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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 Union and Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. It is published Monday through Friday by the Open Media Research Institute. The OMRI Daily Digest is distributed electronically via the OMRI-L list. To subscribe, send "SUBSCRIBE OMRI-L YourFirstName YourLastName" (without the quotation marks and inserting your name where shown) to LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU No subject line or other text should be included. To receive the OMRI Daily Digest by mail or fax, please direct inquiries to OMRI Publications, Na Strzi 63, 140 62 Prague 4, Czech Republic; or electronically to OMRIPUB@OMRI.CZ Tel.: (42-2) 6114 2114; fax: (42-2) 426 396 Please note that there is a new procedure for obtaining permission to reprint or redistribute the OMRI Daily Digest. Before reprinting or redistributing this publication, please write firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the new policy or look at this URL: http://www.omri.cz/Publications/Digests/DigestReprint.html OMRI also publishes the biweekly journal Transition, which contains expanded analysis of many of the topics in the Daily Digest. For Transition subscription information send an e-mail to TRANSITION@OMRI.CZ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570
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