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Newsline - January 19, 2000


More than 100 deputies who walked out of the first session of the new Duma the previous day boycotted the second day--19 January--to protest what they saw as an unfair procedure for electing the Duma's speaker and selecting committee chairs. Two candidates for the speaker's post--Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction leader Yevgenii Primakov and Yabloko member Sergei Stepashin- -withdrew their nominations before a vote could be held. Following their withdrawal all other candidates dropped out and former Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev (Communist) was elected with 285 votes in favor, two against and 7 abstentions. Leading the walkout were the heads of three factions and one deputy group, OVR's Primakov, Yabloko's Grigorii Yavlinskii, Union of Rightist Forces' Sergei Kirienko, and Russian Regions' Oleg Morozov. JAC


The protesting deputies accused Unity and the Communists (KPRF) of reaching a secret deal, in which both factions would back Seleznev although Unity would publicly put forth as its candidate political unknown Lyubov Sliska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2000). OVR deputy Andrei Kokoshin declared that there is a "deep crisis" in the Duma now which is "a result of a conspiracy between several factions, the Communists, Unity, and [Vladimir Zhirinovskii's] Liberal Democratic Party." Kirienko said that Unity had chosen its new "friends," the Communists and Zhirinovskii, and that "this is a signal which should make us all stop and think." JAC


According to Russian Television, most committees will be headed by deputies from the KPRF, Unity, and the People's Deputies group. The Zhirinovskii Bloc was offered one committee, while OVR rejected the one committee it was offered. When asked why Yabloko was not included in any of the Duma's 27 committees, Seleznev said on 18 January that it was offered the chairmanship of the commission for combating corruption. Yabloko leader Yavlinskii declared the next day that his group will not participate in any bureaucratic posts in the Duma. JAC


On 19 January, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, a leader of the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, called the election for the Duma speaker "one of the first signs of the upcoming Bolshevik dictatorship." He continued that "a vulgar majority that makes decisions disregarding the minority has taken shape in the Duma. There is not even a hint at democracy or respect for the opinion of the minority." Responding to Luzhkov's and others' criticism, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov declared that "democracy is subordination of the minority to the majority under democratic procedures." The previous day, Seleznev told reporters that "in a week we will have forgotten this incident already." JAC


Vladimir Pashuto, head of the Duma's provisional secretariat, outlined for reporters on 18 January the makeup of the lower legislative chamber so far. According to Pashuto, there are six registered factions and three registered deputy groups. The Communist faction has 95 deputies, 81 in the Unity faction, 43 in the Fatherland-All Russia faction, 33 in the Union of Rightist Forces, 21 in Yabloko, and 17 in the Zhirinovskii Bloc. The People's Deputy Group has 58 members, Russian Regions has 40, while the Agro-Industrial group has 36. However, soon after Pashuto's announcement, two members said they were leaving the Agro-Industrial group while one deputy asked to join it, Interfax reported. "Izvestiya" reported on 19 January that the situation regarding faction and group membership remains very fluid and some deputies have applied to several groups at once. According to "Kommersant-Daily," 16 deputies remain independent. JAC


Following the new Russian attack in Grozny on 18 January, Russian and Chechen forces are reportedly engaged in house-to-house fighting on 19 January for control of a strategic bridge across the Sunzha River and of Minutka Square, which controls the main highway through the capital from the east, AP and dpa reported. Interfax quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesmen as saying that pro-Moscow Chechen volunteers loyal to former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov took control of three districts in Grozny on 18 January. Sources close to Gantemirov predicted on 16 January that he will be awarded the Hero of Russia title after the successful Russian occupation of Grozny. LF


Ilyas Akhmadov said in Washington on 18 January that he believes that the 16 January diplomatic recognition by the Taliban government of Chechnya's independence was intended as an expression of concern over human rights violations in Chechnya, Reuters reported. "I would reject any military aspects of that recognition," Akhmadov said, adding that "I hope this will not go against us." Speaking in Moscow on 14 January, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov equated Akhmadov's meetings in Washington last week with middle-level U.S. State Department officials with U.S. support for "terrorists and separatists." LF


A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), headed by Lord Russell-Johnston, met briefly in Makhachkala on 18 January with leading Daghestani officials before traveling to the mountain raion of Botlikh, scene of fighting last summer between radical Chechens and Russian forces. Local villagers reproached the West for focusing exclusively on Chechnya and overlooking the suffering of the population of Daghestan. Russell-Johnston was "shocked" by the accounts he heard of the fighting in Daghestan, according to Interfax. He repeated PACE's call for a ceasefire in order to avoid further civilian casualties. LF


Former State Duma deputy Albert Makashov may get another chance to enter the State Duma, Russian newspapers reported on 19 January. Makashov, who is perhaps best known for his anti-Semitic statements on the floor of the lower legislative house, was eliminated from the ballot just before 19 December elections due to a technicality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). Makashov intends to run in the second round of elections to be held in a district in Sverdlovsk Oblast where voters rejected all candidates in the first round. One member of a citizens' initiative group in Sverdlovsk that nominated Makashov told "Kommersant-Daily" that it is still not clear whether Makashov will be able to pay the election deposit and gather enough signatures. The previous day, the Central Election Commission registered an initiative group to nominate Russian National Unity leader Aleksandr Barkashov as a presidential candidate. JAC


Acting President Putin appointed on 19 January First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov chairman of the commission on operational issues. Kasyanov replaces former First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who remains railways minister. JAC


In a speech in Washington, D.C. on 18 January, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that official Washington believes that acting President Putin "seems determined to move reform forward" in Russia. She added that Putin has "two strands." "One where he has a tough side, in terms of his KGB background and his stand on Chechnya. At the same time he has, I think, been one of the leading reformers, first out of St. Petersburg and then within the Yeltsin administration," she explained. She also noted that the administration is "not starry-eyed about Russia" but at the same time she is "pretty sanguine about [the relationship between the U.S. and Russia] moving forward." JAC


Aleksei Ruzhin, deputy director of the foreign trade regulation department at Russia's Ministry of Trade, announced on 18 January that the U.S. and Russia have signed agreements "regulating all issues in cold- rolled steel trade," Interfax reported. Under the agreements, Russia can ship up to 1.7 million tons of cold-rolled steel worth at least $625 million over the next five years. According to "Segodnya," the U.S.'s anti-dumping probe into Russia's cold-rolled steel products has subsequently been dropped. In July 1999, U.S. and Russian officials signed agreements limiting Russian exports of hot-rolled steel, cold-rolled steel, and other steel products (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). JAC


After meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian on 18 January in Moscow, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told reporters that Russia and China are "quite close" to agreeing on the joint use of the GLONASS space satellite system. He added that bilateral military-technical cooperation "is developing successfully." Haotian also met with acting President Putin the same day, the last of his two-day trip. Before the meeting, Putin noted that an admirable foundation had been laid for broadening bilateral cooperation by former President Boris Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin. Deputy chief of the presidential staff Sergei Prikhodko said that one of Putin's first foreign trips if elected president will be to China. He noted that Putin will not leave Russia until after elections because of his dual role as acting president and prime minister. JAC


The number of credit organizations operating in Russia fell 9 percent in 1999, according to the Central Bank. At the beginning of this year, Russia had 1,349 banks. Sberbank lost 9 percent of its regional branches last year (163), ITAR-TASS reported. In February 1999, Gerashchenko predicted that Russia would have only 200-300 commercial banks by the end of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999). He later revised that estimate upwards. JAC


The World Association of Newspapers sent a letter to acting President Putin on 18 January urging him to protect journalists in the lead-up to presidential elections, AP reported. The association noted that 11 journalists were killed in Russia in 1999, "making it the most dangerous European country to practice the profession." Fourteen journalists were killed in Russia the previous year. The Glasnost Defense Foundation noted earlier that 14 journalists were attacked in the run-up to State Duma elections. On 17 January, the former chief of Krasnoyarsk Krai's tax police was arrested and formally charged with complicity in the murder of a local journalist, Vadim Alferev, who was killed in December 1995. Alferev had been investigating official corruption in the krai. JAC


Ingushetia's Supreme Court building was damaged by an explosion on 18 January, but no one was injured, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. Police had evacuated and searched the building after receiving an anonymous telephone warning but failed to locate the explosive. A second explosive device was found under the window of the office of Nazran City Court Judge Ali Azdoev. LF


Yeni Azerbaycan Deputy Executive Secretary Siyavush Novruzov told Turan on 18 January that almost 10,000 people have applied to join the party since the election last month of Ilham Aliyev as one of its deputy chairmen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999). Novruzov added that most of the prospective new members are young, and several collective requests for membership have been received, such as one from a group of 48 prominent sportsmen. Observers believe Ilham Aliyev is being groomed to succeed his father Heidar as president of Azerbaijan. LF


Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Supreme Council member Muzaffar Jebrailzade told participants at a roundtable discussion on 18 January that representatives of over 1,000 missionary organizations operating in Azerbaijan have already converted 10,000 people to Christianity, Turan reported. He added that most of those missionaries operate under cover of humanitarian organizations. The roundtable participants addressed an appeal to President Aliyev to ban Christian missionaries from proselytizing in Azerbaijan. The independent newspaper "Azadlyg" reported last month that the Justice Ministry recently ceded to pressure from the U.S. to register two such missionary organizations. LF


Georgian State Security Ministry spokesman Gela Suladze told journalists in Tbilisi on 19 January that there is no truth to Russian media reports that there are 20 Chechen military bases located on Georgian territory, ITAR-TASS reported. In early January, Radio France Internationale aired a report by one of its correspondents who claimed to be speaking from such a Chechen base in Georgia. Meanwhile the Ministry for Foreign Relations of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia has denied that Russian arms are being transported to Chechnya via South Ossetia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 January. Georgian National Television screened footage on 11 January showing a lorry allegedly used to transport weapons to Chechnya in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2000). LF


Addressing a meeting at the Prosecutor- General's office on 18 January, Chief Military Prosecutor Badri Bitsadze again claimed that corruption within the Defense Ministry is widespread, and that senior ministry officials are squandering budget funds, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 6 December 1999). He estimated financial losses from such malpractice at $700,000. Bitsadze has himself been implicated in corruption by Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security, which last month began an independent investigation into the tensions between the Defense Ministry and the Military Prosecutor's office. LF


Kazakhstan extracted marginally under 26.6 million metric tons of oil in 1999, an increase of 12 percent over the previous year, Interfax reported. Gas condensate production was 3.39 million metric tons, which is 60 percent more than in 1998. But the country's three oil refineries produced only 5.73 million tons of refined oil, 28 percent less than in 1998. Kazakhstan exported a record 25 million tons of crude in 1999, compared with 24.1 million in 1998. LF


An unnamed presidential administration official told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 18 January that leaders of the El (Bei- Bechara) Party, the second largest in Kyrgyzstan, met with President Askar Akaev on 5 January, and that some of them may accept offers of senior government posts. He said that one El parliament deputy has already consented to become Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to India, while a second party leader accepted the invitation to serve as deputy minister of national security. El spokesmen have not yet commented on those claims. El (Bei-Bechara) has been barred from contesting the party lists seats in the new parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 13 January 2000). LF


Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 18 January that the situation in Tajikistan is developing "in the right direction," although "painfully, with difficulty," Asia Plus Blitz reported. Ivanov was speaking after talks with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative in Tajikistan, Ivo Petrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2000). In an interview published in "Kommersant" on 18 January, Petrov too said the present situation in Tajikistan is far more stable than six or 12 months ago. But he added that a UN presence will be needed in Tajikistan even after the expiry in May 2000 of the UN observer force's mandate, as there are still numerous armed formations in Tajikistan that are subordinate neither to the government nor to the United Tajik Opposition. LF


Visiting the Ferghana region on 15 January to attend the first session of the newly elected regional council of people's deputies, Islam Karimov dismissed regional administrator Numonzhon Muminov and recommended that his deputy, Alisher Atabekov, be appointed in his place, Interfax reported on 18 January. Karimov expressed concern at the deteriorating economic situation in the densely-populated region, which some observers regard as a hot-bed of radical Islam. LF


Young Belarusian opposition politicians, who organized the 15,000- strong "Freedom March" last October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999), intend to hold a "Freedom March II" on 15 March to mark Constitution Day, Belapan reported on 18 January. Another rally on 25 March will commemorate the creation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918. According to the organizers, the main goal of the planned actions is to defend Belarus's independence that is threatened by the merger with Russia and to urge talks between the authorities and the opposition. The organizers said they will invite observers from the OSCE along with parliamentary deputies from Russia, Ukraine, and Poland in an attempt to guard the protest against violence by the police. JM


Anatol Lyabedzka, deputy speaker of the opposition Supreme Soviet, said on 18 January that if the Belarusian opposition loses the struggle for former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir it may remain without a single democratic candidate for presidential elections, Belapan reported. Chyhir, whose trial begins on 19 January, is charged with abuse of office and criminal negligence. If pronounced guilty, he will face up to eight years in prison. The Belarusian opposition believes the charges against Chyhir are politically motivated and in actual fact serve to remove him from Belarus's political scene as the only realistic rival of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. JM


Oleksandr Tkachenko on 18 January harshly criticized President Leonid Kuchma's decree to hold a constitutional referendum on 16 April, which may lead to the dissolution of the current parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000), Interfax reported. The referendum pursues "no other goals than installing an unlimited presidential authority, destroying the parliament, and limiting the rights and freedoms of all Ukrainian citizens," Tkachenko said. According to him, the referendum is Kuchma's attempt to avoid responsibility for the disastrous economic situation in Ukraine. "The people of Ukraine should be aware that they are pushed onto the path of an irresponsible adventure that may put an end to democracy in the country," Tkachenko noted. JM


Eleven parliamentary caucuses and groups that had formerly declared the creation of a center-right, pro-government majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2000) blocked further debates on 18 January by leaving the session hall and stripping the session of a quorum, Interfax reported. The walkout occurred after the parliament failed to approve a motion to put on the agenda a proposal to introduce changes in the parliament's regulations regarding voting procedures. The motion was supported by a sufficient amount of 226 votes, but speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said the voting was rigged because some deputies voted also for their absent colleagues. JM


The Estonian government on 18 January adopted the country's EU integration plan for 2000, BNS reported. Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves said the progress made this year will be critical, as this fall's assessment by the European Commission of applicant states would indicate whether Estonia remains among the front-runners or not. The annual plan also contains guidelines up to 2003, as well as problems and unfulfilled goals from former plans. Ilves stressed that much emphasis is being placed in improving the country's administrative capacity, an area criticized heavily by the European Commission over the past years. Prime Minister Mart Laar told "Postimees" that he would like the negotiations between the EU and Estonia to conclude in 2001, when Sweden holds the rotating presidency, and for Estonia to be a member in 2003. MH


Indulis Berzins said during his weekly radio address that he would like for Latvia to begin negotiations with the European Union on as many chapters as possible, BNS reported on 18 January. Berzins added that the scope of the talks should not be held back by applicant countries not ready to pursue such a course at this point, reminding of the "regatta" principle agreed to by the EU. Berzins again suggested Latvia is ready to begin talks on some 15 chapters. Lithuanian officials, on the other hand, are currently only ready to start negotiations on five chapters, non-controversial ones such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy and science and education. MH


Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele said he stands by his harsh comments concerning the Russian military campaign in Chechnya, despite a stern response from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Skele publicly called the Russian action in Chechnya "genocide," and later added that he thought his statements were "strong enough" and that he did not know how else to characterize actions taken against 10-year-old boys, BNS reported on 18 January. In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the statement "should not have been made by a key official" and suggested that the comments were used to "to divert attention away from scandals that have seriously undermined the positions of the Latvian government and Skele personally," LETA added. MH


The Vilnius Regional Court on 18 January shortened the jail sentence of parliamentary deputy Audrius Butkevicius from 5.5 years to 3.5 years, BNS reported. The sentence reduction came after consideration of a new criminal code, which reduces penalties for some crimes. Butkevicius, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted of bribery in October 1997 and has exhausted all legal challenges in Lithuania. The Lithuanian parliament failed to revoke the mandate of Butkevicius in a charged session on 15 June 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). Some members of parliament and international organizations have requested that Butkevicius be granted clemency by President Valdas Adamkus. MH


The Lustration Court on 18 January opened a case against former Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Janusz Tomaszewski, Polish media reported. Lustration Prosecutor Boguslaw Nizienski suspects that Tomaszewski was a collaborator of Poland's communist-era secret services and did not admit such collaboration in his lustration statement. Tomaszewski denies the charge. Tomaszewski, a prominent Solidarity activist in the past, is the highest-ranking public official accused so far of the so-called "lustration lie." He was dismissed from his cabinet post last August. JM


Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 18 January told journalists after a meeting with Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus that the two parties' teams negotiating the five "addenda" to the "opposition agreement" have made "some progress." Klaus said that "considerable differences" remain but that "no fatal discrepancies" have emerged, CTK reported. Speaking on Frekvence 1 radio, Zeman said that the first two additional agreements will be signed by 26 January, when the Chamber of Deputies is due to begin debates on the budget. Agreement on the budget and the envisaged changes to the electoral system are considered to be the most difficult of the five "addenda." MS


Democratic Left Party Chairman Jozef Migas on 18 January said the decision of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to set up the new Slovak Democratic and Christian Union Party is "a most unfortunate step" that will affect "the ruling coalition's credibility," CTK reported. Migas said that it is of utmost importance to preserve the unity of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) parliamentary group to ensure support of the ruling coalition. Pavol Hamzik, deputy leader of the Party of Civic Understanding, said Dzurinda's decision has "further complicated relations within the SDK," as well as destabilized the Democratic Union, some of whose members announced they will join Dzurinda's new party. MS


Dzurinda on the same day assured his coalition partners that the new party will not be set up before the 2002 elections and that the SDK will function until then. He said the parliamentary group of the SDK must remain united regardless of the internal disputes in the party. MS


Janos Ader, parliamentary speaker and Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) deputy chairman, and Jozsef Szajer, FIDESZ parliamentary group leader, on 18 January said they support Secret Services Minister Laszlo Kover's candidacy for the post of FIDESZ chairman. The three potential candidates agreed to convene the party's steering board before the 29 January congress to establish whom it will nominate for the post. Kover said Szajer made it clear that he wants to continue leading the parliamentary group while Ader decided to stay as parliament speaker. MSZ


Zoltan Pokorni on 18 January proposed that Hungarian high schools commemorate the Holocaust each year "to keep alive the moral responsibility of each individual." Pokorni was speaking at a ceremony commemorating the 55th anniversary of the liberation of the Budapest ghetto. In other news, Hungarian neo-Nazis plan to repeat a commemorative meeting held one year ago in Budapest, which led to clashes with police. On a German-language web site, the skinheads are urging their comrades in Germany to join the annual meeting commemorating SS troops who fell in the Buda Castle fighting the Soviets. MSZ


Leaders of the Alliance for Change coalition, including Dragoslav Avramovic and Zoran Djindjic, began meeting with representatives of the U.S. and EU in the Montenegrin resort town of Budva on 19 January, Montenegrin Television reported. Djindjic told Reuters the previous day that it is now clear to the opposition that the West will not ease key sanctions against Serbia so long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in power. Therefore, in contrast to the opposition's previous meetings with Western leaders, the opposition will now concentrate its efforts on enlisting U.S. and EU backing for three key projects. The first is a six-month program to deliver heating oil to 23 Serbian towns at a cost of $14 million. Next comes a plan to distribute humanitarian aid parcels to needy families, beginning in 13 municipalities. The third project involves paying $32 every three months to those pensioners whose monthly incomes are less than $26. Djindjic stressed that the negotiations are not easy because the opposition has little leverage. PM


The prime ministers of Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro met in Ohrid, Macedonia, on 18 January to discuss improving infrastructure and other links between their countries. Macedonia's Ljubco Georgievski told AP that whereas the countries are close to each other in terms of geography, "we are still far apart because of blockades and bad infrastructure." The three government heads singled out the "reconstruction and building of roads, railways, telecommunications, oil pipeline links, and power supply networks in the region" for attention. Albania's Ilir Meta and Montenegro's Filip Vujanovic said they hope to open border crossings, improve road and railway connections, and develop power supply links between Podgorica and Elbasan. Meta stressed that Milosevic "has no right to isolate the citizens of the two countries." Their foreign ministers will meet soon to discuss border crossings. Macedonia and Montenegro hope to develop road and rail links via Kosova. PM


The steering committee of the Socialist People's Party in Montenegro condemned the Budva meeting as an attempt by Western powers to "destabilize Yugoslavia," "Danas" reported on 19 January. A spokeswoman for the party, which is led by Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, said that the Montenegrin government will meet "the fate of all puppet regimes of foreign powers." She added that Vujanovic's presence in Ohrid was part of the alleged Western destabilization effort. PM


Finance Minister Miroslav Ivanisevic said in Podgorica on 18 January that the introduction of the German mark as a parallel currency to the Yugoslav dinar has proven successful. The two-track system has provided stability and insulated Montenegro from attempts by Belgrade to use the dinar to influence Montenegrin policies, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection released figures on 18 January indicating that unemployment stands at 17 percent, dpa reported. The total in numbers is 240,000 people. Socialist- led government claims that it has created 60,000 new jobs since 1997. The opposition charges that some 30 percent of the population has no work. Observers suggest that the real figure may be impossible to determine. Many Albanians work in the gray economy and do not report their incomes to the authorities. PM


Vlatko Pavletic, who is acting president, said in Zagreb on 18 January that he expects that the official results will be announced soon for the repeat parliamentary vote recently held in 11 polling places. He then plans to ask Social Democratic leader Ivica Racan to form a government on 22 or 24 January. Pavletic added that the accompanying dissolution of the present government will affect not only ministers but also their deputies and ministerial secretaries. This also applies to "all representatives of the previous government who were formally appointed by the president of the republic," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Pavletic nonetheless added that no new minister is legally obliged to replace his or her deputies. PM


Four top officials of the outgoing administration of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) resigned on 18 January, Pavletic added. They include: chief of the president's office Ivica Kostovic, the president's domestic advisor Ivic Pasalic, security advisor Markica Rebic, security services chief Ivan Jarnjak. All four were appointees of the late President Franjo Tudjman. The latest polls suggest that the HDZ's Mate Granic will finish a poor third in the 24 January presidential vote. PM


The presidential contest now centers on front-runner Stipe Mesic, who represents the opposition coalition of four small parties, and Drazen Budisa, who is the candidate of the larger two-party opposition grouping. Mesic told Deutsche Welle on 18 January that he will treat Bosnia-Herzegovina as a "sovereign state" and end the HDZ's policy of regarding the ethnic Croats of that country as Croatia's "internal affair." He stressed that under his presidency Zagreb will seek friends "and no longer enemies at home and abroad." The dapper, long-time veteran of politics in the former Yugoslavia urged NATO and the EU to welcome Croatia and help speed its integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Mesic added that the constitution is sufficiently democratic that it does not need to be changed but simply interpreted more liberally than it was during Tudjman's "centralist" rule. The president's powers should be "limited" to prevent abuse, but the chief executive should still play a key role in crisis situations, the front-runner concluded. PM


Budisa told "Vecernji list" of 19 January that he stands on his record of well- known views and positions he has publicly defended for many years. He added that he does not place much confidence in the polls, since they have fluctuated wildly in recent weeks. He charged that Mesic is inconsistent and that he sometimes talks as though he were from a governing coalition and sometimes from the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000). Budisa also accused Mesic of "buying votes through cheap tricks with the Herzegovinians." (Mesic has stressed that he is the only candidate who has not campaigned in Herzegovina.) Finally, Budisa argued that it is important that the president remain commander-in-chief of the army. PM


Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews, who holds the rotating chair of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, told Bosnian leaders in Sarajevo on 18 January that they must make more progress in developing joint institutions if they want to join the Strasbourg-based body. He and Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer added that they hope that Bosnia will make sufficient progress to join in the course of the year, Reuters reported. Human rights institutions, a local election law, refugee returns, and the functioning of the parliament and presidency were areas that the two men mentioned as needing improvement. PM


Democratic Party leader Petre Roman and members of the party's leadership launched the party's "Manifesto for Moldavia" on 18 January while visiting Neamt and Iasi. The document is aimed at recruiting regional support for the elections scheduled later this year. It says that the party's policies for Moldavia are "stopping poverty, zero tolerance for corruption, and the development of a middle-class." Roman, who is foreign minister, said that Romanian foreign policy will not be affected by the fact that he will challenge incumbent Emil Constantinescu for the presidency later this year. The president has broad prerogatives in foreign-policy making. He said both will promote Romania's interests "in cooperation" and their electoral competition is proof of "the normalcy and stability of Romania's democratic institutions," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


Laszlo Toekes, honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), has refused to accept a distinction from UDMR chairman Bela Marko at festivities marking the 10th anniversary of the UDMR establishment, Hungarian radio reported on 17 January. Toekes said last November that under Marko's leadership the UDMR has been turned into "a communist-like totalitarian organization" dominated by "intolerance." The Hungarian-language daily "Nepujsag," published in Targu Mures, cites Tokes as telling a congregation recently that "heroes are being decorated together with traitors." Former dissident Karoly Kiraly has refused to attend the ceremony, accusing the UDMR leadership of having dropped the demand of Romania's Hungarian minority for self-determination. Hungarian Deputy Premier Laszlo Kover, who attended the festivities, told the audience that "disputes must never deteriorate to the level of endangering UDMR's unity." MS


Education Minister Andrei Marga on 17 January said that following consultations with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel, it has been agreed that the best solution for promoting a "multicultural university" in Romania is to "consolidate the existing structures of the Babes-Bolyai university" in Cluj, Mediafax reported. He said students should be able to take "full degrees" in either Romanian, Hungarian, or German languages at the university. Marga is the rector on leave of Babes- Bolyai. Marko said in reaction that the UDMR continues to demand the setting up of a Hungarian-language state university. He added that the UDMR supports the idea of full- fledged degrees in Hungarian at Babes-Bolyai, but that this requires replacing the present "language groups" with Hungarian-language faculties and departments. MS


Deputy Prime Minister Mircea Ciumara said on 18 January that the Romanian government will not cut electricity deliveries to Moldova. Ciumara said the threats issued earlier that day by the state-owned CONEL utility company to do so by 19 February are "groundless." Ciumara said the possibility was not even discussed at the government's 18 February meeting. MS


Petar Stoyanov, on a four-day visit to Israel, on 18 January discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem ways of improving ties between their countries, AP reported. Barak invited Bulgarian Defense Minister Boiko Noev to visit Israel to discuss military cooperation and the possible purchase of Israeli military equipment. Earlier in the day, Stoyanov visited the Yad Va'Shem Holocaust Memorial to "pay deep respect to million of Jews, including those deported from [Bulgaria-occupied] Aegean Thrace and Macedonia, who perished in Nazi ghettos and death camps," BTA reported. Former Knesset speaker Shevah Weiss thanked Stoyanov for the saving of Jews in Bulgaria proper during the Holocaust. Stoyanov also dedicated a Bulgaria Square in Jerusalem, named so in gratitude for Bulgaria's protection of 50,000 Jews during the Holocaust. MS


Also on 18 January, Stoyanov met in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, BTA reported. He said he is convinced that once the peace process is completed, the region will become attractive to investors and that Bulgaria can contribute to the reconstruction of the Palestinian territories. Arafat thanked Stoyanov for Bulgaria's "long-standing support for the Palestinian cause and of the Palestinian people." MS


By Askold Krushelnycky

Installed as prime minister just before the new year, Viktor Yushchenko is being hailed as a new type of leader for Ukraine. At age 45, he is younger than most of the country's politicians, and he enjoys a rare reputation for honesty and intelligence. His marriage to an American adds to his pro- Western image.

From 1993 till last month, Yushchenko was the chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine. In that role, he impressed foreign financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF with his skill and integrity. Major achievements during his term include curbing Ukraine's runaway inflation and keeping the new currency, the hryvna, stable.

His early remarks as prime minister indicate that Yushchenko wants to steer clear of the corruption and cronyism that have characterized Ukrainian politics since independence. Most Ukrainians believe that their political leaders are merely intent on lining their own pockets.

Yushchenko told RFE/RL's Ukraine Service earlier this month that he wants to bring in younger people whose outlook has not been shaped by the Communist system.

"In the first place, these people should be dedicated to Ukraine's interests in every sphere. This pan-Ukrainianism should become the bedrock upon which we build our nationhood. And it goes without saying that these should be people with clean hands and they must have strong personalities."

Yushchenko was born in the town of Khoruzhivka in Sumy Oblast, which borders Russia. His first financial job was as assistant to the chief accountant at a collective farm in Western Ukraine. After serving his time in the Soviet Army he began work in the USSR State Bank and rose rapidly within its ranks. When Ukraine declared independence in 1991, Yushchenko was the deputy director of the commercial agro-industrial bank Ukrainia.

Yushchenko's public behavior makes him a rarity in Ukraine. Unlike most high officials, he has not sought to exploit his position for personal gain. Instead, he comes across as a self-effacing person who values his privacy.

Those who know him personally describe him as pleasant and sensitive. Bank employees used to affectionately refer to him as "batko" or father. He likes art and, while chairman of the National Bank, sponsored many art exhibitions to promote young artists.

Friends say Yushchenko is committed to economic and democratic reforms. They say he is deeply patriotic and wants to solidify Ukraine's independence and give Ukrainians reasons to be proud of their country.

Others point to his courage: During the presidential campaign, Yushchenko threw his support behind one of the few genuinely democratic and reformist candidates, Yuri Kostenko, rather than taking the politically expedient path of supporting the successful incumbent, Leonid Kuchma.

The primary task for the new prime minister is to lead Ukraine out of its economic morass. Living standards have plunged since independence, and industrial and agricultural outputs plumb new depths with each successive year.

The former central banker holds out a vision of a new, fiscally responsible Ukraine. He told RFE/RL that Ukraine's economic situation is dismal, with successive governments borrowing massively without making plans about repayment.

"The last two years have been the most difficult that I remember not only in Ukraine's recent history but ever in the field of national finances. It's a logical outcome because for the last nine years, as far as economic matters go, we have been living amorally. We did not adopt a conscientious political stance, there was no political solidarity and in the absence of those things an atmosphere of political irresponsibility developed."

Yushchenko hopes that he will be able to win over a large enough proportion of the parliament to back his and President Leonid Kuchma's wide-ranging reform plans. These plans include abolishing collective farms, massive privatization and a radical reorganization of central and local administrations. The present parliament--and its predecessor--failed to make much progress on widespread economic or political reform because the Communists, who constitute the largest single party in the parliament, have been able to block legislation in concert with their leftist allies.

Ivan Lozowy is the director of the Institute for Statehood and Democracy, a Ukrainian think-tank. He says Yushchenko is the best choice for prime minister that independent Ukraine has had.

"I think this is a very unexpected but very pleasant boon to Ukraine to receive such a prime minister as Viktor Yushchenko. This is a respected banker and a person who has demonstrated that he is of a clear reformist orientation. And in the conditions that exist in Ukraine in the political sphere, he is a very welcome addition to the political establishment and it certainly opens the door to the hope that things can change for the better finally."

Some observers in Ukraine believe that President Kuchma's appointment of Yushchenko was simply a cynical move to exploit Yushchenko's good relationship with the IMF and Western politicians. They suggest that with such a respected prime minister, Kuchma could secure better terms for repayment when Ukraine's huge debts--around $3 billion-- become due this spring. After that, cynics say, Yushchenko will be fired.

Lozowy says that could be part of Kuchma's calculation-- but that if Yushchenko does manage to improve the economic situation it will be difficult to remove him.

"Certainly the administrative changes that have begun finally at the initiative of President Leonid Kuchma and now being picked up by Viktor Yushchenko leads me to believe that systemic change has already begun. Again I stress that in the short term, it's difficult to see real changes taking place but in the long term, we know for a fact, and that's the essence of real reform, that they will have a positive impact." Askold Krushelnycky is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.