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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 116, Part I, 12 September 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 * RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY AGAIN DENIES GIVING IRAN MISSILE TECHNOLOGY * RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT DEMANDS CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT RETRACT THREATS * OPPOSITION LEADER ARRIVES IN DUSHANBE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA FOREIGN MINISTRY AGAIN DENIES GIVING IRAN MISSILE TECHNOLOGY. The Foreign Ministry has once again firmly denied U.S. media reports that it is providing Iran with the technology for creating long-range missiles. Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told journalists in Moscow on 11 September that he is surprised the topic continues to be brought up, even after repeated Russian denials. "The Washington Times" on 9 September quoted an alleged Israeli intelligence report indicating that Russia and China are jointly working with Iran to build long-range nuclear missiles. The alleged document reportedly said Russia's space agency and the Rosvooruzhenie armaments export agency are directly involved. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today he is freezing all major economic projects with Russia, including plans for a major gas purchasing deal, until the issue is resolved. GOVERNMENT DEMANDS CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT RETRACT THREATS. The government on 11 September issued a statement condemning remarks by Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov as anti-Russian and insulting, Russian media reported. Arsanov told Ekho Moskvy on 8 September that the Chechen procuracy has opened criminal proceedings against the Russian leadership to determine who was responsible for the "genocide" of the Chechen people. Arsanov urged that those found guilty be publicly executed. The Russian government demanded that the Chechen leadership distance itself from Arsanov's "humiliating" statement before the next round of bilateral talks, scheduled for 13 September. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia State Duma faction, said Arsanov's statement is an "act of international terrorism," Interfax reported. CIS TO IGNORE CHECHEN REQUEST FOR ASSEMBLY MEMBERSHIP. CIS executive secretary Ivan Korotchenya told journalists in Moscow on 11 September that the CIS will ignore the Chechen parliament's request to be admitted as a member of the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly, Russian agencies reported. Korotchenya said that Chechnya is "Russia's internal affair" and that the secession of federation subjects could trigger Russia's collapse. FEDERAL SECURITY OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN INGUSHETIA. Yurii Gribov, the head of the Federal Security Service's Ingushetia department, and one of his deputies were abducted by armed masked men in the capital, Nazran, on 11 September, Russian media reported. A spokesman for the Ingush Interior Ministry told ITAR- TASS the next day that he is certain the abduction was masterminded by Chechnya. Ekho Moskvy reported that Gribov's name figures on a Chechen militants' list of Russian officials who are designated enemies of the Chechen people. DUMA ACCUSES MEDIA OF BIAS. The State Duma has issued a report accusing the media of a coordinated misinformation campaign against the legislature, Interfax reported on 11 September. The report analyzed political reporting in more than 30 mainstream Russian newspapers and magazines. It concluded that negative reports about the Duma outnumbered positive ones by three-to-one. The report said this amounted to an anti-Duma campaign aimed at discrediting the chamber in the eyes of the electorate and ultimately having it disbanded. It noted that by contrast, the Russian media often favorably reports on President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, his deputy premiers, and activities of the pro- government Our Home is Russia. The report concluded that most news publications are losing their function as "honest mediators" between society and the authorities. YELTSIN TO CONTINUE FIGHT AGAINST ILLEGAL ALCOHOL PRODUCTION. President Yeltsin, speaking during his weekly radio address, said the illegal production and sale of alcohol has become the second most lucrative criminal activity in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 September. It is surpassed only by white-collar crime "involving shady financial transactions," he commented. He also said illegal alcohol production not only endangers public health but deprives state coffers of trillions of rubles in tax revenues and hurts traditional domestic alcohol producers. Yeltsin noted that the government's campaign to bring alcohol production back under state control and seize illegal shipments was yielding results, and he vowed to press on with the campaign. Alcohol sales in the Soviet era provided about a quarter of the state's budget revenue, according to Yeltsin. CHERNOMYRDIN URGES REASSESSMENT OF WTO BID. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told a cabinet meeting on 11 September that Russia should carefully study the possible negative consequences of its bid to join the World Trade Organization. He said officials should take a closer look at China's experience, where, he said, going slow on WTO entry has allowed effective protection of domestic markets, ITAR-TASS reported. SERGEEV CALLS FOR FULLY PROFESSIONAL ARMED FORCES. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has reiterated the need to transform Russia's bloated armed forces from a conscript force to a smaller professional one. Sergeev told ITAR-TASS on 11 September that the transition is necessary because only professionals will be able to operate future weapons. But he said that a complete transition by the year 2000, as ordered by President Yeltsin, remains problematic owing to a lack of funds. Yeltsin has ordered the Defense Ministry to cut troop numbers by 500,000 to 1.2 million by the end of 1998 as part of overall military reforms. ECONOMICS MINISTER SAYS ECONOMY RECOVERING. Deputy Prime Minister Yakov Urinson, who is also economics minister, has said that Russia's economy has not yet returned to "sound growth" but is on the road to recovery. In an interview with "Kommersant Daily" published on 11 September, Urinson said official figures show the economy growing by 0.8 percent in the first five months of 1997. Meanwhile, Minister without Portfolio Yevgenii Yasin said on 11 September that inflation will rise slightly this fall due to seasonal pressures. But he added that Russia is still on course to meet its annual inflation target of 12-14 percent for 1997. PROCURATOR-GENERAL URGES LEGISLATION ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. Yurii Skuratov told a news conference on 11 September that Russia's pledge to outlaw capital punishment was too hasty and is creating problems for prison authorities. Russia promised to ban the death penalty within three years when it joined the Council of Europe in February 1996. President Yeltsin followed this up with an unofficial moratorium on executions after he was re- elected last July. But legislators have so far blocked any attempts to sign the ban into law. Skuratov said this leaves the status of prisoners on death row in limbo. He said the psychological pressure on some prisoners is so great that several have even asked for their sentences to be carried out. Skuratov urged the government and deputies to draft permanent legislation to resolve the issue. Opinion polls show the vast majority of Russians support capital punishment. PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW. Fidel Ramos, at the beginning of an official visit to Russia, has urged the Kremlin to play a stronger role in the Asia-Pacific basin, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 September. Ramos visited the MAPO military complex, which manufactures the MiG-29 fighter plane. He called for military and technical cooperation between the two countries and said the Philippine air force plans to buy new fighter planes in the near future and will consider any Russian tender. Ramos, who is accompanied by dozens of business executives, is also scheduled to visit the Russian Chamber of Commerce and a car manufacturing plant. MYSTERY OF WHO ORDERED LAST TSAR EXECUTED UNRESOLVED. A senior criminal investigator at the Procurator-General's Office says the newly-displayed archive on the final days of the tsar and his family does not shed any light on who ordered their execution in 1918, Interfax reported on 11 September. The archive, which contains a protocol of the investigation into the execution, recently went on display in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September). Investigator Vladimir Solovyov told Interfax the documents do not clarify whether Lenin personally ordered the executions or whether they were carried out on the initiative of local Bolsheviks. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA OPPOSITION LEADER ARRIVES IN DUSHANBE. United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri arrived in Dushanbe on 11 September, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Nuri was met at the airport by Tajik government officials and UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem. At talks with President Imomali Rakhmonov on 12 September, it was agreed that the Tajik Reconciliation Commission would begin work in Dushanbe on 15 September. Rakhmonov remarked that "as of today, the word 'opposition' has disappeared from Tajikistan." No statement has been made as to why UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda did not arrive in Dushanbe with the UTO delegation. KAZAKH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES BUDGET, TAX POLICY. Nursultan Nazarbayev, speaking on Khabar TV on 10 September, said the government needs to revise the 1998 budget, Interfax reported the next day. In particular, he criticized the collection of tax revenues, claiming that taxes collected from the 20 major enterprises under foreign management was "inadequate." (Many foreign companies have been attracted to investing in Kazakhstan largely because of tax exemptions and lower rates offered by the government.) Nazarbayev added that the government is partly at fault for not "properly regulating" those businesses. He said that it is enough to sell 30-40 percent shares of enterprises, which would allow domestic investors the chance to buy the remainder. TURKISH PRIME MINISTER IN KAZAKHSTAN. Mesut Yilmaz concluded his two-day visit to Kazakhstan on 11 September, AFP and dpa reported. Yilmaz said on arrival at Ankara airport that during his visit there was much discussion about constructing a pipeline from western Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field along the bed of the Caspian Sea and through the Transcaucas to Turkey. The Turkish government has already hired a German firm to carry out a feasibility study. Yilmaz is quoted by dpa as saying he hopes "concrete steps" toward implementing the project will begin by February 1998. KAZAKH NEWS AGENCY DISSOLVED. The state news agency Kaztag has been abolished by presidential decree, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 September. The government has been instructed to pass legislation on forming the Kazakh News Agency within the next month. The new agency is to be located in Akmola, which is to become the official capital of Kazakhstan. In other news, between 20 and 40 people from the Kazakh Workers Party gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Almaty on 12 September to protest the NATO- sponsored "Cenazbat" military exercises, which begin in Kazakhstan on 15 September, RFE/RL correspondents reported. CENTRAL ASIANS DISCUSS ARAL SEA. The deputy prime ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan met in Tashkent on 11 September to discuss efforts to save the Aral Sea, Interfax reported. They agreed that starting in 1998, all five countries will contribute to a special fund aimed at alleviating damage caused by overuse of water from the two rivers that flow into the Aral Sea, the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya. Under the agreement, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will give 0.3 percent of their budget revenues to the fund and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 0.1 percent. Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Jurabekov is quoted by Interfax as saying the five countries have already contributed more than $2 billion to the effort. FORMER GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER SENTENCED. A Tbilisi district court on 10 September passed sentence on Tengiz Sigua, RFE/RL's bureau in the Georgian capital reported. Sigua was accused of causing the state to suffer financial losses estimated at $15 million by continuing to use the old Soviet dollar/ruble exchange rate after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. He was also accused of irregularities in issuing licenses to private companies for the export of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. He has been ordered to repay some $5.8 million losses allegedly incurred by the state budget. Georgian Finance Minister Mikhail Chkuaseli has argued in Sigua's defense that the former prime minister's decisions were not illegal. Sigua has accused President Eduard Shevardnadze of fabricating the case against him for political reasons. ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI-JAPANESE OIL VENTURE IMMINENT. Following talks in Baku on 10 September with President Heidar Aliev, Minoru Mirofushi, the president of Japan's Itochu Corporation, announced that his company will sign another agreement with Azerbaijan on developing Caspian oil and gas deposits. Itochu is already a participant in two Azerbaijani projects. The new agreement covers the Ateshgyakh, Yavan Tapa, and Mugan Deniz fields, which are located in shallow water south of Baku and have estimated combined reserves of 100 million metric tons of oil. Two other Japanese and one Indonesian company will participate in the project. Turan quoted Mirofushi as saying his corporation is also interested in participating in construction of the main export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil and in investing in the petrochemical and transport sectors. AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEPUTIES AGAIN DETAINED IN NAKHICHEVAN. Azerbaijan Popular Front deputy chairman Mirmahmud Fattaev and two other front members were again detained at Nakhichevan airport and ordered to return to Baku, Turan reported on 11 September. Fattaev and two traveling companions had been prevented from entering Nakhichevan on 6 September to visit former President Abulfaz Elchibey in the village of Keleki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 September 1997). ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REMOVES REBEL COMMITTEE HEAD. In an emergency session on 10 September, the National Assembly voted to remove Eduard Yegoryan as chairman of its Committee on State and Legal Affairs, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yegoryan had announced on 9 September that he planned to withdraw from the majority Republic bloc and create a new faction called Fatherland. Twelve deputies, mostly from the Republic bloc have already joined the new faction. Yegoryan, who is one of the authors of the current constitution and a former Armenian Pan-National Movement leader, had distanced himself from the Armenian leadership following the disputed September 1996 presidential elections. Former National Security adviser Davit Shakhnazaryan, a Yegoryan ally and a former prominent member of the Armenian Pan-National Movement, was expelled from the movement on 10 September. ANOTHER NEW FACTION IN ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT. Gegham Gharibjanyan, the chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Social and Health Issues, announced on 11 September that he, too, will form a new parliamentary faction, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The faction will be called Social State and will focus primarily on social issues. Gharibjanyan added that the faction could find itself in opposition to the present leadership. He did not say how many deputies will join his faction (a minimum of 10 are required). Gharibjanyan forecast that Armenia could "explode" at any minute, given that an estimated 88 percent of the population are living in poverty. TWO ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTIES COME OUT OF HIDING. Making their first public appearance since September 1996, Arshak Sadoyan and Albert Baghdassaryan held a news conference in Yerevan on 11 September, RFE/RL's Armenian bureau reported. The two men went underground after the storming of the Armenian parliament on 25 September 1996 following the disputed presidential elections. Sadoyan was accused by the Armenian authorities of beating up parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan during the disorder, but he denies the charges. He told journalists he went into hiding "to avoid being imprisoned for seven or eight months and being beaten up like other innocent people." Both men stressed there is no evidence to support charges against them. They will meet with Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatryan on 12 September to discuss their legal situation. KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER PREDICTS NEW WAR. In an interview published by Noyan Tapan on 11 September, Samvel Babayan, the defense minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said renewed hostilities are "quite likely." Babayan said the peace plan proposed earlier this summer by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group co-chairman is unacceptable to the Karabakh leadership. He added that alternative proposals by the Karabkh leaders have been rejected by Baku and that no Azerbaijani politician will risk making concessions in the run- up to the 1998 Azerbaijani presidential elections. Babayan stressed that the Karabakh army is not prepared to withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani territory until security guarantees have been created for the enclave. He excluded the possibility of a withdrawal from Kelbajar and the Lachin corridor, where, he said, many of the 500,000 Armenians expelled from Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan have settled. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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