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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 179, Part I, 15 December 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN SEEKS TO CALM FEARS OVER HEALTH * PRO-LUZHKOV CANDIDATES WIN MAJORITY IN MOSCOW DUMA * ARMENIAN COURT SENTENCES OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS * End Note: FATE OF ARMENIA'S DASHNAKS UNCERTAIN AFTER CLOSE OF TRIAL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN SEEKS TO CALM FEARS OVER HEALTH. President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged on 14 December that he does not feel well but assured Russians that his health does not give cause for concern. In televised remarks made while casting his ballot in Moscow city elections, Yeltsin said he is doing at least four hours of paperwork a day and is keeping abreast of events. Owing to below-freezing temperatures, Yeltsin voted from inside the Barvikha clinic. Kremlin officials gave no additional information on the president's health on 15 December. Reuters quoted a spokesman as saying, "People could see the president on television last night, so they could see things were fine. Nothing has changed since yesterday." On 12 December, spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii denied an Ekho Moskvy report saying Yeltsin was hospitalized on 10 December with a "brain spasm" brought on by exhaustion and sudden temperature changes, rather than with a respiratory infection. LB CHUBAIS UPBEAT ON RUSSIAN MARKETS. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told journalists on 15 December that Russia has overcome the worst of the crisis that shook the country's financial markets in recent weeks, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Chubais argued that purchases of foreign exchange, which threatened to cause a significant devaluation of the ruble, have declined significantly, saying that "last week the central bank was not selling but buying foreign currency on the markets." He confirmed that the government is not seeking additional loans from abroad, an apparent reference to the $2 billion credit Russian officials were reportedly negotiating with four Western banks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 1997). Chubais also said Russian corporate shares are undervalued and predicted that they will appreciate in the future. Reuters quoted Chubais as saying that despite the financial crisis, the government target of 2 percent economic growth for 1998 may still be met. LB IMF EXPERTS TO RECOMMEND RELEASING LOAN. An IMF review team in Moscow on 12 December issued a statement saying they will recommend that the fund's board release a $700 million quarterly tranche of a three-year $10.1 billion loan to Russia. IMF officials in Washington told an RFE/RL correspondent that the board may consider the tranche as early as the first week in January. The IMF delayed the tranche in late October, saying poor tax collection had prevented the fund's experts from completing a quarterly review of the Russian economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1997). But the 12 December statement said Russian authorities have "clearly confronted" their problems in tax collection and spending. According to ITAR-TASS, the statement added that Russia has good economic prospects for 1998, "provided that the fiscal and monetary policies agreed during the review are fully applied on a sustained basis." LB PRO-LUZHKOV CANDIDATES WIN MAJORITY IN MOSCOW DUMA... The Moscow City Duma will continue to be consistently loyal to Mayor Yurii Luzhkov following the 14 December elections, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Winners of 27 out of the 35 seats in the Duma had been endorsed in a "mayor's list" published in various local newspapers. Yet another seat was claimed by an adviser to the city administration. Of the successful pro-Luzhkov candidates, 19 campaigned with no political party affiliation and eight represented either Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice (DVR) or Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko movement. Yabloko, the DVR, and the pro-government Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement agreed not to compete against one another in 13 districts and won in 11 of them (seven for the DVR, three for Yabloko, and one for the NDR). Officials blamed extremely cold weather for the low turnout of just 29 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. LB ...WHILE MAYOR'S OPPONENTS WIPED OUT. Although electoral legislation bars the mayor from active participation in the campaign for the city Duma, Luzhkov appealed to Muscovites not to vote for his most vocal critics, State Duma deputy Nikolai Gonchar and DVR member Arkadii Murashev, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 15 December. Media outlets that support Luzhkov published information discrediting both Gonchar and Murashev during the campaign, and both lost their districts. Not a single candidate aligned with Gonchar won a seat, although Gonchar's bloc had been expected to put up a strong showing. Some Russian commentators had even touted him as a strong potential challenger to Luzhkov in the next mayoral election. The Communist-backed movement My Moscow also failed to win any seats in the Moscow City Duma. LB COMMUNISTS DO WELL IN STAVROPOL. Communist candidates won 11 out of 25 seats in the Stavropol Krai Duma in 14 December elections, ITAR-TASS reported. They are likely to be able to elect their choice as Duma speaker. (Like regional governors and republican presidents, heads of regional legislatures automatically become members of the Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament.) Communist candidates have traditionally done well in Stavropol. Aleksandr Chernogorov easily won a gubernatorial election in November 1996, and Communist-backed candidates won two by-elections for State Duma seats from the krai earlier this year. Meanwhile, police Colonel Nikolai Lyashenko won the 14 December mayoral election in Stavropol's city of Budennovsk. Lyashenko was chief of police when Chechen fighters seized more than 1,000 hostages in Budennovsk in June 1995. He was sacked shortly thereafter, but a subsequent investigation praised his professionalism during the hostage crisis. LB POLITICIANS ADVOCATE AMENDMENTS ON CONSTITUTION DAY. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who has long called for amendments to reduce the president's powers, says the current constitution is "ineffective and dying" and fails to provide a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. Speaking to Interfax on 12 December, the national holiday marking the controversial 1993 referendum through which Russia adopted its constitution, Zyuganov charged that the document "does not guarantee in practice a single right it declares." Yabloko faction leader Grigorii Yavlinskii argued that constitutional amendments should increase parliamentary and judicial powers. Noting that such amendments would affect not the incumbent but rather subsequent presidents, Yavlinskii called on Yeltsin to take a constructive attitude toward constitutional changes. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Yavlinskii also argued that "the concentration of power in the hands of one man means that the state authorities become very weak." LB NEMTSOV SUPPORTS CHILEAN ECONOMIC MODEL. Speaking in Venezuela on the last day of his tour to Mexico and Latin America, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov advocated the Chilean variant of economic reform for Russia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Caracas reported on 12 December. Nemtsov argued that having implemented liberal economic policies, Chile has achieved 10 years of strong economic growth, a stable currency, and a good level of social protection for its population while not being burdened with a budget deficit. He added that "the Chilean economy does not depend on American capital [investment]. That experience is important for Russia. We cannot count on attracting a large quantity of American money now, for both political and economic reasons." Back in Moscow on 14 December, Nemtsov told ITAR-TASS that the Russian government is trying to implement "democratic people's capitalism," which he argued is far better than "oligarchic" capitalism. LB KULIKOV WANTS WARRING FINANCIAL GROUPS TO RECONCILE. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has called on leading Russian financial and industrial groups to reconcile their differences, perhaps by creating a "supreme economic council of bankers and entrepreneurs," ITAR-TASS reported on 13 December. Kulikov said members of such a council could have the status of presidential financial advisers. He warned that conflicts between financial and industrial groups could undermine Russia's political and economic system and could threaten the foundations of Russian statehood. LB OMSK GOVERNOR AGAINST SEIZURE OF OIL REFINERY. Appearing on local television in Omsk, Governor Leonid Polezhaev has criticized the recent decision of a government commission to seize and sell property of the Omsk Oil Refinery in order to cover tax debts, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 December. Polezhaev proposed settling the refinery's debts of some 500 billion rubles ($84 million) to the federal government through offsets. Noting that the center owes some 300 billion rubles to the Omsk regional utility, which in turn owes the same amount to the refinery, he argued that a series of offsets would resolve the problem. A recent presidential decree banned the practice of canceling tax arrears against other debts owed to enterprises that fail to make tax payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November and 10 December 1997). LB AIR FORCE COMMANDER SUSPENDS FLIGHTS. Petr Deinekin on 12 December ordered that all Air Force flights be halted for one week pending an investigation into the previous day's collision of a military plane with a civilian helicopter, Russian news agencies reported. Deinekin's order does not apply to aircraft either on "combat duty" or subordinate to the air defense troops or to the navy. Deinekin recently requested to be transferred to the reserves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 1997). That move was officially prompted by Deinekin's reaching the retirement age of 60, but it is widely believed to be linked to the recent crash in Irkutsk of a military cargo plane. Appearing on Russian Public Television on 13 December, Deinekin denied media speculation that a poor mixture of fuel caused that crash. A government commission is investigating why three of the plane's four engines malfunctioned shortly after takeoff. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN COURT SENTENCES OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS. The Supreme Court on 12 December concluded handing down prison sentences in the trial of 31 members and supporters of the opposition Dashnak party (HHD), which was suspended by President Levon Ter-Petrossyan in December 1994. The defendants were arrested in July 1995 and brought to trial in March 1996 on charges of publicly calling for the overthrow of the Armenian government. Initial charges of plotting a coup, terrorism, and high treason were dropped because of lack of evidence. The key defendant, Vahan Hovanissian, received a four-year prison sentence. The court found four other defendants guilty of the murder of two policemen during their arrest and handed down a death sentence to one of them (see "End Note" below). LF ARMENIAN INDEPENDENT UNION HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS. At its founding congress in Yerevan on 12 December, the Federation of Independent Labor Unions (AAMD) announced that its objectives are to create new jobs, protect workers' rights, and promote private pension funds, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The AAMD will represent the interests of workers from various sectors of the economy, including some journalists and other workers in the mass media. It harshly criticized the official Confederation of Labor Unions of Armenia for what it considers too close ties with the government and disregard of workers' rights. In a statement published in "Azg" on 11 December, the confederation accused the government of preventing it from protecting workers' rights. It also harshly criticized the cabinet's new draft law on social insurance. LF GEORGIAN PIPELINE TO BE COMPLETED BY OCTOBER 1998. The 388.5 kilometer pipeline carrying early oil from the Caspian basin across Georgia will be completed by October 1998, officials at the Georgian International Oil Corporation told ITAR-TASS on 13 December. PG THREE CENTRAL ASIAN PRESIDENTS MEET. Askar Akayev and Islam Karimov, the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan met with their Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in the new Kazakh capital, Akmola, on 12 December, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported. The leaders of the three countries that compose the Central Asian Union signed a protocol establishing three international consortia for energy and water resources, food production, and minerals and raw materials. At the same time, they expressed dissatisfaction that trade between their countries is down on 1996 levels. BP TURAJONZODA TO RETURN TO TAJIKISTAN. Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, formerly the head Muslim cleric of Tajikistan and currently the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), is expected to return to Tajikistan soon, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 15 December. Turajonzoda, who remained in Tehran despite the fact that UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri returned to Dushanbe in September, has been expected to receive a post in the new coalition government. In meetings with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Nuri on the sidelines of the recent Organization of the Islamic Conference session in Tehran, Turajonzoda was offered and accepted the post of first deputy prime minister. Turajonzoda is reportedly waiting for the official announcement of his new appointment before returning. BP SHAKE-UP WITHIN TAJIK PARLIAMENT. At a 13 December session of the parliament, President Rakhmonov received the legislature's approval to remove eight deputies from their posts and bring charges against them, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported. All those sacked allegedly were linked to attempts to overthrow the government. Among them was Yakub Salimov, the former chairman of the Customs Committee who is wanted for his role in attacks on government forces led by mutineer Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev in 1996-1997. Rakhmonov told the parliament that if all lawmakers were subject to "intensive" investigation, "half of the seats in the deputies' hall would be empty." BP NAZARBAYEV SUPPORTS USE OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE. President Nazarbayev on 13 December said that the citizens of Kazakhstan should continue studying and using both Russian and Kazakh, ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbayev said he favored "careful introduction" of Kazakh as the state language. He added by the year 2030, Kazakhstan will be "one of the Eurasian centers" and therefore knowledge not only of Kazakh and Russian but also of English will be important. BP FATE OF ARMENIA'S DASHNAKS UNCERTAIN AFTER CLOSE OF TRIAL by Emil Danielyan The end of the trial of 31 members and supporters of the banned Dashnak party (HHD) has led to further uncertainty about prospects for the party's reinstatement. On 12 December, the popular and prominent Dashnak leader Vahan Hovannisian was sentenced to four years in prison, having been found guilty of calling for the "violent overthrow of the government." Armenia's Supreme Court also found four defendants guilty of murdering two policemen during their arrest. It handed down a death sentence to one of the four and prison terms ranging between two-and-a-half and seven years to 18 other defendants. All the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges, and Hovannisian described the trial as the "political punishment" of his party. Most of the defendants withdrew the pre-trial "confessions" they had made shortly after court proceedings were launched in March 1996, saying those confessions were extracted by torture and psychological pressure. The opposition and human rights groups in Armenia have repeatedly condemned the "case of the 31" as politically motivated, citing what they consider to be breaches of the due process of law. Article 65 of the criminal code, which envisages punishment for an "organized group" that makes "public calls" to topple the government, leaves significant room for interpretation. Hovannisian's lawyer argued that his client simply expressed his political convictions during "private conversations." According to the attorney, the 31 defendants cannot be considered an organized group because most of them did not know one another before their arrest. Without discounting the fate of the dozens of defendants involved, it can be said that the trial's significance lies in its implications for the Dashnak party and for Armenian politics in general. The 12 December verdict may either pave the way for the HHD's re-legalization or put that process on hold for another few years. Neither this latest trial nor the previous Dashnak- related trial (the so-called "Dro trial") have found any link between the HHD and the alleged conspirators and terrorists. Hovannisian and the 30 other defendants were arrested in July and August 1995 on charges of plotting a coup that would have involved the assassination of Armenia's power ministers. At the time, the government of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan announced it had foiled a major Dashnak conspiracy. Later, the state prosecutors dropped the coup charges, replacing them with accusations of having called for the overthrow of the government. They were unable to prove that the 31 were members of an organized group. Eleven defendants were set free during the trial for lack of evidence. As for other defendants, the court was unable to establish any links between them and the murder of the two policemen, for which Tigran Avetisian received the death penalty. The trial of the 31 thus followed the pattern of the Dro trial, with the authorities implicating the leaders of the Dashnak party and the court unable to establish a connection. In fact, it was the accusations of harboring the clandestine subversive group called Dro that resulted in the ban on the HHD in December 1994. Now that the Dashnak leadership has been cleared of criminal charges, there seems no major obstacle to its re-legalization. But it is noteworthy that Hovannisian, who has already been in jail for some two-and-a-half years, will not complete his term until after the next parliamentary elections, slated for July 1999. This may suggest that the authorities do not want either him or his party participating in the vote. Under Hovannisian's leadership, the Dashnaks would present a strong challenge to Ter-Petrossyan's party. The authorities are becoming increasingly reluctant to carry out political reform. Moreover, their closed-door dialogue with the Dashnaks, which began in April, is unlikely to prove successful as long as Hovannisian is in jail. However, there is a facing-saving option for the authorities and the HHD: namely, to pardon Hovannisian by presidential decree, as has been urged by the country's leading intellectuals and prominent public figures, including supporters of the government. It is thought that such an option would promote "national unity" ahead of possible international pressure on Armenia to recognize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. With their strong branches in the Diaspora (and in the U.S. in particular), the Dashnaks may be able to help the Armenian government avoid international isolation. Indeed, they have recently hinted about a possible meeting with Ter- Petrossyan in the near future. If such a meeting does take place, it would doubtless play an major role in determining the fate of Armenia's oldest party. The author contributes regularly to RFE/RL. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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