|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
Vol. 1, No. 32, Part II, 16 May1997
Vol. 1, No. 32, Part II, 16 May1997 This is Part II of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Newsline. Part II is a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I, covering Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * ALBANIA FACES RENEWED POLITICAL DEADLOCK * LBRIGHT BLASTS CROATIA OVER SERBIAN REFUGEES * OPPOSITION STAGES BIG RALLY IN SKOPJE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WELCOMES RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD. Leonid Kuchma says the Russia-NATO pact "corresponds with the interests of Ukraine because Russia supports the necessity of signing an analogous agreement...between Ukraine and NATO." Kuchma was speaking to journalists yesterday in Washington. Ukraine is currently negotiating its own charter with NATO, which U.S. officials expect to be completed soon. RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported that Kuchma and U.S. President Bill Clinton will meet at the White House in Washington today for broad discussions on economic and security issues. ECONOMIC NEWS FROM UKRAINE. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov told journalists in the U.S. capital yesterday that even without the large, long-term loan Ukraine expects to get from the IMF soon, the country is doing better than the fund's targets, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. Mityukov said the targets agreed with the IMF for 1997 are inflation no higher than 25% a year and a budget deficit of 4.2% of GDP. Mityukov said inflation was only 4.1% in the first four months, which, he added, means the economy can absorb the expected 3-4% hike in inflation that will be caused by the raising of tariffs on municipal services. Mityukov further said Ukraine is in the final stages of preparing to seek funds on the Japanese and European capital markets. Meanwhile, State Minister Anatoly Minchenko told a press conference in Kyiv yesterday that Ukraine plans to cut its purchases of Russian natural gas by more than half in the next few years. UKRAINE'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT MAKES FIRST RULING. The recently established Constitutional Court made its first decision yesterday, ruling that parliamentary deputies cannot simultaneously hold government posts or most private sector jobs, Ukrainian media reported. The ruling confirms a clause in the constitution, which was adopted last year. The tribunal ordered lower courts to review earlier decisions allowing legislators to government posts. Many officials may be forced to choose between parliament and their other occupations. However, that will not apply to Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko and a number of other senior figures, because the court ruling says those who were elected to the parliament before June 1995 and have held government posts continuously since then can keep both jobs. BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL REJECTS MERGER WITH RUSSIA. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov says he sees no possibility to merge Russia and Belarus. Khvostov told journalists in Minsk yesterday that the plan, which was outlined by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a television interview a day earlier, will be studied by Minsk but that "under no circumstances will the statehood of Belarus be placed in doubt." Yeltsin said he favored the "ultimate" merger of the two Slavic neighbors into a single state. The initiative for union between the two states came from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Last month, Yeltsin and Lukashenka signed an agreement to tie the two countries more closely together. The accompanying charter was put to six weeks of public discussion, which ends today. Yeltsin said yesterday that he and Lukashenka will sign the charter on 23 May. SOROS FOUNDATION SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES IN BELARUS. The Soros Foundation yesterday suspended its activities in Belarus after tax officials emptied its bank account to pay fines totaling almost $3 million. Foundation spokeswoman Veronika Begun told journalists in Minsk that the Belarus government ordered the bank to transfer all the money on the Soros account to pay the tax fines. She said the foundation now cannot even pay its office costs and that it has appealed the tax officials' decision but has received no answer yet. The Soros foundation was initially granted a tax-exemption status by the Belarus government. However, tax inspectors began an audit of the foundation in March, when the government accused its U.S. director of backing the nationalist opposition and barred him from returning to Belarus from a trip abroad. The audit led to claims that the foundation was violating the status of a charitable organization. ESTONIAN BANS SOVIET-ERA PASSPORTS. The government yesterday banned the use of Soviet-era passports by Estonia's non-citizens. Unidentified government officials were quoted as saying that the non- citizens, most of whom are ethnic Russians, can receive alien passports that are valid for travel abroad. Many of the 300,000 ethnic Russians who live in Estonia have not acquired citizenship and until now have used old Soviet-era passports as their main form of identification. They complain the alien passports confer second-class status. Also yesterday, the parliament began considering amendments to the law on aliens that would give permanent residence permits in July 1998 to all non- citizens who applied for such permits before July 1995, Interfax reported. Non-citizens currently have renewable five-year permits. LATVIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE. The Latvian government survived a no-confidence vote by the parliament yesterday, BNS reported. The move was rejected by a vote of 50 to 16 with two abstentions. The no-confidence move was launched by opposition deputies in response to the government's alleged failure to abide by the provision in the law on agriculture stipulating that farm subsidies should amount to 3% of the state budget. According to the government, subsidies to the agricultural sector make up 1.84% of the total budget. PROGRESS IN LITHUANIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER TALKS. Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Albinas Januska told BNS yesterday that progress has been made in border delimitation talks with Russia. Januska and chief Lithuanian border negotiator Rimantas Sidlauskas discussed yesterday in Moscow possibilities for speeding up the delimitation of state borders with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev and chief Russian negotiator Alexei Obukhov. The two sides agreed to begin to prepare maps delimiting the joint frontier. CZECH CROWN UNDER PRESSURE. The Czech National Bank intervened on foreign exchange markets yesterday in an effort to support the Czech currency, the crown. National Bank spokesman Martin Svehla says the bank is ready to intervene again if necessary. The bank spent between $150-200 million to support the crown. Financial analysts see the move as a sign of continued troubles for the Czech economy. Last month, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's government made budget cuts and imposed import restrictions to try to revive the economy. The crown has lost more than 15% of its value against the U.S. dollar since early this year. CZECH PREMIER NOT READY TO RESIGN. Vaclav Klaus told journalists in Prague yesterday that he will not resign as prime minister, despite economic troubles and the fact that recent opinion polls indicate a sharp drop in the popularity of his Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Milos Zeman told journalists his party will not call for early elections but agreed with Deputy Prime Minister Josef Lux that an early ballot can be expected if the package of economic measures recently adopted by the government fails. Lux's Christian Democrats are seen as a potential CSSD coalition partner. Analysts agree that the decline in the ODS's popularity could result in replacing Klaus as ODS chairman. SLOVAK PREMIER IN NETHERLANDS. Vladimir Meciar, on a one-day working visit to The Netherlands, said yesterday that Slovakia should be in the first group of the Central European countries to enter the EU, Slovak media reported. Meciar met his Dutch counterpart, Wim Kok, whose country currently chairs the EU . Meciar also met with OSCE High Commissioner Max van der Stoel to discuss problems related to the Hungarian ethnic minority in Slovakia. Earlier this week, opposition Christian Democratic Movement chairman Jan Carnogursky revealed that EU officials had warned Slovakia it may not be invited to talks on EU membership owing to unsolved domestic problems. Carnogursky and Meciar agreed that Slovakia's political parties will meet soon to discuss domestic problems. REFERENDUM IN SLOVAKIA IN DOUBT. Slovakia's Central Referendum Committee has urged the Ministry of Internal Affairs to print and distribute one ballot with four questions to be posed in the 23-24 May referendum. Slovak voters are to be asked to decide whether Slovakia should be a NATO member, whether there should be nuclear weapons or foreign bases on Slovak territory, and whether the president should be elected directly. The Slovak government has opposed including a fourth question on direct presidential elections and has asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the constitution can be changed by a referendum. The court on 14 May decided the government was not entitled to lodge such a query. Despite the ruling, Slovak Interior Minister Krajci yesterday refused to order printing ballots with the fourth question included. He argued he has to abide by the government's decision. HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AGREEMENT WITH HOLY SEE. A government spokesman says the agreement with the Vatican on property restitution and financing of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary is of "historical importance," Hungarian media report. The agreement was approved yesterday by the government. Under the agreement, the state is return to the Catholic Church assets totaling 100 billion forints ($550 million) and the church will renounce any further claims. Real estate worth some $320 million confiscated by the Communists will be returned gradually by the year 2011. The remainder of the claims will be met as annual payments to the Church. The agreement still has to be approved by the parliament. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE ALBANIA FACES RENEWED POLITICAL DEADLOCK... A spokesman for the Socialist Party said in Tirana today that his party is meeting with other opposition groups to discuss a possible boycott of the 29 June elections. The parliament, which President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party controls, passed an election law yesterday that seems to be the same as the one it adopted earlier this week. The Democrats promised OSCE envoy Franz Vranitzky to change the law to make it more acceptable to the opposition. Vranitzky had threatened to cut off international aid to Albania unless the elections go ahead. ...AND AN EARTHQUAKE. A quake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale hit 25 miles east of Tirana this morning, West European seismic institutes reported. The epicenter was near the Albanian-Macedonian border, and the jolt affected northwestern Greece as well. In other news, an explosion at an ammunition dump killed at least three near Gjirokaster yesterday. Unconfirmed reports said the Albanian army was attempting to transfer ammunition when the blast occurred. ALBRIGHT BLASTS CROATIA OVER SERBIAN REFUGEES. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sharply criticized Croatia's policies toward returning Serb refugees at her meeting in Washington yesterday with Foreign Minister Mate Granic. She stressed that Croatia will not be accepted into Western political and other institutions unless it fulfills its obligations under the Dayton accord. Her spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said he could not remember a "tougher meeting" between Albright and a visiting foreign minister. U.S. officials described the Croats' remarks as defensive and added that Albright did not receive a satisfactory answer to her questions about mob violence against Serbs and about why the Serbs cannot go home. Jacques Klein, the UN chief administrator for eastern Slavonia, presented the Croats with concrete examples of discrimination against Serbs. CROATIAN SERBS EXPELLED FROM HOMES. The Croatian Helsinki Committee said in Zagreb yesterday that more than 100 Serbs were recently thrown out of their homes and that crowds attacked several Serbs this week. The incidents took place around Hrvatska Kostajnica in the Banija region of central Croatia and involved returning Serb refugees and some of the 1,500 Bosnian Croats who had moved into the area. Local Croatian officials denied that there is systematic violence against the Serbs, who had allegedly returned in an unorganized fashion and evicted Bosnian Croats living in the Serbs' homes. Croatian Serb legislator Milorad Pupovac said in Zagreb, however, that the matter is serious and that he will raise it in parliament. Pupovac added that the incidents do not bode well for the smooth reintegration of eastern Slavonia. NEWS FROM SERBIA. Some 3,000 health workers demonstrated in Belgrade yesterday to demand payment of their March wages, an RFE/RL correspondent there reported. Elsewhere in the capital, opposition leader Vuk Draskovic promised to lead Bosnian and Croatian Serbs back to their homes if he becomes Serbian president. After meeting with Krajina Serbs, Draskovic said that "the Serbian banner will flutter in Knin again," Nasa Borba reported today. Still in Belgrade, federal customs director Mihalj Kertes charged yesterday that domestic cigarette companies are heavily involved in the black market trading of their products. In Pristina, army commander Gen. Momcilo Perisic stated that extra security measures along the Albanian border have proven effective and that there are fewer incidents now than there were before anarchy erupted in Albania. OPPOSITION STAGES BIG RALLY IN SKOPJE. Some 30,000 people attended a protest rally in Skopje yesterday organized by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). The party sent a letter to President Kiro Gligorov demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, a caretaker government of "technocrats," and new elections in three months. The VMRO-DPMNE wants to use popular anger over a collapsed pyramid scheme to force new parliamentary elections. The party boycotted the last ballot and thereby shut itself out of much of public life. Elsewhere in Skopje, the authorities said they are closing the border with Albania to stop an influx of refugees. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a six-month extension (until 30 November) of the mandate for UN peacekeepers in Macedonia. LABOR PROTESTS IN BUCHAREST. Thousands of workers converged on the Romanian capital yesterday to protest government policies that are forcing living standards to plummet. The demonstrators marched past government headquarters calling Victor Ciorbea's cabinet a group of "liars" and "thieves." The Fratia trade union, which organized the march, says the demonstrations will continue daily until the government issues what it deems "a reasonable welfare program," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Labor unrest was also reported elsewhere in the country. FORMER ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER OFFICIALLY CHARGED. Gen. Victor Athanasie Stanculescu, who was minister of defense in 1990-1991, has been formally charged with abusing public office, conspiring to commit fraud, and damaging the country's economy. The military section of the Prosecutor-General's Office says Stanculescu and seven other persons, one of whom is also a general, were responsible for the illegal acquisition of mobile phones for the Defense Ministry at a loss to the state of some $8 million. They are suspected of having shared among themselves the difference between the producer's price and the price paid for the phones to intermediaries. If found guilty, Stanculescu faces between five and 15 years in prison, Radio Bucharest reported yesterday. MOLDOVAN PREMIER IN ROMANIA. Ion Ciubuc, on his first visit abroad as premier, met with his Romanian counterpart, Victor Ciorbea, in Bucharest yesterday, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. Ciorbea said Romania should be Moldova's gateway to the EU and Moldova Romania's gateway to the CIS. Ciubic noted that Moldova placed much hope on the future Romanian-Moldovan- Ukrainian "Euroregions" (see RFE/RL Newsline, 29 April 1997). The two sides signed treaties on cooperation between their ministries of justice and culture and a number of commercial agreements. Ciubuc is scheduled to visit today the Cernavoda nuclear plant and the Constanta port. Romania has proposed that Moldova invest in the construction of a second reactor at Cernavoda in exchange for electricity supplies. BULGARIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE WANTS TO PEG LEV TO GERMAN MARK. Ivan Kostov says the Bulgarian national currency should be pegged to the German mark. He was speaking yesterday upon his return from a visit to Germany, where he met with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Last week, Kostov had been quoted as saying it would be better for the Bulgarian lev to be linked to the U.S. dollar rather than the German mark. Caretaker Premier Stefan Sofiyanski, who traveled with Kostov, said officials from the Deutsche Bank indicated that Kostov's announcement would greatly encourage German investments in Bulgaria, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Bulgarian Radio reported that Kohl praised Bulgarian efforts to push ahead with reform. BULGARIAN CARETAKER INTERIOR MINISTER WANTS FORMER PREMIER TRIED. Bogomil Bonev says former Premier Zhan Videnov should be put on trial and sentenced for his role in the country's grain crisis. An RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported yesterday that Videnov was questioned by a prosecutor about the export of state grain reserves by several private firms in 1995 and 1996. The firms, which were closely linked to Videnov, made large profits because the Socialist government allowed them to make the exports. This resulted in the depletion of state grain reserves, and the country has since suffered severe bread shortages. Vasil Chichibaba, a former agriculture minister under Videnov, and three of his deputies, were charged in March with economic crime. Bonev, who is expected to retain his portfolio in the new government, said there is evidence that Videnov was "categorically responsible" for Bulgaria's grain shortages. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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