RUSSIAN MILITARY CLAIMS GAINS IN GROZNY, VEDENO...
Russian military spokesmen on 6 January said federal forces took control of the Grozny railway station after fierce fighting in which over 100 Chechens were died, according to AP. They added that the Chechen resistance is now concentrated in central districts of the city. But dpa quoted Chechen commanders as claiming that the Chechens have retaken two Grozny suburbs. An official from the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations on 6 January said civilians are again leaving the city through two "safe corridors," one of them in the Staropromyslovskii district. Russian Paratroop commander Lieutenant-General Georgii Shpak said Russian forces are advancing on and encircling the southern town of Vedeno, which is the last sizeable Chechen town still under Chechen control. LF
...AND SURRENDER OF TWO CHECHEN GANGS
Major-General Vladimir Shamanov, who commands the Western Group of federal forces in Chechnya, told journalists in Mozdok on 6 January that two Chechen detachments of 30 men apiece had surrendered to federal troops the previous day in Nozhai-Yurt and Kurchaloi, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that fog and bad weather is slowing the Russian advance, and that the Chechens had switched from "organized resistance" to acts of sabotage, according to dpa. Shamanov and other Russian commanders were in Mozdok for a special conference on tactics, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
DEPUTY PREMIER ASSESSES PROGRESS OF GROZNY OPERATION
Nikolai Koshman, who is the Russian government representative to Chechnya, on 6 January said Russian forces had planned to "liberate" Grozny earlier, but the task proved more difficult than they had anticipated, Reuters reported. Koshman nevertheless predicted that "the main hostilities" in Chechnya will end by late January or mid-February, when he expects the mountainous southern districts of Vedeno, Shatoi, and Itum-Kale will be brought under Russian control, according to ITAR-TASS. Koshman said preliminary estimates indicate that some 7 billion rubles ($259 million) will be needed to restore the Chechen economy. Speaking in Jerusalem on 6 January, former President Boris Yeltsin said the war would be over within two months, according to AP. But retired General Boris Gromov, the last commander of the Soviet contingent that fought in Afghanistan, said that two months "are clearly not enough" to defeat the Chechens. LF
MOSCOW POLICE DEFUSE BOMB
Police in the Russian capital on 6 January defused a small bomb in a Moscow apartment building after evacuating residents, Russian news agencies reported. The police said the bomb consisted of two packages of explosives attached to an electric fuse, but they provided no details on who discovered the bomb. PG
PUTIN MODIFIES NATIONAL SECURITY CONCEPT
Acting President Vladimir Putin issued a decree amending the country's national security concept, Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov told ITAR-TASS on 6 January. Ivanov said the new concept includes "radical" changes to enable Moscow "to neutralize two dangers": threats to the existence of a multi-polar world and the threat of terrorism and organized crime, "which is now interpreted not as criminal but political." The 21-page document will be published, Ivanov said. Putin also approved a six-month work plan for the Security Council. Many observers expect the plan to include greater Kremlin coordination of the various Russian intelligence services, Reuters reported. PG
PUTIN APPOINTS NEW NATIONALITIES MINISTER
Moving to put his stamp on the Russian government, acting President Putin on 6 January appointed Aleksandr Blokhin as the minister for federation affairs and nationalities in place of Vyacheslav Mikhailov, ITAR-TASS reported. Blokhin, 48, has been Russia's ambassador to Azerbaijan since 1995. Earlier, he worked as the director of a Russian Foreign Ministry department for ties with the subjects of the Russian Federation. Noting that resolving the Chechen crisis will be among his most important tasks, the new minister stressed that the Chechen people as a whole "must not be considered bandits." He said such a view would be "dangerous above all for the whole of Russia," Interfax reported. PG
PUTIN MOVES TO EXPAND EXPORTS, ECONOMIC GROWTH
Acting President Putin has dropped the ban on exports of platinum, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 6 January. He also scrapped the 5 percent tariff on aluminum exports for the first six months of 2000, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Putin decided to restructure the debts that firms currently owe the government, as long as the companies promise to make current payments in full, ITAR-TASS reported. But in another move, Putin decided that Moscow will not allow companies that have arrears in their budget payments to export oil. And Putin told reporters that a "significant" rate cut by the Russian Central Bank "would be a very good sign for the economy." PG
PUTIN'S ACTS SEEN AS SPEEDING UP LONDON CLUB TALKS
The U.S.-based Standard and Poor's Rating Agency told ITAR- Tass on 6 January that acting President Putin's first steps as head of state will have the effect of accelerating the debt-rescheduling talks between Moscow and the London Club of creditors. Those talks could lead to an agreement in 2000. Helena Hessel, the director of S&P's sovereign ratings department, added that Putin will pursue economic policies resembling those of Asian nations like South Korea. PG
PUTIN ISSUES CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
On the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas, acting President Putin on 6 January stressed "the special role" Orthodoxy has played in Russian history "not only as a moral standard for each believer but also as an unchanging spiritual core for the whole people and state," Russian agencies reported. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II, who is in Bethlehem to celebrate the Christmas liturgy, called for "unity" between those in power and the entire society while denouncing "the destructive winds of political and ethnic collisions" and "the recent tragic events in the Balkans." Meanwhile, the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Pavle, said in a message to the Russian people that the two Orthodox peoples, the Russians and the Serbs, have suffered much but remain united thanks to their common faith, ITAR-TASS reported. PG
YELTSIN SEES A CONTINUING ROLE FOR HIMSELF
Telling journalists in Jerusalem on 6 January that he feels well and does not feel that he has resigned, former Russian President Yeltsin said he will continue to work for reform at home and better ties with foreign governments, Interfax reported. He said Russia will "never, never, never" depart from the path of reform. Yeltsin is visiting the Holy Land for Orthodox Christmas. Meanwhile, speaking on the Ekho Moskvy radio station on 6 January, Novogorod Governor Mikhail Prusak said he is confident that both chambers of the Russian parliament are prepared to adopt a law on special guarantees and benefits for the former president. "We are prepared to bring forward any bill as a legislative initiative so that both chambers adopt such a decision and leave in peace the president who has made such a step," Prusak said. PG
YELTSIN CALLS FOR UNDERSTANDING WITH ISRAEL...
The former Russian president said at a breakfast with Israeli President Ezer Weizman that Russia and Israel should "follow the path of friendship, mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect for each other," ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. "The times when we could not find understanding with each other, when we quarreled, are over," he continued. Israeli Interior Minister Natan Sharansky said Moscow has the right to defend its national interests in Chechnya. He added that he views Yeltsin's decision to resign from the presidency as "a strong and wise move of a courageous man." PG
...BACKS ESTABLISHMENT OF PALESTINIAN STATE
Following a meeting with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat, Yeltsin said Moscow will continue to work to ensure that Palestine becomes a state, ITAR-TASS reported. Arafat expressed his gratitude for the support Moscow has always given to Palestine and the Palestinian people, and he awarded Yeltsin the Bethlehem-2000 order. Meanwhile, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II said his church backs what he described as the just aspirations of the Palestinian people to gain their independence and statehood. PG
MOROZOV SUGGESTS PRIMAKOV AS DUMA SPEAKER
Oleg Morozov, a Duma deputy and secretary of the Fatherland-All-Russia bloc (OVR), said OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov should work with acting President Putin by serving as State Duma speaker of the Russian parliament, Interfax reported. Earlier, OVR had indicated its decision to support Putin's candidacy in the presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). Such a "swap," Morozov continued, "could reinforce the position of Russia internationally and otherwise." St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said Primakov reacted to OVR's decision to back Putin "very calmly." Morozov said many in Primakov's own Fatherland bloc are now leaning toward supporting Putin rather than their own leader. In other comments, Morozov expressed doubt that any new candidates would succeed in gathering the 500,000 signatures needed to run, with the exceptions of Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovskii, and Yabloko's Grigorii Yavlinskii. Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin told ITAR-TASS that Primakov is the only realistic candidate for the post of Duma speaker. PG
KEMEROVO'S TULEEV TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT
A group of voters in Kemerovo Oblast have put forward Aman Tuleev, the oblast governor, as a candidate for the Russian presidency, Interfax reported on 6 January. Tuleev's candidacy will be managed by a staff led by the governor's aide, Aleksandr Yartsev. PG
NPSR LEADER COMES OUT FOR ZYUGANOV
Viktor Zorkaltsev, the chairman of the Popular Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), said he supports Communist leader Zyuganov as the only plausible left-wing candidate for the presidency, Interfax reported on 6 January. He added that he disagrees with those who suggest that Zyuganov has no chance of defeating acting President Putin in the election. "We have every ground to believe that the result will be positive for popular patriotic forces should certain work be carried out," Zorkaltsev said. PG
ELECTION PROCEDURES OUTLINED
Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 6 January provided additional details on the procedures that will be followed in the upcoming presidential election, ITAR- TASS reported. Pre-term voting will begin no earlier than 15 March, with all ballots prepared no later than 8 March and delivered to the local electoral commissions by 22 March. On 26 March, polls will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., with final results published in the mass media no later than 6 April. CEC Secretary Olga Zastrozhnaya told Interfax that applications to nominate candidates can be filed "no earlier than 18 January and no later than 6:00 pm local time on 13 February." PG
MOSCOW HOPES TO STAGE ELECTIONS IN CHECHNYA
Central Election Commission chairman Veshnaykov on 6 January said acting President Putin has approved plans to set up regional electoral bodies for Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. Veshnyakov said those bodies could also stage by-elections for the Duma in Chechnya if conditions permit. However, he added that "we have to consider whether we'd actually be able to organize elections there." PG
RUSSIAN AGENCIES BLOCK Y2K VIRUS
The Russian Interior Ministry's department for combating hi-tech crimes announced on 6 January that it managed to prevent the distribution of a Russian-designed Y2K virus via the Internet on 29 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The department said it did not register "any significant manifestation of hacker activities" in Russia over the New Year holiday. PG
FSB ARRESTS FOUR MOSCOW POLICE OFFICERS FOR TAKING BRIBES
The Federal Security Service (FSB) on 6 January said it has arrested four Moscow police officers on charges of accepting bribes, ITAR-TASS reported. Among those taken into custody is the criminal police chief of Moscow's North Orekhovo-Borisovo district. Some of the officers have also been charged with extortion. PG
RUSSIAN HELICOPTERS TO SOUTH KOREA, PLANES TO IRAN
A Russian company delivered an Mi-17 helicopter to South Korea's National Police Department in Seoul, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. South Korea has already purchased more than 30 Ka-32 Russian helicopters, and Russian officials said they expect Seoul to purchase even more. Meanwhile, Russian National Security Council Secretary Ivanov said Russia "is on the verge of signing a contract with Iran on deliveries of Tu-334 aircraft" to Tehran. Ivanov said the deal is worth $3 billion. He made his comments after meeting with acting President Putin. PG
VOLGOGRAD NAMES QUEEN MOTHER HONORARY CITIZEN
In recognition of her work in helping to restore the city after World War II, the Volgograd City Council has named Britain's Queen Mother Elizabeth an honorary citizen, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. PG
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CALL ON GOVERMENT TO REGISTER DEMOCRATIC PARTY
In a joint statement, 14 Azerbaijani opposition parties have called on the government to register the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, Turan reported on 6 January. The party, which has an estimated 20,000 members and six parliament deputies, had its registration revoked without explanation in 1995, just three years after receiving it. A group of 19 parliament deputies has asked the Council of Europe to take the situation into account during its assessment of Azerbaijan's application for full membership in the council, Turan reported on 4 January. LF
CHECHENS RECEIVING MEDICAL TREATMENT IN AZERBAIJAN
Some 100 Chechens injured in Russian artillery attacks are being treated in hospitals in Azerbaijan under the terms of a 1997 agreement between the Azerbaijani and Chechen health authorities, Interfax reported on 6 January, quoting independent Azerbaijani media. Interfax also reported that the wife and three children of former Chechen acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev left Baku on 5 January for an unnamed Arab country. According to "Moskovskie novosti" No. 50, Yandarbiev's family had been living incognito in Baku since early December, after leaving Chechnya for Georgia. The press center of the Eastern Group of Russian Forces in Chechnya on 7 January claimed that three leading Chechen figures, including former Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, are currently in Baku, according to Caucasus Press. Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry has denied the report. LF
GEORGIA REJECTS NEW RUSSIAN ACCUSATIONS
The same Russian military press release also accused Georgia of allowing the Chechens to establish a "springboard" in Georgia for military actions in Chechnya. It further claimed that leading Chechen field commanders had traveled to Georgia to recruit members of the former paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni. Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze on 7 January rejected the Russian claims as slanderous and unfounded, according to Caucasus Press. Mkhedrioni Political Secretary Tornike Berishvili also denied that any of his organization's members intend to fight on the side of the Chechens. LF
KAZAKH MIG SALE TRIAL OPENS, ADJOURNS
The closed trial of two men accused of arranging the illegal sale of some 40 MiG fighter aircraft to North Korea began in Almaty on 6 January but was immediately adjourned for four days at the request of defendant and Chief of General Staff Bakhytzhan Ertaev, Interfax reported. Six of the MiGs were intercepted in Baku in March, and Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev and National Security Committee Chairman Nurtai Abykaev were dismissed in August for their suspected role in the deal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1999). In November, Ertaev was named as a witness in the case. Semen Ginzburg, a lawyer for businessman Aleksandr Petrenko who is Ertaev's co-defendant, claimed that former Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev had approved the sale of the aircraft, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. In August, Balghymbaev said in Tokyo that the Kazakh government "had nothing to do" with the sale of the MiGs to North Korea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS EUROPEAN BODIES TO MEDIATE DIALOGUE WITH AUTHORITIES
The Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan has called for a dialogue between the country's authorities and the opposition, with the EU and the OSCE acting as mediators, senior party member Bigeldin Gabdullin told Interfax on 6 January. Gabdullin said the European organizations should serve as guarantors of any agreement reached during those talks. He added that both organizations have indicated their willingness to do so but are waiting for a formal response from the Kazakh leadership. LF
THIRD KYRGYZ ELECTORAL ALLIANCE FORGED
Parliamentary deputy and film director Dooronbek Sadyrbaev said on 6 January in Bishkek that his Kairan-EL Party, which was founded in July 1999, will form an electoral bloc with the Agrarian-Labor Party in advance of the 20 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Two pro- government social-democratic parties forged an electoral alliance in late December, and two opposition parties agreed to do so earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 January 2000). At a congress in Bishkek on 5 January, the Erkin Kyrgyzstan party drew up a party list of 15 candidates and named eight other candidates who will run in single- mandate constituencies. LF
KYRGYZSTAN'S AFGHAN VETERANS HOLD FOUNDING CONGRESS
The Party of War Veterans, which was registered with the Justice Ministry in August 1999, held its founding congress in Bishkek on 6 January, Interfax reported. The party's aims are to encourage reform within the armed forces and to combat corruption. LF
NOMINATION OF PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES IN TAJIKISTAN COMPLETED
The Adolatkhokh (Justice) Party on 6 January nominated 22 candidates to contest the 27 February election to the lower chamber of the new Tajik parliament, Asia Plus- Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported. It was the last of the six parties contending the poll to do so. The candidates include parliament deputies Sulton Kuvvatov and Saifiddin Turaev, both of whom were barred from running in the November 1999 presidential election on the grounds that they failed to collect the required number of nomination signatures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1999). LF
RIVER FLEET TO PROTECT BELARUSIAN-UKRAINIAN BORDER
Lieutenant General Alyaksandr Paulouski, chairman of the Border Troops Committee, on 6 January said 12 patrol boats will guard the 165-kilometer stretch of the Belarusian- Ukrainian border that runs along the Dnieper and Sozh rivers, Belapan reported. The fleet will be based in Loyeu, Homel Oblast. Paulouski added that Belarus also plans to station patrol boats on the rivers that run alongside its borders with Latvia and Lithuania. JM
UKRAINIAN CABINET SUBMITS ZERO-DEFICIT 2000 DRAFT BUDGET TO PARLIAMENT
The government on 6 January submitted a draft 2000 budget with a zero-deficit to parliament, AP reported, quoting unidentified government officials. The draft budget sets revenue and spending at 31.46 billion hryvni ($5.76 billion). The parliamentary Budget Committee will examine the draft over the Orthodox Christmas holidays, and parliament is scheduled to vote on it next week. The parliament already approved a zero-deficit draft budget in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999), but that draft set revenue and spending at 40.75 billion hryvni. JM
LATVIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT FLEES BRITAIN
Suspected Nazi-era war criminal Konrads Kalejs left Britain on 6 January and passed through Singapore on his way to Australia, BBC Online reported. Australian authorities say they will examine any new evidence that they receive on Kalejs, who is a naturalized Australian citizen. Australia's High Commissioner in London Philip Flood said his country may extradite Kalejs to Latvia if it gets enough evidence. The Latvian Prosecutor General's Office has launched an investigation into the wartime activities of Kalejs. Nazi hunters regard him as one of the most prominent suspected Nazi war criminals still alive, as he is alleged to have been a member of the notorious Arajs Commando, which killed some 30,000 people in Nazi-occupied Latvia. Protesters have gathered in Melbourne to picket the arrival of Kalejs, Reuters reported. MH
POLISH PARLIAMENT REJECTS BILL RESTRICTING DEMONSTRATIONS
The parliament on 7 January rejected a bill on restricting demonstrations by a vote of 251 to 43 with 16 abstentions. The bill was proposed by Warsaw Mayor Pawel Piskorski and other members of the Freedom Union. "The point is to prevent some people's freedom of expression from violating other people's freedom of movement and from paralyzing cities," AP quoted Piskorski as saying during the debate. The bill would have required protest organizers to obtain a demonstration permit from local authorities and make a statement to police promising not to disrupt traffic. Currently, demonstration organizers are simply required to inform local authorities of their plans in writing. JM
POLISH TELECOMMUNICATION GIANT TO BE PROBED FOR MONOPOLY PRACTICES
The Telecommunications Ministry has ordered consumer protection experts to investigate suspicions that the state-run telecommunications company TPSA abused its dominant position on the market, AP reported on 6 January. TPSA recently raised its rates for telephone services. On 1 January, the cost of local phone calls went up by 18 percent, while the monthly subscription rate rose by 33 percent. TPSA services about 98 percent of fixed-line customers in Poland and is slated to hold a monopoly on international calls until 2003. JM
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER 'APOLOGIZES' TO PREDECESSOR...
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 6 January apologized to his predecessor, Josef Zieleniec, for having alleged in June 1999 that Zieleniec had used public funds to enhance his personal image, CTK reported. Kavan said that an internal ministerial inspection team did not find any "direct evidence" to support the allegation. However, he also said the inspection discovered that, under Zieleniec, the Foreign Ministry had engaged in the "inefficient use of public funds for vaguely defined projects in the media." Kavan added that he still has "personal doubts" about the nature of Zieleniec's relationship with "some journalists." Zieleniec said he welcomes the apology, but expressed regret that it was accompanied by "new unfounded accusations." Zieleniec added that he still expects an apology from Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who made the first public allegation against Zieleniec. MS
...SAYS COUNTRY BACK ON TRACK IN EU BID
Kavan on 6 January told Reuters that the Czech Republic is still set on achieving EU membership in 2003, a target he defined as "highly optimistic but nonetheless realistic." He said the EU's October 1999 report, which was critical of Prague's slow progress toward meeting the accession criteria, was a "wake- up call" for pro-EU politicians in the country to act faster in pushing the necessary legislation through parliament. He added that the government "is determined to accelerate the process of legislative preparations." Kavan also said the EU is itself undergoing a reform process, which may postpone the acceptance of new members. He said he "personally" would not consider it a "national tragedy" if the Czech Republic is eventually accepted in 2004 rather than 2003. MS
MORE PROSECUTIONS LAUNCHED AGAINST FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTERS
A total of 19 people are being prosecuted in connection with the former communist State Security service's (StB) so-called "Operation Asanace," which was conducted between 1978 and 1984, CTK reported on 6 January. The StB operation was aimed at forcing the signatories of Charter 77 to leave the country. Apart from Jaromir Obzina, who was federal interior minister from March 1973 to June 1983, the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes is also pressing charges against Frantisek Kincl, who served as interior minister from May 1988 to October 1989, and Obzina's deputy, Jan Hanuliak. In 1993, Kincl was sentenced to three years in prison for the illegal detention of some 300 people in 1988 and 1989. He was released on probation after serving half of his sentence. MS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER REBUKES U.S.-BASED JOURNALISM FREEDOM WATCH GROUP
The Hungarian Prime Minister's Office on 6 January harshly criticized the U.S.-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists for asking Prime Minister Viktor Orban to launch an investigation into a hand-grenade attack on the office building of the opposition weekly "Elet es Irodalom," Hungarian media reported. The office said it is "extremely regrettable" that the committee "ignores the basic rules of the press" by relying on "apparently tendentious and distorted information" which has been "denied by the body most affected--the editorial staff of the weekly" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1999 and 4 January 2000). MS
HUNGARIAN MAVERICK POLITICIAN HAS IT HIS OWN WAY
Orban on 6 January accepted the resignation of Balazs Medgyesy as state secretary of the Environment Ministry. The daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 7 January that Medgyesy was forced to resign as part of a bargain within the governing coalition. Under the bargain, the Independent Smallholders' Party will accept the appointment of a FIDESZ-backed candidate to head the state-owned Babolna agricultural enterprise in exchange for the dismissal of Medgyesy, which the Smallholders have sought for some time. According to "Nepszabadsag," the bargain was struck in talks between Orban and Smallholders leader Jozsef Torgyan one day earlier. MS
HUNGARIAN JEWISH LEADER TO LOSE HIS POSITION?
Peter Tordai, chairman of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ), is likely to be dismissed, "Napi Magyarorszag" reported. A 1995 video recording features Tordai and the manager of a security guard company forcibly occupying two stores in Budapest, the paper reported on 4 January. Several MAZSIHISZ officials have said that Tordai's business activities are irreconcilable with his position in the organization. MS
GRANIC VOWS TO MAKE CROATIA 'NICE'
Foreign Minister Mate Granic, who is the presidential candidate of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), told Reuters on 6 January that he will seek to make his country internationally respectable if he is elected on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). He hopes to turn Croatia into a "nice country that foreigners will come to with pleasure." Granic pledged to respect the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, to ensure the freedom of the media, and to enable the return of ethnic Serbian refugees, whom he stressed "are welcome." The international community repeatedly criticized the outgoing HDZ government and late President Franjo Tudjman for failing to do these things. PM
RACAN SAYS NOT ALL COALITION PARTNERS EQUAL
Croatian Prime Minister-designate Ivica Racan told "Jutarnji list" of 7 January that the parties represented in the small coalition of four opposition parties will not have a voice equal in the new government to that of his coalition of two larger parties. Racan stressed that it would be a "negation of the results of the election" to give tiny parties an equal voice in making decisions as parties that won tens of thousands more votes. He described demands by the four that the new government reach all decisions by consensus as "unacceptable." Racan added that Drazen Budisa, who is the presidential candidate of Racan's coalition, is likely to defeat Granic easily provided that Budisa "makes no mistakes" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2000). Elsewhere, the prime minister-designate called on the directors of all state-run companies to offer their resignations to the new government. PM
IN-FIGHTING CONTINUES WITHIN HDZ
Several prominent members of the defeated governing party have publicly blamed each other for the HDZ's losses in the 3 January parliamentary vote, "Jutarnji list" reported on 7 January. Ivic Pasalic, who leads the hard-line Herzegovinian faction, did not blame any of his rivals by name but stressed that the party would not have lost as badly as it did if it had been more decisive and nominated its presidential candidate immediately after Tudjman's death. Observers note that the major reason for the party failure to act quickly was that Vladimir Seks, who is Pasalic's main rival to head the party's hard-liners, refused to leave the presidential field open to Granic. Pasalic backed Granic for the nomination in an effort to wrong-foot his rival. PM
UN OFFICIALS TELL HERZEGOVINIANS TO FACE 'NEW REALITY'
Alun Roberts, who is a UN spokesman in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 6 January that hard-line Croatian nationalists in Herzegovina should realize that their future is with Bosnia and not with Croatia. He stressed that the new Croatian government will not support their nationalist ambitions as its predecessor did (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2000). "This is a new reality. And hard-core political leaders who say differently are deluding the people of their real interests," AP quoted him as saying. His superior, Jacques Klein, added that the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina should concentrate their energies on developing institutions to defend their interests within that republic. PM
SESELJ WARNS MONTENEGRO
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 6 January that federal authorities should "intervene using all available means" if Montenegro seeks to secede. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic recently told Montenegrins to make up their minds whether they want to remain in the federation or go it alone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000). PM
RIVAL MONTENEGRIN CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS PASS PEACEFULLY
Representatives and believers of the Serbian Orthodox Church and of its rival, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, held separate ceremonies in Cetinje to mark Orthodox Christmas Eve. The two ceremonies, which centered on the lighting of Yule logs, passed without incident. Several political leaders from the governing Democratic Party of Socialists and the People's Party attended the Serbian Church's function, as did representatives of the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party. Some leaders of the independence-minded governing Social Democratic Party and opposition Liberal Alliance were present at the rival Montenegrin Orthodox ceremony, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Belgrade-based Serbian Church does not recognize its younger rival. PM
MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER SAYS NO DECISION ON DINAR
Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 7 January that the government has reached no decision on making the German mark the sole legal tender in Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). PM
SERBIAN COURT FREES FOUR KOSOVARS
Radovan Dedijer, a lawyer from Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Fund, told Reuters on 6 January that a court in Pozarevac has released four ethnic Albanians after dismissing charges against them. "I was very surprised. It was a rare case because [all the charges were dropped].... Normally they issue a conviction at least to cover the time already spent in jail." Representatives of the international Red Cross escorted the four back to Kosova. They had been arrested on 6 July 1998 on charges of attacking a column of police vehicles. The men maintained that they were innocent and that police had rounded them up indiscriminately. Pozarevac is the home town of the Milosevic family. PM
BELGRADE ADMITS HIGHER CASUALTIES IN KOSOVA CONFLICT
The latest issue of the army magazine "Vojska" reports that the Yugoslav army lost 524 dead and 33 missing in the spring 1999 conflict with NATO, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 6 January. In June, Milosevic admitted losses of 462 soldiers and officers. Private estimates of the army's casualties run much higher. PM
SLOVENIAN DIPLOMAT NAMED TO KEY UN POST
Danilo Turk, who is Slovenia's ambassador to the UN and an expert on international law, was named assistant UN secretary general for political affairs on 6 January. In 1998 and 1999, when Slovenia held a rotating seat on the Security Council, he represented his country in the UN's highest body. He acquired a reputation for thoughtful analysis, AP reported. Slovenia's new ambassador to the UN will be Ernest Petric, who is state secretary for foreign affairs. PM
ROMANIA SETS UP NATO INTEGRATION COMMISSION
The government on 6 January set up an inter-ministerial commission to coordinate measures aimed at NATO integration, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Foreign Ministry will coordinate the commission, which will include deputy ministers from other ministries. The commission will work out proposals for Romania's annual National Program for NATO Integration. MS
ROMANIA, ISRAEL TO BOOST MILITARY COOPERATION
Visiting Defense Minister Victor Babiuc and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh agreed in Tel Aviv to finalize a "framework agreement on military cooperation" in the first half of 2000 and to initiate joint research programs on military industries. Sneh proposed that Israel set up separate facilities for the modernization of helicopters and armored vehicles in Brasov, Romania. Finally, the Defense Ministry on 6 January released document titled "White Book-- Romania's Army in 2010," Mediafax reported. The document envisages the transformation of the army's Rapid Reaction Force, which was set up in 1997, into "the main nucleus of Romania's future modernized army." MS
MOLDOVAN RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE DAILY WARNED BY AUTHORITIES
The Prosecutor General's Office has warned "Kommersant Moldova" that it may order the newspaper to be shut down for using terms "directed against Moldova's statehood," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 January. The office says the newspaper's use of terms such as "The Transdniester Moldovan Republic" and "the Supreme Soviet of the Transdniester region" amounts to the propagation of separatism and the implicit recognition of a second state on Moldovan territory. The office says that the paper has thereby violated the constitution, which defines Moldova as a "sovereign, single, and indivisible state." MS
Karimov Will Stay in Office, But Recent Elections Send Mixed Messages
By Abdumannob Polat
In an environment in which opposition parties are banned, freedom of expression is restricted, and public life is marked by high levels of fear and intimidation, Uzbekistan's incumbent President Islam Karimov is expected to win re-election on 9 January. It is widely believed that Karimov determined the rules of the current race, including the selection of his only opponent. During the recent parliamentary vote on 5 December, Uzbek citizens were allowed to choose among representatives of local governments, five official parties and some independent candidates endorsed by the authorities, though all those candidates supported Karimov and his government. No independent parties were allowed to participate.
The OSCE judged the recent parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan to be far from democratic and sent only a small group to assess them, rather than a full-fledged observer mission. Now, the organization has come to the conclusion that the upcoming presidential election will be even less democratic, and has decided not to send any observers at all. The U.S. has issued even stronger criticism.
The parliamentary elections could nonetheless be considered a potentially positive, though small, step in the long term, if the regime were to start tolerating more openness and criticism. However, the way the current presidential race is developing gives little hope of that.
Karimov is willing to tolerate some competition among his own supporters for seats in the puppet parliament, but when it comes to his own post the playing field is anything but level. For example, Karimov's opponent Abdulkhafiz Jalolov (Dzhalolov) has much less access to the media than the incumbent. Jalolov heads the Khalq Demokratik (Peoples Democratic, former Communist) Party, which used to be the ruling party. Karimov himself was leader of the party until June 1996.
All five political parties registered in Uzbekistan were created on Karimov's initiative, and they fully support him and his government. Most independent observers say Karimov personally selected Jalolov as the 'alternative' candidate. Milliy Tiklanish (National Rebirth), another pro-government party, also attempted to name its own presidential candidate. But it failed to collect the required number of signatures and ended up supporting Karimov's candidacy.
Uzbek government propaganda claims that such actions demonstrate that both these parties are independent. However, the nomination for the presidential race has more in common with the pre-1940 rules for World Chess competitions, in which the defending champion enjoyed the right to choose the individual with whom they would compete in order to keep their title. However, unlike the Chess Champions of old, Karimov is not ready for a fair fight, even with an opponent he has selected himself. The nomination of an alternative, puppet candidate for president does not indicate that the party backing Karimov's opponent is an opposition party. Moreover, the presence of such an "alternative" candidate lends a false "democratic" image to the race.
At the same time, the alternative candidate is clearly calling for more democracy, freedom of expression, and an independent legislature, judiciary, and media, while at the same time trying to avoid direct criticism of the current president's policies. Uzbekistan certainly needs more openness and tolerance to maintain a balance between peace and stability on one side and urgent reforms on the other.
Until recently, Karimov enjoyed significant credit in eyes of the Uzbek population and the international community for his success in preserving peace and stability in his country. However, he did not implement much-needed market and democratic reforms. The resulting deep economic crisis and increase in corruption have disillusioned many people. Most peasants, who are still members of state-run collective farms, have not received their salaries in years. Land is still owned by the collective farms and the state, which also controls the sporadic water supply.
Today, most Uzbeks -- including teachers, university professors, and physicians -- earn enough just enough money to pay for bread and tea, the traditional fare of poor people. This contrasts sharply with the extravagant life styles of a small group of top government officials and a new class businesspeople, who are mostly relatives of the government officials.
Although such social disparities and the generally poor economic situation in Uzbekistan are comparable to the conditions in other countries of Central Asia, many Uzbeks hold Karimov personally responsible for the current crisis. While he has likely exhausted most of his popular credit, fear of civil strife between the secular government and Islamic militants still continues to ensure him some level of support. Many Uzbeks simply view him as the lesser evil.
Karimov's re-election is pre-determined. The government- manipulated opinion polls have "concluded" that he will receive 93 to 96 percent of the vote in the election. But it is not clear if the Uzbek leader will begin implementing the necessary reforms to open up the country's economic and political systems and thereby clear the way for the country's economic development.
(Abdumannob Polat is a director of the Union of Councils' Central Asian Human Rights Information Network.)