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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 151, Part I, 7 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 151, Part I, 7 August 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 * RUSSIA TO BORROW MORE ON FOREIGN MARKETS * WORLD BANK LOAN APPROVED * ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL MURDERED End Note: UZBEKISTAN TURNS BELIEVERS INTO CRIMINALS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA TO BORROW MORE ON FOREIGN MARKETS. The Russian government on 6 August announced that it will borrow up to $3 billion abroad before the end of 1998, increasing its annual hard-currency borrowing limit by almost one-quarter, Russian news agencies reported. According to Bloomberg, the Ministry of Finance said that it will still issue only $2 billion worth of Eurobonds but that other forms of foreign borrowing will increase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1998). Only last week, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said the government would not consider new foreign borrowing until the end of October. However, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko said on 6 August that Russia's total amount of borrowing will not increase because the government will reduce the amount it borrows domestically. JAC WORLD BANK LOAN APPROVED. The board of directors of the World Bank approved a $1.5 billion loan to Russia on 6 August. Russia will receive the first installment, worth $300 million, on 10 August. The Bank will release another $500 million by the end of this year and the remainder in 1999. The loan is the largest that the World Bank has ever extended in Europe or Central Asia, and its adjustable interest rate of 5.9 percent is consequently somewhat higher than usual. The World Bank pledged $4 billion as part of the IMF-led $22.6 billion package. JAC SABOTAGE BY CENTRAL BANK? "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 6 August charged Central Bank chief Sergei Dubinin with paralyzing the Russian government for an entire day on 20 July. According to the daily, the Central Bank froze the Finance Ministry's 8.7 billion ruble ($1.4 billion) account, leaving the Russian government unable to fulfill any of its financial obligations for one week. "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" sketches out different scenarios to explain the Central Bank's action. It suggests that Dubinin may have speculated with the Finance Ministry's money and bought short-term Treasury notes or that the Central Bank may have needed money to pay off its own promissory notes. However, the daily believes that Dubinin's motives were primarily "political" or personal. Not all the Central Bank's past transactions have been "perfectly legal," the newspaper noted. Moreover, it continued, Dubinin wanted to bring down the Kirienko government and trigger an economic crisis before the bank's action was discovered. Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group is a financial backer of "Nezavisimaya Gazeta." JAC LABOR ACTION FORESTALLED... Russian air traffic controllers have canceled their strike scheduled for 9 August after the government pledged to pay back wages, ITAR-TASS reported. Federal Aviation Service director Gennadii Zaitsev told a press conference on 6 August that five large airline companies, including Transaero and Aeroflot, will contribute 30 million rubles ($4.8 million). According to "Kommersant- Daily" on 6 August, the air traffic controllers union has scored a number of successes with the government, winning wage increases several times over the past three years. JAC ...WHILE OTHERS END, BEGIN. According to ITAR-TASS on 7 August, coal miners in the town of Partizansk in the Far East have ended a hunger strike in response to a promise of assistance from the coal mine's management. The hunger strike was launched on 28 July. And in Khabarovsk Oblast, 20 gold miners who had stayed underground for seven months to protest unpaid wages reemerged on 6 August after receiving wages for one year. Meanwhile, the union of railroad workers in Moscow called a strike for midnight of 7 August to protest a proposed change in the system of wages. According to ITAR- TASS, railroad traffic so far has been unaffected, in part because railway management considers the action unlawful. Warning of the strike was given only six hours in advance. By law, at least 10 days' notice are required. JAC SHELL UNINTERESTED IN GAZPROM, ROSNEFT. Royal Dutch Shell is unlikely to enter a bid for either Gazprom or Rosneft, AFP reported on 6 August. Shell Managing Director Jeroen van den Veer said that despite the company's interest in Russia, conditions there are still too unstable. Shell's rejection follows earlier reports that Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev wanted Shell--and only Shell--to purchase the soon-to-be- available 5.87 percent stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1998). Bloomberg reported on 6 August that to win the tender for Gazprom, bidders will have to promise not to sell the stake for a stipulated period. JAC GOVERNMENT SAYS ALL IS WELL WITH GAZPROM. After visiting Gazprom headquarters on 6 August, Prime Minister Kirienko and Vyakhirev issued statements of mutual support. According to Interfax, Kirienko pledged assistance for all the company's export projects, singling out Gazprom's Bluestream project to construct an underwater pipeline across the Black Sea to supply Turkey. The project faces stiff competition from a variety of other proposed gas export projects. The U.S. government, for example, has funded a feasibility study for an underwater gas pipeline across the Caspian that would provide an outlet for Turkmen gas bypassing Russia. JAC RUSSIAN PRISONERS TO BE OFFERED AMNESTY. According to "Vremya MN" on 6 August, one-third of all Russians currently incarcerated may be offered their freedom by the end of the year. Speaking at conference in Krasnoyarsk, Minister of Justice Pavel Krasheninnikov said that in September he would submit to the State Duma legislation offering amnesty to prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses. The amnesty would be only the first step in a larger judicial reform intended to substitute fines and other financial penalties for jail sentences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1998). JAC NEW TB STRAIN FOUND IN RUSSIAN PRISONS. Doctors have discovered a new incurable form of tuberculosis in Russia, which is concentrated primarily among prison inmates, Interfax reported on 6 August. Medicins sans Frontieres, Medical Emergency Relief International, and the Public Health Institute of New York have sent a joint letter to President Boris Yeltsin warning that Russia has become "an international incubator of a new lethal illness." The new strain of the disease resulted from Russian doctors' "non- standard" use of antibiotics. Of the 15,000 to 20,000 Russians with drug-resistant TB, two-thirds are in prison. JAC KRASNOYARSK, KHAKASIYA TO CREATE UNITED LEBED REPUBLIC? The Republic of Khakasiya, which split from Krasnoyarsk Krai in 1992 in the hope of receiving larger subsidies from the federal center as a separate subject of the Russian Federation, now wants that decision reversed, according to "Tribuna" of 7 August. The governors of the two regions, brothers Aleksei and Aleksandr Lebed, are reportedly holding talks on a series of economic agreements intended to improve economic conditions in Khakasiya. LF GAZPROM TIGHTENS SCREWS ON TATARSTAN. A delegation from Gazprom subsidiary Mezhregiongaz met with Tatarstan's Prime Minister Rustan Minnikhanov in Kazan on 6 August to discuss repayment of Tatarstan's estimated 3.5 billion ruble ($553 million) gas debts, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Gazprom halved deliveries of natural gas to Tatarstan in early June, prompting Tatarstan's government to cancel gas deliveries to debtor industrial enterprises and to preserve the gas deliveries to private citizens. Mezhregiongaz is now insisting that 30 percent of past and current debts be paid in cash, rather than with promissory notes or by barter agreement. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL MURDERED. Henrik Khachatrian was shot dead in his office on 6 August by senior prosecutor Aram Karapetian, who then committed suicide. The motives for the killing are unknown. A former member of the Armenian Constitutional Court, Khachatrian was appointed prosecutor- general in May 1997 by then President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Speaking on national television on 6 August, President Robert Kocharian praised Khachatrian for his honesty and professionalism as well as for his efforts to establish the rule of law in Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ABOLISHING CENSORSHIP. As announced by one of his advisers last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1998), Heidar Aliev has signed a decree officially abolishing censorship in Azerbaijan. But at the same time, Aliev called for the creation of an alternative body to protect state secrets, Reuters reported on 6 August. Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told Azerbaijani Television that the move to abolish censorship was not connected with the upcoming presidential elections. LF OPPOSITION LEADER CONDEMNS ALIEV'S ELECTION MOVE. Former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev has told RFE/RL's Baku bureau that President Aliev's 5 August appeal to three opposition politicians to drop their proposed boycott of the presidential poll was intended to split the opposition ranks. Guliev was one of two other opposition leaders who have likewise declared their intention not to participate in the election unless their demands for liberalization are met. Guliev said that the "five" will continue to act in unison, and he condemned what he termed an attempt by Aliev to drive a wedge between them. LF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW STATE MINISTER. Meeting in an emergency session on 7 August, the Georgian parliament voted by 122 votes to two to approve the candidacy of former ambassador to Russia, Vazha Lortkipanidze, as minister of state, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi reported. Lortkipanidze told lawmakers that he will pursue a European- oriented foreign policy, adding that this does not preclude improving relations with Russia, which, he said, also aspires to closer integration into the European community. He argued that there is no alternative to continuing economic reforms but hinted that he might condone some protective measures to help local producers. The Socialist, Labor, and Popular factions had earlier announced that they will abstain from voting. Following the resignation of almost the entire cabinet last week, the former ministers of communications, industry, education, foreign economic relations, justice, and state property have not been renominated to those positions. LF GEORGIA, RUSSIA, ABKHAZIA FORM ANTI-TERRORIST FORCE. Meeting in western Georgia on 7 August, Georgian and Abkhaz representatives and the commander-in-chief of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under CIS auspices in Abkhazia agreed to create a joint force to investigate terrorist attacks against the Russian peacekeepers, Caucasus Press reported. More than 60 members of that force have fallen victim to terrorist attacks over the past four years. LF SUSPECTED MURDERER OF UN OFFICIAL ARRESTED IN TBILISI. Georgian police on 6 August arrested 20-year-old Zurab Bregvadze on suspicion of the 14 July shooting of a Polish woman employed by the UN mission in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF TALIBAN SUCCESS WORRIES RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD COMMANDER. The commander of Russia's Border Guard Service, Colonel-General Nikolai Bordyuzha, told journalists in Moscow on 6 August that he is worried that forces of Afghanistan's Taliban movement may soon advance to the border of Tajikistan, ITAR- TASS and Interfax reported. Bordyuzha said border guards in Tajikistan have already taken measures to secure the border with Afghanistan in the event that Taliban forces reach that frontier. Bordyuzha also said preparations are being made for the possible arrival of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting in northern Afghanistan. BP KAZAKH CENTRAL BANK CHIEF ON ECONOMIC PROSPECTS. The chairman of Kazakhstan's National Bank, Kadyrjon Damitov, told a press conference in Almaty on 6 August that inflation in the country will stand at 8 percent by year's end, Interfax reported. Damitov said in the first half of 1998, inflation dropped by 3.1 percent, compared with the same period in 1997, and totaled 3.6 percent. Damitov predicted that GDP will increase by 1.5 percent, well short of the planned 3 percent growth. He said the Financial Ministry's debt has grown by more 50 percent, compared with the same period last year, to reach 34.8 billion tenge (some $500 million). However, Damitov said he does not expect the tenge to drop significantly in value against the dollar in 1998, noting that in the first half of this year it lost only 1.73 percent of its value. BP END NOTE UZBEKISTAN TURNS BELIEVERS INTO CRIMINALS by Felix Corley In Uzbekistan, religious believers of all faiths are waiting in trepidation as the 15 August deadline for their communities to lodge re-registration applications with the Ministry of Justice approaches. Under registration regulations issued in a 20 June decree of the Council of Ministers, religious communities (such as mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples) have to provide extensive documentation to back up their applications, which the ministry must process within three months. Even for those with documentation that meets the strict new requirements set out under the revised law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, adopted by parliament on 1 May, it is by no means certain that the Ministry of Justice will grant registration. The government and, in particular, President Islam Karimov have made clear their dislike of Muslims outside the control of the government- sponsored Muslim Board. Karimov has made frequent verbal attacks on such Muslims, whom he routinely dubs "Wahhabi fundamentalists," regardless of whether they have any links with the form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Karimov cited the presence of such Muslims in Uzbekistan as the justification for the adoption of the harsh new law. During debates in the parliament, Karimov blamed such Muslims for instability in the country and declared that "such people must be shot in the head". But many religious communities in Uzbekistan--even some that now have state registration--will not be eligible to apply for re-registration, as they have fewer than the 100 adult members required under the new law. In what is being seen as a test case, the prosecutor-general of the Zheleznodorozhny district of Samarkand ruled on 25 June that a local community of Jehovah's Witnesses was functioning illegally without registration and that, with only 30 to 40 members, the community would be unable to gain registration under the new law. Uzbekistan's new law on freedom of conscience, which amends legislation first adopted in June 1991, is the harshest in the former Soviet Union. Registration is compulsory for all religious groups, whether local or national, and groups need the approval of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs before they can apply for registration with the Ministry of Justice. All unregistered religious activity is illegal, as is proselytism or any kind of missionary activity. Only central religious administrations have the right to publish religious literature, and all imported religious literature must be censored by the state. Under the same law, only centralized religious administrations can set up schools "to train clergy and other religious personnel". All other forms of religious education, even in private, are illegal. Religious political parties and social movements are banned. And only clerics may walk the streets in religious garb. The law specifies that those conducting "any illegal religious activity" will be subject to prosecution, as will religious leaders who evade state registration and officials who allow unregistered religious groups to function. Amendments to the administrative and criminal codes adopted by the parliament on 1 May spell out the penalties for the new offenses. First offenses are generally punishable by fines or short-term imprisonment of up to two weeks. Second- time offenders risk up to three years in prison for proselytism, for holding youth meetings, for teaching religion without permission, or for encouraging others to take part in illegal religious groups. For repeat offenses, organizers of illegal religious groups risk a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. Crimes of violence with a religious coloring attract heavier penalties. Many of the provisions of the new law on freedom of conscience clearly violate Uzbekistan's human rights commitments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Uzbekistan acceded to those two covenants in September 1995), as well as commitments enshrined in successive OSCE documents. The Uzbek government argues that tight restrictions are necessary to prevent religious-related conflict from spreading to Uzbekistan from neighboring Afghanistan and Tajikistan. President Islam Karimov conjures up bloodcurdling images of what would happen if Islamists came to power in Uzbekistan. But the system of control over all religious activity enshrined in the new law and backed up by the criminal code and the registration regulations goes far beyond the temporary derogations from international human rights commitments permitted in times of "public emergency." The Uzbek authorities are clearly sensitive on the subject of religion. On 1 August, Russian journalists Vitalii Ponomarev and Nikolai Mitrokhin were assaulted and beaten in the center of Tashkent by unknown attackers following their meeting with Marat Zakhidov, a well-known Uzbek human rights activist. The Glasnost Defense Foundation in Moscow believed the assault was connected with the journalists' investigation into "repression against religious organizations". The two had already visited the Fergana valley, a region with a strong Islamist presence. In one of the first responses to the new law, the local union of Baptists complained to President Karimov at the end of May that "the new law turns Baptists from peaceful citizens who obey the law into criminals". However, it is not just Baptists who will be subject to the full weight of the new legislation. How numerous these "criminals" turn out to be and how far Uzbekistan is prepared to go in flouting its international commitments will soon be seen. The author writes on religious liberty issues in the former Soviet Union. 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 of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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