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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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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