Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow; Naught may endure but Mutability. - Percy Shelley
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 52, Part I, 17 March 1998


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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

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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:
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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

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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.

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