Fear of life in one form or another is the great thing to exorcise. - William James
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

No. 54, Part I, 15 March 1996


New OMRI Analytical Briefs:
-  "Slovakia's Controversial Press Law", by Sharon Fisher
-  "Fifth Anniversary of the Referendum to Preserve the Soviet Union",
   by Peter Rutland

Available only via the World Wide Web:
http://www.omri.cz/Publications/Analytical/Index.html

We welcome you to Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily
Digest. This part focuses on Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.
Part II, distributed simultaneously as a second document, covers
Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe.  Back issues of the Daily
Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through our WWW
pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^TODAY'S TOP STORY^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
GRACHEV IN GROZNY. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev arrived in Grozny for
an unannounced visit late on 13 March, Russian and Western media
reported the next day. Grachev made no press statements during the visit
in which he met with officials of the Moscow-backed Chechen government
of Doku Zavgaev and Russian military commanders. Some unconfirmed
reports suggested that Grachev might have met with representatives of
separatist Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev before he left on 14 March.
Grachev's visit was aimed at gathering information for the scheduled 15
March meeting of the Russian Security Council, which is supposed to
approve a plan for settling the Chechen conflict. Meanwhile, Chechen
Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov appeared on separatist television late on
13 March, refuting claims that he had been seriously wounded (see OMRI
Daily Digest, 14 March 1996). -- Scott Parrish
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

RUSSIA

FIGHTING CONTINUES IN BAMUT. Federal aircraft and artillery continued to
pound the western Chechen village of Bamut on 14 March, NTV reported.
The network ridiculed earlier military claims that the bombardment
consisted of "pinpoint" strikes against Chechen positions, citing local
residents who described continuous attacks by Russian aircraft. AFP,
quoting military sources, said fog was hindering close air support
operations, so the bombing was being conducted from high altitude.
Russian military spokesmen contend that up to 400 separatist fighters
are entrenched in the village. Meanwhile, Izvestiya reported on 14 March
that federal forces have repeatedly shelled Dagestani villages along the
administrative border with Chechnya over the last 15 months. The paper
reported that the shelling had killed six villagers and destroyed
several buildings. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN DEFENDS PRESIDENCY. . . President Boris Yeltsin defended the
institution of the presidency on 14 March in an interview on Russian TV.
Russians are used to having one person and "some sort of vertical power
structure, a strong hand, which can not only talk, but act," he argued.
Yeltsin rejected the alternative of parliamentary government on the
grounds that it fosters division into numerous factions that "cannot
solve anything because no one is responsible." He claimed that the
parliament would be subordinated to parties and that "there would be no
kind of democracy there." Yeltsin's comments were directed against
recent attempts by the Communists to eliminate the presidency and
restore the soviets which formed a facade of democracy during Communist
rule. Yeltsin was also critical of the executive branch, saying that
today "there is no oversight, no execution, no discipline, and no
order." -- Robert Orttung

. . . AND BELOVEZHSK ACCORDS. Yeltsin also defended the 1991 Belovezhsk
accords that created the CIS and denounced Communist efforts to
repudiate them as a cynical political ploy. The president attacked a
proposed Duma resolution denouncing the agreements, which is scheduled
for a vote on 15 March, just before the fifth anniversary of the 17
March 1991 all-Union referendum on the preservation of the USSR. Yeltsin
described the Communist-sponsored resolution as "very damaging for
Russia." He said the Communists are "very displeased" that he is leading
Russia toward integration with Belarus, and said the resolution is
nothing but electoral posturing. Yeltsin also announced that in March
Russia and Belarus would sign an agreement on "deep integration leading
to confederation," adding that similar agreements with Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan would be concluded soon. -- Scott Parrish

MUSLIMS TO SUPPORT YELTSIN FOR RE-ELECTION. The Union of Muslims of
Russia has vowed to support President Yeltsin's bid for re-election
provided he makes every effort to resolve problems of the North Caucasus
and especially the Chechen crisis, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 15
March, citing the union's co-chairman, Abdul-Vakhid Niyazov. Last month,
union General Secretary Mikhail Bibarsov resigned from the organization
in disagreement with the union's support for Yeltsin (see OMRI Daily
Digest, 20 February 1996). Niyazov also announced the union's intention
to unite with the Muslim movement NUR, the only Muslim organization that
participated in the December parliamentary elections, Ekspress-Khronika
reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

DUMA CALLS FOR EARLY REGIONAL ELECTIONS . . . The State Duma has
formally called on the country's oblast and krai legislatures to adopt
legislation on elections by the end of their terms in office and to hold
new elections to these bodies at the same time as the June presidential
poll, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. The Duma claims that some regional
legislatures violated the constitution and current legislation when they
extended their terms in office by another two years. The electoral terms
of most regional legislative bodies expires in 1996. A September 1995
presidential decree, however, recommended that regional legislative
elections be postponed until December 1997. The same decree postponed
elections to the local self-government bodies below regional level until
December 1996; however, now President Yeltsin wants to put them off for
an even longer period (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 March 1996) -- Anna
Paretskaya

. . . TsIK RECOMMENDS POSTPONING THEM. The Central Electoral Commission
(TsIK) is strongly opposed to holding regional elections at the same
time as the June presidential poll, according to TsIK Chairman Nikolai
Ryabov. Ryabov, speaking at a 14 March meeting of regional electoral
commission heads, added that regional and local elections and
referendums could be set for the fall or winter of 1996, Russian media
reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

DUMA CHAIRMAN ON CUBAN-RUSSIAN TIES. At a 14 March meeting with Jaime
Crombet, the deputy chairman of the Cuban parliament, Duma Chairman
Gennadii Seleznev declared that "Russian relations with Cuba should
reach the level of Cuban-Soviet relations," ITAR-TASS reported.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Nuclear Energy said
the new U.S. legislation would not affect plans to complete the first
reactor of the controversial Juragua nuclear power station in Cuba,
which the U.S. opposes on safety grounds. Russia and Cuba are still
searching for foreign investors to help finance the $800 million
project. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA SAID TO BE SPEEDING UP EXECUTIONS. A member of the presidential
commission that considers pardons for those facing the death penalty has
spoken out against the increasing use of capital punishment in Russia,
Reuters reported. In a letter to Izvestiya on 15 March, Lev Razgon said
that the use of the death penalty declined in 1992-94 but increased
sharply in 1995, when 86 people were sentenced to death. He added that
this February alone, 30 appeals for pardon were rejected, compared with
19 in all of 1994. Razgon said officials are worried about the country's
rising murder rate, prison overcrowding, and obligations entailed by
Russian membership of the Council of Europe. The latter require Russia
to abolish the death sentence within three years, but Yeltsin said on 12
March that the country should not give in to outside pressure on this
issue. -- Penny Morvant

PRIMORSK KRAI THREATENS TO WITHHOLD TAXES. The Primorsk Krai Duma sent a
letter to the Russian president and parliament on 14 March threatening
to withhold tax and other payments to the federal budget if the
government does not pay its debt of 1.8 trillion rubles ($373 million)
to the krai by 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The letter noted that power
cuts, the late payment of wages, and failure to pay child benefits means
that the local population are living in almost stone-age conditions and
that mass protests are becoming commonplace. Rossiiskaya gazeta on 14
March quoted Vladimir Vedernikov, the head of the Primorsk legislature,
as saying that the socioeconomic situation in the area is explosive. The
paper said that traffic police and the staff of local election
commissions are threatening to strike while trade unions committees at a
number of enterprises are planning political demonstrations. -- Penny
Morvant

PARIS CLUB AGREEMENT TO BE SIGNED SOON. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg
Davydov told ITAR-TASS on 14 March that the Paris Club of government
lenders has agreed to reschedule Russia's debts. Paris Club chairman
Christian Noyer met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow on
14 March, and Davydov said the deal should be signed in April. Repayment
of the $25.5 billion principal and $7 billion interest will be spread
over 25 and 20 years, respectively, with a grace period of seven years.
Davydov also said there was "agreement in principle" for Russia to
become a member of the Paris Club, on the basis of the $130 billion in
debts Russia inherited from the USSR's Third World clients. Russia's
accession will probably take place at the June G-7 meeting in Lyon. The
Paris Club has rolled over the Russian debts on an annual basis during
each of the three previous years. A major rescheduling agreement was
reached with the London Club of commercial creditors last November, and
a similar deal has long been expected with the Paris Club (see OMRI
Daily Digest, 17 November 1995). -- Peter Rutland

GOVERNMENT PLAN TO TIGHTEN CONTROL OVER SHARE HOLDINGS. The government's
Commission on Operational Questions, chaired by First Deputy Prime
Minister Oleg Soskovets, has prepared a draft decree that tightens
control over government nominees on the boards of private companies in
which the state holds shares, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Until now,
control has been weak. For example, the state representative on the
board of the insurance giant Ingosstrakh voted in favor of a recent new
share issue which cut the state holding from 30% to 6%, Russian Public
TV (ORT) reported on 13 March. Soskovets's plan gives the Ministry of
Fuel and Energy primary responsibility for appointing and monitoring
representatives to energy companies, although the State Property and
Anti-Monopoly Committees will also be consulted in matters falling under
their jurisdiction. There has been a long-running battle for influence
between the energy ministry and the State Property Committee. -- Peter
Rutland

TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS IN KAZAKHSTAN DEMAND PROTECTION. A group of
Kazakhstani journalists held a press conference at the House of the
Union of Journalists on 14 March to call for inter-governmental
agreements on the status and accreditation procedure for Russian
correspondents in CIS countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. Boris
Supruniuk, a correspondent for the Russian weekly Megapolis-Kontinent
who was recently released from a Kokshetau prison in northern Kazakhstan
after serving a nine-month sentence, complained that the Russian
authorities have failed to protect their journalists against
persecution. Supruniuk said he has been charged with "inciting inter-
ethnic discord" by the local authorities in north Kazakhstan on two
occasions and said he was tortured while in prison. The Kazakhstani
Supreme Court acquitted him in November 1995. -- Bhavna Dave

GOVERNMENT TROOPS RECAPTURE STRATEGIC SECTION OF ROAD. The Tajik army
retook a section of the road between Dushanbe and Khorog, Reuters and
Russian TV reported on 14 March. Tajik opposition forces had held large
sections of the highway which is the only major link to Khorog from the
west and is near a fork connecting the capital with the northeast.
Fighting around the Komsomolabad region, 100 km northeast of Dushanbe,
claimed the lives of 25 rebels and 12 government soldiers. In Dushanbe,
Russian border guards defused a 30 kg bomb found in a car;the owner of
the vehicle was found dead nearby. On the Tajik-Afghan border,
opposition forces in Afghanistan fired 10 rockets at the border guards'
12th outpost. No casualties were reported. -- Bruce Pannier

CITIZENSHIP ISSUE IN KYRGYZSTAN. Kyrgyzstan plans to introduce a new
passport that excludes any mention of nationality, Russian Public TV
(ORT) reported on 14 March. The new passport will not have the "infamous
fifth column" which denoted a person's ethnic origins. Henceforth, all
groups in Kyrgyzstan will simply be noted as citizens of Kyrgyzstan.
Individuals who want to include their ethnic origins will be permitted
to do so. Previously, many people had given false information on their
ethnic background to avoid discrimination. Under the new regulations,
the number of declared ethnic Kyrgyz and Azeris in the republic is
expected to decrease while the number of ethnic Uzbeks and Turks is
expected to increase. -- Bruce Pannier

PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER IN UZBEKISTAN. Pakistani Foreign Minister
Assef Ahmed Ali concluded his visit to Uzbekistan on 14 March during
which he met his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Komilov, to discuss the
ongoing regional crises in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS
reported. The visit follows closely on the heels of a recent tour of the
region by Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who accused Pakistan of
supporting the rebel Taliban group in his country. On 15 March, Ali met
with Turkmen officials in Ashgabat, where ITAR-TASS noted that in
addition to security matters, the two sides discussed economic trade
routes that would, ironically, go through Afghanistan. -- Roger Kangas

CORRECTION. The parliament chairman of the self-proclaimed Republic of
Nagorno-Karabakh, Karen Baburyan, resigned for health reasons on 12
March, not as reported in OMRI Daily Digest, 14 March 1996.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez

The OMRI Daily Digest offers the latest news from the former Soviet
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              Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc.
                       All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570
 
         

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