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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 52, Part I, 17 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 52, Part I, 17 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 ALL BROADCASTS FOR SIX SERVICES LIVE ONLINE All programs of RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian Services are online live in RealAudio. The Russian Service broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To tune in, go to: http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN CANCELS MORE MEETINGS, PROPOSES DELAYING CIS SUMMIT * CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS NO BASIS FOR CONFRONTATION WITH BAKU * NO CLEAR WINNER IN ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT * End Note: THE DECLINE OF UZBEKISTAN'S POLITICAL OPPOSITION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN CANCELS MORE MEETINGS, PROPOSES DELAYING CIS SUMMIT. President Boris Yeltsin's doctors have advised him to cancel all meetings for the rest of this week, the presidential press service announced on 17 March. A Kremlin statement published by Reuters said Yeltsin has proposed postponing a CIS Customs Union summit and a summit of CIS presidents until the last third of April. Those meetings were scheduled for 18 and 19-20 March, respectively. Yeltsin has been advised to spend part of his time in bed and continues to receive antibiotics to prevent complications from his respiratory infection, the statement said. CIS Executive Secretary Ivan Korotchenya told Russian news agencies on 16 March that Yeltsin is determined to meet with other CIS leaders this week, as scheduled. The same day, renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich said Yeltsin appeared to be in "excellent shape," though hoarse, during a private dinner on 15 March. LB KREMLIN SAYS THREE-WAY SUMMIT TO GO AHEAD. The presidential press service announced on 17 March that there are no plans to postpone a three-way summit of Yeltsin, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl scheduled for 25-26 March in Yekaterinburg, AFP reported. There has been no official comment on whether Yeltsin's informal visit to Japan, planned for 11-13 April, will go ahead. That visit is a follow-up to an informal meeting between Yeltsin and Japanese Premier Ryutaro Hashimoto last November, at which the two leaders agreed to try to conclude a bilateral peace treaty by 2000. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 12 March announced that Yeltsin's visit to Indonesia, planned for April, has been put off by several months, although he did not link the postponement to Yeltsin's health. LB CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS NO BASIS FOR CONFRONTATION WITH BAKU. At a press conference in Moscow on 16 March, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said "I cannot agree with assertions that Russia's relations with Azerbaijan have worsened," ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin said that relations are "normal" and argued that disputes over pipeline routes will not affect them. "Where the pipeline will pass and who will build it will be decided not by politics but by the economy," the Russian premier concluded. PG CHERNOMYRDIN UPBEAT ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT... Chernomyrdin expressed optimism about Russia's prospects for attracting foreign investment during a 16 March session of the Consultative Council for Foreign Investment, Russian news agencies reported. That council includes members of the Russian government and parliament, regional officials, and representatives of large Western banks and corporations. Chernomyrdin said foreigners invested $10 billion in Russia in 1997, of which $4 billion was direct investment. He again said the government aims to attract at least $20 billion in foreign investment annually by 2000, adding that he hopes foreign investors will appreciate the government's attempts to bolster the stability of the ruble. He also promised that the government will soon halve customs duties on goods imported to Russian in accordance with investment agreements. That reduction will not apply to alcohol or tobacco products and will be granted for no longer than five years. LB ...DISAGREES WITH CREDIT RATING AGENCY. Speaking to journalists on 16 March, Chernomyrdin characterized as unfounded the recent decision by Moody's to downgrade Russia's credit rating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 1998). He said Moody's erred in its interpretation of current economic conditions, Interfax reported. However, he predicted that the downgrade "will not affect the investment climate in Russia or reduce the volume of investments in the economy." Minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin commented that the decision by Moody's reflected caution on the part of an agency that "made a mistake with Southeast Asia [last year] and [is] now afraid of making a mistake with Russia." LB CHERNOMYRDIN DENOUNCES TRADE 'DISCRIMINATION.' In his address to the Consultative Council on Foreign Investment, Chernomyrdin charged that "discrimination" against Russia in trade policies costs Russia at least $1.7 billion each year, Russian news agencies reported. Chernomyrdin said only China suffers from more discrimination. He confirmed that the government considers membership in the World Trade Organization to be of "vital importance" for the economy. However, he said WTO membership will make sense only if the "international trade regime" with respect to Russia improves, adding that "our obligation to open up our markets will be subject to such improvement." Meanwhile, Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov on 13 March charged that the EU has overreacted to Russia's decision to impose quotas as of 19 March on carpet imports from EU countries, Interfax reported. The EU Council of Ministers has postponed indefinitely consideration of whether to recognize Russia as a market economy. LB COURT DENIES REQUEST TO DROP PARLIAMENTARY APPEAL. The Constitutional Court on 16 March denied a motion by presidential representative Sergei Shakhrai to close the case over whether Yeltsin violated the constitution by refusing to sign the trophy art law last year, ITAR-TASS reported. Article 107 of the constitution requires the president to sign laws within seven days if both houses of the parliament override his veto. But Shakhrai argued that the court had already granted the president the right to refuse to sign laws if the parliament used procedural violations in passing those laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1998). Proxy voting was used in the State Duma, and Federation Council deputies were allowed to mail in ballots, rather than vote in person, when deputies overrode Yeltsin's veto of the trophy art law. Yeltsin has refused to sign some, but not all, laws passed using proxy voting or mailed ballots. LB NEMTSOV DENIES COMPROMISING MATERIAL AGAINST HIM EXISTS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 16 March denied that his opponents possess videotapes or other materials containing compromising information against him, Russian news agencies reported. Russian Public Television (ORT) commentator Sergei Dorenko, who is considered close to Boris Berezovskii, alleged during a 14 March ORT program that Nemtsov and Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin attended a striptease show. No video or photographic evidence was shown, but two women strippers claimed on the air that they had performed for the first deputy prime minister. Nemtsov alleged on 16 March that those women were hired to harm him politically. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, on 13 March reported that the editor of the magazine "Lyudi" claims to possess a videotape showing Nemtsov in the company of strippers. "Lyudi" recently reported that Oneksimbank pays for entertainment, including strippers, for high-ranking officials. LB YABLOKO APPEALS TO DISENCHANTED DEMOCRATS. Grigorii Yavlinskii says his Yabloko movement is seeking to unite those who supported Yeltsin and democratic reforms in 1991 but subsequently felt "deceived" and lost interest in politics, Russian news agencies reported. Addressing the sixth Yabloko congress on 14 March, Yavlinskii said Yabloko will compete in the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 1999 and 2000, respectively, "as a serious political party with a well-considered economic program and a serious political ideology." He said Yabloko supports "human rights and freedoms," along with "European values." Yavlinskii also repeated his belief that Russia has "a corporate oligarchic semi-criminal system still based on former Soviet monopolies," in which the government represents narrow corporate interests. Yabloko is the only Duma faction that consistently votes against government policies and supports efforts to call no-confidence votes. Opinion polls generally show support for Yavlinskii and Yabloko at 7-10 percent. LB DUMA OPPONENTS PREPARE ATTEMPT TO IMPEACH YELTSIN. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin and Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin have formed a committee to begin impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin, Interfax reported on 13 March. Aleksandr Morozov, the head of the new committee, said Rokhlin and Ilyukhin plan to ask the Supreme Court whether Yeltsin has committed impeachable offenses. They will also lodge an appeal with the International Court of Justice in The Hague, claiming that Russian leaders have committed genocide against the population by implementing economic policies demanded by the IMF, Morozov said. Ilyukhin recently sponsored a Duma resolution demanding that criminal charges be filed against Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). Rokhlin has said that during a nationwide protest set for 9 April, his Movement to Support the Army will call for Yeltsin's ouster. LB ZYUGANOV WRAPS UP VIETNAM VISIT. A Communist Party delegation led by party leader Gennadii Zyuganov concluded a four-day visit to Vietnam on 17 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Zyuganov, who was invited to Hanoi by the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party, said one of Russia's foreign policy priorities must be the restoration of ties with "old friends" such as Vietnam. Zyuganov also met with Communist Party officials in Ho Chi Minh City and visited the Russian-Vietnamese oil and gas company Vietsovpetro in Vung Tau. The Russian delegation flew to Laos on 17 March. BP PROTESTS AGAINST PLANS TO USE PLUTONIUM AT REACTORS. Environmentalists on 16 March criticized plans by Russia and the U.S. to use plutonium at nuclear power facilities, Interfax reported. Aleksei Yablokov, a former Russian nuclear researcher and environmental adviser to Yeltsin, said attempts to use plutonium left over from atomic weapon development programs "will increase the volume of highly radioactive wastes" and "the threat of terrorism." Russia and the U.S. plan to mix plutonium with uranium to make oxide fuel rods for reactors, and both say it is a safe and effective means to use and dispose of the valuable but potentially dangerous plutonium taken from dismantled nuclear weapons. BP LONGTIME SENIOR FINANCE MINISTRY OFFICIAL JOINS GAZPROM. Andrei Vavilov, who served as first deputy finance minister for five years before leaving the Finance Ministry last spring, has become an adviser to Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, Russian news agencies reported on 16 March. Vavilov was long involved in selecting commercial banks authorized to handle government funds. He left the Finance Ministry soon after Anatolii Chubais became finance minister and served briefly as head of the MFK bank, which is part of the Oneksimbank empire. But after his name became tied up in a scandal last summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, and 18 July 1997), Vavilov quietly left MFK and became the head of the little-known Institute of Financial Research, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 March. He is competing in a by-election next month for a State Duma seat from the Altai Republic. His main competitor in that race is Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin. LB CHECHEN FORCES FAIL TO FREE HOSTAGES. Grozny officials told ITAR-TASS on 16 March that Chechen government forces staged an unsuccessful raid against the suspected kidnappers of two British assistance workers who disappeared in summer 1997. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov promised during his recent visit to the UK to crack down on hostage-takers and to do his best to secure the release of the aid workers. PG RADUEV OFFERED DEFENSE MINISTRY POST. Acting Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev told Interfax on 16 March that field commander Salman Raduev is considering an offer to become deputy defense minister. Basaev said Raduev's militia would be integrated into the Defense Ministry forces if he agreed. Raduev recently claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt against Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, but later retracted that claime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 23 1998). Basaev told Interfax that Raduev's claim to have been involved in the attack on Shevardnadze was likely a joke in poor taste. For his part, Raduev said he would be willing to serve as a deputy defense minister if the Chechen government agreed to subordinate all major armed units to the Defense Ministry. "There cannot be several armies in one state," Raduev argued. He has refused to take over the vacant position of defense minister because he is at odds with the current Chechen government. LB/PG CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST ACTING INGUSH MINISTER. The Prosecutor-General's Office has filed criminal charges against acting Ingush Interior Minister Daud Karigov, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Karigov, who was arrested in Moscow on 4 March, is charged with exceeding his authority by not allowing some staff of the Ingush Prosecutor's Office into their office building. According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, Karigov's actions "paralyzed" the work of prosecutors in Ingushetia. Karigov's arrest has been sharply criticized by Ingush President Ruslan Aushev. On 9 March, demonstrators in Nazran also protested against the detention of Karigov, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. Some of the protesters compared his arrest with Stalin-era repressions against the Ingush people, which, demonstrators said, began with arrests of Ingush officials in Moscow. LB WAHHABI SECT FLEES DAGESTAN TO CHECHNYA. In the face of a Dagestani government crackdown, some 300 families who adhere to the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement of Islam have moved to Chechnya, Interfax reported on 16 March. The Russian news agency quoted Mukhu Aliyev, the chairman of Dagestan's parliament, as saying that the ban on Wahhabi activities is designed to prevent further terrorist activity and to protect the republic's Sunni Muslim majority. PG TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NO CLEAR WINNER IN ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT. With less than 20 percent of the votes counted, none of the 12 candidates appears to have won the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff on 30 March, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian gained some 40 percent of the vote., Soviet-era Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan 27 percent, and current Communist Party leader Sergei Badalian 16 percent. The remaining 17 percent of the vote is divided among the other nine candidates. PG SIX CANDIDATES CONDEMN HANDLING OF ARMENIAN VOTE. Meanwhile, six of the 12 candidates, including Demirchyan and Badalian, issued a statement condemning the way officials subordinate to Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian conducted the elections, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Even before the first results were announced, the six said the ballot "cannot be considered free and fair regardless of the results." They claimed that Kocharian supporters had cast fake ballots in numerous districts. PG SHEVARDNADZE BLASTS MOSCOW. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in his weekly radio address on 16 March criticized Russia for failing to extradite former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who fled to Moscow after Georgian authorities accused him of having organized an attempt on Shevardnadze's life in 1995. Tbilisi authorities have indicated they suspect people linked to Giorgadze of also being involved in an attack on the Georgian leader's motorcade last month. Shevardnadze noted that "Russian officials have done everything to let the perpetrators of the two attacks...find refuge there." In comments clearly directed at the Kremlin, Shevardnadze said "the most astounding and offending fact is that the top Russian leadership, to this day, has failed to express its opinion on the suspects." He added that "I don't think the Russian leadership would benefit from certain forces attempting to create for Russia the image of a nation sponsoring terrorists." PG AZERBAIJAN, ARMENIA EXCHANGE FIRE. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 16 March that Azerbaijani and Armenian forces exchanged fire in two locations the previous day. In the first incident, Armenian forces fired machine guns and grenades into Azerbaijan from Armenia's Idzhevan district. In the second, Azerbaijani forces fired into Armenian territory from Nakhichevan. There has been no comment on either attack from Armenia. PG CENTRAL ASIAN CUSTOMS UNION MEETS. The prime ministers of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan met in Bishkek on 17 March, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Russia and Tajikistan sent observers to the meeting, at which six documents were signed. Agreement was reached to form a consortium on hydro-energy resources,. but an accord on migrant workers was not signed. Kazakhstan reaffirmed its intention to barter coal for water supplies from Kyrgyz reservoirs, and Uzbekistan again promised deliveries of natural gas for Kyrgyz water deliveries. The presidents of the three countries are to meet in Tashkent on 26 March. BP KYRGYZSTAN SETS UP HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION. Member of parliament Tursunbai Bakir-uulu said at a 16 March news conference that a presidential commission to protect human rights has been created, AFP reported. Bakir-uulu will be the chairman of the 13-member commission. He added that the creation of the commission was necessary as President Askar Akayev was "inundated with complaints about officials." BP END NOTE THE DECLINE OF UZBEKISTAN'S POLITICAL OPPOSITION by Yaqub Turan Political opponents of the Uzbek government have recently suffered a series of setbacks that are seriously undermining their operations. Perhaps the most serious was the appointment on 4 March of Usmon Khudaykulov as presidential national security adviser. Khudaykulov, previously first deputy at the Prosecutor-General's Office, has the reputation of a "hard-liner." His appointment suggests the government may become much tougher in its dealings with the opposition. Also on 4 March, Muhammed Salih, who had been in self-imposed exile in Turkey since 1992, was asked by Turkish police to leave the country. Salih ran for the presidency against current Uzbek President Islam Karimov in 1991. One year later, the opposition party Erk, which he chaired, was banned in Uzbekistan, prompting Salih to leave the country. Members of Erk are now concerned that Uzbek security forces may attempt to spirit Salih away from Romania, to where he fled, since relations with that country are not as important for Uzbekistan as those with Turkey. Such fears may well be justified, as the Uzbek security has a record of cross-border clandestine operations. In January, for example,. Uzbek security agents crossed to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, arrested Zakirjan Normatov in Osh, and brought him back to Tashkent without so much as notifying the Kyrgyz government. Observers suggest Salih's deportation may be aimed at smoothing relations between Uzbekistan and Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz is due in Tashkent later this month. In another development, Uzbek police issued a summons for questioning to two imams, Abid Nazarov and Yoldash Ergashev. known as Obidkhan Qori and Tolqun Qori, respectively. Uzbek Deputy Interior Minister Kutbuddin Burhanov said the two were being charged with promoting Wahhabism and teaching it to the country's youth. Wahhabis are being investigated in connection with violent events in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan last December. Wahhabis, an Islamic sect, are blamed for having instigated those events. Nazarov is known to be an Islamic "purist" and is originally from Namangan. He was already at odds with the Uzbek authorities as recently as last summer, when an attempt was made to evict him from his house. Previously, Nazarov had been relieved of his post as imam at the Tokhtabai Mosque. Both Nazarov and Ergashev are currently in hiding. But the most ominous recent development for the political (rather than religious) opposition figures was Shukrullo Mirsaidov's 6 March announcement that he is retiring from politics. Mirsaidov was one of the leaders of the Democratic Opposition Coordination Council and a former Uzbek vice president. He set up the council in 1992 after his office as vice president was abolished. His aim was to coordinate the efforts of opposition groups, or what was left of them after most opposition party and movement leaders had fled the country. Still, the council's very existence has been used by President Islam Karimov as proof that democratic opposition can exist in his country. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Mirsaidov said that he has decided to leave politics and that the council, largely ineffective for the past year, now officially ceases to exist. He blamed opposition groups for that decision, saying they are so busy quarreling among themselves that "it is impossible" to coordinate their activities. He went on to say that the leaders of those groups were "out of touch with reality and indifferent toward the majority of Uzbeks faced with enormous hardship and economic problems." And in an apparent about face, Mirsaidov added that the "Uzbek government has laid down the foundations for establishing a democratic and legal state and for implementing reform programs aimed at setting up a free, market-oriented economy." Mirsaidov's comments virtually amount to an epitaph for Uzbekistan's political opposition. Many have long regarded it as ineffective, with its leaders scattered throughout Europe and the U.S. But opposition groups now have little chance of preparing to contest presidential elections in the year 2000. Moreover, the opposition's apparent decline may only open the door wider to religious opponents of the government. The religious revival in the country is strongly in evidence and, combined with the growing public discontent over low living standard, may acquire an anti-government momentum. The author is the director of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word "subscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "unsubscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO RETRIEVE BACK ISSUES VIA EMAIL (1) Send an email to email@example.com with the letters "ls" as the subject or body of the message. This will retrieve a list of available files. 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