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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 144, Part I, 22 October 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 CENTRAL ASIA IN TRANSITION: Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This six-part report on the RFE/RL Web site details how much has changed since the collapse of the USSR -- and how much has not. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/asia/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * COMMUNISTS DROP NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION * YELTSIN SETS AGENDA FOR NEGOTIATIONS WITH PARLIAMENT * ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES WANT KARABAKH HEARINGS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA COMMUNISTS DROP NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION. The Communist faction on 22 October withdrew a motion to vote no confidence in the government from the State Duma's agenda for the day, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Duma deputies that his party is satisfied with the outcome of recent talks in the Kremlin, which, Zyuganov said, would lead to "better mutual understanding" and "a more rational balance" between the legislative and executive branches. President Boris Yeltsin released a letter on 21 October agreeing to regular meetings of the "council of four" (composed of the president, prime minister, and Duma and Federation Council speakers). Yeltsin's letter also called for a series of round-table talks on important policy issues. However, Zyuganov warned his faction reserves the right pursue a no-confidence vote in the future if the round-table talks and "council of four" meetings produce no results, Reuters reported. OPPOSITION NOT UNITED OVER COMMUNIST STRATEGY. Most deputies in the Communist-allied Popular Power and Agrarian factions supported the 21 October decision by the Communist faction to drop the no-confidence motion, Russian news agencies reported. Popular Power leader Nikolai Ryzhkov argued that Yeltsin "met us halfway" on most issues. However, Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin told ITAR-TASS the next day that he and several other Popular Power deputies will not withdraw their signatures in support of a no-confidence motion. Baburin dismissed the settlement as a "pseudo-compromise" and said Zyuganov made a "strategic error." The opposition daily "Pravda-5" on 21 October warned that if the Duma pursues a strategy of "appeasement," it will in effect "commit suicide" as an opposition force. The paper said proposed negotiations may be merely a "fig leaf" for the government and asked rhetorically, "Why should the opposition play these games?" CHERNOMYRDIN, YAVLINSKII SPAR OVER TAX CODE. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii exchanged harsh words in the Duma on 22 October over the fate of the tax code, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yeltsin's letter the previous day instructed the government to withdraw the tax code "in accordance with current State Duma procedures for consideration of a law that has been passed in the first reading." Yavlinskii repeatedly asked Chernomyrdin whether he will fulfill the president's order, but Chernomyrdin said the Duma must act on Yeltsin's instruction. Yavlinskii argued that the order is clearly addressed to the government. But speaking to ITAR-TASS, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev supported Chernomyrdin. He noted that Duma procedures on returning a law to the government after it has been approved in the first reading are extremely complicated. Yavlinskii has said Yabloko will support a no-confidence motion unless the government withdraws the tax code. YELTSIN SETS AGENDA FOR NEGOTIATIONS WITH PARLIAMENT. Yeltsin's 21 October letter confirmed that the land code will be the main item on the agenda in the first meeting of the round table, scheduled for 22 November. The second session, to be held in December, will discuss compensating citizens for pre-1992 savings accounts that lost their value because of high inflation in the 1990s. At the third round table, participants will discuss policy on energy prices. Yeltsin's letter also ordered that a special commission of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives be formed to discuss housing reform. "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 22 October that by offering to withdraw the tax code and by acknowledging that housing policy needs refining, Yeltsin dealt a serious blow to First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. Chubais has overseen tax reform plans, and Nemtsov has been responsible for the government's housing policy. CONCILIATORY COMMISSION WILL REVISE LAW ON GOVERNMENT. Yeltsin's 21 October letter also ordered that a conciliatory commission of government and parliamentary representatives be formed to discuss amending the law on the government. That law would increase the Duma's influence over the government's composition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 October 1997). In the summer, the Duma and Federation Council overrode the presidential veto of the law, but Yeltsin refused to sign it, charging that the parliament used unconstitutional procedures to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority vote. The Constitutional Court has been asked to decide whether Yeltsin must sign the law, but no date for court hearings has been set. CHERNOMYRDIN SIGNS ORDER ON MEDIA CONCESSIONS. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 21 October signed a government directive on increasing parliamentary access to the media in accordance with agreements reached at the previous day's meeting of the "council of four," Russian news agencies reported. The directive orders the creation of public oversight councils at the two state-controlled nationwide television networks, Russian Public Television and Russian Television (RTR). Parliamentary representatives will be invited to join the councils. (Aleksei Simonov, who heads the watchdog Glasnost Defense Foundation, expressed doubt that the supervisory councils will genuinely influence the networks' programming policy, ITAR-TASS reported.) The government directive also stipulates that parliamentary activities receive two hours of air time each week on state-owned national radio stations and two hours on RTR. In addition, the draft 1998 budget will be amended to provide funding for a new parliamentary newspaper. DEPUTY ACCUSES INTERIOR MINISTRY OF SCAREMONGERING. Duma deputy Vladimir Lopatin of the Russian Regions faction charged in "Izvestiya" on 22 October that the Interior Ministry circulated false rumors when it released an statement recently saying 20,000 prison workers have resigned. The statement warned that prospects for keeping order in prisons could be threatened by the mass departures of staff, who, according to the Interior Ministry, oppose plans to transfer the prison system to the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 1997). However, Lopatin said prison officials in Vologda Oblast told him none of their employees has resigned. Lopatin suggested that the Interior Ministry sought to raise fears of prison riots because it stands to lose "an enormous piece of the budget pie" if funds for maintaining prisons are allocated to the Justice Ministry instead. RUSSIA "CONCERNED" ABOUT U.S. LASER TEST. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov on 21 October that a U.S. test of a laser beamed at a satellite four days earlier is causing "increasing concern in Moscow," Interfax reported. Tarasov added that "Russia is closely following this work" because "objectively, the development of laser programs may lead to the creation of anti- satellite potential." Such systems, Tarasov suggested, might violate the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty and might "sharply change the strategic situation," forcing the Russian government to review its own policy of "restraint in this area." RUSSIA WARNS GROZNY ON ENERGY PROJECTS. The Russian government will not bear any responsibility for any energy project that Chechnya concluded with international partners without Moscow's consent, Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told journalists on 21 October. Shabdurasulov also rejected as illegal a proposal by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov that the international consortium engaged in exploiting three Azerbaijani Caspian oil fields lease the Chechen sector of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk export pipeline. Shabdurasulov affirmed that the pipeline belongs to the Russian federal government. DIAMOND MONOPOLY SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH DE BEERS. Executives from the diamond monopoly Almazy Rossii-Sakha (Alrosa) and the South African-based multinational corporation De Beers signed a diamond exporting agreement in Moscow on 21 October. Under the agreement, Alrosa must sell at least $550 million and up to $1.2 billion in uncut diamonds to De Beers between 1 December 1997 and the end of 1998. Diamond exports that circumvent the De Beers Central Selling Organization will be limited. Russian Deputy Finance Minister German Kuznetsov hailed cooperation between Alrosa and De Beers as a "guarantee of stability on the world diamond market," ITAR-TASS reported. De Beers Vice President Nicholas Oppenheimer expressed hope that both sides will abide by the deal, which "recommits Russia to the principle of single-channel marketing," AFP reported. In recent years, De Beers has accused Alrosa of exporting too many uncut diamonds without going through the Central Selling Organization. EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA HAS 1 MILLION HOMELESS CHILDREN. Aleksei Severnii, the president of the Independent Association of Children's Psychiatrists and Psychologists, told Interfax on 21 October that there are at least 1 million homeless children in Russia. (According to the State Statistics Committee, Russia's population was 147.2 million, as of 1 August.) Severnii estimated that Moscow and St. Petersburg each have some 60,000 homeless children, not including the offspring of refugees and immigrants. He added that the State Youth Committee has estimated that 40 percent of children suffer from psychological or physical violence from teachers. In 1996, he said, 200 children were killed by family members and some 2,000 committed suicide. SARATOV LEGISLATURE APPROVES LAND LAW IN FIRST READING. The Saratov Oblast Duma has approved in the first reading a law that would legalize the purchase and sale of farmland in the region, while imposing some restrictions, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 October. The law states that agricultural land must continue to be used for farming, and it provides for fining owners who use such land for other purposes. "Russkii telegraf" on 17 October quoted presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying Yeltsin "fully and wholeheartedly supports" the Saratov land law. (The communist opposition strongly opposes legalizing the purchase and sale of farmland.) Samara Governor Konstantin Titov told the 16 October "Russkii telegraf" that a similar land law is being drafted in his oblast. Such laws contradict current federal legislation, but Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov told "Izvestiya" that he will encourage the parliament to amend the relevant federal laws. Speaking to "Russkii telegraf," Titov expressed confidence that the constitution is "on our side." NORTHERNERS PROTEST NEW PENSION LAW. Murmansk Oblast residents have collected more than 10,000 signatures demanding special pension benefits continue for those who have worked in far northern regions, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October. The petition, addressed to the president, government, and parliament, protests the method for calculating pensions outlined in a law signed by Yeltsin in July. Under that law, which will take effect in February 1998, pension benefits would be determined in part by the number of years of employment, regardless of where citizens worked. According to ITAR-TASS on 14 October, the Murmansk residents want each year of employment in northern regions with harsh climates to be equivalent to 18 months' labor in other parts of the country. GROWING OPPOSITION TO NEW RUSSIAN PASSPORTS. Leading politicians and public organizations in several North Caucasian republics are opposed to the new Russian passports, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vladikavkaz reported on 22 October. In particular, they object to the symbol of the two-headed eagle, which is perceived as a remnant of Russia's imperial past. Dagestan parliamentary chairman Mukhu Aliev warned that "an explosion of nationalist sentiment" will protest the failure to designate the passport holder's nationality. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev and some Tatar politicians have similarly argued that the passports should show the holder's nationality. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 October, former Russian Nationalities Minister Valerii Tishkov said the removal of the mention of nationality in the new passports was one of the most significant developments in Russia's nationalities policy in recent years. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES WANT KARABAKH HEARINGS. The parliamentary faction Social State has demanded that the legislature hold hearings on the current state of the Nagorno- Karabakh peace process, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 21 October. Gegham Gharibjanyan, the group's leader and chairman of the parliamentary committee on social affairs, said deputies must not be excluded from the decision-making process on resolving the conflict. He urged the parliament to take a clear stance on the latest peace plan proposed by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, which sponsors the negotiations. TEN DEPUTIES QUIT RULING ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY BLOC. Ten deputies have left the majority Hanrapetutyun parliament bloc to join with four other deputies in a new faction called Yerkrapahner, according to RFE/RL and Noyan Tapan on 21 October. The new group will represent the pro-government yerkrapah volunteer militia that is loyal to Defense minister Vazgen Sargsian. The group's leader, Albert Bazeyan, told the parliament his faction will seek to support Armenia's armed forces. In an interview with "Iravunk" on 10 October, Bazeyan said the faction will insist that a just solution to the Karabakh conflict be based on the Karabakh Armenians' right of self- determination." He rejected the proposed withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territories between Karabakh and Armenia. The defection of the 10 deputies leaves Hanrapetutyun with 96 mandates in the 189-seat parliament. CHARGES AGAINST GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER SUBSTANTIATED. Djemal Gogitidze, the chairman of the Aghordzineba faction within the parliament, has corroborated former Batumi Mayor Tamaz Kharazi's allegations against parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, according to Caucasus Press on 22 October. Kharazi told Adjar Television three days earlier that Zhvania had tried to enlist his support in ousting Aslan Abashidze, the chairman of the Adjar Supreme Soviet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1997). The Aghordzineba faction originally numbered 31 deputies from Abashidze's All-Georgian Union of Revival and was the third largest within the Georgian parliament until nine deputies left the faction earlier this year. KAZAKH PROTEST MARCHERS BEGIN HUNGER STRIKE. Police are still preventing 2,000 workers from the Achisay Polymetal Plant from continuing with their 900 kilometer protest march to Almaty, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 22 October. The workers, who began their protest in early October, are demanding the payment of wage arrears. They were halted by police at a bridge over the Aryz irrigation canal, near the southern city of Turkestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline", 16 October 1997). Some 150 workers have gone on a hunger strike. KAZAKH TOP BRASS IMPLICATED IN EMBEZZLEMENT SCANDAL. The military prosecutor-general is considering whether to open criminal proceedings against two senior military officials, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 22 October. Major-General Alihan Jarbolov, the chief of the Kazakh Defense Forces General Staff, and Lieutenant- General Fedor Shcherbakov, the commander of the Kazakh army`s ground forces, are accused of embezzling funds from the state treasury. Jarbolov is reported to have used $60,000 from state funds to purchase a house in Almaty, while Shcherbakov allegedly bought an apartment in Almaty for his daughter. FIRST KAZAKH OIL EXPORTED TO CHINA. A shipment of 1,700 metric tons of Kazakh crude has been exported by rail to China's Xinjiang Autonomous Province, where it will be refined, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October. A state-owned Chinese oil and gas company signed an agreement with the Kazakh government in September on exploiting oil fields in Aktyubinsk Oblast that have estimated reserves of 130 million metric tons. Kazakhstan and China also signed an agreement on construction of a 3,000 kilometer export pipeline from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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