Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - November 14, 2000


The Prosecutor-General's Office on 13 November issued an order that Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii be arrested on charges of fraud, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Gusinskii failed to comply with a summons to appear at the prosecutor's office on 13 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2000). One of Gusinskii's lawyers, Genrii Reznik, said that Gusinskii gave his lawyers a message to give to the investigators saying he has no intention of appearing because he believes he is being persecuted for political reasons "related to his position on the independence of the mass media and freedom of speech." Deputy Prosecutor General Vasilii Kolmogorov told reporters that Interpol will soon join in Russia law enforcement bodies' efforts to find Gusinskii. Kolmogorov added that if he should seek refuge in Israel, where he is also a citizen, Russia "will insist on his extradition." JAC


Another of Gusinskii's lawyers, Yurii Bagrov, told Ekho Moskvy on 13 November that one possible motive for the arrest order was to disrupt the agreement reached between Gazprom Media and Media-MOST on 11 November. Gazprom Media head Alfred Kokh told the prosecutor's office about the agreement on 13 November, but the next day he submitted to a Moscow city court a statement declaring that he is withdrawing his signature from that agreement, ITAR-TASS reported. The court has postponed hearings on the case until 20 December. "The Moscow Times" reported on 14 November that the agreement the two sides reached at the weekend is being kept confidential, but unidentified media sources say that under the accord, Media-MOST would be divided into three parts, of which none would have more than 50 percent of the company. One part would be slated for sale to a foreign investor but would be controlled by Gazprom for an interim period. JAC


Former Aeroflot vice president Nikolai Glushkov was also summoned for questioning at the Prosecutor-General's Office on 13 November but failed to appear, Interfax reported. However, Glushkov sent along a medical document saying he is in the hospital. Boris Berezovskii has been summoned to appear in connection with the Aeroflot case on 15 November. JAC


Commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces Vladimir Yakovlev told reporters in Moscow on 13 November that it would "be very difficult" to persuade the U.S. not to violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. As a counterbalance to Washington's plans to deploy a limited national defense system, Yakovlev proposed the introduction of "an unchanging general index of strategic weapons that would include anti-missile defense means as well as means of nuclear attack," according to Interfax. He went on to explain that "a country that wishes to increase one of the components will have to cut the other," adding that Russia could equate its land-based nuclear forces with U.S. submarine-based missiles. JC


While Yakovlev's comments suggested a softening of Moscow's stance that the ABM treaty must be preserved in its current form, Russian President Vladimir Putin made remarks indicating this may not be the case. In a statement released by the presidential office on 13 November, Putin proposed more radical cuts in the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals (see next item), but only on condition that the ABM treaty is "preserved and strengthened." "We are told that the situation has significantly changed in the last three decades, that new missile threats have emerged and corresponding amendments to the ABM Treaty are required. Of course, the situation has changed, but not to such an extent that the system of strategic stability that has formed by now be ruined by emasculating the ABM Treaty," the statement read. An unidentified "well-placed U.S. official" told Reuters that the administration "takes with a pinch of salt" Yakovlev's comments on an ABM index, noting that they are odds with earlier comments by Putin and that Washington's "inclination" would be to give more weight to the president's words than the general's. JC


Putin's 13 November statement says that Russia is prepared to propose even more radical cuts in its and the U.S.'s nuclear arsenals than it earlier suggested--provided the ABM treaty is preserved. Putin noted that Moscow has already proposed reducing the number of warheads to 1,500 each by 2008 but added that this is "not a limit." He did not give any precise numbers for even more radical reductions. In April the Russian State Duma finally ratified the START II treaty, which provides for roughly halving the two countries' nuclear arsenals to 3,500 each. Under START III, whose details are to be negotiated once START II goes into effect, the number of each side's warheads would be reduced to 2,000-2,500. START II has not yet taken effect because the Duma added conditions that have still to be ratified by the U.S. Senate. JC


Interros Group head Vladimir Potanin told Interfax on 13 November that the Mustcom consortium, which holds a 25 percent stake plus one share in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest, must remain intact until shares in Svyazinvest begin to be traded on the market. Potanin added that "as soon as the shares are listed and the company really goes public, all agreements automatically expire and the members of Mustcom will become direct owners of Svyazinvest shares." Consortium members do not need to sort the issue out yet, Potanin explained, because "under earlier agreements Mustcom will remain unchanged until the summer of 2001." Potanin had announced last month that the consortium, which won the Svyazinvest stake during a 1997 privatization, must be dissolved. However, international financier George Soros said shortly after that his Quantum Fund, which is one of the largest members of Mustcom, is not going to leave the consortium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 31 October 2000). JAC


Members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction in the State Duma will meet on 18-19 November to discuss a draft proposal to transform the faction into a political party, Russian agencies reported on 13 November. The group's initiative is connected with the State Duma's plans to consider a proposed law on political parties drafted by the Central Election Commission under which candidates for elections could be nominated by political parties only. According SPS press secretary Lilia Dudovaya, the SPS is made up of nine parties and movements. SPS Duma faction member Sergei Yushenkov told Interfax that the meeting will also discuss the question of a future leader of the party. In his opinion, that post should be held by either Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, or deputy (SPS) Viktor Pokhmelkin. JAC


State Duma deputies have announced their intention to form an inter-factional deputy group called the "European Club," State Duma deputy (Unity) Vladimir Semenov told reporters on 13 November. The new group's goal, according to Semenov, will be to urge Russia's leadership to take a clearer position on the country's integration into Europe and to take "more sensible steps" toward achieving that goal. Semenov was part of a recent Duma delegation to NATO headquarters in Brussels. He said that one of the main objectives of that trip was to discuss "the possible financial involvement of NATO programs in resolving one of the sorest points of the past decade, the identification of the remains of those killed during the first military campaign in Chechnya." Some bodies of those killed are stored at a special laboratory in Rostov-na-Donu. JAC


Russian President Putin met with his Mongolian counterpart, Natsagiin Bagabandi, in the Mongolian capital on 14 November and signed a joint declaration confirming their continued adherence to the 1993 friendship and cooperation treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. According to that declaration, the two sides favor a multi-polar world, while Ulan Bator supports Russia's efforts to preserve the 1972 ABM Treaty and expresses concern over plans to deploy national or regional missile defense systems. Putin, who was accompanied by Security Council chief Sergei Ivanov and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Gordeev, left Mongolia later on 14 November for Brunei, where he will take part in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. JC


Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived in the Iraqi capital on 13 November at the start of a seven-day tour of the Middle East. He immediately called for concrete measures toward lifting the UN embargo on Iraq within what he called the "framework of a resumption of international inspections" in Iraq. The next day, RIA quoted Ivanov as saying that current international policies of sanctions and military pressure on Iraq have caused only human suffering and that "one should not only demand that Iraq make good on decisions taken by the international community but also create favorable conditions for it to do so." Ivanov urged the international community to "drop old stereotypes and start looking for ways to solve the problem constructively while taking into account the interests of all Gulf states." JC


The Moscow City Court on 14 November rejected a request by accused U.S. spy Edmond Pope's lawyers to call three more witnesses to establish if information received by Pope was classified. Pope is alleged to have obtained top-secret information on a high-speed torpedo, but several witnesses, including Anatolii Babkin, who is accused of handing over such data to Pope, have testified that the information was not classified. According to AP, the court also rejected a defense protest that documents on the torpedo introduced during the trial are different from the ones Pope obtained from Babkin. JC


Troika Dialog Bank Vice President and Chief Economist Oleg Vyugin told Ekho Moskvy on 13 November that the ruble will probably fall a little against the dollar at the beginning of 2001. Vyugin, a former first deputy finance minister, declared that the Central Bank will "take advantage of January pressure on the ruble and devalue it a little." He added that the "slight devaluation" will be "smooth" and "not cause any shocks or concerns in the commercial sector or among Russian citizens." Vyugin's comments follow a recent statement by Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref that the ruble will not be devalued anytime soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2000). JAC


Deputy General Director Vitalii Filippov was murdered in Moscow on 12 November as he entered his apartment block on Vernadskogo Prospekt. An unknown gunman fired several shots at Filippov, hitting him in the chest and stomach, Reuters reported. JAC


Commenting during a two-day meeting of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) foreign and trade ministers in Brunei on 13 November, Minister for Economic Development and Trade Gref pledged that Russia will expand its activities in APEC. In particular, he noted that Russia will participate in APEC's international information system, which he said will "facilitate the automatic transmission of information about Russia to APEC countries through our information sources," ITAR-TASS reported. Russia also hopes to expand "the presence of [Russian] businesses in the markets of [APEC] states." He added that Russia is already involved in APEC's program on electronic commerce, although Russia has not yet approved a law on computer commerce. JAC


Gref also acknowledged that Russia "considerably lags behind" other developed countries with regard to the Internet, ITAR-TASS reported. Gref estimated that there are 1.5-2 Internet users in Russia per every 100 people compared with 12 in Japan and 40-45 in the U.S. Gref said that Russia will pay much attention to the more active use of the Internet in the regional economy, including in commodity and financial transactions. Gref's estimate of Russia's Internet users, 2.2-2.9 million people, is slightly lower than a previous government estimate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August and 5 October 2000). JAC


President Robert Kocharian on 11 November named parliamentary Budget Committee Chairman Vartan Khachatrian as finance and economy minister to replace Levon Barkhudarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on 13 November that Barkhudarian resigned voluntarily, but an unnamed Finance and Economy Ministry source told RFE/RL that Barkhudarian was fired by Markarian and Kocharian. On 9 November the latter had warned ministers responsible for mounting wage and pensions arrears that they could be fired if the situation does not improve by the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2000). LF


Speaking in Strasbourg on 11 November, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said that neither mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group nor the periodic talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan has yielded progress toward a solution of the Karabakh conflict, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Guliev said that visits by the Minsk Group co-chairmen over the past two years have been "a mere formality," as those officials prefer to leave it to the two presidents to propose a solution. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, denied that the peace process is deadlocked and said that the meetings between the two presidents have laid a firm foundation for further progress, according to Snark as cited by Groong on 13 November. While Guliev had said bilateral economic cooperation is contingent on a solution to the conflict, Oskanian advocated embarking on such cooperation immediately without preconditions in order to "create a more favorable atmosphere in the region." LF


Another two Azerbaijani political parties have surmounted the 6 percent minimum to secure representation in the new legislature under the proportional system, AP reported on 13 November, quoting Central Electoral Commission official Gusein Pashaev. Pashaev said that the Communist Party of Azerbaijan polled 6.7 percent and the Civil Solidarity Party 6.3 percent. Those two parties thus win two seats each and thereby join the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (which won 62.5 per cent of the vote and 17 of the party-list seats) and the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (10.8 percent of the vote and four seats) in the parliament. LF


Iran has reopened its consulate in Nakhichevan, AFP reported on 13 November. The consulate was closed last week after a group of Azerbaijanis attempted to force their way into the building to protest the continued detention of an Azerbaijani woman in Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2000). LF


Supplies of natural gas to Azerbaijan are being held up because the Russian State Customs Committee has not yet granted permission for the gas to transit Russian territory en route from Central Asia, Interfax reported on 13 November, citing the press service of the gas export corporation ITERA. ITERA had concluded an agreement with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR to provide 217 million cubic meters of gas during the last two months of this year to fuel heating and power plants in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). Turan on 3 November quoted an unnamed Azerbaijani energy sector official as saying the country's reserves of heating oil are virtually depleted and that this summer's drought has left water levels so low that the amount of hydro-electric power generated has fallen by 20 percent. The source said that unless Azerbaijan begins receiving natural gas via Russia by mid-November, it will have to cut power supplies by the end of the month. LF


A Russian State Duma delegation headed by Duma Deputy Chairman Vladimir Lukin held talks in Tbilisi on 13 November with Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, Caucasus Press reported. Agreeing that the present state of bilateral relations is unsatisfactory, the three officials pledged to seek to improve that situation. Lukin also assured his Georgian interlocutors that Russia will comply with its undertaking to close its military bases in Georgia, but he added that how this would be done in the case of the disputed Gudauta base remains to be decided. Lukin also told Menagharishvili that he personally opposes the planned introduction of a visa regime between the two countries beginning next month. In his traditional Monday radio interview, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze similarly said on 13 November that he does not believe that either Russian President Vladimir Putin or Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov supports that initiative, Interfax reported. In fact, it was Putin who first proposed that initiative one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1999). LF


Three convicts escaped from a prison in Rustavi on 13 November through a tunnel dug several years earlier and then partly blocked, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Justice Minister Mihail Saakashvili, who was appointed to that post after a similar jail break in early October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 5 October 2000), termed the escape "sabotage" and blamed the prison director, who, he said, has been implicated in bribery and torturing prison inmates. LF


Zugdidi City Prosecutor Roland Akhalaya submitted his resignation on 9 November to protest the release from detention of Dato Shengelia, leader of the Forest Brothers guerrilla movement, Caucasus Press reported. Shengelia, who is believed to be involved in smuggling, had been detained in mid-September for assaulting a local official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September and 9 November 2000). Akhalaya said that Shengelia's release demonstrates that it is pointless to try to combat corruption in Georgia. In June 2000 Akhalaya had accused Deputy Prosecutor General Tamaz Kogua of corruption, but a commission set up by the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate that accusation failed to produce any substantiating evidence. LF


Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Sat Toqpaqbaev said in Almaty on 13 November that if asked to do so, Kazakhstan will provide military aid to fellow Central Asian states within the parameters of the Tashkent agreement, Interfax reported. He added that it will be decided on a case-by-case basis whether Kazakhstan sends troops or merely provide military equipment. On 9 November, Kazakhstan's parliament had authorized President Nursultan Nazarbaev to send Kazakh troops to fight abroad in compliance with the country's international commitments. Also on 13 November, Kazakhstan's Air Force Commander Mukhtar Altynbaev said that Kazakhstan's air bases will be relocated to reduce the present concentration on a possible threat from the east and strengthen defense capacity in the south of the country, Interfax reported. Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told a government session in Astana on 13 November that the government will continue to support enterprises that produce equipment for the country's defense industry, and he noted the importance of cooperation with Russia's military-industrial complex. LF


Addressing a joint session of the two chambers of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 14 November, President Askar Akaev pledged to concentrate during his new presidential term on improving the country's economy and social conditions, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev said he has instructed the prosecutor-general to deliver within two weeks a report into widespread allegations of fraud during the 29 October presidential poll. Akaev also said he takes "very seriously" the U.S. House of Representatives 1 November resolution criticizing the Central Asia states' failure to meet commitments to democratization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2000). Akaev said he has invited U.S. congressmen to visit Kyrgyzstan to assess the situation there. He also pledged to extend for one year the moratorium on capital punishment and to establish the post of national ombudsman. LF


Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced on 12 November that his country has reached agreement with Russia's Gazprom to sell 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Russia in 2001, according to the "Wall Street Journal" on 14 November. The price Russia will pay was not disclosed. Turkmenistan has already signed an agreement to supply Ukraine with 30 billion cubic meters of gas next year. According to a Turkmen government press release summarized by Interfax on 13 November, Ashgabat has begun talks with international consulting firms on selling Azerbaijan's, Kazakhstan's, and Ukraine's accumulated debts for gas supplies. Alternatively, Ashgabat may appeal the non-payment of those debts in an international court. Azerbaijan currently owes $59 million for gas supplied in 1993-1994, while Kazakhstan owes $57.9 for gas and electricity supplies in 1994. LF


Speaking on national television on 12 November, President Niyazov castigated regional governors and government officials for a 20 percent shortfall in this year's cotton harvest, Reuters reported. The total yield this year was 1.03 million tons, 20 percent short of last year's figure of 1.3 million tons. Niyazov said that weather conditions were not to blame for the disappointing harvest. He warned that "everyone will be held responsible." LF


Deputy Prosecutor-General Erkin Kudratov on 13 November asked the country's Supreme Court to hand down the death sentence to 10 out of 12 men on trial on charges of terrorism, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. The 10 include two leading members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and exiled Erk Party leader Mukhammed Solih, who are accused of perpetrating the February 1999 car bombings in Tashkent, in which 16 people were killed. All three are being tried in absentia. Kudratov demanded 20-year sentences for the remaining two defendants, both of whom were present in the dock. LF


Alyaksandr Lukashenka has nominated General Yury Sivakou as deputy chief of the presidential administration responsible for organizational and personnel issues, Belarusian Television on 13 November. Lukashenka fired Sivakou from the post of interior minister in April, following a police crackdown on an opposition rally in Minsk, when police officers arrested several hundred people, including 40 journalists. "Judging by your appearance, you're in normal health. You've taken a little rest, I understand," Lukashenka said, adding that he wants Sivakou to help presidential administration head Mikhail Myasnikovich, who is now "barely dragging his feet." "You will significantly reinforce the administration leadership. What is important, you have normal relations with the opposition. That suits me," Lukashenka noted. JM


The Foreign Ministry on 13 November has protested the attack on Belarusian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Uladzimir Belski, which took place in Warsaw last week, Belarusian Television reported. When Belski and his driver got out of their car in downtown Warsaw, three unknown men got into it and drove off. Belski fractured his arm in a scuffle with the assailants. JM


Ukrainian premier's spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna on 13 November denied rumors that Premier Viktor Yushchenko has tendered his resignation, Interfax reported. The same day, parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch said there are no reasons for Yushchenko's dismissal, adding that President Leonid Kuchma has never told him, Plyushch, that he wants to dismiss Yushchenko. Zarudna and Plyushch appear to have been commenting on last week's report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" saying that Yushchenko's ouster is inevitable. The Moscow newspaper, referring to a source in the Ukrainian presidential administration, wrote that Yushchenko will be dismissed immediately after George Bush is confirmed as U.S. president. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Yushchenko will be sacked because of the unfavorable report by Yevhen Marchuk, chief of the Council of National Security and Defense, on the situation in the fuel and energy sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). JM


Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz has said his Left Center caucus is likely to join the pro-government majority in the parliament, Interfax reported on 13 November. "Most likely, we will support Viktor Yushchenko's government, but this [step] depends on him," Moroz said without elaborating. JM


Anna Lindh wrapped up a brief tour of the Baltic states in Tallinn on 13 November, where she held talks with Prime Minister Mart Laar and President Lennart Meri, BNS reported. Sweden takes over the six-month presidency of the EU beginning 1 January. In Riga on 10 November, she told a news conference that some candidate countries might join the EU even sooner than predicted in the recent European Commission reports and declared that one of Sweden's main goals during its presidency will be to speed up EU enlargement. Later the same day she traveled to Vilnius, where she repeated that message to President Valdas Adamkus. Adamkus said his country does not expect any special concessions from Sweden and hopes "to finalize talks with the EU by the end of 2002 and get ready for membership in 2004." SG


The number of registered job seekers in Estonia grew from 42,900 in September (4.9 per cent of the working-age population), to 47,600 (5.5 per cent ) in October, Aripaev reported on 14 November. The number of unemployed was highest in Ida-Virumaa (10 percent) and lowest in Parnumaa (2.8 per cent). Ludmilla Smirnova, the head of the statistics bureau of the Labor Department, said that the number of new job seekers in October reached a "record high" (9,500) in part due to amendments to the unemployment law that went into force on October 1. Those amendments extended the period of paying unemployment benefits from 180 days to 270 days and changed the regulations for registering as jobless. In October, unemployment benefits were paid to 25,100 people, up 8.5 percent on September. The real number of unemployed is probably much higher: the Estonian Confederation of Trade Unions put the figure at 100,000. SG


Equatorial Guinea officials stopped the Lithuanian vessel "Rytas" in neutral waters off the western coast of Africa on 10 November and ordered it to proceed to the port of Malabo. The reasons for that move are not known. The ship's radio equipment was destroyed and the captain, a Russian citizen, and some crew members were questioned but then allowed to return to the ship, to which they are now confined with the rest of the crew. "Rytas" was transporting frozen fish, worth about $250,000, from Mauritania to Cameroon; it reportedly has no fishing equipment aboard and therefore could not have been fishing illegally. The vessel's cargo has been removed from the ship. Lithuania, which has no diplomats in Africa, has asked Russian and French authorities for help. Lithuania Radio reported on 14 November that no charges have been made against the ship's crew but it is unclear when the vessel might be released. SG


The Treasury Ministry has filed suit to invalidate the 1999 agreement to sell 30 percent of PZU, Poland's largest insurance company, to the Dutch-based consortium Eureko and BIG Bank Gdanski, Polish media reported on 13 November. The ministry said it wants to protect the stability of PZU and exercise its rights as a majority stockholder. It charged that Eureko misled the government about its intentions concerning PZU. Politicians from the leftist Democratic Left Alliance and the centrist Freedom Union have warned that the annulment of the PZU's privatization may undermine Poland's credibility among foreign investors. JM


Prosecutors in Katowice have launched an investigation into the 11 November demonstration by some 400 nationalists who chanted anti-Semitic slogans and burned the EU and Israeli flags (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2000), PAP reported on 13 November. The investigation is to determine whether the rally violated laws banning the public propagation of fascism and hate-mongering. The demonstration was officially organized by the No To Europe Association. The association's head, Tadeusz Mazanek, told the agency that only some 30 percent of participants in the rally were actually members of his organization. According to PAP, the anti-Semitic slogans were chanted by skinheads led by Boguslaw Rybicki, a founder of the National Party. JM


The low turnout at the 12 November elections to regional parliaments--the first of their kind in the Czech Republic --and one-third of the seats in the Senate was an "unpleasant surprise" for Vaclav Havel, presidential spokesman Martin Kralf told CTK the following day. Havel, Kralf said, considers the low turnout to be a sign of citizens' views on politics and political institutions, which "requires serious reflection," Kraft said. "Every vote counts, every vote is important for the fate of many of our laws that are considered by the Senate," Havel said in an appeal to voters before the second round of the Senate elections on 19 November. Only about one-third of the some 2.7 million eligible voters went to the polls at the weekend. JC


The Supreme Military Court in Trencin, western Slovakia, has confirmed a 1993 Czech military court's ruling sentencing Alojz Lorenc, the last chief of the Czechoslovak secret police, to four years in prison for abuse of power, CTK reported on 14 November. The decision means that the sentence, which Lorenc did not serve because of the split of the federation, can now be enforced in Slovakia, where Lorenc now lives. The court has still to decide whether the statute of limitations applies to Lorenc's sentence. JM


Rudolf Schuster on 13 November returned home from Innsbruck, Austria, where he had undergone medical tests over the past few days after Austrian doctors operated on him last month for a perforated colon. TASR quoted one Austrian surgeon as saying that Schuster is now "completely healthy." Schuster told journalists that he is feeling well and intends to return to his office on 20 November. Commenting on the invalid 11 November referendum on early parliamentary elections, Schuster said he expected the referendum to fail but added that he is surprised that voters showed such little interest. According to Schuster, the current ruling coalition should remain in office until the end of its term. JM


The parliamentary committee investigating alleged illegal oil deals in Hungary between 1992 and 1996 has made public the confession that former police Lieutenant Istvan "Papa" Sandor made last week. Sandor said detectives at the Prosecutor's Investigative Office cooperated with underworld figures. He also claimed that Interior Minister Sandor Pinter was linked to "bombmaker" Leonid Kolchinski and that policemen provided protection to criminals in exchange for information. "Vilaggazdasag" reported that "Papa" attacked anyone who he thought could have had something to do with his arrest. He was recently detained for abuse of office and bribery. MSZ


NATO will launch about 60 billion forints ($200 million) worth of investment projects in Hungary over the next few years, Ferenc Bese, director-general of the Defense Ministry's Procurement and Security Office, announced on 13 November. He said the four major development projects include the upgrading of communications and information technology systems, installing radar stations, and upgrading airports to be able to receive NATO planes. For its part, Hungary will contribute 1 billion forints to the projects annually. MSZ


The main Croatian, Serbian, and Muslim nationalist parties are in the lead after the first official results of the 11 November general elections, Reuters reported. The OSCE said that with roughly some 33 percent of the votes counted, the Croatian Democratic Community was ahead in the Muslim-Croatian Federation, the Muslim Party for Democratic Action second, and the multiethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) third. SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija said, however, that the "nationalist parties will not have an absolute majority in the state parliament." In Republika Srpska, the Serbian Democratic Party is winning the vote and its presidential candidate, Mirko Sarovic, is leading the pro-Western Bosnian Serb premier, Milorad Dodik, by some 20 percentage points. The results were viewed as disappointing by Western officials, who had urged voters to turn away from the nationalist parties. James Lyon of the International Crisis Group said: "After five years and five billion dollars we've achieved nothing. We're back at the start." He predicted that international officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina will use administrative measures to control the nationalist parties and stifle their politicians. PB


The UN war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said on 12 November that she believes former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be arrested and charged with war crimes in the near future, Reuters reported, citing an interview in the Swiss daily "SonntagsBlick." Del Ponte said "Milosevic will be arrested soon." She added that with the setting up of a war crimes office in Belgrade, "the days of Milosevic and other war criminals are numbered." The tribunal is "here for justice and we want to prove we can contribute to peace," she added. PB


Promising aid and investment, politicians, businessmen, and international officials arrived in Belgrade on 13 November to take part in a two-day meeting of the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, Reuters reported. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said that "humanitarian aid must be concrete and have a human face." Bodo Hombach, the stability pact's coordinator, said he will fight against "bureaucracy and slowness" to get the aid to Belgrade as soon as possible. The meeting coincides with the arrival of Greek Finance Minister Yannos Papandoniou and executives from some 50 U.S. businesses. PB


A Belgrade court on 13 November acquitted five Yugoslavs of murdering two ethnic Albanians and of spying for France, Reuters reported. The five, accused of being members of the so-called Spider Group, were found not guilty owing to a lack of evidence. However, they were found guilty of extortion and illegal weapons' possession and sentenced to a year in jail, although they were released immediately since they have already served more than one year in prison. They were part of a much-publicized arrest last November in which they were accused of being "enemies of the state" who had collaborated with French authorities to threaten the state of Yugoslavia. PB


Lieutenant-General Vladimir Lazarevic said on 13 November in Belgrade that the security situation in the south of Serbia, near the border with Kosova, has worsened due to increased attacks by ethnic Albanians in the area, AP reported. Lazarevic, the commander of Yugoslav troops in southern Serbia, said five people have been killed and many injured in 30 "armed terrorist incidents" allegedly carried out by ethnic Albanians. He said "the terrorists have been planting anti-tank mines and other explosive devices on the roads." PB


Croatian President Stipe Mesic said on 13 November that a normalization of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade can take place only after Serbian war criminals are brought to justice, dpa reported. Mesic said that the war of succession fought between Yugoslavia and Croatia "was unnecessary and irrational, but it included victims and crimes, and crimes must be answered for. Individualizing guilt will enable [us to put] an end to collective guilt." Mesic added that it "would be best if the domestic judiciary would make efforts to try [persons accused of] war crimes. However, if that is not done, the [war crimes tribunal at The Hague] is the only one to help [in that process]." PB


Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said on 13 November in Zagreb that he expects Yugoslav leaders attending an EU Balkan Summit in the Croatian capital next week to make a clean break from the policies of former President Milosevic, Reuters reported. Picula said that Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic "has already taken a stand toward the Yugoslav army's aggression against Croatia and accepted the responsibility of his own people for this act." Picula added that it "would not be unprecendented if the new Yugoslav president took a similar line." The 24 November summit will bring together representatives of the 15 EU countries, along with leaders from Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, and Albania. PB


Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Austrian foreign minister and current head of the OSCE, called on Tirana to step up its fight against trafficking, particularly human trafficking, dpa reported. Ferrero-Waldner said "the government of Albania should continue to be committed to develop a national strategy on enforcement and interdiction as well as on prevention and protection of the victims." Albania is being increasing used as a transit route by international criminal groups for prostitutes, drugs, and illegal immigrants. Ferrero-Waldner, in Tirana for a conference on human trafficking, met with President Rexhep Meidani, Premier Ilir Meta, and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo. PB


Giovanni Porta, the OSCE spokesman in Albania, has left the country after having his life threatened, Reuters reported on 13 November. A spokesperson for the OSCE said Porta received the threats over the phone during and after local elections held on 1 October. Porta was accused by the opposition Democratic Party of being biased towards the government and that the elections had been manipulated. PB


An opinion poll conducted early this month shows former President Ion Iliescu and his Party of Social Democracy in Romania's (PDSR) still in the lead two weeks before the 26 November presidential and parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. Iliescu is backed by 48 percent of respondents, while the PDSR is favored by 52 percent. National Liberal Party (PNL) candidate Theodor Stolojan would receive some 14 percent support, while Greater Romania Party (PRM) chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor saw his backing increase to 14 percent. Support for independent candidate and current Premier Mugur Isarescu has fallen to below10 percent, while other candidates would receive less than 6 percent each. The PNL and PRM would each receive some 13 percent of the votes, while the coalition's junior partner, the Romanian Democratic Convention 2000, would fail to surpass the 8 percent threshold for alliances. ZsM


Some 100 Romanian intellectuals published an open letter on 13 November calling on presidential candidates from the ruling coalition parties to agree on a single "strong" candidate able to defeat Iliescu, Romanian media reported. In order to facilitate support for a single candidate for the runoff, the intellectuals asked Isarescu, Stolojan, Democratic Party chairman Petre Roman, and Democratic Federation of Hungarians Senator Gyorgy Frunda to stop making accusations. The signatories are worried that there is a risk of returning to a single-party system and that damage will be done to Romania's EU and NATO accession bids if one party wins the elections with a large majority. According to the BBC's Romanian Service, all the candidates have refused to step down in favor of a joint candidate. ZsM


Depositors on 10 November made a run on the Turkish-Romanian Bank (BTR) after rumors that the bank has liquidity problems, Romanian media reported. On 13 November the bank, in which the Turkish Bayindir group is a majority stakeholder, resumed limited withdrawals to clients. Premier Mugur Isarescu on 10 November telephoned his Turkish counterpart, Bulent Ecevit, to discuss the matter, stating that the BTR has problems receiving funds from deposits in foreign banks. Bucharest-based "Ziarul Financiar" reported on 13 November that the bank's problems may stem from difficulties experienced by Bayindir in Turkey. However, Bayindir issued a statement in Istanbul saying that the BTR is "on its feet" and the management is "in talks" with both the Romanian and Turkish governments on ways to stop panic among account-holders. ZsM


Petru Lucinschi called on the parliament on 13 November to announce early general elections and dissolve itself, AP Flux reported on 13 November, quoting presidential spokesman Anatol Golea. Lucinschi's statement comes ahead of presidential elections scheduled for the parliament on 1 December. The parliament earlier this year voted to amend the constitution and transform Moldova into a parliamentary republic where deputies elect the country's president. Lucinschi has announced he will not stand for re-election. ET


The inflation rate in Moldova during the first 10 months of the year was 16.7 percent, AP Flux reported on 13 November, citing the Moldovan statistics department. Inflation was 1.1 percent lower compared with the same period last year. In October, inflation was 1 percent, down 0.4 percent compared with September. ET


Premier Ivan Kostov said on 13 November that Bulgaria expects to receive more than $105 million in electricity exports in 2000, Reuters reported. State National Electricity Company Director Danail Tafrov said exports are expected to total six billion kilowatt hours, mainly going to Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia. Officials said profits will go towards modernizing its power plants. PB


Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov said after a cabinet meeting on 13 November that two reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant may not be closed until after the date the EU is pushing for, dpa reported. Kostov said that "positions differ" between Brussels and Sofia. The EU Commission had requested that blocks three and four at Kozloduy be shut down by 2006, while Kostov is talking about 2010. The EU was to provide a $210 million loan to Sofia to help it modernize the plant, but Kozloduy plant director Anton Ivanov said the EU has yet to make any disbursements of such a loan. Some observers see the government's talk of delaying the closing of Kozloduy as leverage against the EU in Sofia's bid to have visa restrictions against Bulgarians lifted by Brussels. PB


By Liz Fuller

On 30 October, Armenian business magnate and chairman of the 21st Century Association Arkadii Vartanian was arrested at his home in Yerevan, hours after organizing a demonstration by 10,000 people, some of whom then staged an unsanctioned march to the presidential palace to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. Vartanian, who has Russian citizenship, was remanded in custody for 10 days of administrative arrest. He has since been charged with calling for the violent overthrow of the Armenian leadership, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment.

Vartanian's Yerevan rally was the culmination of a series of such meetings throughout Armenia since late summer to demand the resignation of the Armenian leadership, which Vartanian has accused of being incapable of resolving the country's social and economic problems. Other left-wing political figures, including Union of Socialist Forces leader Ashot Manucharian and National Unity Party chairman Artashes Geghamian, have similarly sought to mobilize the "protest" vote to exert pressure on the present leadership but have proved less successful in doing so than Vartanian. Some observers have suggested that the latter has paid participants in his demonstrations; certainly many of those who gathered in Yerevan on 30 October were bussed into the capital from the provinces.

On several occasions before the 30 October Yerevan demonstration, Vartanian had publicly declared his intention to mobilize up to 70,000 people on that day and pressure the present Armenian leadership to resign. If that attempt failed, he said, he would try to persuade the parliament to begin impeachment proceedings against President Kocharian. Vartanian made no secret of the fact that he believes he could govern the country and resolve social and economic problems more efficiently than the present leadership. But he also made clear that "we are not resorting to revolution and terror."

The Armenian authorities, however, clearly preferred not to take chances. When the rally participants marched on the presidential palace on 30 October, they found police with water cannons waiting for them. According to one Western journalist, the majority of the rally participants were pensioners, and in the course of the three-hour rally that proceeded the march, security forces would have had ample opportunity to determine that the number of participants was way below the 70,000 Vartanian had hoped for. It thus seems implausible to claim that the march posed a genuine security threat.

True, the water cannons were not used, and the demonstrators eventually dispersed without violence. But later that night, police broke down the doors of Vartanian's Yerevan home and took both him and his lawyer Karo Karapetian into custody. At least 21 other people were subsequently detained in connection with the day's events.

Opinions vary as to whether Vartanian was acting within the confines of the law and why the Armenian leadership overreacted. Several minor left-wing political parties (including Manucharian's Union of Socialist Forces), the Armenian Helsinki Committee, and the Union of Millionaires of Armenia condemned Vartanian's arrest as illegal and political persecution.

But the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, which supports the president, and a parliament deputy from the pro-government Orinats yerkir (Law-Based Country) faction both made the point that while Vartanian may have voiced anger and resentment shared by much of the population, he had no right to try to channel those emotions into an apparent bid to overthrow the president and seize power himself. Even parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian admitted on 4 November that the demonstrations convened by Vartanian and others suggest that the present leadership has lost touch with the population at large.

Most press comment assessed the authorities' retaliation against Vartanian as both incommensurate and counter-productive, arguing that his arrest may bestow on him martyr status.

In an interview aired on Armenian National Television on 2 November, Kocharian expressed understanding for the frustrations of the long-suffering and increasingly alienated population. "I do understand that when salaries, benefits, pensions are not paid on time and when there are no jobs, a considerable part of the unhappy," Kocharian said. He urged his audience to "be patient just a little longer and everything will be all right." Kocharian assured them that Armenia is on the threshold of "very serious economic growth," which will translate into a marked improvement in living standards no later than April-May 2001. He predicted the creation of 40,000 new jobs as a result of investment by the World Bank and by U.S. billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation in infrastructure projects.

Referring to Vartanian, Kocharian suggested that he may have been acting on behalf of unspecified "forces that do not want to see a stable, developed and economically strong Armenia that is able to pursue an independent foreign policy." Predictably, given that Vartanian is a Russian citizen and has boasted of his connections with influential political and economic figures in Russia, local observers interpreted Kocharian's remark as an allusion to Russia. Equally predictably, Russian Ambassador Anatolii Dryukov has denied that any Russian political faction or state structure is backing Vartanian. Such disclaimers are unlikely to convince many people, given Moscow's perceived ongoing efforts to effect a rapprochement with Azerbaijan. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Baku later this month and Georgia some time in December. It is therefore conceivable that the Armenian authorities' apparent over-reaction to Vartanian's activities were meant not as a warning to him or other opposition Armenian politicians but rather as a message to Moscow not to meddle in Armenian domestic politics.