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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 64, Part I, 2 April 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 64, Part I, 2 April 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 EUROPEAN UNION: EMBRACING ENLARGEMENT AND ECONOMIC UNION The EU takes two important steps this month toward implementing a unified currency and enlarging to include Central and Eastern European countries. These articles describe recent developments and describe the current economic status of four European countries. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/eumarch98/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN AGREES TO ROUNDTABLE TALKS * SPOKESMAN CASTS DOUBT ON YELTSIN'S VISIT TO JAPAN * OSCE ASSESSES SECOND ROUND OF ARMENIAN POLL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN AGREES TO ROUNDTABLE TALKS. President Boris Yeltsin has offered to convene roundtable talks on 7 April in order to discuss the formation of the new government and its policies, Russian news agencies reported on 2 April. Yeltsin made the offer during a meeting with State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, and acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko. The previous day, both houses of the parliament called for roundtable talks, and Seleznev said the opposition does not view the meeting of the "big three and a half" as an acceptable alternative to such talks, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB DUMA VOTE ON KIRIENKO POSTPONED. Kirienko announced on 2 April that he, Yeltsin, Seleznev and Stroev agreed to postpone until 8 April the Duma vote on his candidacy for prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. Article 111 of the constitution requires the Duma to consider the president's nominee within one week of the official nomination, which in this case would mean by 3 April. But Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov argues that the Duma is merely obliged to discuss the nomination of a prime minister within seven days and may vote on the candidacy later, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 2 April. Alternatively, Yeltsin may withdraw his 27 March letter nominating Kirienko and submit a new letter; this would give the Duma another week to consider the candidacy. LB KIRIENKO FACES UPHILL BATTLE. Of the seven Duma factions, only Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has endorsed Kirienko. Zhirinovsky told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 1 April that his party considers Kirienko a "lesser evil" and fears that if the Duma rejects him, Yeltsin will nominate "far worse" candidates. The Russian Regions and Our Home Is Russia factions are viewed as possible supporters of Kirienko. Our Home Is Russia is reportedly seeking guarantees that its representatives will be appointed to the new government, but Kirienko has ruled out using cabinet appointments as bargaining chips to secure his confirmation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). Even if Russian Regions and Our Home Is Russia deputies support Kirienko, the acting prime minister would still need some 75 votes from the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction has vowed to vote against Kirienko. LB KIRIENKO NOTES WORRYING ECONOMIC TRENDS. Addressing the Federation Council on 1 April, acting Prime Minister Kirienko admitted that recent economic indicators do not show positive trends, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Kirienko said year-on-year GDP was stagnant in March and the average standard of living has declined since the beginning of the year. He also noted that wage arrears are increasing. Repeating promises made by government officials in past years, Kirienko said the new cabinet must improve tax collection and take an active role in managing "natural monopolies" in the energy sector. He also promised to reduce government spending but did not specify where cuts would be made. LB IMF REPRESENTATIVE CONCERNED BY DEVELOPMENTS. Martin Gilman, the IMF's representative in Moscow, on 1 April told Reuters he is concerned that "precious time is being lost" because of the government dismissal. Before he was sacked, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was due to sign an Russian-IMF statement on Russia's economic policies for 1998. Gilman said the government may make up for the lost time after the new cabinet is appointed. But he also expressed concern that First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin was reprimanded after announcing some proposals for reducing the number of state employees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 1998). Kirienko and Yeltsin both said the government had not approved those plans, which Kudrin said involved eliminating more than 200,000 jobs. Gilman told Reuters that the cost- cutting policies Kudrin had described "form a critical part of IMF support for the 1998 program." LB OPPOSITION, UNIONS STILL PLANNING NATIONWIDE PROTEST. The presidium of the Communist-led Popular- Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR) has confirmed that it is continuing preparations for a nationwide protest on 9 April. In a statement released on 1 April, the NPSR blasted Yeltsin for causing a "political crisis" by firing the government "without analyzing the disaster called 'the reform course,'" Interfax reported. The statement also said the NPSR supports roundtable talks aimed at forming "a government of responsible, competent patriots." The Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) leader Mikhail Shmakov has announced that the FNPR is also going ahead with its plans to organize rallies on 9 April, ITAR-TASS reported. LB SPOKESMAN CASTS DOUBT ON YELTSIN'S VISIT TO JAPAN. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii has raised doubts about whether Yeltsin will travel to Japan next week for an informal meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Yastrzhembskii said on 1 April that the visit depends on Russian's internal political situation, ITAR- TASS and Interfax reported. He made a point of saying that the meeting is still on. Some observers note, however, that the president may opt to postpone his trip if the Duma has not confirmed acting Prime Minister Kirienko. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka said in Tokyo that the Japanese government "has not been informed by Russia about schedule changes," Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. And Premier Hashimoto said his country is going ahead with preparations for the visit. BP ENERGY MINISTERS WRAP UP MOSCOW MEETING. The energy ministers of the world's leading industrial nations released a communique on 1 April saying that while "we recognize that governments continue to have a role in the development of energy markets," buyers and sellers of gas and electricity services should be free to negotiate price, terms, and conditions without government approval. ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. The communique also detailed "prospects for the development of global power engineering up to the year 2020." Special attention was paid to the consequences of the so- called greenhouse effect. Participants in the Moscow conference emphasized the goal set at their meeting last year to decrease gas emissions by 5 percent over the next 15 years. BP DUMA REJECTS RESOLUTION ON 1997 BUDGET SPENDING. The Duma on 1 April rejected a resolution charging that the government broke the law by unilaterally cutting budget expenditures in 1997, Interfax reported. The resolution failed to gain a majority even after its leading supporter, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, agreed to drop its most controversial passage, which would have asked the Procurator-General's Office to consider filing criminal charges against then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and then First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). According to Interfax, the resolution has now been dropped from the Duma's agenda. LB RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT DEFENDS BELARUS. The Federation Council on 1 April passed an appeal to the heads of Russian media outlets urging them not to adopt "double standards" in their coverage of CIS leaders, ITAR-TASS reported. The appeal charged that coverage of some countries, above all Belarus, occasionally trespasses "international standards of etiquette" and harms the process of integration. Also on 1 April, the Duma passed a provisional version of a resolution condemning efforts by members of the U.S. Congress to withhold "most favored nation" trade status from Belarus until the human rights situation in that country improves, Interfax reported. The resolution, drafted by deputies in the Popular Power faction, calls on the Russian president and government to support the Russian-Belarusian Union and take steps to counter the international isolation of Belarus. LB STEPASHIN IDENTIFIES EXTREMIST THREATS. Acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin says the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, Wahhabism, and radical political parties in Tuva, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan are among the most serious extremist threats to the Russian Federation, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 1 April. Stepashin was addressing a conference in Moscow on "political extremism and constitutional means of countering it." Stepashin said that, together with Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov and Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Kovalev, he has decided to propose that the Federation Council amend Russian legislation in order to classify as "extremist" any organization that resorts, or threatens to resort, to the use of force to achieve its goals. Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Davydov called for amending the constitution to make the dissemination of fascist propaganda a criminal offense. LF 'ROSSIISKIE VESTI' NO LONGER AN OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER. Valerii Kucher, the editor-in-chief of "Rossiiskie vesti," informed readers in a 1 April commentary that the newspaper is no longer the official publication of the presidential administration. Kucher promised that "Rosskiiskie vesti" has been "de-ideologized" and will in future represent the interests of ordinary citizens and the middle class. He also said that owing to the loss of financing from the presidential administration, the newspaper has been forced to switch from daily to weekly publication for the time being. Kucher has accused the Kremlin of failing to meet its financial obligations toward "Rossiiskie vesti" and of trying to force the newspaper to publish only official materials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998). LB WINNER OF ANNULLED ELECTION ARRESTED IN NIZHNII. The controversial businessman Andrei Klimentev was arrested on 2 April in Nizhnii Novgorod, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported. Klimentev was the apparent winner of a 29 March mayoral election that was later annulled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 April 1998). On 1 April, he vowed to file a court appeal against the decision to cancel the election result. He was arrested the following day when he appeared at the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Court, which is holding a retrial of Klimentev's 1997 embezzlement conviction. The authorities say he was arrested for "disturbing public order" and violating an order not to leave Nizhnii Novgorod while his criminal case is pending. His lawyer charged that Klimentev did not leave the city and that there are no grounds for his arrest, which the lawyer attributed to "orders from above." LB ANNULMENT OF NIZHNII ELECTION DRAWS CRITICISM. The Nizhnii Novgorod Electoral Commission has formally declared the mayoral election invalid because of campaign violations committed by all candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). However, many observers consider the annulment politically motivated, since several high-ranking federal officials had criticized the election result on 30 and 31 March. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 1 April, Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko of Yabloko noted that Yabloko was also disappointed by Klimentev's victory but warned that however "understandable" the motives might be in this particular case, annulling an election sets a "very dangerous legal precedent." Similarly, "Izvestiya" argued on 2 April that canceling the election may turn Klimentev into a local hero. More important, the newspaper said, it sets a precedent that could later be used to cancel the results of elections at the federal level. LB FORMER DEPUTY FINANCE MINISTER TO COMPETE IN ALTAI ELECTION. Andrei Vavilov, former first deputy finance minister and current financial adviser to Gazprom, has been registered as a candidate for a by-election in the Altai Republic for a seat in the State Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 April, citing Vavilov's press secretary Yuliya Rusova. She denied earlier reports that the Altai Electoral Commission refused to register Vavilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1998). Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin is viewed as Vavilov's main rival in the 31 May election. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA OSCE ASSESSES SECOND ROUND OF ARMENIAN POLL. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission in Yerevan said on 1 April that in some areas, the 31 March presidential run-off "fell short of the commitment Armenia made to [meet] OSCE standards," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The OSCE said that in several instances there is sufficient indication of voter fraud to require further investigation. But it said those shortcomings do not call into question the outcome of the vote, which Robert Kocharyan won with 59.7 percent. The OSCE also praised the professionalism of the Central Electoral Commission and noted a marked improvement in the way military personnel organized the ballot and in media coverage of the run-off. LF DEMIRCHIAN PONDERS NEXT MOVE. Addressing his campaign staff on 31 March, defeated presidential candidate Karen Demirchian pledged to continue the "sacred task" that he has embarked on, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, citing "Aravot" of 1 April. At the same time, he conceded that accomplishing that task may take 30-40 years. Demirchian predicted in the shorter term, his supporters will constitute "a force that everybody will reckon with," whose main goal will be winning the next parliamentary elections. A spokesman for Demirchian argued that the 31 March runoff was neither free nor fair, but Demirchian himself argued that "even if we accept the result, it's not so bad because it means that every third voter trusts us." LF BAKU COMMENTS ON KOCHARYAN'S ELECTION. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev said on 1 April that "we are ready to cooperate with any president elected" and that "since we have a special relationship with Armenia, we do not want to become involved in their internal affairs," AFP reported. Aliev's foreign policy adviser, Vafa Gulu-zade, said that "we are waiting for the elections to end so the peace talks can begin." But Musavat Party vice president Hikmet Hadji-zade interpreted Kocharyan's election as an indication that "Armenians have voted for war." Former president Abulfaz Elchibey commented that "we cannot work with this man" and predicted the resumption of hostilities between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, Turan reported. LF TURKEY CALLS ON KOCHARYAN TO TAKE "POSITIVE STEPS." Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Necati Utkan told journalists on 1 April that Turkey "wants an improvement in relations with Armenia," Reuters reported. He added that he hopes Armenian president-elect Kocharyan will "feel [his] presidential responsibility and take positive steps" toward resolving the Karabakh conflict." Ankara has consistently said that a warming of relations with Yerevan is contingent on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied districts of Azerbaijan. But Tunjai Mutlu Er, the head of the eastern Anatolian municipality of Kars, told Turan on 1 April that the local population opposes any move by the Turkish government to formalize trade ties with Armenia and wants Armenian citizens to be prohibited from entering Turkey from Georgia. LF COUNCIL DISCUSSES RETURN OF DISPLACED PERSONS TO ABKHAZIA. Participants in the third session of the Coordinating Council to expedite a solution to the Abkhaz conflict focused on the obstacles to the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons forced to flee during the 1992-1993 war, Caucasus Press reported. Russian Foreign Ministry special envoy Gennadii Ilichev again rejected the "peace enforcement" variant suggested by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Ilichev expressed doubt that either Russia or the UN will be able to impose a solution to the conflict, and he proposed that the Abkhaz and Georgian leaderships agree on mutual compromises. Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze said on Georgian television on 1 April that the direct dialogue between the two sides will soon "become more intensive," ITAR-TASS reported. Lortkipanidze met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Sukhumi on 31 March. LF CHECHNYA SNUBS ABKHAZIA. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba has written to his Chechen counterpart, Movladi Udugov, complaining that Abkhazia has not been invited to the meeting of representatives of Transcaucasus states and North Caucasus republics in Grozny on 4 April, Caucasus Press reported. Shamba warned that this "oversight" could prove "a serious obstacle to the consolidation of Caucasian nations." But Chechen Vice President Akhmed Zakaev argued that Chechnya has no reason to feel insulted. Zakaev said that a decision on whether Abkhazia should be represented at the meeting lies with the official Georgian government, to whom the original invitation was addressed. Over the past year, the Chechen leadership has systematically sought to expand relations with Tbilisi. LF LAST CAPTIVE SOLDIERS RELEASED IN TAJIKISTAN? Armed groups loyal to field commanders in the Kofarnikhon region released what they claim are the last 16 government troops to be held captive by them since 24 March, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The government is investigating the fate of another 15 soldiers who are still unaccounted for. Forces from both sides are withdrawing from the area. BP IMF APPROVES MORE CREDIT FOR TAJIKISTAN. The IMF has approved a second $10 million credit to Tajikistan, ITAR- TASS reported on 2 April. Last December, the fund granted the country a $10 million credit to help improve macroeconomic discipline, accelerate structural reforms, and increase efforts to ensure rescheduling of the country's foreign debts. This latest credit is intended to help GDP to grow by 4-5 percent, lower inflation by 18 percent, and augment hard-currency reserves. BP RUSSIA CUTS OFF ELECTRICAL SUPPLIES TO NORTHERN KAZAKHSTAN. Russia's Unified Energy Systems carried through its threat to cut off electrical supplies to Kazakhstan's northern Kustanai region on 1 April, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The region owes the Russian company nearly $16 million for supplies and has received several warnings that deliveries would be cut off. Electricity in Kustanai is now being supplied only to vital industries. BP KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER FAILS TO APPEASE STRIKING WORKERS. Nurlan Balgimbayev on 1 April failed to persuade striking workers at the Kazafosfor plant in the southern city of Janatas to return to work, RFE/RL corespondents reported. Balgimbayev told the workers that if they called off their strike, they would begin receiving wages for current work and would later receive wage arrears, which in some cases go back more than two years. Workers rejected that offer and continue to demand full payment of the $19 million they are owed. 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