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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 109 Part I, 9 June 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 109 Part I, 9 June 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 THANKS KOHL FOR SUPPORT * HEAD OF STATE STATISTICS COMMITTEE ARRESTED * UN OBSERVERS INJURED IN ABKHAZIA End Note: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WEARING A BEARD IN CENTRAL ASIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN THANKS KOHL FOR SUPPORT... Ending a two-day official visit to Germany, President Boris Yeltsin on 9 June thanked German Chancellor Helmut Kohl for backing reforms in Russia, saying such support is essential in maintaining investor confidence in Russia. During a joint press conference at the end of the visit, Kohl said "Germany will support the reform process with great commitment." Asked whether direct financial aid was discussed during his talks with the chancellor, Yeltsin replied, "not directly." Kohl and Yeltsin had met for talks over dinner the previous evening and discussed Russia's financial crisis "in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere," German government spokesman Otto Hauser said. Earlier, Yeltsin economic adviser Aleksandr Livshits had said that Yeltsin is seeking nothing more than political support. AW ...SAYS RUSSIA CAN SUPPORT RUBLE. On 8 June, Yeltsin gave assurances that Russia has sufficient reserves to support the ruble, Reuters reported. "The Western press is already playing up this question, that there is already a crash going on in Russia..., There is not and there will not be," Yeltsin told reporters before informal talks with Kohl. The deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, Sergei Aleksashenko, said a week ago that Russia's gold and foreign-currency reserves amounted to $14.6 billion. AW GERMANY, RUSSIA SIGN PACTS ON NUCLEAR TRADE. Also during Yeltsin's visit to Bonn, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov signed two agreements on trade in nuclear materials on 8 June, Reuters reported. One agreement allows Russia to ship weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium to a research reactor currently under construction in southern Germany. The second limits German firms' liability in the event of a nuclear accident at Russian plants they serve. AW HEAD OF STATE STATISTICS COMMITTEE ARRESTED. The director of the State Statistics Committee, Yurii Yurkov, was arrested on 9 June, along with an unspecified number of senior workers in charge of data processing, ITAR-TASS quoted government spokesman Aleksei Volin as saying. They were charged with "systematic distortion of statistical data on big companies, which allowed [those companies] to evade taxes," Volin said. Yurkov and his alleged accomplices are accused of manipulating economic data to hide the real output of companies and reduce their tax liability. They are also alleged to have sold classified information about rival companies' performances. Yurkov was appointed director of the State Statistics Committee in 1993. AW COMMUNISTS SUBMIT SIGNATURES TO LAUNCH IMPEACHMENT PROCEDURES. The Communist Party submitted to the State Duma Council on 9 June its request to launch impeachment procedures against Yeltsin. The impeachment request, which accuses Yeltsin of multiple violations of the constitution since the break up of the Soviet Union, was signed by 215 Duma deputies. Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin told reporters that at a 11 June meeting of the State Duma council, a commission will be set up to consider the charges before the Duma votes on them. But Ilyukhin said it will be "very difficult" to muster the necessary 300 votes in the Duma to back the impeachment bill. AW BEREZOVSKII SEES 'BLOODY' FIGHT FOR RUSSIAN PRESIDENCY. Controversial Russian tycoon and CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii predicted on 8 June that the 2000 presidential elections could trigger a "bloody" settling of accounts and that chances among so-called reformers were slim. "We have a very complex and dangerous situation.... I don't see any clear, able candidate among the reformers," Berezovskii told NTV. After suggesting earlier this year that he might support former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Berezovskii mentioned only Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Krasnoyarsk Krai governor, reserve General Aleksandr Lebed as the leading presidential candidates. With regard to Lebed, Berezovskii said he is a "serious politician" capable of garnering support from Russians who have suffered during the country's transition. AW RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT TO CUT RAIL TRANSPORTATION FEES. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said on 8 June that the government will reduce by 25 percent fees for transporting coal, iron ore, oil, and fuel oil by rail, Interfax reported. "This is a key step in the government's industrial policy," Nemtsov said in announcing that policy, which is aimed at supporting Russia's industries. The railroads, which are expected to lose 6 billion rubles (some $1 billion) when the fees take effect on 15 June, have "volunteered to take the financial blow," according to Nemtsov. Russia's gas monopoly, Gazprom, and electricity monopoly, Unified Energy Systems, are expected to introduce similar cuts in gas and energy rates, Nemtsov said. AW RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT TO LAY OFF STATE EMPLOYEES. The Russian government on 8 June announced plans to lay off 231,000 employees this year, Interfax reported. Government officials told Duma deputies that the layoffs represent 3.6 percent of government employees and will save 5.86 billion rubles ($953 million), according to the agency. The Finance Ministry has said it plans to cut 62.4 billion rubles from this year's planned spending of 499.9 billion rubles. AW AIDS CASES SOAR AMONG DRUG USERS. First Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko told a parliamentary hearing on 8 June that Russia will be forced to spend its entire health budget on people with the HIV virus in a few years unless steps are taken now to stop the disease spreading. A three-year federal program on educating Russians about the risk of contracting AIDS expired in 1996, just when the number of AIDS cases began to increase, Onishchenko explained. The number of people registered as having the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, is still relatively low at 8,313, he said. Onishchenko said the number of AIDS cases has quadrupled since 1996, mainly because of the rapid spread in intravenous drug-taking among young people. AW RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS KILL TWO MORE CHINESE POACHERS. Russian border guards from the Far Eastern Border District shot and killed two Chinese citizens caught poaching in Makarikha Bay, ITAR-TASS reported. The incident occurred on 4 June but was made public only four days later when commander of the district informed the Chinese governor of Heilongjiang Province. When the border guards sought to apprehend the poachers, one of the Chinese attempted to attack a border guard with an ax. This incident comes two weeks after Russian border guards killed two Chinese fishermen and wounded five others caught poaching in the Bering Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). BP SIBERIAN MAYOR TO STAND TRIAL FOR EMBEZZLEMENT, TAX FRAUD. Prosecutors have formally charged the mayor of the Siberian city of Leninsk-Kuznetskii, Gennadii Konyakhin, with tax fraud and embezzlement, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June. Konyakhin has been in custody since his arrest in October 1997. The charges against him stem from his activities as a businessman before he became Leninsk-Kuznetsky mayor in spring 1997. President Yeltsin had called for an investigation into Konyakhin after "Izvestiya" accused him of being linked to organized crime. AW MISSING JOURNALIST FOUND DEAD IN RUSSIAN REPUBLIC. Russian police say the body of a newspaper editor has been found in Elista, capital of Russia's southern republic of Kalmikiya, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 June. Larisa Yudina, editor of "Sovetskaya Kalmikiya," was reported missing two days earlier, after reportedly meeting with unknown people who had offered her important documents relating to an unknown topic. Police said her body bore signs of a violent attack and was found by a pond in the city. Yudina was also co- chairwoman of the local branch of Yabloko. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 9 June that he considers Yudina's death to be a politically motivated act. Yavlinskii said his party will call for a federal investigation into the slaying. AW TATARSTAN REACHES AGREEMENT WITH GAZPROM. Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev has reached a compromise agreement with Gazprom on resuming gas supplies to Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 9 June, citing Tatarstan Television. Gazprom threatened to halt deliveries in retaliation for Tatarstan's failure to pay its debts to the company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 1998) LF SHAIMIEV RULES OUT UNILATERAL AMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION. Commenting on the 5 June meeting in Moscow between Russian President Yeltsin and the leaders of Russia's republics, Shaimiev said he refuses to back down from his insistence that any amendments to the Tatar Constitution be accompanied by changes to the Russian Constitution, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The Russian State Duma has protested that the Tatar Constitution, adopted in 1992, contravenes its Russian counterpart as it does not explicitly state that Tatarstan is a constituent part of the Russian Federation. Some Russian politicians have also objected to Tatarstan's introduction of dual citizenship. LF INGUSH BUS PASSENGERS ABDUCTED IN NORTH OSSETIA. Five ethnic Ingush are still being held hostage after the two busses in which they were traveling were intercepted in the North Ossetian village of Zilgi on 8 June, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Another 10 Ingush passengers have been released. The Ingush were abducted in retaliation for the kidnapping of seven Ossetians in Zilgi on 7 June. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA UN OBSERVERS INJURED IN ABKHAZIA... Two members of the UN observer force in western Georgia and an interpreter were injured on 8 June when their armored vehicle ran over an anti-tank mine in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Russian agencies reported. Six Abkhaz police officers were killed in a similar incident in Gali on 2 June. LF ...AS ABKHAZ TALKS REACH IMPASSE. Russian Foreign Ministry officials Lev Mironov and Gennadii Ilichev joined Georgian and Abkhaz presidential representatives Vazha Lortkipanidze and Anri Djergenia at their sixth day of talks in Moscow on 8 June, Russian agencies reported. They failed, however, to overcome differences between the two sides. The talks are intended to prepare a draft peace agreement, a protocol on the repatriation of ethnic Georgians to Gali Raion, and another protocol on control mechanisms. Those documents are intended to be signed at a meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba. Shevardnadze said on 8 June that the Abkhaz proposals on repatriation are unacceptable as they stipulate no time frame, according to Interfax. Abkhazia has rejected Tbilisi's proposal that the Russian peacekeeping contingent currently deployed in Abkhazia under the CIS's aegis be augmented by a Ukrainian force. Abkhazia also demands that Tbilisi and Sukhumi jointly petition Moscow to lift the economic embargo on Abkhazia. LF TALKS ON SOUTH OSSETIA POSTPONED. The meeting scheduled for 9 June between Georgian President Shevardnadze and his South Ossetian counterpart, Lyudvig Chibirov, has been postponed "for a couple of weeks." Caucasus Press reported on 9 June quoting Irakli Machavariani, who heads the Georgian delegation to the Georgian-South Ossetian talks. Machavariani said the postponement was necessitated by Shevardnadze's need to concentrate on the Abkhaz situation. LF ARMENIAN JOURNALIST FACES LIBEL CASE. Armenian parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian has opened libel proceedings against Haik Babukhanian, editor of the Union of Constitutional Rights newspaper "Iravunk," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 June. Speaking on national television on 2 June, Babukhanian said that the current parliament is "95 percent criminal" and was elected in 1995 by "illegal" means. Those charges were subsequently reprinted in the 5 June issue of "Iravunk." Babukhanian told journalists after being summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office on 8 June that he will summon in his defense members of the former opposition electoral commission and their proxies who were "beaten up and intimidated" during the1995 elections. Union of Constitutional Rights chairman Hrant Khachatrian, who endorsed Robert Kocharian's candidacy after receiving only 0.21 percent of the vote during the first round of the March presidential elections, says his party backs Babukhanian. Khachatrian condemned Harutiunian's decision to open libel proceedings as "outrageous." LF KARABAKH GOVERNMENT CRISIS CONTINUES. Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, announced on 8 June that he has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Leonard Petrosian, an RFE/RL correspondent in Stepanakert reported. Ghukasian did not say whether he will assume the duties of prime minister himself, as he hinted last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 1998.) Speaking at a news conference in Stepanakert on 5 June, Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan said he would not accept the post of prime minister if it were offered him. At the same time, he said he will not remain indifferent to the composition of the new cabinet, warning that he is prepared to resign unless "young, experienced, and skillful people" are included in the new government. Babayan also said his brother Karen has resigned as interior minister to put an end to what he termed "unnecessary gossip." LF KARABAKH PRISONER SWAP FAILS. An exchange of prisoners of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan planned for last month failed to take place, Noyan Tapan reported on 8 June. Azerbaijan proposed exchanging Armenian civilians for Azerbaijani POWs, but Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh rejected that proposal. LF AZERBAIJANIS PROTEST IRANIAN POLICE ACTION. Members of the Movement for the National Independence of South Azerbaijan have lodged a protest with the Iranian Embassy in Baku against the detention by Iranian security forces of some 60 ethnic Azeris in Tabriz on 3 June, Turan reported on 8 June. Thousands of Iranian Azerbaijanis participated in a rally in Tabriz to protest the 29 May adoption by the French National Assembly of a resolution recognizing the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. LF ANOTHER DEATH LINKED TO ISSYK-KUL SPILL? Doctors say that, according to preliminary finding, the death of a 71-year-old man from the Issyk-Kul area on 6 June was from sodium cyanide poisoning following the spill last month, RFE/RL correspondents reported. An autopsy is currently being performed in Bishkek. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 9 June that 40 people assisting in the clean-up of the area have been taken ill and brought back to the capital, for treatment. Meanwhile, the department head of the Kumtor gold mining venture, which is being held responsible for the spill, told RFE/RL correspondents on 8 June that Kumtor president Gerhardt Glattis has resigned and will be replaced by one of his predecessors, Len Homeniuk. BP KAZAKH PLANE WITH RADIOACTIVE CARGO ALLOWED TO LEAVE UKRAINE. Ukrainian customs authorities have given permission to a Kazakh airliner with radioactive material aboard to continue its journey after they found all documents to be in order, Radio Rossiya reported on 8 June. The plane was grounded at the Rovno airport, outside Kyiv, when officials found unusually high levels of radiation from metal barrels aboard the plane. RFE/RL correspondents quoted officials in Kazakhstan as saying the radioactive material comes from Africa and the U.S. and is not dangerous. They added that it is intended for use at the Oskemen Metallurgical Plant as "raw material." BP END NOTE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WEARING A BEARD IN CENTRAL ASIA by Salimjon Aioubov It may seem absurd, but wearing a beard has acquired more importance politically in some Central Asian countries than any reforms, parties, movements, cease-fires, or agreements. While Afghanistan's Taleban measure beards and punish the wearer if the beard is shorter than required, in neighboring Uzbekistan people are persecuted if they have bushy or long beards. Before the civil war in Tajikistan, a beard was a demonstration of political support for the Islamic opposition. However, during the unrest, which broke out after 1992, it became a recognized attribute of army generals and opposition fighters. In the view of many bureaucrats, having a beard was the same as having links to armed groups. It was unimportant whether those groups are governmental or belonged to the Islamic opposition. But today, the hidden meaning of the beard has disappeared because of acute shortages of money, water, soap, and safety razors. Wearing a beard was a political thing in Soviet times, too. Communists claimed that men with beards were dissidents. In 1975, when poet and university teacher Foteh Abdullo grew a beard, the authorities--from the rector of the university to the ideology secretary of the Tajik Communist Party's Central Committee--invited him several times for the toughest reprimands. Many people followed that development closely and speculated about the longevity of Abdullo's beard. Abdullo's reply to the ideology secretary became a folk legend. Abdullo told the secretary that he was a passionate follower of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Comrade Fidel Castro. The Communist authorities could not continue their campaign against Abdullo's beard because they feared showing a lack of respect for the "people's love" for those three communist leaders. "In the past, only geologists and artists were allowed to grow a beard," said old men. Indeed, during the Soviet era, a beard was associated with Western hippies, U.S. surrogate radio broadcasts, and Soviet dissidents. Uzbek President Islam Karimov's predecessor, former communist boss Sharaf Rashidov, associated the occasional growing of a beard among Uzbekistan students with the pernicious influence of Western culture. However, Karimov's opinion is not very far from this viewpoint, though it emphasizes an undesirable Islamic influence. "If you have noticed. Wahhabis have a characteristic feature--they have beards, untidy beards.... There is perhaps a certain sense in it." A Kyrgyz newspaper echoed Karimov's statement: "The basic sign according to which the Uzbek special services distinguish Wahabbis from other citizens has become a beard. A [beard] wearer can at any moment be stopped and subjected to a humiliating search and even arrest." Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov does not emphasize a beard as a political sign because many of his army generals sport beards. But in 1992, during the short reign of the National Reconciliation Government, every television broadcast featured someone with a beard. What is more, the inhabitants of the capital city, Dushanbe, have never seen such a large number and variety of beards. When power changed hands in Dushanbe in December 1992, a large number of people immediately shaved off their beards, except those who thought beards were not a political statement. But they were wrong. Armed supporters of the government often caught those wearing beards and pulled out each hair. Now wearing a beard in Tajikistan generally has only one meaning: people have neither the time nor opportunity to shave. But it will be a long and difficult road for those in the neighboring countries before they can wear a beard that similarly has an apolitical meaning. The author works for RFE/RL's Tajik Service. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "subscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word "unsubscribe" as the subject or body of the message. 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