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Newsline - November 30, 1999


Russian President Boris Yeltsin was admitted to a Moscow hospital on 29 November because doctors suspect that he has pneumonia. As of mid-morning in Moscow on 30 November, a formal diagnosis had not been issued. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said he cannot say exactly how long doctors think treatment will take. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 November that Yeltsin's illness throws into question of a number of planned trips, such as Yeltsin's visit to China, scheduled for the beginning of December, as well as a meeting in Paris on 21 December with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Also affected are the visits to Moscow of Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and possibly Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. JAC


An unnamed senior NATO official told journalists in Brussels on 29 November that the Russian military's use of rockets against populated areas in Chechnya is "a very worrisome and ominous development," Reuters reported. On 30 November, a Chechen ecologist told a press conference convened in Berlin by the International Society for Endangered Peoples that Russian troops are deliberately targeting a nuclear waste storage facility near Grozny. LF


Meeting in emergency session early on 29 November, Chechen legislators adopted a resolution calling for immediate talks with Russia's State Duma without preconditions, Interfax reported. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov approved that appeal. But State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said later that day in Moscow that such talks can take place only if the Chechen leadership undertakes to observe the Russian Constitution and distances itself from field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab. LF


During their talks on 29 November in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Knut Vollebaek failed to agree on a date for the latter's planned visit to the North Caucasus and Chechnya. Ivanov said only the entire Russian cabinet could give the go-ahead for such a trip by an international representative. He added that the trip must be "well-substantiated and thoroughly prepared." He also stressed that there is no need for international mediation in the Chechen conflict. Vollebaek expressed disappointment that permission for his trip had been withheld, adding that he still hopes to be able to visit Ingushetia and Chechnya. LF


Speaking after a meeting with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 29 November, Palestine Authority President Yasser Arafat told journalists that the conflict in Chechnya is Russia's internal affair but that he hopes "operations [there] will be concluded as soon as possible." With regard to the Middle East peace process, of which Russia is a co-sponsor, Arafat noted that the Palestinians are "very favorable toward an efficient Russian participation" in that process. Putin, for his part, confirmed that Russia intends to continue playing "an important role" in securing peace in the mid-East. Arafat also spoke with President Yeltsin by telephone for 20 minutes on 30 November, after which Arafat told reporters that Yeltsin said he still plans to visit Bethlehem in early January. Arafat is also scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov. JC


State Duma deputies passed the draft 2000 budget in its third reading on 29 November; a fourth and final reading is scheduled for 3 December. The vote was 281 to 48 and one abstention. The budget calls for spending of 855 billion rubles ($32 billion) and revenues of 797 billion rubles. According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 November, deputies had to plough through almost 3,000 proposed amendments and corrections to the previous draft. Among the new provisions finally approved were funds for helping regions buy fuel and pay for higher electricity tariffs and 2 billion rubles for Daghestan to cope with the influx of displaced persons from Chechnya. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 November, First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko acknowledged that the budget will be "extremely difficult" to implement. JAC


If IMF financing is not forthcoming, implementation will be even more problematic: "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 November that the current budget requires $9 billion in outside financing. Asked to comment on whether the U.S. will push to delay new IMF money to Russia because of the Chechnya conflict, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said on 29 November that "before one addresses the question of whether one supports this loan in principle, there are a number of things the Russians must do to satisfy the IMF." The same day, Russia's executive director to the fund, Aleksei Mozhin, said Camdessus's recent statement linking the issue of the next disbursement with the conflict in Chechnya was "incorrectly translated" and that he remains optimistic that the fund's board will decide on releasing the next tranche before the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). JAC


As talks with London Club creditors reopened on 30 November, Russian negotiators are reportedly hopeful that they are close to a deal to restructure $32 billion of Soviet-era debt. On 2 December, Russia is due to make another payment of more than $550 million. Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced earlier that Russia would like creditors to write off at least 40 percent of that debt in exchange for converting the remainder into a Eurobond, for which the government would provide a sovereign guarantee. JAC


The day after the U.S. Navy officials announced they had arrested a U.S. Navy officer Daniel King on charges of spying, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on 30 November that it had detained a U.S. diplomat. According to AP, Cheri Leberknight, the U.S. embassy's second secretary in the political section, was briefly detained in Moscow. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich announced that the diplomat, whom he refused to identify by name, was "caught red-handed" while trying "to obtain documentary materials of a military-strategic nature," Interfax reported. JAC


Addressing a Security Council meeting on 29 November, Prime Minister Putin proposed that crime fighting efforts be intensified in four areas: economic crime, organized crime, corruption, and terrorism, Russian Public Television reported. The Interior Ministry reported on 24 November that the number of crimes in Russia climbed 19.5 percent during the first 10 months of 1999, compared with the same period last year. The most common crime, theft, jumped 30 percent. Deputy head of the Interior Ministry's Investigation Committee Nikolai Mikhailov announced on 23 November that the number of computer crimes in Russia increased four-fold during the first nine months of the year, to a total of 188. Twenty percent of those crimes were hacking. In one case of such a crime in Tver, Gazprom stock worth 64 million rubles ($2.4 million) was stolen from a local bank. JAC


The family of slain U.S. businessman Paul Tatum has filed suit in a U.S. court against Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov accusing him of obstructing the investigation into Tatum's 1996 murder, AP reported on 29 November. The mayor's office responded by calling the accusations "an invention by Luzhkov's political adversaries," according to Interfax. Last week in a Russian court, Luzhkov asked for 450 million rubles ($17 million) in damages from Russian Public Television and anchorman Sergei Dorenko. Dorenko recently aired a show in which a friend of Tatum's linked the Tatum murder with the mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). Also on 29 November, the Interior Ministry announced that it has decided to ask President Yeltsin to dismiss the head of Moscow's Interior Ministry directorate, Nikolai Kulikov, because of his "unsatisfactory" performance. Kulikov is considered a close ally of Luzhkov. JAC


In an article that is being hailed as the first detailed public description of Russia's former chemical weapons plants, three Russian officials have appealed for some $100 million in foreign aid to help convert those plants to civilian use, Reuters reported on 29 November. The article, published in the latest issue of "Synthesis" (the quarterly of the Hague- based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), reveals that out of a total of 24 plants, six are to be destroyed, while eight stopped producing chemical weapons a long time ago. The remaining 10 plants, which produced, among others, VX and sarin nerve gas, are to be converted to civilian use when funds are forthcoming and the OPCW agrees. The authors estimate that the conversion process will cost some $110 million and note that Russian government can provide only 10 percent of that sum. JC


An emergency session of the Russian cabinet on 29 November approved the protocol to the 1997 Russian-Turkish agreement on building an underwater gas pipeline across the Black Sea, Interfax reported. The protocol waives dual taxation for companies engaged in that project. It must still be ratified by the State Duma and the Turkish parliament, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Prime Minister Putin told ministers that Russia could earn between $4.5-7 billion annually in sales of natural gas to Turkey if the pipeline is completed on schedule in 2002. Construction of the pipeline is to begin in 10 days, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev said in Moscow on 27 November. LF


The Supreme Court of Kalmykia on 29 November sentenced two men, Sergei Vaskin and Vladimir Shelokov, to 21 years in prison for the murder of Larisa Yudina, a journalist for "Sovietskaya Kalmykia," which was the only opposition newspaper in the republic, Interfax reported. Another man, Andrei Lipin, was sentenced to six years in prison for concealing information about the crime. Yudina was killed while investigating a corruption scandal involving Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Although the court found that the murder was a contract hit, no one has been charged for ordering it, AP reported. An official at the Caucasus directorate of the Prosecutor-General 's office said earlier that a criminal case against Tyurbi Baskhomdzhiev, a former envoy of the Kalmykian president to the Volgograd Oblast, was dropped because of Baskhomdzhiev's "repentance" and assistance in the murder investigation (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 16 June 1999). JAC


Some 60 teachers and doctors blocked a highway on Sakhalin Island on 30 November to demand some six months of unpaid wages dating from 1996, ITAR-TASS reported. The head of the Dolinsk Raion administration told the agency that there are insufficient funds in the district's budget to pay the back wages. Meanwhile, in the city of Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast, workers constructing the city's underground rail system are threatening to flood that network if they are not paid their back wages by 10 December, according to NTV. The conflict between the city and the workers over wage arrears has been ongoing for several months and involved a number of hunger strikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 1999). JAC


Meeting with his Hungarian counterpart, Janos Martonyi, in Moscow on 29 November, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov stressed that Hungary's membership in NATO "should not be an obstacle" to developing bilateral relations, despite the fact that Russia's stand on the alliance's eastward expansion remains unaltered, according to ITAR-TASS. The two foreign ministers discussed a wide range of issues, including the Chechen conflict, which Martonyi said he hopes will be settled by political means. With regard to Russia's outstanding debt to Hungary of some $450 million, Moscow will make a proposal by the end of the year on repaying that sum. Both sides also agreed that the joint restitution commission will convene again as soon as possible to discuss the return of art treasures removed during World War II. That commission last met in 1997. JC


Ingushetia's parliament on 25 November approved Akhmed Malsagov as the republic's new premier, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Malsagov earlier served as first deputy prime minister with responsibility for economic affairs. The previous cabinet had been dismissed for its alleged incompetence in that sphere. Malsagov's cabinet will be Ingushetia's sixth in six years. LF


Senior Central Bank official Gevorg Tumanian told journalists in Yerevan on 25 November that an "unprecedented" 250 percent increase in forged banknotes has been registered since the beginning of November, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Tumanian was unable to specify whether the forged notes are produced in Armenia or abroad, but he said they are easy to detect. He added the state will not compensate people who have sustained losses through the receipt of forged banknotes. New 500-dram ($1) and 5,000 dram banknotes that are less easy to forge are to be introduced into circulation next year. LF


In his traditional weekly radio interview on 29 November, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that talks with Russia on the closure of two of the four Russian military bases in Georgia should begin without delay, Reuters and AP reported. Agreement on the closure was reached during the OSCE Istanbul summit (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 47, 25 November 1999). Shevardnadze said that the armaments currently deployed at those facilities can be regarded as Georgian property and should be left behind when the Russian troops withdraw. He added that Georgia would consider unspecified compromises to avoid a deterioration of relations with Russia if the Russian military leadership objects to the Georgian demand. LF


Georgia will not agree to Georgian-Russian patrols of its border with Chechnya, nor to Russian border troops transiting Georgian territory in order to monitor the Russian side of that border, President Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 November. He said that the latter course of action would inevitably draw Georgia into the Russian-Chechen conflict. But Shevardnadze nonetheless said he would agree to the stationing on the Georgian side of the border of Russian military observers and that he would welcome the deployment of Russian border guards on the Chechen side of the Georgian- Russian frontier. The Russian government representative to Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, said two days earlier that Russian border guards will seal the Chechen-Georgian border on the Russian side in December. LF


Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 November that the possibility of a pardon for convicted former Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani has not been raised, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian media reported last week that Shevardnadze planned to amnesty Ioseliani after the presidential elections in April 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999). But "Rezonansi" on 29 November quoted Elene Tevdoradze, chairwoman of the parliamentary commission for human rights, as saying that the committee on pardons approached Shevardnadze to request that Ioseliani be pardoned on grounds of his failing health. Ioseliani himself has said he will not request clemency as he believes his 11-year sentence for terrorism and planning to assassinate Shevardnadze in 1995 was based on fabricated evidence. LF


The newly elected Georgian parliament on 25 November elected four deputy speakers but rejected the fifth candidacy, Caucasus Press reported. Vakhtang Kolbaya was re- elected to represent Abkhazia, Rostom Djaparidze was elected to represent Adjaria, and Eldar Shengelaia and Eduard Surmanidze regained their positions as representatives of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK). But Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, who was proposed by the opposition, was not reconfirmed as the fifth deputy speaker. Adjar Supreme Council speaker Aslan Abashidze, who heads the opposition Union for Democratic Revival, told journalists in Batumi on 29 November that the party will insist on Rcheulishvili's candidacy rather than propose an alternative, as suggested by the SMK. LF


The Caspian ferry service between the Kazakh port of Aktau and Baku is to be suspended temporarily to prevent Chechen refugees from entering Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 November, citing Kazakhstan's state-run Khabar TV. Regional border service head Aleskandr Sarsembekov said that Chechens who have acquired Azerbaijani passports are seeking to enter Kazakhstan via that route. Two senior Kazakh officials said last week that additional screening procedures would be introduced to preclude the entry of "Chechen terrorists" into Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999). LF


Several hundred residents of the Shanyraq-2 district of Almaty took to the streets on 29 November to demand that the city authorities restore heating and electricity supplies to the district, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. Those supplies were discontinued in October. Local schools and hospitals have been closed for even longer. The following day, pensioners gathered outside the city mayor's office to demand the prompt payment of their pensions. They also protested the recent rise in utility rates imposed by the Kazakh-Belgian energy company that controls electricity supplies to all of Almaty Oblast. LF


Government and opposition representatives on the Commission for National Reconciliation have halted their attempt to resolve the disagreement over the number of deputies to be elected to each chamber of the new parliament, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 29 November 1999). The talks will resume after a meeting between the commission's chairman, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri and his deputies, and President Imomali Rakhmonov. LF


Uzbek Security and Interior Ministry troops on 29 November surrounded a group of 14 militants who they claim were responsible for two shooting incidents in the town of Yangiabad last month, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999). All the militants were reportedly killed outright during the ensuing shootout. Three Interior Ministry troops also died in the fighting. The militants had trained in Chechnya and participated in the hostage-taking in southern Kyrgyzstan in August-September, Interfax quoted Uzbek Interior Ministry officials as saying. LF


Prime Minister Syarhey Linh on 29 November announced that Belarus has decreased its debt for energy resources by 50 percent, Interfax reported. According to Linh, the country's debt for oil shrank from $100 million to $50 million, for electricity from $80 million to $40 million, and for gas from $236 million to $160 million. The agency did not specify the period over which the debt was reduced. JM


"It is important for me that the signing [of the Belarus-Russia union state treaty] takes place on 7 December, because in this case the document will still have a chance of being ratified by the present State Duma," Belarusian President Lukashenka said on Russian National Television on 28 November, according to Interfax. Lukashenka was speaking before the news that Russian President Boris Yeltsin was taken to the hospital with suspected pneumonia. The previous day, deputies of the opposition Belarusian Supreme Soviet passed a resolution declaring the union treaty illegitimate. They noted that Lukashenka's legitimate term expired on 21 July 1999, while the treaty itself contradicts the Belarusian Constitution. JM


Leonid Kuchma, re- elected for another five-year term on 14 November, took his presidential oath in the Ukrayina concert hall in Kyiv on 30 November. Kuchma's inauguration ceremony was attended by presidents, prime ministers, and other high officials from some 20 countries, including Russia's Vladimir Putin, Poland's Aleksander Kwasniewski, Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus. Ukraine's 450- seat parliament, which initially wanted the inauguration to take place in its building, backed down two hours before the ceremony, with 245 deputies supporting the Kuchma-proposed venue. Some 160 communist and leftist deputies refused to participate in the inauguration ceremony. JM


"Postimees" reported on 30 November that political parties spent a combined total of some 16 million kroons ($1.03 million) on the recent local election campaign. The center-left opposition Center Party spent the largest amount, 4.9 million kroons. The Pro Patria Union and Reform Party, both members of the national and various regional coalitions, spent about 3.5 million kroons each. The third member of the national coalition, the centrist Moodukad, spent 2.15 million kroons. Only one party, the United People's Party, which represents mostly Russian speakers, has yet to complete its spending declaration. In the March parliamentary elections, some 29 million kroons were spent on campaigning. MH


The trial of Aleksandr Koryakov began in the Vidzeme District Court on 29 November. Koryakov is accused of stabbing to death three nursery-school girls and a female teacher earlier this year in the town of Gulbene. Koryakov earlier confessed to that crime. Calling it the "easy way" to become famous, he said the murders were inspired by a book about American serial killers, "Neatkariga Rita Avize" reported. If convicted, Koryakov faces life imprisonment since Latvia no longer has the death penalty. Ironically, the debate to adopt the Sixth Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which abolished capital punishment, took place the same week as the Koryakov murders. MH


The IMF has described the proposed downsizing of the 2000 Lithuanian state budget as "a good indicator," BNS and ELTA reported on 29 November. However, IMF representative in Lithuania Mark Horton said IMF officials must still review the total plan before further negotiations can take place. The government on 29 November approved the bill, which sets expenditures at 9.8 billion litas ($2.45 billion) and provides for a 3.7 percent fiscal deficit, totaling some 800 million litas. Earlier drafts had provided for a fiscal gap of 6.5 percent or more. The parliamentary debate on the bill is scheduled to start on 2 December. MH


Party colleagues from the Freedom Union and Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek have tried to persuade Leszek Balcerowicz to stay in the government following the presidential veto on the personal income tax cuts proposed by the finance minister (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 29 November 1999). Earlier this month, Balcerowicz threatened to resign unless his coalition partners from the Solidarity Electoral Action united to push the tax reform package through the parliament. Last week, Balcerowicz said all the tax bills are interrelated and that if one of them were vetoed "no responsible [politician] could take responsibility for the tax system." On 29 November, the zloty fell by 1.5 percent amid worries that Balcerowicz may quit. The next day "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted "well-informed sources" as saying Balcerowicz will remain in Buzek's cabinet. Balcerowicz's decision is expected later on 30 November. JM


Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 29 November forwarded to President Vaclav Havel the resignation of Deputy Premier Egon Lansky, presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek told CTK. Lansky cites poor health for his resignation, which he tendered one month earlier after coming under harsh criticism for both his performance as minister in charge of the negotiations with the EU and for having failed to disclose an account he illegally opened with an Austrian bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1999). Zeman said at the time that he would forward the resignation after Lansky left the hospital, which the latter did some ten days ago. On 29 November, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that Lansky may be charged with tax evasion, having failed to report interest on his Austrian bank account. MS


The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) said on 29 November that it will seek the dismissal of Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, CTK reported, citing Markiza television. Former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci said the move follows the police's earlier appeal to the public to help trace two people suspected of involvement in the 1996 murder of Robert Remias. Police suspect that Remias was killed on the orders of former Slovak Intelligence chief Ivan Lexa because Remias "knew too much" about the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son. Krajci said that when it was still in power, the HZDS "accepted with relief" a report saying that Remias was murdered by underworld gang members. The investigation into the murder was re-opened after former Premier Vladimir Meciar's election defeat last year. MS


Rudolf Schuster told a forum of the German Society for Foreign Policy in Berlin on 29 November that Slovak Roma are "profiting from state help but are neither willing nor capable of assuming responsibility for the improvement of their own situation," CTK reported, citing dpa. In related news, Danish authorities have imposed a temporary entry visa requirement on Slovak nationals as of 30 November, AP reported. The requirement will be lifted as soon as the present influx of Slovak Roma into the country subsides, Danish authorities said. Since 1 January 1999, more than 1,000 Roma have applied for political asylum in Denmark, while some 350 did so over the last 10 days. Norway and Finland lifted a similar visa requirement after the influx of Slovak Roma seeking political asylum there was curbed. MS


Finance Minster Brigita Schmognerova on 29 November said most candidates in this year's presidential elections will be fined for failing to submit reports on the financing of their campaign, CTK reported. Schmognerova said a fine of up to 2 million crowns (about $47,000) can be imposed on those who failed to submit such reports. Those who exceeded the limit of 4 million crowns may have to pay a fine 10 times higher. She noted, however, that the fines will be "low" because the ballot was the first direct presidential election. Among those who will have to pay a fine is President Schuster, although that penalty can be enforced only after his term in office expires. Schmognerova said that both former President Kovacs and HZDS leader Vladimir Meciar abided by the law. MS


The mass- circulation "Vecernji list," which is close to the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), reported on 30 November that President Franjo Tudjman's "vital functions--heart, lungs, kidney, and liver--are no longer responding to the highly professional intensive treatment carried out by top- level doctors." The newspaper added that Tudjman is in an "exceptionally serious, perhaps critical condition, which cannot last more than a few days." Observers note this is the first time that a pro-government daily has offered such a pessimistic assessment of the president's condition. Independent dailies have been more outspoken and have published opinion polls on the presidential succession. PM


Members of the Croatian Bishops' Conference said in a statement issued in Zagreb on 29 November that they hope the government's decision to hold parliamentary elections on 3 January will not lead to a "disturbance" of Christmas celebrations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). The bishops appealed to Roman Catholics to vote for candidates who represent "Christian values" and will work for the common good. The bishops called for "secret, fair, and democratic" elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Observers note that the Church is not closely identified with any one political party. It has opposed attempts by the HDZ to use it for political purposes and is mistrustful of the many former Communists in the HDZ and several other parties. PM


Representatives of Kosova's Serbian minority met at the Gracanica monastery on 29 November and condemned recent violence by ethnic Albanians against innocent Serbian civilians. They urged better protection for Serbs. The members of the Serbian National Council, which is headed by Momcilo Trajkovic, said they will "try to improve the security situation, together with the international community, because Serbs are still being kidnapped and killed" in the province. In Prizren, a spokesman for the Serbian Orthodox Church told the private Beta news agency that "Albanian extremists" there burned a 200-year-old Serbian church to the ground. PM


"They came for help but only got applause." This is how the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vijesti" on 30 November described the experience of Mayor Velimir Ilic of Cacak and his colleague from Kraljevo, Zvonko Obradovic, at a major international conference in Paris on the Balkans. Ilic appealed to the international community to help opposition-run Serbian municipalities "solve practical problems." Obradovic stressed that Kraljevo had serious difficulties even before the recent conflict, "with 21,000 pensioners and 12,000 unemployed. And the situation gets worse every day." He argued that his government faces additional difficulties because of the obstructionist policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic toward opposition-run municipalities. Obradovic concluded that "we cannot solve our problems by ourselves." PM


The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch and the OSCE's Robert Berry said in Sarajevo on 29 November that they have fired 22 officials for obstructing implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. Those sacked include Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. Petritsch said the decision to fire the officials came only as a last resort. His spokeswoman added that the hard-line views of several ousted officials deterred outside investors from investing in the areas where those officials held office. Berry said that the appropriate government bodies must find replacements for the 22 officials. One of those sacked, namely Banja Luka Mayor Djordje Umicevic, told a press conference that he does not accept his ouster. PM


A court in Duesseldorf, Germany, has sentenced Maksim Sokolovic to nine year in jail for his role in war crimes during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The court found him guilty of five counts of assault and 56 counts of deprivation of liberty while he was stationed at a detention camp in northern Bosnia in 1992. Sokolovic belonged to a Serbian paramilitary formation during the conflict. PM


Several political leaders of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority said on 29 November that the Supreme Court was wrong to call for the presidential election to be held again in many districts in western Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). Arben Xhaferi, whose Democratic Party of Albanians belongs to the governing coalition, said that "the Supreme Court decision scorns the Albanians because it singles them out as the main culprits for the irregularity of the elections," AP reported. Xhaferi appealed to Albanians to cast their votes for Boris Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, which heads the coalition. Trajkovski swept the ethnic Albanian regions in the 14 November presidential vote. Social Democrat Tito Petkovski alienated many ethnic Albanians by his statements on Kosova, Albanian-language education, and other issues. PM


The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) said on 29 November that it will ask the government to urgently introduce in the parliament a law granting amnesty to those who broke laws and military regulations valid at the time of the 1989 uprising against the communist regime, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PDSR says it is "keenly interested" in learning the truth about the 1989 events but rejects the use of the investigation into those events for "political and politicking purposes." On 24 November, the chief military prosecutor, Dan Voinea, told journalists that military prosecutors investigating those events have concluded that no "so-called terrorists" were involved and that the shooting of more than 1,000 people between 22 and 25 December was the result of a "diversion." MS


Premier Radu Vasile on 29 November submitted to the parliament a law on the civil service, which is one of the EU's membership conditions. The law stipulates that civil servants cannot be dismissed or promoted as a result of changes in the leadership of institutions and that promotion is dependent solely on competence. In order to facilitate quick passage, the cabinet used a procedure whereby the law is considered to have been passed if a no-confidence motion is not moved within three days. The Party of Romanian National Unity has said it will move such a motion, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


The parliamentary group of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has proposed to President Petru Lucinschi that its leader, Vladimir Voronin, be appointed to the post of prime minister, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 29 November. Andrei Neguta, PCM second secretary, said support for Voronin's candidacy is still three votes short of the required 51-vote majority, but he added that negotiations are under way to secure the necessary backing. Deputy Alexei Tulbure of the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau the same day that parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov has proposed that Lucinschi re-appoint Ion Sturza as premier. However, the president rejected that proposal, he added. MS


Visiting European Commissioner in charge of enlargement Guenter Verheugen and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova signed in Sofia on 29 November a memorandum of understanding removing earlier conditions that the EU had set for beginning accession talks with Sofia, BTA reported. Mihailova said that the sides agreed on a "mutually acceptable timing for the closure of the first four reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant" and that Verheugen "accepts Bulgaria's commitment to [develop] a market economy." Reuters reported that Sofia agreed to close two reactors in 2003, instead of in 2005-2006 as was earlier envisaged, and that a final decision on the other two reactors will be reached after more negotiations. The agreement followed talks earlier that day between Verheugen and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. MS


Neitcho Neev, who from 1992-1993 was deputy premier in the Socialist cabinet of Lyuben Berov, has been arrested and charged with smuggling oil into Yugoslavia in violation of the UN sanctions imposed during the Bosnian war, BTA reported on 29 November. If convicted, he faces up to six years in prison. A number of other former officials have also been charged as a result of the same investigation. MS


by Sophie Lambroschini

More and more candidates for the State Duma have found a way not only to look good in the eyes of the electorate but also to corroborate the widespread perception that the Duma is a refuge for law breakers. With several dubious candidates trying to get elected to the lower house, blocs across the political spectrum say they want to change Russia's generous immunity laws.

Under current legislation, anyone elected to the Duma is immune from prosecution for any crime, even those allegedly committed before the election. The law is intended to protect government members from having to defend themselves against spurious, politically motivated charges. Many Western countries have similar laws to guard against political pressure on lawmakers.

But critics say the lure of immunity from prosecution has drawn many criminals into the Duma race.

The logic of the new, populist wave of criticism of immunity is that if deputies were not protected, the Duma would be less corrupt. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says immunity is a "moral shield for breaking the law." And former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko's Union of Right Forces is campaigning for a referendum on the issue.

According to Russian law, parliamentary immunity can be lifted by a Duma vote at the request of the Prosecutor- General's Office when the latter wishes to indict a deputy for a crime unrelated to political activity. The Duma has lifted immunity only rarely, however, and a parliamentary seat is still seen as effective protection from prosecution.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Fund in Moscow, told RFE/RL that politicians are oversimplifying the issue to appeal to voters.

"[It's] similar to the question of [reducing] privileges," he commented. "It's a sure way to the heart of many [voters]. [The politicians] are displaying pure populism. It is clear that for them, it would not be beneficial to explain to voters that immunity is very much needed and very useful in today's Russia. But another bad thing is that in each concrete case of even murder, the Duma [hardly] handed one deputy over to law-enforcement agencies."

The Constitutional Court has ruled that parliamentary immunity does not protect members from prosecution for offenses unconnected with parliamentary activities. But Petrov says the Duma has not applied the law on immunity properly since it has failed to permit the prosecution even of deputies against whom credible charges of non-political crimes have been brought.

The first big scandal over immunity occurred in 1995, when Sergei Mavrodi, who had masterminded a financial pyramid scheme (MMM) that ruined thousands the year before, was elected. Although his immunity was lifted by a majority vote, the incident was the first of several to erode the house's reputation.

Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) added several scandals to the list. A few years ago, one of the party's members was about to be charged with double murder when he was shot in an apparent contract killing. Last year, an LDPR member in Saint Petersburg was shot. Some Duma deputies, including several former LDPR members, allege that Zhirinovsky sells spots on his party list to criminals. The LDPR's reputation is such that some suspect it of being a Kremlin plot to discredit the Duma.

In the current race, many candidates are widely suspected to be seeking office only to avoid prison. Among them is Saint Petersburg politician Yurii Shutov. Charged with arranging the murders of several businessmen, he was freed on bail earlier this month only to be re-arrested in the courtroom minutes later.

Another candidate under a cloud is wealthy tycoon Boris Berezovskii. Political observers say the only reason such an influential man would want to represent the North Caucasian republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia is to avoid future prosecution. Some of his business dealings are currently under investigation. For his part, Berezovskii says he is so rich that he is the only candidate who cannot be bought.

Yet while politicians speak publicly about lifting deputies' immunity, some admit in private that the issue is in fact about curbing abuse of that privilege. Reformist Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko party, which presents itself as a "clean hands" advocate, has said the question of immunity should be considered very carefully. Yabloko spokeswoman Tatyana Morozova told RFE/RL that the high number of alleged crooks running for the Duma shows that there is a problem. At the same time, she says, any tinkering with the immunity laws would open up the legislature to political pressure.

Boris Nadezhdin is a candidate for the Union of Right Forces and is organizing the bloc's proposed referendum. He says the idea is not to revoke immunity but to lift some of the restrictions on criminal investigations against deputies.

Nikolai Shevshenko, a specialist in constitutional law, says the law on immunity fills a need in an atmosphere of political amorality. "It is clear that if immunity were even slightly lessened, simple political warfare would turn into political warfare through criminal prosecutions," he argued.

A leading figure in the Communist Party, Anatolii Lukyanov, told RFE/RL that his understanding of immunity is the same as that of the Russian Constitutional Court. He noted that if the laws were properly applied, they would protect deputies from political pressure without providing cover for criminals. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.