YELTSIN OUSTS VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR
Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on 11 December, stripping Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov of his office. According to the decree, Cherepkov's term had run out months earlier, and the mayor had remained in office illegally. Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko was instructed to appoint an acting mayor until elections are held at the beginning of next year. Earlier, members of Primorskii Krai's legislature had appealed to Yeltsin to remove Cherepkov. Cherepkov, however, announced on 13 December that he will ignore the decree and that he has filed a suit against Yeltsin at the Russian Supreme Court. He also declared his intention to run for governor of Primore in the 1999 elections. The city of Vladivostok has been hit with chronic fuel and electricity shortages as temperatures have dipped below freezing. JAC
U.S. CONSIDERS YELTSIN ON DUTY, GOVERNMENT ON TRACK...
A delegation of U.S. officials led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers concluded their visit to Moscow on 12 December. The delegation met with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and head of the presidential administration Nikolai Bordyuzha. After the meeting, a " high-ranking U.S. diplomat" told reporters on 11 December that the delegation has seen evidence that the Russian government remains committed to economic reform and that "no crisis of confidence exists between the U.S. and Russia." Although the delegation did not meet with Yeltsin, the official said that "there was quite concrete evidence that President Yeltsin was very much on the job and remains very much the president of his country." JAC
...AS NEW ROUND OF STEEL TALKS TO OPEN
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia will send delegations to start negotiations on steel trade in London on 14 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 December. The U.S. Department of Commerce reached a preliminary judgment that makes Russian steel exports to the U.S. vulnerable to high tariffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). JAC
MOSCOW POWERLESS TO OVERTURN REGIONAL FOOD RESTRICTIONS?
Head of the presidential administration Bordyuzha told Russian Television on 11 December that the decision of the Kemerovo and Krasnoyarsk governors to restrict food exports outside their region was "absolutely incorrect." A government spokesman told ITAR-TASS that the government will investigate the two decisions. However, the "Moscow Times" the next day quoted an Agriculture Ministry as saying that Moscow has been unable to stop governors from imposing domestic trade barriers. He said, "We have scolded the governors but nothing more concrete has been done." The daily also quoted Yurii Gnatovskii of the OGO grain-trading firm, as saying that local governments, such as Volgograd's, order their railroad authorities not to provide his company with railcars for shipping their grain. Other regions, according to Gnatovskii, "tell their traffic police to find faults with cargo documentation." JAC
GOVERNMENT SUBMITS BUDGET
The Russian government submitted its draft 1999 budget on 11 December, as it had promised, Russian agencies reported. The next day, Prime Minister Primakov told Russian Public Television that he might be persuaded by the Duma to modify certain features of the budget as long as they are aimed at reducing the deficit, but he added that "strategic concessions" are not possible. ITAR-TASS noted that in previous years, budgets required at least two to three months to pass the State Duma. Former Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told Ekho Moskvy on 12 December that the budget is "quite professional from the standpoint of its basic parameters." JAC
DUMA PASSES ANTI-CRISIS BILL, RECOMMENDS CHUBAIS GET THE SACK
The Duma passed a draft law "On Priority Measures for the Budget and Tax Policy" in its second reading on 11 December. The vote was 316 to one. The law authorizes the emission of no more than 25.2 billion rubles ($1.26 billion) in the fourth quarter of 1998 and increases exporters' mandatory sales of hard currency from 50 percent of their proceeds to 75 percent. The legislation is expected to win easy passage in the Federation Council. The same day, the Duma passed a non-binding resolution recommending that former Deputy Prime Minister Chubais be dismissed from his position as head of Unified Energy Systems. According to Interfax, only the company's board of directors and board of government representatives can make changes to UES management. JAC
YELTSIN WARNS AGAINST TINKERING WITH CONSTITUTION
In a 12 December radio address marking the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Russian Constitution, President Yeltsin spoke out against altering the constitution, which he called the "nucleus of Russia's new statehood." He added that the constitution "has become an obstacle for those who want to revive the arbitrary rule of the Communist Party bureaucracy, the persecution of the Church, and the command system for the economy." He warned that the wholesale replacement of the constitution would be "deadly for the country." JAC
COMMUNISTS WIN IN VOLGOGRAD POLL
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation won 11 of the 16 vacant seats in the Volgograd Oblast legislature on 13 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Four local industrial leaders and a representative of the Volgograd Russian Sobor electoral bloc won the five remaining seats. The election took place despite heavy snow, power outages, and a bomb threat at one polling station. Turnout, however, was only 34.7 percent. At the first rotational local elections in March 1997, the Communist Party won 12 seats, making a current total of 23 mandates. LF
STAROVOITOVA KILLED BY POLITICAL EXTREMISTS?
The weapon used to kill Galina Starovoitova was rare and is used most often in covert military operations, the "St. Petersburg Times" reported on 11 December. Earlier, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that law enforcement officers believe that the gun could have come from a clandestine arms depot operated by a former policeman in a Moscow suburb. An anonymous letter found at the depot after police closed it down suggested that several members of the militant left-wing opposition, such as Communist Party member and Duma deputy Albert Makashov, have ties to the depot. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported that some law enforcement officers believe the killing was not the work of "professionals" since they used "sloppy firearms" and parked their getaway car far away from the scene of the crime. JAC
SOLZHENITSYN SAYS NO THANKS
Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has rejected one of Russia's highest honors, the Order of Saint Andrei, saying he cannot accept an award from the authority that has "brought Russia to its present state of ruin." President Yeltsin bestowed the award on Solzhenitsyn on the occasion of the latter's 80th birthday (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 1998). Oleg Sysuev, deputy chief of the presidential staff, told Russian Television that Solzhenitsyn "has an uneasy attitude toward authorities" and "it is his right to accept it or not." JAC
NEW THEORY POSED FOR UFO INCIDENT IN ALTAI
Officials at a scientific research institute in Altai Republic believe that the crash of an "unidentified flying object" in the southeastern Altai mountains in May 1997 may have resulted from the test of a new missile propellant or of a Burya intercontinental missile launched from the Barnaul military base, "Trud" reported on 10 December. According to the daily, a dark cloud of burning fuel covered 5,000 square kilometers in the region, causing a number of deaths and illnesses. Local authorities believe the population was exposed to chlorine, a combat contaminant used during World War 1, the daily reported. JAC
CHECHNYA CALLS UP RESERVISTS
President Aslan Maskhadov ordered the mobilization of reservists on 12 December in a new crackdown on crime following the execution of four foreign telephone engineers several days earlier. Several thousand volunteers came forward within 24 hours. Speaking on Chechen Television on 12 December, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev accused former field commander Arbi Baraev of having masterminded the abduction and murder of the four engineers. Baraev was dismissed as commander of the Islamic special purpose regiment in mid-July after his men were involved in fighting with rival Chechen forces in Gudermes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 1998). Atgeriev also blamed Baraev for the 10 December abduction of Chechen Prosecutor-General Mansur Tagiev, who was released two days later. LF
ABDUCTED UN OFFICIAL FREED
Under the direction of Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, Russian and Ingushetian Interior Ministry forces secured the release of UN High Commission for Refugees official Vincent Cochetel in a rescue operation on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia early on 12 December. Three of the kidnappers were killed during the shootout that ensued. Cochetel, who headed the UNHCR mission in the North Caucasus, was kidnapped in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998). LF
FIRST OIL PUMPED INTO BAKU-SUPSA PIPELINE
The Azerbaijani International Operating Company began filling the export oil pipeline from Baku to Georgia's Black Sea terminal of Supsa on 10 December, Caucasus Press reported. The process of filling the 930 kilometer pipeline will be completed by February 1999, and the pipeline will begin operating one month later. Initial annual throughput is estimated at 2.5 million metric tons. Gia Chanturia, the president of the Georgian International Operating Company, which operates the Georgian sector of the pipeline, told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 December that Georgia will receive some $25-30 million annually in tariffs, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS IRANIAN OIL DEAL
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 10 December condemning the proposed deal between Iran and the Royal Dutch Shell and Lazno oil companies to conduct geological exploration in what Baku claims is part of its sector of the Caspian Sea, Turan and Interfax reported. That agreement is scheduled to be signed on 14 December. The Azerbaijani statement condemned the proposed exploration as "illegal," "unilateral," and "inadmissible." It also rejects Iran's claim to 20 percent of the Caspian. The five Caspian littoral states have been at loggerheads for several years over the optimum approach to dividing the Caspian into national sectors and the precise borders of those sectors. LF
AZERBAIJANI EX-PARLIAMENT SPEAKER FACES NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES
The prosecutor-general has opened another criminal case against Rasul Guliev on charges of insulting President Heidar Aliev, Interfax reported on 13 December. Guliev, who left Azerbaijan in 1996, accused Aliyev of cutting a deal with the Armenian leadership under which Azerbaijani forces would not prevent Armenia occupying the Kelbadjar and Lachin districts of Azerbaijan and the town of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 1998). In January 1998, Guliev was accused of having engaged in large-scale embezzlement when he headed Azerbaijan's largest oil refinery. He was stripped of his deputy's immunity in April. LF
RUSSIA DELIVERS NUCLEAR FUEL TO ARMENIA
Russia delivered an urgently needed consignment of nuclear fuel for Armenia's Medzamor power station on 11 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Armenian and Russian officials signed an agreement in Moscow whereby Russia will extend a $20.24 million loan to Armenia to finance safety measures at the plant and further shipments of fuel. Armenian enterprises owe Medzamor some $40 million for electricity supplies, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 16 October. LF
MANUKIAN CRITICIZES ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP
Speaking at the 10th congress of his National Democratic Union on 11 December, former Prime Minister and twice defeated presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian charged that the economy of Armenia and Karabakh is mainly controlled by clans under the leadership of President Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Vazgen Sargssian, Interior and Security Minister Serzh Sargssian, and Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. Differences of opinion surfaced between Manukian, who insists that political change is possible only through democratic elections, and parliament deputy Davit Vartanian, who refuses to rule out "revolutionary methods," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In addition, Manukian rejects any cooperation with the existing Armenian government, while Vartanian would condone such cooperation to solve fundamental problems such as unemployment. In July, Vartanian accepted an offer from Kocharian to head the presidential oversight service. LF
ARMENIANS PROTEST DESTRUCTION OF MONUMENTS IN NAKHICHEVAN
A senior Armenian clergyman and members of the Nakhichevan Union representing Armenians from that Azerbaijani exclave have addressed appeals to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to UNESCO Secretary-General Federico Mayor to intervene to prevent the further destruction of Armenian religious and cultural monuments in Nakhichevan, Noyan Tapan reported on 10 December. In late November, Armenian architects on the Iranian bank of the Arax, which forms the frontier between Iran and Nakhichevan, reported that gravestones and stone crosses in the cemetery of Old Djuga in Nakhichevan were being destroyed by bulldozers or removed. In the 1920s, the population of Nakhichevan was predominantly Armenian, but as a result of emigration from the region, it is now 95 percent Azerbaijani. LF
OPPOSITION TO CHAIR TWO FURTHER GEORGIAN CITY COUNCILS
Labor Party member Malkhaz Asatiani was elected chairman of the city council of Kutaisi, Georgia's second largest city, on 10 December, Caucasus Press reported. The same day, a member of the People's Party was elected chairman of the Gori City Council. A representative of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) has rejected that outcome and absconded with the ballot papers. In his weekly radio address, President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 14 December that the SMK's lackluster showing in the 15 November local elections "is not a defeat" for that party. LF
KYRGYZ OFFICIALS DETAINED DURING ANTI-CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION
Kyrgyz Interior Minister Omurbek Kutuev told journalists on 14 December that a number of state officials have been detained on corruption and embezzlement charges, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Kutuev said arrests began on 12 December. Among those arrested, he named First Deputy Finance Minister Alymbek Biyalinov, Deputy Finance Minister Rysbek Begmatov, Deputy Minister of Ecology Jumakadyr Akeneev, Deputy Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Stamakun Asanaliev, and the head of the newly privatized Agricultural Leasing company. He added that there are more detainees but declined to give further details. Also on 14 December, President Askar Akayev signed a decree aimed at stepping up the battle against corruption. Last week, Akayev sacked the head of his administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). BP
ABDULLOJONOV ACCUSES TAJIK GOVERNMENT OF GENOCIDE...
Former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullojonov, who is wanted by Dushanbe for his role in the violence in the northern Leninabad Oblast early last month, issued a statement on 9 December accusing the Tajik government "led by President Imomali Rakhmonov" of "practicing political, regional, and ethnic genocide," ITAR-TASS reported three days later. Abdullojonov wrote that following the violence in the north last month, "thousands of people were thrown in prison, tens of thousands of homes were looted, and hundreds of the area's residents have disappeared without a trace." He also criticized the United Tajik Opposition for giving "tacit agreement" to events in northern Tajikistan, especially because "more than anyone else, they have experienced the horrors of the infringement of rights." BP
...AND TARGETING HIS RELATIVES
Abdullojonov also claimed he has relatives still living in the area who have been targeted by the Tajik authorities. He said his mother's home in Khujand was looted and his brother, the former mayor of Khujand, arrested. Saying he is accustomed to attacks against himself, he questioned the need to harass his relatives and friends still in Tajikistan. He also said that he is ready to appear before a "free and impartial international court" to answer to any charges of wrong- doing. BP
KAZAKHSTAN'S POPULATION CONTINUES TO DECREASE
The director of the Migration and Immigration Agency, Zauytbek Turysbekov, said on 12 December that during Kazakhstan's seven years of independence, 2.17 million people have left Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported. During the same period, 590,000 people, of whom 170,000 are ethnic Kazakhs, have entered the country. As of 1 January 1998, the country's population was 15.6 million. BP
TURKMENISTAN CELEBRATES THREE YEARS OF 'NEUTRALITY'
Turkmenistan on 12 December celebrated the third anniversary of the UN decision to officially recognize that country's "neutrality," ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. To mark the occasion, a 75- meter-high Neutrality Arch was unveiled, atop of which is a 12- meter, gold-plated statue of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. The statue slowly revolves so that it is always facing the sun. BP
EU SUMMIT NAMES NO DATES FOR WOULD-BE MEMBERS
Meeting in Vienna on 11-12 December, leaders of the 15 EU member countries failed to offer applicant states any concrete dates for possible membership. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Cyprus are all taking part in so-called fast-track entry talks. The summit also declined to invite any of the other five would-be members--Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia--to join the fast-track group. Following the release of the European Commission's annual progress reports last month, Latvia, in particular, had been hoping to move up to that group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1998). A statement issued at the end of the Vienna summit says only that the European Council "welcomes progress in preparation for accession negotiations with Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria as described in the Commission's reports." JC
IMF CONDITIONS LOAN TO BELARUS ON REFORM
IMF representative Thomas Wolf told reporters in Minsk on 11 December that Belarus may receive a $100 million loan in March if it fulfills the fund's recommendations on liberalizing economic policies, Interfax reported on 11 December. In particular, the IMF wants the Belarusian government to tighten its credit policy and liberalize its currency market. Reuters reported that both sides have signed an agreement on establishing a "track record" of policy cooperation between the IMF and Belarus, which the IMF Executive Board requires before deciding on the loan. JM
BELARUSIAN, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS SIGN 10-YEAR ECONOMIC ACCORD
Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Leonid Kuchma, meeting in Minsk on 11 December, signed a 10-year economic cooperation treaty and discussed ways to reduce the impact of the Russian financial crisis on both countries, Belarusian Television reported. "Whether we like it or not, relations between Belarus and Ukraine are directly dependent on stability in the Russian Federation," Lukashenka commented after the talks. AP reported that Lukashenka and Kuchma did not settle differences over the repayment of Ukraine's $200 million debt to Belarus. They will return to the issue in February. JM
UKRAINE, CHINA SIGN TRADE DEALS
During Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk's visit to Beijing last week, Ukraine and China signed two trade agreements and discussed cooperation in farming and other areas, AP reported on 12 December. Ukraine's trade with China in 1997 totaled $1.25 billion but has dropped by 30 percent this year. Tarasyuk said growing Chinese trade barriers to Ukrainian imports are to blame for this decrease. Tarasyuk confirmed Kyiv's commitment to the "one China" policy, which recognizes Taiwan as a province of mainland China. "We are maintaining trade and economic relations with Taiwan on an unofficial basis, but we have no military and technical contacts with it," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. JM
EBRD MAY SUPPORT COMPLETING UKRAINE'S TWO NUCLEAR REACTORS
Horst Koehler, head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said in Kyiv on 11 December that the EBRD might provide financing to complete the construction of two nuclear reactors at the nuclear power plants in Khmelnytskyy and Rivne, dpa and AP reported. Ukraine wants to complete the reactors to compensate for the planned closure of the Chornobyl plant in 2000. Opponents of the reactors in Khmelnytskyy and Rivne say technology at those facilities is outdated and unprofitable. Koehler said in Kyiv that completing the reactors is the cheapest solution to the Chornobyl problem, but he warned that the EBRD will disburse the loan only if Ukraine proves the reactors can make enough profit to repay the loan. JM
MOSCOW WELCOMES ESTONIAN CITIZENSHIP LAW CHANGES...
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists on 11 December that Moscow is satisfied with the passage of amendments to Estonia's citizenship law, which facilitate granting citizenship to stateless children born in that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1998), ETA and BNS reported. "We hope that this decision will be followed by other actions...aimed at the observance of generally recognized democratic standards on ethnic minorities," he commented, adding that the recent meeting of the Russian-Estonian intergovernment commission was held "precisely in this spirit." JC
...SAYS IT WILL CEASE RHETORIC ON RUSSIAN-SPEAKERS IN BALTICS
Later the same day, Rakhmanin told BNS that Moscow is satisfied with developments related to the rights of Russian-speakers in the Baltic States and will cease making "a lot of noise" about the issue. "We're not inclined to a heated public debate. Work is now what matters," he added. In October, Moscow welcomed changes to Latvia's citizenship law that received final approval in a referendum. JC
LATVIAN COALITION PARTY POSTPONES DECISION ON SOCIAL DEMOCRATS...
Maris Grinblats, chairman of the rightist Fatherland and Freedom party, told journalists on 10 December that his group is postponing taking a decision on the Social Democrats' participation in the government until 28 January, when the party's council is due to convene, BNS reported. Before that date, the party will not change its position of opposing any involvement of the Social Democrats in the executive, Grinblats stressed. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans has proposed offering the agricultural portfolio to the Social Democrats, who have demanded a cabinet post in exchange for supporting the minority government in the parliament. Under the coalition agreement, there must be a consensus among the three ruling parties on inviting non-coalition partners to participate in the government. JC
...WHILE PREMIER DENIES GOVERNMENT CRISIS LOOMING
Kristopans, meanwhile, has rejected a statement by Grinblats that the government will face a crisis in January over the question of whether to involve the Social Democrats in the executive, BNS reported on 11 December. The premier argued that the government's stability would not be threatened if the Fatherland and Freedom party decided not to support the Social Democratic candidate for agriculture minister. The Fatherland and Freedom party "is simply making me perform the duties of agriculture minister for another one-and-a-half months," he commented. "I promise, however, that when 3 million lats (some $6 million) in government subsidies to farmers have been distributed, I will ask [that party] to take charge of the Agriculture Ministry. Let them fill this position." JC
POLISH RIGHTIST GROUPS DEMAND PUNISHMENT OVER MARTIAL LAW
Some 100 members of the right-wing Republican League demonstrated outside the house of General Wojciech Jaruzelski on 13 December to mark the 17th anniversary of the imposition of martial law by the Jaruzelski-led Military Council of National Salvation. Mariusz Kaminski, head of the Republican League and a Solidarity parliamentary deputy, said he hopes Jaruzelski will have to answer for his deeds in court, Polish media reported. Some 50 members of the right-wing Confederation for an Independent Poland-Patriotic Camp picketed the provincial court in Katowice, demanding punishment for the death of nine miners killed under the 1981 martial law. A poll published by "Rzeczpospolita" the previous day suggested that 39 percent of Poles believe more harm than good was done by the imposition of martial law. Thirty percent disagreed with that statement and 31 percent were undecided. JM
CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY REJECTS NEW TAX FRAUD CHARGES
Mirolslav Macek, deputy chairman of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), told Nova TV on 13 December that ODS executive deputy chairman Libor Novak did not deliberately attempt to deprive the state of taxes. Last week, Novak was accused of submitting an incorrect ODS income tax declaration in 1995. That declaration indicated that the party had received two large sums of money from a larger number of donors than was the case. ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus on 12 December said his party is "extremely shocked and extremely surprised" by the charges, CTK reported. MS
HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA MAINTAIN POSITIONS IN DAM DISPUTE
The heads of the Hungarian and Slovak delegations negotiating a settlement to the controversial Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam dispute met with the president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on 11 December. The positions of the two sides, however, have not come closer, Hungarian media reported. Hungarian delegation head Gyorgy Szenasi told journalists that Slovakia is insisting that the court admonish Budapest for failing to reach an agreement and set a deadline for the implementation of its earlier ruling. Hungary admits that both sides are entitled to seek a second ruling but argues that the Slovak approach is unacceptable, Szenasi said. He expressed hopes that bilateral talks will help solve the dispute. Those talks are scheduled to resume on 28 January. MSZ
EU BACKS MONTENEGRO, CALLS FOR SERBIA'S DEMOCRATIZATION
In a draft statement released on 12 December at the end of the Vienna summit, leaders of the 15 EU member countries called for democratic reform and free media in federal Yugoslavia. The statement also expressed support for Montenegro's reformist President Milo Djukanovic. With regard to Kosova, the statement said that there is a "lack of commitment by both [Kosova Albanian and the Serbian leadership] to support the negotiation process." It urged both sides "to show flexibility in the talks necessary for agreement to be reached on the future status of Kosova." FS
MILOSEVIC WARNS NATO NOT TO ENTER KOSOVA
Federal Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic told the "Washington Post" of 13 December that if NATO troops cross into Kosova to rescue international observers, they will be treated as aggressors. He added that it "is the duty of our army not to allow any foreign troops to get into our territory." Meanwhile, the French-led extraction force has started building camps throughout northern Macedonia, Reuters reported on 13 December. FS
GOVERNMENT OF BOSNIA'S MUSLIM-CROAT FEDERATION APPROVED...
The parliament of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation on 12 December approved incumbent federation President Ejup Ganic serving another term in office. It also supported Ganic's proposal that current Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic remain in office and approved 13 government ministers. Ganic and Bicakcic belong to the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Ivo Andric Luzanski of the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ) was elected as federation vice president in a power-sharing deal reached by the two ruling nationalist parties. After one year, Ganic and Luzanski will switch positions. FS
Bicakcic told "Dnevni Avaz" of 13 December that his cabinet, made up of a four-party coalition, will work to speed up economic reforms. The coalition has eight portfolios and the HDZ five. Bicakcic said that his priorities are the acceleration of the privatization process and improvement of the social security system. A spokeswoman for the international community's high representative, Carlos Westendorp, told Reuters that "we hope that all elected officials are committed to the implementation of the peace agreement and the ambitious plan for 1999," which will be outlined at an upcoming 50-nation meeting of the Peace Implementation Council in Madrid on 15-16 December. Donor nations at the meeting are expected to increase pressure on Bosnia to implement economic reforms. FS
IZETBEGOVIC WANTS CROATIAN POLICE TO LEAVE BOSNIAN TOWN
Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the joint Bosnian presidency, demanded on 11 December that Croatia withdraw its police from the western Bosnian border town of Martin Brod before the Croatian- Bosnian border commission resumes its work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998). Croatia captured the town in 1995. Zagreb subsequently withdrew its military, but Croatian police still patrol the area. Izetbegovic said that "instead of an immediate withdrawal of the police, Croatia is trying to declare the area a disputed border issue which needs to be negotiated." A spokesman for Westendorp told Reuters that "Martin Brod is within the confines of Bosnia," adding that Westendorp has also made that clear. He added, however, that the matter should be resolved by the joint border commission. FS
UN MONITORS ATTACKED IN BOSNIAN CROAT TOWN
SFOR troops evacuated monitors of the International Police Task Force (IPTF) from Stolac after a hostile crowd assaulted them on 10 December. The monitors requested SFOR support after the local police had denied them access to a part of the police headquarters where SFOR later found and confiscated unspecified illegal weapons. The Stolac police chief resigned following the incident. Stolac had a mixed Bosnian Muslim and Croatian population before it was captured in 1993 by Croatian forces, who expelled some 8,000 Muslims. Local Croats have attacked refugees returning to the town in at least 70 incidents this year. The IPTF monitors had planned to evaluate the performance of local police in preventing further violence, Reuters reported on 11 December. FS
BOSNIAN SERB COURT FINDS MUSLIMS GUILTY OF SREBRENICA MURDERS...
A Bosnian Serb court has sentenced two Muslims to 20 years in prison each and a third to 11 years for murder. The three men belonged to a group of seven that claimed to have escaped a massacre of thousands of Muslims when Serbs captured Srebrenica in July 1995. They maintained that they had survived months in the wild and had surrendered when they spotted U.S. soldiers in May 1996. The U.S. troops, noting some of the men were wearing military uniform and carrying weapons, handed them over to Bosnian Serb police. AP reported. FS
...WHILE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CONDEMNS RULING
A spokeswoman for Westendorp told AP that the court handed down sentences despite a lack of evidence. She said that the defendants had signed a confession to having committed the crime but had been forced to do so. Defense lawyer Bakir Pasic said there was no evidence of a murder. He pledged to appeal the ruling at the Bosnian Serb Supreme Court. According to Pasic, the court based its ruling on a report that four Serbs from the Zvornik area were reported missing and were never found. Pasic stressed that there is no substantive evidence linking the disappearance of the Serbs to those sentenced. Meanwhile, the three convicted men have announced they are staging a hunger strike to protest the ruling. FS
CROATIAN JOURNALISTS SUE GOVERNMENT FOR SPYING
The editor and four journalists of the weekly "Nacional" on 11 December filed charges against the Croatian Interior Ministry for allegedly spying on them. "These illegal actions resulted in the violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights," lawyer Ivan Polan told Reuters. Interior Minister Ivan Penic has admitted the secret police have targeted individual journalists, but only when part of a "security problem." He has never explicitly denied allegations of spying on the staff of "Nacional." FS
ALBANIAN STUDENTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE
About 70 students in Tirana launched a hunger strike on 11 December, demanding a 50 percent increase in scholarships and better accommodation. The students said their protest is not politically motivated, Reuters reported. But Information Minister Musa Ulqini suggested the protest was organized by the opposition Democratic Party. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said in a statement the following day that the students are justified in their requests, which the government will seek to meet. Majko added he is ready to meet the students to discuss their demands. FS
ALBANIAN PREMIER WANTS INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SACKED
Prime Minister Majko on 11 December asked President Rexhep Meidani to sack secret services chief Fatos Klosi, a government spokesman told dpa. The spokesman gave no reason for Majko's decision. The secret services have recently been criticized in the media for failing to provide information about a series of terrorist attacks. FS
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
The Party of Social Democracy in Romania, the Party of Romanian National Unity, and the Greater Romania Party moved a no-confidence motion in the cabinet on 11 December, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They accuse the government of economic failure and loss of international prestige. The motion is to be submitted to the legislature on 16 December and a vote will take place five days later. The opposition Romanian Alternative Party has said it will not support the motion, saying it reflects the "incapability of the leftist opposition to adapt itself to the needs of the present." The Alliance for Romania party said the government deserves to be censured but that the motion is aimed at "making political capital." Meanwhile, the government on 12 December approved a final document on streamlining its structure, which will be submitted to the parliament on 16 December. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PROMULGATES INVESTMENT LAW
Emil Constantinescu on 13 December signed into law legislation guaranteeing foreign investors the same treatment as their local counterparts, Romanian television reported. Under the legislation, foreign investors will be exempt from import taxes on equipment brought into the country and will be granted tax reductions based on the volume of their investment. Those investing more than $50 million will pay no profit taxes for 10 years. The legislation also provides safeguards for foreign investors against nationalization, expropriation, or discrimination. MS
LUCINSCHI REJECTS ALLEGATIONS ABOUT ILLEGAL PLANE SALES
Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi on 11 December denied he acted illegally when approving the sale of 21 MiG-29 airplanes to the U.S. in 1997. Lucinschi said that his actions conformed with the "legislation previously in force" and that the parliamentary commission that had made the allegations was driven by "political motives," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi also said the sale of the planes to the U.S. would have "political, rather than economic" advantages since Washington has promised Moldova "support in many aspects related to our problems" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). In other news, on 12 December the parliament adopted the 1999 budget, which provides for austere measures. MS
MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES RULE OUT REFERENDA
The Central Electoral Commission on 11 December rejected the Taraclia local authorities' request to hold a referendum on the district's local administrative independence, the Flux agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 1998). The commission said such a referendum would violate the 1996 law on local administration. It also rejected the request of the Basarabeanca Municipal Council to hold a referendum on 9 January on joining the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region, saying that ballot would be "illegitimate and infringe on existing legislation." MS
PRO-GOVERNMENT BULGARIAN ETHNIC TURKS SET UP OWN PARTY
The first national conference of the Initiative Council for Renewing the Movement of Rights and Freedom (DPS) announced on 12 December that it is setting up a separate party, to be called the National Movement for Rights and Freedoms (NDPS), BTA reported. Gyuner Tahir, a deputy representing the ruling United Democratic Forces (ODF) coalition, was elected leader of the new political formation. Because of differences with DPS leader Ahmed Dogan, Tahir set up the Initiative Council in March 1997 and ran on ODF lists in elections the following month. Observers expect the NDPS to sign an agreement with the Union of Democratic Forces, which is the main component of the ODF, on joint lists in the 1999 local elections. MS
BULGARIAN ROMA SET UP NATIONAL ORGANIZATION
More than 3,000 delegates representing Romani organizations have set up the Evroroma national association, which unites more than 20 Bulgarian Romani organizations. The association's goal is to mediate between the Romani community and the government in finding solutions to Roma's social and economic problems. Tsvetelin Kunchev, a deputy representing Euroleft, was elected chairman of the association. He told the gathering that he is "a Bulgarian by origin but a [Rom] by heart." Euroleft leader Alexander Tomov, who first suggested the setting up of the association, said his party "will not be the guardian but a partner" of Evroroma. Euroleft and Evroroma are likely to sign an agreement on cooperation in the 1999 local elections. MS
REFORM AND POLITICAL INSTABILITY IN ROMANIA
by Michael Shafir
The last year of the millennium is likely to be a difficult one for Romanians. In early December, Radu Vasile's cabinet announced its determination to implement long-postponed structural reforms. Procrastination on reform has seemingly relegated Romania to the last place on the list of countries striving for EU membership. Worse still, some observers believe that Bucharest will default on servicing its external foreign debt of more than $ 2.2 billion in 1999.
During the past few months, the international rating agencies Moody's and Standard and Poor's have twice reduced Romania's rating. The IMF has suspended the last two tranches of a $430 million loan agreed with Victor Ciorbea's cabinet, and an IMF delegation in Bucharest in November made it clear that the fund will neither resume loaning nor re-negotiate a new agreement unless the reform process finally kicks off. Without further IMF credits, borrowing will become practically prohibitive and Romania will be hurled toward an economic dead-end.
But this economic vicious circle is not the only factor threatening Romania's immediate future. Political instability is also likely to influence the country's performance in 1999. Tense relations between the two main coalition partners, the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) and the Democratic Party, spearheaded the demise of Ciorbea's cabinet. And since Vasile's government was sworn in April, tensions have re-emerged and have apparently reached new heights within each of the coalition's members.
On 21 November, the Democratic Party expelled from its ranks former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin and Adrian Vilau, a deputy whose past links with the Communist secret service were revealed in June, prompting his resignation as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the Intelligence Service. It is unclear whether those revelations were engineered by the leadership of the Democratic Party itself, as some observers suspect. Vilau himself has pointed out that past links with the Securitate (as in the case of Mihai Darie, a member of the party's Standing Bureau) did not seem to bother the party's leadership as long as those involved were prepared to march to the tune of party leader Petre Roman.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to argue that Severin's dismissal as foreign minister in December 1997 was triggered as much by his unsubstantiated claims that some party leaders and media directors were agents of foreign secret services as by his criticism of Roman's style of leadership. With Senator Octavian Stireanu resigning from the Democratic Party to protest the 21 November decision, the Democrats (and thus the ruling coalition) find themselves with three parliamentary mandates fewer.
On the same day the Democrats expelled Severin and Vilau, tensions within the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD)--the leading formation of the CDR--were coming to a head. At a forum in Satu Mare, a group headed by Ciorbea, who had not reconciled himself to his own political demise, was virtually calling on the PNTCD not only to revise its coalition agreement with the Democrats but also to return to the party's "historical roots." Even if this meant withdrawing from the coalition (which would lead to early elections), the option was worth considering, the group argued. It called for convening an extraordinary PNTCD congress to analyze how the PNTCD's principles are reflected in policies implemented by Vasile's cabinet and how to democratize the party and increase grass-roots influence. In other words, the group headed by Ciorbea was firing the first shot in a struggle to replace Vasile as well as octogenarian PNTCD leader Ion Diaconescu.
However, some participants were unwilling to endorse all the points raised during the discussion. One week later, only Ciorbea and five other prominent PNTCD members signed a letter addressed to the party leadership that included all those points. But the divisions within the PNTCD remain for all to see, with Ciorbea heading what observers have dubbed the "Taliban" or "fundamentalist" faction within the party. This faction calls for a return to "morality" in politics, a formulation that implies a rejection of compromise with the Democrats on such matters as the restitution of property as well as criticism of the failure of the CDR-led coalition to pass a lustration law or to expedite passing a law on access to the files of the former communist secret services.
That failure had prompted the Movement of Civic Alliance to suspend its membership in the CDR in early April. In a recent declaration, the movement hinted that the possibility of setting up a new party is no longer being ruled out. Should a split occur within the PNTCD, Ciorbea, who now is one of Diaconescu's deputies, may well become its leader.
Other recent developments include the Romanian Alternative Party's October decision to quit the CDR, claiming a monopoly on representation of "right-wing" views, and calls within the PNTCD's main partner in the CDR, the National Liberal Party (PNL), to revise the statutes of the alliance to reflect the PNTCD's loss of its former primacy. Moreover, some PNL leading members are now openly talking about replacing Vasile with PNL deputy chairman Valeriu Stoica. Against this background, the ongoing threat of political instability in Romania as the year 1998 draws to a close hardly bodes well for either the cabinet or its ability to implement reform.