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Vol 1, No. 9, Part I, 11 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 9, Part I, 11 April 1997 This is Part I of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Newsline. Part I is a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II, covering Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine are available through RFE/RL's WWW pages: http://www.rferl.org/newsline/search/ Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * GOVERNMENT TO REVIEW ARRANGEMENT WITH GAZPROM * REACTION TO YELTSIN'S ANTI-CORRUPTION ADDRESS * TWO MORE AZERBAIJANIS KILLED IN BORDER SHOOTING xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA GOVERNMENT TO REVIEW ARRANGEMENT WITH GAZPROM. The government plans to review an arrangement whereby almost all of the state's 40% stake in the gas monopoly Gazprom is managed by the company's executives rather than by the state directly, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov both called for reviewing what Nemtsov described as an "inexpedient" arrangement. Chubais and Nemtsov co-chaired yesterday's cabinet meeting after Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who headed Gazprom from 1989 to 1992, unexpectedly went on leave for two days. Addressing the State Duma on 9 April, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev claimed that international financial institutions and foreign gas companies were using the Finance Ministry to break up the Russian gas giant. Deputy Prime Minister Alfred Kokh said yesterday that it was "nonsense" for Vyakhirev to criticize his own beneficiary, pointing to Gazprom's administrative control over the government's share package. REACTION TO YELTSIN'S ANTI-CORRUPTION ADDRESS. Opposition figures were generally skeptical about President Boris Yeltsin's radio address yesterday focusing on anti- corruption measures (see RFE/RL Newsline, 10 April 1997). State Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading member of the Communist Party, said Yeltsin was fighting corruption only in words and had, in fact, appointed several corrupt officials, Interfax reported. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii argued that the president's words will remain "hollow phrases" until a list of corrupt officials is published, AFP reported. In contrast, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS that he welcomed Yeltsin's address. GOVERNMENT INCREASES PRIVATIZATION TARGETS. The government has increased its target for 1997 privatization revenues from 6.5 trillion rubles ($1.1 billion) to 10 trillion rubles ($1.7 billion), Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Deputy Prime Minister Alfred Kokh, who also heads the State Property Committee, told journalists that the government plans to sell off a 25% stake in the telecommunications company Svyazinvest, whose starting price will be $1.1 billion. In the third and fourth quarters of 1997, Kokh said, the government plans to sell a 50% stake in the Rosgosstrakh insurance company, 2% of the electricity giant Unified Energy System, and an unspecified stake in the oil company Rosneft. Kokh said privatization revenues last year were only about 10% of the budgeted $2 billion. He blamed the shortfall on last year's political uncertainty in Russia. DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER DENIES "ALUMINUM MAFIA" REPORTS. Kokh says reports that criminals control Russia's aluminum industry are "completely wrong," ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. In particular, Kokh said the Trans-World Metals group and the brothers Lev and Mikhail Chernyi, who critics say dominate the industry, do not even control half of Russia's aluminum production. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has recently charged that mafia-like structures were monopolizing and destroying the aluminum market. In January, the private network NTV ran a three-part investigative report on privatization in the aluminum industry since 1992. NTV's reports linked the Chernyi brothers to various corrupt practices and alleged they maintained close contacts with some former Yeltsin associates, including former First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets. IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER IN MOSCOW. Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, addressing the Duma this morning, urged Caspian states to reach agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, which he termed "the core of Russian-Iranian cooperation," ITAR-TASS reported. Nateq Nouri, who is tipped to succeed Rafsanjani as Iranian president in next month's elections, arrived in Moscow yesterday with the Iranian defense and economics and trade ministers. He also met with Yeltsin, who described Russian-Iranian relations as "good and positive," according to Interfax. MASKHADOV POSTPONES DEPARTURE ON HAJJ. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has postponed until later this month his departure for Saudi Arabia citing "a busy work schedule," ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. In Moscow, First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov and Said-Hasan Abdumuslimov held talks yesterday on "a range of issues." Udugov told journalists that the issue of economic aid for reconstruction can be discussed only after a formal peace treaty is signed. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin evaluates the ongoing negotiations in today's Rossiiskie vesti, noting the "fragile trust" that now exists between the two parties and praising the Chechen side's "constructive" approach. HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS SAID TO BE UNDER PRESSURE IN REGIONS. Human rights defenders such as Mariana Katzarova of Amnesty International and Lyudmila Alekseeva of the Moscow Helsinki group say regional authorities are arresting local critics in order to stifle publicity about human rights violations, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. They said a human rights activist in Magadan was released yesterday only after intervention from the Kremlin. The activist had spent two weeks in detention. A human rights campaigner in Omsk was released last December following intervention from then presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais. The ITAR-TASS and Interfax news agencies, which did not report the findings of a recent Amnesty report on torture in Russia (see RFE/RL Newsline, 4 April 1997), also did not cover yesterday's press conference. Meanwhile, Yeltsin issued a decree yesterday declaring 1998 the "year of human rights in the Russian Federation," ITAR- TASS reported. WAGE ARREARS PROMPT HUNGER STRIKES... Primorskii power station workers have resumed a hunger strike to protest persistent wage arrears, ITAR-TASS reports today. Workers at the same station staged hunger strikes last August and September. Meanwhile, 44 workers at a nuclear power plant in Arkhangelsk suspended their four-day hunger strike last night after they were paid for the first time since October. Vladimir Yakovlev, leader of an education workers' trade union, told ITAR-TASS yesterday that 20,000 Russian teachers are on strike, and 30 are on hunger strikes. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said on 9 April that the government has enough money to pay teachers' wages. He blamed regional authorities for using federal funds earmarked to pay teachers for other purposes. ..AND OTHER DESPERATE ACTION. About 700 coal miners in Kemerovo Oblast lifted a 16-hour blockade of the Trans- Siberian railroad yesterday, Russian news agencies reported. The miners have not been paid in six to eight months. Coal industry officials helped end the protest by promising to pay part of the miners' back wages soon. Meanwhile, 300 construction workers in Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk Oblast) have spent the last three days underground. The workers are refusing to emerge from a subway tunnel under construction until they receive their wages, which have not been paid since November. PRIMORE RESIDENTS SEEK TO HOLD ON TO LAND DISPUTED BY CHINA. Less than two weeks before Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to Moscow, Primorskii Krai residents are seeking to ensure a disputed piece of land is not handed over to the Chinese, Interfax reported on 9 April. Local deputies are planning to hold a referendum on whether to cede to China a strip of land south of Vladivostok. Primore residents say this will undercut trade with Japan because it will give the Chinese a new port at the mouth of the Tumannaya River. They also fear that if the Chinese farm the land around the basin of Lake Khasan, fertilizers and pesticides will pollute the lake, which is the primary source of fresh water for the area. NORTH CAUCASUS LEADERS MEET IN MAKHACHKALA. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev says Moscow should not try to micro-manage relations between federation subjects but should encourage them to expand bilateral relations among themselves, RFE/RL's Makhachkala bureau reported yesterday. Stroev was addressing a Dagestani meeting of the Council of the Association for Social and Economic Cooperation of North Caucasus Republics, Krais, and Oblasts. The meeting was attended by leaders from the North Caucasus, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia but not Chechnya. The participants approved guidelines for a draft program on the North Caucasus, which is to be forwarded to the Russian government and president for approval, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported today. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA TWO MORE AZERBAIJANIS KILLED IN BORDER SHOOTING. Two Azerbaijanis were shot dead last night trying to cross the frontier into Armenia's Izhdevan Raion, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported today, citing a Defense Ministry press release. Armenian troops returned Azerbaijani fire and then gave warning shots as three men tried to cross the border. There were no Armenian casualties. Interfax yesterday quoted an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman as denying reports that two Azerbaijani troops were killed in a border shooting earlier this week. GEORGIA HOSTS "TRASECA" CONFERENCE. The European Commission and the Georgian government have sponsored a conference on reviving the historic "Silk Road," which ran from China via Central Asia, the Transcaucasus, and Turkey to Europe, Russian agencies reported. Participants in the conference, which opened in Tbilisi on 8 April, include the deputy premiers and transport ministers of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation member countries and IMF and EBRD representatives. The so-called TRASECA project foresees the expansion of existing road, rail, and telecommunications links as well as ferry services across the Caspian and Black Seas. It could earn Georgia more than $300 million in transit tariffs in 1998 alone. Although the proposed transport routes do not cross Russian territory, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze favors Russian participation in the project. KAZAK PRESIDENT BACKTRACKS ON THREATS OVER PENSION ARREARS. Nursultan Nazarbayev has extended the deadline for the payment of pension arrears to the end of this year, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. Last month, Nazarbayev set 10 April as the deadline and threatened to sack both Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin and oblast governors who did not comply. But at a special government session yesterday, he extended the deadline, noting that there were signs of progress toward paying the arrears. As of 1 April, pension arrears totaled some 39 billion tenge ($500 million). LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN CENTRAL ASIA. Valdis Birkaus is on an official visit to Central Asia, RFE/RL's Central Asian and Latvian services report. He arrived on 9 April in Kyrgyzstan, where he signed agreements on transportation and mutual legal aid as well as a protocol on consultations with his Kyrgyz counterpart, Roza Otunbayeva. He also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev. In Kazakstan yesterday, Birkaus met with his Kazak counterpart, Kasymzhomart Tokayev, to discuss the opening of a Kazak embassy in the Latvian capital and how to improve bilateral relations. Today in Tashkent, Birkaus is due to sign 12 accords, one of which will establish an intergovernmental commission on trade. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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