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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 126, Part I, 26 September 1997
A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline ECONOMIC NEWS from this week's annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank is online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/imfmeeting/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN SIGNS RELIGION LAW * FRENCH PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW * EXPLOSION AT TAJIK NEWS AGENCY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN SIGNS RELIGION LAW. President Boris Yeltsin has signed the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 26 September. He vetoed an earlier version of the religion law in July. Critics have charged that the law is unconstitutional and will lead to persecution of some minority religions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1997). Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a Vatican official responsible for Catholic doctrine, argued on 25 September that the law "complicates" the situation of the Catholic Church in Russia, AFP reported. FRENCH PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW... Arriving in Moscow on 25 September on a three-day state visit, Jacques Chirac was presented by his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, with the Order for Services to the Fatherland. Chirac is the first foreign head of state to receive this award, which Yeltsin said is in acknowledgment of Chirac's help in promoting closer Russian ties with the West. Yeltsin specifically mentioned Russian participation into the G-7 and the Paris Club of creditor nations and the Russia-NATO Founding Act signed in Paris in May. Yeltsin praised Chirac as "a staunch supporter of closer Russian- French ties" and affirmed that bilateral relations "have risen to the level of a privileged partnership." On 26 September, Yeltsin and Chirac met again to discuss European security issues. ...DISCUSSES ECONOMIC COOPERATION. Also on 26 September, Chirac met with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to discuss Russia's relations with the EU and Russian-French economic relations, in particular joint ventures and investments. Chernomyrdin, too, thanked Chirac for "understanding Russia's problems" and termed France "a good friend and business partner." Shortly before Chirac's arrival, a senior Russian Ministry of Agriculture official announced that Russia will no longer designate brandy and sparkling wine for export as "cognac" and "champagne," although those terms will appear on bottles intended for the domestic market, AFP reported. RUSSIAN, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET. Yevgenii Primakov has met for the first time with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, Russian media reported. The meeting took place on 25 September in New York The two ministers positively assessed their ongoing cooperation on Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the Caspian and hailed the growth of bilateral trade. Primakov told Kharrazi it is imperative that Tehran pursue a balanced foreign policy that would expedite its emergence from international isolation, particularly in view of its imminent takeover of the Organization of the Islamic Conference chairmanship. Primakov and NATO foreign ministers are to attend the first full meeting of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council on 26 September. DUMA BACKS ROKHLIN. State Duma deputies on 26 September voted down an attempt to remove Lev Rokhlin as chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction, which recently expelled Rokhlin, sought to appoint Roman Popkovich to the post, claiming that the NDR has the right to appoint the Defense Committee head under a January 1996 agreement among all Duma factions. Rokhlin's ouster was supported by 190 deputies, representing the NDR, Yabloko and the majority of the Russian Regions and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia factions. However, 201 deputies, mostly from the Communist, Agrarian and Popular Power factions, backed Rokhlin. Responding to charges that he betrayed the NDR by denouncing the president and government and by forming an opposition movement to support the armed forces, Rokhlin told RFE/RL, "I didn't betray them--they betrayed me." DUMA REJECTS REDUCTIONS IN SOCIAL BENEFITS. The Duma on 25 September rejected in the first reading all 15 government-backed draft laws and amendments to existing laws that would have reduced various social benefits. The package was a modified version of proposals that the Duma voted down in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 25 June 1997). They include measures to make some social benefits means-tested so that only low-income citizens would be eligible for them and to set ceilings for sick pay and maternity leave benefits. Other proposals would take benefits away from family members of veterans and of some state employees, such as judges, firefighters, and law enforcement officials. Those employees would continue to receive benefits such as free public transport and a 50 percent discount on rent and utilities, but they would have to pay the full rate for those services first and be reimbursed later. REACTION TO VOTE ON SOCIAL LEGISLATION. Duma Labor and Social Policy Committee Chairman Sergei Kalashnikov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia argued that the Duma's rejection of the social benefits reductions was a victory for the government, which, he said, can now blame the Duma for the failures of its social policy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 September. Kalashnikov's committee had recommended that the Duma approve the legislation. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who oversaw the negotiations with Duma deputies on the social legislation, told ITAR-TASS on 25 September that Duma deputies refused to take responsibility or to recognize the government's "real abilities." Government officials argue that if eligibility for social benefits is reduced, there will be enough funds to pay all eligible recipients. "Kommersant-Daily" quoted First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov as saying that "senseless benefits" must be reduced if the government is to pay wages to teachers and doctors. DUMA COMMITTEES TO CLARIFY RULES ON PROXY VOTING. The Duma has asked its Legislation and Rules Committees to clarify whether deputies are allowed to vote on behalf of colleagues who are absent, Russian news agencies reported on 25 September. Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, charged that the Duma "falsified" a recent vote to override the veto of the land code, because proxy voting was used to achieve the two-thirds majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). Some Duma deputies have charged that Kotenkov exceeded his authority by expressing his own views rather than the president's. Meanwhile, Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, has denounced proxy voting as "pure forgery," according to "Izvestiya" on 26 September. The same day, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted an unnamed Duma deputy as saying that when proxy voting is used to pass legislation the president supports, no one in the Kremlin complains. DUMA TO PROMOTE ARMENIA'S ACCESSION TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION. The Duma on 25 September voted by 345 to one with three abstentions to create a commission to promote Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus union, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission is composed of 15 deputies, including former USSR Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, who has lobbied energetically in Armenia for this cause. The Communist Party of Armenia and the National Initiative Group supported by Ryzhkov and other Duma deputies claim to have collected 800,000 and more than 1 million signatures, respectively, in support of Armenia's joining the union. SELEZNEV ON CENTRAL ASIA, TRANSCAUCASUS. Gennadii Seleznev, the speaker of the Duma, said on 25 September that Russia is very interested in cooperating with the Central Asian and Transcaucasian states, Russian media reported. Seleznev said Russian security "depends in many respects on the situation" in those two regions. Seleznev had just returned from Uzbekistan, where he met with President Islam Karimov. The two leaders agreed it was necessary to improve Uzbek-Russian relations, which both characterized as currently "unsatisfactory." ROSNEFT PRIVATIZATION PROGRAM FINALIZED. The State Property Committee has approved a plan for privatizing the Rosneft oil company during the fourth quarter of 1997 and the first half of 1998, Russian news agencies reported on 25 September. After legal questions surrounding Rosneft's ownership of the oil extracting company Purneftegaz have been settled, 63 percent of Rosneft shares will be divided into several blocks and sold at special cash auctions. A commercial tender will be held for a 33 percent stake, and the remaining 4 percent of shares will be distributed among members of the Rosneft workers' collective. The Rosneft privatization is expected to provoke a fierce conflict between rival Russian banking groups. Oneksimbank, which won auctions in the summer for stakes in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest and Norilsk Nickel, has indicated that it will bid for Rosneft. Representatives of other banks have charged that Oneksimbank already has an unfair advantage over its competitors. GUSINSKII SETTLES LAWSUIT AGAINST POTANIN. A Moscow municipal court declared Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii's lawsuit against Oneksimbank president Vladimir Potanin closed after lawyers revealed on 25 September that both sides had agreed to a settlement. Gusinskii sued Potanin for slander after Interfax's Financial Information Agency quoted Potanin as saying that Gusinskii and Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii tried to strike a back-room deal to keep Oneksimbank from bidding for a stake in Svyazinvest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 July 1997). In the agreement, the plaintiff (Gusinskii) states he found the Financial Information Agency report "unethical," saying it contained slurs against him in both the headline and the text, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 26 September. The defendant (Potanin) states he did not make any statements alleging that the plaintiff acted unethically during negotiations about the Svyazinvest auction. "NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA" SLAMS CHUBAIS AGAIN. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" charged on 26 September that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais "fulfills the recommendations of the U.S. Finance Ministry [sic] much better than the decrees of the Russian president." The newspaper, which recently accused Chubais of "striving for complete control over Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1997), published a letter allegedly sent to Chubais in April by U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. The newspaper argued that the letter contains "instructions on Russia's domestic and foreign policy" aimed toward improving the climate in Russia for U.S. companies. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that Chubais apparently discussed Russian economic affairs with Summers before rejoining the government in March and that Chubais has implemented many of the policies suggested by Summers. It added that the letter provides grounds for reflection on "just who is whose agent." Chubais recently said the Paris Club became "Russia's agent" when it admitted Russia. YELTSIN ON CORRUPTION. Yeltsin's weekly radio address on 26 September focused on crime and corruption, which he called "Russia's most serious problem." Yeltsin said criminals are concentrating on gaining access to public office in order to get "closer to federal and municipal coffers." Yeltsin said more than 2,500 officials are currently under investigation for corruption. The Russian president blasted parliamentary deputies, who he said "are not hurrying to adopt the necessary laws to combat crime." Yeltsin listed officials already caught engaging in corruption, though he named them by office only. He criticized rigged sales of state enterprises, illegal production and sales of alcohol, and illegal trade that avoided customs regulations. RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS CONTINUE. The Russian-Chechen joint commission charged with drafting an agreement on relations between Moscow and Grozny began its fourth session on 25 September amid mutual criticism and recriminations, Russian media reported. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin submitted to the Chechen delegation a draft power-sharing treaty, but the Chechens continued to insist they will discuss only their draft of an interstate treaty and agreements on economic and defense cooperation. Chechen delegation member Said-Hassan Abu-Muslimov told RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent that the defense pact has been almost completely agreed on and may be adopted with very few changes. Also on 25 September, a spokesman for the Council of Europe announced that it will send a delegation to Chechnya on 11 November to assess the human rights situation there following the recent public executions of four convicted murderers in Grozny, Reuters reported. PRIMORE LEGISLATURE SUSPENDS VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR. The Primorskii Krai Duma voted to suspend Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, charging that his administration has poorly managed the city and violated federal and regional laws, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 26 September. Cherepkov is currently visiting North Korea. His suspension must be confirmed by a krai court. The krai Duma is dominated by supporters of Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, a longtime political opponent of Cherepkov. The governor managed to oust Cherepkov as mayor once in 1994. Following a Moscow court ruling, Yeltsin reinstated Cherepkov by decree in September 1996. Meanwhile, 120 billion rubles ($20 million) in federal funds have been transferred to Primore to pay wage arrears to striking coal miners and power plant workers, RFE/RL's correspondent reported on 25 September. However, the funds will cover only two months of back wages. The workers have vowed to continue their strike until all wage arrears are paid. U.S. SHUTTLE HEADED FOR "MIR." The U.S. space shuttle "Atlantis" has lifted off from Cape Canaveral and will dock with the Russian space station "Mir" on 27 September. The shuttle is carrying a new computer for the station, along with other supplies. U.S. astronaut Michael Foale is due to be replaced by David Wolf. NASA officials had approved rotating another U.S. astronaut only hours before lift-off. Many had previously expressed skepticism about saftey standards following a series of problems aboard the station. The computer on "Mir" went down again on 22 September but has since been repaired. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA EXPLOSION AT TAJIK NEWS AGENCY. A bomb went off in on the second floor of the building that houses the Tajik state news agency, Khovar, on 25 September, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Several people sustained minor injuries, and there was large damage to the first two floors of the building. It is suspected that the blast is the work of groups within the country opposed to the peace process there. The headquarters of the National Reconciliation Commission and the Pakistani Embassy are located near Khovar's office. ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER VOWS "MASS RESISTANCE." National Democratic Union (AZhM) leader Vazgen Manukyan on 25 September announced the beginning of a "mass resistance movement" that will seek to change the country's leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukyan called for the creation of "strong structures" at grass-roots level to exert constant pressure on the authorities to hold free and fair elections and improve living conditions. He said the new AZhM-led movement will be open to other political parties, labor unions, and NGOs. He added that his party is ready to engage in a dialogue with the authorities on improving Armenia's electoral system. Manukyan was addressing an estimated 15,000 supporters in Yerevan on the first anniversary of the storming of parliament following the disputed 1996 presidential elections. ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES NUCLEAR SAFETY CONVENTION. The National Assembly on 24 September ratified the Convention on Nuclear Safety, aimed at ensuring the safe use of nuclear power and prevention of nuclear catastrophes, Noyan Tapan reported. Energy Minister Gagik Martirossian told deputies that the 1998 budget earmarks $2 million for improving the safety system at the Medzamor nuclear power station. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov recently called for the closure of Medzamor, claiming that it failed to meet world safety standards. GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS WARNED AGAINST PROTEST MARCH. General Dolya Babenkov, the commander of the CIS peacekeeping forces in western Georgia, has warned Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war not to proceed with a protest planned for 27 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The Georgian displaced persons intend to cross the Inguri bridge separating Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia and stage a march through Abkhazia's southern-most Gali Raion, where many of them previously lived. Babenkov has requested the assistance of the UN observer mission in Georgia to prevent the planned protest from taking place. The Georgian government has designated 27 September--the anniversary of the capture of Sukhumi in 1993 by Abkhaz forces--a day of mourning. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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