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Newsline - January 10, 2000


According to preliminary figures released on 10 January, General Boris Gromov won 48.09 percent of the vote in gubernatorial elections held in Moscow Oblast the previous day. Gromov, an ally of the Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and member of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance, commanded Soviet armed forces during the last stage of the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. Gromov's deputy governor will be Mikhail Men. Gromov's opponent, former State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev (Communist), who had been expected to win, has demanded a recount, Interfax reported. However, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that he sees no basis for questioning the validity of the election results. Seleznev told reporters on 10 January that he is not excluding the possibility that he will seek re-election to the post of State Duma speaker. Seleznev was elected to the new State Duma on the Communist Party's federal list. JAC


Novosibirsk Mayor Viktor Tolokonskii defeated Deputy Economics Minister Ivan Starikov in the second round of gubernatorial elections in Novosibirsk Oblast on 9 January. According to preliminary results, Tolokonskii captured 44.32 percent of the vote, compared with Starikov's 42.17 percent. More than 12 percent of voters voted against all candidates. Novosibirsk's incumbent governor, Vitalii Mukha, was eliminated during the first round of voting on 19 December. Tolokonskii won the support of the oblast's trade unions by promising to force the region's employers to pay wages on time and get the unions' approval for the appointment of deputy governors, ITAR-TASS reported. Tolokonskii also reportedly has the support of business magnate Boris Berezovskii. JAC


Incumbent Tver Governor Vladimir Platov won re-election during the second round of elections on 9 January. Platov defeated former State Duma deputy (Communist) Vladimir Bayunov by less than 0.5 percent, according to unofficial results, Interfax reported. Platov had been expected to win, having garnered the most votes during the first round of elections. JAC


Lieutenant-General Gennadii Troshev, commander of the Eastern group of federal forces fighting in Chechnya, said in Mozdok on 7 January that the Russian attack on Grozny had been "suspended," but not "discontinued" because of the dangerous ecological situation in the city, Reuters reported. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had called last week for a three-day ceasefire for the same reason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). Troshev said that the Russian forces were appealing to the population through leaflets and pro-Moscow Chechen representatives to leave the city and had opened ""safe corridors" to enable them to do so. ITAR-TASS construed Troshev's statement as meaning that air and artillery bombardment of those districts whose civilian population has already fled would continue. Reuters quoted unnamed military officials on 8 January as saying the Russian forces besieging Grozny were regrouping. Russian military officials quoted by AP the next day said Russian forces were encountering fierce resistance but inflicting heavy casualties on the Chechens in street fighting in Grozny. LF


Both Troshev and Major-General Vladimir Shamanov, his opposite number on the western front, were removed from their posts on 7 January and replaced by their deputies, Major-Generals Sergei Makarov and Aleksei Verbitskii, respectively, Interfax reported. Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists the following day that the move did not constitute a demotion and that "Russia does not discard such generals as Troshev and Shamanov." Interfax quoted unnamed military officials as saying that both the generals and their deputies had been aware of the impending reshuffle since last month. But Reuters quoted an unnamed commander as attributing the replacement of the two generals to the slowdown in Russia's advance in recent weeks. Makarov told Russian Public Television that the Russian forces have been given new, "more complicated" assignments. He did not elaborate. LF


Chechen forces on 9 January attacked Russian positions at Argun, east of Grozny, and Shali, to the southeast of the capital. They also attacked Gudermes, the second largest town in Chechnya, which Russian forces had taken two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). Russian media reported fierce fighting in Argun after Chechens surrounded the military command headquarters and the railway station. But on 10 January a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said federal forces are in full control of the town. Reuters on 10 January quoted Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov as saying that the Chechens encountered little resistance when retaking Achkhoi-Martan, southwest of Grozny, and also retook Shali. But Russian spokesmen said on 10 January that Shali is again in Russian hands, and that fighting is continuing in Gudermes, where the Chechens are holding hostages in a school, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. LF


AP on 8 January quoted Russian soldiers interviewed in Ingushetia as saying that more than half the men in their respective units have been killed fighting in Chechnya in recent weeks but that those deaths are not reflected in official casualty figures. On 27 December, the number of Russian Defense and Interior Ministry troops killed since 1 October was put at 397. On 5 January, the number of Defense Ministry troops killed since 10 October was given as 426. The next day, Interfax reported that 78 Defense Ministry troops had been killed over the previous 10 days and that losses among Interior Ministry forces had risen steeply in recent days. On 10 January, the Russian military admitted to losing 26 men over the previous 24 hours. That total was said to be the largest number killed on any one day since federal forces entered Chechnya on 30 September, Reuters reported. LF


Finland's Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen told journalists in northern Germany on 9 January that acting Russian President Putin has responded in writing to the EU's criticism of the war in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Putin wrote that "the final solution of the crisis can be political" and that the Russian government "is ready to negotiate with anyone who accepts the [Russian] Federation's [territorial] integrity." He also said Russia is prepared to accept humanitarian aid from such organizations as the UN, the Red Cross, and the EU. LF


Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy on 7 January that he is currently holding negotiations with OVR alliance leader Yevgenii Primakov and Moscow Mayor Luzhkov in an effort to secure their support for his candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections. On 9 January, the political council of Our Home Is Russia (NDR) decided to back acting President Putin. NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin had earlier expressed the party's support for Putin. JAC


IMF First Managing Director Stanley Fischer told reporters on 7 January that the fund does not support the Russian government's recently proposed policy of requiring exporters to sell 100 percent of their hard currency revenues to the Russian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). According to ITAR-TASS, Fischer said he believes that other methods of controlling hard currency flows are available. "Izvestiya" reported on 10 January that the policy is a natural outgrowth of the government's need to balance its budget without IMF financing. According to the daily, a number of exporters, including diamond, aluminum, and steel industry executives, have expressed their skepticism about the measure while oil industry leaders are seeking to forge a common position. The newspaper, which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, noted that the lobbyists for the exporters will have until mid-January, when the new Duma convenes, to try to change the government's mind. JAC


Annual inflation in Russia totaled 36.5 percent in 1999 compared with 84.4 percent the previous year, the State Statistics Committee reported on 10 January. Inflation in December measured 1.3 percent, compared with 1.2 percent in November and 1.4 percent in October. Growth in consumer prices slowed considerably in the second half of the year, compared with the first, as inflation dipped from 8.4 percent in January 1999 to 2.2 percent in May. JAC


Real wages dipped more than 20 percent in 1999 compared with the previous year, according to the Economics Ministry, Interfax reported on 9 January. Nominal monthly wages grew, amounting to 1,565 rubles in December 1999, up 49 percent on the previous December. However, expressed in dollar terms, December wages in 1998 equaled $74 compared with $67-68 in December 1999. The number of Russian citizens earning less than the minimum wage exceeded 50 million at the end of 1999, compared with only 40 million at the close of the previous year. JAC


The number of Jews leaving Russia more than doubled in 1999, from 13,019 to 29,534, the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency told Interfax on 8 January. According to Aleksandr Osovtsov, vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, more Jews are leaving Russia because of continuing difficulties following the August 1998 financial crisis and owing to political instability and increasing acts of anti-Semitism. JAC


In an address on the last day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, acting President Putin called on Russia's Muslim leaders to help restore order in the North Caucasus, saying that the Russian government attaches "great importance to the efforts and rich experience with peace-making of the Moslem clergy and counts on its further participation in the preservation of interethnic peace and religious tolerance." Also on 8 January, the spiritual head of Russia's Muslims, Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, noted that some of the country's mass media have begun to link terrorist acts in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk to Islam, which he said has "created the wrong perception of Islam and its teachings." Gainutdin added that Putin has declared that the acts of terrorists and extremists have nothing to do with Islam. JAC


Acting President Putin attended Christmas services on 7 January in Moscow's newly renovated Christ the Savior church. The service was led by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II who recently returned from a trip to Israel to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Orthodox Christianity. Also attending the service were Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, OVR leader Primakov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC


Ilya Vaisman, the finance director of leading Russian brewery Baltika, was shot dead at his St. Petersburg home in the early hours of 10 January, according to ITAR-TASS. An unidentified assailant is reported to have fired through the window of Vaisman's apartment. Founded in 1990, Baltika is run by Baltic Beverages Holding, a joint venture between the Norwegian conglomerate Orkla and Finland's Hartwall beverages group. The holding has a 21 percent share in the Russian market, according to "The Moscow Times" on 9 November 1999. JC


The Central Election Commission announced on 9 January that 13 of the 225 deputies elected on parties' or movements' federal lists have declined their mandates. Their places will go to the next candidates on their organization's party list. Among those declining to serve in the new Duma are Unity leader Sergei Shoigu, Zhirinovskii's Bloc member Stanislav Zherbrovskii, seven members of the OVR alliance, including Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, and four members of the Communist Party, among whom are Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev. JAC


Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's visit to Japan, planned for later this month, has been postponed following Boris Yeltsin's resignation as president. Reuters on 8 January quoted Ivanov's Japanese counterpart, Yohei Kono, as making that statement to journalists in Tokyo. Kono added that he hopes Ivanov's visit will take place sometime next month. Yeltsin had been scheduled to visit Japan in early 2000. The two countries have yet to sign a formal peace treaty ending World War II and are locked in a territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands. JC


Britain's weekly "The Observer" reported on 9 January that in late 1968, former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had ordered contingency plans drawn up to prevent what was feared to be a Soviet drive to expand into Romania and possibly Yugoslavia. Late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had criticized the crushing of the Prague Spring earlier that year, and London believed, on the basis of intelligence reports, that Moscow wanted to teach him a lesson, the newspaper noted, citing previously secret government papers made public one day earlier. Former Secretary of State for Defense Denis Healey was quoted as having said that Britain could not stand idly by while Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev pushed forward with expansion. According to "The Observer," the government papers do not reveal how the tensions were defused. JC


A Yerevan district court ruled on 7 January that the detention two days earlier of National Television deputy director Harutiun Harutiunian was justified. The following day, it formally charged him with complicity in the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. A senior prosecutor told RFE/RL that the charges against Harutiunian are based on testimony given by Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen who perpetrated the killings. LF


The director and staff of Armenian National Television have condemned Harutiunian's arrest as "incomprehensible" and politically motivated. Director Tigran Naghdalian, who is close to President Robert Kocharian, said the prosecutors are being manipulated by the president's political foes, including supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Vahan Hovannisian, one of the leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutyun, to which Harutiunian belongs, told RFE/RL the charges are unfounded. He added that by making such unwarranted arrests the investigators "in no way contribute to an atmosphere of mutual trust" in Armenia. The Armenian National Scout Association, of which Harutiunian is a leader, issued a statement on 8 January expressing the conviction that Harutiunian is innocent and that an impartial inquiry will establish those responsible for the murders and lead to Harutiunian's release. LF


Kocharian held talks in Stepanakert on 7 January with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Kocharian's visit to Stepanakert was said to be a private one, pegged to the first anniversary of his brother's death in a hang-gliding accident, but he also met with the enclave's Prime Minister Anoushavan Danielian and with district administrators, according to Snark. Also on 7 January, Ghukasian named the unrecognized republic's defense minister, Seyran Ohanian, as commander of the Karabakh Defense Army. LF


The Interim Committee for the Liberation of Abkhazia has warned that it will resort to hostilities to return Abkhazia to Georgian control if there are no results from its Internet appeal for help in doing so by political means, Caucasus Press reported on 10 January citing "Meridiani." The committee was formed on 1 January by Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia. One of its member is Zurab Samushia, leader of the White Legion guerrillas, who have targeted both CIS peacekeepers and, more recently, Abkhaz police. Former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani, who set out in January 1995 to liberate Abkhazia by force, was intercepted by Georgian government forces and subsequently brought to trial on charges of creating an illegal armed force (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 9 October 1996). LF


Members of Georgia's Council of Justice told journalists in Tbilisi on 7 January that they will resign in protest if the Georgian authorities fail to pay judges' salaries regularly and promptly, Caucasus Press reported. Mikhail Saakashvili, head of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia parliamentary faction and one of the authors of Georgia's judicial reform, said that failure to pay judges on time risks sabotaging Georgia's legal reform and compelling judges to accept bribes in order to make ends meet. LF


Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 8 January rejecting as "a flagrant provocation and falsification" claims made the previous day by the Russian Defense Ministry that Chechens are creating "a bridgehead" in Azerbaijan in preparation for a protracted war, Interfax reported. The Foreign Ministry statement also called the accusations an attempt to aggravate Russian-Azerbaijani relations and to draw Azerbaijan into the fighting in the North Caucasus. Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry had issued a similar denial on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2000). Security Ministry spokesman Araz Kurbanov suggested that the Russian claims were intended to create the rationale for extending military operations to Azerbaijan, according to ITAR-TASS. He pointed out that Azerbaijan is separated from Chechnya by a 200 kilometer stretch of Daghestani territory. LF


Opposition politicians questioned by RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty and Astana on 10 January were generally restrained in their evaluations of developments since Nursultan Nazarbaev's reelection as president one year earlier. Communist Party leader and defeated rival presidential candidate Serikbolsyn Abdidin said he sees no positive changes in the country, while Serik Abdarahmanov characterized his own election and that of other opposition figures to the new Kazakh parliament as progress. People on the streets were mostly negative in their assessments of developments since the presidential poll. LF


Absamat Masaliev, who is chairman of the Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan and a former first secretary (in the 1980s) of the Kirghiz Communist Party, said in Bishkek on 8 January that his party will not align with any other to contend the 20 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The Communists are the largest political party in Kyrgyzstan. The Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, which spilt from the Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan last year, was formally registered only in September 1999 and thus is not eligible to contest the poll under the proportional (party list) system. Its chairwoman, Klara Ajybekova, told RFE/RL that she will run in a single-mandate constituency in Bishkek. LF


Nurberdi Nurmamedov, the 57-year-old joint leader of the unregistered Agzybirlik (Unity) opposition party, was arrested in Ashgabat on 5 January on charges of illegal possession of drugs and weapons after a police search of his home, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported two days later. Nurmamedov had criticized the conduct of the 12 December parliamentary elections and the decision late last month by the Turkmen parliament to amend the country's constitution to allow one individual to serve more than two consecutive presidential terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1999). Human Rights Watch issued a press release on 7 January condemning Nurmamedov's detention. LF


Incumbent Islam Karimov was re-elected for another five-year term on 9 January with 91.9 percent of the vote, Reuters reported. His only rival, philosopher and People's Democratic Party leader Abdulhafiz Dzhalalov, won 4.17 percent of the vote. Turnout among the 12.7 million electorate was estimated at approximately 95 percent. Karimov said after casting his own vote that he considers his "main aim" to be further political, social, and economic liberalization, according to Reuters. Some 100 foreign and 20,000 domestic observers monitored the poll, but the OSCE declined to dispatch a monitoring mission on the grounds that voters were not offered "a genuine choice" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2000). LF


Leanid Levin, a leader of the Jewish community in Belarus, is to sue the Minsk publishing house Orthodox Initiative for "fomenting ethnic hatred," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 7 January. The publishing house recently published a book entitled "The War According to the Laws of Meanness," which consists of anti-Semitic articles published in the Russian and Belarusian press in the 1990s as well as in pre-1917 Russia. "Belarus now faces two choices--being in bondage to the West or to the Jew-Masons who have occupied Russia. There is also a third way--while remaining an islet of freedom, to become a center for gathering Slavic peoples and opposing the forces of the evil," according to the introduction of the book. The editors also appealed to readers to support Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, whom they call a "defender of all Slavs." JM


In the two weeks following the approval of reform-oriented Viktor Yushchenko as prime minister, Ukraine's Eurobonds gained some 18 percent in value, the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported on 10 January. However, Moody's last week lowered Ukraine's rating for long-term foreign currency commitments from B3 to Caa1. According to Moody's, the lower rating was caused by the Ukrainian government's plans to renegotiate the terms of foreign debt repayments due this year. As a result of this move, Ukrainian Eurobonds lost some 15 percent in value. Ukraine's Finance Ministry said the government has taken no decision on restructuring Eurobond payments, Interfax reported on 8 January. JM


Olena Hubina, press secretary of former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko, told Interfax that in 1999 Ukraine's industrial production increased by 4.2 percent, compared with the previous year. According to Hubina, this achievement testifies to the former cabinet's efficiency. She also noted that inflation in Ukraine in 1999 stood at 19.2 percent, as planned by Pustovoytenko's cabinet. JM


A survey carried out by the Tallinn Young Reformers, who are affiliated with the liberal Reform Party, shows that 39 percent of secondary school students in Tallinn have been offered drugs for purchase, "Postimees" reported on 10 January. Some 20 percent of Grade 10 students, 35 percent of Grade 11 students, and 53 percent of Grade 12 students have tried drugs. The poll also shows that 74 percent of students have acquaintances who have used drugs and that 28 percent admit to have witnessed narcotics use at parties. While 43 percent of teachers believe students can purchase drugs at school, 73 percent admit they do not know how to recognize drugs use in their students. The report has been presented to the Tallinn City Council. MH


"Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 10 January that the Reform Party, which is a part of the national governing coalition, created an alleged bogus company in order to hide sponsors. According to the daily, in October 1999 Reform Party member and parliamentary deputy Maret Maripuu set up the Citizen Education Foundation, which was apparently engaged in no activities but donated 360,000 kroons ($19,700) to the party. Maripuu told the daily that "the foundation is concerned with the promotion of the international liberal view and for that the money was received from European and American foundations." During the March 1999 general elections, the Reform Party was heavily criticized for receiving 2.1 million kroons in donations from R- Trust, which was similarly engaged in no economic activities but was registered in the name of several party members. MH


The Baltic region has not been spared from the massive flu outbreak in Europe and elsewhere. For example, in Riga more than 1.6 percent of the population is affected and five people had died from the illness by the morning of 10 January. Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs and Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs have also taken ill and are staying at home, LETA reported. The Riga school board has extended the winter holiday for students up to Grade 9 and restricted organized activities for other pupils. MH


Self-Defense farmers' union head Andrzej Lepper said on 8 January that farmers will launch a countrywide blockade of Poland's roads if the government does not fulfill by 15 February his union's demands for higher prices for agricultural goods and the annulment of farmers' debts to the state. "The blockades will be peaceful and there will be no stone-throwing," PAP quoted Lepper as saying. Lepper also announced that the Peasant-National Bloc, a right-wing group comprising Self-Defense, both the August 80 and Solidarity 80 trade unions, and several smaller organizations, will hold its first congress on 17 January in Warsaw. The bloc will offer a "third choice" between the Right and the Left, according to Lepper. JM


The two parties to the so-called "opposition agreement" announced after a 7 January meeting that while progress has been made toward bridging their differences, no agreement has been reached and talks will continue this week, Reuters and CTK reported. Prime Minister Milos Zeman said after meeting with Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus that both sides want to "solve the difficult political situation" on the basis of defending Czech national interests rather than partisan interests of the two parties." Klaus said that among the topics discussed was the pending 2000 budget and the replacement of some ministers. On 8 January, Zeman told journalists that "no minister was in the cabinet for life" and that two months ago his Social Democratic Party drafted a list of possible substitutes for ministers. MS


Zeman said on 7 January that after "studying the position of Foreign Minister Jan Kavan" in his apology to his predecessor Josef Zieleniec, he has decided to "join" Kavan in apologizing to Zieleniec and in "expressing doubts" about aspects of the former minister's case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2000), CTK reported. Kavan admitted that no evidence has emerged on Zieleniec's alleged misuse of public funds to promote his media image, but he said the investigation revealed that under Zieleniec, public funds were used by the ministry for "vaguely defined projects in the sphere of the media." MS


The 37 former students who last year launched the "Thank You, Now Leave" appeal to Czech politicians announced on 8 January that they are to transform their initiative into a civic association registered with the authorities, CTK reported. The association is to have the same name as the appeal, which has been signed by almost 200,000 people since the fall. It will also have a collective five-member leadership, to be elected by an 11- member provisional committee. MS


The media have strongly criticized the government's decision to grant its members a Christmas bonus, whose amount has remained undisclosed. CTK on 9 January cited the daily "Sme" as saying the decision was "unnecessarily silly" and that Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet has "a minor talent" for angering people and creating "absolutely unnecessary problems for itself." Economy Minister Lubomir Harach the same day conceded that the decision was "politically not very fortunate." He said on Slovak Television that his bonus totaled 20,000 crowns ($487) and that he will give it to charity. In early 1999, the cabinet froze ministers' salaries in a show of solidarity with civil servants, whose wages had been frozen in line with the economic austerity program. MS


Arja Kekkonen, an adviser at the Finnish Interior Ministry, said on 7 January that Helsinki may impose visa requirements on Slovak citizens to stop the renewed influx of asylum-seeking Roma, Reuters reported. Kekkonen said some 1,400 Roma arrived in Finland last year and another 30 since the beginning of this year. Slovak ambassador to Finland Emil Kuchar said the same day that the issue would be better resolved by speeding up the process of dealing with asylum applications, which in Finland can take months. MS


Robert Fico, leader of the recently established Smer (Direction) Party, introduced to journalists on 9 January a draft law that would cut social benefits to Roma who, as he put it, "indulge in speculative requests for political asylum." The bill says that people who demand political asylum abroad and remain outside Slovakia for more than two months will lose social benefits for the 12 months following their return. Juraj Hrabko, director- general of the government's Office for Human Rights and Minorities, called the proposal "cheap populism" aimed at building political support for Smer. Hrabko said it is "unthinkable" for Fico, Slovakia's representative at the European Court of Human Rights, to use "racist vocabulary." He added that a democratic state cannot impose sanctions on citizens who ask for political asylum, least of all on members of national minorities, CTK reported. MS


The three largest rail workers' unions began a 60- hour strike at midnight on 10 January after wage talks with the Hungarian State Railway Company (MAV) failed to break an impasse. Trade unions are demanding a 14 percent wage rise, but MAV stuck to its 8.5 percent offer. The two sides are expected to continue negotiations. The strike is the most serious labor unrest in Hungary since the present coalition took power in 1998. The daily "Nepszabadsag" says the strike is an indication of workers' frustration at the government policy of curbing inflation by keeping wages down. MSZ


Representatives of 16 opposition parties met at the headquarters of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) on 10 January to develop a joint strategy. SPO officials prepared two draft papers, one calling for joint street protests starting on 9 March and the other insisting on elections at all levels by the end of April. Officials of the EU and U.S. recently gave the fragmented opposition a two- month deadline to work out a joint strategy to end the rule of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999). In Belgrade on 8 January, a spokesman for Draskovic dismissed recent charges by the state-run "Politika ekspres" and Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic questioning Draskovic's and the opposition's patriotism, "Danas" reported. The spokesman said that the regime seeks to discredit the opposition on the eve of the joint meeting and to divert attention from Milosevic's own failings. PM


Milosevic pardoned Branko Jelen, an employee of CARE whom a Serbian court sentenced in June for espionage along with two Australian colleagues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1999). In September, Milosevic had pardoned the two Australians, who then led a campaign to free Jelen. The ethnic Serbian aid worker joined his colleagues in Canberra on 10 January. Upon arriving in his new homeland, Jelen urged "people around the world" to remember that thousands of refugees in Serbia "are still in a very desperate situation," Reuters reported. PM


The New York-based Human Rights Watch has charged that NATO violated international law in its 1999 air campaign against Milosevic's forces, "Danas" reported on 10 January. In Goettingen, Germany, the previous day, members of the Association for Peoples Under Threat heard reports from an unspecified number of representatives of ethnic minorities in Kosova, who charged that the ethnic Albanian majority persecutes and discriminates against them. PM


UN officials in Kosova rejected an offer by moderate politician Bujar Bukoshi to donate just over $5 million for Albanian-language education in the province, "Danas" reported on 10 December. The money comes from the funds of the shadow-state government, of which Bukoshi is prime minister. Kosova's moderate politicians, including Bukoshi, lost political ground in the course of 1999 to the more militant nationalists of the Kosova Liberation Army and have sought to regain influence. PM


The Albanian government has officially repeated its earlier demand to UN officials in Kosova that it be allowed to open an "information office" in the Kosovar capital, dpa reported from Tirana on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999). Foreign Ministry spokesman Sokol Gjoka noted that the UN is working on a framework that will regulate the presence of foreign missions in the province. He stressed that an Albanian government office in Prishtina "will assist in the process of stabilization and democratization of Kosova." PM


Unknown persons fired on a bus on the Athens-Tirana route on 9 January, wounding three passengers. Before shooting, the gunmen tried to stop the bus and rob it, but the driver refused to stop, AP reported. The incident took place near Lazarat in the Gjirokaster area. The town, which is a stronghold of the Democratic Party, became a no-go area for police in 1998 following several armed clashes. The inhabitants of Lazarat, which was a leper colony in Ottoman times, have a tradition of behaving as a law unto themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). PM


Zarko Rakcevic, who heads the small Social Democratic Party, said in Podgorica on 8 January that his two coalition partners have openly allied themselves with the Serbian Orthodox Church against the latter's smaller rival, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2000). Rakcevic charged that government officials, such as Religious Affairs Minister Slobodan Tomovic, violate the principles of a civil society when they openly take the side of one Church. Rakcevic demanded that Tomovic resign, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Social Democrat added that his party will "review" its membership in the coalition. PM


Nikola Poplasen, who is the hard-line president of the Republika Srpska ousted in 1999 by the international community and Bosnian Serb moderates, awarded medals on 8 January to several leading Serbian nationalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 1999). Poplasen, who refuses to recognize his ouster, made the awards to mark the Day of the Republic and a religious holiday, both of which fall on 9 January, Tanjug reported. The Order of the Republika Srpska went to Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, and Bosnian Serb wartime commander General Ratko Mladic. Poplasen granted the Order of Karadjordje to Bosnian Serb Generals Radislav Krstic and Stanislav Galic. PM


The campaign for the 24 January presidential vote officially got under way on 8 January. The Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) Mate Granic said in Dubrovnik that he will work to integrate Croatia into the EU and NATO, and to promote good relations with neighboring countries, especially with Bosnia. In Slavonski Brod, Stipe Mesic, who represents a coalition of four small opposition parties, said his coalition does not want a witch-hunt. He stressed, however, that those responsible for Croatia's problems during the HDZ's rule from 1990 to 2000 must be called to account. Drazen Budisa, who is the candidate of the leading opposition coalition that won the recent parliamentary election, will launch his campaign on 11 January. A poll published in "Jutarnji list" on 8 January gives Budisa 37 percent and Granic 31 percent of the vote. Some 78 percent of the respondents said they plan to cast their ballot. PM


Miroslav Gregoric, who heads Slovenia's nuclear safety department, told AP on 7 January that his government will improve inspection procedures at the country's only nuclear plant in line with recent recommendations by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. He did not elaborate. The plant at Krsko was the former Yugoslavia's only nuclear power facility. Croatia helped construct the plant and has a share in the use of its output. PM


Responding to media reports, President Petar Stoyanov said on 7 January that he has no intention of dismissing Chief of Staff General Mikho Mikhov, adding that the government has not asked him to do so, BTA reported. Defense Minister Boyko Noev told journalists the same day that he intends to propose that Mikhov's term in office be extended by two years when it expires in June. For his part, Mikhov told journalists that he refuses to speculate about who "masterminded" the rumor of his dismissal. He said he has no plans to resign and that he first heard about the intention to extend his term at Noev's press conference. Mikhov said he will decide what to do in June. MS


Stefan Savov, leader of the Democratic Party and co-chairman of the People's Union, died on 8 January at the age of 76, BTA reported. Savov, who was parliamentary chairman from November 1991 to September 1992, was one of the main architects of the revival of the Democratic Party. The Democrats first belonged to the Union of Democratic Forces and later, as part of the People's Union, to the ruling United Democratic Forces. MS

Former Soviet Defense Minister Dmitrii Yazov Speaks Out (Part 1)

At the age of 76, the Soviet Union's last defense minister, Dmitrii Yazov, walks with greater agility than some of his 40- year-old colleagues. He remembers the events that took place in Czechoslovakia very well. Back then, he ran one of the strongest armies in the world.

Today, Marshall Yazov works as an adviser to the central administration for international cooperation at the Russian Defense Ministry. This interview by Petra Prochazkova first appeared in the Czech daily "Lidove noviny" on 25 November 1999.

Q: A few days ago, all Europe celebrated the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Do you consider those anniversaries to be worth celebrating as well?

It's no tragedy, your country has a right to decide its own fate. But I'm not celebrating. Instead, I remembered why the Berlin Wall was established--because the Germans started a war. The fascists are to blame for all of it, and the Germans had to bear the responsibility for it. The Soviet Army alone lost 10.5 million people during the war. The Germans had to be divided. And why did the Americans, who protested the loudest against the Berlin Wall, build a 240 kilometer wall between South and North Korea? We left Germany in the end, but the Americans did not.

Q: Because no one is pushing them to...

And who was pushing the Russians? We were the winners! It was right for us to leave. But the Americans should also leave Europe....

Q: Were you sorry that you were organizing the withdrawal of Soviet troops from all of Central and Eastern Europe?

Not at all. The problem is that one group leaves, and another group takes its place. I knew it would turn out like that. The Americans didn't cross your borders in military boots, but they got you with money. It's enough to look at who Czech industry works for today and the size of the unemployment rate in your country. You're not better off than you were. The Americans don't intend to share and they're holding all of Europe in the palm of their hand. The Germans are paying them and serving them in exchange for having them on their territory. The Czechs never paid the Russian army for its stay. In 1979 and 1980, I was the chief of financial administration for our troops in Czechoslovakia. We had to pay you for every unfortunate incident, every felled tree or damaged highway.

Q: You didn't regret the departure of the Soviet Army from Europe, but the average soldiers didn't look forward to going home...

Where do you think it's better to live, in Siberia or in Czechoslovakia? Of course it was better for a soldier to live in your country. Furthermore, the Czechs had a normal relationship with Russian soldiers....

Q: Were you astonished that we joined NATO?

I never thought that the Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians would join NATO. [Former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev made a big mistake when he failed to sign a written agreement with the Americans that NATO cannot move eastward. Only a verbal agreement existed. Gorbachev knew that it didn't guarantee anything. Today, a swindler has turned into a hero....

I experienced the year 1989 as an internal insult or sorrow. In the year 1945, we lost 140,000 soldiers in your country, and 44 years later someone comes to power and turns you into an enemy of the Soviet people. We never sold you. In 1939, we were ready to send 100 divisions to help you. I would recommend to all those Czechs who hate Russia to examine how many bones of Russian soldiers are buried in your country just so that it could be independent, free, and have its honor preserved.

Q: So, after all, you consider it to be unjust that you had to leave Czechoslovakia?

There was nothing else that could be done in 1989. I didn't think that our troops would be in your country forever. We had to return home some day. The time had come. I'm just surprised that the Americans can have military bases in Germany, Italy, Greece.... For the time being, they have only a fifth column in Russia. Just look how many American films are on television...!

So you didn't liquidate several memorials to the Soviet liberators who in 1945 guarded your pioneers with pride? You didn't rename streets and squares, all in the name of democracy? As if Praguers launched their own uprising and freed the city with their own efforts. Why didn't you rise up in 1942, or in 1944? You rose up after Berlin fell! Unfortunately, I know that you'll lose the Sudetenland once again. You'll see.

Q: Relations between our countries didn't worsen after the war, but after 1968.

Relations worsened when the Warsaw Pact fell apart. When the anticommunist Havel, the so-called democrat, came to power. Those types came to power in our country as well. You think that democrats are governing in Russia? Everything is run by an oligarchy. They have billions and the majority of Russian teachers are not even getting their wages. What kind of democracy is it when the country's God-given wealth, which belongs to the nation, is being sold off by oligarchs? Why is the state selling off gas, crude oil, and electricity from the power plants, which were built by the hands of the Soviet people? Why is some [Gazprom head Rem] Vyakhirev doing business with my gas? Where is your democracy?

Translated by Victor Gomez.

Part 2 will appear in "RFE/RL Newsline" tomorrow.