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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 46, Part I, 9 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 46, Part I, 9 March 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RFE/RL CAUCASUS REPORT: A WEEKLY REVIEW OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS AND TRANSCAUCASIA FROM RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY This new email weekly covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia's North Caucasus. To subscribe, send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "subscribe" in the subject line or body of the message. The first issue (March 3, 1998) and all future issues will be online at the RFE/RL Web site. http://www.rferl.org/caucasus-report/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * RUSSIA ESCALATES RHETORIC OVER LATVIA * CONFUSION OVER RUSSIA'S COMMITMENT TO BUSHEHR * ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PLEDGE FAIR ELECTIONS... xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx REGIONAL AFFAIRS RUSSIA ESCALATES RHETORIC OVER LATVIA. Russian officials have raised the volume in condemning the breakup of the 3 March demonstration staged by Russian-speaking pensioners in Riga. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 6 March slammed his Latvian counterpart, Guntars Krasts, for suggesting that Russia may have helped stage the rally. Chernomyrdin said it is a "big shame" that Latvia has a premier such as Krasts, adding that it is "impermissible to live like this in Europe at the end of the 20th century with the humiliation of entire nations," Reuters reported. On 7 March, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Interfax that imposing trade sanctions against Latvia would be a "justified" response to the treatment of the demonstrators. He said President Boris Yeltsin's foreign policy advisers have already recommended that the president curtail economic relations with Latvia, noting that the Latvian economy relies on Russian energy supplies. LB DUMA DEMANDS 'ALL NECESSARY MEASURES' AGAINST LATVIA. The Russian State Duma on 6 March unanimously approved a non-binding resolution asking Yeltsin to take "all necessary measures," including possible economic sanctions, to protect the "political, social, and economic rights of Russian compatriots" in Latvia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Russian news agencies, the resolution also called for delaying a Duma delegation's visit to Latvia, which was scheduled for 17 March. Deputies had rejected a proposal to postpone that trip on 4 March. The Duma also asked the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to "pass judgment in terms of international law" on the Latvian authorities' response to the pensioners' rally. Meanwhile, the pro-government Our Home Is Russia Duma faction has put off a visit to Riga by several of its members, which had been scheduled for 9 March. LB LATVIA AGAIN DENIES WRONGDOING. Following a special cabinet session on 7 March, Latvian Premier Krasts told journalists that the police had acted "properly" and there had been no violation of human rights at the 3 March demonstration, BNS and Interfax reported. Interior Minister Ziedonis Cevers likewise stressed that the police had not beaten the demonstrators. An Interior Ministry report presented to the cabinet said that police officers used "special means, including truncheons, because the demonstrators had tried to attack the policemen, striking and pushing them." The report also said the rally was illegal and had blocked one of the capital's main streets. Meanwhile, the Latvian Socialist Party and the Equity movement are seeking permission to stage a rally in downtown Riga on 17 March to protest irregularities in issuing passports to non-citizens. JC CIS PREMIERS MEET. Addressing his CIS counterparts in Moscow on 6 March, Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin called for "unconventional measures" to expedite economic integration among CIS countries. At the same time, he argued there are "no political differences" between member states. Chernomyrdin advocated the creation of a free trade zone and told journalists after the meeting that participants had agreed to the Russian-Ukrainian proposal to convene a CIS inter-state conference to drafting guidelines on reforming the commonwealth. Of the 25 documents submitted for discussion at the meeting, 11 were signed, including accords on trans-national corporation, a common agrarian market, and cooperation between law enforcement agencies. However, those accords were not signed by all members. Georgia, for example, declined to sign an agreement on developing military cooperation within the CIS. LF RUSSIA CONFUSION OVER RUSSIA'S COMMITMENT TO BUSHEHR. Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Georgii Kaurov confirmed on 6 March that Moscow and Tehran have agreed "in principle" that Russia will build a third and fourth reactor at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, Reuters reported. But another ministry spokesman, Vitalii Nasonov, told ITAR-TASS the same day that no talks have yet taken place on building those reactors. Nasonov also said Russia will not sign any further nuclear energy agreements with Iran until the Bushehr plant is completed. He added that Russian contractors will supply the required turbines for Bushehr following Ukraine's 6 March decision not to do so (see Part II). On 9 March, "The New York Times" quoted unnamed senior U.S. officials as saying Washington is prepared to offer Russia the chance to increase launches of commercial satellites if it undertakes to stop selling nuclear missile technology to Tehran. LF NEMTSOV WRAPS UP TALKS IN GERMANY. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 6 March wrapped up a three-day visit to Germany, an RFE/RL correspondent in Berlin reported. Nemtsov's talks with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, and German Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt focused on preparing the agenda for the 25-26 March summit in Yekaterinburg between Kohl, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and French President Jacques Chirac. Foreign investment was also high on the agenda of Nemtsov's talks with German political and business leaders. AFP quoted Kinkel as saying on 5 March that Russia must improve its legal framework and economic conditions in order to secure increased German investment there. During his visit, Nemtsov also urged that Europe recognize Russia as a market economy, which, he said, would pave the way toward lifting some anti-dumping penalties against Russian goods. LB YELTSIN PRAISES WOMEN'S TRADITIONAL VIRTUES. In a televised address to mark International Women's Day on 8 March, Yeltsin praised women for their ability to "make the home comfortable...[and] to reach agreement and find compromises," ITAR-TASS reported. After citing many qualities traditionally viewed as women's virtues, the president told women that although their current role is for the most part restricted to the family, "I am certain that if your experience is needed for your region, your republic, and even the entire country, you won't let us down." Yeltsin also noted that the women in his family play an important role in his life. First lady Naina Yeltsin is credited with helping Yeltsin boost his popularity before the 1996 presidential election, and Yeltsin's younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, is an influential member of the presidential administration. LB ZYUGANOV PREFERS LESS INQUISITIVE WOMEN. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov says he prefers women who "do not ask too many questions and, after offering advice, do not insist the next day that their advice be acted on." In a 5 March interview with ITAR-TASS regarding International Women's Day, Zyuganov added that women "should not argue about the most important matters." The Communist Duma faction includes 18 women, approximately as many as the combined total of women in all other Duma factions. LB MOVEMENT CALLS FOR COMMISSIONS ON WOMEN'S RIGHTS. Alevtina Fedulova, former Duma deputy and leader of the Union of Russian Women, told ITAR-TASS on 6 March that her organization is seeking to set up a network of commissions on women's rights in the Russian regions. She said the commissions will provide women with legal advice on how to counter infringements of their rights. Fedulova also said she hopes every Russian region will establish a women's rights commissioner. The Union of Russian Women is preparing a report on violations of women's rights, and Fedulova predicted that the report will place special attention on discrimination against women in the workplace. Fedulova, one of the leaders of the Women of Russia movement, lost her seat in the Duma when Women of Russia failed to gain 5 percent of the vote in the 1995 parliamentary elections. LB ACTIVISTS DEMAND STEPS TO COMBAT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN. Human rights activists from several organizations have called on Russian authorities to fight violence against women and especially family violence, which is estimated to claim the lives of thousands of women in Russia each year, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 5 March. They cited a recent Human Rights Watch report, which assailed the treatment of women victims by the Russian law enforcement and criminal justice systems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). The activists called for adopting a law on domestic violence, which would increase penalties for violent crimes within the family. They also advocated educating police investigators, prosecutors, and judges about violence against women and evicting batterers from state-owned housing developments. A new series of public-service advertisements promotes the message that "violence against women is not a private family matter but a problem for all of society." LB LESBIAN COUPLE MARKS HOLIDAY WITH WEDDING. Two women held a mock wedding ceremony in a St. Petersburg night club on the eve of International Women's Day, Interfax reported on 7 March. Same-sex marriages are not legal in Russia, but the couple had previously traveled to The Netherlands in order to register their marriage. LB CHERNOMYRDIN DENIES PLANNING FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says he is not yet thinking about the next presidential election, scheduled for 2000. In his debut appearance on his weekly call-in show on Russian Television, Chernomyrdin said that "the government wants people to feel changes for the better. That's what we should think about, not elections," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. Many Russian media reports have interpreted the premier's weekly television appearances as a sign that Chernomyrdin is trying to boost his prospects for succeeding Yeltsin. LB HOW WOULD PREMIER FARE IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE? In recent weeks, the private network NTV has portrayed Chernomyrdin as a strong presidential contender who is gaining power and stature. However, opinion polls reported nearly every week on NTV, most recently on 8 March, consistently make no mention of the level of support for Chernomyrdin. The polls, conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, show Communist Party leader Zyuganov leading First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. In hypothetical second-round matches, Luzhkov defeats Zyuganov, Lebed, and Nemtsov. In an article for a February edition of the weekly "Argumenty i fakty," sociologist Nuzgar Betaneli published results from the latest poll by his Institute of the Sociology of Parliamentarism. That survey placed Chernomyrdin eighth among possible presidential candidates, with 3.7 percent support. LB CHUBAIS SLAMS 'NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA'... In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 March, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais argued that "Nezavisimaya gazeta" "is not a newspaper in the ordinary sense of the word" because it reflects the interests of only one person: its financial backer, Boris Berezovskii. He said his friends read "Nezavisimaya gazeta" with "loathing" and "disgust," and quoted one acquaintance as suggesting the newspaper is for hire. Chubais, long considered one of Russia's least popular politicians, also claimed that Berezovskii is far more hated in Russia than is Chubais. Until last summer, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" provided largely--though not exclusively--favorable coverage of Chubais. But since he and Berezovskii fell out over privatization sales, the newspaper has repeatedly criticized the first deputy premier in extremely harsh terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 September and 18 December 1997). LB ...WHILE NEWSPAPER'S EDITOR RETURNS FIRE. In a commentary published on 7 March, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor-in-chief Vitalii Tretyakov leveled numerous accusations against Chubais. Tretyakov alleged that when Chubais headed the State Property Committee several years ago, he secured the support of one unnamed newspaper by giving it a large building in the center of Moscow. Tretyakov also suggested that shortly before the 1996 presidential election, Chubais personally asked him to publish false stories about Communist paramilitary units in "Nezavisimaya gazeta." In addition, Tretyakov claimed that in fall 1996, he witnessed Chubais (then Yeltsin's chief of staff) warning the editor of "Komsomolskaya pravda" that "you will do what the newspaper's owner says. And if you don't, bones will be broken!" The October 1996 dismissal of Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed was accompanied by a wave of negative coverage of him in many Russian media outlets. LB YELTSIN SUPPORTS SARATOV LAND AUCTION. Yeltsin announced on 6 March that he will "fight to the end" to give farmers full land ownership rights, ITAR-TASS reported. The president praised an auction held the previous day in Balakovo (Saratov Oblast). In accordance with a law passed in Saratov last November, 18 plots of land, two of which were farmland, were sold for a total of 468,000 rubles ($77,000). The Duma has criticized the Saratov law for allowing the purchase and sale of farmland, which would be prohibited under a land code passed by the Duma. But Yeltsin has vetoed that code, and on 6 March he confirmed will not sign a law that does not give farmers the right to buy and sell land. However, Yeltsin has agreed in principle to certain restrictions on transactions involving farmland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). LB CHECHNYA THREATENS TO HALT OIL TRANSIT. Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev warned on 9 March that Chechnya will shut off the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk oil pipeline if Moscow persists in violating peace agreements, AFP reported. Vachagaev was speaking in Baku, from where he will accompany Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to London. The previous day, Maskhadov's motorcade was involved in a crash near the Chechen town of Gudermes while heading for Baku. Maskhadov escaped uninjured. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PLEDGE FAIR ELECTIONS... Five of the 12 presidential candidates, including Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukyan, have signed a memorandum pledging to make every effort to ensure that the 16 March poll is free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 7 March. The previous day, Union for Self-Determination Chairman Paruir Hairikyan said that the Armenian authorities' failure to halt illegal attempts by local officials to secure Kocharyan's victory will cast doubt on the fairness of the vote. Also on 6 March, the Central Electoral Commission voted by 13 to seven to register Kocharyan as a candidate. Opposition representatives on the commission argued that Kocharyan, who comes from the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, does not qualify as an Armenian citizen. LF ...WHILE CAMPAIGN TURNS VIOLENT. Two Manukyan aides were attacked and seriously injured while campaigning in Ararat, south of Yerevan, on 8 March. A third Manukyan supporter claimed that the half dozen assailants were associates of Kocharyan, but the premier's spokesmen have denied any knowledge of the incident. The Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office has launched an investigation. LF RUSSIA DENIES TARGETING AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT. The Russian Embassy in Baku issued a statement on 7 March saying Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov's claim that Moscow plans to assassinate Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev is "irresponsible and unfounded," ITAR-TASS reported. Such allegations are aimed at disrupting "friendly relations" between Russia and Azerbaijan and undermining stability in the Caucasus, the statement said. Also on 7 March, ITAR-TASS quoted the Azerbaijani news agency Azertadj as reporting that a large cache of weapons, including grenade-launchers and machine guns, have been discovered in western Azerbaijan, close to the Georgian frontier. LF UZBEK OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS IT QUITS. Shukrullo Mirsaidov, a leader of the Democratic Opposition Coordinating Council, told RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau on 6 March that the council has formally ceased to function. Mirsaidov criticized "democratic opposition groups" for being out of touch with the realities in the country. He said since it is impossible to bring together all democratic forces, he had decided to quit politics. Mirsaidov, who in the past has criticized the cabinet, said the government has "laid down the foundations for establishing a democratic and legal state and implementing reform program toward a free market-oriented economy." BP UZBEK OPPOSITION FIGURE ASKED TO LEAVE TURKEY. Muhammed Salih, the chairman of Uzbekistan's Erk opposition party, has left Turkey at the request of Turkish authorities, RFE/RL's Uzbek service reported. Salih flew to Romania on 5 March and is now in Bucharest. After running for the Uzbek presidency in 1991 against incumbent President Islam Karimov, Salih went into self-imposed exile. The Turkish move may be connected to the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz to Uzbekistan at the end of this month. BP TURKMEN FARMERS MUST REPAY LOANS BY YEAR'S END. The Agriculture and Food Ministry has announced that the target for cotton production this year is to more than double the 1997 level. Interfax reported on 7 March. Last year, cotton growers produced only 620,000 tons, less than half of the targeted amount. The target for this year is 1.5 million tons. The Central Bank has granted interest-free loans to farmers totaling 304 billion manat ($73 million). But according to Interfax, President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree earlier this month stipulating a 2 percent interest rate on those loans and ordering them repaid by year's end. BP NAZARBAYEV SAYS LIVING STANDARDS IMPROVED IN 1997. In an address to mark International Women's Day, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said industrial production grew by 33 percent last year, the revenues of 200 privatized enterprises increased 10 percent, and real incomes rose 10 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. The president also said there are currently 1.36 million automobiles owned by Kazakhstan's 4.5 million families and that 32 percent of rural residents own plots of land. 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