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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 77 Part I, 22 April 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 77 Part I, 22 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 Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN TO MEET SPEAKERS OF PARLIAMENT * ZYUGANOV TO URGE COMMUNISTS TO REJECT KIRIENKO * MORE TURKMEN DISSIDENTS RELEASED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN TO MEET SPEAKERS OF PARLIAMENT. President Boris Yeltsin has agreed to meet with Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 23 April, one day before the Duma will vote for the third and last time on the nomination of Sergei Kirienko as prime minister, Seleznev announced on 22 April. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Seleznev said he will raise three issues with the president. First, he will ask Yeltsin to come to the Duma in person to present Kirienko's candidacy. Second, he will request that Kirienko specify who will be appointed to some cabinet posts and which ministers will be kept on from the previous government. And third, he will ask Yeltsin to share with the parliament any draft documents or plans concerning the disputed Kuril Islands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 April 1998). LB VOTING PROCEDURE TO BE DECIDED AT LAST MINUTE. The Duma on 22 April declined to consider which procedure will be used for the final vote on Kirienko's candidacy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Communist deputy Vladimir Semago sought to have the matter included on the Duma's agenda for the day, but the procedure will be determined on 24 April. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has advocated a secret ballot, and politicians and commentators alike agree such a vote would increase Kirienko's chances of being confirmed. The acting premier received less support in the Duma on 17 April, when an open vote was held on his candidacy, than in the first vote one week earlier. Duma deputy Valentin Kuptsov, a high-ranking Communist Party official, has said the Communist leadership will propose an open vote on Kirienko, Interfax reported on 21 April. LB ZYUGANOV TO URGE COMMUNISTS TO REJECT KIRIENKO... Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov says that at a plenary meeting of the party's Central Committee on 23 April, he will urge Communists to vote against Kirienko, Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to journalists the previous day, after he laid a wreath at the Lenin Mausoleum on the occasion of the first Bolshevik leader's birthday, Zyuganov repeated that his party is ready for new parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1998). In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 21 April, commentator Andrei Piontkovskii speculated that Zyuganov is pushing for new elections because he fears that he may lose the post of party leader if he agrees to let Kirienko be confirmed. Piontkovskii argued that beginning with the Communist leader's appearance on NTV on 19 April, a "new Zyuganov" has appeared who is less willing to cooperate with Yeltsin than he has been in the past. LB ...WHILE SELEZNEV TO ARGUE OPPOSITE CASE. Duma Speaker Seleznev announced on 21 April that he will try to persuade the Communist Party's Central Committee not to sacrifice the Duma and allow Yeltsin to rule by decree in the absence of a functioning parliament, Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to ITAR-TASS, Popular Power faction leader Nikolai Ryzhkov also argued against "leaving the country without a parliament," noting that Yeltsin will be able to appoint Kirienko prime minister in any case after 24 April. Ryzhkov predicted that the Duma will confirm Kirienko. However, the Popular Power faction is not united over the acting premier. Speaking in Strasbourg on 21 April, faction member Sergei Glotov said he opposes Kirienko's candidacy because, according to Glotov, Kirienko once held dual Russian-Israeli citizenship, AFP reported. LB CHERNOMYRDIN AGAINST PUTTING CHUBAIS IN CHARGE OF ELECTRICITY GIANT. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told journalists on 21 April that he opposes the possible appointment of former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais as chief executive of the electricity utility Unified Energy System (EES). Chernomyrdin argued that Chubais is a "politician, and it would be wrong today to bring confrontation to a company like EES," Russian news agencies reported. The government owns a controlling stake in EES and consequently can choose the company's top executive, but acting Prime Minister Kirienko has refused to say whether Chubais will get the job. Speaking to RFE/RL on 22 April, Seleznev said that in his 23 April meeting with Yeltsin, he will seek assurances that Chubais will not be appointed to head EES. Seleznev claimed that Chubais was nominated "by the American side." Foreign shareholders in EES reportedly nominated Chubais to head the company. LB GAZPROM EXECUTIVE PREDICTS ROSNEFT AUCTION TO FAIL. Petr Rodionov, former fuel and energy minister and current deputy chairman of the Gazprom board of directors, has predicted that the auction for a controlling stake in the oil company Rosneft will not take place on the scheduled date of 26 May, Interfax reported on 21 April, citing an interview with Rodionov on Russian Television. Rodionov said the gas monopoly may not bid for the stake, adding that other potential bidders may also pull out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 1998). Vladimir Potanin, the head of the Interros group, on 20 April said the oil company Sidanko still plans to take part in the Rosneft auction, although Potanin argued that the government's asking price is "fairly high." Last November, British Petroleum agreed to purchase a stake in Sidanko, and the two companies formed a consortium to bid for Rosneft. LB RUSSIA FLOATS ANOTHER EUROBOND. The Russian government on 21 April issued a five-year, 500 billion lira ($280 million) Eurobond, Russian news agencies reported. Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the volume of the issue may be expanded to 750 billion lira if there is sufficient demand. According to ITAR-TASS, the government initially planned to float a 750 billion lira bond, and Finance Ministry officials have refused to say why the volume was reduced. It is the federal government's fifth Eurobond issue in all and the second in as many months. Russia floated a seven-year, DM 1.25 billion bond last month, one day after Yeltsin fired the entire cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). LB YASTRZHEMBSKII TOURS KURIL ISLANDS. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 21 April told residents of Iturup and Kunashir islands that although Russia "would like to solve the political and psychological problem" surrounding ownership of the disputed Kuril Islands, it has no "spare territory," Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. While Yastrzhembskii assured them that the islands will remain Russian territory and not be handed over to Japan, he also noted that the islands of Kunashir and Shitokan are "a social disaster zone." Yastrzhembskii pointed out there are no schools on Shitokan, no hospital on Iturup, and an insufficient number of jobs on Kunashir. Energy on all the islands is expensive, and although the average wage on the islands is 300 rubles ($49) a month, the cost of sending a child to kindergarten is 600 rubles a year, while an airplane ticket to Sakhalin Island costs some 700 rubles. The trip was a fact-finding mission, and Yastrzhembskii will make recommendations to the government when he returns to Moscow. BP TROPHY ART LAW GOES INTO EFFECT. The law "on cultural valuables moved to the USSR as a result of World War II and located on Russian territory" went into effect on 21 April, when it was published in the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta." Yeltsin's appeal to the Constitutional Court against the trophy art law was also published in the newspaper. The president claims the law violates the Russian constitution as well as Russian international obligations. Sergei Shakhrai, the president's representative in the Constitutional Court, has claimed that the law will be "dead" until the court rules on Yeltsin's appeal. However, Interfax quoted Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai as saying the law will be applied fully while Yeltsin's appeal is pending. The court is not expected to rule on the legality of the trophy art law until late this year. LB SUSPECTED MAFIA BOSS CONVICTED IN ISRAEL. A court in Jerusalem has sentenced Grigorii Lerner, a notorious suspected Russian mafia boss, to six years in prison and a fine of 5 million shekels ($1.4 million), RFE/RL's correspondent in Tel Aviv reported on 21 April. Lerner, who now goes by the name of Zvi Ben-Ari, has been held in pre- trial detention for 10 months. His sentence corresponds to a recent agreement under which Israeli authorities dropped charges of murder and attempted murder and Lerner pleaded guilty to 13 other charges against him, including fraud and attempted bribery of Israeli politicians. RFE/RL's correspondent said some opinion polls indicate that Lerner is a popular figure among the Russian-speaking Israeli population, and many people believe certain aspects of his investigation and prosecution were unfair and discriminatory. LB PROSECUTORS REOPEN CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST JAPANESE SECT. The Prosecutor-General's office has reopened a criminal case against the Japanese sect Aum Shinri Kyo, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April. The case was closed last month because of unspecified "changes in the situation" surrounding the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 1998). However, ITAR-TASS quoted Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov as saying that the decision to drop charges against the sect was hasty and not justified. He argued that it has not been proven that Aum Shinri Kyo has ceased to be a public threat. The sect was banned in Russia in April 1995. LB FRENCH ACTOR TO CAMPAIGN FOR LEBED... During the last week of the gubernatorial campaign in Krasnoyarsk Krai, the French film star Alain Delon is to visit Krasnoyarsk to support former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, Russian news agencies reported on 20 April. Lebed and Delon met for dinner when Lebed visited Paris in January to mark the publication of the French edition of his memoirs, RFE/RL's correspondent in Paris reported. They are both former paratroopers and admirers of Charles de Gaulle. Meanwhile, coverage of the Krasnoyarsk campaign on the fully state-owned nationwide network Russian Television tends to support the incumbent, Valerii Zubov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 April. In contrast, coverage of the race on 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television (ORT) is more favorable to Lebed. Boris Berezovskii, an influential figure at ORT, is supporting Lebed's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 1998). LB ...WHILE LUZHKOV CAMPAIGNS FOR INCUMBENT. Speaking in Krasnoyarsk on 21 April, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov urged voters not to support Lebed, ITAR-TASS reported. The mayor, who is backing Zubov, accused Lebed of seeking to use Krasnoyarsk to further his own political ambitions. He also criticized the August 1996 ceasefire agreement between Russia and Chechnya, which Lebed helped negotiate. According to Luzhkov, that agreement did not do enough to protect Russians. In addition, Luzhkov said Lebed's lack of opposition to NATO expansion is not in Russia's state interests. ITAR-TASS reported on 20 April that Luzhkov and Zubov were to sign an economic cooperation agreement during the mayor's visit to Krasnoyarsk. Acting on behalf of the Moscow city government, Luzhkov has signed similar agreements with the leaders of many Russian regions. LB CHECHNYA COMMEMORATES DUDAEV'S DEATH. Several thousand Chechens congregated near the village of Gekhi-chu on 21 April to mark the second anniversary of the death in a rocket attack of President Djokhar Dudaev, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen Vice-President Vakha Arsanov told journalists that the site of Dudaev's grave will be made public only after Chechnya's independence is recognized and a full-scale treaty to that effect is signed with Moscow. LF TATAR DISTRICT COURT SUSPENDS PUBLICATION OF OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER. The Yar Chally municipal court on 21 April suspended publication of "Altin Urda, " the newspaper of the opposition Ittifaq party, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported, citing Tatarstan State Television. The newspaper is accused of violating the law on the honor and dignity of the republic's president. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MORE TURKMEN DISSIDENTS RELEASED. On the eve of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington, more Turkmen dissidents have been released from detention, RFE/RL correspondents reported. On 17 April, Durdymurat Khojamukhammed, a co- leader of Turkmenistan's Democratic Progress Party, was allowed to leave a psychiatric hospital in Goek-Teppe, where he had been detained since 1995. Khojamukhammed told an RFE/RL correspondent that the Turkmen authorities demanded he give up political activities. According to Erika Dailey of Human Rights Watch, Begmurat Khojayev and Batyr Sakhetliyev have also been released after being held by the authorities since they allegedly organized a demonstration in Ashgabat on 12 July 1995. Former Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev was released from detention on 20 April, but reports suggest he remains under house arrest. BP KAZAKH ENERGY MINISTER, OIL HEAD SACKED. President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 21 April dismissed Energy Minister Asygat Zhabagin and the head of the state oil company, Baltabek Kyandykov, RFE/RL correspondents reported. They are replaced by 35-year-old Mukhtar Ablyazov and 28-year-old Nurlan Kapparov, respectively. Both were involved until now in private business. Nazarbayev also criticized the government's performance in the first quarter of 1998, noting oil prices in the country have risen, despite a drop in prices worldwide. BP UZBEK MINISTER POSTHUMOUSLY EXONERATED OF CHARGES. The Supreme Court on 21 April declared that evidence against former Cotton Production Minister Kahobjon Usmanov is insufficient and overturned the verdict of guilty handed down by the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, ITAR-TASS reported. Usmanov was caught up in the cotton scandal of the mid-1980s during a Soviet anti-corruption campaign and was accused of taking bribes. Usmanov was found guilty in August 1986 and executed. BP KYRGYZ DEPUTIES RAISE QUESTIONS OVER LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY. Three members of Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly have called for the body to be dissolved, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 21 April. Parliamentary deputies Anvar Artykov, Alevtina Pronenko, and Tokon Shailieva questioned the need for 20 parliamentary commissions when the assembly currently only has 33 members. The assembly has asked the Prosecutor- General's Office to open a libel case against Artykov for an article he published in the 17 April edition of "Vecherny Bishkek" claiming that the chairmen of the 20 commissions and the speaker of the parliament and his deputy have used their two-thirds majority to turn the legislature into "a mafia-corrupted organization." BP U.S. TO REMOVE FISSIONABLE MATERIAL FROM GEORGIAN REACTOR. The U.S. government will assist in the removal of some 4 kilos of uranium and nuclear waste from a mothballed experimental nuclear reactor near Tbilisi, Western agencies reported on 21 April. The material will be transported to the British nuclear complex at Dounreay. The operation was requested by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in 1996 to prevent terrorists from stealing nuclear materials. The Georgian experimental reactor was built in 1959 and closed following protests by Georgian ecologists in 1990. LF ABKHAZIA CUTS GOVERNMENT STAFF. President Vladislav Ardzinba has fired three deputy premiers and the head of the cabinet office, Caucasus Press reported on 22 April. Financial problems will necessitate the closure of a number of ministries, and the funds saved will be used to pay salaries at the Defense and Interior Ministries, according to the news agency. LF TURKISH ENERGY MINISTER IN BAKU. Cumhur Ersumer met with President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 21 April to discuss the proposed Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline. Aliev expressed dissatisfaction with the Turkish government's delay in beginning construction of the pipeline. He added that its planned throughput capacity should be doubled, as estimates of Azerbaijan's oil reserves have been revised upward since the project was first discussed. The pipeline will also be used to transport oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Ersumer agreed that there is "no alternative" to the Baku- Ceyhan route but said that Turkey is seeking ways to reduce the estimated $2.3 billion construction costs, Interfax reported. Meeting with Prime Minister Artur Rasi-zade and Natik Aliev, president of the state oil company SOCAR, Ersumer also discussed Turkish companies' participation in developing Azerbaijani oil fields and creating a joint energy system between Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, Turan reported. LF BAKU HALTS RETRANSMISSION OF RFE/RL AZERBAIJANI BROADCASTS. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Communications on 20 April stopped the medium-wave retransmission of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani broadcasts on the grounds that RFE/RL has failed to comply with a requirement introduced last year that all electronic media acquire a broadcasting license. The Azerbaijani authorities notified RFE/RL of that requirement only three days before halting the broadcasts. Azerbaijan Popular Front Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimli demanded in the parliament on 21 April that the decision be revoked. Press Minister Siruz Tabrizli said that retransmission will be restarted if RFE/RL acquires the necessary license, an RFE/RL correspondent in Baku reported. LF NEW ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER GIVES FIRST NEWS CONFERENCE. Armen Darpinian on 21 April said members of his cabinet have been appointed for one year and that an extension of their term in office will depend on their performance, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian commended Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian's "high degree of responsibility" in giving up his U.S. citizenship to become an Armenian citizen. He also praised Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian for "the deepest sense of [Armenian] statehood" and said he "cannot imagine the Armenian army" without Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. The new premier stressed that Armenia will continue to adhere to cooperation agreements it has signed with international economic organizations. He forecast economic growth of 7 percent for 1998, compared with earlier predictions of 5.2 percent, and inflation below10 percent, according to ITAR-TASS. LF DEFEATED ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TO RUN FOR PARLIAMENT. Karen Demirchian is one of eight candidates who will contend a vacant seat in the National Assembly, Asbarez reported on 21 April, citing the news agency Snark. The former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement has proposed ex-National Bank chairman Bagrat Asatrian as a candidate. LF 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. 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