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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 220, Part I, 13 November 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 220, Part I, 13 November 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 * JAPAN INVITES YELTSIN TO VISIT TOKYO * VLASOV RELEASED * TAJIKISTAN AGAIN ACCUSES UZBEKISTAN OVER REBELLION End Note: GEORGIA'S WATERSHED ELECTIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA JAPAN INVITES YELTSIN TO VISIT TOKYO. Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on 12 November invited Russian President Boris Yeltsin to visit Japan early next year, at which time, his spokesman said, Japan will respond to Russian proposals related to the territorial dispute between the two countries, Russian agencies reported. On 13 November, Obuchi and Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov exchanged the texts of the Moscow declaration signed by Yeltsin and Obuchi the previous day. The two premiers also signed four other documents to expand capital investment, increase tourism and environmental protection, and expand cooperation in mail delivery and telecommunications. During his visit, Obuchi announced Tokyo's plans to give Russia $10 million worth of medicines and provide expanded cooperation in a variety of technical areas. PG VLASOV RELEASED. Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov was freed at an unidentified location in the North Caucasus early on 13 November. He later flew to Moscow from Ingushetia, Russian agencies reported. Russian officials said the operation for his release was conducted jointly by Russian and Ingushetian Interior Ministry forces. They also denied that any ransom had been paid. Vlasov was abducted on 1 May on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Until recently, Chechen officials had claimed that his kidnappers were demanding a $7 million ransom for his release. LF YELTSIN CALLS FOR STRUGGLE AGAINST EXTREMISM. President Yeltsin on 12 November directed his government to put an end to what he called "manifestations of ethnic and political extremism" in Russia, his presidential news service announced. He directed the government to take "urgent radical measures" and law-enforcement agencies to reverse their "inadmissible and politically short-sighted" approach in the past. "Extremists," the president said, "should be prevented from throwing the country into havoc and social unrest." PG OPPOSITION TO MAKASHOV'S ANTI-SEMITIC COMMENTS GROWS. Russian regional and local officials from around the country have added their voices in denunciation of recent anti-Semitic statements by State Duma deputy Albert Makashov, Interfax reported on 12 November. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov spoke for many--including Academician Dmitrii Likhachev--in demanding that Makashov be stripped of parliamentary immunity and tried for inciting interethnic hatred. Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy in Moscow released a statement revealing that it is concerned about "an increasing number of manifestations of racism and anti-Semitism in Russia." And Minister of Justice Pavel Krashennikov said Makashov's statements are "just short of hooliganism" and a "direct challenge to law enforcement agencies." PG IS YELTSIN 'FEELING WELL' OR 'A ROBOT ON DRUGS'? Naina Yeltsin told journalists on 12 November that her husband "feels well" after his vacation in Sochi but is finding it difficult to adjust to the climate change, Interfax reported. However, one Japanese diplomat who saw Yeltsin up close during the Russian president's meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi told Western journalists that the Russian leader now looks like "a robot on drugs." PG RUSSIA, IRAN CALL FOR PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF IRAQI CRISIS. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk and the Iranian Ambassador in Moscow Mehdi Safari on 12 November called for a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis within the framework of the UN, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement published by Interfax. The same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov added that "the entire international community must remain unanimous" on this issue. Meanwhile, Russian news agencies reported that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev will visit Syria and Egypt from 13-17 November, where, the agencies said, he will discuss the Iraqi crisis. PG 'GLOBALIZATION' OF NATO'S MISSION WORRIES FOREIGN MINISTRY. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 12 November released a statement saying that Moscow is concerned about "the desire on the part of certain NATO member states to officially globalize the sphere of NATO's activities," Interfax reported. The statement specifically criticized recent U.S. statements calling for the extension of NATO's activities "beyond [the alliance's] zone." The ministry said that Moscow believes NATO's efforts to assume responsibility in so many areas "may lead to serious disturbances of the existing world order and the entire system of international relations." PG RUSSIA PREPARED TO ACCEPT EU FOOD AID. Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik said on 12 November that he is sending a letter to the EU saying that Moscow is prepared to accept the EU's offer of food aid, Interfax reported. Under a preliminary agreement, the EU will supply approximately $500 million in food of various kinds. PG MASLYUKOV EXPECTS FEW CHANGES IN CABINET BEFORE 2000. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said that he does not expect any changes in the core of Prime Minister Primakov's cabinet before 2000, although Maslyukov said there may be some changes in less important posts, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 November. Maslyukov added that the current government has begun work at a time when the economy is in near collapse, and he warned against any effort to replace him with either Yegor Gaidar or Grigorii Yavlinskii, two reformist figures. At the same time, Maslyukov said that it would be a mistake to "throw mud" on the entire reform period. The current government, he suggested, simply has to "complete much of what the reformers stopped doing half-way through." Interfax reported the same day that an opinion poll has found that 24 percent of Russians now trust Primakov's government. PG FOREIGN INVESTMENT DROPS BY 50 PERCENT. Deputy Economics Minister Vladimir Kossov told Interfax on 12 November that foreign investment in Russia this year will total approximately $3 billion, down from $6.1 billion in 1997. Meanwhile, Central Bank officials said that as many as 720 of the country's commercial banks may be closed during the restructuring of the country's banking system, Interfax reported. PG ZADORNOV SAYS RUBLE TO BE AT 20-21 TO DOLLAR IN 1999. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told Interfax on 12 November that the government expects the ruble-dollar exchange rate to be at 20-21 to $1 in 1999. In other comments, he said the Russian government budget will have a primary surplus of 2 percent and that inflation next year is forecast at 30 percent. PG PRIMAKOV SAYS STATE SHOULD GET STAKE IN DEBTOR COMPANY. Prime Minister Primakov said on 12 November that the Rosneft oil company should pay its debts to the state by yielding a portion of its ownership to the government, Interfax reported. Speaking to a government meeting, Primakov said such an arrangement would allow the firm to continue to operate rather than "turning it into state property." In other comments, Primakov denounced the practice of paying 3 percent of privatization revenues to the Ministry for State Property. PG MOSCOW PLANS TALKS ON DEFERRING SOVIET DEBT... Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 November that the Russian government will seek talks with creditors in order to defer "for one or two years" its repayment of the Soviet Union's foreign debt. PG ...BUT CENTRAL BANK SAYS NO MORATORIUM EXTENSION PLANNED. Andrei Kozlov, a first deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, said on 12 November that Moscow is not considering any extension of the 90-day moratorium on the payment of Russian bank debts to non-residents, Interfax reported. PG GOKHRAN TO SELL GOLD NOTES DESPITE CENTRAL BANK OPPOSITION. Deputy Finance Minister German Kuznetsov, who heads the State Repository GOKHRAN said that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is prepared to buy certificates representing 50 tons of gold held by his agency, "Segodnya" reported on 12 November. Kuznetsov said that Russia's Central Bank is opposed to the deal, but he added that "if the Russian government is not ready to buy our gold, well, let it be bought by Western banks." PG GOVERNMENT TO AID SPACE INDUSTRY. The Russian cabinet on 12 November approved the agreement between Russia, the European Space Agency states, the U.S., Japan, and China to build a space station and forwarded the accord to the Duma for ratification, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Russian Space Agency Director-General Yurii Koptev told a press conference in Moscow that the government has promised to increase its support for his organization. He indicated that the government has provided only 1.2 billion rubles of the 2.8 billion originally budgeted. In other remarks, Koptev said that Moscow will decide by the end of the year on the future of the "Mir" space station. And he acknowledged that 80 percent of the 137 satellites Russia currently has in orbit are no longer functioning. PG MORTALITY RATE NOW 50-100 PERCENT ABOVE WESTERN LEVELS. Minister of Health Vladimir Starodubov told Interfax on 12 November that Russian mortality rates are now 50 to 100 percent higher than those in industrialized Western countries. He added that the high morality rate combined with a low birth rate meant that the Russian population fell by 5.2 per thousand in 1997. PG TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIKISTAN AGAIN ACCUSES UZBEKISTAN OVER REBELLION. Addressing the Tajik parliament on 12 November, President Imomali Rakhmonov said he has proof that his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, rendered assistance to former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdollojonov, whom Rakhmonov identified as the mastermind behind last week's failed rebellion in northern Tajikistan, Reuters reported. "By organizing coups and helping rebels, the Uzbek leadership wants to take the whole of Tajikistan under its control," Rakhmonov said. Tajik Prosecutor-General Salomiddin Sharapov condemned Uzbekistan's alleged complicity in the revolt as "armed intervention" and claimed that the rebels had undergone training in Afghanistan. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov on 11 November denied earlier Tajik allegations of official Uzbek support for the rebels. LF UN EXTENDS TAJIK OBSERVER MISSION. The UN Security Council voted unanimously on 12 November to extend its observer mission in Tajikistan for another six months, until 15 May 1999, Reuters reported. But the Security Council also officially condemned the July killings of three members of that force and their civilian driver, saying the observer mission will not resume its activities in Tajikistan until those murders are solved, according to dpa. LF TURKISH PRESIDENT IN TURKMENISTAN. During a two-day visit to Ashgabat on 11-12 November, Suleyman Demirel held talks with his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, on expanding economic cooperation, Russian agencies reported. Turkey is one of Turkmenistan's largest trading partners: bilateral trade turnover for the first eight months of 1998 totaled $141 million. Claiming that bilateral relations are "so solid that nothing can threaten them," Niyazov proposed that future cooperation with Turkey focus primarily on the oil and gas sector. He said he has appointed Deputy Minister for the Textile Industry Ahmet Calyk, who is a Turkish citizen, to represent Turkmenistan in talks on the sale of energy to Turkey. Demirel also attended the ceremonial opening of several buildings in Ashgabat, including the National Museum, that were constructed by Turkish firms. LF KAZAKHSTAN ESTABLISHES STATE ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION. President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a decree on 12 November setting up a State Commission for the Struggle Against Corruption, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Nazarbayev simultaneously abolished the State High Council on Disciplinary Control, established three months ago, and named its chairman, Oralbay Abdykarimov, as chairman of the new commission. Addressing the body's first session on 12 November, Nazarbayev said that the struggle against corruption and bribetaking among high ranking officials is essential for the preservation of the country's independence. No mercy will be shown to persons found guilty of corruption, he added. LF KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEPUTY SILENCED. Marat Ospanov, speaker of the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament, interrupted deputy Valerii Zemlyanov on 12 November when the latter tried to suggest that the presidential elections scheduled for 10 January will not be free and fair, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. Zemlyanov's microphone was then switched off and other deputies began reviling him as an obstacle to the parliament's work. Zemlyanov subsequently told RFE/RL correspondents that he wanted to attract the parliament's attention to the closure of many newspapers in the country and to pressures faced by opposition movements and organizations. LF KYRGYZSTAN BRACES FOR BATTLE OF SOM. Kyrgyzstan's currency stabilized at 28 som to $1 in street trading on 12 November after falling to 29-32 som the previous day, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 9 November the National Bank had ceased intervening to prop up the som. Also on 12 November, Finance Minister Taalaibek Koichumanov told journalists that the planned budget deficit in 1999 will be about 7 percent, almost twice the rate for 1998. (In August, Prime Minister Kubanychbek Djumaliyev had estimated the 1999 budget deficit at 2.1 percent.) Koichumanov said that Kyrgyzstan must repay about $100 million of its estimated $1.3 billion foreign debt next year. LF AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE. Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the independent "Yeni Musavat," and three other journalists from that newspaper have begun an indefinite hunger strike to protest harassment by the Azerbaijani authorities, Turan reported on 12 November. The newspaper recently severed its connections with the opposition Musavat party. Ramiz Mehtiev, head of the presidential apparatus, and Nizami Gadjiev, head of the Interior Ministry's intelligence department, have brought libel proceedings against Arifoglu for publishing uncorroborated allegations that presidential candidates Ashraf Mehtiev and Nizami Suleymanov had made against them. Arifoglu told the European Institute for the Media in Baku last month that he has reason to believe that after the elections, when international attention to internal developments in Azerbaijan wanes, "the free press will be taught a lesson." LF RUSSIAN EMBASSY REJECTS AZERBAIJANI ALLEGATIONS. The Russian Embassy in Baku issued a statement on 12 November denying that Russian intelligence has either tried to stage a coup in Azerbaijan or that its operatives have encouraged Azerbaijani opposition parties to do so, Turan reported. The statement was in response to allegations by Azerbaijani security officials during a parliamentary session on 10 November that opposition parties, including the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, are receiving support from foreign intelligence services. LF CIS MINISTER SAYS BAKU-CEYHAN ROUTE UNLIKELY BEFORE 2003. Boris Pastukhov, Russian minister for CIS affairs, said on 12 November that the U.S.-supported Baku-Ceyhan pipeline route "will not be built before 2003, if at all," "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported. The line intended to carry oil from the Caspian basin across Turkey to the Mediterranean would cost what Pastukhov called a "staggering" $2.5 billion. Western estimates are as high as $3.5 billion. And because oil prices are so low, any money invested in this route "will not be quickly recouped." As a result, he concluded, oil companies are far more likely to use the Baku-Supsa and Tengiz-Novorossiisk routes favored by Moscow. PG MKHEDRIONI SUPPORTERS PROTEST TRIAL VERDICT. Some 25 members of the paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni are staging a protest action in central Tbilisi to demand the release of the organization's leader Djaba Ioseliani and 14 of his associates, Caucasus Press reported on 13 November. The men were sentenced earlier this week to up to 15 years in prison for treason, robbery, and the failed attempt in August 1995 to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Mkhedrioni spokesman Tornike Berishvili argued that Ioseliani's sentence was illegal since at the time of his arrest he was a parliament deputy and therefore enjoyed immunity from prosecution. LF MORE POLICE KILLED BY MINES IN ABKHAZIA. Two police officers were killed and four injured late on 11 November when their vehicle hit an anti-tank mine in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Interfax reported. Those deaths raise the number of Abkhaz police either shot dead or blown up by mines since early June to at least 10. Six Russian members of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed on the Georgian-Abkhaz internal border have been killed in similar incidents over the same period. LF END NOTE GEORGIA'S WATERSHED ELECTIONS by Liz Fuller When Georgians went to the polls in November 1995 to elect a new parliament and president, very few observers doubted that the outcome would be a resounding endorsement of, and a personal triumph for, Eduard Shevardnadze and the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), which Shevardnadze had created as his personal support base. Three years later, however, the local elections scheduled for 15 November may well reveal to what extent support for Shevardnadze has since eroded. Foremost among the factors contributing to that development is the perception that Shevardnadze is unwilling and/or unable to eradicate corruption within the upper echelons of the country's leadership, allowing a handful of individuals to amass huge fortunes while the bulk of the population is living at or below the subsistence minimum. But that is not the only grievance. Equally, if not more, important is the perception that the central government has only minimal control over large expanses of the country since the governors appointed by Shevardnadze regard their regions as personal fiefdoms. A third factor is the lack of a resolution to the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Several hundred thousand ethnic Georgians who were forced to flee those conflicts are disenfranchised, presumably because the Georgian leadership fears that they would register their anger and despair by voting for opposition parties. According to the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, a Georgian NGO that intends to monitor the 15 November poll, voters will elect city councils in Georgia's five largest cities (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Poti, and Rustavi), in 312 smaller towns, and in 60 raions. Those ballots will be held under the proportional system. Voting in 654 villages with fewer than 2,000 registered voters will be in accordance with the majoritarian principle. Thirteen parties, blocs, and political organizations have registered with the Central Electoral Commission to field lists of candidates for the proportional system voting. The United Communist Party of Georgia has been barred from running on the grounds that it advocates the resurrection of the USSR. Several small political parties and groups, including the Round Table/Free Georgia bloc of deceased former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, have announced that they will not contend the poll as they fear the Georgian authorities will falsify the outcome to ensure that the SMK controls most, if not all, local councils. That view appears to be shared by much of the electorate, not least as a result of the Central Electoral Commission's decision to nullify the results of a June by- election in eastern Georgia and hold a second round of voting after the Socialist Party candidate trounced his SMK rival in the first round. As one parliament deputy, Guram Chakhvadze of the Popular faction, told RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau earlier this week, preparations for rigging the vote began at an early stage of the campaign, when the central, government exerted massive pressure on local officials to exclude opposition candidates by any possible means. Some observers predict that voter turnout will be low, reflecting both the conviction that the outcome is a foregone conclusion and a widespread loss of faith that any political party is capable of improving economic and social conditions in Georgia. RFE/RL correspondents in Kutaisi, Rustavi, and Tskhinvali (the capital of South Ossetia) all report that people they have questioned say either that they will boycott the vote to protest chronic wage and pension arrears (even the Georgian armed forces have not been paid for several months) or that they are still undecided about which party to vote for. But widespread apathy among the electorate does not mean an absence of tension in the runup to the poll. On the contrary: the voting will act as a gauge of the relative strength of the one politician who is perceived as capable of posing a serious threat to Shevardnadze, should he decide to run in the presidential elections in 2000. That man is Aslan Abashidze, chairman of the parliament of the Adjar Autonomous Republic on Georgia's Black Sea coast, which borders on Turkey. Abashidze has ruled Adjaria autocratically for seven years, during which period that republic has remained an oasis of stability and relative economic prosperity, while the remainder of Georgia has undergone civil war and economic collapse. Abashidze's All- Georgian Union of Revival is the second largest faction within the Georgian parliament, and its showing in the 15 November poll will provide some indication--assuming the vote is free and fair--as to how far his popularity extends beyond his local power base. Meanwhile, if the SMK performs poorly, its younger members, including parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and SMK faction leader Mikhail Saakashvili, may make good on their threat earlier this summer to quit the faction and form a constructive opposition within the parliament. For that reason, the poll is important since it will clarify the relative strength of the ruling party and the opposition ahead of the November 1999 parliamentary elections, even if it has only minimal impact on the everyday lives of the Georgian electorate. 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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