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Watch List: February 4, 1999

4 February 1999, Volume 1, Number 4

BELARUS TURMOIL DEEPENS. In the largest demonstration in several months, some 7,000 people marched through Minsk on Jan. 27. Protesting rising prices and dwindling wages, they demanded President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's resignation. At the rally, union leaders also called for access to the news media. Throughout the country, some 100,000 workers went on a sympathy strike. The same day Lukashenka ordered all public organizations to reregister by July 1 and upped from 500 to 1,000 the minimum membership requirement. Spokesman Fyodor Plotnikov declared that the government views current opposition activities as "anti-state crimes" but has thus far refrained from countermeasures because the opposition, hampered by an apathetic electorate, will fail.

LUKASHENKA ACCUSED OF "ZOMBIFYING" PEOPLE. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has "zombified" the Belarusian people by making conditions impossible for an independent press to exist, two editors from Minsk told RFE/RL in Washington. Josef Seredych of "Narodnaya Volya" and Pavel Zhuk of "Naviny" and "Nasha Niva" appealed for help to extend their circulation, now 100,000 combined, against the 2.5 million copies of the heavily subsidized state-run newspapers.

EXTREMIST RALLIES SPUR PROMISE OF YELTSIN DECREE. On Jan. 30 about 150 youths marched in Moscow wearing Nazi-style armbands and screaming chauvinist slogans. Later a smaller group giving the Nazi salute disrupted a meeting of a liberal party, the Democratic Choice for Russia, led by Yegor Gaidar. President Boris Yeltsin's office announced that Yeltsin will issue a decree to block extremist movements if the Communist-dominated parliament fails to pass laws against them.

NEW TWIST IN STAROVOITOVA MURDER CASE. Russian investigators in charge of tracking the killers of liberal parliamentarian Galina Starovoitova are after "dirt" in her personal life, says American journalist Brian Whitmore of the English-language "St. Petersburg Times." Whitmore was interrogated as a friend of her press aide, Ruslan Linkov, the only known witness to the assassination who himself was shot in the head and left for dead in the stairwell of her apartment building last November. Linkov says he and other liberals are now targets of at least some of the investigators.

GEORGIA RECOMMENDED FOR COUNCIL OF EUROPE. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted unanimously on Jan. 27 to recommend that Georgia become the Council's 41st member, the first from the south Caucasus. However, in the next two years Georgia must meet certain conditions which include guaranteeing autonomy to the rebellious regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and repatriating Meshketian Turks driven from their homes in southern Georgia.

DUKHOBOR EXODUS FROM GEORGIA. On Jan. 30 some 60 more members of the Russian Dukhobor sect left Georgia, where their ancestors settled 150 years ago to escape persecution by the Orthodox church, the Moscow daily "Segodnya" reported. In recent years, more than 4,000 Dukhobors, most of them farmers, quit Georgia for Russia and Canada. According to a UN report, the sect, which has been compared to the Quakers, has virtually disappeared from Georgia.

RELIGIOUS GROUPS REREGISTERED. Though initially a few religious communities, including Mormons and Baptists, had problems with the new registration requirements enacted in 1996, no community has been known to fail getting reregistered in Kyrgyzstan, reports the Keston News Service, an institution monitoring religious freedom. However, the Keston report adds that the government of this 80 percent Muslim nation has been waging a campaign against the fundamentalist Muslim group Wahhabi, and foreign Wahhabis have been expelled.

SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN SYNAGOGUE, CHURCH FIRES. On Feb. 3 a Russian man was arrested on suspicion of attempting to set fire to Moscow's Maryina Roshcha synagogue, according to a news report. Earlier, another suspect was detained and is now undergoing a psychiatric examination, the report added. In mid-January, a young man burglarized and then set fire to the Evangelical Church of Mercy in Gatchina, south of St. Petersburg, Keston News Service reports. According to Pastor Yuri Davydkin, a suspect -- who is a member of a satanic cult and had been attending church services -- was arrested.

RUSSIAN ACTIVIST ARRESTED IN TURKMENISTAN. The Turkmen secret police arrested an activist in Turkmenistan's Russian community, Vyacheslav Mamedov, according to the Society of Support of Provision of Human Rights in Central Asia. The charge against him is "slander," first made by President Saparmurat Niyazov in a speech on Dec. 19, the day after Mamedov's 30 second comment on Turkmenistan's Russian community on the Russian radio Mayak. The secret police repeatedly detained him and forced him to write an explanation of the interview.

LACK OF PROGRESS IN CROATIA. A report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized Croatia's lack of progress in democratization, "particularly worrying with regard to future legislative elections." The report singled out "stagnation" with respect to international commitments, "a deterioration of conditions for an independent press," and no progress in improving the status of human rights.