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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 76, Part I, 18 July 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I *CHURCH LEADERS ASK YELTSIN TO SIGN RELIGION LAW. *BANKING SCANDAL GOING OUT WITH A WHIMPER? *FIRST GROUP OF TAJIK REFUGEES RETURN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHURCH LEADERS ASK YELTSIN TO SIGN RELIGION LAW. Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All Russia and 49 other Russian Orthodox Church leaders have sent President Boris Yeltsin a message asking him to sign the controversial law on religious organizations, Russian news agencies reported on 17 July. On the same day, the Vatican announced that Pope John Paul sent Yeltsin a letter in June asking him to veto that law, which does not recognize the Catholic Church as one of Russia's "traditional religions," AFP reported. The law also would grant more rights to accredited "religious organizations" than to more recently established "religious groups." Russian human rights advocates have objected that the law is repressive and unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 1997). The U.S. Senate on 16 July approved an amendment that would cut some $200 million in U.S. aid to Russia in 1998 if Yeltsin signs the religion law. YELTSIN ORDERS MINISTER TO PAY NUCLEAR PLANT'S WORKERS. Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov says Yeltsin has instructed him to pay all wage arrears to workers at the Smolensk nuclear power plant by 10 August, and back wages to other nuclear plant workers by 10 October, Russian news agencies reported on 17 July. Yeltsin summoned Mikhailov to Karelia, where the president has been vacationing, after unpaid nuclear workers completed a 360- kilometer protest march to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 1997). Speaking to journalists, Mikhailov said he considered the demands of the protesters justified but argued that protests are not the way to solve the non-payments problem in the nuclear industry. Mikhailov's remarks came after First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov met with representatives of the protest marchers in Moscow and promised that 123 billion rubles ($21 million) would be paid to nuclear workers this month. RODIONOV, ROKHLIN CRITICIZE YELTSIN'S DECREES ON MILITARY. On 18 July "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published extensive criticism by former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and State Duma Defense Committee chairman Lev Rokhlin of Yeltsin's 16 July decrees on downsizing and restructuring the Russian armed forces. Over the past two months, Rodionov and Rokhlin have become the nucleus of growing opposition to the way military reform is being implemented. Rodionov said that the Defense Ministry had argued that any reform of the armed forces should be preceded by the solution of related political problems, including strengthening the legislative foundations of Russia's military doctrine and drafting a concept for military cooperation among CIS member states. The Defense Council had insisted on the immediate reduction of the armed forces to 1.2 million. The decrees fail to address a number of crucial problems, including Russia's future military doctrine, the defense industry and the social welfare of servicemen and their families. BANKING SCANDAL GOING OUT WITH A WHIMPER? Nina Galanicheva, who chairs the Unikombank board of directors, announced on 17 July that a recent Central Bank audit uncovered "technical" errors made by Unikombank but no fraudulent operations with securities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 July. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin on 14 July charged that former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov and Unikombank were involved in two fraudulent deals that cost the state budget more than $500 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14-16 July 1997). But the next day a Central Bank official said Vavilov was not being accused of corruption, and on 16 July the Central Bank and Unikombank issued a joint statement saying Unikombank was accused only of obstructing a Central Bank audit and making accounting errors. "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 17 July that the scandal may eventually cost Dubinin his post. However, the State Duma, which has the authority to fire Dubinin, is currently on summer recess. "TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY" CORRECTED ABOARD "MIR." The cause of a power outage aboard the Russian space station Mir was found to be a mistakenly disconnected cable, according to international media on 17 July. Mission Control in Russia is now considering waiting to do repairs on the station until a new crew arrives in early August. CONSTITUTIONAL COURT LIKELY TO CONSIDER CHALLENGES TO ELECTORAL LAW. Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai announced on 17 July that he sees "no obstacles" that are likely to keep the court from considering three appeals challenging the legality of the law on parliamentary elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 July. The appeals question the constitutionality of the proportional representation system used to elect half of State Duma deputies, in particular the point excluding parties that receive less than 5% of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May and 18 April 1997). If the court rules that the electoral law violates citizens' rights, the legitimacy of the Duma would be undermined. The Constitutional Court refused to hear a challenge to the electoral law in November 1995, less than a month before Duma elections were held. The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the proportional representation system in April of this year. CRIMINAL CASE OPENED AGAINST KORZHAKOV FOR SLANDER. The Procurator-General's Office has opened a criminal case against State Duma deputy and former presidential bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov on slander charges, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 July. The magazine "Lyudi" earlier this year published an interview in which Korzhakov alleged that NTV vice president Yevgenii Kiselev had been a KGB agent since 1988 under the code name Alekseev. Kiselev, who is the anchor of NTV's influential weekly program "Itogi," lodged a protest with the Procurator-General's Office, charging that the allegations were untrue. Kiselev also says Korzhakov damaged his reputation in April, when he appeared before television journalists and called Kiselev an "informer" and a "secret agent." Those remarks were not broadcast on television. Korzhakov says he can prove the truth of his assertions. Last year he sent copies of KGB documents on agent Alekseev to Kiselev, but Kiselev told "Kommersant-Daily" that those documents were falsified. NEW NIZHNII NOVGOROD GOVERNOR, NEMTSOV DISAGREE OVER APPOINTMENTS. Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov is at odds with his predecessor, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, over key personnel appointments in the oblast, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported on 17 July. Sklyarov and Nemtsov reportedly reached an understanding on the appointments about two months ago. However, shortly after winning the 13 July runoff election Sklyarov criticized Nemtsov for not actively backing his candidacy earlier in the campaign. Now Sklyarov is refusing to allow former Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Dmitrii Bednyakov to be appointed deputy mayor of the city. In addition, Sklyarov and Nemtsov support different candidates for acting mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod and presidential representative in the oblast. During the campaign, Sklyarov's supporters warned that relations between the regional authorities and federal officials would suffer if Communist candidate Gennadii Khodyrev were elected governor. DEATH TOLL IN BARRACKS COLLAPSE RISES TO 11. At least 11 soldier cadets have died following the 17 July collapse of a dormitory at a military school in Tomsk, Russian news agencies reported. More than 50 people are injured, and 10 of them are in serious condition. The pre-revolutionary building, which had an extra level added on in the 1950s, reportedly had not been repaired since 1955. TWO INGUSH DPs KILLED IN NORTH OSSETIA. Two people were killed and 10 injured when a bus carrying Ingush displaced persons en route to inspect their abandoned homes in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi raion was fired on by a grenade launcher, Russian media reported. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev said that more than 20 such attacks have been perpetrated on Ingush displaced persons over the past month. Addressing an emergency session of the Ingush Security Council in Nazran, Aushev criticized the federal authorities and the North Ossetian leadership for failing to take measures to defuse tensions, and again argued that this could be done only by imposing direct presidential rule on the disputed district, according to Russian Independent Television (NTV). Aushev also telephoned Yeltsin, deputy prime minister Valerii Serov and general procurator Yurii Skuratov to discuss the deteriorating situation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 July. NORTH OSSETIA DENIES PLANS TO REPATRIATE DPs TO GEORGIA. North Ossetia's permanent representative in Moscow, Kazbek Dulaev, has told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that a report in its 15 July edition claiming that President Akhsarbek Galazov has issued a decree on the repatriation to Georgia of Ossetians who fled the fighting there in 1991-2 is untrue, the paper reported on 18 July. [See "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July, 1997] Dulaev termed the report, which "Nezavisimaya gazeta" says was based on Georgian media reports, "a gross distortion of the true state of affairs aimed at destabilizing the situation in the republic". TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA FIRST GROUP OF TAJIK REFUGEES RETURN. A group of 275 Tajik refugees returned from Afghanistan on 17 July, according to RFE/RL correspondents. This was the first party of refugees to come back since the 27 June signing of the Tajik National Peace Accord which provided for the safe return and repatriation of the refugees. They must undergo a registration process and medical check before being allowed to continue on to areas of residence. However, the exchange of prisoners between the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) in Tavil-Dara will not take place on 18 July as was hoped. The government side has sent a list of the prisoners it wants returned and the UTO is presently searching for these people. The exchange originally was scheduled for 15 July. GEORGIAN PRESIDENT IN WASHINGTON. Addressing U.S. business leaders at the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation [OPIC] on 17 July, Eduard Shevardnadze underscored his country's progress over the past three years toward political stability, privatization and marketization, Western agencies reported. He pleaded for more foreign investment in hydro-electric power, agriculture, tourism, mining and machine building. Shevardnadze also stressed his country's potential role as a transit corridor between Asia and Europe. Shevardnadze and U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen signed an agreement on military cooperation and U.S. financial aid to Georgia to fund measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Shevardnadze had lunch with vice president Al Gore and met later with Senate leaders. KAZAKHSTAN ADOPTS NEW CRIMINAL CODE. Kazakhstan on 16 July approved its new criminal code, according to ITAR-TASS and Interfax. A presidential spokesman said the new code "is devoid of ideology," and emphasizes human rights, not state interests. The new code does not abolish the death penalty but does make courts which pass such sentences responsible for explaining the necessity of such a punishment. The option of life imprisonment will not be debated until 2003. Also, on the initiative of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, there is an article in the code which provides for punishing those "hampering journalists' professional work." PAKISTAN TO HELP TURKMENISTAN DEVELOP NAVY. Pakistani naval specialists will help train personnel for Turkmenistan's navy, according to a 18 July report from ITAR-TASS. The chief of Pakistan's Navy, Fasih Bokhari, is presently in Turkmenistan discussing cooperation with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Pakistan has already helped train Turkmen pilots and has been giving advice to the Turkmen armed forces. Bokhari stressed that Turkmenistan's official neutral status plays an important role in Central Asia. OSCE MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN ARRIVE IN BAKU. The U.S., French and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group arrived in Baku on 17 July for talks with President Heidar Aliev and foreign minister Hasan Hasanov on the latest proposals for a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. Also on17 July, representatives of the 50,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis who fled Karabakh during the hostilities presented to the U.S., French and Russian embassies an appeal to the presidents of those countries not to permit the presidential elections in Karabakh scheduled for 1 September. They further demanded the restoration of their rights and said the conflict could not be adequately resolved without making provisions for them to return to their homes. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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