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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 224, Part I, 19 November 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 224, Part I, 19 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 * PRIMAKOV TO FILL IN FOR YELTSIN IN INDIA * TEACHERS' STRIKES SPREADING * MORE EDITORS JOIN HUNGER-STRIKE IN AZERBAIJAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PRIMAKOV TO FILL IN FOR YELTSIN IN INDIA... Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on 18 November that while U.S. Vice President Gore did not promise direct support for Russia with IMF during their meeting the previous day, he did suggest that the U.S. will look for some way to back Russian interests vis-a-vis the fund. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who attended the meeting in Malaysia, said Gore mentioned that the U.S. has trusted the Russian government repeatedly in the past only to have loans wind up in foreign bank accounts. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushin announced that Primakov will fill in for Yeltsin during an official visit to India that had been scheduled for 6 and 7 December. Originally, Yeltsin had been scheduled to go to Kuala Lumpur. JAC ...AND ON A MORE PERMANENT BASIS? Meanwhile, the Russian press is carrying speculation that an "understanding" among presidential staff exists that Prime Minister Primakov is the de facto president of Russia. "Segodnya" cited "rumors" on 17 November that the presidential staff have received a directive not only to give Primakov their full support but also to "'place him a little bit ahead of Yeltsin.'" The next day "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that Yeltsin is isolated from real political processes and has a minimal involvement in state affairs. It added "for the 18 months until the elections the president will have to function 'as simply a guarantor.'" The next day, the newspaper attacked Primakov, suggesting that he cannot ensure stability in the country judging by the increasing radicalization of the left opposition and his inability to check its advances. Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group owns "Segodnya," while "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC KALMYKIA'S LEADER RETREATS FROM SECESSION THREAT. President of the Republic of Kalmykia Kirsan Ilyumzhinov backed down from his earlier suggestion that his republic should seek "associate membership" in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). On 19 November, he told NTV that his remarks were meant only to dramatize the plight of his region and not as an official statement. Ilyumzhinov was widely condemned for his earlier statement in the State Duma, provoking Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) to comment, "I will be very disappointed if the authorities let him get away with it." Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev suggested that Ilyumzhinov be questioned at Matrosskaya Tishina or Lefortovo prisons. Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov declared the statements unconstitutional. "Izvestiya" predicted on 19 November that Ilyumzhinov would be removed from power because this is a "unique matter on which both branches of the government agree." JAC TEACHERS' STRIKES SPREADING. Fifteen thousand teachers in Primorskii Krai went on strike on 17 November to demand more than eight months' back wages, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 November. In some cities and raions, teachers plan to be out only three days, but strikers in the northeast region, where some teachers participated in a two-week work stoppage last month, are threatening to stop work indefinitely. More than 10,000 teachers in Chita Oblast and 2,000 teachers in Sverdlovsk Oblast are on strike to protest unpaid wages, according to ITAR- TASS. The debt owed in Chita totals 110 million rubles ($6.5 million) and 450 million rubles in Sverdlovsk. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel said that regional resources are insufficient to cover the debt since tax collections dropped in October. Teachers have also launched protests in Leningrad and Kemerovo Oblasts and the Republic of Udmurtia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 18 November 1998). JAC DUMA APPROVES EMERGENCY MEASURES. The Duma approved the government's bill on budget and policy measures in the first reading on 18 November. The vote was 272 in favor and six against A second vote will likely take place in early December. Under the bill, the Central Bank will advance 25 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) to the Finance Ministry by buying state securities. JAC RUSSIANS EARNING LESS... Incomes adjusted for inflation and tax dropped 26.9 percent in October, compared with the same month the previous year, Interfax reported on 18 November. Real wages plunged 34.9 percent. Meanwhile, unemployment reached 11.5 percent at the end of October, a 4.7 percent increase compared with the same month last year, according to estimates of the State Statistics Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November. "Nezavisimaya gazeta--Krug zhizni" reported in its November issue that 70 percent of Russia's unemployed are women and that only 12 percent of Russian women, who are "among the world's best educated," can afford major medical assistance. JAC ...AND EATING POORLY. While experts continue to debate whether food aid from the EU and U.S. is necessary to avert hunger, there appears to be some agreement that Russians are eating less well owing to the economic crisis. Gennadii Romanenko, head of Russia's Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Interfax on 18 November that poor families will have to switch to less nutritious diets based primarily on potatoes, cabbage, and carrots and forego milk and meat. At the other end of the economic spectrum, "Vechernaya Moskva" reported on 17 November that less than 2 percent of the capital's residents now go to restaurants, almost half of which have closed. JAC ORT HEADED FOR BANKRUPTCY? Russian Public Television director Igor Shabdurasulov warned on 18 November that his company may have to declare bankruptcy if the government, which owns 51 percent of ORT's shares, does not pay its debts. A Moscow court ordered marshals to take an inventory of the network's property in a suit filed against them for unpaid loans. An ORT spokesman told the "Moscow Times" that the station is now operating on a emergency programming schedule, which means relying on re-runs, and has made severe cuts in the budget of its politically influential news service. The spokesman also noted that left-wing political groups have targeted the broadcaster--as well as others--for "blackening" the reputation of the Communist Party. JAC LEGAL ACTION TO BAN RELIGIOUS GROUP DELAYED. A Moscow judge on 18 November postponed hearing the case to ban Jehovah's Witnesses because of insufficient evidence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). The case will reopen on 9 February. According to Interfax, a previous suit against the religious group was dropped in April because of lack of evidence. JAC NDR, FATHERLAND CONSIDERING ALLIANCE... Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters on 18 November that his new political movement, Otechestvo [Fatherland ], might cooperate with the Our Home is Russia (NDR) party under "certain conditions." Luzhkov said that his movement is open for cooperation with all healthy forces in Russian society. The previous day, NDR leader and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that such an alliance with Luzhkov's new movement is possible. Chernomyrdin also confirmed his plans to run for president again. "Segodnya" reported that "rumors are circulating" that Chernomyrdin is considering an alliance before upcoming parliamentary elections that would unite other former prime ministers, such as Sergei Kirienko and Yegor Gaidar. JAC ...AS GOVERNORS CONSIDER DEFECTING? Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, who recently openly criticized Chernomrydin's leadership of the NDR, said that Otechestvo and the regional lobby that is being formed for the State Duma elections will compose the most powerful centrist faction in Russia, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). The newspaper claimed that as soon as the new movement was announced, "its cell organizations began appearing in the provinces." For example, one such organization was formed on 17 November in Bashkortostan, the daily reported. JAC YASTRZHEMBSKII TO JOIN LUZHKOV'S TEAM. Former presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii is likely to replace retiring Deputy Mayor of Moscow Ernest Bakirov, Russian agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii would be in charge of international, interregional, and public relations. Shortly before Yastrzhembskii's dismissal from the Kremlin, Russian newspapers reported that along with then Security Council chief Andrei Kokoshin, Yastrzhembskii had been advising Yeltsin to nominate Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov as prime minister rather than Viktor Chernomyrdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MORE EDITORS JOIN HUNGER STRIKE IN AZERBAIJAN. Eighteen editors from independent newspapers have joined the hunger strike begun six days earlier by "Yeni Musavat" editor Rauf Arifoglu, Reuters and Turan reported on 18 November. The editors are protesting criminal cases brought against "Yeni Musvavat" and other papers for insulting the honor and dignity of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. They say those cases are politically motivated and intended to "strangle the independent press." Meeting with Arifoglu and "Azadlyg" editor Gunduz Tairli on 18 November, Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov offered to drop the criminal cases and to impose only minimal fines if the editors published apologies. The two editors, however, rejected that offer, according to Turan. Hasanov reminded the editors that President Aliev personally controls the right of Azerbaijani citizens to free speech and freedom of the media, according to ANS-Press. LF FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WILL NOT JOIN LIBEL SUIT WAR. Former President and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey told Turan on 18 November that he will not start libel proceedings against "Yeni Azerbaycan," the newspaper of the eponymous party created by Aliev as his personal power base. The previous day, "Yeni Azerbaycan" reported that an Azerbaijan Popular Front Party emissary had departed for Rome to hold talks with detained Kurdistan Workers' Party chairman Abdullah Ocalan in the hope of thwarting construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline. The Azerbaijan Popular Front Party had issued a statement on 16 November affirming its support for that project as one of several export routes for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. LF OPPOSITION ACTIVIST ON TRIAL OVER ALLEGED COUP PLAN. The trial of Fuad Gakhramanly, a senior member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, opened in Baku on 18 November on charges of inciting crimes against the state, Turan reported. Those charges are based on an unpublished article entitled "Meeting Tactics of the Opposition," which was confiscated during a raid on the premises of the independent newspaper "Chag" in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 30 June 1998). The prosecution claims that the document was intended as a blueprint for overthrowing the present leadership and was drafted by a think-tank affiliated with the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. Senior members of that party, including Elchibey and deputy chairman Ali Kerimili, have denied the existence of such a think-tank and sought to distance themselves from Gakhramanly. LF ARMENIA SEES COMPETITION FOR OIL PIPELINE AS DESTABILIZING. Addressing journalists in Geneva on 18 November, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that Caspian oil will remain a factor for instability in the Transcaucasus until agreement is reached on the route for the Main Export Pipeline and on the division of the Caspian Sea into national sectors, ITAR-TASS reported. Oskanian also described the Russian military base in Armenia as a crucial component of Armenia's security and a source of stability in the Caucasus. Oskanian termed Armenia's relations with Russia "perfect," referring to the recent exchange of instruments of ratification of the treaty on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance, signed in August 1997. Also on 18 November, Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darpinian told officials at the International Court in The Hague that developing regional cooperation, both political and economic, in the Caucasus is one of Armenia's top foreign-policy priorities. LF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONDEMNS NEW ELECTION LAW. Ten opposition parliamentary parties issued a joint statement on 18 November condemning as undemocratic the election law passed in the first reading two days earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). Under that law, the majority of seats in the new parliament would be allocated in single-mandate constituencies. The statement expressed concern that the new law, which was drafted by the majority Yerkrapah group, "enables the authorities to form an obedient National Assembly through [vote] falsification." It added that, "We, the undersigned parties, announce that, temporarily disregarding our political differences, we will continue our struggle for the establishment of democracy." Also on 18 November, the Communist Party of Armenia, which similarly opposes the new law, announced it will hold separate talks with Yerkrapah on the new law. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, BEREZOVSKII DISCUSS ABKHAZIA. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii held talks in Tbilisi on 18 November with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze told journalists after the talks that he has invited Berezovskii to attend his meeting with Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba, which is tentatively scheduled for late November. At that meeting Shevardnadze and Ardzinba are to sign two agreements paving the way for the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgians forced to flee during the 1992-1993 war and the renewed hostilities in May 1998. Berezovskii, who has undertaken two attempts to mediate between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, said that a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict could serve as an example for resolving other conflicts within the CIS, Interfax reported. LF KAZHEGELDIN RECEIVES ANOTHER FINE... Former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin appeared at the Medeu district court on 18 November, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Last month, that court fined him for participating in an unsanctioned rally. Kazhegeldin had been hoping the court would overturn that ruling, but instead it imposed a fine for "disrespect" toward the court in failing to attend his first trial. This creates another obstacle to Kazhegeldin's running in the 10 January presidential elections. Under Kazakh law, an individual found guilty of violating the law may not compete in such elections for one year. Kazhegeldin's case is due to be heard by Kazakhstan's Supreme Court on 28-29 November. The last day to register as a candidate for the presidential elections is 30 November. BP ...GIVES INTERVIEW PRIOR TO COURT APPEARANCE. Speaking to RFE/RL correspondents before entering the court room. Kazhegeldin said he does not appreciate President Nursultan Nazarbayev's announcement that a request will be made to the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling against Kazhegeldin. The former premier said it demonstrates that the court is not truly independent. He also questioned the freedom of the press in Kazakhstan, noting that since the 8 October announcement of early elections, six independent newspapers have been closed down, while another independent newspaper, "DAT," is "in court every other day." BP KYRGYZ CURRENCY CONTINUES TO PLUMMET. Kyrgyzstan's national currency, the som, continues to fall and was trading at 36-37 to $1 on 18 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998), RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" links Kyrgyzstan's problem with the devaluation of the Russian ruble, noting that Kyrgyzstan and Russia "are economically, rather tightly bound." The newspaper quotes Kyrgyz National Bank Chairman Marat Sultanov as saying that the country's gold and hard-currency reserves have declined by 12 percent since 1 November. The chairman of the parliament's Policy Committee for Taxation, Customs, and Banks, Daniyar Usenov, said "it is expected that toward the end of February 1999, Kyrgyzstan will be on the verge of an economic catastrophe." BP UZBEK COTTON HARVEST DOWN AGAIN. Uzbekistan's Projections and Statistics Committee is expecting the 1998 cotton harvest to be more than 12 percent below target, Interfax reported on 18 November. Uzbekistan now expects to produce about 3.25 million tons of cotton this year, compared with 3.6 million tons harvested by 16 November last year (which similarly fell short of the target figure by nearly 10 percent). However, Uzbekistan is slowly weaning itself from long-time dependence on cotton. At an OSCE-organized conference in Tashkent in late September, diversification of agriculture was a central topic. BP OSCE OPEN OFFICE IN TURKMENISTAN. OSCE Secretariat officials arrived in Ashgabat on 18 November, to work out final details for opening the organization's office there early next year, Interfax reported. The Ashgabat office will be headed by Austrian former ambassador to the OSCE Paul Ulman. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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