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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 220, Part I, 13 November 1998


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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

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Headlines, Part I

* JAPAN INVITES YELTSIN TO VISIT TOKYO

* VLASOV RELEASED

* TAJIKISTAN AGAIN ACCUSES UZBEKISTAN OVER REBELLION

End Note: GEORGIA'S WATERSHED ELECTIONS
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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.

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