BOMBING OF IRAQ CONDEMNED BY KREMLIN...
Russian officials responded to news of U.S. and UK bombing raids on Iraq with the demand that those attacks cease at once. Russian President Boris Yeltsin accused the U.S. and Britain of "flagrantly [violating] the UN Charter and generally accepted principles of international law as well as norms and rules for states' responsible behavior." He added that the attacks "undermine the system of international security." Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov blamed UN weapons inspector Richard Butler for the recent worsening of tensions between Iraq and the U.S. Ivanov told Russian Television on 17 December that this "is not the first time that Butler grossly exceeded his power and ordered that the Special Commission be evacuated from Iraq." Earlier, Ivanov was quoted by NTV as saying that the U.S. did not warn him of the impending attacks. Russian newspapers, such as "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Noviye izvestiya" echoed Ivanov's sentiment that Butler's report had made the air strike inevitable. JAC
...AND BY LEGISLATURE
Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev called the attack "not only a strike against Iraq, but against world public opinion and the prestige of the UN." He added that, "Today the United States has assumed the role of an international gendarme, and the consequences of this step will be extremely grave." Duma deputy and leader of the Our Home is Russia faction Aleksandr Shokhin told Interfax on 17 December that the action illustrated Russia's failure to influence Iraq. Shokhin added that he did not believe the bombing was an attempt by President Bill Clinton to distract the U.S. from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Duma International Committee Chairman and Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin called the bombing "absolutely intolerable for the international community" while emphasizing that his party has always opposed military action against Iraq. JAC
START-II RATIFICATION VICTIM OF BOMBING?
Duma Deputy Shokhin told Interfax on 17 December that the left would use the Iraq bombing to further delay a decision on ratification of the START-II treaty. The same day, Duma deputy and member of the Liberal Democratic Party faction Mikhail Gutseriev told ITAR-TASS that the U.S.-British air strike "might worsen prospects for ratification of START-II." Meanwhile, "Noviye izvestiya" also predicted that ratification of START-II now seems unlikely. It argued that the Duma deputies "who are to vote on the ratification of the agreement usually react extremely harshly to excessive actions by the U.S. on the international front." JAC
GAZPROM SALE ATTRACTS TWO BIDDERS
As a tender for the sale of a 2.5 percent stake in Gazprom closed on 16 December, at least two companies were reported to have submitted bids, the minimum required for the sale to be valid. Analysts believe that Germany's Ruhrgas was one of the bidders and is the likely winner of the tender, the results of which will be announced on 19 December. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said recently that if the Gazprom sale is successful, the government might be able to reduce the size of the monetary emission it will need in 1999. On 15 December, a Gazprom official wrote glowingly of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov for "Tribuna" and "Trud," pledging that the company is "ready to support the president and the prime minister with all its resources." The article also harshly criticized former Prime Minister and Gazprom chairman Viktor Chernomyrdin. Both "Tribuna" and "Trud" are owned by Gazprom. JAC
ILYUKHIN REMARKS GARNER CONDEMNATION...
Government and administration officials strongly condemned the anti-Semitic remarks of Communist and State Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin on 16 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998). Nikolai Bordyuzha, chief of the presidential administration, told reporters that Ilyukhin's remarks "undermine not only the reputation of the Duma but Russia's international reputation." Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov called Ilyukhin's statements "absolutely extremist," while presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said that Ilyukhin's statements prove "that all preceding statements by Communist Party leaders on the theme were neither slips of the tongue nor accidents, as some wished to represent them." The same day, "Kommersant-Daily" suggested that the radical wing of the Communist party is deliberately provoking the Kremlin. It added that if some kind of criminal proceedings are launched, then Communists will be able to secure their position as the major opposition force. JAC
...AS COMMUNISTS BLAME MEDIA
Communist legislators have demanded that three major television channels be stripped of their accreditation for their biased coverage of Ilyukhin's remarks. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev urged "the media not to stir flames where they don't exist," asserting that "any phrase can be quoted out of context." However, he noted that no accreditation has been pulled yet and that the Duma's Committee on Information Policy, Communications, and the Press will settle the dispute. JAC
VLADIVOSTOK STAND-OFF CONTINUES
A police battalion made an unsuccessful attempt to occupy the mayoral office building in Vladivostok on 16 December but was repulsed by supporters of former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, ITAR-TASS reported, According to Reuters, a local police duty officer denied that police had stormed the building and stressed that Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko had vowed not to use force. JAC
SWISS PRESIDENT MEETS WITH PRIMAKOV
Swiss President Flavio Cotti and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov signed a joint statement on technological and financial cooperation on 16 December. Prime Minister Primakov said that Russia is interested in securing a new influx of Swiss capital and will create favorable conditions for such an influx. Flavio told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Switzerland "believes in Russia's economic potential" and its industries "are definitely interested in the Russian market." According to Russian statistics, Switzerland was Russia's second largest foreign investor in 1997, after the U.S., AFP reported. Flavio arrived on 15 December in St. Petersburg for the first leg of a three-day trip to Russia. JAC
IMF HAD ADVANCE WARNING OF 17 AUGUST MORATORIUM
In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 December, former Federal Tax Service chief Boris Federov stated that IMF officials knew in advance of the Russian government's 17 August decision to announce a moratorium on foreign debt payments. Federov urged fund officials to try to dissuade then Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko from making what Federov considered to be a "politically suicidal" decision. But they "heard him out without giving any response." JAC
NEW AMBASSADOR TO U.S. NAMED
President Yeltsin on 16 December named career diplomat Yurii Ushakov ambassador to the U.S. to replace Yulii Vorontsov, who is retiring. Until recently, Ushakov was deputy foreign minister responsible for relations with UN and other international organizations at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. The removal of a security guardpost from Vorontsov's residence in Washington has been at the center of a recent diplomatic controversy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998). JAC
NEW TEACHERS' ACTIONS LAUNCHED
Thirteen teachers in the town of Uemskii, near the city of Arkhangelsk, began a hunger strike to protest unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. The teachers have not been paid in full since April. Total unpaid wages in the region, according to a teacher's union official, total 200 million rubles ($10 million). In the town of Volzhsk, near Volgograd, two teachers began a hunger strike, as more than 2,000 of their colleagues continue a strike action. JAC
REGIONS' INDUSTRIAL PERFORMANCE IS SPOTTY
The economic performance of individuals regions in the Russian Federation continued to follow a highly varied pattern in 1998, according to Economic Ministry projections, "Segodnya" reported on 15 December. In the Volga region, Astrakhan Oblast managed to boost manufacturing by 14.5 percent, while Ulyanovsk Oblast and the Republic of Kalmykia witnessed 13.3 percent and 15.2 percent declines, respectively. In the Far East, Magadan Oblast saw a 30 percent increase, while manufacturing in Kamchatka Oblast and Primorskii Krai dipped 18.5 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively. JAC
CHECHEN PRESIDENT THREATENS RETALIATION FOR IRAQ BOMBINGS...
Aslan Maskhadov issued a statement on 17 December warning that his forces are preparing to attack unspecified U.S. and British facilities in the Caucasus, Russia, and the Near East in retaliation for the air raids on Iraq, Reuters reported. Also on 17 December, thousands of people gathered in central Grozny to demonstrate their support for Maskhadov's proclaimed crackdown on crime, according to AP. LF
...AS HIS OPPONENTS ISSUE THREATS...
Maskhadov's statement may have been intended primarily as a response to the accusations voiced on 16 December by Uvai Akhmadov, second-in-command to Arbi Baraev, the radical field commander suspected of executing four foreign hostages last week. Akhmadov said that "the West, together with Russia and their servant Maskhadov, want to destroy Chechnya to prevent the Islamic revival," AP reported. Baraev's men, who are entrenched in the town of Urus-Martan, southwest of Grozny, warned that they will launch counterattacks in Russia, rather than fight with fellow Chechens, if Maskhadov orders any attempt to disarm them, Caucasus Press reported on 17 December. LF
...AND HIS DEPUTY CALLS FOR ISLAMIC STATE
Addressing a council of Chechen imams on 16 December, Vice President Vakha Arsanov demanded the abolition of Chechnya's present constitution and of the parliament and presidency, pending the introduction of an Islamic state, Interfax reported. Arsanov proposed the creation of a state council that would proclaim a senior political figure, possibly Maskhadov, as imam vested with supreme power. But Chief Mufti Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov warned against that proposal, saying the Chechen people "are not ready" to live under Islamic law. LF
FORMER AFGHAN ADVERSARIES MEET
Ingush President Ruslan Aushev met recently near the Tajik-Afghan border with the "Lion of the Panjsher," Ahmed Shah Massoud, to discuss securing the release of some 188 surviving Soviet servicemen who were taken prisoner by Afghan mujahedin during the 1979-1989 war, Interfax reported on 16 December. Massoud, currently one of the leaders of the anti- Taliban coalition, made his reputation as a mujahedin commander during that war. Aushev, a former Soviet army general who fought for several years in Afghanistan, heads the CIS Committee on servicemen who fought in wars on foreign territory. LF
FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER'S POLITICAL PARTY LAUNCHED
Delegates to a 16 December meeting in Almaty have elected the coordination council of the newly formed Republican People's Party, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The party will be led by former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, while the chairman of the party's council is Gaziz Aldamzharov, the former governor of Atyrau Oblast. A spokesman said the party's goals are to take power and create "real" democratic institutions. Police and plain-clothes policemen surrounded the building where the delegates were meeting, filming and photographing both the inside and outside of the building. Kazhegeldin was not present at the meeting. BP
SMALL GROUP MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF ALMATY TRAGEDY
Some 100 people gathered in Almaty on 17 December to mark the 12th anniversary of violent unrest in that city, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Twelve years ago, the first secretary of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic's Communist Party, Dinmukhammed Kunayev, was sacked by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during an anti- corruption campaign. The subsequent announcement of ethnic Russian Gennadii Kolbin as Kunayev's replacement drew Kazakh students into the streets in protest, and three days of unrest followed. The unrest was put down when additional KGB agents, Interior Ministry troops, and policemen were sent to Almaty (then called Alma-Ata). The fate of some who were arrested remains unknown, and many still have not been exonerated of crimes they allegedly committed at that time. BP
KYRGYZSTAN RECEIVES CREDITS FOR WELFARE
The World Bank and international donors are lending Kyrgyzstan $36.5 million to develop the country's welfare program, Reuters and Interfax reported on 16 December. The head of the country's welfare program, Dinara Joldosheva, said the first tranche, worth $17 million, was released four days earlier. The money is targeted for developing the pension insurance system and support for the poor and the unemployed. BP
TAJIK COMMUNISTS WANT TO HOLD ON TO ASSETS
The leader of the Tajik Communist Party, Shodi Shabdolov, said the May presidential decree "On the Property of Tajikistan's Communist Party" amounts to nationalization of the party's property and contravenes the country's constitution, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. Shabdolov noted that in 1992, the party voluntarily handed over to the government a number of buildings, including the Central Committee headquarters. The government is attempting to reclaim Communist Party property in order to privatize it, but Shabdolov said the party has purchased that property with its own funds. He also rejected claims that his party has broken any rules or laws in accepting funds from communist parties outside Tajikistan. BP
AZERBAIJANI MINISTER SAID TO HAVE SOLICITED ELECTION FUNDS FROM UK COMPANIES
Azerbaijani Culture Minister Polad Bul Bul ogly wrote in September 1998 to British companies operating in Azerbaijan to ask them to make financial contributions to the presidential election campaign of incumbent Heidar Aliev, Turan reported on 16 December. British Ambassador Roger Thomas advised the companies in question not to comply with that request, pointing to election legislation that bans the donation of election funds by foreign states, companies, or individual citizens, the agency added. LF
MORNINGSTAR UPBEAT ON BAKU-CEYHAN
Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 16 December after talks with President Heidar Aliev, U.S. presidential envoy Richard Morningstar said that progress has been made on implementing plans for construction of an oil export pipeline from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan, Turan and Interfax reported. He predicted that that project will be implemented within five years, noting that some U.S. government agencies will provide funding toward the estimated $3.5 billion cost. Morningstar added that the U.S. considers the construction of Transcaspian oil and gas pipelines of similar importance. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan state oil company Vice President Ilham Aliyev has told journalists that at talks last week in Ankara between Turkish and Azerbaijani specialists, Turkey agreed to reduce tariffs for oil transported via the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to less than $3 per barrel, according to Turan on 16 December. LF
IRAN REJECTS AZERBAIJANI PROTEST OVER CASPIAN CONTRACT
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 16 December that Azerbaijan's protest over the 14 December contract signed between an Iranian and two Western oil companies "lacks a legal basis," Reuters reported, citing IRNA. In letters sent on 15 December to the governments of the four other Caspian littoral states and to the foreign oil companies involved, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry had protested the contract to conduct exploration in what Baku claims is its sector of the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 December 1998). LF
RUSSIAN AIR FORCE COMMANDER VISITS ARMENIA
Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov held meetings in Yerevan on 15-16 December with Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darpinian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The talks focused on military-technical cooperation and the development of the coordinated CIS air defense system, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 December. In January 1999, Armenia will join Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan as a member of that system. Five Russian MiG aircraft were flown to Armenia on 16 December to reinforce the air grouping at Russia's military base in that country. LF
SVERDLOVSK GOVERNOR SIGNS ECONOMIC AGREEMENTS IN TBILISI
Visiting Georgia on 16 December, Eduard Rossel signed agreements on the delivery to Georgia of medical equipment worth $600,000 and the purchase of Georgian wine and cognac worth twice that amount, ITAR-TASS reported. He further expressed an interest in Georgia's manganese deposits and production of copper concentrates. Rossel also met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Tbilisi Mayor Vano Zodelava, and Industry Minister Badri Shoshitaishvili. LF
GEORGIA RULES OUT HIKE IN BREAD PRICES
Two senior Georgian officials have pledged to keep bread prices stable, despite dwindling reserves of wheat and the sharp fall in value of the Georgian lari, Caucasus Press reported on 15 and 17 December. But bread supplies to thousands of Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia now living in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi have been halted as a result of a strike by local bakers demanding unpaid back wages. LF
SUPPORTERS OF DECEASED GEORGIAN PRESIDENT LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE
Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, widow of the deceased former president, and two supporters launched a hunger strike in Tbilisi on 15 December to demand the release of former parliamentary deputy Givi Taktakishvili, Interfax reported on 16 December. Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia said Taktakishvili was detained in Moscow on the orders of Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze. On 11 December, Gamsakhurdia's younger son, Giorgi, told journalists in Tbilisi that he had applied to join the Tbilisi city police force. LF
UKRAINE OPPOSES U.S., BRITISH STRIKES AGAINST IRAQ
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said on 17 December that it cannot agree with U.S. and British military strikes on Iraq and expresses regret over civilian casualties as a result of those strikes, Reuters reported. "Ukraine, which has consistently pronounced for resolving any conflict situations by peaceful political means, cannot agree with force methods of tackling this issue," the ministry said in a statement. The statement warns against "unpredictable consequences [of the strikes] for the region and whole world" and expresses the hope that the UN Security Council will do "whatever is possible to avoid further escalation of tension around Iraq." JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO STOP ENERGY SECTOR PRIVATIZATION...
The Supreme Council on 16 December gave preliminary approval to a resolution imposing a moratorium on the privatization of the energy sector, AP reported. The resolution orders the State Property Fund to stop selling energy companies until the parliament approves an appropriate law. Deputies argue that many government officials make illegal profits from energy privatization by selling stakes to companies linked to them. The parliament will take a final decision on the moratorium next week. JM
...HALTS TELECOMMUNICATIONS MONOPOLY PRIVATIZATION...
The previous day, the parliament rejected a government bill providing for the privatization of Ukrtelekom, Ukraine's telecommunications monopoly. Deputies argued that the bill violates the constitution and agreed to debate an alternative bill next week. Ukrtelekom and Ukraine's oil and gas pipeline network are widely believed to be the only state assets that could attract large-scale foreign investments into the country. According to Ukrtelekom officials, Ukraine could raise some $2.4 billion by selling a 25 percent stake in the company. JM
...GRANTS TAX BREAKS TO COMPLETE NUCLEAR REACTORS
Ukraine's legislature on 16 December approved three-year profit tax breaks for companies financing the completion of two nuclear reactors at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants. A legislator from the parliamentary Nuclear Safety Committee told AP that the reactors are 80 percent finished and the bill on tax breaks will allow construction to be completed within two years. Ukraine wants those reactors to compensate for the loss of electricity after the planned closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in 2000. JM
STRIKING MINERS SEEK TO STORM ADMINISTRATION BUILDING IN LUHANSK
Some 200 miners on 16 December attempted to storm a regional government building in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, after months of demonstrating outside that building to demand unpaid wages, AP reported. Police managed to stop the miners after they pushed down iron barriers in front of the building. The incident occurred two days after one of the protesting miners set himself on fire in Luhansk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1998). Ukraine's miners are owed more than 2 billion hryvni ($580 million) in back wages. JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SAYS NEW LOCAL ELECTION LAW UNDEMOCRATIC
Leading members of the Belarusian opposition have told RFE/RL that the new local election law is undemocratic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998). Barys Hyunter of the Belarusian Popular Front stressed that his organization is not going to participate in elections organized under the law passed by the "illegitimate Chamber of Representatives." Alyaksandr Dabravolski of the United Civic Party said the authorities are afraid of democratic elections and have done everything to ensure that opposition organizations do not participate in them. He added that the OSCE should revise its position with regard to official Minsk. The local election law bans candidates from running who have been prosecuted for participating in anti-government protest actions, thereby preventing many opposition members from taking part in the elections. JM
ESTONIAN LAWMAKERS DESIGNATE THERMAL POWER STATIONS 'STRATEGIC' COMPANIES
The parliament on 16 December voted by 34 to 30 to place the Eesti and Balti thermal power stations on the list of "strategic" companies that cannot be privatized without the parliament's approval, ETA reported. Aare Jarvan, economic adviser to Prime Minister Mart Siimann, called the decision an "unpleasant surprise." He argued that the move will mean additional expenses and will not serve to promote the privatization process, since, he said, lawmakers will "never carry out an effective discussion of a business or privatization plan." Proponents of the move argue that the power stations are of such importance that the state must retain control over their fate. JC
ESTONIA'S ECONOMY, TRANSPORT MINISTRIES TO MERGE
Prime Minister Siimann told journalists on 16 December that the government will approve merging the Economy and the Transport Ministries at the beginning of next year, ETA reported. Siimann acknowledged that the process is unlikely to be completed by the end of the present government's term. Both Economy Minister Jaak Leimann and Transport Minister Raivo Vare have supported the move. Leimann commented that he has always backed cutting administrative costs, adding that the Estonian government can manage with nine ministers and one prime minister. JC
LATVIA'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WILL NOT SUPPORT NEW MINISTERIAL CANDIDATES
Social Democrats' faction head Egils Baldzens told journalists on 16 December that his party will not support any new candidates for the posts of minister or state minister until the question of the Social Democrats' involvement in the government is solved, BNS reported. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans has proposed appointing a Social Democrat as agriculture minister, but the junior coalition Fatherland and Freedom party has opposed any Social Democratic involvement in the cabinet and has postponed taking a decision on the issue until late next month. One day earlier, President Guntis Ulmanis echoed Kristopans's recent statement denying that a government crisis is looming (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). "What I see now is not a government crisis, it is a debate between political forces," BNS quoted Ulmanis as telling journalists on his return from Denmark and Japan. JC
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL LAW ON OMBUDSMEN
Valdas Adamkus on 16 December signed a controversial law on parliamentary ombudsmen, BNS reported. Under the law, which was passed by the parliament earlier this month, five ombudsmen are to be appointed by the parliament for a four-year term to investigate citizens' complaints about bureaucracy and abuse of power in government, the administration, local government, and other institutions. They are not allowed , however, to investigate the activities of the president, premier, cabinet ministers, lawmakers, judges, and other officials. The opposition had appealed to the president not to sign the law, which they argue restricts the rights of ombudsmen because those officials are not allowed to fully investigate cases of abuse of power. JC
COMMUNIST-ERA POLISH PROSECUTORS STRIPPED OF RETIREMENT BONUSES
Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka has announced that 13 prosecutors who handed down unfair verdicts during the period 1944-1956 will have early retirement and special pension benefits withdrawn, PAP reported on 16 December. The decision follows a law passed by the parliament in August on prosecutors and judges who collaborated with Poland's Stalinist regime. The government is currently reviewing the files of some 2,500 retired judges and prosecutors to determine if there should be more prosecutions. The Justice Ministry has not revealed the names of the 13 prosecutors, who have two week in which to appeal Suchocka's decision. Even if they lose special benefits, they will still receive a regular pension. JM
POLISH PARLIAMENT ABOLISHES COMPULSORY SEX EDUCATION
The Polish parliament on 16 December voted by 219 to 175 with seven abstentions to amend a bill on family planning to eliminate a provision requiring high schools to offer a mandatory course entitled "Knowledge of Human Sexual Life." Under the amendment, the education minister will decide whether and what kind of sex education courses should be offered at any given school. Mandatory sex education in Poland was introduced by the former leftist government in 1996 but was never implemented because of political wrangling and administrative delays. JM
CZECH SENATE ELECTS NEW SPEAKER
Libuse Benesova, deputy chairwoman of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), has been narrowly elected as speaker of the Senate, AP reported on 16 December. Benesova was elected in a second round of voting, winning 40 out of the 79 valid votes cast. Outgoing speaker Petr Pithart of the Christian Democratic Party received 37 votes, after winning the first round by 37-36. Benesova's victory had been expected under the post-election agreement between the ODS and the ruling minority Social Democratic Party. MS
AILING HAVEL CANCELS SCHEDULE, POSTPONES HOLIDAY
President Vaclav Havel canceled his entire schedule this week and postponed leaving for a Christmas holiday abroad, after he was taken ill with a viral infection in the respiratory tract, presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek told journalists on 16 December. Spacek said the president will be treated at home and might begin his holiday next week. On 14 December, Havel canceled a meeting with visiting Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar. MS
SERBS ARREST THREE KOSOVARS IN BAR KILLINGS
Serbian police have arrested three ethnic Albanians in Peja in conjunction with the recent shooting in a bar that left six young Serbs dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998), AP reported on 17 December. Police are looking for another 11 suspects, most of whom are ethnic Albanian males between 18 and 29 years of age. The previous day, some 5,000 people attended a funeral service for the six, which news agencies described as emotional. Several thousand people attended a rally in Prishtina to protest the killings. In Prishtina, Adem Demaci, who is the political spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), denied that the guerrillas had anything to do with the killings, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Demaci added that the UCK does not engage in random shootings. PM
SERBIAN MEDIA BLAME U.S. IN KILLINGS
State-run media said on 16 December that the U.S. is the "biggest accomplice of the most monstrous crimes of the Albanian terrorists," in reference to the killings in Peja. Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic said that if "Albanian terrorism" goes unpunished, the "Serbian people will take their defense into their own hands," AP reported. Meanwhile in Washington, a State Department spokesman said that Serbian army and paramilitary police forces have "increased their presence" in several cities and on the Malisheva road in Kosova. U.S. civilian monitors have raised the issue with the Serbian authorities, which deny the reports. PM
NATO WARNS MILOSEVIC ON MONITORS' SAFETY
U.S. General Wesley Clark, who is NATO's supreme commander in Europe, told Reuters in Skopje on 16 December that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is "fully responsible for the safety of the [2,000 unarmed OSCE] verifiers. Should he not be able to fulfill those responsibilities, NATO knows what to do and how to do it," the general added. He noted that "you can be sure that NATO has all the required capabilities to accomplish its extraction mission under whatever conditions may arise." Elsewhere in the Macedonian capital, President Kiro Gligorov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, agreed that the only solution for Kosova is autonomy within Yugoslavia. Gligorov also called the situation in Kosova "complex and worrying." PM
U.S. CAUTIONS TUDJMAN ON THREATS TO SFOR
The State Department said in a statement on 16 December that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman was wrong to threaten to use force against NATO peacekeepers in the disputed Croatian-held, Bosnian border town of Martin Brod. The statement added that Tudjman's remarks on 14 December at the opening ceremony for the military academy in Zagreb prompted SFOR to "change its plans" but the State Department did not elaborate. The statement also accused Tudjman of engaging in "scare tactics for partisan political ends" when he told officers that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has prepared secret indictments "against you, against all of us." The tribunal has since denied Tudjman's claim. Tudjman also said that "no country in the world is as riddled with a network of agents as is Croatia," by which he was referring to journalists, diplomats, NGO representatives, and aid workers. Tudjman is well known for making ill-considered remarks. PM
MADRID CONFERENCE ENDS WITH DECLARATION
The two-day session of the Peace Implementation Council for Bosnia closed on 16 December with the "unanimous" adoption of a declaration, the international community's Carlos Westendorp said. The text stressed that Bosnia must increasingly assume responsibility for its own affairs and not expect to receive international aid money indefinitely, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The declaration called on Bosnians to implement changes aimed at promoting economic, administrative, police and judicial reform, as well as democratization. Westendorp told journalists that all refugees must be able to return home within two years. He also called for the two entities to develop joint institutions and take effective measures aimed at combating corruption. PM
POLICE END ALBANIAN STUDENTS' HUNGER STRIKE
Police broke up a hunger strike by some 100 students on Tirana's university campus on 17 December. The move came after a doctor discovered that one of the students was infected with hepatitis C, AP reported. The students were taken by police to the city's military hospital for medical treatment and were later released. Police then took some students back to the cities from which they had come to join the strike. The students denounced the police intervention and complained they had been beaten and insulted. An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the only reason for breaking up the strike was the discovery of the virus, and she denied that the move was politically motivated. The students began their hunger strike seven days ago, demanding better living conditions, larger stipends, and greater student autonomy. Meanwhile, Education Minister Ethem Ruka has said the government has met most of the students' demands. FS
ALBANIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR NEW PROTESTS
Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha has called for renewed street protests after prosecutors opened legal proceedings against him for an alleged coup attempt (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 16 December 1998). The prosecutors summoned Berisha for interrogation on 18 December, and Berisha told dpa that he will give them "an answer that they deserve." He did not elaborate. Democratic Party Secretary- General Genc Pollo told Reuters on 16 December that summoning Berisha as a defendant on armed uprising charges is "a clear act of political revenge intended to destabilize the country." Pollo added that "on 18 December, we shall witness the re-burial of Albanian justice, the re-burial of stability in Albania, and [the emergence of] further political divisions." The parliament lifted Berisha's immunity after Democratic Party supporters attacked government buildings on 14 September. Pollo, however, argued that Berisha still enjoys immunity as a former president. FS
ALBANIAN JUSTICE MINISTER WANTS AID TO REBUILD PRISONS
Thimio Kondi told Reuters on 16 December that Albania urgently needs more foreign aid to accommodate thousands of Albanian convicts waiting to return from jails abroad. Albania's seven jails were ransacked during civil unrest in 1997, when 1,300 prisoners escaped. The government has renovated six prisons that can house 780 prisoners. There are 460 prisoners in Albania, but the country is obliged to take back an additional 1,200 prisoners from Greece, 1,000 from Italy, and smaller numbers from other European countries. Prisons Director-General Gramoz Xhaferaj said that prison capacity will rise by 900 after the renovation of a Tirana jail in 1999 and of a prison in Lezha, with the help of EU assistance. Italy has also drafted a $7.29 million proposal for a new jail able to accommodate 350 prisoners. FS
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURE
The two chambers of the Romanian parliament, meeting in a joint session on 16 December, approved the restructuring of the government. The vote was 287 to 123. The Communication, Privatization, Reform, Tourism, and Research Ministries have been abolished, as has the post of minister in charge of relations with the parliament. The cabinet will be now made up of 17 ministers and the prime minister. The two chambers also approved the new board of the National Bank, extending the term of outgoing Governor Mugur Isarescu. Also on 16 December, the parliament approved the request of the Democratic Party to replace former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin as head of the Romanian delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly with Cristian Radulescu . Severin was expelled from the Democratic Party on 21 November. MS
POLICE DISPERSE ROMANIAN LABOR PROTEST
Police used force on 17 December to disperse some 200 miners from the Balan coal mine who had been staging a protest, Romanian state radio reported. The previous day, 1,200 miners from the same mine had interrupted rail and road traffic at Sandominic, bringing to a halt links between the provinces of Transylvania and Moldavia. They were protesting after electricity supplies to the mine were cut off because of an 83 billion lei (just less than $8.3 million) outstanding debt. And Trade and Industry Minister Radu Berceanu announced that nine mines in the Ploiesti region and the Jiu Valley will be shut down as of 21 December. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PRIVATIZATION OF TELEPHONE COMPANY...
The parliament on 16 December approved a plan to sell a 51 percent share in the state-owned telephone monopoly Moldtelcom to a "strategic investor." Moldtelcom is the largest state enterprise up for privatization in Moldova. An earlier plan for Moldtelcom's privatization, approved in July 1996, failed to materialize after the Greek OTE Telecom offered only $46.4 million. Under that plan, at least $210 million had to be offered for a 40 percent stake. The new plan, however, makes no mention of a minimum price, Infotag reported. Also on 16 December, President Petru Lucinschi appointed Iurii Kalev as transportation and communications minister. Kalev is a member of the coalition Party of Democratic Forces, as was his predecessor, Tudor Leanca, who was dismissed by Lucinschi on 12 November. MS
...AND OF ENERGY SECTOR
The parliament also approved in the first reading a bill providing for the privatization of energy sector enterprises. The bill envisages the sale of controlling stakes (50 percent plus one share) in three power and heating plants and 100 percent shares in five regional power distribution networks. The networks are to be privatized before the plants. MS
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BUDGET
The parliament on 16 December approved the 1999 budget, which envisages revenues of 4.5 trillion leva ($2.7 billion) and expenditures of 4.9 trillion leva, leaving a deficit of some 400 billion leva or 2.8 percent of GDP. It also foresees a 3.7 percent rise in GDP, while inflation is estimated at 6.6 percent, AP reported. MS
BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES PREPARE FOR FALL LOCAL ELECTIONS...
The Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (BSDP) and the United Labor Bloc (OLB) have signed an agreement to set up an alliance called the Social Democracy Union, BTA reported on 16 December. BSDP honorary chairman Petar Dertliev said the agreement marks "a new beginning for big social democracy" in Bulgaria, adding that the alliance is a first stage in a process that will eventually include the Euroleft party. OLB chairman Hristo Petkov said the new alliance is holding talks with the Liberal Democratic Union (LDS), with which it envisages cooperating in the fall 1999 elections. MS
...WHILE ETHNIC TURKISH PARTY SAYS NO COOPERATION WITH RULING ALLIANCE
Social Democracy Union leaders also met with Movement of Rights and Freedoms leader Ahmed Dogan and New Choice Liberal Union leader Dimitar Ludzhev to discuss possible cooperation. Both these parties are members of the LDS alliance. Dogan said the LDS is likely to sign a "pragmatic cooperation" agreement with the new alliance. But he ruled out any possibility of cooperation with the ruling Union of Democratic Forces, BTA reported. MS
KOSOVA: NO SURE SOLUTION IN SIGHT
by Patrick Moore
Kosova still awaits a political settlement that will guarantee its more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian population their basic rights in accordance with the principles of self- determination and majority rule. The key to solving the problem lies in Serbia, where the difficulties began with the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic more than one decade ago.
The Serbian leader built his initial political success on an anti-Kosovar platform, to which he put the final touches in 1989 by abolishing the broad autonomy that the province had enjoyed under the 1974 constitution. The Kosovars responded by setting up a shadow state headed by the moderate and writer Ibrahim Rugova. Milosevic, for his part, turned his attention first toward trying to take control of Yugoslavia and--after the Slovenes, Croats, and others had stymied that attempt--toward establishing a greater Serbia at the expense of Croatia and Bosnia.
Nine years later, Milosevic's plans for a greater Serbia lay in ruins, and tens of thousands of Serbs from Krajina and Bosnia had become impoverished refugees. But in February 1998, the Yugoslav president launched a new campaign aimed at destroying the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), which had grown increasingly bold in the scope and nature of its guerrilla activities during the previous year.
Milosevic used the same techniques in Kosova as Serbian forces had honed in Croatia and Bosnia. Led by his paramilitary police and with support from the army and irregular forces, the crackdown involved the shelling, burning, and looting of Kosovar villages and towns. Some 250,000 people--including Serbian and Montenegrin victims of the UCK--became displaced persons in Kosova or refugees in Albania, Montenegro, or elsewhere.
By mid-October, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke succeeded in brokering a deal that led to a cease-fire and paved the way for a political settlement. Soon thereafter, some 2,000 unarmed civilians began arriving in Kosova under a mandate from the OSCE to monitor the uneasy truce. In neighboring Macedonia, a 1,700-strong French-led NATO rapid reaction force began assembling in order to evacuate the monitors if they ran into danger. But by then it had become clear that fighting between the Serbian forces and the UCK would most likely resume in the spring and that a political settlement would prove elusive.
The difficulty in achieving a settlement stems from the fact that Serbian and Kosovar goals are essentially incompatible. Although few Serbs have visited Kosova, most have a sentimental attachment to it as the cradle of medieval Serbian civilization. They oppose independence or even broad autonomy for the ethnic Albanian majority, between whom and the Serbs little love is lost. Following the agreement with Holbrooke, the Milosevic government produced a plan that offered autonomy but at the local--rather than at the provincial--level and accorded equal political representation to all ethnic groups, regardless of their size. The plan firmly anchored Kosova in the Serbian legal structure and gave the Serbian parliament the last word in the province's affairs.
This was clearly unacceptable to moderate Kosovars loyal to Rugova and to the UCK alike. The Kosovars insisted on provincial self-determination in accordance with the principle of majority rule. At the very least, they would accept the status of a third republic--along with Serbia and Montenegro--within federal Yugoslavia, but only as part of an interim solution that would include a referendum on independence after two to three years.
At the end of 1998, Washington began to reassess its view of Milosevic. Whereas Holbrooke had described him as the only man in Serbia who could make any agreement stick, State Department spokesman James Rubin identified him in early December as "the problem." Washington has increasingly come to believe that the solution to the problem in Kosova lies not in any new deals with Milosevic but rather in the democratization of Serbia.
Several U.S. officials and commentators have suggested that this goal could be promoted by supporting Serbia's harried independent media and the development of a civil society. The international community could provide scholarships for students and invite opposition and independent Serbs to international conferences. Strong political and economic support, moreover, could be given to the independent-minded leadership of Montenegro, those U.S. officials and commentators added.
Some observers have argued in the international and regional media that Serbia is ready for change because of its growing isolation and poverty. They noted that Milosevic recently fired some key advisers and top military commanders, which, they argued, suggests that he has become increasingly nervous and unsure about what to do.
But other observers have pointed out that there is no readily discernible alternative to Milosevic among opposition politicians, who are given to in-fighting and opportunism. They suggest that the most likely effective opposition to Milosevic might come from within the governing elite or the army--for example, General Momcilo Perisic, whom Milosevic recently sacked as army chief of staff. But whether such individuals would prove to be significantly better democrats than Milosevic is anyone's guess.