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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 80, Part I, 24 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/

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Headlines, Part I

* PRESIDENTIAL VETO OF RELIGION LAW RECEIVES MIXED RESPONSE
IN RUSSIA, PRAISE FROM ABROAD

* AGREEMENT REACHED ON REVISING CFE TREATY

* ABKHAZ TALKS GET OFF TO ROCKY START

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RUSSIA

PRESIDENTIAL VETO OF RELIGION LAW RECEIVES MIXED RESPONSE
IN RUSSIA... Human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseeva, who chairs
the Moscow Helsinki Group, was among those who welcomed
President Boris Yeltsin's veto of the controversial law on religious
organizations, Interfax reported on 23 July. She argued that the law
would have granted unconstitutional privileges to the Russian
Orthodox Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 1997). Meanwhile,
Archbishop Sergii of the Russian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod told
ITAR-TASS that the veto "provokes enormous regret and
bewilderment among Orthodox Christians." Speaking in Sochi, State
Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev predicted that the parliament will
override Yeltsin's veto. In messages to Seleznev and Federation
Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, Yeltsin warned that if his veto is
overridden, he will sign the law but will publish it alongside a list of
all its points that violate the constitution or international agreements
signed by Russia.

...AND PRAISE FROM ABROAD. The Vatican issued a statement on 23
July praising Yeltsin's decision to veto the religion law and
expressing hope that a new version of the law would reflect a "better
understanding of the religious reality" in Russia, Reuters reported.
U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley said the U.S. welcomes
the veto as a "victory for Russian democracy and religious freedom."
Opposition politicians have slammed foreign appeals regarding the
religion law. Duma Speaker Seleznev called such appeals "gross
interference in Russia's internal affairs," ITAR-TASS reported. Duma
Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin told Interfax that the
veto shows Russia has become a "protectorate" of the U.S. Duma First
Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin argued that Yeltsin would have
vetoed the law in any case and that the appeals from abroad have
only given the opposition more opportunities to accuse Yeltsin of
yielding to external pressure.

YELTSIN ALLOWS ELECTRICITY GIANT TO ISSUE CONVERTIBLE
BONDS... Yeltsin signed a decree allowing Unified Energy Systems
(EES) to issue convertible bonds worth 5 trillion rubles ($864 million)
this year, Interfax reported on 23 July. First Deputy Prime Minister
Boris Nemtsov said the proceeds from the sale would be used to
settle the EES's debt to the federal budget and in turn would help
pay wage arrears to state employees. The bond issue is part of a plan
that will reduce the government stake in the EES from about 52.3
percent to 50 percent plus one share. The same day, Yeltsin vetoed a
law that would have required the government to retain at least a 51
percent stake in the EES and would have stipulated that no more
than 25 percent of EES shares could be owned by foreign investors
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 1997).

...AND MEETS WITH CENTRAL BANK HEAD. Also on 23 July, Yeltsin
met with Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin and signed decrees
on procedures for selling and exporting gold, Russian news agencies
reported. No details about the new export rules have been made
available to date. First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov told reporters
that the measures were designed to encourage investment in the
Russian gold-mining industry. Earlier this month, a government
directive lifted the state's monopoly on the gold trade, allowing
licensed commercial banks to sell gold to citizens for the first time.
Citizens may also sell gold to licensed banks. Speaking to reporters
after their meeting, neither Yeltsin nor Dubinin commented on the
banking scandal recently ignited by the Central Bank chairman (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 July 1997). ITAR-TASS had reported
earlier on 23 July that Yeltsin and Dubinin were not expected to
discuss the scandal.

GOVERNMENT MAY GUARANTEE SOME FOREIGN LOANS TO INDUSTRY.
Under a presidential decree signed on 23 July, the federal
government or regional governments may guarantee foreign credits
to some enterprises, ITAR-TASS reported. However, state guarantees
may be provided only to enterprises that have debts neither to the
federal budget nor to non-budgetary state funds such as the Pension
Fund. In addition, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov said
enterprises will have to win open competitions in order to secure
state guarantees of foreign loans. A May presidential decree
prohibited the government from guaranteeing loans granted by
Russian commercial banks to enterprises as a substitute for budget
funding. The practice of offering Finance Ministry guarantees of some
bank loans to enterprises was criticized as benefiting commercial
banks that are close to the Kremlin.

YELTSIN CALLS FOR DUMA TO INTERRUPT SUMMER RECESS... Yeltsin
has called for the State Duma to hold a special session to discussed
revised government proposals for reducing social benefits, Russian
news agencies reported on 23 July. He told reporters that "the Duma
vacations for too long," noting that the Japanese parliament takes
only a 12-day summer holiday. The Duma voted down a package of
proposed social reforms in late June, shortly before beginning a two-
month recess. The government submitted a revised package of social
benefits cuts to the relevant Duma committees on 21 July. Cabinet
ministers say the benefits reductions will direct government aid to
those who are in need. Yeltsin has been vacationing since 7 July and
intends to return to Moscow at the beginning of August.

..ADVISES OFFICIALS TO RELEASE INCOME DECLARATIONS. Yeltsin
has criticized officials who failed to release income and property
declarations by 20 July and has ordered that their names be
published, Russian news agencies reported on 23 July. The president
said 33 regional leaders had not complied with his May anti-
corruption decree (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 1997). First
Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov told Yeltsin that almost all
government ministers had submitted their declarations but that most
Duma deputies had not. In May, Communist Party leader Gennadii
Zyuganov announced that the decree did not apply to Duma deputies,
since they are not civil servants, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22
July. Zyuganov and other opposition politicians have since cast doubt
on the accuracy of declarations submitted by various government
ministers. Speaking in Irkutsk on 23 July, Zyuganov described the
campaign to force officials to disclose their income as a "comedy,"
Interfax reported.

PRESS SKEPTICAL ABOUT INCOME DECLARATIONS. Several
newspapers have also reacted skeptically to income and property
declarations published by some government officials. Security
Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii declared 1996 income of
roughly 2.5 billion rubles ($438,000), immovable property valued at
128 million rubles, and securities worth 95 million rubles,
"Kommersant-Daily," reported on 24 July. But both "Kommersant-
Daily" and "Komsomolskaya pravda" have noted that Berezovskii's
declaration is vastly at odds with a recently published article in the
U.S. magazine "Forbes," which estimated Berezovskii's net worth at
some $3 billion. On 4 July, "Kommersant-Daily" noted that State
Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh declared $100,000 in
1996 income from a Swiss publisher. Kokh listed the income as
royalties for a still unpublished book on privatization. The paper
observed that such a large advance fee would be highly unusual,
given that Kokh's book was unlikely to become a bestseller in Russia
or abroad.

ZYUGANOV, LEBED CAMPAIGN IN IRKUTSK. Communist Party leader
Gennadii Zyuganov arrived in Irkutsk on 23 July to campaign on
behalf of gubernatorial candidate Sergei Levchenko, the leader of the
Communist Party branch in Irkutsk Oblast, Interfax reported. Former
Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed came to Irkutsk the
previous day to stump for Ivan Shchadov, director of the giant coal
enterprise Vostsibugol. The election will be held on 27 July.
Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 July that State Duma deputy
Yurii Ten of Our Home Is Russia has withdrawn his candidacy and is
backing the front-runner in the race, Irkutsk Mayor Boris Govorin. In
sharp contrast to the recent election in Nizhnii Novgorod, top federal
officials have not campaigned for Govorin. In his campaign, Govorin
has stressed defending the oblast's interests over those of Moscow,
according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Irkutsk on 17 July.

RUSSIAN NAVAL COMMANDER DETAILS PLANNED CUTS. Adm. Feliks
Gromov announced in Vladivostok on 23 July that the force will be
reduced by some 30,000 men in 1998, Russian media reported. Its
current strength is 227,000 men. Gromov said vessels that "do not
meet present requirements" will be decommissioned but that the
acquisition of new equipment will ensure that the cuts do not
adversely affect the force's efficiency and that the Pacific Fleet
retains its bases at Vladivostok and Kamchatka. Gromov said efforts
would be made to preserve the Progress and Zvezda defense plants
in Primore.

YELTSIN ORDERS PRIVATIZATION OF ARMY FACILITIES. Yeltsin on
23 July told journalists that he has ordered the sale of some 9,000
unprofitable army-owned shops, cafes, and sports facilities, Russian
agencies reported. Yeltsin said 87 percent of the proceeds from their
privatization will be used to pay wage arrears to the armed forces
and social benefits to demobilized military personnel as well as to
build housing for military officers.

UDUGOV SLAMS FOREIGN ATTEMPTS TO DESTABILIZE CHECHNYA.
Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov, speaking on
Chechen television on 23 July, charged that Russia, Saudi Arabia, and
the Christan states of the West are attempting to create a "belt of
instability" around Chechnya by spending millions of dollars on
inciting religious and ethnic conflict in neighboring Ingushetia and
Dagestan, Russian media reported. Udugov claimed that this
subversive activity was intended to prevent the creation of a strong
Chechen Islamic state but added such an attempt would fail. During
the night of 22-23 July, thieves broke into the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe office in Grozny and stole cash
and other valuables worth some $30,000 and a jeep. They also
abducted a guard, according to Prosecutor-general Khavazh Serbiev.
Those responsible have been arrested, according to dpa on 24 July,
quoting Interfax.

AGREEMENT REACHED ON REVISING CFE TREATY. The 16 NATO and
14 former Warsaw pact states participating in the Vienna talks on
reducing conventional armaments in Europe reached agreement "in
principle" on 23 July on a new draft accord to supersede the 1990
Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. Whereas that treaty set
equal collective limits for NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, the
new version will stipulate maximum allocations for each individual
signatory, according to "The Washington Post" on 24 July. Those
national allocations will impose a maximum limit for each country's
armed forces and for foreign forces stationed on its territory. The
Russian proposal of a collective ceiling for NATO member states was
rejected. A U.S. arms control expert said the total maximum amount
of weaponry that may be deployed in Europe under the new draft is
"significantly lower" than that allowed in the1990 agreement.

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

ABKHAZ TALKS GET OFF TO ROCKY START. UN-sponsored talks in
Geneva between Georgian and Abkhaz government representatives
began on 23 July. The start of the talks was delayed for several
hours because the Abkhaz side objected to the reading out of a letter
by representatives of the Western states that constitute the Friends
of Georgia group. In an address read to participants by a
representative, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the primary
responsibility for reaching a solution to the conflict lies with Georgia
and Abkhazia but the international community could provide
economic and technical help, Reuters reported. "Rezonansi" on 22 July
quoted Annan as saying that the UN Security Council would discuss
the possibility of sending a UN peacekeeping force to Abkhazia only
after the withdrawal of the CIS force currently deployed there.

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH POPULAR FRONT LEADERS... Imomali
Rakhmonov on 23 July met with field commanders from some of the
former Popular Front units in southern and central Tajikistan to
discuss the reconciliation process, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-
TASS reported. Rakhmonov asked the commanders for help in
disarming their followers in line with Tajikistan's plans to cut armed
forces by 30 percent. The commanders said they were still against
the return to Tajikistan of fighters from the United Tajik Opposition.
They also criticized "separatists" in Tajikistan; in this context, Col.
Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the Tajik Army's First
Brigade, was mentioned. Popular Front units were armed in 1992 by
former President Rahmon Nabiyev and later by those who helped
bring Rakhmonov to power at the end of 1992. The units were
officially disbanded in 1993, but many commanders disobeyed that
order and lived as warlords with their private armies.

...ASKS FOR HELP IN CAPTURING TERRORISTS. Rakhmonov also said it
was important to locate and capture Rezvon Sadirov, who, together
with his brother Bahrom and their followers, held members of the
UN observer mission hostage in December 1996 and again in
February 1997. Bahrom Sadirov was eventually captured, but his
brother remains at large. UN officials, including Secretary-General
Kofi Annan and special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem, said they
have received reports that Bahrom Sadirov is living in the compound
of Presidential Guard commander Gaffur Mirzoyev and that Rezvon
Sadirov has been seen on the streets of Dushanbe.

MORE OFFICIALS SACKED IN TURKMENISTAN. President Saparmurat
Niyazov visited the northern Turkmen province of Tashauz on 23
July. On learning that the province would not be able to meet the
1997 grain quota, Niyazov fired many of the province's officials,
including the governor of the province, according to ITAR-TASS. This
is the fourth Turkmen province that has announced it cannot meet
target figures for 1997. Officials were also fired in the other three
provinces.

NEW AGREEMENT ON TURKMEN-PAKISTANI PIPELINE. Turkmen Oil
Minister Batyr Sarjaev, Pakistani Petroleum and Natural Resources
Minister Nisar Ali Khan, and representatives from the U.S.'s Unocal
company and Saudi Arabia's Delta Corp. signed in Islamabad on 23
July an agreement stipulating December 1998 as the start-up date
for construction of the Turkmen-Afghan-Pakistan pipeline, AFP
reported. The 1,464 km pipeline is scheduled to be completed by
2001. The Pakistani minister said he has "absolutely no doubt" that
the pipeline will be finished by then. At a meeting of the Economic
Cooperation Organization in Turkmenistan in May, an agreement was
signed calling for construction to begin by 1 October 1997, but the
situation in Afghanistan has pushed back that date. The signatories
of the 23 July agreement are to meet again before 15 September.





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