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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 152 Part I, 10 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 152 Part I, 10 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx SPECIAL REPORT: TURKEY AT A CROSSROADS A veteran RFE/RL correspondent reports from Turkey on politics and religion, minorities, economics and foreign relations. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/turkey xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN TO REMAIN IN CONTROL IN SICKNESS OR IN HEALTH * RUSSIAN TITANIUM MONOPOLY ESTABLISHED * TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN STRENGTHEN DEFENSES ALONG AFGHAN BORDER xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN TO REMAIN IN CONTROL IN SICKNESS OR IN HEALTH. On 8 August, Russian President Boris Yeltsin firmly rejected a draft law submitted by the Duma that would have allowed the prime minister to assume the president's duties in case of either illness requiring a hospital or sanitoria stay, or even a vacation. According to Interfax, Yeltsin believes that the proposed law is unconstitutional, because it allows a temporary removal of the president from office. Article 92 of the Constitution permits the prime minister to act as president when the head of state is unable to perform his duties, but hospitalization alone is not sufficient grounds for a president to delegate his duties to the prime minister, he argued. JAC RUSSIAN MEMBERSHIP IN WTO STILL LONG-TERM PROSPECT. Russian chief negotiator to the World Trade Organization Georgii Gabunia told Interfax on 7 August that there is little chance that Russia will join the WTO in 1998. According to Gabunia, Russia and the WTO still need to work out a compromise on a detailed market-access proposal that the Russian government submitted in March. Last year, President Clinton promised Yeltsin at their March meeting in Helsinki to help Russia get into the WTO by the end of 1998. However, US trade officials have urged Russia to lower its proposed import duty levels on agricultural products, particularly on poultry, the US's largest export to Russia. The next round of talks between Russia and the WTO is scheduled for December. JAC MIR TO REMAIN OPEN UNTIL MID-1999. On 7 August, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov announced that the space station Mir will remain operational until mid-1999 when the Alpha international space station will come online. According to Interfax, the next crew to visit Mir will depart on 13 August. The first segment of Alpha will enter space in November 1998, and in April 1999 a service module will be launched. Last year, the launch of the first module of Alpha was postponed from November 1997 to June 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997). Nemtsov told reporters that both Mir and the Alpha programs would get part of their funding from the private sector through charging cellular providers for use of communication satellites and the sale of Russian space industry property. JAC RUSSIAN TITANIUM MONOPOLY ESTABLISHED. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 August that one industrial holding has control over 100% of Russia's titanium production, which accounts for almost one third of total world output. The holding is the result of amalgamating two Russian companies, Avisma, located in Perm oblast, and the Verkhne-Saldinskoye Metallurgisheskoye Proizvodstvennoye Obyedineniye (VSMPO) in Sverdlovsk oblast. The process was initiated by Austria's Kreditanstalt Bank, which owned Avisma. The bulk of Russian titanium is exported. In March 1998, Boeing agreed to buy $175 million worth of titanium from VSMPO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). JAC CHELYABINSK MINERS END BLOCKADE. After Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov agreed to transfer 25 million rubles in back wages, coal miners in Chelyabinskugol company agreed on 7 August to end their two-week long blockade of the Trans- Siberian railroad. According to Interfax, Chelyabinsk governor Petr Sumin arranged for debtors to the local budget to provide another 12 million rubles to the striking miners. Yeltsin administration officials have suggested that money to compensate the railroad for the financial losses caused the miners' blockade be taken out of state monies for the coal industry. JAC GOVERNMENT TRIES TO REDUCE ENERGY CONSUMERS' DEPENDENCE ON BARTER. On 8 August, the government decided to offer industrial enterprises and consumers who rely on government funding an incentive to settle their energy bills with cash. According to ITAR-TASS, the government approved a draft resolution offering enterprises a 1% reduction and consumers a 3% reduction in the price of gas if they pay 20% or more of their bill in cash. JAC GOVERNMENT TO SELL MORE OIL COMPANY STAKES. On 8 August, Yeltsin signed a decree authorizing the auction of additional stakes in Russian oil companies, Interfax reported. These companies included Vostsibneftegaz, Eastern Oil, SIBUR, Tyumen Oil, KomiTEK, and NORSI Oil. The government is currently in the process of trying to sell Rosneft for the third time and an additional %5 stake in Gazprom. JAC RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR MEETS NEW SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER. Russia's ambassador to South Korea, Yevgenii Afanasev, met South Korea's new foreign minister, Hong Soon- young, in Seoul on 7 August, ITAR-TASS and the "Korean Times" reported. Hong told Afanasev that good relations with Russia are "very important" to his country. Hong was appointed as foreign minister on 4 August when his predecessor Park Chung- soo was sacked for mishandling the July spy scandal between Russia and South Korea. One of those caught up in that scandal, Russian diplomat Oleg Abramkin, was expelled from South Korea, but Park hinted to Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov at the ASEAN conference in Manila at the end of July that Abramkin would be allowed back. The "Korean Times," however, reports that is no longer the case as Primakov's public interpretation of Park's remarks as an official apology "hurt the national sentiment" in South Korea. BP RUSSIA, INDIA GROWING CLOSER? Interfax reports from 8 August say a "large-scale treaty of strategic partnership" could be signed when President Yeltsin pays a visit to Delhi late this year. Besides that treaty, a memorandum on arms trade and related services through the year 2010 is being planned. Yeltsin's India trip was originally planned for January 1998, but was postponed "under a mutual understanding." Interfax "sources" in Moscow noted that details of the original agreements are being changed to reflect the new realities on the Asian sub-continent, notably India's tests of nuclear weapons in May. Russia is officially opposed to imposing sanctions on Delhi for conducting the tests. BP CHECHEN PRESIDENT IN U.S. Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Washington on 7 August that Chechnya has a right to be an independent state, but is ready to conclude a single economic and defense space with Russia, according to ITAR-TASS and an RFE/RL correspondent. Maskhadov termed U.S. interest in events in the Caucasus justified, noting that the U.S. policy towards Chechnya is "cautious." Maskhadov said he hopes for foreign investment to help rebuild Chechnya's devastated infrastructure, and that Chechnya is prepared to repay such investement, which he has asked Russian officials not to interfere in, with crude oil. Chechen domestic oil production in the first three months of 1998 was 320,000 metric tons. LF CHECHENS CLAIM, RUSSIANS DENY CLASH ON DAGESTAN BORDER. Acting Chechen Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev told Interfax on 7 August that Chechen forces had been placed on the alert following an incident early that morning on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Atgeriev claimed that there were casualties on both sides when two Russian armored vehicles opened fire on a Chechen customs post, after which Russian combat helicopters subjected several Chechen posts to heavy machinegun fire. Both the Dagestan Interior Ministry and Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel-General Leontii Shevtsov, who is commander of the Russian Interior Ministry force in the North Caucasus, denied that any such incident had taken place. A joint Chechen-Russian commission is to investigate the alleged clash. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN STRENGTHEN DEFENSES ALONG AFGHAN BORDER. The commander of the Russian border guards in Tajikistan, Nikolai Reznichenko, said on 8 August that "stand-by" rapid reaction forces are being formed in Tajikistan to bolster defenses along the Tajik border with Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Reznichenko's comments followed reports that troops of Afghanistan's Taliban movement had entered the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i- Sharif the same day. Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Abdurakhmon Azimov told ITAR-TASS on 10 August that armed Taliban troops have been seen as close as 20 kilometers from the border with Tajikistan. The Russian Border Guard Service commander, Col- General Nikolai Bordyuzha, is expected in Tajikistan on 18 August. Uzbekistan is also taking extra precautions along its border with Afghanistan, but reports from Tashkent indicate there is no fighting near the Uzbek-Afghan border, though Mazar-i-Sharif is located 60 kilometers south. BP TAJIK OPPOSITION PROTESTS ARRESTS. The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) released a statement to local and foreign media on 8 August protesting the arrests of several UTO members in northern Tajikistan's Leninabad Region, two days earlier, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. Eight UTO members, including the chief cleric of the mosque in the city of Isfara, were arrested by police on 6 August for illegal possession of weapons. The statement from the UTO claims that even during the Tajik civil war UTO members in the Leninabad Region did not have weapons, and that the charges against the eight are "a pure lie." The statement demands the Tajik government release the eight men and "stop any steps aimed at undermining the peace process." BP ARMENIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN CALLS FOR CONSENSUS ON ELECTION LAW. Addressing the presidential human rights commission on 7 August, Robert Kocharian again called on Armenia's political parties to overcome their differences over the new election law, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian declined to say whether he supports the preference of the Yerkrapah union of war veterans, the largest parliamentary group, for the majority of seats to be allocated in single-mandate constituencies, or that of most remaining parties for proportional representation. "I am ready to accept whatever political parties and the National Assembly agree upon," he said. But Kocharian warned that if a consensus is not reached in September, the government, which shares responsibility for ensuring that the 1999 parliamentary elections are free and fair, will propose an alternative draft in October or November. Kocharian again said that he would only consider dissolving parliament in the event of a "political crisis." LF MOTIVES FOR ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR'S MURDER STILL UNCLEAR. On 7 August the Armenian Prosecutor-General's office isisued a statement denying media speculation that a third person may have been present at the killing of Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian the pervious day. Khachatrian was apparently shot dead by his subordinate, former transport prosecutor Aram Karapetian, who then committed suicide. According to a second statement carried by Armenpress on 8 August, an investigation opened by the transport procuracy at the time it was headed by Karapetian was later inxplicably shelved. One of Khachatrian's predecessors, former procurator-general Vladimir Nazarian, told the daily "Aravot" on 8 August that relations between Khachatrian and Karapetian were "not tense." Nazarian added that Karapetian and Armenian railways director Arbartsum Ghandilian, whose murder in 1994 was never solved, witnessed largescale embezzlement in the rail sector in the early 1990s. LF AZERBAIJANIS COMMENT ON ABOLITION OF CENSORSHIP ... Opposition party leaders and newspaper editors have greeted President Heidar Aliev's 6 August decree abolishing political censorship, Turan reported. Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar termed the move "the result of joint efforts by democratic forces," while Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey says he believes it is irreversible. But Yashar Aliyev, assistant editor of "525 gazeti," wondered if the move is indeed permanent, and Democratic Party Secretary- General Sardar Djalaloglu expressed doubt that the abolition of censorship will resolve the problem of the lack of press freedom, given that "moral censorship still exists." LF ... AS OPPOSITION PROTESTS RENEWED HARASSMENT. The Azerbaijan Popular Front Party issued a statement on 7 August reporting the arrest of four of its activists in three rural districts for their refusal to endorse Heidar Aliev's presidential candidacy, Turan reported. The party's Ordubad branch was prevented by Nakhichevan police from holding a planned meeting on 7 August, after the chairman of the Nakhichevan branch was interrogated and physically attacked by a local police official the previous day. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Elchibey told Turan in an interview that the necessary conditions for holding democratic elections still have not been created. Elchibey accused Aliev of insincerity in calling for dialogue with the opposition while condoning the arrest of its local representatives. LF FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DENIES PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS. In Moscow, former president Ayaz Mutalibov said President Aliev's abolition of media censorship is "a wise decision," adding that he would also have released political prisoners "in order to promote national unity." Mutalibov denied media reports that he either plans to contend the upcoming presidential election or that he has established contact with the five opposition leaders who intend to boycott the poll, Turan reported on 8 August. LF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES FOUR NEW MINISTERS. Meeting in emergency session on 8 August, the Georgian parliament confirmed four of five candidates nominated by President Eduard Shevardnadze for vacant cabinet posts, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Former First Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Ukleba was confirmed as State Property Minister, National Library Director Aleksandre Kartozia as Education Minister, law professor Lado Chanturia as minister of justice, and Tbilisi mayor and former Georgian Communist Party functionary Badri Shoshitaishvili, who served as first secretary of a Tbilisi raion party committee in the mid- 1980s, as industry minister. Deputies also approved the candidacy of Foreign Trade Minister Konstantine Zaldastanishvili as ambassador to the EU, but rejected Otar Zumburidze's candidacy for the post of communications minister.LF THREE ABKHAZ POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN CLASH Three Abkhaz police officers were shot dead by Georgian police in Khurcha village in Georgia's Zugdidi raion on the evening of 8 August, Russian agencies reported. The Abkhaz had reportedly crossed the Inguri river, which marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, by car and opened fire at houses in Khurcha. On 7 August, General Sergei Korobko, who commands the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under CIS auspices in Abkhazia, called for that force to be doubled from its present strength of 1,500 to 3,000 men, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 7 August, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry issued a statement querying why the Georgian authorities allow the leader of the "White Legion" guerrilla force, Zurab Samushia, to give interviews to local media instead of arresting him, Caucasus Press reported. 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 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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