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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 228, Part I, 25 November 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 228, Part I, 25 November 1998 *** Note to Readers: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, RFE/RL Newsline will not appear on 26 or 27 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 * BUDGET DEADLINE SLIPS * LUKOIL, GAZPROM FORGE STRATEGIC ALLIANCE * 'BLACK DAY' FOR KAZAKH DEMOCRACY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA BUDGET DEADLINE SLIPS... First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told reporters on 24 November that the 1999 budget will not be submitted to the State Duma by 1 December and is more likely to be submitted on 7 December. On 16 November, Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov said his committee must have the 1999 budget by 1 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Until recently, the government had appeared willing to meet that deadline. The Duma will not debate the budget before 20 December, Duma Deputy Aleksandr Shokhin told Interfax. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Zadornov told journalists that the government is still leaning toward a budget based on the Ministry of Economy's optimistic scenario of a 2 percent decline in GDP and a 2 percent surplus of the primary budget (which does not include debt payments). He also noted that a Central Bank credit will be necessary to finance the expected budget deficit of 2.2 percent of GDP. JAC ...AS IMF WRAPS UP WORK WITHOUT PARTING GIFT. The IMF mission completed its most recent work in Moscow on 24 November by sending Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov a memorandum on the government's draft budget for 1999 and tax collection proposals, Interfax reported. Maslyukov told a news conference that the IMF mission "is not happy with the way we plan to change our tax system." He admitted that prospects for "future talks are not very promising." Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin revealed that the IMF is demanding a primary budget surplus of 4 percent rather than the 2 percent surplus planned in the version of the 1999 budget that is considered most likely to be adopted by the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). JAC LUKOIL, GAZPROM FORGE STRATEGIC ALLIANCE. Two of Russia's energy giants, LUKoil and Gazprom, have signed a strategic partnership agreement enabling each company to tap resources in the other's area of specialization. LUKoil has gas production for which it needs access to a pipeline, while Gazprom has significant oil reserves. The agreement calls for integrating the two companies' activities in oil and gas exploration, production, and refining as well as in the marketing of oil, gas, and petrochemical products. JAC RUSSIA'S NEIGHBORS MOURN STAROVOITOVA... In Belarus, opposition politicians, such as Lyavon Barshchevski, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, said the murder of State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova marked the end of a romantic period of hopes for Russian democracy. Anatol Lyabedzka, a member of Belarus's 13th Supreme Soviet, suggested that "Russia is seriously ill, "much more seriously than we have been thinking," adding that Belarus should keep away from "the sick." Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk expressed shock "at the irreparable loss," while Lithuania's parliament adopted a statement characterizing the death as a "blow to Russia's democracy and a sign showing that violent and terrorist forces are becoming active" in Russia. Estonian Parliament member Igor Grazin said the bullet aimed at Starovoitova also hit Estonia, since she was a friend of all small nations. And the Armenian parliament observed a one-minute silence on 23 November in memory of Starovoitova, who had supported the 1988 movement for Karabakh's unification with Armenia. JAC ...AS WEST EXPRESSES OUTRAGE... The U.S., Germany, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher all expressed their outrage at Starovoitova's killing. Amnesty International said that it believed her killing was "politically motivated," while UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson described the killing as an act of "despicable cowardice." On 24 November, residents in 1.8 million apartments in the European part of Russia turned off their electricity for two minutes to honor the slain deputy, according to United Energy Systems of Russia, Interfax reported. JAC ...AND ST. PETERSBURG POLITICAL MACHINE IS SCRUTINIZED. The slaying of Starovoitova has increased scrutiny of St. Petersburg and its political process. Starovoitova's assassination is "first of all a St. Petersburg murder, connected with events in the city, which has become a testing ground for criminal groupings and a center for corruption," Duma deputy and Yabloko party member Yurii Shchekochikin told "Segodnya on 24 November. The newspaper claimed that the 6 December election to the local legislative assembly is "perhaps the first one in the city in which the criminal world has at least one representative in each constituency." According to the newspaper, the acting deputy speaker of the city's legislative assembly, Viktor Novoselov, is a close friend of "Kostya the Grave," who "controls" practically all trade in the Moscow district of St. Petersburg. "Kommersant- Daily" the same day referred to the "not too ethical and even manifestly criminal methods being used in the pre-election campaign," noting that Starovoitova herself predicted that someone would be shot during the elections. JAC RIGHTIST COALITION FORMING? One legacy of Starovoitova's death may be the creation of a coalition of "democratic" forces. On 24 November, former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told an audience in St. Petersburg that the "creation of a powerful rightist center has been stepped up and intensive consultations are now under way," Interfax and Ekho Moskvy reported. According to Chubais, an announcement about the new alliance will be made next week. Democratic groups in St. Petersburg have agreed to refrain from verbal attacks against one other before the 6 December local elections, he said, adding that Yabloko, Democratic Russia, and the Accord bloc have agreed to field joint candidates. JAC MAYORS BECOMING THIRD FORCE IN POLITICS. Politicians from various parties have begun fighting for the favors of the members of the new Congress of Municipal Formations, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 November. The congress held its first meeting 19 November and was registered by the Ministry of Justice on 30 October. The daily noted that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has already invited a delegation from the Congress of Municipal Formations to attend a meeting of his new movement, Otechestvo [Fatherland]. Former First Deputy Prime Minister and Mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod Boris Nemtsov attended the congress's first meeting, where he said the organization's first task must be the promotion of its deputies to legislative assemblies at all levels. JAC BEREZOVSKII, SELEZNEV TRADE SWIPES OVER CIS REFORM. Speaking in Ashgabat on 24 November, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev categorically rejected CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii's proposal for streamlining the CIS's executive structure, Interfax reported. Berezovskii advocates reversing the 1994 decision to split the CIS's Coordinating-Consultative Committee into the Executive Secretariat and the Inter-State Economic Commission rather than creating yet another body, the Committee of Permanent Representatives. The resurrected committee would be a supra- national coordinating body. Seleznev termed Berezovskii's proposal an attempt to transform his staff into a Soviet Union cabinet and claimed that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov also rejects it. Berezovskii retaliated by accusing Seleznev of advocating the destruction of the CIS, according to Interfax. He said the proposed reform of CIS governing bodies provides for abolishing inefficient structures and consolidating control of economic and political issues within a single body. LF RUSSIA BECOMING LESS FREE FOR NON-ORTHODOX RELIGIONS. The Moscow Helsinki Group, together with two other human rights groups, released a report on 19 November asserting that numerous violations of freedom of conscience have occurred since the enactment of the controversial 1997 law regulating religious organizations, the "Moscow Times" reported on 25 November. According to the report, religious groups experience the most interference at the local level, "where legislatures have adopted restrictive measures that go even further than the federal law," the newspaper reported. For example, in the town of Volgodonsk in Rostov Oblast, no non- Orthodox churches can be built, while in the Republic of Khakassia, a Lutheran mission has been banned. The report concluded that the "legislative and administrative conditions" for "large-scale persecution of religious dissidents or of forced conversion of the population into Orthodoxy" have been created. JAC TEACHERS STRIKES CONTINUE. Some 52,000 teachers in 32 regions in Russia are continuing to strike, according to Galina Merkulova, deputy chair of an education and science trade union, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 September. In Archangelsk Oblast, 767 schools and other educational establishments have shut their doors since 23 November, when teachers went on strike to demand payment of back wages. Other regions affected by the protest action, according to the daily, are Primorskii Krai and Ulyanovsk and Chita Oblasts. JAC U.S. CONSULATE DENIES NEWS REPORTS ABOUT DIPLOMAT. The U.S. consulate in Vladivostok denied earlier press reports that U.S. Consul General Douglas Kent has been charged in a traffic case, AP reported on 24 November. Consulate spokeswoman Susan Krause said no pedestrians were involved and the traffic police are still investigating the incident. The consulate told the "Moscow Times" on 25 November that Kent was sober at the time of the crash and that the accident occurred when Kent's sports utility vehicle hit a speeding Toyota Camry, in which Aleksandr Kashin was riding. Kashin, 23, is now paralyzed from the armpits down, the "Moscow Times" reported. JAC RUSSIA PLEDGES TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN. At the close of his visit to Iran, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov said on 23 November that he has reached agreement with Iranian officials on speeding up construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which he inspected. He added that Russian may cooperate with Iran in building more such plants, Interfax reported. On 24 November, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel arrived in Tehran to discuss trade and economic contacts, including supplies of machinery and fuel for nuclear power plants, according to ITAR-TASS. LF CHINESE PRESIDENT LEAVES RUSSIA. Jiang Zemin on 25 November departed left Novosibirsk for Japan, Russian news agencies and Xinhua reported. Jiang spoke to the "scientific and technological community" in the Far Eastern city, lauding the achievements of a "city of 1.7 million people [that] boasts as many as 100 research institutes." In a joint communiqué released on 24 November, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Jiang said Russian-Chinese relations are "enjoying a stable development along the track of equality." They agreed it is necessary to coordinate efforts and improve "monetary and legal conditions" to strengthen bilateral trade. Russia supported China's position on Taiwan, promising no Russian weapons will be sold to the island and no political recognition given to it. China, for its part, said it would not object to Russia establishing commercial and cultural ties with Taiwan. BP OCALAN CLAIMS TURKEY IS TRYING TO SABOTAGE RUSSIA, CIS. In a an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 November, Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan accused Turkey of trying to dismember the CIS by infiltrating Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the Central Asian states. He also claimed Turkey supported the group of Russian politicians who instigated the 1994 invasion of Chechnya, with the aim of undermining the Russian Federation. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 November, Ocalan confirmed that after leaving Syria on 9 October he flew to Moscow, after which he moved to different locations within Russia and unspecified other CIS states. But he denied Turkish media allegations that he traveled to Armenia. Ocalan told the newspaper that the decision to reject his request for political asylum in Russia was taken "at the very highest level, probably by Prime Minister Primakov, given President Yeltsin's illness." LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA 'BLACK DAY' FOR KAZAKH DEMOCRACY. The press service of former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin issued a statement on 25 November commenting on the Supreme Court decision the previous day that bars Kazhegeldin from running in the 10 January presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November) , RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The statement said the Supreme Court's decision proves there is no political mechanism that might influence the current government and its "pocket parliament." Kazhegeldin's press secretary, Amirzhan Kosanov, said the decision represents a "black day for Kazakh democracy." He added that that Kazhegeldin will hold the first session of his newly created political movement next week. Earlier this month, Kazhegeldin had twice announced that he would convene the founding congress of that movement within the next few days but failed to do so on both occasions. LF/BP KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE COMPLAINS ABOUT MEDIA ACCESS. Karishal Assanov, who has registered to run in the January presidential elections as an independent, said incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev has greater access to the media than his opponents, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Assanov made the comments at a press conference in Almaty on 24 November, adding that some candidates have been deprived of any access to the country's media. BP FOUR CANDIDATES TO CONTEST KAZAKH ELECTIONS? President Nazarbayev's campaign manager, former Prime Minister Sergei Tereshchenko, told journalists he expects there will be three candidates running against Nazarbayev in the January presidential elections, RFE/RL correspondents in Astana reported on 24 November. Tereshchenko listed parliamentary deputy Engels Gabbasov, Customs Committee chief Gani Kasymov, and Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin as the likely rivals. Tereshchenko noted, however, that with less than one week before the deadline to register expires, only Nazarbayev has collected the required 170,000 signatures and paid the necessary fee to the Central Election Commission. Meanwhile, Nazarbayev visited the northern city of Pavlodar on 24 November, where he told journalists that his country will be a major oil and gas exporter in the next century, Interfax reported. BP KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT INCREASES EXCISE TAXES. Lawmakers on 24 November voted to double excise tax on alcohol and oil products, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Finance Minister Taalaibek Koichumanov told the parliament that the state budget is likely to be short by 100 million som ($3.4 million) at the end of this year. Meanwhile, there was better news at exchange offices in the Kyrgyz capital, where the som was trading at 29 to $1. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silayev blamed the fall of the som, which last week plummeted to 35 to $1, on exchange offices. He added that he favors closing all such offices and transferring their tasks to commercial banks. BP AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT ENACTS PENALTIES FOR UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATIONS. In another move aimed at further restricting the activities of opposition parties, the Azerbaijani parliament on 24 November voted by 80 to seven to impose prison sentences of up to three years for organizing or participating in an unsanctioned demonstration, Reuters reported. On 13 November, lawmakers had passed legislation limiting the right to hold public demonstrations. Last week, the opposition Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections postponed for one week a rally planned for 22 November after the Baku authorities refused permission for such a meeting. LF AZERBAIJAN TO SELL STAKE IN INTERNATIONAL BANK. President Heidar Aliev has authorized the sale of all but 5 percent of the state's 51 percent stake in the International Bank of Azerbaijan, AFP and Interfax reported on 24 November. The bank is the country's largest and is involved in more than 90 percent of the country's import-export deals. It is anticipated that either the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or a similar international financial institution will acquire 20 percent of the shares. LF ARMENIAN LEADERS, OSCE CHAIRMAN DISCUSS KARABAKH. Polish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Bronislaw Geremek met in Yerevan on 24 November with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and also held separate talks with the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkadii Ghukasian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Geremek told reporters later that he is "very happy" that the Karabakh authorities are displaying "goodwill" over the most recent OSCE draft Karabakh peace plan. He said he hopes to get a "good answer" in Baku, where he will discuss Azerbaijan's reported objections to that plan on 25 November. Both Kocharian and Ghukasian have undertaken to give an official response to the new peace proposals within the next few days. LF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES ASSESS NEW ELECTION LAW. In a statement to the parliament on 24 November, the center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM) said it may boycott next year's parliamentary elections unless the election law passed last week is amended to preclude falsification of the vote, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The previous day, former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian called for the new law's architect, the majority Yerkrapah parliamentary group, and eleven opposition parties, including the AZhM and Demirchian's recently founded center- left People's Party of Armenia, to reach a "consensus" to ensure that the parliamentary elections are free and fair. Demirchian urged Yerkrapah to agree to unspecified concessions in order to avoid precipitating "splits in society." LF GEORGIAN REJECTS ABKHAZ LEADER'S CHARGES. Georgian presidential adviser for international affairs Levan Aleksidze has denied that Georgia is to blame for obstacles to the planned signing of two land-mark agreements by President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba, Interfax reported on 24 November. Ardzinba had said on 23 November that Georgia is insisting on revising the previously agreed text of a protocol on the repatriation of ethnic Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia's Gali Raion. Aleksidze denied this but in turn accused Abkhazia of trying to insert into the agreements a clause whereby Georgia would recognize Abkhazia's independence. LF GEORGIA-CZECH MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT SIGNED. Czech Deputy Defense Minister Jaromir Novotny has completed a three-day visit to Georgia during which he discussed the possible repair and purchase of spare parts for SU-25 fighter aircraft, Caucasus Press reported. The deal would be worth some $10 million. Novotny also told journalists in Tbilisi on 24 November that a bilateral cooperation agreement whereby the Czech Republic will train Georgian army officers will be signed next year. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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