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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 136 Part I, 17 July 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 136 Part I, 17 July 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 * DUMA APPROVES NUMEROUS GOVERNMENT-BACKED LAWS * YELTSIN ATTENDS TSAR'S REBURIAL * YELTSIN WANTS PEACEKEEPERS TO STAY IN ABKHAZIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA APPROVES NUMEROUS GOVERNMENT-BACKED LAWS... The State Duma passed a large number of laws included in the government's anti-crisis program on 17 July, the final day of an extraordinary session. Deputies passed in all three readings a revised version of the budget code and a law allowing the government to restrict tax breaks and other privileges granted to closed cities, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma approved in the first reading a law setting up a new procedure for determining electricity and heating fees, which is aimed at reducing the regional discrepancies in those charges, and a law that would make state benefits means-tested (paving the way to cuts in benefits to all but low-income families). On 16 July, the Duma approved final versions of laws to reduce excise duties on oil and cut child benefits to families above a certain income level and also approved a revised version of a law on gambling taxes. LB ...BUT VOTES DOWN SEVERAL PARTS OF ANTI-CRISIS PLAN. During its 17 July session, the Duma rejected several government proposals, including a law that would have nullified all legislation calling for unforeseen expenditures in the 1998 budget, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies also voted down a proposal to decrease employers' contributions and increase individual contributions to non-budgetary funds, such as the Pension and Social Insurance Funds. A proposal to establish posts for the tax authorities in enterprises that are major taxpayers met with the same fate. On 16 July, the Duma returned to the government a law that would have quadrupled the land tax and voted down a law that would have introduced a 2 percent tax on waste land or land not used for its declared purpose. LB DUMA APPROVES ITS OWN VERSION OF SALES TAX... The Duma on 16 July again voted down a government-backed law introducing a sales tax but later approved a revised version of that law, Russian news agencies reported. The law would allow regional authorities to introduce a sales tax of up to 5 percent. The sales tax would be levied on luxury items such as furs and travel agencies and would not be allowed on essentials such as bread, meat, milk products, and children's goods. Regional authorities would be granted the right to determine which other goods may be subject to sales tax. After the Duma rejected the government's version of the sales tax law and other proposals, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov criticized the Duma for not backing "key points" to lead the country out of its economic crisis. LB ...AND INCOME TAX IN FIRST READING. Also on 16 July, the Duma passed in the first reading a law revising the income tax scale, but in a substantially different version from the government's draft of that law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1998). Like the government's plan, the new version would retain the 12 percent income tax rate for annual incomes below 20,000 rubles ($3,200) and would reduce the rate on incomes above 100,000 rubles from 35 percent to 30 percent. But whereas the government sought a 20 percent tax rate for all other incomes, the Duma approved a 15 percent rate on annual incomes from 20,000 to 40,000 rubles and a 20 percent rate on incomes between 40,000 rubles and 100,000 rubles. The Duma's draft also would not levy income tax on interest earned from bank deposits that are less than 10 times the minimum monthly wage. LB DUMA REJECTS PRESIDENT'S VERSION OF LAND CODE. Three attempts to pass a version of the land code that had the president's backing failed during the Duma's 16 July session. According to Duma Agriculture Committee Chairman Aleksei Chernyshov, whose committee endorsed the draft, the new code would grant farmers some land ownership rights but would prohibit the purchase and sale of farmland, ITAR-TASS reported. (President Boris Yeltsin previously insisted on giving farmers the right to buy and sell farmland.) Nonetheless, the Communist faction opposed the revised land code. In successive ballots, the code gained 213 votes in favor, then 220 votes, and finally 225 votes--just one short of the majority needed for passage. On 17 July, the Duma decided to postpone further consideration of the land code until its fall session or at an extraordinary session if such a meeting is called during the summer recess. LB GOVERNMENT PROPOSES NEW TAXES ON LUXURIES. The government on 16 July approved several draft laws aimed at increasing taxes on wealthy citizens. One law would tax automobiles and motorcycles with engines exceeding a certain size. Another would increase the excise duty on high-octane gasoline (which, according to the government, is used primarily by those who own foreign cars). In addition, the government is seeking to impose a 10 percent tax on user costs for pagers and mobile telephones. The new proposals may be intended to counter charges that the government is trying to shift the tax burden from the wealthy to less affluent Russians. The government's anti-crisis program called for lowering the top income tax bracket from 35 percent to 30 percent, introducing a sales tax, and eliminating a reduced rate of value-added tax for many goods. LB DUMA SLAMS GOVERNMENT'S PENSION POLICY. The Duma on 16 July adopted a resolution slamming a telegram sent by Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev and Pension Fund Chairman Vasilii Barchuk to regional leaders on 6 July, ITAR-TASS reported. The telegram advised regional leaders to pay out pensions at a level below that provided for by federal legislation. The Duma demanded that Sysuev withdraw the telegram and called on regional leaders to strictly follow federal laws on pensions. It also called on Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov to monitor closely whether laws on pension payments are violated in the regions. Under a law that took effect on 1 February, pensions are to be recalculated quarterly. But Sysuev recently announced that because of the financial constraints of the Pension Fund, the government wants a temporary reversal of the pension indexing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 July 1998). LB YELTSIN ATTENDS TSAR'S REBURIAL. "We must end this century, which became an age of blood and lawlessness in Russia, with repentance and peace, regardless of political views, religion, or ethnicity," President Yeltsin said at the reburial ceremony for Nicholas II at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg on 17 July. "For many years we have kept silent about this monstrous crime, but we must tell the truth: the executions in Yekaterinburg formed one of the most shameful pages in our history," he commented. Yeltsin added that the Bolsheviks, who killed the tsar and his family in 1918, were not the only guilty ones but also "those who justified the act for decades." While first secretary of the Sverdlovsk Oblast Communist Party Committee, Yeltsin authorized the demolition of the building in which the tsar and his family were killed. BT MIXED REACTION TO YELTSIN'S PARTICIPATION IN TSAR'S REBURIAL. Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II said that while he respects the "moral motives" behind President Yeltsin's decision to attend the reburial of Nicholas II's remains, the Church's "central act of commemoration and repentance" will be at a monastery outside Moscow on 17 July, Russian news agencies reported. The previous day, shortly after Yeltsin announced his decision to attend, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev backed down from his former position, saying a delegation from the upper house led by St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev will attend the funeral. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov slammed Yeltsin's decision, accusing the president of fostering a "split in society, including a split among believers." He also claimed that Yeltsin's last-minute decision shows that the president is controlled by his "inner circle." Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky supported Yeltsin's decision as a way to "stigmatize regicides," adding that "it was the Communists who were known to have been regicidal." BT GOVERNOR SAYS YELTSIN TO SEND SYSUEV TO KEMEROVO. After a 16 July meeting with Yeltsin in the Kremlin, Tomsk Oblast Governor Viktor Kress said the president is sending Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev to Kemerovo Oblast in the next few days to negotiate with miners blockading the Trans- Siberian Railroad, Russian news agencies reported. Sysuev had said earlier that he will not go until the miners lift the blockade and stop demanding Yeltsin's resignation. Also on 16 July, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev threatened to file suit against the federal government for "failing to meet their commitments to the region's coal miners and public- sector employees." Meanwhile, industrial workers in three towns in Kemerovo Oblast have sent an ultimatum to the Railroads Ministry demanding that trains not be allowed to by-pass the blockade of the Trans-Siberian via the Toguchin- Mezhdurechensk line. BT COURT REFUSES TO STRIKE DOWN LAW ON POWERS OF INVESTIGATORS... The Constitutional Court has rejected an appeal by a journalist against sections of the law on operational-investigative activities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 July. Irina Chernova, the editor of the Volgograd edition of the weekly "Novaya gazeta," filed the court appeal. As a correspondent for "Komsomolskaya pravda" in 1994 and 1995, Chernova published several articles criticizing the Volgograd police. She was subsequently followed and detained without being told the grounds on which she was being investigated. Police officers also tried to blackmail her by threatening to release pictures or videotapes of her engaged in sexual activities. However, the Constitutional Court found that the disputed articles in the law either were not relevant to Chernova's case or did not violate her rights. LB ...AS DISSENTING JUDGE CRITICIZES DECISION. Speaking to "Kommersant-Daily," Constitutional Court Judge Anatolii Kononov disagreed with the ruling on Chernova's case. He said the court should have declared all the disputed passages of the law unconstitutional but instead upheld the state's interests over the interests of individual citizens. Among other things, Chernova challenged passages that allow police to keep secret the reasons for opening an investigation and the materials gathered during an investigation. She also disputed an article allowing judges to give permission to conduct investigations without holding hearings or issuing official protocols. LB BASHKORTOSTAN COURT VALIDATES PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Bashkortostan ruled on 16 July that President Murtaza Rakhimov's re-election last month was valid, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The court upheld the decision to reschedule the election from December to June 1998. Rakhimov's critics argued that holding the election six months early violated federal law. They say the election date was changed to allow Rakhimov to run for re-election. He will turn 65 in early 1999, and Bashkortostan's law on presidential elections says presidential candidates may not be within three months of turning 65. The Russian Supreme Court could still declare the Bashkortostan election invalid. It is to consider an appeal from two would-be candidates whose names were kept off the ballot in spite of Russian Supreme Court rulings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 23 June 1998). LB MOSCOW RESPONDS TO TURKISH THREATS AGAINST CYPRUS. A commentary published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 July suggests that the U.S. may be behind Ankara's recent threats to launch air strikes to destroy the S-300 air defense missiles that Russia plans to deliver to Greek Cyprus later this year. The commentator said that Russia's "return to the eastern Mediterranean" poses a threat to the perceived nascent U.S.-Turkey-Israel axis and that Western arms firms may be concerned about losing the Cypriot arms market. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists on 14 July that unspecified groups in Turkey are trying to draw other countries into "an anti-Russian campaign" over the proposed deployment of the missiles. But speaking in Yerevan on 15 July, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev called for "normal, friendly" relations between Russia and Turkey in order to promote stability in the region, ITAR-TASS reported. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT BANS WAHHABISM. Following the fighting in Gudermes on 14-15 July between a detachment of the Chechen National Guard and forces identified by Chechen official spokesmen as radical Islamists, Aslan Maskhadov issued a decree on 16 July banning Wahhabism in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Dagestani religious leader Saidmukhamed Abubakarov expressed support for the ban but said he fears Maskhadov delayed too long in taking action against Wahhabis. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 July argued that the forces opposed to Maskhadov are not Wahhabis but detachments loyal to other Chechen political figures. Maskhadov also disbanded the Islamic special purpose regiment and a subdivision of the Sharia National Security Ministry. The commanders of both those groups had sent units to Gudermes to fight on the side of the alleged Wahhabis, according to ITAR-TASS. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA YELTSIN WANTS PEACEKEEPERS TO STAY IN ABKHAZIA. Russian President Yeltsin wrote to the Federation Council on 16 July requesting that the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia be prolonged, ITAR-TASS reported. The force's mandate expires on 31 July. Yeltsin argued that the peacekeepers are "the only real force that ensures a stable cease-fire and conditions for a political settlement." He added that their withdrawal could "cause an explosion not only in the region but possibly in the whole of the Caucasus." Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told Interfax on 16 July that if the Russian peacekeepers are withdrawn, Abkhaz units will occupy the 12 kilometer security zone currently patrolled by the Russian force and advance to the Inguri River, which forms the border. LF GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS DENY TARGETING PEACEKEEPERS. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 16 July that leaflets signed by the Georgian guerrilla "White Legion" and containing threats against the peacekeeping force have been found in the 12 kilometer security zone. Also on 16 July, White Legion leaders rejected the accusation by Colonel- General Sergei Korobko, the commander of the peacekeeping force, that the legion planted the land mine that killed five peacekeepers in Abkhazia's Gali Raion on12 July. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT UNDERGOES SURGERY. Eduard Shevardnadze was hospitalized on 16 July for minor surgery, Georgian and Russian agencies reported. Shevardnadze's press secretary, Vakhtang Abashidze, told ITAR-TASS that the 40-minute operation involved destroying a "medium-sized" kidney stone. Abashidze said Shevardnadze "is feeling well, perfect" after the surgery. He denied a Caucasus Press report that the operation was to remove a prostate adenoma. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION HEAD SAYS NO MORE CONCESSIONS. Ramiz Mekhtiev told a press conference in Baku on 16 July that the country's leadership will not meet the remaining conditions laid down by opposition political parties for their participation in the 11 October presidential election, Turan reported. The opposition is demanding that criminal charges against former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev and Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar be dropped and that the opposition be allowed to select half the members of the Central Electoral Commission. Mekhtiev said that six of the 24 seats on that commission have been reserved for nominees from two opposition parties. Mekhtiev added that up to 300 international observers are expected to monitor the poll. LF STRAINS IN AZERBAIJANI-TURKISH RELATIONS. The Azerbaijani Embassy in Ankara has issued a statement expressing "dissatisfaction" over former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev's presence in Turkey, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 17 July. The statement said that "Guliev is taking advantage of Turkish hospitality and using Istanbul as a base to harm the friendship between the two countries." In other news, the Azerbaijani Arbitration Court has confiscated assets belonging to the Turkish trade and construction firm DHT, which owes $7 million in taxes dating back to 1995, Turan reported on 16 July. DHT claims it signed contracts with the International and National Banks of Azerbaijan exempting the company from taxes. LF NIYAZOV CONGRATULATES FARMERS ON HARVEST. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov opened a 16 July session of the People's Council by congratulating farmers on this year's grain harvest, which totals 1.24 million tons, Russian media reported. "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" noted that this year's harvest is 20 times larger than during the last years of the Soviet Union. Niyazov also raised the retirement age by two years to 62 for men and 57 for women. He noted that Russia's proposal to repay more than 70 percent of its $107 million debt through goods is "unacceptable," saying Turkmenistan's economy "needs hard currency." And he said that it is time to declare war on drug trafficking, which he called the country's "problem number one." BP KYRGYZ GROUPS APPEAL RULING ALLOWING AKAYEV TO RUN AGAIN FOR PRESIDENT. The leaders of 10 political parties, movements, and non-government organizations have appealed to the Constitutional Court asking it to overturn its 13 July decision to allow President Askar Akayev to run again for office. Akayev has been elected in popular votes twice (in 1991 and 1995). The constitution states that one person may serve a maximum of two terms, but the court ruled that since the country adopted a new constitution in 1993, Akayev has been elected only once under current legislation. BP DEMONSTRATORS ARRESTED IN KYRGYZSTAN. Kyrgyz police on 16 July arrested 47 people who had staged a demonstration outside the government building in Bishkek since 13 July, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The demonstrators came from the village of Masy in Jalalabad Oblast and were protesting the delay in receiving plots of land from the government. BP KAZAKH COMMITTEE SEEKS TO DISBAND MONOPOLIES. The Kazakh Committee responsible for regulating natural monopolies and ensuring fair competition has begun reviewing tariffs charged by the country's large companies, Interfax reported on 16 July. Committee chairman Nikolai Radostovets told a press conference in Astana that the national oil company, Kazakhoil, has increased the price of oil it supplies to refineries, despite a 17 percent decrease in the price of petroleum on world markets since the beginning of this year. Radostovets said the company "needs to be de-monopolized." Other companies under review are Intergaz Central Asia, Kazakhtransoil, the railroad company Temir Zholy, Kazakhtelekom, and Almaty Power Consolidated. BP 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 of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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