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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 57 Part II, 24 March 1998


___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 57 Part II, 24 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 II, a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and
Southeastern Europe.  Part I covers Russia,
Transcaucasia and Central Asia 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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RUSSIAN MEDIA EMPIRES II
Businessmen, government leaders, politicians, and financial companies
continue to reshape Russia's media landscape. This update of a September
report identifies the players and their media holdings via charts, tables
and articles.
http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumedia2/index.html

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Headlines, Part II

* DEMONSTRATORS SENTENCED IN BELARUS

* RUGOVA CLAIMS VICTORY

* SERBIA, KOSOVARS RELAUNCH EDUCATION AGREEMENT

* End Note: YELTSIN SACKS GOVERNMENT

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EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

DEMONSTRATORS SENTENCED IN BELARUS. A Minsk court has sentenced 29 people
for taking part in anti-government demonstrations on 22 March, Reuters
reported on 24 March. Igor Lazarchuk, a member of the opposition Belarus
Popular Front, said three of those sentenced will spend 10 days in jail for
their attempts to deliver paper birds with broken wings to President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka's residence. The demonstrators said the birds
represent a crushed Belarus. The other 26 were given one-day sentences or
fines of up to 5 million Belarusian rubles (some $100) for not keeping to
the prescribed route of the rally. PB

MINSK HALTS TRADING OF CURRENCY. The Belarusian Central Bank ordered that
all financial transactions in the Belarusian ruble between residents and
non-residents be stopped, BelaPAN reported on 23 March. Currency dealers
also reported that all financial accounts have been frozen. The moves are
an attempt by the government to prevent a further slide of the beleaguered
currency. The central bank was put under direct government control the
previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1998). PB

YELTSIN, CHERNOMYRDIN PHONE WITH KUCHMA. Russian President Boris Yeltsin
and former Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin each called Ukrainian President
Leonid Kuchma on 23 March to discuss the changes in the Russian government,
ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin stressed that foreign policy and bilateral
relations will not change, Kuchma said. Kuchma said Chernomyrdin expressed
his appreciation for the president's role in developing closer relations.
The Ukrainian president, for his part, thanked Chernomyrdin for his efforts
in bringing to fruition the long-term economic program recently signed in
Moscow. PB

ODESSA DEPUTY MAYOR ARRESTED. Mykhailo Kuchuk, the deputy mayor of Odessa,
was arrested on 23 March by Interior Ministry officers and charged with
abuse of authority, the "Eastern Economist" reported. The arrest is seen as
part of an ongoing power struggle between Odessa Mayor Eduard Hurvits and
Odessa Oblast Administration Chairman Ruslan Bodelan, who is challenging
Hurvits in the mayoral race. The whereabouts of regional administrator Ihor
Svoboda, who was reportedly kidnapped at the beginning of this month, are
still unknown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 17 March 1998). PB

ESTONIAN COURT RULES GOVERNMENT CANNOT IMPOSE TARIFFS. The Supreme Court on
23 March ruled that the law on customs tariffs, which gives the government
the right to impose such duties, "partly contradicts" the constitution, ETA
and BNS reported. The court decided in favor of an appeal by Legal
Chancellor Erik-Juhan Truuvali, who argues that the law gives "too wide
powers" to the government and that the parliament should have the right to
establish customs tariffs. The court's decision cannot be appealed. The
draft of the law had been strongly opposed by the opposition, which
believes tariffs would harm Estonia's image aboard. As a compromise, the
parliament included in the final version of the law a provision whereby the
government must seek the parliament's consent to introduce tariffs for a
period exceeding six months. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER HOPES FOR REFORMIST GOVERNMENT IN MOSCOW. Guntars Krasts
said on 23 March that he hopes the new Russian government will pay more
attention to reforms, international cooperation, and good-neighborly
relations, BNS reported. He said it was difficult to explain the worsening
of Russian-Latvian relations following the pensioners' rally at the Riga
City Hall earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1998). Krasts
also urged that "serious negotiations" be launched between Riga and Moscow
to "smooth contradictions" that have emerged in recent weeks. Also on 23
March, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis said he will convene a meeting of
the National Security Council on 25 March to consider developments in
relations with Russia. JC

POLISH CARDINAL SAYS CROSS WILL STAY. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the head of
Poland's Roman Catholic Church, said that a controversial cross near the
Auschwitz concentration camp will not be removed, despite protests from
Jewish groups, AFP reported on 23 March. Cardinal Glemp said the issue is
"non-negotiable" and that the cross will not be removed just because some
people do not like it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998). PB

CZECH SKINHEAD SENTENCED FOR RACIALLY MOTIVATED MURDER. The Prague City
Court on 23 March sentenced 19-year-old Petr Zbornik to a prison term of 14
and a half years for the racially motivated murder of Sudanese student
Hassan El-Amin Abdelradi last November. He was also charged for grievous
bodily harm, having stabbed in the arm Abdelradi's fellow student, Abdul
Kharim Rahman. Sixteen-year-old Jan Schimperk, who swung a metal chain at
Kharim Rahman during the attack, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half months
in prison, which he will serve in a special confinement for youths. Both
appealed the sentence, which will now be heard by the High Court, CTK
reported. MS

KOVAC TO HEAD SLOVAK OPPOSITION PETITION DRIVE. Former President Michal
Kovac is to head a petition drive organized by the opposition Slovak
Democratic Coalition and the Hungarian Coalition to protest the Movement
for a Democratic Slovakia's (HZDS) intention to change the electoral law.
Under the current law, both individual parties and alliances of parties
must pass a 5 percent threshold. The HZDS, however, wants to add 5 percent
to that figure for every member in an alliance. The drive is also aimed at
demanding the election of the country's president by popular vote, RFE/RL's
Bratislava bureau reported. The gathering of the 100,000 necessary
signatures will start on 25 March, the day marking the 10th anniversary of
the anti-communist demonstration in Bratislava. MS

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

RUGOVA CLAIMS VICTORY. Tadej Rodiqi, the chairman of the Republican
Election Commission of Kosovo, announced on 23 March in Pristina that
shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova was re-elected in the 22 March
elections with more than 90 percent support, ATA reported. Campaign
spokesmen of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo called the vote "the
Kosovars' declaration of trust and support in their leaders and in their
peaceful and democratic policy." The spokesmen added that "Rugova's
re-election as president of the republic legitimizes and strengthens his
position as the leader of the people of Kosovo in [possible future]
negotiations" with the Serbian government, the shadow-state's information
office reported. FS

SERBIA, KOSOVARS RELAUNCH EDUCATION AGREEMENT. Serbian Minister without
Portfolio Ratomir Vico and Rugova adviser Fehmi Agani signed an agreement
in Pristina on 23 March to restore Albanian-language education in
government school buildings. The agreement seeks to put into practice a
document that was signed by Rugova and then Serbian President Slobodan
Milosevic in September 1996 but subsequently proved a dead letter.
According to the Vico-Agani text, Pristina's Albanian Studies Institute
will resume work by 31 March and the entire Albanian-language state school
system will be functioning by the end of June. Ethnic Albanians launched a
boycott of the state school system seven years ago following the
introduction of a centralized curriculum from Belgrade. They subsequently
introduced a private school system, but that system is short on classrooms
and supplies and lacks international accreditation. PM

AGANI OPTIMISTIC ON AGREEMENT... Agani said in Pristina on 23 March that he
hopes that agreement on reopening Albanian-language educational
institutions will not meet the same fate as its 1996 predecessor. He
stressed, however, that Serbia has recently encountered great difficulties
as a result of its policies in Kosovo and is no longer in a strong enough
political position to disregard any agreement it reaches with the Kosovars.
In Tirana, the daily "Republika" commented that the Kosovars will not be
satisfied with the education agreement alone and will demand the full
restoration of human rights. PM

...BUT SERBIAN STUDENTS, PROFESSORS SLAM IT. A spokesman for the main
Serbian students' union in Kosovo said in Pristina on 23 March that the
Vico-Agani agreement constitutes a "betrayal of [Serbian interests in ]
Kosovo and a blow to the sovereignty of Serbia." He added that Serbian and
Montenegrin students oppose letting ethnic Albanians design their own
curriculum, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. The spokesman
announced the start of protests, which "will last until the questions of
Kosovo and of [instruction at] Pristina University are solved once and for
all." The Serbian Faculty Council at the university passed a resolution
condemning the agreement as "illegal and unconstitutional." Rector Radovan
Popovic told a rally of some 10,000 students, faculty, and local Serbs that
the text "means the collapse of the Serbian state." He added that the
university "will remain Serbian" and that anyone may study there but only
"in the Serbian language." PM

SERBIA EXPELS NGO MONITORS FROM KOSOVO. Serbian authorities have expelled
six U.S. non-governmental election monitors from Kosovo (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 23 March 1998), ATA reported . The men from the San
Francisco-based organization Peace Workers were arrested by police on 21
March and sentenced by a Pristina court to 10 days in jail. The U.S.
embassy in Belgrade protested the sentencing. FS

ALBANIA LAUNCHES PLAN FOR KOSOVO. The government recommended to the
international community on 23 March that Kosovo receive a self-governing
republican status such as Montenegro enjoys within Yugoslavia and the
Republika Srpska has within the Bosnian state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23
March 1998). Prime Minister Fatos Nano will present the plan to the meeting
of the international Contact Group slated for 25 March in Bonn. PM

EU WARNS CROATIA. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, his Austrian
counterpart Wolfgang Schuessel, and Luxembourg's Jacques Poos told Croatian
Foreign Minister Mate Granic in London on 23 March that the EU is
dissatisfied with Croatia's behavior toward the union. The three ministers
called Granic's attention in particular to President Franjo Tudjman's
recent refusal to receive a delegation from the EU and demanded that
Tudjman meet with representatives from Brussels in the near future. The EU
has recently criticized several public remarks by Tudjman as nationalist
and disrespectful of Bosnia's sovereignty. PM

BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIME SUSPECTS ARRESTED. The Sarajevo Prosecutor-General's
office on 24 March announced the arrest the previous day of 28-year-old
Dragan Pejic, a former soldier in the Bosnian Serb army, on suspicion of
war crimes during the Bosnian war. The statement did not specify the crime.
It was the second such arrest within the past few days. Police of the
mainly Muslim and Croatian federation arrested Milomir Tepes on 22 March on
charges of war crimes in eastern Bosnia. The UN police will soon rule on
whether Tepes's arrest was in keeping with internationally agreed upon
rules on arresting and detaining war crimes suspects in Bosnia. UN police
officials added that they have not received any information from the
Yugoslav authorities on the whereabouts of Mirsad Hasanovic, the director
of the Sarajevogas Company, whom Serbian police arrested in Sid on 22
March. PM

MORE CORRUPTION CHARGES IN ALBANIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY. Interior Minister
Neritan Ceka on 23 March charged former Deputy Interior Minister Agim Shehu
with having misappropriated some $1 million in ministry funds. Ceka claims
that police funds were spent on organizing Democratic Party demonstrations,
"Koha Jone" reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office, meanwhile, has
launched an investigation into possible abuse of office by Shehu between
1994 and 1997. Inspectors from the state anti-corruption agency recently
found documents showing Shehu used what were reported to be unethical
practices in granting government contracts. FS

ROMANIAN PREMIER NULLIFIES AGREEMENT WITH OPPOSITION. Victor Ciorbea told
journalists on 23 March that the draft budget for 1998 has already been
submitted to the parliament and will not be amended, RFE/RL's Bucharest
bureau reported. Nor will the privatization law be modified to meet the
demands of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR),
Ciorbea and National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) chairman
Ion Diaconescu stressed. Both leaders denied rumors that a "deal" has been
cut with the PDSR to replace Ciorbea as premier after the parliament
approves the budget. Former Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu said the PDSR
is "amazed" that the PNTCD is going back on what was agreed at the 20 March
meeting with Ciorbea. He added that the PNTCD will vote against the budget.
MS

ROMANIA, GERMANY SIGN ENERGY ACCORDS. Romanian Prime Minister Ciorbea and
visiting German Economics Minister Gunther Rexrodt have signed two
agreements on cooperation in the energy sector, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau
reported on 23 March . The first accord provides for the delivery of
500,000 cubic meters of gas per year by Ruhrgas AC to the state-owned
company Romgaz. The second stipulates that Bayernwerk will provide the
Renel electricity company with know-how for the modernization of production
facilities. Renel is currently being privatized. Rexrodt, who headed a
large delegation of potential German investors, called on Bucharest to
continue on its reform course and to remove bureaucratic hurdles hindering
foreign investments. MS

ROMANIAN WEEKLY CALLS FOR 'FINAL SOLUTION.' In an editorial published on 16
March in the xenophobic weekly "Atac la persoana," editor in chief Dragos
Dumitru says the recent events in Kosovo demonstrate that U.S. policy is
based on force and on the principle of "whoever is not with us is against
us." He says NATO's "Terminator plans" are based on inciting national
minorities and that the only possible defense against such plans is "the
elimination of dangerous national minorities through any available means,"
ranging from "cultural assimilation to physical extermination." Dumitru
says that after Serbia, Romania will become NATO's "next target" and that,
"painful as this may sound, we have to prepare for the final solution." In
a hint to the Hungarian ethnic minority, he ends the editorial by saying
that "perhaps this [intention] should be displayed on multi-lingual signs."
MS

ANTI-COMMUNIST COALITION IN MOLDOVA? Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the
Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), says that despite his party's victory
in the 22 parliamentary elections, the PCM might not participate in the
next coalition government. Voronin told an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau
that the PCM would agree to a coalition with the pro-presidential For a
Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMPD) and with the Party of
Democratic Forces (PFD) only if those formations would "accept most of our
electoral platform, which is unlikely." He spoke after meeting with
President Petru Lucinschi on 23 March. PMPD leader Dumitru Diacov said a
coalition between his party, the Democratic Convention of Moldova, and the
PFD cannot be ruled out and that "the chances of cooperating with the
Communists are few." MS

IMF LAUDS BULGARIA. Anne McGuirk, the chief IMF representative in Bulgaria,
said on 23 March that Bulgaria has achieved financial stability since the
setting up of the currency board last year and that the IMF is "confident"
that Sofia's "ambitious program for economic growth" is now feasible. She
said the IMF is considering extending a three-year loan to Bulgaria to
support economic recovery but added that the final decision will be made in
April or May. An IMF delegation recently met with ministers in charge of
the economy. MS

END NOTE

YELTSIN SACKS GOVERNMENT

by Floriana Fossato

	Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who is known for his bold and
unexpected moves, shocked politicians and observers on 23 March when he
fired Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the entire government. That
move came on the heels of Yeltsin's return to the Kremlin following more
than a week of political inactivity owing to what was reportedly a
respiratory sickness. Most observers in Moscow believe the move is intended
to signal that the president is firmly in control and will not allow others
to make--or even be perceived to be making--political decisions in his
place.
	Political analysts Sergei Markov and Andrei Piontkovskii told
RFE/RL that, above all, the move "benefits Yeltsin" and also gives a
"partial boost to the positions of the reformers." At the same time, they
say, Yeltsin's decision and the way it was announced "is a blow and a
warning to Chernomyrdin." According to the two analysts, Yeltsin has been
worried by recent Kremlin infighting over who will succeed him in the year
2000.
	According to many commentators, in the last few months powerful
Russian financial and business tycoons who control media outlets seemed to
be consolidating their support for Chernomyrdin, who was premier for more
than five years. Those commentators say Yeltsin was possibly disturbed by
signs of Chernomyrdin's new independent stance.
	Former First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris
Nemtsov, the Chernomyrdin government's perceived top economic reformers,
have been locked in a power struggle with some of Russia's main financial
tycoons over control of the economy. Among the tycoons were those who
played a key role in backing Yeltsin's 1996 re-election, including Boris
Berezovskii.
	Berezovskii said in an interview with NTV broadcast on the evening
of 22 March that Yeltsin could not be elected president for a third
consecutive term in 2000. He said that "even though Yeltsin is now
undoubtedly the number one political figure, I believe he will not be
electable in 2000." He added that "new authorities should not cash in on
the mistakes of their predecessors but build on the positive achievements
of today's regime."
	Many observers were surprised by the businessman's remarks.
Political analyst Markov said Yeltsin may have viewed Berezovskii's
comments as a "provocation" or as a challenge to Yeltsin's authority. And
Markov noted that Yeltsin's move shows "the president wants to decide
himself who will be the best candidate for the 'party of power' in the next
presidential election."
	Appearing on NTV a few hours after the Kremlin announcement,
Yeltsin said he has "instructed Chernomyrdin to concentrate on political
preparations for the presidential elections in the year 2000." He added
that "for us, the 2000 elections are very important. One can say that this
is the future destiny of Russia." The president praised Chernomyrdin as
"thorough, reliable, and trustworthy," adding that "we have worked together
for more than five years. He has done a lot for the country." But Yeltsin
also argued that "Russia now needs a new team that can get real results."
Some commentators in Moscow have interpreted those remarks as Yeltsin's
farewell to Chernomyrdin.
	Yeltsin said Chernomyrdin's cabinet did well in some areas but "is
lagging behind in the social sphere." He said that a new team will have to
concentrate more on economics and less on political infighting. He also
stressed repeatedly that the dismissal of the government does not mean a
change of the reform course.
	Following his meeting with Chernomyrdin on 23 March, Yeltsin signed
separate decrees firing not only the premier but also Chubais and Interior
Minister Anatolii Kulikov. Political analyst Markov said Chubais, who has
recently been suggested as a new board chairman of the electricity monopoly
Unified Energy Systems, will likely continue acting alongside other
reformers. Kulikov's future is viewed as less easy to predict. Chubais has
said he will remain a member of Yeltsin's "team" but did not say in what
capacity.
	In a sign that he remains committed to reform, Yeltsin appointed
35-year-old Sergei Kirienko as a first deputy prime minister who will also
act as chief of the government. Kirienko, who served as fuel and energy
minister in Chernomyrdin's government, is seen as an ally of Nemtsov.
Kremlin sources tell RFE/RL that Kirienko's name as a temporary replacement
for Chernomyrdin was suggested by Nemtsov. Analysts believe that Kirienko's
appointment may be only temporary and that Nemtsov's position in the
government may be strengthened.
	Under the constitution, Yeltsin has two weeks in which to name a
new premier. The appointment must be approved by the State Duma, and most
observers agree that Kirienko's approval by the Communist-
and-nationalist-dominated lower house of the parliament could prove
"problematic." Communist leaders in the Duma have already said their
faction will not support Kirienko's candidacy.
	However, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said late on 23
March that Kirienko is the "strongest and the most real candidate" for the
post. Most experts say that Yeltsin will likely be able to find a
compromise with the Duma on the issue since it would be in the interests of
neither Yeltsin nor the legislators to start a confrontation now.

The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.

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