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Newsline - July 7, 1999


NATO and Russian officials agreed in Moscow on 5 July on the details of Russia's role in the Kosova peacekeeping force (KFOR). An RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported from Brussels on 6 July that according to that agreement 2,850 Russian troops will be deployed in the French, U.S., and German sectors of Kosova and 750 at the airfield of Prishtina. A small number of Russian soldiers will operate a logistical base in Fushe Kosova in the British sector. One or two Russian battalions will be deployed in the U.S. sector in Kamenica, one in the German sector near Maliseva, and one battalion in the French sector. NATO turned down Russian demands to have a corridor under their control linking the German and French sectors via Peja in the Italian sector. NATO agreed, however, to increase the Russian presence in the German sector to 1,000 troops. FS


The Russian and NATO officials agreed that the Russian contingents will be under the "tactical control" of the overall KFOR commander and the commanders in the respective sectors. Each link in the chain of command will include one of 16 Russian liaison officers. Furthermore, the Russian commanders have the right to turn down NATO orders, if they conflict with orders from Moscow. Russia will return its permanent military representative to NATO's military command headquarters in Mons, Belgium, whom Moscow withdrew to protest NATO's bombing campaign of targets in Yugoslavia. NATO and Russian troops will jointly operate the Prishtina airport. NATO will appoint the chief of air traffic control and Russia the chief of ground operations. NATO engineer units will help in the reconstruction of the airport, which will later also handle humanitarian and commercial air traffic. FS


Nine Russian planes brought 300 peacekeepers and 25 tons of equipment into Prishtina on 6 and 7 July, increasing the total number of Russian troops there to 1,000. The Moscow agreement paved the way for the arrival of the troops. Earlier, in response to a NATO request, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria had declined to provide air corridors to Russian military planes. Romania and Hungary, however, gave the green light to the flights following the Moscow agreement. Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov said that the Bulgarian parliament will decide about providing an air corridor on 7 July. FS


President Boris Yeltsin on 6 July signed a decree establishing a Ministry for Press, Television and Radio Broadcasting, and Mass Communications, which is to absorb the State Press Committee and the Federal Service for Television and Radio Broadcasting. The new ministry will be headed by Mikhail Lesin, who until now was the first deputy chairman of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company and who worked for Yeltsin's election campaign in 1996. It will be responsible, among other things, for the development and implementation of state policy on the mass media, mass communications, and advertising as well as control over the use of broadcast frequencies and upgrading technology, according to ITAR-TASS. JC


Addressing a cabinet meeting the same day, Premier Sergei Stepashin remarked, "I would not say that we want to create a propaganda ministry.... But we are starting to create a federal strategy that would consolidate all of the state's capabilities in--pardon the old-fashioned word-- ideological work," AP reported. Presidential press secretary Dmitrii Yakushkin, meanwhile, denied that the new ministry has anything to do with the upcoming campaigns for the elections to the State Duma and the presidency. Rather, he said, the Kremlin is trying to keep up with technological developments by creating the new body, according to "The Moscow Times" on 7 July. He added that the ministry's functions are still being determined. JC


The same day as Yeltsin signed the decree establishing the new mass media ministry, "Izvestiya" published an interview with the president in which he said he will be ready to step down when his term expires in 2000 and will hand over power "with an easy mind." Yeltsin said he has an idea of whom he would like to succeed him, but he declined to give any names. While he admitted to being upset by his low approval ratings, he said does not plan to do anything to raise them since "I'm not heading to elections." Yeltsin stressed that his administration's main task is to hold "clean and honest elections" and that its "main instrument" will be the new election law. Commenting on rumors that he intends to pass a decree banning the Communist Party, Yeltsin responded that the "Communists have banned themselves" and "failed politically." JC


Responding to a request by the Communist-dominated State Duma, the Constitutional Court ruled on 6 July that the head of state does not have to give up office if temporarily unable to perform his duties because of illness. The court ruled that if the president is incapacitated and his duties are temporarily assumed by the premier, this does not mean that early presidential elections will be called. Such elections are held only when the head of state resigns, is impeached, or demonstrates a "lasting inability" due to poor health, ITAR-TASS reported. While serving as acting president, the court ruled, the prime minister does not have the right to dissolve the Duma, call a referendum, or propose amendments to the constitution. The premier would relinquish his powers as acting president once the head of state returns to office or a new president is elected. JC


Convening for the last time before the summer recess, the Federation Council on 2 July passed several key laws required for a possible IMF loan expected to total some $4.5 billion. That legislation included a bill allowing the Central Bank to buy gold directly from mining companies, which will make it easier to increase reserves of precious metals and foreign currency, as well as draft laws allowing the bank to issue securities, imposing a tax on luxury cars, and facilitating the liquidation of insolvent banks. The bills must now be signed by President Yeltsin. The same day, the Central Bank announced it will lift a ban on foreign banks' buying hard currency with rubles. Meanwhile, on 5 July, Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny announced that Moscow and the World Bank have agreed on virtually all terms of a "coal loan" worth $450 million, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. JC


Premier Stepashin on 6 July ordered the Justice and Nationalities Ministries to draw up a bill outlawing the sale of land to foreigners, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. That order was made during a meeting in Moscow devoted to the problems of Russia's border regions. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev had warned during the meeting that if the bill on land purchases and sales currently being considered by the State Duma is approved, "all land in Russia's Far East will be bought up by citizens of the People's Republic of China." JC


At a cabinet meeting the previous day, Stepashin said the government might impose limited controls on food prices if the latter soar as a result of a poor harvest this year, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. At the same time, he stressed that the government would consider only "economic levers of government regulation in terms of the market economy." Addressing the Federation Council two days earlier, Stepashin put the 1999 grain harvest at 60 million tons. Some agricultural experts have estimated that the harvest could be as low as 51 million tons, which would be higher than last year's 48 million tons but well below earlier estimates of 77 million tons. JC


"The Moscow Times" on 7 July reported that the new majority shareholder of the Kommersant Publishing company is an "obscure" U.S. investment fund called American Capital. Kia Joorabchian and Reza Irani-Kermani, the fund's two executives, told journalists in Moscow that they have bought an 85 percent stake in the company, which publishes "Kommersant-Daily," with the "sole purpose of making money" by re-selling it in several years after restructuring. They insisted that they have no political connections in Russia and will maintain the newspaper's independence. Kommersant director Vladimir Yakovlev said he chose American Capital because he wants to keep control over the newspaper free of "Russian political interests," especially in the runup to the elections. Influential businessman Boris Berezovskii has acquired the remaining 15 percent stake. "The Moscow Times" quoted him as saying he hopes to use that stake to win a seat on Kommersant Publishing's board of directors. JC


Meeting in Moscow on 6 July, Hafez Assad and Yeltsin agreed to expand the already close ties between their two countries. Both stressed Russia's role as a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process and called for the increased coordination of Russian and Syrian efforts toward ensuring that process's success, ITAR-TASS reported, citing a Russian-Syrian communique. According to AP, Russian officials did not comment on the part of the talks that focused on possible arms sales to Syria, which is reportedly interested in purchasing Su-27 fighter jets, T-80 tanks, and other weaponry. The same day, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman James Foley repeated a warning to Moscow that it could lose U.S. assistance if it concludes a new weapons deal with Syria. In April, the U.S. imposed sanctions against three Russian defense enterprises for cooperating with Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). JC


Russian Interior Ministry troops backed by mortars and helicopter gunships attacked a group of some 150-200 Chechen fighters on Chechen territory close to the border between Chechnya and Dagestan early on 5 July, killing several Chechens but incurring no losses themselves, Russian media reported quoting Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo. Addressing the Federation Council two days earlier, Rushailo had warned that his troops would undertake such preventive strikes in order to neutralize what he termed criminals, bandits and the drug mafia, among whose ranks he included former Chechen acting premier Shamil Basaev. Chechen spokesmen on 4 July condemned Rushailo's threats. Presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev warned that Chechnya would respond to any such action with counterstrikes on Russian territory. LF


Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Mikhail Gutseriev told journalists in Moscow on 5 July that Duma deputies approve of "tough measures" to check "armed gangs" operating from Chechen territory, ITAR- TASS reported. The following day, Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov told journalists that Moscow wants to work together with the Chechen leadership to "clean up" Chechnya, but reserves the right to act unilaterally if such cooperation proves ineffective. Mikhailov also stressed that Moscow continues to regard Aslan Maskhadov as Chechnya's legitimate president, and must therefore create conditions to enable him to bring the situation in Chechnya under his control. Russian Security Council Secretary and Federal Security Service Director Vladimir Putin said that Russia will in future react to Chechen incursions, but not launch further preemptive strikes. Putin added that it may prove necessary to strengthen security measures along the border between the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic Ichkeria and the rest of the Russian Federation. LF


An Armenian Foreign Ministry official rejected on 2 July a report circulated the previous day by a U.S. think-tank quoting Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos as stating that Armenia, Greece and Iran plan to create a formal defense alliance at a meeting in Athens later this month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The ArmenianForeign Ministry confirmed that such a meeting is planned, but added that it will focus only on cooperation in tourism, communications and transport, energy, technology, environmental protection and disaster prevention, according to Noyan Tapan. On 5 July, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that Tbilisi had declined an invitation last year to participate in the tripartite economic talks after Tbilisi's proposal that Azerbaijan also be included was rejected, according to Caucasus Press. LF


Participants at a 4 July joint meeting in Echmiadzin of archbishops and bishops and of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council of the Armenian Apostolic Church elected Archbishop Nerses Pozapalian as interim vicar-general following the death on 29 June of Catholicos Garegin I, Noyan Tapan reported. Under church statutes a new catholicos may be elected no earlier than six months after the death of the incumbent. But Pozapalian told journalists on 5 July that "this [provision] should be changed because we wish to inaugurate a new Catholicos by the beginning of the year 2000," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Other Church sources told RFE/RL that the pan- Armenian ecclesiastical assembly will probably convene in mid-December. LF


Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 5 July that Azerbaijan's rejection of "all major provisions" of the most recent Karabakh peace proposals drafted by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen leaves little chance for an imminent settlement of the conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Oskanian said that the co-chairmen are not ready to change the draft substantially as they believe it is already based on compromise. He said Armenia would oppose any major "deviations" from that document, which advocates the creation of a "common state" comprising Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Interfax on 5 July quoted Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy Advisor Vafa Guluzade as hinting that Baku may oppose Russia's continued co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group. Oskanian had said Azerbaijan's mistaken conviction that "Russia is behind everything" also impedes a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, according to Noyan Tapan. LF


By a vote of 82 for and one against, deputies passed the law on municipal elections on 2 July in the third and final reading, Turan reported. The 17 opposition deputies aligned in the Democratic bloc declined to participate in the vote in protest against an agreement reached with the parliamentary leadership three weeks earlier that the bill would be given a repeat second reading during which opposition objections to it would be discussed. Leaders of several opposition parties including Musavat's Isa Gambar and Azerbaijan Popular Front First Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimov condemned the bill as undemocratic and hinted that they may boycott the poll. Also on 2 July, parliament passed in the first reading a controversial new law on mass media which the opposition claims limits press freedom. LF


Some 30 journalists and members of NGOs held an unsanctioned protest on 6 July in front of the Prosecutor-General's office in Baku to protest recent harassment and violence against independent journalists, Turan reported. The Baku mayor's office had refused permission the previous day to stage the protest. On 2 July, a U.S. State Department spokesman expressed concern over recent attacks on Azerbaijani journalists and called on the Azerbaijani government to take measures to protect press freedom. Reporters sans Frontieres likewise wrote to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev to ask him to intervene to halt violence against journalists. LF


Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman Koba Liklikadze dismissed as a fabrication plans published by "Izvestiya" for a simultaneous air and sea invasion of Abkhazia by Georgian troops, according to Caucasus Press on 5 July. The planned date of that operation is not clear. Liklikadze said the publication was intended to exacerbate relations between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. LF


Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 July that he will request UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Security Council members to classify reprisals against ethnic Georgian residents of Abkhazia in 1992-1993 as ethnic cleansing, ITAR-TASS reported. Georgian troops similarly killed thousands of Abkhaz civilians during the 13 month war. Speaking at a conference in Tbilisi on 6 July on the circumstances of the war in Abkhazia, Georgian Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili said that Georgian prosecutors have compiled 200 volumes of documentary evidence of ethnic cleansing, including proof of the murders of some 6,000 ethnic Georgians. That documentation is to be submitted to the International Court in The Hague. LF


Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry informed Moscow on 6 July that Astana will not allow further launches of Russian satellites from the Baikonor cosmodrome until the circumstances of the explosion the previous day of a Russian Proton booster rocket are clarified, Russian agencies reported. That rocket, which was to put a communications satellite into orbit, exploded soon after launching. Parts of the debris, some of them several tons in weight, landed in residential areas in Kazakhstan's central Karaganda region, but noone was injured by them. Russian Aerospace Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov, however, told Ekho Moskvy on 6 July that the Kazakh ban applies only to Proton rockets of the type that exploded, and not to all launches from Baikonur, according to ITAR-TASS. LF


The Kazakh and Kyrgyz ministers of trade said in a statement issued after their meeting in Almaty on 2 July that the two countries will "soon" sign an agreement offsetting mutual debts, Interfax reported. Kazakhstan owes Kyrgyzstan some $22.5 million for electricity and irrigation water, while Kyrgyzstan owes $12 million. Kazakhstan will also abolish the 200 percent duty it imposed in March on imports of butter, soft drinks and some other goods imported from Kyrgyzstan according to AP. Interfax on 6 July also quoted Kyrgyzstan National Bank board member Azamat Tokbaev as saying that Bishkek hopes to restructure part of its $132.8 million debt to Russia, $17 million of which is due in 1999. Kyrgyzstan's total foreign debt amounts to $1.53 billion. The state debt is currently equal to 59 percent of GDP. LF


In a bid to improve strained relations with the United Tajik Opposition, President Imomali Rakhmonov on 2 July named opposition field commander Mirzo Ziyeev to head the newly upgraded Ministry for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense, Reuters and Interfax reported. The Tajik authorities' ongoing refusal to appoint Ziyeev defense minister had impelled UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri to threaten to cease cooperation with the government within the Commission for National Reconciliation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 1999). Five further opposition candidates were named to government posts on 6 July. LF


Russian Federal Border Service Director Colonel-General Konstantin Totskii held talks in Ashgabat on 6 July with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, Turan and Interfax reported. Totskii said that Niyazov expressed understanding for his argument that it is impossible to withdraw the Russian border guard contingent from Turkmenistan before 19 November 1999, when the treaty regulating the Russian presence expires. Ashgabat had said earlier this year that it would not extend that treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). Totskii added that Niyazov agreed that "our ties must be maintained." He said that the precise parameters for continued cooperation will be addressed in future talks. LF


Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko's cabinet on 6 July survived a parliamentary confidence vote initiated by the Communists. Only 182 deputies backed the motion. A no-confidence vote requires 226 votes to pass. The Communists have long criticized Pustovoytenko's cabinet over the country's economic problems and falling living standards. "In implementing the IMF demands, the government has completely destroyed the economy of the country and its monetary and financial systems," Communist leader Petro Symonenko told deputies before the vote. "The [vote's] outcome was expected. Our policy has been right and we have been able to stabilize the economic situation in the country following last year's financial crisis," Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy told Reuters. In other news, the Supreme Council on 6 July adopted a statement urging the Turkish parliament to revoke Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan's death sentence. JM


The parliament on 2 July adopted a statement claiming that the Ukrainian government is illegally helping President Leonid Kuchma in his preparations for the 31 October presidential election. The statement warns against the threat of "replacing democratic principles with a government dictatorship" in Ukraine. It adds that the government has "usurped" the media and put pressure on other presidential candidates. All of Kuchma's main presidential rivals-- Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Petro Symonenko, Oleksandr Tkachenko, and Natalya Vitrenko--are members of parliament. JM


In a speech at the 2 July session of the Belarusian-Russian Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced that he will seek closer relations with the West if Russia continues to drag out the implementation of a planned merger between the two states. "We have made a big mistake.... We have been leaning toward the East for too long," Lukashenka told the assembly. He added that he has instructed the Foreign Ministry "to establish the kindest and closest relations" with the West. Some Belarusian and Russian commentators say that Lukashenka's statement was aimed at pushing Moscow into closer integration. Moscow has not agreed to Lukashenka's proposal to establish a common presidency and supranational bodies with extensive powers in the Belarusian-Russian Union. JM


Lukashenka said the same day that he is ready for a dialogue with the Belarusian opposition. He said the dialogue should be aimed at reaching "a broad social consensus on how to honestly and fairly hold [parliamentary and presidential] elections in 2000 and 2001." In response, former Supreme Soviet Speaker Stanislau Shushkevich said: "It is hard to believe in the sincerity of Alyaksandr Lukashenka who has driven the country into a dead end and pretends that he has realized that." The Belarusian opposition does not recognize the controversial 1996 constitution, which calls for presidential elections in 2001. According to the opposition, Lukashenka's presidential term expires on 20 July. JM


More than 100,000 people attended the last day of the Song Festival in Tallinn on 4 July. President Lennart Meri thanked those who attended for dispelling speculation that the Song Festival is "not in fashion," "Postimees" reported. The festival's participants included an Estonian women's choir from Abkhazia, where a small Estonian minority resides. This year's festivities marked the 130th anniversary of the first Song Festival, which is seen as a landmark event in the Estonian national awakening movement. MH


The leader of the opposition Coalition Party, Andrus Oovel, said it would be "ideal" for parliamentary deputy and former Tallinn Mayor Ivi Eenmaa to give up her seat in parliament, "Postimees" reported on 5 July. Eenmaa, who is a member of the Coalition Party, was the only opposition deputy to support the government's 1 billion kroon ($67 million) negative supplementary budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1999). Oovel said parliamentarians should support the platform on which they were elected. In an interview with "Postimees" published on 5 July, Eenmaa refused to resign her seat. MH


Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans resigned on 5 July, saying there was an "atmosphere of distrust" in his government. Kristopans made it clear that the catalyst for the decision was the signing of a cooperation agreement between For Fatherland and Freedom, a member of the governing coalition, and the opposition People's Party on 3 July, BNS reported. Negotiations on the formation of a new cabinet have begun. Many observers predict that the 8 July parliamentary vote on a new language law will reveal the outlines of a new coalition government. MH


Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen on 2 July said Latvia's chances of acquiring EU membership could be damaged if the country's parliament passes a new language bill. Petersen, who was on an official visit to Riga, noted that Latvia has fulfilled all the requirements to begin EU accession negotiations but that the new language law could become a barrier if it is found to violate EU regulations, BNS reported. Outgoing Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans said other world leaders raised the issue with him at the recent World Economic Forum in Salzburg. The parliament is scheduled to debate the bill at an extraordinary session on 8 July. MH


The Polish parliament on 2 July started to debate a plan to cut taxes proposed by the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 1999). Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, the main proponent of the tax reform, told parliament that the new tax system will benefit everybody by stimulating economic growth and reducing the "gray sphere of the economy." Marek Borowski of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance criticized the tax reform bill, saying it "favors the rich" and will do "nothing to alleviate poverty in Poland." Some AWS deputies also criticized the bill, arguing that the changes should be introduced more gradually and that tax breaks should be granted to families with two or more children. JM


Bozena Banachowicz, chairwoman of the Nurses and Midwives Trade Union, said on 6 July that some 100,000 of Poland's 250,000 nurses and midwives will launch a nationwide hunger strike on 8 July unless the government starts negotiating with them. The nurses are demanding a 2 percent raise above the rate of inflation and a freeze in health care sector layoffs. The government argues that the nurses should negotiate salary raises with hospital directors, who were given responsibility for employment issues in a package of health care reforms adopted earlier this year. According to a late June poll, almost 90 percent of respondents said they support the nurses' protest. JM


Milos Zeman on 6 July told Czech Radio that local journalists are "largely amateurs and liars," CTK reported. He said that the "intellectual capability" of Czech journalists reminds him of "graduates of schools for the mentally handicapped." Zeman, who recently drew criticism from associations representing journalists for similar remarks, added that he deeply despises "amateurs" and that "the largest concentration of amateurism is to be found among political and economic commentators working for the Czech press, radio, and television." Last week, Zeman accused journalists working for the daily "Lidove noviny" of corruption. Those journalists responded by filing a law suit against him. MS


The Austrian government on 6 June approved a protection plan against "dangerous nuclear plants" in countries seeking EU membership, CTK reported. The plan states that the Temelin plant in the Czech Republic does not comply with required EU technical standards. On 2 July, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said in a letter to Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima that the steps Bratislava has taken to ensure the safety of the nuclear plant at Jaslovske Bohunice are in line with recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Austria is demanding that, "in accordance with the relevant EU documents," Slovakia set a definitive date between 2000 and 2003 for closing down the oldest nuclear reactors at the plant. Slovakia has announced that it will close down the reactors by 2015. MS


Finland on 6 July announced that it will impose a four- month suspension on its visa-free entry agreement with Slovakia in an attempt to stem the influx of Slovak Roma into the country. The flow of Slovak Roma into Finland has intensified in recent days, reaching a total of 1,069 for this year so far, according to a Finnish Foreign Ministry press release. The Finnish government said it shares the view of Slovak officials that the Romany migration is motivated mainly by economic concerns. The press release states that "despite shortcomings in the living conditions of the Roma, Slovakia is a democratic country." Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jan Figel, who was in Helsinki on 5 July for talks on the Roma migration, said the next day that he was "surprised" by the measure, CTK reported. MS


Some 367,000 Slovaks have signed a petition demanding that a referendum be conducted on the right to use minority languages in dealing with state officials and on the privatization of "strategic enterprises," Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) spokesman Marian Kardos said on 2 July. A total of 350,000 signatures are required to initiate a referendum. The referendum drive was organized by the HZDS, the Slovak National Party, and the Matica slovenska cultural organization. Kardos said the petition will be handed to President Rudolf Schuster this week. Opponents of the referendum point out that referenda cannot be conducted on human rights questions and that three years must pass between referenda dealing with the same issue. A referendum was held on the privatization of state companies in conjunction with the September 1998 general elections. MS


The Constitutional Court on 6 July ruled that an initiative aimed at holding a referendum on direct presidential elections is unconstitutional, Hungarian media reported. The court ruled that only the parliament can initiate a constitutional amendment, which would be required to establish direct presidential elections. The Social Democratic Youth Movement had asked the court to examine the issue, but the move was also supported by the opposition Socialist Party, the extreme- right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, and the ruling coalition member Independent Smallholders' Party. Under the current system, the president is elected by parliament. MSZ


Hungarian police have launched an investigation into how Postabank documents containing information on the accounts of several well known Hungarian public figures ended up in a waste dump near Budapest, Hungarian media reported on 6 July. The documents consist of thousands of pages containing dates ranging from 1991 to 1999. A group of journalists found the documents after receiving a tip from an unidentified source. The notorious "VIP list" of politicians who allegedly received preferential loans from the bank was not among the documents. Postabank has also launched an investigation into the matter. MSZ


The town council of Serbia's second largest city voted on 6 July to urge Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to resign, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. This is the first such call by an elected body in Serbia since anti-Milosevic protests began in June. In Belgrade, The Association of Free and Independent Labor Unions said in a statement that Milosevic's resignation will pave the way for Serbia's return to Europe and enable Serbia to shed the stigma of being a pariah state. In several Serbian cities, local officials and anti-Milosevic politicians appealed to the international community to send reconstruction aid directly to Serbia's cities and towns and not to make the Serbian people pay further for Milosevic's wars. PM


An unspecified number of police attacked some of the 5,000 anti-Milosevic demonstrators who assembled in Leskovac on 6 July. The protestors called for Milosevic to resign and for the release from jail of local television broadcaster Ivan Novakovic, who recently interrupted the transmission of an important basketball game to announce an anti-Milosevic demonstration on 5 July. On that day, some 20,000 people turned out for the protest in a town that was previously not known as an opposition stronghold. On 6 July, a local court sentenced Novakovic to 30 days in jail. PM


Some 10,000 people attended a protest in Uzice on 6 July to demand Milosevic's resignation, free elections, and an end to controls over the media, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic called for two to three months of street protests in "free cities" across Serbia to oust the Yugoslav president. Djindjic proposed the following scenario: "The people go onto the streets, the Church calls the people to go onto the streets.... Serbia as a whole is in a state of civil disobedience and general strike. He goes." Djindjic added: "I can envisage that [beginning] in 10 days' time in Serbia...each day at the same time all churches ringing their bells to send the message: 'It's time for you to go.'" Djindjic returned on 4 July to Serbia from Montenegro, where he was hiding from Milosevic's police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1999). PM


The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church met in Gracanica monastery near Prishtina on 6 July to discuss setting up a National Council to represent the Serbs in the province, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The Council will be headed by Archbishop Artemije and will represent the interests of Kosova's Serbs in contacts with KFOR and the ethnic Albanian leadership. Artemije noted in Gracanica that in recent days KFOR has become more effective in protecting Serbs from attacks. Serbian state-run media have increasingly started to refer to Artemije as a "traitor" and to call on the Patriarchate to distance itself from him. Both Artemije and the Holy Synod have called for Milosevic to resign. PM


Serbian leaders Archbishop Artemije and Momcilo Trajkovic, the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) Hashim Thaci, and other regional leaders signed a joint declaration in Prishtina on 2 July calling for reconciliation between the province's ethnic groups. UN Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello brought the parties together to issue the appeal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1999). PM


French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is the newly appointed chief of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said in Geneva on 6 July that he is "open to dialogue" with all political forces in Kosova. Kouchner stressed that "there is a lot of goodwill from the side of the Kosovars for this administration to be put into place and made to work.... It will be very hard and difficult, but...the UN can build on the peace and provide a future," Reuters reported. He made the remarks after discussing his new tasks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan appointed Kouchner on 2 July. Kouchner, a founder of Medecins sans frontieres and former French minister for humanitarian affairs, is expected to arrive in Prishtina next week to take over the civilian administration from interim UNMIK chief Sergio Vieira de Mello. FS


KFOR spokesman Jonathan Bailey told AP on 5 July in Prishtina that "a number of politicians in [Kosova] have self- styled titles such as prime minister.* The only government...that we recognize as legitimate is that of the UN." The UCK-backed provisional government's Prime Minister Thaci said he recognizes the UN's mandate but also stressed that the ethnic Albanian delegation at the Rambouillet talks signed a document authorizing him to create a provisional government. Thaci said: "That is an agreement which was signed and is legitimate.* The international community took part in that agreement. They saluted it and supported it, because that agreement showed a unification between Kosova's political forces." Vieira de Mello stressed: "We are the only source of authority.* We are not excluding [the UCK], but we are not recognizing a government." An unnamed UN official told the BBC on 7 July that elections in Kosova will not take place before the spring of 2000. FS


In Prishtina on 6 July, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata urged European countries to provide more money for Kosovar refugees, AFP reported. Ogata said that the repatriation process is proceeding smoothly but added that "I have money for about a week's operation. I think we have about $10 million right now in cash." Ogata stressed that returning refugees need emergency shelter and that the UNHCR needs funds for long-term reconstruction projects. She added that "the U.S., European Commission, and Japan are the big cash donors. [But] we would like to get more cash from the various European countries." UNHCR officials said in Geneva that about 606,300 refugees have so far returned to Kosova. Meanwhile, 91,500 are still in Albania, 19,000 in Macedonia, 22,200 in Montenegro, and 17,400 in Bosnia. Elsewhere, Italy's coast guard on 6 July intercepted a Montenegrin boat carrying about 700 unidentified refugees. FS


NATO's Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark said in Mitrovica on 6 July that the Atlantic alliance will not tolerate continued interference from paramilitary groups in the consolidation of peace in Kosova. The general added: "Some paramilitaries have been here, they may still be here, some have been arrested, others will be." The general stressed that there is "no room in [Kosova] for paramilitaries, and they have to leave," Reuters reported. "When they leave and the inflammatory rhetoric stops on both sides, people will get back to their livelihoods and work together, and I think that's the answer to partition" of the province. PM


Rifat Skrielj, who heads the Association of Sandzak Muslims in Bosnia, told Reuters on 6 July in Sarajevo that many Sandzak Muslims fear that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may try to ethnically cleanse the area. Skrielj stressed that the Muslims will "appeal to the international community to ensure that the Yugoslav military withdraws from the region and allows the people to live there in safety." He added that "we shall also ask for a greater level of self-government in Sandzak." The region straddles the border between Serbia and Montenegro. Ethnic Muslims make up a slight majority and have close cultural and political ties to the Muslims of Bosnia. PM


The Yugoslav federal authorities on 6 July turned down a request by OSCE Chair and Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek for a visa to visit Montenegro as part of his upcoming three-day trip to the Balkans. Yugoslav officials told the Norwegian Foreign Ministry that they would give Vollebaek a visa only if he went to Belgrade first. A Norwegian spokesman in Oslo called the Yugoslav decision "unacceptable," adding that it must have been made "at a very high level on the Serbian side." PM


British SFOR peacekeepers arrested Radislav Brdjanin on 6 July in Banja Luka and sent him to The Hague. The war crimes tribunal there previously indicted him for crimes against humanity in connection with the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats from the Banja Luka region by Serbian forces in 1992. Brdjanin served as deputy prime minister of the Republika Srpska during the war when Radovan Karadzic was its president. He is currently head of the People's Party of the Republika Srpska and a parliamentary deputy. Brdjanin is one of the highest Bosnian Serb officials to be indicted and the highest one to be arrested. He was among those people who were indicted by the court on its "sealed" list, which means that his indictment was kept secret so as not to alert him and prompt him to go into hiding. PM


The National Council of the National Liberal Party (PNL) on 2 July decided that the PNL will run on its own in the local elections scheduled for 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) spokesman Remus Opris on the same day said the PNL has "opted out of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR)." PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu on 5 July said the PNL decision "contravenes the spirit, the tradition, and the protocol of the CDR." Diaconescu said the PNTCD will adopt an official stance on its partner's decision in the near future, but added that he saw "no urgency" in taking such a step since the local elections are still "a whole year ahead of us." MS


A wild-cat strike by bus and tram drivers in Bucharest ended on 7 July after Mayor Viorel Lis agreed to raise wages by 60 percent as of 1 July and by an additional 20 percent as of 1 October, Romanian radio reported. Bucharest's subway employees also staged a demonstration on 6 July to protest against a decision to place the metro company under the Transportation Ministry's authority. Labor protests were also reported at the Petromidia Black Sea oil refinery over delays in the implementation of a decision to sell the company to a Turkish investor. In other news, workers at the Iasi Tepro steel pipe maker company on 6 July resumed protests against planned layoffs at their firm. Finally, the Cartel Alfa Trade union demanded the government's resignation, accusing the cabinet of failing to implement a protocol signed in May. MS


The French consortium Renault on 2 July signed a deal to buy a 51 percent stake in the Dacia car maker for $270 million. The IMF had initially objected to the deal because it provides for tax exemptions to the French investor. In other news, Prime Minister Radu Vasile on the same day announced that Romania has secured a $200 million loan from Credit Suisse First Boston at a 12 percent interest rate. Securing such a loan was one of the IMF's main conditions for approving an agreement on renewing the flow of IMF money to Bucharest. Finally, Transportation Minister Traian Basescu on 5 July said that, in line with an agreement with the World Bank, Romania has finalized a list of 50 state- owned companies slated for privatization or liquidation. MS


The scheduled meeting between President Petru Lucinschi and separatist leader Igor Smirnov in Tiraspol has been postponed from 6 July to 13 July, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 5 July. Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said the meeting was postponed to allow more time for preparation. Golea said the summit's importance has increased since it will now take place shortly before a scheduled 16-17 July meeting in Kyiv involving Lucinschi, Smirnov, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin. He said the four leaders are expected to "further accelerate" the negotiation process with the separatists. MS


The commission set up by Lucinschi to make recommendations on implementing a presidential system in Moldova held its first meeting on 5 July, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Some politicians participating in the commission are members of parties which are opposed to changing Moldova's parliamentary system. Golea said those politicians are sitting on the commission "at their personal request" and in their capacity as members of the cabinet. He said they include Deputy Premier Nicolae Andonic of the Party of Moldovan Revival and Conciliation, Justice Minister Ion Paduraru of the Party of Democratic Forces, and parliamentary deputy Ion Morei of the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldovan Bloc. MS


A Turkish contingent of 130 soldiers travelling in 52 vehicles on 3 July passed through Bulgaria on its way to Kosova, where it joined the KFOR peacekeeping mission, AP reported. The local media noted that this was the first time in 121 years that Turkish soldiers have set foot on Bulgarian soil. Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule for 500 years until it gained independence in 1878. MS


The new lev bills were released on 5 July. The currency reform, which was announced last year, slashed three zeroes off the previous lev bills. The lev is now pegged to the Deutschmark and trading at 1,9098/$1 and at 1,95583 to the euro, AP reported. MS


By Floriana Fossato

The new law regulating the election of deputies to Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, leaves the basic election rules intact but also contains some interesting changes. Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the new law on 25 June, some five months before the scheduled parliamentary elections. The bill had been approved by both houses of parliament about a month earlier.

The basic election rules remain the same under the new law. Half of the Duma's 450 seats will still be filled by deputies elected directly in single-ballot constituencies. The remaining seats will be split among political parties based on the percentage of the vote they receive.

But the regulations do contain some significant changes. Most notable among them is a new interpretation of the five percent of the vote that a party must attain in order to be represented in the Duma. In accordance with a late 1998 ruling by the Constitutional Court, the new law states that the total number of political groups reaching the five-percent threshold must now represent more than 50 percent of the voters. This calculation will be made only after the official vote count is made public.

If the parties that managed to obtain five percent of the vote do not together add up to half the ballots cast, then political groups that have reached more than three percent of the vote will also make it into the Duma -- until the total percentage of voters represented in the chamber meets the required 50 percent.

According to Duma deputies who worked on the text, the law also represents an attempt to reduce election fraud by forbidding the use of so-called "dirty techniques" -- including the adoption by candidates and parties of names and symbols already used by other candidates and groups. The law also requires candidates to declare income, property, and criminal convictions, if any. It stipulates that Russian citizens who are also citizens of another state -- the Russian Constitution allows dual citizenship -- must make the same declaration. In addition, the new law forbids businesses that receive state financial support from making donations to party election funds.

The hope is that these and other provisions will make the parliamentary race more open and discourage potential candidates with criminal records. But many Russian politicians and journalists nevertheless predict that the campaigns for the 19 December parliamentary vote, and for the presidential election due next June, will be marked by widespread legal violations.

The new law tries to strengthen safeguards against rigging the ballot in several ways. For example, it bans the practice of early voting, originally intended to bolster the electoral turn-out by attracting those who are unable to vote on election day. In the last few years, however, the practice has frequently led to allegations of fraud.

Another article of the new law allows individual candidates and parties to qualify for the race by paying a cash deposit instead of collecting signatures, the common practice in past elections. The money will be returned only if the candidate or party makes it to the Duma, and the deposit is expected to come from each candidate's campaign funds. Ten percent of each candidate's campaign fund can be used as deposit.

According to one of the drafters of the law, Viktor Sheinis, a respected legislator from the Yabloko party, the deposit represents a positive development. In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Sheinis said that "the practice of collecting signatures has proved to have serious deficiencies. It has increasingly become a commercial and criminal affair. Now there is an alternative. Usually, with only few exceptions, signatures are collected and paid for. There are even firms ready to collect signatures on behalf of any candidate willing to pay."

Sheinis added that, with so many less-than-serious candidates vying for parliamentary office, the cash deposit is better than the collection of signatures for another important reason: The money, he says, will end up in needy state coffers, and will be used to cover the cost of the election. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow.