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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 22, Part I, 3 February 1998



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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 22, Part I, 3 February 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
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Headlines, Part I


* RUSSIA SEEKS PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO IRAQ QUESTION


* MASKHADOV WANTS NEW CHECHEN CONSTITUTION


* PRESSURE MOUNTS ON ARMENIAN PRESIDENT


* End Note: TURKMENISTAN MAKES RAMAZAN BAYRAMI OFFICIAL HOLIDAY


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RUSSIA


RUSSIA SEEKS PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO IRAQ QUESTION... Russian officials,
in particular President Boris Yeltsin, are seeking to ease
international tensions over Iraq. Yeltsin on 2 February had a telephone
conversation with U.S. President Bill Clinton, who agreed that a
diplomatic solution is desirable but stressed that time is running out.
Yeltsin also spoke twice by telephone with French President Jacques
Chirac, who took the Russian view that it is still possible to achieve
a peaceful outcome. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii
Karasin was in China on 2 February to talk with his Chinese
counterpart, Zhang Deguang, about the crisis in the Persian Gulf. BP


...AMID CONFLICTING REPORTS ON BREAKTHROUGH. Following talks between
Russian special envoy to Iraq Viktor Posuvalyuk and Saddam Hussein on 2
February, the Kremlin announced that a break-through had been achieved
and that Hussein is prepared to allow UN inspections of eight sites in
Iraq. Baghdad, however, denied any such development. Presidential
spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 3 February continued to say that
there has been "positive changes" in Iraq's position. He added "we
confirm the announcement we made yesterday." BP


GOVERNMENT SUBMITS REVISED TAX CODE TO DUMA. The government on 2
February submitted a revised draft tax code to the State Duma,
ITAR-TASS reported. The government's plan of 12 major tasks for 1998
calls for the code to be adopted by year's end. Meanwhile,
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 February that Finance Ministry
officials deny the new tax code is to blame for recent turmoil on
Russian financial markets. On 28 January, Federal Securities Commission
Chairman Dmitrii Vasilev charged that steep declines on Russian markets
were caused by Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov's recent remarks on
the tax code. Vasilev alleged that the code will affect certain market
transactions. Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Motorin told
"Kommersant-Daily" that Vasilev is not familiar with the latest draft
of the tax code. He said the version submitted to the Duma does not
contain the provisions criticized by Vasilev. LB


FORMER BORDER SERVICE CHIEF CASTS DOUBT ON MERGER WITH FSB... Andrei
Nikolaev, who stepped down in December as director of the Federal
Border Service, says the planned subordination of that service to the
Federal Security Service (FSB) will not take place. Yeltsin is expected
to issue a decree within a month to transform the border service into a
department of the FSB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27-28 January 1998). But
in an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 3 February,
Nikolaev said such a merger cannot be implemented because it would
violate current legislation. Article 90 of the Russian Constitution
prohibits the president from issuing decrees that contradict federal
laws. LB


...CONFIRMS PLANS FOR POLITICAL CAREER. In the same interview with
"Moskovskii komsomolets," Nikolaev confirmed that he will run for the
State Duma seat vacated by Irina Khakamada when she took up a
government post last November. The by-election is scheduled for April.
According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 January, Nikolaev is likely to
face nearly 20 rivals for that Duma seat, including former Defense
Minister Igor Rodionov and former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii
Sobchak. Former Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii is rumored
to be considering a bid in the by-election as well. LB


FORMER LATVIAN COMMUNIST LEADER IN MOSCOW. Alfreds Rubiks, the former
leader of the Latvian branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union, arrived in Moscow on 2 February, Russian news agencies reported.
Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian
Federation, described Rubiks as an "old friend." Rubiks spent more than
six years in prison after he supported the August 1991 coup attempt.
During Rubiks' time in captivity, Zyuganov's party and other communist
organizations in Russia repeatedly called for his release. Rubiks also
met with Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov,
and leaders of several small communist organizations. Speaking to
ITAR-TASS, Rubiks said he came to Moscow to discuss Russian-Latvian
relations and conditions for Russian-speakers in Latvia. He denied that
he is trying to collect money for the Communist Party, which is still
banned in Latvia. LB


LUKYANOV EXPLAINS STANCE ON ELECTORAL LAW. Duma Legislation Committee
Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov, a prominent member of the Communist Party,
explained his party's opposition to changes to the electoral law in
remarks quoted by "Pravda-5" on 3 February. Yeltsin wants to eliminate
the proportional representation system currently used to elect half of
State Duma deputies and have instead all 450 deputies elected in
single-member districts. Lukyanov said the Communists believe the
proposed change is an attempt to "remove any organized opposition from
the political arena," although he denied that the Communist Party would
do worse without proportional representation. In the 1995 elections to
the  Duma, Communists won 58 of the 225 seats elected in single-member
districts and candidates representing allied groups won 29 of those
seats. In contrast, the pro-government Our Home Is Russia bloc won just
10 of the single-member districts. LB


UN MAY CUT BACK NORTH CAUCASUS PROGRAM. John Horekens, the director of
the European bureau of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in
Vladikavkaz on 2 February that his group will reduce its activities in
the region, Interfax reported. That statement comes in the wake of the
29 January kidnapping of Vincent Cochetel, a member of the
organization's North Caucasus bureau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January
1998). Horekens added that he had told the North Ossetian leadership
that the UN will not pay a ransom for Cochetel's release. PG


MASKHADOV WANTS NEW CHECHEN CONSTITUTION. Chechen President Aslan
Maskhadov is advocating the adoption of a new constitution for the
republic, RFE/RL's correspondent in Grozny reported on 2 February. The
current constitution, adopted in March 1992 under President Dzhokhar
Dudaev, declares the republic a secular state. It also gives the
parliament significant powers, such as the right to confirm ministerial
appointments and dismissals and to approve changes in the structure of
the executive branch. Maskhadov argues that when the 1992 constitution
was adopted, Dudaev was hoping for support from the international
community. But Maskhadov charges that not only did Western countries
not back Chechnya's bid for independence; they helped Russia finance
the war to keep the republic in the Russian Federation. Maskhadov
advocates a new constitution that would declare Chechnya an Islamic
state and would give the president almost unlimited powers. LB


DAGESTANI AUTHORITIES EXPEL FARRAKHAN. Authorities in the Republic of
Dagestan on 2 February expelled a delegation of 28 people led by Louis
Farrakhan, the head of the U.S.-based movement Nation of Islam.
Farrakhan's delegation was to have traveled to the Dagestani-Chechen
border to meet with Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov.
Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Tolboev told RFE/RL's
North Caucasus correspondent that Farrakhan and his delegation were
expelled because they lacked the correct documentation. However, Union
of Muslims of Russia leader Nadir Khachilaev, who invited Farrakhan to
Russia, said the expulsion was politically motivated. In a telephone
interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Khachilaev said Dagestani
authorities erroneously described Farrakhan as an extremist. He also
denied that Farrakhan made anti-Russian statements while in Dagestan,
adding that "I speak out against Russia. [Farrakhan] speaks out against
[the United States of] America." LB


COURT STRIKES DOWN SOME RESIDENCY REGISTRATION RULES. The
Constitutional Court on 2 February ruled that a federal government
directive issued in July 1995 contained unconstitutional rules on
registering citizens' places of residence, "Kommersant-Daily" and
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The judges ruled that although citizens
must register their residences with local authorities, they retain the
right to choose where they want to live. In other words, the
registration process is a matter of notifying authorities--not seeking
permission for temporary or permanent residence in a given location.
The only valid restrictions are contained in a federal law on citizens'
rights to travel and choose their place of residence. For instance,
authorities may refuse to register an apartment in an area that is
restricted because of an ecological disaster or an epidemic. Some
cities have ignored previous Constitutional Court rulings against the
"propiska" or residency permit system. LB


KOMI LEADER REFUSES TO IMPLEMENT COURT RULING. Yurii Spiridonov, the
leader of the Republic of Komi, says the Constitutional Court is not
empowered to force changes in republican legislation,
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 February. The court recently struck
down provisions in Komi's constitution and law on executive
authorities, saying the 1993 Russian Constitution supersedes the
provisions of the 1992 Federation Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20
January 1998). However, Spiridonov maintains that only the Komi
legislature may decide whether republican laws should be changed.
"Kommersant-Daily" noted that the Republic of Udmurtia last year
refused to implement a Constitutional Court ruling that struck down
republican laws related to local government. The Udmurtian authorities
backed down only after Yeltsin had issued a decree ordering them to
comply with the court ruling. LB


MINISTER, GOVERNOR SIGN PROTOCOL ON KEMEROVO COAL INDUSTRY. Fuel and
Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman
Tuleev on 30 January signed a protocol on steps to solve the financial
crisis in the region's coal basin, which is the largest in Russia,
ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agreement, the Fuel and Energy
Ministry will oversee the reorganization of the coal industry and will
finance investment projects for some mines. In addition, the ministry
will draft new safety regulations and monitor their implementation. (An
explosion at a Kemerovo mine in December claimed the lives of 67
miners.) Kirienko also said his ministry will review a list of mines
currently slated for closure. The Kemerovo administration will be
responsible for local development programs for mining cities. Kemerovo
miners recently staged a one-day strike to protest inadequate financing
of the coal industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1998).


KEMEROVO HOSTAGE DRAMA ENDS WITH ARREST OF HOSTAGE. ITAR-TASS reported
on 1 February that police have detained Aleksandr Ternovykh, a Kemerovo
coal mine manager who allegedly caused the deaths of three miners in
February 1997. The miners, whom Ternovykh sent into the mine following
a fire, died of the effects of methane fumes. Before his arrest,
Ternovykh and some other executives at the mine were held hostage for
several days by a group of miners who said they had not received their
wages for more than two years. LB


EXECUTIVE DESCRIBES LUZHKOV'S RELATIONS WITH TV-CENTER. Anatolii
Lysenko, a member of the board of directors of the network TV-Center,
described the network's relations with Moscow Mayor Luzhkov in an
interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 January. The Moscow city
government provides most of the financing for TV-Center, which began
broadcasting last June and is widely seen as a vehicle for a future
presidential bid by Luzhkov. In addition to serving on the TV-Center
board of directors, Lysenko chairs the Moscow government's committee on
telecommunications and the mass media. He acknowledged that officials
acting on behalf of the mayor occasionally complain about programs.
However, Lysenko noted that contrary to the expectations of some
journalists, he was not fired after First Deputy Prime Minister
Anatolii Chubais--a political opponent of the Moscow mayor--recently
appeared on TV-Center. LB


TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA


PRESSURE MOUNTS ON ARMENIAN PRESIDENT.  An influential organization of
Karabakh war veterans has joined opposition calls for the resignation
of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported 2
February. The group accused Ter-Petrossyan of pursuing a "defeatist
policy" on Karabakh.  Also on 2 February, Foreign Minister Aleksandr
Arzumanian resigned, shortly after the Armenian parliament ratified the
1997 treaty of friendship with Russia. Arzumanian, a supporter of
Ter-Petrossyan and his Karabakh policy in the past, has not yet made
any public statement as to why he resigned, but his departure will
certainly put additional pressure on Ter-Petrossyan over the issue of
settling the Karabakh conflict. The Armenian president has accepted his
resignation as well as that of Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghian. PG


GEORGIA SEEKS RUSSIAN, ARMENIAN COOPERATION ON CORRIDOR. In his weekly
radio address on 2 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze
said he hopes Russia and Armenia will join with Georgia and other
countries in promoting a Eurasian corridor, Interfax reported.  He
noted that Russia would "acquire vast opportunities for transporting
large streams of cargo from north to south" if the Abkhaz conflict were
settled. That conflict, Shevardnadze suggested, "will be settled
through compromises, external interference, or in some other way."
Meanwhile, communist groups in Georgia' Ajaria region have begun a
petition drive calling for Tbilisi to join the Russian-Belarusian
union, ITAR-TASS reported. PG


KARABAKH LEADER REJECTS SUBORDINATION TO AZERBAIJAN. Arkadiy Gukasyan
said on 2 February that he has ruled out re-subordinating his region to
Baku, ITAR-TASS reported.  "The Karabakh side cannot agree that the
Nagorno-Karabakh republic is fiction and its powers are illegitimate,"
Gukasyan told the Karabakh legislature.  Such subordination is part of
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group
peace plan that Armenian President Ter-Petrossyan and Azerbaijani
President Heidar Aliev have endorsed. But Gukasyan indicated that he
has grave doubts about Baku's pledge under the accord to provide the
region with the "highest degree of autonomy."  Re-subordinating
Karabakh to the authority of Azerbaijan, Gukasyan concluded, will only
bring the "conflicting sides closer to warfare."   PG


AZERBAIJANI FORCES "LEAFLETTED" BY MORTAR. The Azerbaijani Defense
Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 2 February that units of the Azerbaijani
army near the disputed Karabakh region had come under fire with mortar
shells filled with propaganda leaflets. The ministry said Azerbaijan
would take unspecified "retaliatory measures."  PG


TAJIK OPPOSITION FREES POWS. Said Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the
United Tajik Opposition, was in  the village of Tavil-Dara on 2
February to witness the release of 12 government soldiers who had been
prisoners of war, Reuters and Interfax reported. They are the first of
at least 50 POWs expected to be freed in the next few days. RFE/RL
correspondents in Dushanbe could not confirm that any POWs had returned
to the Tajik capital. Fighting took place in the Tavil-Dara area during
most of 1996. The number of people killed and captured there is still
unclear. BP


END NOTE


TURKMENISTAN MAKES RAMAZAN BAYRAMI OFFICIAL HOLIDAY


by Lowell Bezanis


        As the Muslim holy month of fasting and atonement--Ramadan
--concludes, it will be marked throughout the Islamic world with three
consecutive days of celebration. In Turkmenistan, for the first time,
the beginning of this religious holiday on 30 January will be observed
and officially sanctified as a day of rest. The change was ushered in
by a 14 January presidential decree.

        In accordance with the decree, the first day of the Festival of
Breaking Fast, or Ramazan Bayrami, as it is known to Turcophone
Muslims, as well as the beginning of the other Muslim canonical
festival, the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Gurban Bayrami, have been
declared non-working, national holidays.

        Including the two new religiously-inspired ones, Turkmenistan
celebrates 21 official holidays. This number has climbed steadily since
Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty in October of 1991. Among the
holidays, only three -- namely New Year, International Women's Day (8
March), and Victory Day (9 May) -- were celebrated in the Soviet era.
The remainder represent newly-instituted holidays.

        Most of them have a distinct national overtone. Two have a historical
and solemn character. The first of these, observed on 12 January,
refers to the slaughter of Turkmen tribesmen at Goek-Tepe by Russian
forces in 1881. The other, which is marked on 6 October, commemorates
those who died in the devastating earthquake which hit the republic in
1948. Among those who died in the earthquake were President Saparmurad
Niyazov's mother and brothers.

        Other holidays are less somber in character, but aim to strengthen
national unity and pride in Turkmenistan, and in its present-day
institutions. In this category are holidays commemorating, for example,
Turkmen musicians, national development and unity, the republic's
declaration of sovereignty, and its national flag. Others highlight
some of the government's more innocuous policies, such as its declared
commitment to good neighborliness and neutrality in international
affairs.

        Several of the new holidays belie the manner in which the
nation-building process has gone forward in Turkmenistan. They take
their inspiration from something important to, or closely associated
with, Turkmen, but otherwise lack profundity or abstract value. Without
denigrating the importance of water, Turkmen carpets, melons or Akhal
Tekin horses, many observers were taken aback by official announcements
that these items deserved to be commemorated as national holidays.

        Some holidays, such as National Flag Day (19 February), were added to
the calendar in a curious manner. The holiday was initially conceived
by Turkmenistan's 50-member unicameral parliament (majlis) as a day of
rest to mark Niyazov's (known as Turkmenbashi--the ruler of all
Turkmen) birthday. Niyazov, ridiculed in international media for his
cultivation of a personality cult, rejected his parliament's
rubber-stamp offer, and turned the planned birthday celebration into
National Flag Day.

        The latest, religious additions to Turkmenistan's list of official
holidays fall into a different category. They will undoubtedly be
welcomed by many Turkmen as a gesture to the Muslim faith they esteem
as a hallmark of their culture. Outsiders, particularly in the Muslim
East, will also likely nod their approval.

        Niyazov has also brought Turkmenistan into line with his Central Asian
neighbors, such as Uzbekistan.

        In making this gesture, Niyazov recognizes long-standing traditions;
he does not create them, as has been attempted with all but the
Soviet-era holidays Turkmen citizens now celebrate. Even for Muslims
living in officially secular or in atheist socialist states, like
Turkey, Albania or the former Soviet Union, Ramazan Bayrami remained a
time of celebration.

        Though many did not observe the fourth pillar of the Muslim faith,
which forbids food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn-to-dusk
during the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim lunar calendar,
Ramadan, people remained in the habit of making visits, giving presents
to children and offering congratulations at its conclusion, as the
faith required.


The author writes regularly on Turkey, the South Caucasus, and Central
Asia.





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