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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 88 Part I, 11 May 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 88 Part I, 11 May 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 FILLS OUT CABINET * KIDNAPPERS DEMAND RANSOM FOR YELTSIN'S ENVOY * GEORGIA TO BECOME 'ASYMMETRIC FEDERATION'? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN FILLS OUT CABINET... President Boris Yeltsin completed the major government appointments on 8 May, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The president left Yevgenii Adamov in charge of the Atomic Energy Ministry, a post Adamov has held since March. Aleksandr Pochinok will remain head of the State Tax Service, which he has run since April 1997, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin appointed Oleg Rutkovskii, until now head doctor at Moscow's First City Hospital, as health minister. He replaces Tatyana Dmitrieva, who had run that ministry since August 1996. Meanwhile, Nikolai Khvatkov has become head of the government apparatus. State Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of Our Home Is Russia was reportedly offered that job several times. Like Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, Khvatkov is a former banker from Nizhnii Novgorod. Along with 10 other ministers, he is new to the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 4 May 1998). LB ...LEAVES TRADE AND INDUSTRY MINISTER WITH 'ACTING' STATUS. Also on 8 May, Yeltsin appointed Georgii Gabuniya as acting trade and industry minister, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Gabuniya was appointed acting minister because the Trade and Industry Ministry is new and "its formation will be difficult," according to Interfax. Before his appointment to the cabinet, Gabuniya served as first deputy head of the Foreign Trade Ministry, which no longer exists. He has been Russia's top negotiator on trade issues, such as the country's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization. Former Foreign Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov's dismissal from the government was long anticipated, although he survived a mini-reshuffle in late February. LB PERM LEGISLATOR BECOMES REGIONAL POLICY MINISTER. Yeltsin on 8 May appointed Yevgenii Sapiro as head of the Ministry on Regional and Nationalities Policy. Until now, Sapiro has been chairman of the Perm Oblast legislature and head of the Federation Council Economic Policy Committee. His appointment in effect rules out a cabinet post for Ramazan Abdulatipov. Abdulatipov, who is from Dagestan, gave up a seat in the State Duma last August to become deputy prime minister in charge of nationalities policy--a post that no longer exists. Yeltsin may yet appoint Abdulatipov as his envoy to the North Caucasus. LB TRADE UNION LEADER TO SUPERVISE TRANSPORT MONOPOLIES. Yeltsin also appointed Vitalii Budko as head of the Federal Service for Regulating Monopolies in the Transportation Sector. For the last seven years, Budko has headed the Independent Trade Union for Coal Industry Workers. Tariffs for shipping cargo on Russian railroads are high, which has helped subsidize passenger rail traffic but has hurt industry, particularly the coal sector. Budko replaces Mikhail Kislyuk, who became head of the service last summer, shortly after Yeltsin fired him as governor of Kemerovo Oblast. At least one trade union representative was expected to be named to the cabinet, since union leaders had spoken out in support of Kirienko's nomination as prime minister. LB WOMEN TO HEAD TWO MINISTRIES. Tatyana Dmitrieva's departure as head of the Health Ministry leaves two women out of the 26 ministers in Kirienko's cabinet: Culture Minister Natalya Dementeva and newly appointed Labor Minister Oksana Dmitrieva. Three other women appear likely to retain cabinet-level posts: Natalya Fonareva, the head of the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, Irina Khakamada, the head of the State Committee on Development and Support for Small Businesses, and Tatyana Regent, the head of the Federal Migration Service. LB YELTSIN SACKS HEAD OF CUSTOMS COMMITTEE... Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii announced on 8 May that Yeltsin has dismissed State Customs Committee head Anatolii Kruglov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Valerii Draganov, up to now deputy chairman of the service, will replace Kruglov. The government recently approved new revenue targets for the customs service, which is now expected to collect 78 billion rubles ($12.7 billion) this year--4.3 billion rubles more than the level projected under the 1998 budget. The committee collected 18.5 billion rubles in customs duties during the first quarter of this year. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 May, the customs committee has recommended that the government increase revenues by reviewing the customs breaks currently granted to Kaliningrad Oblast. The committee estimates that 55 percent of all reductions in customs duties during the first quarter of the year were granted on goods imported to Kaliningrad. LB ...AND HEAD OF BROADCASTING SERVICE. Also on 8 May, Yeltsin dismissed Valentin Lazutkin, who had headed the Federal Television and Radio Broadcasting Service for three years. Duma Culture Committee Deputy Chairman Mikhail Seslavinskii, a Nizhnii Novgorod native and member of the Our Home Is Russia faction, will replace Lazutkin. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 May, NTV-holding director- general Igor Malashenko said Lazutkin's dismissal was long expected in media circles. He characterized Seslavinskii as a "professional" with a good reputation, despite his lack of experience working in the media. Malashenko added that Seslavinskii's appointment did not bear out the "worst fears" of journalists, namely that Lazutkin would be replaced by someone with "political commissar" tendencies who would blindly follow orders from above. NTV-holding manages the influential private network NTV and other companies involved with broadcast media financed by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company. LB DECREE REORGANIZES STATE-OWNED BROADCAST MEDIA. Yeltsin has signed a decree on reorganizing state-owned electronic media into a single holding company, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 8 May. Details about the decree remain sketchy, but RFE/RL described it as a "revolutionary" measure that will transform state-owned radio and television stations in the regions into affiliates of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), which is more commonly known as Russian Television (RTR). The holding company will also include state-owned broadcasting facilities, such as television towers, but it is not yet clear whether those facilities will be subordinated to VGTRK. According to RFE/RL, the new holding company will seek to counteract the influence of privately owned media. Since last summer, some high-ranking government officials have received unfavorable coverage on the private network NTV and on Russian Public Television, which is 51 percent state-owned but considered under the influence of Boris Berezovskii. LB NDR ADOPTS CAUTIOUS STANCE TOWARD NEW CABINET. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) Duma faction, announced on 7 May that his faction no longer considers itself responsible for the government's actions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. During Viktor Chernomyrdin's tenure as prime minister, the NDR was a pro- government movement and was informally known as the "party of power." But Shokhin told Interfax that Kirienko had not accepted any of the NDR's recommendations when forming the new government. (A few ministers are formally NDR members but are not actively involved in the movement.) At the same time, Shokhin praised Nikolai Khvatkov as a "worthy" successor to Vladimir Babichev, the close Chernomyrdin ally and longtime head of the government apparatus. For his part, Chernomyrdin told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 May that his movement will judge the new government by its work. LB OPPOSITION SLAMS GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS. Duma deputy Valentin Kuptsov, a high-ranking Communist Party official, sharply criticized the latest cabinet appointments in an interview with Interfax on 8 May. He cited Gabuniya's appointment as evidence of the general neglect of industrial policy. Kuptsov argued that Yeltsin could have chosen a "sensible" trade and industry minister from some 10,000 directors of industrial enterprises. Also on 8 May, Duma Geopolitics Committee Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) dismissed Kirienko's cabinet as a "government of bleak functionaries" that will be "weak and fully dependent" on Yeltsin and the presidential administration. But Vladimir Gusev, another LDPR member who chairs the Duma Committee on Industry, said his committee will seek opportunities to work with Kirienko's government. LB RYBKIN TO BECOME SPECIAL ENVOY FOR CIS? Unnamed government sources told Interfax and ITAR-TASS on 8 May that Ivan Rybkin may be appointed Yeltsin's special envoy for the CIS. Rybkin flew to Baku on 8 May to congratulate Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev on his 75th birthday on behalf of Yeltsin. The sources said Rybkin's new job would have a rank equivalent to that of a deputy prime minister. Rybkin was a deputy premier in the government Yeltsin sacked in March, but Kirienko has only three deputies: Boris Nemtsov, Viktor Khristenko, and Oleg Sysuev. Rybkin is considered close to Boris Berezovskii, who was recently appointed executive secretary of the CIS. LB INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS TO HAVE NEW COMMANDER. Yeltsin on 9 May appointed Pavel Maslov as deputy interior minister and commander of the troops subordinated to the Interior Ministry, Russian news agencies reported. Until now Maslov has been first deputy interior minister and head of the ministry's General Staff. He replaces Leontii Shevtsov, who announced in March that the Interior Ministry troops will be downsized from 257,000 to 220,000 by the end of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). The troops substantially increased in number when Anatolii Kulikov was interior minister from June 1995 to March 1998. LB RUSSIA MARKS V-E DAY. Yeltsin, Kirienko, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev were among the officials who stood on the Lenin mausoleum to observe a military parade on Moscow's Red Square on 9 May, the Russian holiday marking the allies' victory in World War II, Russian news agencies reported. War veterans held rallies across Russia to celebrate the anniversary. In Moscow, tens of thousands attended an alternative rally organized by communist groups, Reuters reported. Addressing the crowd, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that "we won in 1945 because we were a united people...and were led by the Communist Party," Interfax reported. Zyuganov added that the current "aggressors" against Russia "sit in the Kremlin." He said the Popular Patriotic Union of Russia, a Communist-led umbrella movement, will stage a nationwide protest in early October to demand Yeltsin's resignation and express no confidence in Kirienko's government. LB PARLIAMENTARY NEWSPAPER LAUNCHED. "Parlamentskaya gazeta," the official newspaper of the parliament, published its first issue on 7 May, Reuters reported. A front-page commentary by Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev hailed "a special day in the history of domestic journalism," and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev wrote that "the people's deputies now have a solid platform for an active dialogue with the electorate." The parliament has been without a newspaper since October 1993, when "Rossiiskaya gazeta" became the official paper of the Russian government. Yeltsin agreed to the creation of "Parlamentskaya gazeta" last October, as one of the concessions aimed at dissuading the Duma from voting no confidence in the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1997). The editor in chief of the new paper is Leonid Kravchenko, who headed ITAR-TASS from 1988 to 1990 and has been first deputy editor of "Rossiiskaya gazeta" since 1993. LB KIDNAPPERS DEMAND RANSOM FOR YELTSIN'S ENVOY. The abductors of presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov have demanded a "very large" sum for his release, despite acting Deputy Premier Ivan Rybkin's warning that no ransom will be paid, Russian media reported on 9 May. Vlasov was taken from his car at gun point on 1 May and his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Chechen intelligence sources and Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin have both said that Vlasov is alive. Rybkin met on 9 May in Baku with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to discuss the investigation into the abduction. Also on 9 May, five armed Chechens were detained in the Kursk district of Stavropol Krai, bordering on Chechnya, but were later released. LF AZERBAIJANI TRADER STABBED TO DEATH IN MOSCOW. A young Azerbaijani was stabbed to death in a dispute at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium market on 7 May. Fellow Azerbaijanis who tried to stage a protest march in central Moscow bearing the body of the murdered man were dispersed by OMON police. Six suspects in the murder were arrested the following day. Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov both denied claims by Azerbaijani human rights activists that the killing was ethnically motivated. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev is personally following the investigation, according to ANS-Press. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA TO BECOME 'ASYMMETRIC FEDERATION'? In his traditional weekly radio broadcast on 11 May, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that within the next few days, he plans to unveil a new proposal whereby Georgia will become an "asymmetric federal state," Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze argued that this proposal demonstrates Georgia is seriously concerned about resolving the Abkhaz conflict. The Abkhaz government last week placed its armed forces on combat alert after some 300 fighters from the unofficial Georgian White Legion crossed into Abkhaz territory. Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, warned on 6 May that support for the White Legion will grow if the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia is not expedited. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS CHARGED AFTER PROTEST. Police used force to disperse some 400 members of the Movement for Democratic Elections who staged an unsanctioned demonstration outside the parliament building in Baku on 8 May, Turan and Interfax reported. The demonstrators were protesting the new presidential election law, passed in the second reading on 6 May, which they say is undemocratic and renders free and fair elections impossible. Police arrested some 50 demonstrators, including former Prime Minister Panah Guseinov and former State Counselor Arif Gadzhiev. Some of the detainees have been charged with obstructing police or violating legislation on demonstrations. LF AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE DISCUSS OIL EXPORTS. Visiting Baku to congratulate President Heidar Aliev on his 75th birthday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko met with both Aliev and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Artur Rasi-Zade, to discuss the transport of Azerbaijani oil by tanker from the Black Sea port of Supsa to Odessa. Some oil would be refined in Odessa for domestic use and the rest exported via the Odessa-Brody pipeline. In Washington, Ukrainian Ambassador Yuri Shcherbak discussed with U.S. trade and energy officials the Ukrainian option for exporting Azerbaijani oil, according to Interfax. The Turkish government may commission a private company to build the proposed Baku- Ceyhan oil export pipeline if the Azerbaijani International Operating Company that is exploiting three offshore Azerbaijani oil fields declines to make a firm commitment on that project, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 9 May. Royal Dutch Shell has expressed interest to the Turkish government in building that pipeline. LF AZERBAIJAN PROPOSES EXCHANGING POWS. the Azerbaijani State Commission for Prisoners of War, Hostages, and Persons Missing in Action has proposed that Azerbaijan and Armenia exchange prisoners of war on an "all for all" basis, Turan reported on 7 May. Some 700 Armenians and 800 Azerbaijanis are currently listed as falling into those three categories. LF HEAVY FLOODING IN TAJIKISTAN. While the damage caused by the recent flooding in central Tajikistan's Garm region is still being assessed, reports from the country's southern Khatlon region show even greater damage following flooding there, ITAR-TASS and the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. At least 100 people are dead or missing and 4,000 homeless. More than 11,000 hectares of cultivated land are reported to have been ruined. Relief began arriving from neighboring Uzbekistan on 7 May, while northern Tajikistan's Leninabad Region and the Red Cross have sent supplies to the region. Tajik Prime Minister Yahye Azimov, who was in Khatlon to inspect the damage, described government relief efforts as "unsatisfactory." He said the disasters in Garm and Khatlon clearly show that ministries such as those for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense "are not ready to take necessary measures in an emergency." BP WAHHABI TRIALS BEGIN IN UZBEKISTAN. The trials of 12 out of a total of 27 suspected Islamic militants began in the eastern city of Namangan on 7 May, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The men, who are allegedly Wahhabis, have been accused of planning the violence in Namangan last December. Four of the accused have pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy to undermine the state. In an interview with Uzbek Television the next day, President Islam Karimov said the threat of fundamentalism and Wahhabism originates in Afghanistan. He added that those involved want to make Tajikistan an Islamic state and then import their "ideology" into Uzbekistan through the Fergana Valley. BP KYRGYZ MUFTIAT COMPLAINS ABOUT MEDIA COVERAGE OF MUSLIMS. Kyrgyzstan's Muftiat or Spiritual Directorate of Muslims has denounced the coverage of Islam by two of the country's newspapers, RFE/RL correspondents and Interfax reported. The statement by the Muftiat said articles in "Utro Bishkeka" on 25 April and in "Vecherny Bishkek" on 1 May attached "labels of Wahhabites and fanatics to Muslims." Also, the statement said the articles created a "negative opinion and hatred toward practicing Muslims" and that authorities were responsible for permitting the media to "openly provoke" the population. The deputy editor-in-chief of "Vecherny Bishkek" responded that the Muftiat is trying to generate anti- Russian feelings by saying Russians do not respect Muslims. BP KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER IN CHINA. Nurlan Balgimbayev told Chinese officials on 8 May that his country "does not have and will not have" groups supporting Muslim separatists in China's Xinjiang Province (the Uyghur Autonomous Region), ITAR-TASS and Xinhua news agency reported. Kazakhstan borders Xinjiang Province and has the largest population of Uyghurs in the CIS. Balgimbayev said after his meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji the previous day that both countries reaffirmed their commitment to the proposed $9 billion oil pipeline that will transport oil from western Kazakhstan to China. According to Balgimbayev, a feasibility study for the project will be completed this December. He also said China will extend a $100 million loan to small businesses in Kazakhstan and donate another $100,000 for Kazakhstan's census next year. Xinhua reported that trade between Kazakhstan and China totaled $101 million in the first quarter of 1998, up 19.1 percent on the same period last year. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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