Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 13, 1999


In a 12-minute televised national address on 10 April, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov defended his government's record, responding directly to Yeltsin's comment the previous day that "today, Primakov is useful, tomorrow we'll see." He claimed that in the last seven months, his government has paid off all debts to state workers, reduced inflation from 11 percent in December to 2.8 percent in March, and limited the growth of the value of the dollar to only five rubles in the past seven months. He also repeated that he has "no ambitions or desire to participate in presidential elections," adding that he is "not clinging to the office of prime minister, especially when a time frame for my work is being set. Today, I am useful, tomorrow we'll see." JAC


President Yeltsin responded to Primakov's address, according to "Kommersant Daily" on 13 April, by making decisive pronouncements about economic policy and openly criticizing the government's budget policy in his budget message issued the previous day. Specifically, Yeltsin suggested that the number of regions receiving federal money should be drastically reduced, and Moscow should instead concentrate on funding those regions that really require financial assistance. The president added that it was necessary to fine-tune the mechanism for restructuring debts owed to the federal budget with the aim of eventually liquidating them. JAC


After President Boris Yeltsin publicly asked the State Duma to either hold impeachment hearings as scheduled or drop them altogether, leaders of the various Duma factions voted on 12 April to postpone them. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told reporters that the Duma will decide when to hold the vote after deputies resolve procedural questions related to the impeachment process, such as whether or not to hold an open vote. The Communists and other leftist factions favor an open vote. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that the vote will most likely take place after the 1 May and 9 May holidays. JAC


An IMF spokesperson told RFE/RL's Washington bureau on 12 April that it has advised the Russian government to remove constraints to trading on its foreign exchange market. Interfax reported that the fund objected in particular to a Central Bank (CB) order banning foreign banks from using money in their correspondent accounts in Russian banks to buy hard currency. The order was part of a recent series of measures by the CB to help stabilize the ruble's exchange rate. The CB also revoked the rights of Russian banks to buy U.S. dollars during the special morning currency trading session. In the fall, the fund objected to the creation of the special trading sessions, but Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko at the time said that the measure was only temporary and would be discontinued as soon as possible. JAC


Russia is "continuing to consider" the possibility of admitting Yugoslavia to the Union of Belarus and Russia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladmir Rakhmanin said on 12 April. The previous day, Yugoslavia's ambassador to Russia, Borislav Milosevic, submitted a letter from his brother, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, reportedly requesting Yugoslavia's admission to the union. However, "diplomatic sources" told Interfax that the letter did not contain a formal request and expressed only Milosevic's "profound satisfaction" with Yeltsin's position on Yugoslavia's possible admission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1999). Yeltsin instructed the Foreign Ministry to hold consultations with Belarus about the possibility of admitting Yugoslavia into the union, according to ITAR- TASS, but the issue was not on the agenda of the union's Executive Committee meeting scheduled for 13 April in Minsk. Both Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov have suggested that an expanded confederation should be considered only after air strikes have ended. (See related Belarusian and Yugoslav stories in Part II.) JAC


Two U.S. farm equipment manufacturers, John Deere and the Case Corporation, are planning to invest about $400 million in Russia and establishing farm equipment leasing enterprises, Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told Interfax on 12 April. According to Kulik, John Deere will invest $200 million in Rostelmash in the Rostov Oblast and Case will invest $200 million in Kirov Works in St. Petersburg. They will raise an additional $2 billion from U.S. investment banks, Kulik said. Local Rostov-on-the-Don newspaper "Gorod N" reported on 24 March that the companies' projects were to be a top item on the agenda of Prime Minister Primakov's meeting with U.S. Vice President Al Gore that was cancelled after NATO air strikes appeared imminent. It also said that John Deere wanted to reach an agreement with the Russian government before its plans with Rostelmash could go forward. JAC


Inflation soared in 1998, rising to 84.4 percent compared with just 11.8 percent in 1997, according to a Finance Ministry report. GDP slipped 4.6 percent last year, while industrial production slumped 5.2 percent. Exports dropped to 87 percent of the previous year's level, while imports contracted 15.1 percent. Meanwhile, Russia's foreign debt exceeded GDP in 1998 by 18.7 percent and its domestic debt by 19.4 percent, "Segodnya" reported on 9 April. JAC


Several Russian insurance companies have hiked insurance rates for Russian airlines because they fear that domestic carriers have inadequately prepared their computers systems for the transition to the year 2000, Viktor Gorlov, deputy director of the Federal Aviation Service told Interfax on 11 April. According to "Segodnya," Gorlov said that all airlines which do not fulfill the demands of the aviation service with regard to preparing for 2000 will lose their license. However, he admitted that the aviation service itself did not have enough resources to test all the airlines' systems before 31 December. JAC


Two former cosmonauts who are now Duma deputies, Vitalii Sevastyanov and German Titov, made a public appeal for donations to keep the space station "Mir" in orbit, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 April. Sevastyanov, a member of the Communist party, blasted the U.S. for its efforts to push Russia into abandoning "Mir" and concentrating on the "International Space Station," the daily reported. Earlier, a Canadian citizen of Russian origin donated $100,000 for the station, according to a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency. The previous day, agency Director Yurii Koptev told reporters that extra-budgetary sources for financing "Mir" must be found before mid-May, Interfax reported. JAC


Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov intends to enter orbit as a member of a Russian space crew in 2001, Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 April. According to Ayatskov, he has already reached an agreement with the Russian Space Agency about his participation on a launch planned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first space flight. Ayatskov, who is known for his abrupt shifts in opinion, keeps a crocodile in his office, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 March. JAC


The meeting of the defense ministers of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, scheduled to take place in Moscow on 14-15 April, has been cancelled, Interfax reported on 12 April quoting an unidentified Russian Defense Ministry official. ITAR-TASS on 13 April reported that Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian had decided not to travel to Moscow for the meeting because his counterpart from Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Altynbaev, would not be attending. The Moscow meeting was to have focused on border security. LF


In an uncharacteristically politicized and harshly worded address to parliament on 12 April, Armen Darpinian criticized opposition deputies for their ongoing campaign to reverse the increase in electricity charges that took effect in January of this year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian accused "forces supporting the former authorities" of trying to sabotage his government's policy of economic liberalization to gain political capital. The parliament voted on 15 March to reduce energy tariffs, with deputies from the pro-government Yerkrapah majority group declining to oppose the motion for fear of alienating voters in the runup to the 30 May parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). At that time, presidential press spokesman Vahe Gabrielian said that President Robert Kocharian will veto the bill if parliament passes it in the second and final reading. LF


In his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 12 April, Eduard Shevardnadze argued that the conflict in Kosova is the direct consequence of indifference to genocide and ethnic cleansing, and demonstrates the dangers inherent in "freezing" conflicts rather than actively seeking to resolve them, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. For that reason, Shevardnadze continued, all those countries engaged in seeking to mediate a solution to the Abkhaz conflict should step up their efforts to do so. Russia in particular, Shevardnadze said, has "a unique chance" to end the deadlock. Shevardnadze added that at the Washington NATO summit later this month he intends to stress the need for new international security guarantees that would preclude a repetition of the war in Yugoslavia, which he attributed to the UN Security Council's failure to resort to peace enforcement mechanisms at an earlier stage. LF


Nurlan Balghymbaev visited Tehran on 10-11 April in preparation for the meeting between the two countries' presidents scheduled for this fall, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 April. Balghymbaev met with Vice President Hasan Habibi and President Mohammad Khatami, whom he presented with the Kazakh text of the treaty on trade and economic cooperation that is to be signed at the summit. Balghymbaev signed five intergovernmental trade agreements, including one on renewing the suspended export, via Iran, of oil from Kazakhstan. The two sides also discussed their diverging views on the status of the Caspian Sea and the prospects for routing export pipelines for oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan via Iran. LF


President Askar Akaev named the governor of Osh oblast, 52-year-old Amangeldi Muraliev, as premier on 12 April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. MurAliyev graduated from the Frunze Polytechnical Institute in 1967 and in the 1980s served as director of several industrial plants in that city, of which he was appointed mayor in 1986. Since 1991, MurAliyev has served as state secretary for economics, minister of finance, chairman of the state property fund, and vice prime minister for industry. He was appointed Osh oblast governor three years ago and was named acting premier last week following the death of Djumabek Ibraimov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). The upper chamber of parliament must approve Muraliev's appointment at its next session, which begins on 20 April. LF


Following a government meeting on 10 April to review implementation of the budget during the first quarter, President Imomali Rakhmonov fired five senior officials including State Customs Committee head Rahim Karimov, Interfax and AP-Blitz reported on 12 April. Karimov is a member of the United Tajik Opposition, which under the 1997 peace agreement was granted the right to nominate 30 percent of senior government personnel. The five were accused of financial laxness, including failure to ensure tax collection. On the same day, Rakhmonov also dismissed the chairmen of the Jabbor-Rasulov and Beshkent regions. LF


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is planning to visit Yugoslavia on 14 April, following an invitation from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Foreign Minister Ural Latypau said on 13 April that Lukashenka will "discuss political settlement of the conflict, sending aid, as well as Yugoslavia's desire to join the [Belarus-Russia] union. The union cannot be made too quickly, it requires a lot of time," Reuters quoted him as saying. Lukashenka has so far not commented on Yugoslavia's vote to join the Union of Belarus and Russia (UBR). The issue of Yugoslavia's admission to the UBR has not been put on the agenda of a UBR Executive Committee session in Minsk on 13 April. (See related Russian and Yugoslav stories). JM


The authorities have intensified pressure on territorial electoral commissions that are preparing for the opposition presidential elections set for 16 May, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to RFE/RL correspondents, the regional KGB directorates and prosecutor's offices have begun to summon electoral commission members for interrogations "on a large scale." According to Barys Hyunter, secretary of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, the authorities are looking to accuse commission head Viktar Hanchar of a "plot to seize power" after they had failed to charge him with "usurping official position. As far as I know, no commission member has been forced into signing a refusal to participate in his commission," Hyunter said. JM


A U.S. immigration court on 12 April began hearing a request for asylum from former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, Reuters reported. The hearings are being held behind closed doors and no details have been made available to the public. Last week in Kyiv, Lazarenko's lawyer said his client has every reason to expect that Washington will heed his plea for asylum. "Lazarenko's life would be in danger in Ukraine," the lawyer added. Lazarenko maintains that the charges of misappropriating more than $2 million worth of state property in Ukraine and of money laundering in Switzerland are politically motivated. "Criminal investigations [against me] in Ukraine and Switzerland are part of a politically motivated plot to repress opposition," Lazarenko reiterated in a recent statement. JM


Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans issued a statement on 12 April urging his cabinet ministers to "refrain from any negative comments on Latvia's integration into the EU," LETA reported. "Each remark or commentary by ministers is perceived as a political signal by foreign embassies in Latvia," Kristopans commented. Interior Minister Roberts Jurdzs told the news agency that he interprets the statement as a "political announcement" aimed at stanching the flow of recent reports about the government's instability. Kristopans has suggested that the intention of such reports is to block Latvia's integration into the EU. JC


Latvia's Naturalization Department press secretary, Aigars Smiltnieks, told LETA on 12 April that a record 842 people received Latvian citizenship last month--125 of whom were children. From February 1995 until the end of last year, an average of 250 people had received citizenship each month, of whom 20-25 were children. Smiltnieks also noted that his department received a record 1,481 applications for citizenship in March. With regard to the 19,000 children of non-citizens who were born after 21 August 1991, he noted that only 44 persons have registered their children for Latvian citizenship since the amendments to the citizenship law took effect earlier this year. Under those amendments, such children are virtually automatically granted citizenship if their parents request it. JC


Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has sent a letter to Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius requesting that the latter explain "immediately on what grounds you are restricting my constitutional rights to keep in touch with state officials and receive all necessary information," ELTA reported on 12 April. The letter comes after Customs Department director Stasys Stazys failed to attend a 12 April meeting convened by the president to discuss customs issues. Nor did the customs chief offer an explanation for his absence. Instead, he took part in a gathering at the prime minister's office to discuss the same topic. According to the news agency, Stazys had told presidency staff last week that he was "eager" to attend the presidential meeting but had to receive the "government's blessing" first. JC


The Lithuanian State Defense Council on 12 April approved the U.S.-based Williams company's request to acquire an additional 33 percent stake in the Mazeikiu Nafta complex, ELTA reported. It already owns one-third of the company. Lithuanian Economy Minister Vincas Babilius said after the meeting, which President Adamkus chaired, that the council has asked the government to continue talks with Williams, saying that the company's additional investments in the national economy are "a political issue, therefore the strategic interests of the nation must be assessed as well." JC


The ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) wants the AWS-recommended officials in the government to resign their posts after their declarations denying collaboration with the Communist-era secret services have been questioned and passed to the Lustration Court for scrutiny. According to the AWS, if the court confirms that those officials have not collaborated, they may resume their posts. Under Poland's lustration law, the lustration declarations are examined by the lustration prosecutor, who may pass questionable declarations to the Lustration Court for a final verdict. If an official is found guilty of lying in his/her lustration statement, that person will be forbidden from holding public office for ten years. According to "Rzeczpospolita" and "Gazeta Wyborcza," none of the 23,000 lustration statements have so far been sent to the court for scrutiny. JM


Vaclav Havel, speaking on television on 12 April after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, said that NATO has doubts whether the alliance should be further enlarged after experiencing "contradictory signals" from the Czech Republic on the Kosova conflict, CTK reported. Havel said his information comes from "outstanding sources." He also said that the position on the conflict taken by some politicians "deprives them of the right to contribute to diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing peace to Kosova." But Albright, also on Czech television, praised the Prague government for its role aimed at "harmonizing" alliance attitudes on the conflict and said the Czechs can "serve as an example" to countries not yet admitted to NATO through their "central role" in the conflict. MS


Foreign Minister Kavan on 12 April told CTK that the Czech government approves the statement released on the same day by NATO's foreign ministers at their meeting in Brussels. Kavan said that possible ground operations in Yugoslavia "were not on the agenda" of the meeting. The statement speaks of sending peacekeepers to Kosova only after a political agreement has been reached, he said, and this reflects the Czech cabinet's position and means that Belgrade must approve of the peacekeepers' presence. He added that a ministerial team headed by Deputy Premier Egon Lansky is preparing a document on humanitarian aid to Kosova refugees. MS


Jan Slota, leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS), said on 12 April that he was optimistic about his chances to reach the runoff in the presidential elections, whose first round is scheduled for 15 May. Slota said that if he advances to the runoff, he believes he could "come to an agreement" with Movement for a Democratic Slovakia leader Vladimir Meciar and secure his backing, CTK reported. If he fails to reach the runoff, the SNS will "support a pro- Slovak politician," and that is Meciar, Slota said. MS


Also on 12 April, former President Michal Kovac said he had never collaborated with the former Czechoslovak communist secret police and called on all other presidential candidates to declare whether they had done so, CTK reported. Kovac also rejected any comparison between himself and the ruling coalition candidate, Rudolf Schuster, because of their communist past. Kovac said that while he was a supporter of Alexander Dubcek and was demoted to a minor banking clerk position, Schuster occupied important positions in the party in the 1980s and was the last communist chairman of the Slovak parliament in November 1989. Meanwhile Schuster, who is leading in the polls, said in Warsaw that he is convinced Meciar will not win the elections, but if he did Slovakia's access to the EU and NATO "will definitely be closed." MS


An Interior Ministry official on 12 April told CTK that Slovakia can accept "thousands" of Kosovar refugees. Jan Michalko said some of these refugees may be granted political asylum after their temporary stay permits expire. MS


Following intensive talks between Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and Russian Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu in Budapest, the Russian convoy carrying aid shipment to Yugoslavia on 12 April was allowed to enter Hungary, Hungarian media reported. Five armored trucks were returned to Ukraine and only four of the eight gasoline tankers were allowed to travel with the convoy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 1999). Russia's presidential deputy chief of staff, Sergei Prikhodko, cited by ITAR-TASS, said that despite the settling of the dispute, Moscow "will draw very serious conclusions from Budapest's actions." He said Hungary had not acted "independently" or "freely." Shoigu said before returning to Moscow that Hungary had consulted with NATO before blocking the convoy's passage. MSZ/MS


Over 2,000 Kosovars arrived at the makeshift refugee camp at Blace on 13 April. The previous day, Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev said in Skopje that the government is concerned about delays in the evacuation to third countries of refugees already in Macedonia. Sadako Ogata, who is the UN high commissioner for refugees, recently asked Australia, Canada, and the U.S. to postpone plans to take in refugees lest the Kosovars find themselves too far from their homeland. Macedonia is currently home to over 100,000 Kosovars, some 60,000 of whom are staying with families. In Lojane, each house in the village of 2,000 hosts some 10 to 30 Kosovars, Reuters reported. Meanwhile at Radusa, a spokesman for the OSCE's William Walker referred to the local camp as a "concentration camp." Women residents spoke of frequent harassment by Macedonian guards, AP reported. PM


In Washington, a study prepared for the House of Representatives warned that a continuing influx of refugees could destabilize Macedonia. The paper added that the small but militant Serbian minority poses a lasting threat to U.S. troops there, Reuters noted on 12 April. Elsewhere, President Kiro Gligorov told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic poses a danger both for Serbia and for the entire Balkan region. Gligorov stressed that Serbia is the only Balkan country that has not begun a process of democratization and economic reform. PM


More than 3,000 Kosovar refugees arrived in the Albanian town of Kukes on 13 April, an OSCE official told Reuters. The official said the refugees came from Prishtina and Prizren. It was the biggest influx in three days and brings the total number of refugees in Albania to 310,000. Private families have put up about half of them. With foreign assistance, the Albanian authorities have so far built 24 refugee camps with space for a total of 31,000 people. Another 10 camps with a total capacity of 58,000 are currently under construction. FS


A battle between Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) guerrillas and Serbian forces entered its fourth day near Tropoja on 12 April. The Yugoslav army fired mortars at the village, Reuters reported. Serbian state television claimed that its forces killed 150 UCK fighters. The report could not be independently confirmed. Albanian and French army helicopters evacuated six wounded UCK fighters and one journalist to the Tirana military hospital. Meanwhile, Serbian troops began torching three villages inside Kosova near Prizren on the night of 12 April. The burning appeared to be part of a Serbian campaign to prevent Kosovars from returning. Refugees had earlier described the villages as "ghost towns" after Serbian forces had expelled the population. Some refugees reported seeing corpses sprawled along the roadside in these areas. Elsewhere, "Der Spiegel" summarized dozens of interviews with refugees from throughout Kosova, which suggest that Serbian forces frequently carry out killings, often in a sadistic fashion. FS


Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told the BBC on 12 April that "NATO is a guarantee for our sovereignty [and] territorial integrity." He accused Milosevic of trying to "destabilize" Albania. The same day, French and U.S. helicopters and troops arrived in Albania as the first part of NATO's 8,000-strong Allied Harbor mission to help aid agencies cope with the influx of refugees. A French army spokesman told Reuters that "the purpose of Operation Allied Harbor will be to coordinate NATO's military assistance to the government of Albania and to international organizations to help alleviate the suffering" of the refugees. FS


NATO aircraft hit oil refineries in Pancevo and Novi Sad on 12 April as part of a campaign to slow Milosevic's war machine by denying it oil and gasoline. Serbian authorities said that a passenger train was hit, killing nine and wounding 16. A NATO spokesman said in Brussels that the Atlantic alliance does not deliberately target trains but added that it does hit transportation and communications infrastructure that has military uses. PM


Foreign ministers of the Atlantic alliance's 19 member states agreed in Brussels on 12 April that air strikes will continue until Milosevic agrees to meet NATO's five demands. These are that he stop the killings and expulsions, withdraw his forces, permit international peacekeepers in the province, allow refugees and displaced persons to go home, and accept the Rambouillet accords, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. The ministers warned Milosevic against attempting to destabilize Macedonia, Albania, or Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The ministers also discussed ways in which Russia might be brought into an eventual peacekeeping force. Britain's Robin Cook said in London on 13 April: "We would hope that together [NATO and Russia] might be able to make progress in getting Belgrade to recognize that the world is not going to let them get away with ethnic cleansing" in Kosova. PM


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discussed the crisis in Kosova on 12 April in Brussels with her counterparts from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovenia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. She reaffirmed the international community's interest in regional stability and pledged support for those countries taking in Kosovar refugees. Albright also stressed that she will do "all in her power" to support the "democratic government in Montenegro" and prevent efforts to destabilize it. She turned down a request from the UCK for anti-tank weapons, saying that Washington supports the arms embargo against Yugoslavia. PM


Deputy speaker of parliament Predrag Popovic reminded reporters in Podgorica on 12 April that the Montenegrin government does not recognize the legitimacy of the federal authorities in Belgrade. He added that Podgorica accordingly rejects the federal parliament's decision to seek admission to the Union of Belarus and Russia (see stories in Part I and above). Social Democratic leader Zarko Rakcevic said that Milosevic is trying to give "false hope" to Serbs through what he portrays as an alliance with Russia. Rakcevic said that Montenegro is more interested in joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program and the EU than in "linking up with ultranationalists." He stressed that Russia and Montenegro need to base their cooperation on concrete economic and cultural programs rather on "myths and Orthodox fundamentalism," AP reported. Observers note that Montenegrins are traditionally known for their Russophile sentiments. PM


Petrasin Kasalica, who is the chief administrator of the Montenegrin port of Bar, told the Yugoslav Navy Command in a letter on 12 April to withdraw its vessels from that port immediately. He stressed that a gunboat recently acted "provocatively" by firing on NATO aircraft. Kasalica called the incident "a clear breach of trust and abuse of our friendship and hospitality." He added that "under the present circumstances, the port of Bar does not need the protection of the Yugoslav Navy," Reuters reported. PM


The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia opened proceedings on 12 April against Croats Dario Kordic and Mario Cerkez for war crimes against Muslims in central Bosnia during the 1993- 1994 internecine war. The two men turned themselves in to the court in 1997. PM


Bosnian Federal Industry and Mining Minister Mirsad Salkic said in Sarajevo on 12 April that Bosnia has now lost recently restored economic links to Serbian companies. He added that NATO's closure of Bosnian air space to civilian traffic is also costing airports and local carriers dearly, Reuters reported. PM


The IMF's chief negotiator for Romania, Emmanuel Zervoudakis, met in Bucharest on 12 April with Transportation Minister Traian Basescu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. An IMF team of experts has been in Bucharest since last week. Basescu said the meeting aimed at bringing in line the envisaged standby accord with the IMF with the $300 million World Bank loan agreed to in March. He said the fund will grant a much larger loan if the negotiations are successful. In June, Romania must service some $900 million of its foreign debt and its capability to do so depends on the outcome of the negotiations with the fund. Zervoudakis said after a first round of February-March negotiations in Bucharest that "some progress" had been made but not sufficient to meet IMF conditions for renewing loans. MS


Andrei Plesu said in an interview on 12 April with Romanian state radio that it is "premature" to discuss which position Romania will adopt in the event that NATO launches a ground attack on Yugoslavia. Plesu said Romania has not been "even vaguely approached" on the matter by NATO and that the position "in any case rests with the parliament alone." Plesu also said Bucharest will not diverge from its decision to not "become directly involved" in military operations. European Integration Minister Alexandru Herlea on the same day said Milosevic, "just like Ceausescu, embodies [a] political mixture between communism and nazism," Mediafax reported. MS


The Moldovan customs authorities on 9 April detained in Chisinau a Ukrainian "Air Alliance" AN-26 cargo plane secretly transporting 5,000 Hungarian-made pistols bound for Yemen, via Sofia, Infotag and Reuters reported the same day. The plane, which originated in Budapest, landed in Chisinau due to technical problems. The crew provided documentation claiming the plane was transporting oil exploration equipment. On 12 March, a Ukrainian plane belonging to the "Air City" company was detained in Chisinau on route to Yemen, upon suspicion that it was transporting cartridge- cases. That plane was allowed to take off following the intervention of the Ukrainian embassy. "Air City" said it will sue for damages. MS


By Liz Fuller

Addressing both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament on 31 March, President Nursultan Nazarbaev sought to reassure those Western critics who had interpreted the January 1999 pre-term presidential election as a step backwards on the road to democratization.

In that poll, which was not due until December 2000, Nazarbaev was re-elected with 79.8 percent of the vote. The one politician who might have posed a serious challenge to Nazarbaev, former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was barred from participating on a legal technicality.

The OSCE registered its displeasure at the less than democratic conduct of the election campaign by declining to send a fully-fledged monitoring mission. It subsequently issued a statement describing the election as falling far short of international standards.

In his 31 March address, Nazarbaev acknowledged that "our friends in the West ... are impatient, they want us to speed up the pace of democratization." But he made it clear that he considered a gradual transition to greater political freedom more appropriate.

Nazarbaev told deputies that elections to the lower house of parliament will take place as scheduled in October 1999. Some observers had predicted that the date would be brought forward in order to deprive opposition parties of the opportunity to prepare their respective campaigns.

Nazarbaev added that the parliament will soon adopt a new election law, together with new legislation on the role and duties of the president, the government, and the parliament, and the conduct of referenda. At present, Kazakhstan has no election law. Previous polls, including the 1999 presidential election, were conducted in accordance with procedures set out in presidential decrees, which have the force of law.

Opposition politicians, including Kazhegeldin, Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin and Seydakhmet Quttyqadam, the chairman of the Orleu political movement, had addressed an open letter to the parliament in March criticizing those presidential decrees on the conduct of elections as imposing "totalitarian control over the electoral system." They demanded the enacting of a new law that would ensure that both the parliamentary poll and municipal elections due this fall will be "truly democratic."

Nazarbaev indicated that under the new election legislation, the number of seats in the lower house will be increased from 67 to 77, of which ten will be allocated under the proportional system. (He did not stipulate whether political parties would have to poll a minimum percentage of the vote in order to qualify for representation under that system.) Nazarbaev also said that the new election law simplifies the registration process for parties and individual candidates, and cuts by half the registration fee for parliamentary candidates.

But the new election law apparently does not meet one key opposition demand, namely that in the future the governors of Kazakhstan's 14 oblasts should be elected rather than appointed by the president. Nazarbaev objected that such elections could undermine "social and economic stability." That argument is valid insofar as a poll of some 2,000 citizens of Kazakhstan conducted in the summer of 1997 indicated that people are more inclined to blame local administrators for social and economic problems than either the national government or the president. In a free election, voters might therefore reject the present governors, who were selected for their personal loyalty to the president.

But at the same time, Nazarbaev made it clear that he intends to increase the responsibility of the oblast governors for the social and economic well-being of a population that appears to many outsiders to be increasingly embittered and alienated at the continuing deterioration of its standard of living. Nazarbaev warned, for example, that if governors fail to ensure that wages and pensions are paid on time, their own staff will receive their salaries only after a similar delay.

Nazarbaev's cautious approach to democratization is just one aspect of his talent for strategic thinking. In his "Kazakhstan -- 2030. Upswing, Security, and Permanent Prosperity for All Citizens of Kazakhstan" program unveiled in October 1997, Nazarbaev made it clear that he considers preserving domestic political stability and the country's territorial integrity, creating a professional government apparatus and moving to stamp out corruption as necessary preconditions for broad-based economic development that will improve the living standard of the population at large. Democratization did not figure among the seven key priorities outlined in that program.

But Nazarbaev is equally skilled as a tactician. One year later, in October 1998, when the international community was already focusing on the presidential election campaign, he presented an amended list of "Five Keys" to Kazakhstan's prosperity in the 21st century, which included democratization and media freedom.

How far, and how fast, Kazakhstan moves towards democratization will depend to a large extent on the new legislation on the various branches of power, and, assuming that its powers are increased under that legislation, the composition of the new parliament. It is unlikely, however, that Nazarbaev will forfeit his prerogative of suspending the country's cautious progress towards democratization in the interests of preempting social upheaval.