|The trouble with being punctual is that nobody's there to appreciate it. - Franklin P. Jones|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 87, Part II, 4 August1997
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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II *RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SEEK TO SMOOTH OVER DIFFERENCES WITH MINSK *YUGOSLAV BORDER GUARDS KILL TWO KOSOVARS *BONN FREEZES DIPLOMATIC TIES TO BOSNIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE JOURNALIST DETAINED IN BELARUS THREATENS HUNGER STRIKE. Pavel Sheremet, one of two Russian state television (ORT) journalists detained by the authorities in Belarus, may go on a hunger strike, his lawyer told Interfax on 2 August. The Belarusian authorities have charged the journalists with illegally crossing the border from Lithuania, where they had been filming a report on smuggling. They could face up to five years in jail. Meanwhile, Belarus's KGB issued a statement on 1 August saying its agents acted on a Lithuanian request when they detained the ORT crew. The statement directly contradicts earlier assertions by Lithuanian authorities that they had no objections to the TV crew's border crossing. Fifteen journalists arrested on 31 July while demonstrating against the ORT journalists' detention appeared before a Minsk court on 1 August. They were charged with violating a decree banning unauthorized public gatherings near government buildings. Six of the journalists were fined the equivalent of about 180 dollars and the rest were given warnings. RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SEEK TO SMOOTH OVER DIFFERENCES WITH MINSK. Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 1 August expressed hope that Russian criticism of the treatment of Russian journalists by Belarusian authorities will not affect cooperation between the two countries, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin characterized his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a "young" and "quick-tempered" leader who "takes criticism badly," but said the incident over ORT journalists would not affect Russian-Belarusian relations. The same day, Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii criticized Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Leonid Gorbenko, who had asked Lukashenka to postpone a visit to the oblast because of "complications" in Russian-Belarusian relations. Gorbenko's statement had not been cleared with the Russian Foreign Ministry, Yastrzhembskii said. On 2 August, Yastrzhembskii criticized ORT for not reporting on the official explanations for the postponement of Lukashenka's visit to Kaliningrad Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 1997). NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN RUSSIAN, BELARUSIAN CENTRAL BANKS SUSPENDED. A Russian-Belarusian currency union appears as far away as ever now that the Russian Central Bank has cut off negotiations with the National Bank of Belarus, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 August. Under a March agreement, the two central banks were scheduled to announce measures on coordinating the two countries' currency policies on 1 August. However, the Russian Central Bank says Minsk has not fulfilled any of the main points of the March agreement. For instance, the National Bank still restricts the purchase and sale of Belarusian rubles in Belarus and still sets the exchange rate for the Belarusian ruble without regard for supply and demand. Furthermore, the National Bank of Belarus on 28 July limited the rights of non-residents to perform certain currency operations, after which the Russian side concluded that continuing negotiations would be "senseless," according to Central Bank Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Potemkin. WORLD BANK SUSPENDS LOAN TO UKRAINE. The World Bank has suspended disbursements of a $317 million loan to Ukraine because the Ukrainian parliament failed to raise electric rates as it promised, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported on 1 August. The bank says the parliament's indefinite postponement of the higher rates "has jeopardized the financial viability of the thermal generation companies" which are getting the loan disbursements. The loan, approved in October 1996, was to be used to build up fuel stocks and spare parts, and to install metering and other modern equipment over three years to get Ukraine's electric utility industry up to standard. The bank says the power companies will continue to deteriorate. without an increase in wholesale and retail prices. The bank says it will still support power industry reforms with technical assistance, but will only reopen the loan when electric rates are adjusted. ESTONIAN PRESIDENT VISITING DENMARK. Lennart Meri arrived in Denmark on 2 August for a five-day visit which takes place at the invitation of Uffe-Ellemann Jensen, the president of the union of liberal democratic parties and former Danish foreign minister, ETA reported. Meri gave a speech on 2 August on the topic "NATO and European Union Expansion from Estonia's Position" at the annual conference of the Venstre Party at Nymindegab. On 4 August, the Estonian president is scheduled to give a speech on "Estonia and Euro-integration" at the Danish Society of Foreign Politics. Meri and Ellemann-Jensen also are due to hold a joint press conference the same day. LATVIAN PRESIDENT IN U.S. Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis, on a visit to the U.S., told Reuter in San Francisco on 2 August that his country will do everything possible to be included in a next round of NATO expansion. Ulmanis expressed the hope that Latvia will win an invitation to join the alliance in 1999. Ulmanis also said that Russian objections to the Baltic states' possible NATO membership "are not decisive." Ulmanis said Latvia also will continue efforts to be included in a first group of nations invited to join the European Union. LATVIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE VOWS FASTER REFORM. Guntar Krasts on 1 August pledged to speed up reforms. Krasts told state- owned Radio Latvia in an interview that the Baltic republic needed a better economic performance. Krasts has been chosen to replace Andris Shkele, forced to resign after quarrels with the seven parties that formed his cabinet. "We have to achieve better economic results in the second part of 1997 and in 1998 and therefore we have to increase the pace of reform," Krasts said. A deficit-free budget is currently in doubt due to an income tax shortfall but Krasts insisted a balanced budget was his goal. "We will aim to achieve a balanced budget in 1997, and even if we fail, it is a must for 1998, which we will implement," Krasts said. FIRST LATVIAN-LITHUANIAN BORDER CHECKPOINT OPENED. Latvia and Lithuania opened their first border checkpoint on 2 August, BNS reported. The border point Grenctale-Salociai will substantially reduce the time needed for routine procedures upon crossing the border, since the customs and documents control will take place only once. The opening ceremony at the border crossing was attended by Latvian Acting Interior Minister Juris Kaksitis and Lithuanian Interior Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis. CZECH "FLOOD" BONDS REPORTED TO BE A SUCCESS. Seven major Czech banks on 1 August started selling government bonds, Czech television reported. The government hopes the sale will raise some 5 billion crowns to help regions devastated by recent floods. All seven banks reported that the bonds were selling faster than expected. President Vaclav Havel and his wife, Dagmar, were among the first to buy some of the bonds. The bonds will mature in five years, and interest will be 2.5 percent above inflation. For the first year, the interest rate was set at 12.5 percent. The damage caused by the floods that hit eastern Czech Republic is estimated to be at least 60 billion crowns. Industry and Trade Minister Karel Kuehnl told Czech Television on 3 August that damages to industrial companies alone are estimated at 35 billion crowns. EU WELCOMES SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT'S DECISION. European Commission spokesperson Louisewies Van der Laan told Slovakia on 1 August in Brussels that the European Commission welcomes the ruling by the Slovak Constitutional Court on the case of former Slovak parliament deputy Frantisek Gaulieder, and will watch carefully further steps to be taken by the Slovak Parliament in the issue. The Constitutional Court ruled on 25 July that the parliament had acted unconstitutionally in stripping Gaulieder of his mandate after he quit Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT ON RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBORS. President Arpad Goencz on 2 August, at a press conference held at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, said Hungary will do everything in its power to help Romania and Slovakia be admitted to NATO and the European Union. He expressed support for NATO-Ukrainian cooperation, which would bolster Ukraine's independence and sovereignty. Goencz said he regards the incidents triggered by the attempt of the Romanian nationalist mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar, to block the display of the Hungarian flag over the Hungarian consulate as "insignificant." He said Hungary has its own "extreme nationalists" and added that he will always remember the warmth with which both the Romanian and the Hungarian population of the town received him when he visited there earlier this year. Goencz said Hungary's option for integration into Western structures is unlikely to change regardless of the outcome of the May 1998 elections. HUNGARIAN GYPSIES DEMAND COMPENSATION FOR HOLOCAUST. The National Gypsy Minority Council on 1 August demanded collective compensation for grievances suffered by Gypsies in World War II, Hungarian media reported. According to Florian Farkas, parliamentary representative of Hungary's 500,000 strong Gypsy minority, at least 50,000 Hungarian Gypsies died in concentration camps. Farkas said the community as a whole is entitled to collective compensation for the crimes committed against it by the Hungarian Arrow Cross fascist movement. Hundreds of people, including Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, gathered on 2 August in front of the Parliament building for a candlelight vigil to honor Hungarian victims of the Gypsy Holocaust. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE ALBANIAN MINISTER PROMISES SAFE ROADS IN TWO MONTHS. Interior Minister Neritan Ceka said in Tirana on 3 August that he intends to rid the roads of gangs and robbers within 60 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 1997). He said that police have arrested several gang members in recent days, and that "there will be no compromise on crime." But much of the country remains affected by gangs, including Berat, Cerrik, Vlora, Gjirokaster and Korca in the south, and Burrel and Shkoder in the north. Last week, 60 people were killed and 100 injured in armed violence across Albania. In Tirana, 15 were killed during that period, including five on 1 August. PETITIONERS WANT BERISHA BANNED FROM ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT. Some 12,000 people have signed a petition to the Constitutional Court to demand that former President Sali Berisha be denied his seat in the new legislature, news agencies reported from Tirana on 3 August. The petition, which originated in Vlora, claims that Berisha is responsible for the deaths that followed the collapse of pyramid schemes in March and hence has no moral right to a seat in parliament. Meanwhile in Durres, some 360 French soldiers and 116 military vehicles left for Toulon. And on Tirana money markets, the lek has stabilized at about 150 to the dollar. The rate was about 190 to the dollar at the height of Albania's crisis, but demand for the local currency has increased following the June elections and the gradual resumption of normal business life. YUGOSLAV BORDER GUARDS KILL TWO KOSOVARS. Federal Yugoslav border guards killed two ethnic Albanians from Serbia's Kosovo province on 3 August, the official Tanjug news agency reported. The guards said that one group of Albanians was trying to cross the border into Albania as another was attempting to enter Yugoslav territory. The guards ordered the men to halt, but fired on the Albanians only after the Albanians fired first, Tanjug added. A spokesman for the Democratic League of Kosovo, the leading ethnic Albanian political party, said in Pristina, however, that the guards fired without warning. Smuggling is endemic along Albania's borders with Yugoslavia and Macedonia, and incidents along the frontier have been common since anarchy broke out in Albania in March. On 31 July, Macedonian border guards killed two illegal migrant workers attempting to go home to Albania. FEDERAL YUGOSLAV POLITICAL UPDATE. The steering committee of Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS) decided in Belgrade on 3 August that the DS will not participate in the Serbian elections slated for 21 September. Spokesmen said that conditions for fair and free elections are not present. Also in Belgrade, the Republican Elections Commission ruled that parties must present their lists of candidates to the Commission by 6 September. And in Podgorica, supporters of Momir Bulatovic, the deposed president of the Democratic Socialist Party, announced on 1 August that they do not recognize Bulatovic's ouster and will hold a party congress in northern Montenegro on 6 August, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. POLICE SAY TEENAGERS DESECRATED JEWISH CEMETERY IN SERBIA. Police in Zemun said on 2 August that five teenagers were responsible for the 24 July vandalism of a Jewish cemetery. Police ruled out any political motives in the incident in which unknown people turned over nine huge grave stones. Jewish community leaders said on 28 July, however, that the stones were so heavy that the vandalism could not have been the work of a few individuals but rather of an organized gang. The mayor of Zemun is Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, whom opposition groups charge with beating up a human rights lawyer and with driving a Croatian family out of Zemun (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 1997). Seselj is a candidate for the Serbian presidency and often acts as a tacit ally of Milosevic. CROAT CROWDS DRIVE MUSLIMS FROM VILLAGES. Recently returned Muslim refugees fled their three home villages near Jajce on 3 August after two days of violence. Angry Croat gangs had attacked the Muslims and torched some of their homes, burning one man alive inside his house. Some Western media reports said that the Croats were drunk and that local police helped them drive out the Muslims. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, wrote to Croat and Muslim leaders that the Muslims must be able to go home within 48 hours, and criticized the behavior of the police and other local authorities. The central Bosnian town of Jajce had previously been one of the few places in that country where refugees had been able to go home to areas governed by authorities of a different nationality. BONN FREEZES DIPLOMATIC TIES TO BOSNIA. Germany on 3 August became the first country to enforce the new international ban on contacts with Bosnian ambassadors. Westendorp announced the ban the previous day after the Muslims, Croats and Serbs failed to agree among themselves on a division of ambassadorships in the joint foreign ministry. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said in Bonn that "it is time that the Bosnian politicians see that our patience is at an end." Most Bosnian ambassadors are Muslims, but the Croats and Serbs demand a greater number of posts for themselves. Sven Alkalaj, the ambassador to Washington, is a Jew who may lose his job after the three main nationalities have finished fighting among themselves. The Foreign Ministry and the other joint institutions are, in any event, largely paper institutions. The Serbs in particular conduct their own foreign policy independent of the other two ethnic groups. ROMANIAN PRESIDENT URGES FASTER REFORMS. In an interview with the BBC on 1 August, President Emil Constantinescu urged the government to speed up economic reforms and said he intended "to intervene" if the government failed to do so. In case of failure, he said he will "propose a government reshuffle or the whole government will have to go." Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said on the same day that it was "premature" to speak of a reshuffle and that he enjoyed the president's "full confidence." The government continued to debate on 1 and 3 August the restructuring of the country's budget. In an interview with Radio Bucharest, Ciorbea said the revised budget and other harsh reform measures will be finalized in the next days. ROMANIA TO COMPENSATE FORMER ENTERPRISE OWNERS? The National Agency for Privatization has drafted a law providing for the compensation of owners of enterprises that were nationalized by the communists between 1948 and 1950, Romanian television reported on 3 August. The law provides for the compensation of owners of factories, banks, mines, hospitals, hotels, movie theaters or insurance companies. Those who lost a judicial appeal against the nationalization or those already compensated will not benefit from the provisions of the law. The compensation will be in form of stocks now owned by the state. The draft law, which must be approved by the government and parliament, says former Romanian citizens now residing abroad can benefit from the compensation. NEW ROMANIAN LIBERAL PARTY MUST APPLY FOR MEMBERSHIP IN RULING ALLIANCE. The bureau of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), which is the largest component of the ruling coalition, on 1 August ruled that the Liberal Party must reapply for membership in the CDR because it is "a new political formation." The Liberal Party was set up earlier this year through the merging of the National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention, which was a CDR member, and the Liberal Party '93, which was not a component of the CDR, having left it in 1995. Liberal Party leader Nicolae Cerveni said his formation will not reapply for membership. HEAVY FLOODS IN ROMANIA. The Prahova, Dambovita, Arges and Ialomita counties were severely affected by heavy rainfalls on 3 August. Several parts of Bucharest also were reported to have been flooded. Radio Bucharest said some 300 homes are affected in the four counties. Rail traffic had to be suspended between Bucharest and Brasov. There were also reports of landslides. TRANSDNIESTER AUTHORITIES STOP MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S MOTORCADE. An official Moldovan motorcade on its way to Bendery-Tighina was denied right of entry into the town by the Transdniester breakaway authorities, Radio Bucharest reported on 4 August. The most prominent member in the motorcade was the Moldovan Defense Minister, Valeriu Pasat. The Moldovan officials were invited by the commander of the Russian troops in Transdniester, Gen. Valerii Yevnevich, to participate in an "open day" of the contingent. The Tiraspol authorities said they had been unaware of Pasat's presence in the motorcade. The Russian ambassador to Chisinau, as well as other diplomats who traveled with Pasat, returned with him to Chisinau in a sign of solidarity. BULGARIAN PREMIER ON FUTURE ECONOMIC HARDSHIP. Ivan Kostov, in an interview with Radio Sofia on 3 August, said his countrymen should be bracing for further economic hardship as the government carries out harsh economic reforms. Kostov said the difficulties will continue until about next spring, when he predicted the beginning of a steady revival and a takeoff in economic development. He said unemployment is likely to grow as the government closes down unprofitable state enterprises. Kostov said the government will seek foreign investments and will finance a series of infrastructure projects in order to create new jobs. Among the projects under consideration are a gas pipeline to Turkey and an oil pipeline to carry Russian crude oil from the Black Sea port of Bourgas to Alexandroupolis in Greece. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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