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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 163 Part I, 25 August 1998


___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 163 Part I, 25 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

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Headlines, Part I

* CHERNOMYRDIN TO FORM COALITION GOVERNMENT

* FATE OF NEW GOVERNMENT, DUMA TIED

* UN WITHDRAWS SOME PERSONNEL FROM TAJIKISTAN

End Note: LATVIA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON CITIZENSHIP LAW
AMENDMENTS
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RUSSIA

CHERNOMYRDIN TO FORM COALITION GOVERNMENT. Acting Prime
Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the heads of parliamentary
factions, including Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov,
agreed on 24 August to form a coalition government.
According to Interfax, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev
said that a "trilateral" commission composed of members of
the government and both houses of the parliament will draw
up two documents, a plan for overcoming the economic crisis
and a "political treaty" between the executive and the
legislature. Based on when these documents are drawn up, the
Duma Council will decide when it can hold its plenary
session to consider Chernomyrdin's candidacy for prime
minister. The Duma Council will meet on 28 August. Seleznev
told NTV that each Duma faction will meet individually with
Chernomyrdin to propose candidates for government positions.
JAC

FATE OF NEW GOVERNMENT, DUMA TIED. In an interview with Ekho
Moskvy, Communist Party leader Zyuganov explained that
although Russia has already experienced a coalition
government under former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who
had two ministers from Yabloko, the new government will be
fundamentally different. According to Zyuganov, Chernomyrdin
has proposed that the "majority of the Duma back a specific
program" and that they "will be responsible for the
composition of the government." He added that "the majority
of the Duma will remember every time it adopts a law that it
backed this government and is responsible for its policies.
If the government fails, they [the Duma deputies] will also
fail." At the same time, Zyuganov reiterated calls for a
nationwide strike on 7 October to demand that President
Boris Yeltsin resign and a government of "popular trust" be
created. JAC

OUR HOME IS RUSSIA TRIES TO WOO YAVLINSKII. "Nezavisimaya
gazeta" on 22 August reported that leader of the Russia is
Our Home (NDR) faction, Aleksandr Shokhin, offered to
arrange that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii be offered
the post of Duma speaker in exchange for his support of
Chernomyrdin's candidacy. According to the newspaper, NDR
realizes that it must attract Yabloko into a new
parliamentary majority made up of the NDR, the Communist
Party, Russia's Regions, and the Liberal Democratic Party of
Russia. Yabloko's popularity has grown since the last
elections, and the movement could attract the supporters of
two presidential hopefuls, Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr
Lebed and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Sergei Ivanenko, a
Yabloko deputy, dismissed Shokhin's offer with laughter and
the counterproposal that Chernomyrdin be speaker and
Yavlinskii prime minister. JAC

REGIONAL HEADS EXPRESS RESIGNATION, MILD SUPPORT... Most
regional leaders, whether for or against Chernomyrdin,
believe that he will be confirmed by the Duma--though not
necessarily without a fight. Saratov governor Dmitrii
Ayatskov, is pessimistic about Chernomyrdin's return to
government: "Viktor Stepanovich [Chernomyrdin] spent six
years trying to improve the economy--all in vain," according
to Interfax. Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleev is similarly
gloomy. He said, "Russia is not Italy where the people have
been seasoned by frequent government shake-ups. The
situation in Russia is so complicated that a social
explosion is inevitable." Krasnoyarsk governor Lebed said
that the crisis in Russia requires a "political
heavyweight," such as Chernomyrdin, and that Yeltsin's
support is "understandable since there is no attractive
alternative." Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and
Arkhangelsk governor Anatolii Yefremov both expressed
confidence that the former prime minister will be able to
ease the country's political crisis. JAC

...AND SOME REGRETS. Tambov governor Aleksandr Ryabov says
that the regional leaders need to accept some of the blame
for the current economic crisis. He told ITAR-TASS that
"often documents that are adopted by the Federation Council
were not even read by the representatives." During a press
conference after his dismissal, former Prime Minister
Kirienko revealed that he had apparently experienced his own
share of frustration with Russia's regional leadership. He
had prepared a draft law, which he had intended to submit to
the Duma, that would have given him the power to remove
regional governors and grant other governors the power to
sack mayors in order to ensure "a strict top-down line of
power in the country." JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN TO BACK BANKING REFORM? Chernomyrdin said on 24
August that sorting out the nation's banking system and
ensuring the stability of the ruble will be chief priorities
of his administration. In the meantime, Russian banks
continued their efforts at consolidation. According to
Interfax on 24 August, Inkombank and the National Reserve
Bank formed an integrated banking group, pending shareholder
approval, which would have combined assets of more than $45
billion rubles ($6.30 billion) and equity capital of more
than $6.5 billion rubles. JAC

YELTSIN TO RETIRE? The Russian press on 24 August carried
various stories about President Boris Yeltsin's imminent
withdrawal from the country's top leadership post. Interfax
quoted "a high ranking expert in the Kremlin" who claimed
that Yeltsin had declared his intention not to run for
president again in 2000. That "expert" cited Yeltsin's
televised statement that he offered Chernomyrdin the post of
prime minister "to ensure the succession of power in 2000."
Duma chairman Seleznev said that he understood Yeltsin's
"ambiguous statement" to mean the "prime minister will be
acting head of state in the event of Yeltsin leaving office
before the end of his term." Presidential spokesman Sergei
Yastrzhembskii told reporters the same day that Yeltsin "was
in his normal shape" and has "no complaints." JAC

AND NEMTSOV TO REST? Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris
Nemtsov offered his resignation on 24 August, claiming that
he has no plans other than to take a vacation. He said that
he will not run for mayor in the upcoming elections in
Nizhnii Novgorod. In an interview with "Komsomolskaya
Pravda" on 25 August, he predicted that if the "oligarchic
empires" are not forced to pay taxes, then the reins of
government will pass to the left, which "knows little except
how to print money." Inflation will spiral and a
"revolutionary situation will arise," he added. JAC

VOLGOGRAD FARMERS APPEAL TO MOSCOW. "Vremya MN" reported on
21 August that leaders of six rural districts in the Trans-
Volga region have for the first time bypassed their regional
administrators and asked President Yeltsin for assistance in
alleviating the aftermath of a severe drought (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 4 August 1998). The drought destroyed the bulk of
the region's grain harvest. The leaders warn starvation and
social unrest will result if the region does not receive
some sort of financial assistance. The rural district heads
voiced their distrust for the governor of Volgograd, a
member of the Communist Party. They claim that their region
received funds from the federal budget until he came to
power. JAC

CALL TO ARMS IN RYBINSK. "Izvestiya" reported on 25 August
that an unknown organization distributed leaflets urging the
population of Rybinsk, a large industrial city in the
Yaroslavl region, to take up arms. The newspaper quotes
Asfira Pushkarnaya, an adviser to the governor of Yaroslavl
Oblast, who said that although no one took the call
literally, the situation in the region remains tense.
Employees of state-run enterprises are owed back wages
totaling 52 million rubles ($7.2 million). JAC

RUSSIAN AIRFIELDS TO CLOSE. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported
on 21 August that more than 70 airfields would be closed as
part of the Air Force's larger effort to streamline its
operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 1998). According
to the Defense Ministry, some 80 airfields with runways
longer than 1800 meters will remain open. The airfields'
closure may free scarce budget funds for the maintenance and
reconstruction of the remaining airfields, the bulk of which
were constructed during the 1950s through 1970s and have
exceeded their expected service life. JAC

NEW CHECHEN SECURITY CHIEF APPOINTED. President Aslan
Maskhadov on 24 August named Ibragim Khultygov to head the
National Security Service, Russian agencies reported.
Khultygov is the brother of former National Security Service
chief Lecha Khultygov, who was shot dead in a standoff with
field commander Salman Raduev in Grozny two months ago.
Maskhadov also signed a decree releasing former acting Prime
Minister Shamil Basaev as deputy commander-in-chief of the
Chechen armed forces. Basaev accepted that post in July for
the duration of the state of emergency imposed by Maskhadov
on 23 June. Also on 24 August, the Chechen parliament
assessed as "unsatisfactory" the work of Basaev's cabinet
from December 1997 to July 1998, when Basaev stepped down as
acting premier. The parliament recommended that Maskhadov
dismiss the entire government. LF

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

UN WITHDRAWS SOME PERSONNEL FROM TAJIKISTAN. The UN
observers' mission in Tajikistan released a statement on 24
August announcing it will temporarily withdraw some of its
personnel from Tajikistan and has suspended "non-essential"
visits to the country by UN employees, ITAR-TASS reported. A
political adviser to the UN observers told ITAR-TASS the
decision affects those who were monitoring the peace process
in areas outside Dushanbe until 20 July, when four employees
of the UN were killed in a remote area in central
Tajikistan. Although the Tajik government and United Tajik
Opposition say they know who the guilty parties are, there
have been no announcements to date that anyone has been
brought to Dushanbe to face charges. ITAR-TASS on 25 August,
quotes "a representative of the Tajik government" as saying
it is the lack of success in extraditing the alleged
perpetrators of the crime from UTO-held territory that has
prompted the UN move. BP

KAZAKH PREMIER SAYS NO REDUCTION IN OIL PRODUCTION. Nurlan
Balgimbayev said while visiting the western town of Uralsk
that the country will not cut oil production in 1998,
Interfax reported on 24 August. Balgimbayev said he is aware
that oil prices are the lowest in 30 years, but he added
that Kazakhstan will still produce 27 million tons this
year, of which nearly 15 million will be exported.
Balgimbayev noted that the country could produce up to 220
million tons a year but added that only "once the price is
up will we increase oil production." The premier said that a
number of pipeline projects are currently under review, and
he noted that "if the political situation in Afghanistan
stabilizes," a pipeline via that country to the Arabian Sea
is a possibility. Balgimbayev stressed the importance of the
oil industry, saying it "provides over 30 percent of budget
revenues." BP

KYRGYZSTAN WILL GUARD ITS OWN BORDERS. Bolot Januzakov, an
official in the presidential administration, said at a press
briefing on 24 August that beginning next year, Kyrgyzstan
will start forming its own border service to replace Russian
border guards, ITAR-TASS reported. Finance Minister Talaibek
Koichumanov said on 21 August that 63 million som (about
$3.3 million) has been allotted from the state budget for
this purpose, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The move comes
after a 21 August visit by Russian Border Guard director
Colonel-General Nikolai Bordyuzha and is in keeping with an
earlier bilateral agreement. But before Bordyuzha's arrival
in Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS on 21 August quoted him as saying
"there will be no serious reduction or withdrawal of Russian
border guards from Kyrgyzstan in the near future." Since
1992, Russian border guards have been helping provide
security along the China-Kyrgyz border, at the national
airport outside Bishkek, and along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border.
BP

EU WELCOMES ARMENIAN PARTICIPATION IN TRACECA CONFERENCE.
Dennis Corboy, EU ambassador to the three Transcaucasus
states, told journalists in Yerevan on 24 August that the EU
welcomes the Armenian leadership's decision to send a
government delegation to Baku to participate in the 7-8
September conference on the TRACECA transport corridor,
RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But Corboy admitted that
unresolved conflicts in the Transcaucasus could prove an
obstacle to implementation of the TRACECA project, which is
sponsored by the EU. He called for talks aimed at resolving
the Karabakh conflict to be resumed within the framework of
the OSCE Minsk Group. LF

TWO KILLED IN WEST GEORGIAN BOMB EXPLOSION. Two people were
killed on 24 August and 60 injured when part of the regional
administration building in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi
was destroyed by a bomb, Caucasus Press reported. Most of
those injured were fugitives from neighboring Abkhazia's
Gali Raion. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze condemned
the blast as "an act masterminded and executed by enemies of
Georgia." He added that it "will not change the Georgian
people's determination to build an independent and
democratic state," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIA CLOSES FRONTIER WITH ARMENIA? Georgian border troops
are refusing to allow Armenian citizens to enter Georgia,
Noyan Tapan reported on 24 August, quoting an Armenian
Agriculture Ministry official. Two days earlier, Georgia had
banned the import of cattle, poultry, and dairy products
from Armenia because of an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth
disease there. LF

END NOTE

LATVIA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON CITIZENSHIP LAW AMENDMENTS

by Jan Cleave

	Two months after the passage of amendments to the
country's citizenship law, the Latvian Central Electoral
Committee has announced that an initiative by the
nationalist-inclined Fatherland and Freedom party to hold  a
referendum on those amendments has been successful. By 24
August, the committee had counted some 224,000 signatures,
well over the 131,000--or 10 percent of the electorate--
required to force a referendum. The final result of the
campaign will be announced once signatures from abroad are
included in the tally. Meanwhile, the fate of the
citizenship law amendments continues to hang in the balance-
-a state of affairs that will not help improve Latvia's
tense relations with neighboring Russia.
	Latvia's treatment of its approximately 650,000-strong
ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minority has long been a
source of discord between Moscow and Riga. Basing its law on
the principle that it was occupied and did not have to give
citizenship to those who were moved there by the occupying
authorities, Latvia renewed the citizenship of those who had
it in 1940 and also that of their descendants. Many of those
who fell into these two categories were ethnically Russian.
	The Russian government has rejected Latvia's
interpretation of its political history and argued that
Latvia's citizenship law is intended to withhold citizenship
from  the many people, primarily but not exclusively
ethnically Russian, who moved to Latvia between 1940 and
1991. And Moscow has consistently argued that this
"deprivation" constitutes ethnic discrimination.
	Latvia's citizenship law was passed in 1994, following
extensive debates and disagreement among the coalition
parties. The legislation came under fire not only from
Russia but also from international organizations such as the
OSCE, which urged Riga to adopt amendments in line with its
recommendations. But with a ruling coalition that includes
groups willing at times to play the nationalist card, it
quickly became apparent that the government parties were
unable to agree among themselves on how to amend the law.
	Ironically, the passage of the amendments was
expedited by an event earlier this year that outraged Moscow
and revealed just how fragile Latvian-Russian relations are.
On 3 March, some 1,000, mostly Russian-speaking pensioners
blocked the main road in downtown Riga to protest living
standards. When several protesters refused to move off that
road, police used rubber batons to disperse them. Footage of
those events shown by Russian Public Television sparked an
outcry in Moscow, with politicians of all stripes calling
for retaliatory measures.
	Just six weeks later, the Cooperation Council of the
ruling coalition parties reached an agreement whereby the
law would be amended to remove the "naturalization windows"
(which gave priority to younger people), simplify language
tests for people over 65, and  grant citizenship to all
children born after 21 August 1991 when they reach 16 and
can prove their ability to speak Latvian. But while the
last provision was supported by the Fatherland and Freedom
party, which is the largest party in the parliament, it did
not meet the OSCE recommendation that children born in
Latvia be automatically granted citizenship, regardless of
language proficiency. An amended version of the law that
complied with the OSCE recommendation was finally pushed
through the parliament in the third and final reading in
mid-June.
	Since then, the signing into law of the amendments
has been on hold, thanks to the initiative of the Fatherland
and Freedom party, supported by the constitutionally
required one-third of parliamentary deputies, to collect
signatures for a referendum. Prime Minister Guntars Krasts
of the Fatherland and Freedom Party, who signed the
referendum petition just days before the signature-
collecting campaign ended, argues that the amendments were
passed without a broad public debate and that the best way
to judge public opinion is through a popular vote. President
Guntis Ulmanis and Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, in
particular, have been vocal opponents of such a ballot,
arguing that it will further damage relations with Russia
and also jeopardize Latvia's chances of joining the EU.
	But the referendum will not only impact on Latvia's
relations with its eastern neighbor and on its image abroad.
It is also set to make citizenship and minority-majority
relations a campaign issue in the run-up to the
parliamentary elections scheduled for 3 October. That,
observers note, will have the effect of both keeping alive
and turning the full public spotlight onto an issue that has
deeply divided Latvian society. Moreover, with only the two-
thirds majority population able to cast its vote, the
referendum itself is likely to stir up animosity within the
disenfranchised one-third minority.
	The Fatherland and Freedom Party, meanwhile, has made
it clear that it wants the referendum to take place at the
same time as the elections. Such a scenario would likely
encourage more people to take part in the ballot. The party
is also concerned  that if the vote were to take place on a
separate day, there may not be the necessary turnout of 50
percent of the electorate.
	Indeed, the timing of the referendum may well prove
crucial to the validity of the ballot. If the vote does not
take place until after the elections -- and the chairman of
the Central Electoral Committee has already come out in
favor of that option -- voters may be required to cast their
ballot twice within a short period. Experience shows that in
such cases, election-weariness among voters frequently
determines the outcome of the second ballot.

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