160 BILLION NEEDED TO DEVELOP KAZAKHSTAN'S CASPIAN OIL
Aidar Demeuov, the head of the oil and gas department at the Ministry of Power Engineering, said it will cost a whopping $160 billion to develop oil fields in Kazakhstan's sector of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported on 10 December. Demeuov said the initial development of the fields requires $10 billion, noting that Western companies have already invested $2 billion. There is an estimated 12 billion tons of oil in Kazakhstan's Caspian Sea sector. BP
KAZAKHSTAN HALTS SALES OF STOCK FOR TWO COMPANIES
Finance Minister Sauat Mynbayev told the parliament on 10 December that the sale of state-owned stock in two leading gas companies, Aktobemunaigaz and Mangistaumunaigaz, has been stopped, Interfax reported. Mynbayev said falling share prices prompted the decision, adding that prices have dropped to one-tenth what they were in August 1997. Kazakhstan has already halted sales of state-owned stock in Kazakhtelekom and the Ust-Kamenogorsk Titanium and Magnesium Plant. BP
UKRAINIAN DEPUTIES APPROVE DRAFT BUDGET
The Ukrainian parliament gave preliminary approval to a 1999 draft budget after defying the government by increasing revenue and spending targets, AP reported. The draft, which provides for a balanced budget, was passed by a vote of 288 to 25. Earlier, President Leonid Kuchma termed the draft "populist and destructive." It now goes back to the government, which must resubmit it for a second reading on 22 December. In other news, officials announced they are investigating criminal cases involving executives of the Mykolaiv Aluminum plant in southern Ukraine. The factory's director, Vitaliy Meshyn, has been arrested. PB
UKRAINE TO PAY RUSSIAN DEBTS WITH GRAIN
Ukraine announced on 10 December that it will send 550,000 tons of grain and other goods to Russia to repay gas debts, AP reported. Artur Hubar, a spokesman for the Ukrainian state oil and gas company Naftogas, said that Kyiv will also send food, farm machinery, and gas industry equipment to help pay a nearly $1 billion debt. PB
ONLY OPERATING CHORNOBYL REACTOR SHUTS DOWN, TEMPORARILY
A fuel rod in the only nuclear reactor currently in operation at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant automatically shut down on 10 December after a malfunction, ITAR-TASS reported. There are some 200 fuel rods at Chornobyl. The Ukrainian Environment Ministry said no radiation was leaked during the incident. Maintenance work at the plant has been postponed twice owing to severe energy shortages in Ukraine. The shutdown is the second involving nuclear reactors in Ukraine in the last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998). PB
U.S., BELARUS HOLDING TALKS ON AMBASSADOR'S RETURN
The U.S. said on 10 December that it is holding talks with Belarusian officials to find a resolution to the diplomatic housing dispute that would permit the return of the U.S. ambassador to Minsk, AFP reported. State Department spokesman James Foley said the U.S. and the EU differ in specific ways over how to resolve the issue. The EU and Belarus have agreed that the ambassadors from Italy, France, Greece, Britain, and Germany will seek new residences in Minsk and receive compensation for giving up their housing in the Drazdy compound (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). In other news, numerous rallies were held around Belarus to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Protesters demanded the release of people they say are imprisoned for their political beliefs. PB
BELARUS REPORTS RISING GDP, INFLATION
The Belarusian Ministry of Statistics and Analysis said on 10 December that the country's GDP this year is up 8 percent compared with last year, according to Belapan. It reported that industrial output increased by 10.3 percent and investments in "fixed capital" by nearly 16 percent compared with 1997. The added said that consumer prices in November were 25 percent higher than the same month a year ago. PB
SHARETSKY THANKS LITHUANIA FOR STEADFAST SUPPORT
Chairman of the dissolved Belarusian Supreme Council Seymon Sharetsky said in Vilnius on 9 December that the council wants to "thank Lithuania, where we will always find support for our goals [of] restoring constitutional and lawful order in Belarus," BNS reported the next day. Sharetsky was talking to reporters following his meeting with Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis. In November 1996, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dissolved the 13th Supreme Council and replaced it with a legislature composed of deputies loyal to him. JC
LITHUANIAN LAWMAKERS PASS ANTI-COMMUNIST DECLARATION
The parliament on 10 December passed a declaration describing communist and former structures of "communist occupation regimes" as "criminal," BNS reported. Parliamentary chairman Landsbergis drafted the document, which was approved by a vote of 68 to zero with no abstentions. The declaration expresses the determination to "legally and politically" weigh the suitability of "former active political collaborators of the occupation regime in Lithuania" to hold senior state posts. It urges the government to take into consideration the declaration's provisions while drafting legislation. Earlier this week, Landsbergis submitted to the parliament a bill proposing that former members of the Communist Party be barred from holding state posts for five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1998). JC
SUPPORT FOR EU MEMBERSHIP GROWING AMONG LATVIANS
A poll conducted by the SKDS opinion research company last month shows that nearly half of Latvian residents are in favor of joining the EU, BNS reported on 10 December. Of the respondents, 46.6 percent supported EU membership, 26.8 percent were opposed, and 27 percent undecided. In November 1997, support for EU entry was 40 percent, with 13 percent against and 32 percent undecided. The results of the poll were released on the eve of the Vienna EU summit, at which Latvia is hoping to receive confirmation that it will be invited to open membership talks by the end of 1999 (see also "End Note" below). JC
LATVIAN LAWMAKERS MOVE TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY
Lawmakers have voted by 59 to 15 to five to send to parliamentary standing committees a draft law that would abolish the death penalty, BNS reported on 10 December. The Social Democratic parliamentary group, which is not a member of the ruling coalition but is slated to receive the agriculture portfolio, voted against the bill, arguing that the crime rate in Latvia is too high to permit the abolition of capital punishment. Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis imposed a moratorium on executions in September 1996. JC
POLISH MINERS IN WARSAW CONTINUE SIT-IN, THREATEN STRIKE
Several dozen miners staging a sit-in at the Polish Labor Ministry said on 10 December that they might organize a strike over a planned change in their pensions, PAP reported. Henryk Nakonieczny, head of the Solidarity trade union's mining branch, said the miners are demanding that deputies scuttle legislation that would force them to retire at age 65 instead of after 25 years of work, as the law currently states. Government spokesman Jaroslaw Sellin said the sit-in is an inappropriate form of protest. He called their demand "a dispute over one detail" not associated with the "great mining restructuring program." PB
POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EAST, WEST TO BENEFIT FROM LARGER EU
Bronislaw Geremek said on 10 December that an expanded EU will benefit all of Europe, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vienna reported. Geremek, speaking at an EU celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said the bigger market created by the addition of Eastern countries will increase prosperity in Western Europe. He added that Eastern Europe must continue to develop democratic institutions. PB
DZURINDA CONTINUES EU LOBBYING CAMPAIGN
Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists after meeting with Austrian President Thomas Klestil in Vienna on 10 December that Slovakia is now "a new country with a new beginning" and that this "thoroughly democratic country" is expecting a "really positive signal" from the EU summit that begins in Vienna on 11 December (see also "End Note" below). Klestil told Dzurinda that Austria supports Slovakia's eventual membership in the EU, but he warned that one of the conditions for admission is ensuring strict safety standards at nuclear power plants, Reuters reported. Last June, Slovakia started up the controversial Mochovce plant, which is in the vicinity of its border with Austria. MS
HUNGARY REQUESTS EXEMPTIONS FROM EU REQUIREMENTS
Hungary will ask the EU for a 10-year delay in allowing foreigners to buy farmland, Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai told reporters on 10 December. He said that for five years after accession, foreigners would still be required to obtain permission from local councils in order to purchase an apartment in Hungary. Budapest also wants to ensure that foreign companies will not be allowed to establish rival airlines to the state-owned MALEV company for 10 years. "All these restrictions would serve to protect the Hungarian real estate market, where prices are well below the EU average," Jarai explained. He added that Hungary's fiscal policy and currency rules will fully meet EU standards by the time the country becomes a member. MSZ
HILL TO REPLACE SHUTTLE WITH DIRECT TALKS?
An unnamed U.S. diplomat told Reuters in Prishtina by telephone on 11 December that U.S. envoy Chris Hill feels that the time has come for the Serbs and Kosovars to sit down together and work out a political settlement. The source added that "the basis [for the talks] should be the two latest versions of [Hill's] negotiating paper.... We always said that the process was that of the two sides, not ours. We've only been giving assistance," the diplomat stressed. Hill is in Paris for meetings with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and senior diplomats of the international Contact Group. In Paris, an unnamed U.S. diplomat told the "Financial Times" that "you get to a point where you don't get any further by shuttling." Both the Kosovars and the Serbs have rejected the latest version of Hill's plan. Each side has set preconditions for direct talks that the other side refuses to meet. PM
ANOTHER KOSOVAR SENTENCED FOR 'TERRORISM'
The district court in Peja on 11 December sentenced Naim Zejnaj, 23, to 13 years in prison for "terrorism," which is the term the Serbian authorities use to describe armed Kosovar resistance to the Serbian crackdown earlier this year. Zejnaj participated in an armed attack on a Serbian paramilitary police convoy in western Kosova in May, AP reported. The Serbian authorities continue to detain some 1,500 Kosovars and have recently sentenced more than 20 others in connection with their alleged role in the recent conflict. The October agreement between Milosevic and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke includes an amnesty for all offenses except war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). PM
AID WORKERS REPORT WELL POISONINGS
The "International Herald Tribune" reported on 10 December that the Serbian forces in Kosova engaged in a "deliberate effort...to poison some residential water wells this autumn by heaving animals or hazardous materials into them. The motive may have been to promote illness among the [Kosovars] or to discourage people from returning to [their] homes.... Aid workers describe the poisonings as an unprecedented violation of the Geneva Convention regulating the conduct of warfare. Most of the poisonings appear to have occurred shortly before Yugoslavia withdrew many of its forces under threat of NATO air strikes in October, allowing thousands of refugees to return home." The aid workers added that the villagers' reluctance to use well water even for cleaning has led to the spread of disease due to poor hygiene. PM
NATO OPENS MACEDONIAN BASE
On 10 December, U.S. Admiral Joseph Ellis, who is NATO's commander in southern Europe, formally opened the base at Kumanovo that will be home to the French-led 1,500-strong force for evacuating endangered civilian monitors from Kosova. Ellis stressed that the Yugoslav authorities bear primary responsibility for the civilians' safety. Macedonian Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev said that the NATO force does not have "aggressive tendencies toward anyone." Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski noted that the Atlantic alliance has agreed to steer to Macedonian firms business contracts relating to the force's stay in his country, Reuters reported. Georgievski seeks to promote Macedonia's economic development and its integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM
HAGUE COURT SENTENCES BOSNIAN CROAT
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 10 December sentenced Anto Furundzija, 29, to 10 years in prison. The court ruled that the former officer's failure to stop his subordinates from beating and sexually abusing a Muslim woman in his presence in 1993 made him a "fellow perpetrator" in the atrocity. PM
DONORS' CONFERENCE IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
A two-day meeting opened in Banja Luka on 10 December aimed at promoting aid for the Bosnian Serb entity. Foreign potential aid donors said that their willingness to help is contingent on the Republika Srpska's willingness to implement the Dayton agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
CROATIA WARNS SERBIA ABOUT CONSULATES
The Croatian Foreign Ministry informed its Yugoslav counterpart on 10 December that Croatia may reconsider allowing Yugoslavia to open a consulate in Vukovar unless Belgrade makes a clear response to Zagreb's request to open consulates in Kotor and Subotica. In Belgrade, the Croatian ambassador received assurances from the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry that it will do its best to revive the stalled talks on the status of the Prevlaka peninsula. The territory belongs to Croatia but controls access to Yugoslavia's only deep- water naval base at Kotor. PM
CROATIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES CORRUPTION
The lower house on 10 December began a heated debate on an opposition proposal to set up a formal investigation of the privatization process, which many Croats suspect has enriched persons close to the governing Croatian Democratic Community. This is the first time that parliament has discussed an opposition proposal on corruption by the ruling establishment. PM
D'ALEMA DISCUSSES COMPENSATION IN SLOVENIA
Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema began talks with top Slovenian officials in Ljubljana on 10 December aimed at resolving claims to compensation for lost property by Italians who fled Slovenia in the wake of World War II. Rome and Belgrade settled the issue with an agreement in 1983. After Slovenia became independent in 1991, Italy sought additional compensation from the former Yugoslav republic. Italian spokesmen say that more people are entitled to compensation than were planned for in the 1983 agreement. Many Slovenes feel that Rome has raised the issue to pressure their country, which needs Italian support to become a member of the EU. PM
ALBANIAN BUSINESSMAN KIDNAPPED
Unidentified persons kidnapped Petrit Gazheli, who is one of Albania's richest businessmen, on the Tirana-Elbasan road on 9 December, "Zeri i Popullit" reported. Gazheli owns two supermarkets, a textile plant, and a fleet of trucks. He made most of his money through wholesale trade with Eastern Europe, mainly Bulgaria. He is the third prominent businessman kidnapped near the capital this year. The others include the chairman of the Association of Businessmen, Koco Dado, who has been missing for several months, and a Chinese entrepreneur, whom police freed earlier this year. An Italian owner of a shoe factory and an Italian businesswoman were killed in separate incidents early this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline 29 January 1998). FS
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER WANTS DEATH PENALTY FOR POLICE KILLERS
Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told the "Albanian Daily News" of 11 December that "capital punishment should be applied" for armed robbers who kill policemen. His statements follow the murder on the Tirana-Athens bus of a police officer (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 8 December 1998). Albania's November 1998 constitution stipulates that the life of every citizen is protected, but the penal code says that capital punishment is legal. Politicians and legal experts disagree over whether the death penalty is unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court has not yet ruled on the issue. Since Albania's admission to the Council of Europe in 1995, judges have sentenced several criminals to death, but the authorities have not executed them, in deference to the council's rejection of the death penalty. FS
ROMANIAN COURT SAYS 'MULTICULTURAL UNIVERSITY' UNLAWFUL
The Bucharest Court of Appeals on 10 December backed an appeal by the Party of Romanian National Unity against the government's decision last October to set up a "multicultural" university, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The court said the decision on the Petofi-Schiller University was unconstitutional because it introduced positive discrimination for a single national minority, preventing other minorities, as well as the ethnic majority, from receiving equal treatment. The court also said the decision infringed on several laws, including the 1994 education law. The government can appeal the ruling within 10 days. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania chairman Bela Marko said that the court's decision is "a serious judicial mistake" and expressed confidence that the cabinet will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court of Justice. MS
ROMANIAN UNIONISTS PROTEST REFORM CONSEQUENCES
Members of the National Trade Union Bloc on 10 December protested the government's intention to close down unprofitable enterprises and called for the resignation of the cabinet, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Industrial action was reported in Bucharest and several other towns, including Brasov, where workers fear lay- offs should the deal with Bell Helicopters Textron not be implemented. In Deva, workers at a copper mine slated for closure protested failure to pay wages on time, while at bauxite pits in Dobresti, near the border with Hungary, workers protested plans to close the company's main customer, a loss-making aluminum processing plant. Low-ranking government officials met with a group representing the protesters in Bucharest, which National Trade Union Bloc leader Dumitru Costin termed "a provocation". Meanwhile, trade union representatives are to meet with Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes on 11 December. MS
LUCINSCHI CALLS FOR PRESIDENTIAL REPUBLIC
Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi on 10 December told a forum of media heads that, like his predecessor Mircea Snegur, he has concluded that Moldova should be a presidential republic, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi said the existing Moldovan Constitution is unsuited to the country's conditions, having been based on the Romanian and the French basic laws. He said authority was "loose" and needed to be passed from the parliament to the president. He also called on media heads to promote "ending the civil war in Moldovan society" and to assist in the consolidation of the state. He said that people must read "about positive facts, which can be found everywhere." Moldovans, Lucinschi said, can unite around four ideas: orientation toward Europe, neutrality, solving the country's social and economic problems, and the struggle against crime and corruption. MS
REFERENDUM TO BE HELD IN MOLDOVAN BULGARIAN MINORITY DISTRICT
The Russian-language government daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova" on 10 December wrote that the local authorities in the Taraclia district will hold a referendum on 10 January 1998 on changing the district's status following the recent passage of a law on local administration. The law included the district, which is inhabited by a large Bulgarian minority, into the new Cahul County, prompting protests from the Bulgarian ambassador to Moldova. The local authorities intend to ask residents of the district whether they want to "preserve Taraclia as an independent [local administrative] entity within the Moldovan Republic and as a center for the development of the Bulgarian minority's national culture," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Cahul County will include 27 settlements, of which only nine have a Bulgarian majority. MS
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ABOLISHES DEATH PENALTY
The parliament on 10 December wrapped up the process of amending the penal code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998). Legislators abolished capital punishment and replaced it with life imprisonment, thus bringing the country's legislation into line with that of the EU, AP and Reuters reported. A moratorium on executions was imposed in Bulgaria in 1990. About a dozen criminals have been sentenced to death since then. One of the amendments passed by the parliament says the country's president, who has the right to grant clemency, should replace pending death sentences with lifelong prison terms. MS
EU ENLARGEMENT: 'HURRY UP AND WAIT'
by Christopher Walker
Last March, foreign ministers from the 15 EU member states began formal discussions with six fast-track applicants to the EU--the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Cyprus. At the summit that begins in Vienna today, these ministers will continue the process of encouraging candidates to prepare for the obligations of membership, while simultaneously discouraging inflated expectations for rapid, full admission to the union. Involved are not only the six front-runners but also a second group of hopefuls engaged in pre-accession talks with Brussels: Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.
No firm first-round dates for entry have been set. In fact, some EU officials have indicated that a date should not be set until the union has reformed its own internal finances. But as the date for enlargement is pushed back, pressure on both first- and second-wave countries is likely to grow. Until recently, some members of the first group had believed that entry would be possible as early as the year 2000. Based on comments from Brussels, the year 2005, or later, is more realistic.
In addition, other key EU representatives have indicated that even that date may be premature for first-round expansion if applicants do not demonstrate necessary progress on political and market reforms or if the EU is unable to carry out its own internal reforms beforehand. Thus the accession timetable for second-wave countries could well be more than a decade from now. Recognizing the potentially long interval between first- and second-wave accession, countries in the second group have been jockeying to slip into the front-runner group. Latvia is one of the candidates mentioned most often as under consideration for joining the first group.
Few underestimate the magnitude of the task facing applicant countries, which must adopt all existing EU rules--the acquis communautaire--and prepare their economies for competition within the union. Equally important is whether post-Soviet applicant countries and existing EU members are psychologically prepared for integration. While nine years have passed since the collapse of communism, in many respects a wide gulf still exists between the cultures of EU member countries and those of post-Soviet societies.
Apart from candidates' preparedness for admission to the union, domestic politics in EU member states will play a key role in establishing the time frame for taking in new members. In fact, as the economy has grown sluggish in many EU countries and unemployment has become a more pressing political issue, few EU politicians have been willing to push for a swifter enlargement process.
By most standards, Germany--which will take over the EU's rotating presidency on 1 January--has the most to gain by eastward expansion. However, it would be incorrect to say that EU enlargement has broad support at all levels of German society. Germany's business elite and foreign-policy establishment have devoted a great deal of effort toward advancing the enlargement process. Many average Germans, on the other hand, may not be persuaded of the benefits of expansion, not least because of Germany's record-high unemployment.
German workers recognize that eastern neighbors such as Poland and the Czech Republic are already economic competitors. German industry has been able to exploit the well-educated and inexpensive labor pool in these and other post-Soviet countries to avoid steep German labor and business costs. Moreover, some Germans fear that the opening of borders with new member countries may spur large-scale immigration.
Despite the German public's relative lack of enthusiasm for EU enlargement, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl made EU integration--along with NATO expansion--a cornerstone of his foreign policy. In contrast, Gerhard Schroeder's successor government has shown noticeably less zeal for making such issues a priority.
The poorest EU member states largely view expansion as a zero-sum game. Greece, Portugal, and Spain fear the loss of their current share of EU structural funds to incoming Eastern countries. At the same time, some in the applicant countries are saying privately that the demands of accession may not be worth the effort if they themselves are to become the new "second-class members of the club."
From this perspective, admitting applicants only when they can genuinely handle the demands of economic competition within the union and other EU norms may avoid lack of clarity with respect to candidates' suitableness for membership. This could also help sidestep some of the more sticky questions of "special exceptions" or "long transition periods" for new entrants. Premature admission would subject new member countries to additional scrutiny and likely exacerbate tensions. Thus, Brussels may well have calculated that enlargement later, rather than sooner, is the least painful course to follow.
For the time being, the potential benefits that belonging to the EU can confer on new members--including some 3 billion ecus annually in pre-accession assistance and the expectation of substantial structural aid upon entry--would seem sufficient to keep applicants on the reform path. For those aspirants who are unlikely to obtain an invitation to join NATO, EU membership is the best way to integrate into Europe. However, a delay that exceeds expectations could cause applicant countries to waver in their commitment to continuing reforms. The author is manager of programs at the European Journalism Network.