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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 20, Part I, 30 January 1998



___________________________________________________________

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 20, Part I, 30 January 1998


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


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MonacoNow available on the RFE/RL Web site,
RUSSIA'S FINANCIAL EMPIRES. This special report profiles the "big
seven" Russian commercial banks and gives background information on
Russia's banking system. The report is located at:

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Headlines, Part I


* YELTSIN RULES OUT THIRD TERM


* RUSSIA CRITICIZES REMARKS BY HEAD OF IRAQ COMMISSION


* NAGORNO-KARABAKH DENIES PLOTTING ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S OUSTER


* End Note: UNBALANCED SCALES OF JUSTICE IN KYRGYZSTAN

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RUSSIA


YELTSIN RULES OUT THIRD TERM. President Boris Yeltsin announced on 30
January that he has ruled out running for president in 2000, RFE/RL's
Moscow bureau reported. Yeltsin has said before that he does not plan
to run for president again, but several officials in the government and
presidential administration have cast doubt on those statements. Most
recently, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov argued that a third
presidential bid by Yeltsin would be a "stabilizing factor" in Russian
politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). Yeltsin also
announced on 30 January that he has already decided whom he wants to
succeed him, but he does not know when he will the announce the name of
his chosen heir, Interfax reported. It has been speculated that
Yeltsin's favorite to succeed him is either Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin or Nemtsov. LB


RUSSIA CRITICIZES REMARKS BY HEAD OF IRAQ COMMISSION. Russian Foreign
Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin on 29 January criticized
"public diplomacy" carried out by  Richard Butler, the chairman of the
UN Special Commission on Iraq, Russian news agencies reported.
Nesterushkin said Butler's recent speculation about steps the UN
Security Council may take to prevent illegal oil exports from Iraq "go
beyond the clearly delineated mandate of the special commission."
Butler was quoted by "The New York Times" on 27 January as saying that
Iraq enough biological material to destroy the population of Tel Aviv,
but Nesterushkin said such claims run counter to information Butler's
commission has submitted to the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, Russian
Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright are to meet in Madrid on 30 January to discuss the
situation in Iraq. LB


CENTRAL BANK RAISES REFINANCING RATE AGAIN. The Central Bank on 30
January announced that beginning 2 February, it is raising the
refinancing rate, at which it lends to banks, from 28 percent to 42
percent, AFP reported. A Central Bank spokesman refused to comment on
the reason for the increase. Last November, the bank raised the
refinancing rate from 21 percent to 28 percent to stave off a
significant ruble devaluation. Foreign investors have been selling
Russian stocks and bonds in large quantities in recent months, putting
pressure on the ruble. The government's plan of 12 major tasks for
1998, approved on 26 January by Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin, calls for the
Central Bank's refinancing rate to be lowered to 16-18 percent by
year's end. LB


YELTSIN REJECTS COALITION GOVERNMENT PROPOSAL. Yeltsin on 29 January
rejected a Communist-backed proposal on forming a coalition government
that would have the support of a majority in the parliament, Russian
media reported. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev presented the
proposal at a Kremlin meeting of the "big four": the president, prime
minister, and speakers of both houses of the parliament. In addition to
forming the cabinet in proportion to the balance of forces in
parliament, Seleznev's proposal would have given parliamentary factions
the right to nominate and  recall ministers. Meeting with journalists
on 30 January, Yeltsin said Chernomyrdin's government will remain in
office until the next elections to the Duma, which are scheduled for
1999, although the president said "one or two" cabinet members may be
replaced before then, Interfax reported.


'BIG FOUR' AGREE TO FORM COMMISSION ON TARIFFS... The participants in
the 29 January meeting of the "big four" agreed to create a trilateral
commission to discuss policy on fees for electricity and
transportation, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the presidential press
service. That commission will include representatives of the government
and both houses of the parliament. (A similar commission was formed
last October to seek a compromise on the 1998 budget.) According to
Seleznev, Chernomyrdin said new tariffs on railroad transportation and
electricity will be set by 25 February. The government on 29 January
approved a conceptual plan for reforming the federal railroad network,
which envisages reduced tariffs for cargo transports. But government
plans to restructure subsidies for housing and utilities are expected
to lead to rising electricity prices for individual consumers. LB


...DEFER DECISION ON STATE SYMBOLS. According to the presidential press
service, Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin, Seleznev, and Federation Council
Speaker Yegor Stroev also agreed on 29 January to remove the issue of
Russia's state symbols from the political agenda since "there are
diametrically opposed views on this issue both in society and in the
parliament," Russian news agencies reported. The Duma recently rejected
two draft constitutional laws on establishing state symbols (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1998). LB


YELTSIN CALLS FOR START-2 RATIFICATION. During the meeting of the "big
four" in the Kremlin, Yeltsin said he favors the earliest possible
ratification of the START-2 arms control treaty, which, he argued,
protects Russia's national interests by "preserving a strategic
equilibrium," ITAR-TASS reported on 29 January. Federation Council
Speaker Stroev told the news agency later that day that "at last there
is a trend toward coming to agreement" on START-2. The Duma is not
scheduled to debate the treaty during the first half of this year (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1998). Duma Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairman and Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin, who supports ratification
of the treaty, recently argued that START-2 has slim chances of being
approved by the Duma. LB


YELTSIN DENIES HE MET WITH KORZHAKOV. Yeltsin on 29 January denied
speculation that he met with his former bodyguard and confidante,
Aleksandr Korzhakov, during his recent vacation in Valdai, Russian news
agencies reported. "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported in its 28 January
edition that Yeltsin may have met with Korzhakov, noting that the
former presidential bodyguard, now a State Duma deputy, was scheduled
to visit Valdai while the president was vacationing there. But Yeltsin
said he "did not lay eyes on" Korzhakov. He added that the newspaper
report "offended" him. Korzhakov published a book last summer that
contained unflattering portrayals of Yeltsin and some of his closest
associates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 August 1997). LB


MOSCOW OBLAST IGNORES COURT RULING ON REFERENDUM. The Moscow Oblast
Duma on 28 January affirmed the results of a December referendum and
changed the oblast charter to require at least half of Duma deputies to
hold jobs outside the regional legislature, "Kommersant-Daily" reported
on 30 January. The referendum was held despite a ruling by the
Presidium of the Supreme Court, which had declared the planned vote
illegal. Critics said the referendum was designed to increase Governor
Anatolii Tyazhlov's leverage over the legislature (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 14 November and 16 December 1997). Last fall, the Moscow
Oblast Duma had resisted Tyazhlov's efforts to amend the charter, but
candidates loyal to the governor won a majority of seats in the
legislative election held on the same day in December as the
referendum. LB


RUSSIA, CHECHNYA MAY DISCUSS EXTRADITION. Russian Security Council
Secretary Ivan Rybkin said in Moscow on 29 January that Russian and
Chechen Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Kulikov and Kazbek Makhashev
may discuss extradition of two mercenaries who Moscow believes were
involved in the massacre of six Red Cross workers in April 1996,
Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Sergei Osipov, the deputy chairman of the
Russian commission for prisoners of war, internees, and missing
persons, told the Russian news service the same day that seven Russian
servicemen and civilians have been released in Chechnya since 1
January. PG


YELTSIN CREATES CHECHEN COMMISSION. President Yeltsin issued a decree
on 29 January creating a provisional interdepartmental commission of
the Russian Security Council on the problems of developing the Chechen
Republic and normalizing conditions in the North Caucasus, ITAR-TASS
reported.  The head of the new commission is to be Ramazan Abdulatipov,
a Russian deputy prime minister. Yeltsin also stressed his commitment
to visiting Chechnya in the future and to meet with officials from the
North Caucasus in Moscow, Interfax reported. PG


RYBKIN, KULIKOV CLASH ON RELATIONS WITH CHECHNYA. Security Council
Secretary Ivan Rybkin on 29 January said Moscow has offered Chechnya
"maximum freedom, independence, sovereignty, and associated membership
in the Russian Federation," Interfax reported. While ruling out full
independence for Chechnya, Rybkin was sharply critical of a suggestion
by Russian Interior Minister Kulikov in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" two days
earlier that Chechnya be declared "rebel territory in which Russian
laws are not observed." Rybkin also suggested that Russia use only
economic pressure on Chechnya rather than launch "preventive" military
strikes as Kulikov had urged. PG


UNHCR OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN NORTH OSSETIA. A French employee of the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees was abducted by gunmen in
Vladikavkaz in the night of 29-30 January, AFP reported.
President-elect Aleksandr Dzasokhov is to be formally sworn in as North
Ossetian president on 30 January. A Russian delegation, including
Deputy Prime Minister Abdulatipov and Security Council Secretary
Rybkin, and a Georgian delegation headed by Parliamentary Speaker Zurab
Zhvania are expected in Vladikavkaz for the ceremony. LF


PRESS DISCUSSES YELTSIN'S DECREE ON STATE SECRETS. The domestic press
has discussed several aspects of the decree on state secrets that
Yeltsin signed on 24 January. The 87-point document requires state
agencies to determine the amount of damage that would be caused by a
"leakage" of information on their activities. "Kommersant-Daily" on 29
January said the decree affects not only the power ministries but also
the Health and Education  Ministries as well as state agencies such as
the Meteorological Service. The newspaper lists areas that could fall
under the state secrets decree, such as the volume of exports and
imports with other CIS states, the production of gold and precious
metals, Yeltsin's health, the weather, information on natural
disasters, and agriculture. BP


YELTSIN SAYS REGIONAL LEADERS TO BLAME FOR  KILLINGS IN ARMY. Yeltsin
on 29 January said the wave of killings at military installations in
Russia are restricted to certain regions, Interfax reported. Yeltsin
went on to argue that the leaders of those regions are not supporting
their local militaries and that "nothing of this kind happens in other
regions." However, a list of murders in the army over the last three
years, published in the 28 January edition of "Novye izvestiya," shows
that while the majority of the killings have take place in the Far
East, Sakhalin Island, and the Caucasus, such incidents have also
occurred in central Siberia, Nizhnii Novgorod, Karelia, and near
Moscow. BP


OFFICIAL SEEKS TO ALLAY FEARS ON RELIGION LAW. Vladimir Kartashkin, the
chairman of the Russian presidential Human Rights Commission, told
journalists in Washington on 29 January that the "shortcomings" of
Russia's law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations may
"be corrected" when the law is implemented, ITAR-TASS reported. The
religion law, which was adopted last September, has drawn fire from
many religious organizations in Russia and abroad, which have warned
that the law imposes unconstitutional restrictions on religious
activity. Kartashkin, one of several Russian officials invited to
Washington to discuss the law, acknowledged that some of the law's
provisions contradict the Russian Constitution. But he argued that any
Russian citizen or group may file court appeals to protect their
rights. Human rights activists have often objected that the Russian
judicial system lacks independence, since courts rarely adopt decisions
that run counter to the interests of regional authorities. LB


MYSTERY SHROUDS MINSK VISIT BY MEDIA MOGULS. Russian commentators
continue to speculate about why many of Russia's top journalists and
media executives met in Minsk on 27 January, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau
reported two days later. The Russian delegation to Minsk included Boris
Berezovskii, Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, and top journalists
from newspapers and television networks over which Berezovskii and
Gusinskii have influence. The visit's stated purpose was to discuss a
Russian-Belarusian broadcasting project with Belarusian President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka. However, no one from state-owned Russian
Television (RTR) was invited to the meeting in Minsk, RTR Chairman
Nikolai Svanidze told RFE/RL. RTR is to broadcast the
Russian-Belarusian productions. Media under the influence of
Berezovskii and Gusinskii have in recent months supported Prime
Minister Chernomyrdin, while RTR is considered close to First Deputy
Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. LB


PRESS SEES POLITICS, OIL BEHIND VISIT. Both "Russkii telegraf" and
"Kommersant-Daily" argued on 28 January that the Russian media
delegation to Minsk was likely linked to political developments in
Russia and the upcoming auction for a stake in the Russian-Belarusian
oil company Slavneft. Last October, many of the same journalists
accompanied Berezovskii and Gusinskii on a visit to Tbilisi, where they
reportedly discussed coverage of Russian political events (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 6 October 1997). "Kommersant-Daily," which in recent months
has provided coverage sympathetic to Berezovskii, noted that
Berezovskii met privately with Lukashenka in Belarus last December,
allegedly to discuss the Slavneft auction. "Russkii telegraf" is owned
by Oneksimbank, whose president, Vladimir Potanin, is a main business
rival of Berezovskii and Gusinskii. LB


LEBED CONSIDERING GUBERNATORIAL BID. Former Security Council Secretary
Aleksandr Lebed told journalists in Yaroslavl on 29 January that he is
considering running for governor in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Interfax
reported. Krasnoyarsk is scheduled to hold a gubernatorial election in
April. On 28 January, Lebed's younger brother Aleksei, the leader of
the Republic of Khakassia, told Interfax that Aleksandr Lebed would be
wise to run for governor rather than parliament, since governors have
"concrete power." The younger Lebed also noted that Krasnoyarsk, which
covers a massive area in Siberia, is "one of the richest regions" and
would be a good base from which to campaign for president in 2000.
Candidates supported by Aleksandr Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement
won 14 percent of the vote and five seats in legislative elections last
month in Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1997). LB



TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA


NAGORNO-KARABAKH DENIES PLOTTING ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S OUSTER. The
government of the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh issued a
statement on 29 January denying an Armenian press report that two of
its ministers met with local Armenian officials last week to plot the
overthrow of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau
reported. The Armenian daily  "Aravot" had claimed the same day that
the two ministers had traveled to Armenia at the behest of Karabakh
Defense Minister Samvel Babayan to discuss with the leadership of the
province of Syunik, which borders on Azerbaijan, how to topple
Ter-Petrossyan with the assistance of the Armenian opposition.  The
Karabakh government statement said the report is intended to exacerbate
the existing differences between Yerevan and Stepanakert. Aram
Abrahamian, the editor of "Aravot," told RFE/RL that his information
was obtained from "reliable sources." LF


AZERBAIJAN TO BAN CASINOS, NIGHT CLUBS. Following a 27 January meeting
with the Azerbaijani Security Council, President Heidar Aliev has
issued a decree calling for the closure of casinos and night clubs. He
also instructed the government to draft a program on fighting
immorality, drug abuse, and "publications that violate the national
traditions and moral fabric" of Azerbaijani citizens. At the Security
Council meeting Aliev criticized Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov for
permitting the Europa Hotel to be transferred to Turkish citizens, who
opened a casino and other entertainment facilities on its premises.
The hotel was originally intended for use by foreign diplomatic
missions. LF


AZERBAIJAN CONSULTS WITH NATO ON GUARDING PIPELINES.  Speaking to
potential investors in Tokyo, Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur
Rasi-Zade disclosed that the Azerbaijani leadership has had informal
consultations with NATO on safeguarding oil export pipelines "should
the need to do so arise," Turan reported on 29 January.  Rasi-Zade said
that investment in oil transportation in the Caucasus cannot be
considered safe because of the "many military conflicts" in the region
in recent years. LF


KAZAKH CITY WITHOUT ELECTRICITY. Local authorities on  28 January
informed the residents of Shymkent that electricity will be cut off for
four days and gas for as long as month, RFE/RL correspondents reported.
Temperatures are below freezing and expected to remain at that level
through most of February. Companies providing power to Shymkent and
Jambyl regions say consumers have overused their allotment of
electricity and gas and have thereby caused shortages in Almaty. BP


PROTESTERS PICKET GOVERNMENT BUILDING IN BISHKEK. Some 200 people
demonstrated outside  the government building in the Kyrgyz capital on
30 January, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Most of the demonstrators
were  pensioners desmonstrating against unequal pension scales (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). The group also protested the
government's treatment of Lidia Fomova, chairwoman of the pensioners
organization. Fomova says that since the demonstration last week
against the pension scales, local authorities have harassed her. She
added that she cannot stay at her home because she fears arrest for
organizing that demonstration. BP


END NOTE


UNBALANCED SCALES OF JUSTICE IN KYRGYZSTAN


by Narynbek Idinov


        A series of incidents has raised questions about Kyrgyzstan's judicial
system and, especially, about its attitude toward human rights and
press freedom. Observers say a trend of reversing lower court decisions
reveals political motives behind the orginal charges.

        For example, Topchubek Turgunaliev, an opposition leader, was last
year accused of embezzlement, abuse of power, and forgery. He was
sentenced to 10 years in prison by a district court in Bishkek in
January 1997. He appealed, and the Kyrgyz Supreme Court of changed the
verdict the following month. It upheld only one accusation (abuse of
power) and reduced Turgunaliev's sentence to four years in a penal
colony.

        Yrysbek Omurzakov, a journalist for the independent "Res Publica"
weekly, was accused of libeling a factory manager in an article
published in January 1997. A district court failed to reach a verdict
in May; but several months later, it sentenced him to two-and-a-half
years in a penal colony. A Bishkek municipal court upheld that verdict
in November but ruled that the journalist be pardoned under a new
amnesty law.

        Omurzakov, nonetheless, appealed to the Supreme Court, which earlier
this month found him guilty of a civil--rather than criminal--offense.
The court fined him the equivalent of 100 minimum monthly wages (some
$600). He will not have to pay, however, because of the amnesty law.

        Four other journalists from "Res Publica," including chief editor
Zamira Sydykova, were accused of libeling the manager of a state
company in several articles published from 1993-1996. In May 1997, a
district court sentenced Sydykova and one of her colleagues, Alexander
Alianchikov, to 18 months in a penal colony. The two other journalists
were fined. Alianchikov was released in June, when a municipal court
suspended the sentence, but the court upheld the sentence against
Sydykova. In August, the Supreme Court threw out the case and ordered
her freed.

        Opposition leaders and human rights organizations say local officials
aggresively pursued each of those cases and clearly had an influence on
their outcome. Opposition leader Turgunaliev had the right to serve in
a colony near the capital, where his family lives, but was sent to the
remote district, on the border with Tajikistan. Following protests by
parliamentary deputies and domestic and international human rights
organizations, he was allowed to return to a penal colony near
Ashgabat.

        Journalist Omurzakov spent 79 days in detention before a municipal
court ordered his release. When a local court convicted him months
later, he was not ordered to return to detention.

        A top government official who wishes to remain anonymous told RFE/RL
that the government is aware of  local officials' animosity toward
journalists and that local officials will go to extremes to try to
silence any media criticism. At the same time, Kyrgyz journalists have
told RFE/RL that they believe top government officials have also
influenced court cases against journalists.

        Each of the verdicts listed above was changed only after strong
protests from both domestic and international human rights
organizations. Amnesty International, The Committee to Protect
Journalists, Reporters sans Frontieres, and other organizations sent
protest letters to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev. The President's
Office insisted Akayev could not intervene in legal questions, but
Akayev announced in December that Turgunaliev could be pardoned, if he
apologized. Turgunaliev rejected that offer, saying he was not guilty
in the first place.

        Kyrgyzstan announced legal reform after it gained independence in
1991. But Akayev, addressing the first congress of Kyrgyz judges in
1994, stressed there had been no reform whatsoever. And two years
later, the president repeated his strong criticism.

        Opposition politicians and independent journalists continued to be
tried from 1995-1997 under the old Soviet criminal code, adopted in the
1960s. The parliament passed a new criminal code last June, while the
trials of some of the journalists were in progress. But it retained the
Soviet-era provision whereby a journalist who criticizes a state
official can be accused of criminal libel and sentenced to three years
in jail.

        The new criminal code has been criticized by domestic and
international human rights organizations. In December, President
Akayev's office said journalists convicted of libel will be fined, not
sent to jail. Other citizens are still subject to jail terms.

        While welcoming such progress, observers and human rights
organizations note what they call Kyrgyzstan's pattern of oppression.
They also note that none of those who leveled the charges against the
journalists faces accountability for his or her actions.


The author works for RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.




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