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No. 41, Part I, 27 February 1995
We welcome you to Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. The Digest is distributed in two sections. This part focuses on Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, and the CIS. Part II, distributed simultaneously as a second document, covers East-Central and Southeastern Europe. RUSSIA RUSSIAN TROOPS ACCUSED OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CHECHNYA. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives who visited Chechnya earlier in February charged at a news conference in Nazran on 24 February that Russian troops had committed gross abuses in Chechnya and that the civilian population continues to suffer, Russian and Western agencies reported. On 25 February, Chechen Muslim clergy met in Nazran with representatives of the Russian federal authorities to discuss how to end hostilities, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman for Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev told Interfax on 26 February that it is still not too late to resolve the Chechen conflict by peaceful means. In its 24-27 February issue, Komsomolskaya pravda printed what it claimed was the transcript of a second telephone conversation between Dudaev and Iskander Hamidov, the leader of the Azeri opposition party Boz Gurd, in which Dudaev vowed to force "Yeltsin and his bandit grouping" to flee and to put Yeltsin, Federation Council speaker Vladimir Shumeiko, Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin, and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev on trial. Meanwhile, fighting in the southeast and southwest suburbs of Grozny and around Argun and Gudermes continued on 24-26 February.-- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc. OVER 1,500 RUSSIANS DEAD OR MISSING IN CHECHNYA. Col.-Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov, chairman of the president's commission on prisoners of war and missing in action, announced that 1,146 officers and men of the Russian federal forces had been killed in combat in Chechnya and another 374 were missing in action, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. He said the figures had come directly from the 27 military units fighting in the break-away republic. Nine doctors were among the dead. The official death toll stood at 394 on 12 January and 1,020 on 8 February. Meanwhile, an additional 25 servicemen--most of them from an OMON Interior Ministry special purpose unit--were killed in Grozny on 25 February when an electrical short-circuit caused an anti-mine device to explode prematurely, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. DUMA PASSES 1995 BUDGET ON THIRD READING. The State Duma passed the 1995 budget after the third reading in a vote of 268 to 93, with three abstentions, Russian and Western sources reported on 24 February. The approval cleared the way for continued negotiations with the IMF concerning a $6.3 billion loan which Russia considers an important source of non-inflationary financing, and a critical contributor to taming inflation and stabilizing the economy. The budget foresees expenditures of 248 trillion rubles ($56.36 billion), revenues of 175 trillion rubles ($39.77 billion), and a deficit of 73 trillion ($17 billion) equivalent to 7.7% of GDP. The draft budget still requires a fourth reading, approval by the Federation Council, and a final signing by President Boris Yeltsin before it becomes law. Those requirements are seen as a formality. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. POLITICAL FACTIONS, EXCEPT COMMUNISTS, BACK 1995 BUDGET. Russian Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais, who is in charge of economic policy, said that the passage of the budget "confirms that the government is sticking to its course of political reform and is capable of reaching a compromise with all factions in the Duma except the communists," AFP reported. The greatest support came from Russia's Choice (61 votes for and one against), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (49-1), the Party of Russian Unity and Concord (20-1), Women of Russia (21-0), and the Agrarian Party (48-1), Interfax reported. Thirty-seven members of the New Regional Policy deputy group, uniting deputies elected in single- mandate constituencies, voted in favor of the budget with six votes "against" and two abstentions. The 18 members of the Yabloko faction who were present voted against the draft budget, while only one member of the Communist Party voted for it and 41 members turned it down. One deputy of the Democratic Party faction voted in favor of the draft while seven members rejected it. Thirty independent deputies supported the draft and seven members rejected it. Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov said the vote was the first time in the three years since the break-up of the Soviet Union that the Duma has passed a budget so early in the year. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. ECONOMICS MINISTER SAYS EXTRA BENEFITS WILL NOT AFFECT BUDGET. A decree signed by the president to increase benefits to low-income groups will not require additional budget allocations, Yegeny Yasin told Interfax on 24 February. The decree, issued by Yeltsin after he vetoed legislation which more than doubled the minimum wage, provides for a 70% increase in benefits to families with many children, students, and other social groups whose benefits are calculated as a multiple of the minimum wage. Unlike the proposed increase, Yasin said the extra benefits were "selective and designed for those who actually need help" and had been included in the draft budget for 1995. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR AN OVERHAUL OF RUSSIA'S POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS. The existing state structures could ruin the country, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, told a press conference in Kazan 24 February, Interfax reported. He favored ending direct elections for the presidency and setting up a system that would allow representatives of the 89 republics and regions, as well as national, religious, and social groups to choose the president. Zyuganov did not deny that he would seek the presidency, but added that he first wants to build a coalition to include 15-20 politicians of "left-center orientation." He called on Yeltsin to either resign or call early presidential elections. Zyuganov was in Tatarstan to support the local Communist Party's campaign for the 5 March elections to the republic's State Council. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. DEMOCRATIC RUSSIA CHANGES NAME, CHARTER BUT NOT IDEAS. While declaring its political positions unchanged, the federal committee of the Democratic Russia (DR) party decided to alter its charter and change its name from a "federal" to a "federative" party, Interfax reported on 26 February. Anatoly Korotich, the executive committee chairman of the DR, said the Justice Ministry had recommended the changes after reviewing party registration documents. Korotich charged that Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev had demanded the changes due to the DR's sharp criticism of government policy in Chechnya. Korotich also said that since Yegor Gaidar had split from the DR to form the Russia's Choice party, only around 20 regional branches had followed him, while more than 50 branches had remained. He estimated that Russia's Choice has approximately 600 party members, while his party has 1000. The DR plans to form a bloc with other democratic parties and movements for the upcoming parliamentary elections. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. SHUMEIKO AGAINST ENLARGING RUSSIAN REGIONS. Federation Council chairman Shumeiko said he opposes combining the federation's 89 constituent members into ten larger regions, Interfax reported on 24 February. Sergei Shakhrai, former minister for nationalities and regional policy and now deputy prime minister, had proposed the system. The plan would group regions that depend on government subsidies with more prosperous areas, which supporters claim would improve the general state of the economy and reduce the desire for separatism. Shumeiko dismissed the idea that combining regions would quickly improve the economy. He said the federation treaty and in particular the principle of equality of all 89 constituent members had provided the foundation for a unified Russian state. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. DUMA PASSES LAW ON AIDS TESTS FOR FOREIGNERS. The Duma passed an amended draft law on AIDS that requires most foreigners visiting Russia for more than three months to provide proof that they are HIV-free, agencies reported on 24 February. The vote was 276 to 0 with 3 abstentions. Diplomats are exempt from the compulsory test. The law, which will go into effect on 1 August if it is signed by President Yeltsin, is a softened variant of a draft first passed by the Duma in November that caused a storm of protest because it mandated HIV tests for all travelers to Russia. The new law is also likely to be criticized on the grounds that it infringes human rights and is medically senseless. According to figures released in May 1994, 105 people in Russia have died of AIDS since 1987 and another 740 have tested positive. Gay rights groups, however, say the true figure for those infected is much higher. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ELECTIONS IN TAJIKISTAN. Local and parliamentary elections took place as scheduled in Tajikistan on 26 February, but without the participation of either radical Islamic or moderate opposition parties, Russian and Western agencies reported. A total of 354 candidates contested 181 seats in the new parliament. The moderate opposition Party of People's Unity had announced on 24 February that it would boycott the elections and ignore the results of the Tajik Central Electoral Commission which rejected the candidacies of two party members including its leader Abdumalik Abdullodzhonov, the former prime minister who ran against President Imomali Rakhmonov in last November's presidential election. Local officials estimated voter participation at 84%, Reuters reported. Rakhmonov insisted the elections were "democratic and free," despite minor infringements. International human rights organizations had expressed concern that voting conditions were "seriously flawed" and declined to send observers, although Russia, the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, and several CIS states did so, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc. UZBEKISTAN TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON EXTENDING PRESIDENT'S MANDATE. The Uzbek parliament voted to hold a referendum on 26 March on extending until the year 2000 the mandate of President Islam Karimov, Interfax reported on 24 February. Parliament speaker Erkin Khalilov argued this would "ensure harmony in relations between the president, government, and parliament and promote domestic stability." -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc. NUCLEAR BOMB BURIED IN KAZAKHSTAN. An unexploded nuclear weapon left over from an incomplete Soviet test series is still in its test silo near Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported on 24 February. The story called it "an A-bomb ready for use guarded by 25 interior troops," and said it had been planted for underground testing in the late 1980s. In 1994, the British publication Jane's Intelligence Review reported on a nuclear device that had been buried at the Degelen Mountain area of the Semipalatinsk test site. That device was said to have been installed in 1990 or 1991 as part of a cooperative test program to calibrate U.S. seismic monitoring stations. Degelen Mountain is some 220 kilometers southwest of the city of Semipalatinsk. In September 1993, Interfax reported on "a small yield nuclear installation" that had been planted in "silo 108K" of the test site. At that time, Russia and Kazakhstan were working on an agreement to remove the nuclear device and return it to Russia. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. CIS UN: "DRASTIC INCREASE" IN DRUG CRIMES IN CENTRAL ASIA. The UN International Narcotics Control Board said on 27 February that drug- related crime was on the increase in the Central Asian republics. The report said, "Chronic budgetary deficits, galloping inflation, negative industrial growth, constantly increasing unemployment, ethnic conflicts, and open civil war (in Tajikistan) have contributed to a drastic increase in crime in general and drug-related crime in particular." The countries are important sources of cannabis, opium, and ephedrine for the other CIS states. A lack of proper technical and communications training, among other things, hampers effective law enforcement in the area. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez The OMRI Daily Digest offers the latest news from the former Soviet Union and East-Central and Southeastern Europe. It is published Monday through Friday by the Open Media Research Institute. The Daily Digest is distributed electronically via the OMRI-L list. 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