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Vol 1, No. 60, Part I, 25 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 60, Part I, 25 June 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * DUMA REJECTS MOST GOVERNMENT-BACKED SOCIAL REFORMS * NEMTSOV IN CHINA * AFGHAN REFUGEES IN TURKMENISTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA REJECTS MOST GOVERNMENT-BACKED SOCIAL REFORMS. During its last session before the two-month summer recess, the State Duma rejected all but one proposal of a government-backed package to reform Russia's social benefits system, Russian news agencies reported on 24 June. Deputies approved a bill to make child allowance payments means-tested rather than guaranteed to all families with children under age 16. However, the Duma rejected plans to cut benefits to veterans' families and law-enforcement officials, as well as to limit sick pay and maternity benefits. The Duma will consider the social reforms again in September. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said the government may impose some of the benefits reductions without parliamentary approval. Also on 24 June, the Duma passed a law that would raise the minimum monthly pension by 20%, from 69,575 rubles ($12) to 83,490 rubles, beginning on 1 July. DUMA PASSES LAW ON PRIVATIZATION. The Duma on 24 June passed by 311 to nine a law on the privatization of state property, Russian news agencies reported. Under the law, the state would retain its veto power at shareholder meetings when "strategically important enterprises" are privatized. In addition, the law would allow the state to appropriate privatized property--without compensating new owners--if the new owners failed to meet either investment commitments they had made in order to acquire the state property, or obligations to employees. The law would also require the government to submit its privatization plans to the Duma annually for parliamentary approval. Duma deputies recently passed a non-binding resolution denouncing the government's privatization policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 12 June 1997). CHUBAIS SAYS GOVERNMENT NOT PLEASED WITH DUMA'S PERFORMANCE. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais says the government is not satisfied with the Duma's failure to pass bills on budget cuts and social reforms, Interfax reported on 24 June. Asked whether the Duma might be dissolved, Chubais said such a decision was up to President Boris Yeltsin, adding that "extreme steps must be taken only in extreme cases." Meanwhile, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev criticized the government for trying to turn the Duma into a "scapegoat." Seleznev also said the Duma should not be addressed with "ultimatum-like rhetoric." Speaking to reporters in Strasbourg on 24 June, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said he has an official document outlining the Kremlin's plans to discredit and ultimately disband the Duma, AFP reported. Zyuganov was presumably referring to an alleged document published recently in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1997). DUMA CALLS FOR ENDING BLOCKADE OF ABKHAZIA. The Duma on 25 June adopted a statement calling for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in 1995, ITAR-TASS reported. The sanctions include restrictions on crossing the frontier between Abkhazia and Russia and mandatory customs and frontier inspections in the Georgian port of Poti for all vessels wishing to dock in the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi. The Duma requested that speaker Gennadii Seleznev forward the statement to Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the heads of relevant government agencies. DUMA PASSES LAW TO PROTECT LAKE BAIKAL. The Duma on 24 June passed a law on protecting Siberia's Lake Baikal, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman for the environmental group Greenpeace called it an important step in the 40-year effort to safeguard the lake, which contains 20% of the fresh water on the earth's surface. The law would create ecological zones on and around the lake in which it would be prohibited to expand existing industry, construct new rail lines, store nuclear waste, and prospect for oil or minerals. NEMTSOV IN CHINA. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov attended a meeting of the Russian-Chinese Intergovernmental Commission in Beijing on 24 June, Russian media reported. The two sides reached an agreement on gas exploration in Russia's Irkutsk Oblast and on construction of a gas pipeline to South Korea via Mongolia and China. On 25 June, Nemtsov met with the president of China's National Oil Company to continue cooperation discussions. He also met with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng. Nemtsov noted that cooperation in energy related projects is a key component of Russian-Chinese relations. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin arrives in China on 26 June to discuss, among other things, boosting bilateral trade and the demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border. Viktor Ishaev, the governor of Khabarovsk Krai, has already said he is opposed to the proposed demarcation and will send the head of the Amur regional administration to represent the Far East's interests during Chernomyrdin's visit. DEFENSE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SENDS STRONG MESSAGE TO YELTSIN. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, a member of the pro-government faction Our Home Is Russia (NDR), has sent an appeal to Yeltsin calling for "extreme measures to improve the situation in the armed forces," Russian news agencies reported on 24 June. In his appeal, Rokhlin said Yeltsin has "not done anything for six years for the country's military security" and bears "personal responsibility" for starting the war in Chechnya, according to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 25 June. Rokhlin also charged that the IMF is controlling military reform by demanding that defense spending not exceed 3.5% of Russia's GDP. He called on soldiers to unite and demand their legal rights. Duma First Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin of NDR criticized Rokhlin's appeal as a "call for disobedience." Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov said the Defense Committee had neither discussed nor approved the appeal. ZHIRINOVSKY FAILS IN BID TO REMOVE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN. By 137 to 119 votes with four abstentions, the Duma rejected a resolution to remove Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin as head of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Russian news agencies reported on 24 June. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky had proposed the resolution, saying Lukin has "betrayed Russia's national interests." The attempt to remove Lukin was sparked by his recent suggestion that Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev, an outspoken human rights activist, be nominated for deputy chairman of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. CHERNOMYRDIN CRITICIZES U.S. TRADE POLICIES. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin ended a trip to the U.S. on 24 June with an appeal to Washington to change what he called discriminatory trade policies. In a speech to business executives in San Francisco, Chernomyrdin criticized the U.S. for imposing anti-dumping tariffs against some Russian goods and for restricting the sale of supercomputers to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin called on U.S. investors to set up regional mutual funds focusing on the Russian Far East and some sectors of the Russian economy. He noted that the U.S. accounts for more than one-third of direct foreign investment in Russia, but that the overall amount of money invested remains "very low." On 23 June, Chernomyrdin represented Russia at the UN Earth Summit in New York and met with U.S. Vice President Al Gore. FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS KYIV VIOLATES SPIRIT OF TREATY BY BARRING ZATULIN. The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a message to its Ukrainian counterpart, saying that Kyiv violated the spirit of the recently-signed Russian-Ukrainian treaty by not allowing politician Konstantin Zatulin to enter Crimea, ITAR-TASS reported in 24 June. Black Sea Fleet Commander Viktor Kravchenko invited Zatulin to a 12 June flag-hoisting ceremony in Sevastopol, but Kyiv had barred Zatulin from entering Crimea two days earlier. As State Duma CIS Affairs Committee chairman in 1994 and 1995, Zatulin repeatedly criticized Ukrainian policy on Crimea. More recently, he co-authored an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 March, which urged Russia to sabotage alliances within the CIS--such that between Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Georgia--and to refuse to recognize its current borders with Ukraine unless Kyiv agrees to sign a federal treaty with Crimea. CONSTITUTIONAL COURT STRIKES DOWN PROVISION IN KHAKASSIAN CONSTITUTION. The Constitutional Court ruled on 24 June that a residency requirement for office-seekers in the Republic of Khakassia violates the Russian Constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the Khakassian Constitution, candidates for the Supreme Soviet must have lived in the republic for at least five years, and candidates for head of the republic's government must have been resident there for at least seven years. Yeltsin filed the court appeal, saying such restrictions violate constitutional guarantees of equal rights for all Russian citizens. Last October, the Supreme Court ordered the Khakassian Electoral Commission to allow then-State Duma deputy Aleksei Lebed to run for Khakassia's top executive post, even though he did not meet the residency requirement. Lebed was easily elected in December. The constitutions of most of Russia's 21 republics contain residency or language requirements for office-seekers, although federal authorities say those restrictions are illegal. FSB HEAD ON EFFORTS TO RECRUIT DOUBLE AGENTS. Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Kovalev says the FSB's drive to recruit double-agents has been more successful than planned, Russian agencies reported on 24 June. On 3 June, Kovalev invited Russian citizens already collaborating with foreign intelligence services to call a special hotline and register as double agents. On 24 June, he told reporters in Moscow that the hotline had yielded several interesting calls, and he pledged to make more information public at an unspecified date. "You will be amazed by the results," Kovalev promised journalists. NUCLEAR BUNKER DECONTAMINATED. Scientists at the nuclear research center in Sarov (formerly Arzamas-16), Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, have decontaminated the bunker where a nuclear experiment went awry last week, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June, citing the center's director. Radiation levels at the center are reported to be back to acceptable levels. Meanwhile, an unidentified member of the government commission investigating the accident quoted Aleksandr Zakharov, the senior researcher killed in the mishap, as telling colleagues before his death that "slippery gloves" may have been to blame. Zakharov was buried on 24 June. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AFGHAN REFUGEES IN TURKMENISTAN. The recent fighting between Taliban forces and their opponents in Afghanistan caused some 3,000-4,000 refugees to flee to southern Turkmenistan, Interfax and AFP reported on 24 June. A worker from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said most of the refugees were women, children, and elderly people. Turkmen security and law-enforcement agencies "are currently taking measures to send the refugees back," according to Interfax. NIYAZOV SUSPENDS TURKMENROSGAZ OPERATIONS. Interfax reported on 24 June, that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed an order on 19 June suspending the activities of the Turkmen-Russian company Turkmenrosgaz. The company delivered gas to Ukraine after purchasing it through the ITERA International Energy firm. Turkmenistan, however, canceled the deal with ITERA in April and agreed to provide direct gas supplies to Ukraine. NO DECISION ON STATUS OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN KYRGYZSTAN. The People's Assembly (lower house) of the Kyrgyz parliament on 24 June, failed to pass a resolution on granting Russian "official" language status in the country, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. President Askar Akayev spoke in favor of amending the constitution to include Russian as an official, rather than state, language. However, only 40 of the 58 deputies present voted in favor of the resolution. A vote of two-thirds (47) of the total 70 deputies would have been needed for it to pass. Several deputies have called for a second reading. The resolution would also require the approval of the parliament's Legislative Assembly (upper house). The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS had reported the same day that the amendment was passed "unanimously" and was likely to be approved by the Legislative Assembly soon. GEORGIAN POLICE OFFICIALS SHOOT SEVEN. Two Georgian Interior Ministry troops on 24 June shot dead seven people, including fellow servicemen, in a village close to the Georgian-Azerbaijani frontier, Western agencies reported. The two men fled in a hijacked car but were later apprehended by police. The motive for the killings is unclear. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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