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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 244, Part II, 21 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 244, Part II, 21 December 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 II, a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I covers Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia 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 II * SLOVAK RULING COALITION CANDIDATES LEAD IN LOCAL ELECTIONS * ORBAN ON RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBORS * KOSOVARS HOLD FUNERAL FOR 'MARTYRS' xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE KUCHMA ASKS PARLIAMENT TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has asked the Supreme Council to pass a law abolishing the death penalty in accordance with the country's international obligations, AP reported on 19 December. Ukraine agreed to abolish capital punishment in 1995 when it joined the Council of Europe. It introduced a moratorium on executions in March 1997. This year, Ukrainian courts have sentenced more than 80 people to death, but none has been executed. JM LAZARENKO RETURNS FROM SWITZERLAND TO UKRAINE. Ukrainian former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who has been indicted for alleged money-laundering in Switzerland but freed on bail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1998), returned to Ukraine on 19 December. Viktor Omelich of the Hromada party, which is headed by Lazarenko, told Ukrainian Television that Lazarenko has been "degraded, insulted, and completely destroyed by [Ukraine's] authorities" and "will be continually working to show the [true] reason for his arrest to the entire public." Meanwhile, parliamentary deputy Hryhoriy Omelchenko told Ukrainian Television the day before that Lazarenko deposited some $200 million in several bank accounts in Switzerland over the past three years. JM UKRAINIAN CENTRAL BANK CUTS DISCOUNT RATE. The Central Bank has lowered the discount rate from 82 percent to 60 percent as of 21 December and ordered commercial banks to adjust their interest rates to the new figure, AP reported on 18 December. The decision came several day after National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko said Ukraine's currency market has started to show signs of stabilization following the onset of Russia's financial and economic crisis. JM ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT TO PASS BUDGET BY YEAR'S END? Lawmakers will meet in an extraordinary session on 29 December to consider the 1999 budget in the third and final reading, ETA reported. During the second reading of the bill at an 18 December extraordinary session, the opposition pushed through amendments that have resulted in a deficit of 50 million kroons ($3.8 million). ETA quoted an unnamed member of the government as saying that Prime Minister Mart Siimann intends to negotiate the issue with opposition leaders. JC ESTONIAN SHIPPING COMPANY TO SUE FINNISH DOCKWORKERS. The Estonian Shipping Company has said it will file suit against Finnish dockworkers who are refusing to unload the company's ships, BNS reported on 18 December. The Finns are demanding that Estonian seamen's wages be raised to Finnish levels in what Estonian shipping officials say is an action aimed at squeezing cheaper Estonian cargo ships out of lucrative routes. Estonian seamen make some $300 a month, while their Finnish counterparts earn $2,500. The Estonian Shipping company has already lost $210,000 dollars in the week-long boycott. JC LITHUANIAN CONSTUTIONAL COURT RE-AFFIRMS GOVERNMENT POWERS. The Constitutional Court ruled late on 17 December that the parliament does not have to re-affirm its confidence in the government following the resignation of Transport Minister Algis Zvaliauskas in late November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 30 November 1998). As a result of Zvaliauskas's resignation, the cabinet was left with only seven of the original 14 cabinet members. Under Lithuanian law, the government must seek a renewed mandate from the parliament if half of its members are replaced. The court ruled, however, that Gediminas Vagnorius's cabinet was re-affirmed in office after the election earlier this year of President Valdas Adamkus and therefore did not need to be approved again by the parliament following Zvaliauskas's resignation. JC LITHUANIA'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATS QUIZ ECONOMY MINISTER. The parliamentary group of the Social Democrats have submitted an interpellation on Economy Minister Vincas Babilius signed by 30 parliamentary deputies, BNS reported on 18 December. The signatories are demanding an explanation of, among other things, the construction of the Butinge oil terminal and the government's energy strategy. Babilius must respond to the submitted questions within 10 days. The Social Democrats are seeking Babilius's removal on the grounds of what they call his incompetence in heading the ministry and in dealing with the energy sector and privatization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998). To remove a minister from office, more than half of the parliamentary deputies must vote in favor of such a move. JC POLISH COAL MINING STRIKE CONTINUES TO SPREAD. Some 340 miners from 48 mines in the Silesia region took part in sit-in strikes on 18 December, PAP reported. The miners are protesting the recently adopted pension law, which sets retirement age limits at 65 for men and 60 for women. They want to be able to retire after having worked for 25 years, as provided for by the previous pension law. Solidarity's national mining section, which organized the protest, has announced a vote on an all- out strike in the mining sector. Meanwhile, several hundred steelworkers demonstrated in Warsaw on 18 December to demand benefit packages similar to those for miners under a restructuring plan for the coal mining industry. A planned restructuring of the steel sector is to cut jobs almost in half and privatize the sector over the next two years. JM KWASNIEWSKI UPBEAT ON GERMANY'S EU PRESIDENCY IN 1999. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has high hopes for the first six month of 1999, in which Germany will assume the rotating EU chairmanship, Polish Television reported on 19 December. After a private meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin the same day, Kwasniewski said he has "no doubts as to the expansion of the EU and...to the stance of Germany in this respect." He added that Germany's commitment to EU expansion is demonstrated by the fact that Germany will continue to pay high contributions to the EU on condition that those monies are allocated to the union's further enlargement. The two presidents agreed to hold a Polish-German summit in Gdansk in April. JM HAVEL'S CONDITION IMPROVING. The condition of Czech President Vaclav Havel has improved, and he is planning a meeting with Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 21 December, Czech media report. A press release from Havel's office said doctors will decide early this week whether the president will leave for his planned three- week Christmas holiday abroad. SLOVAK RULING COALITION CANDIDATES LEAD IN LOCAL ELECTIONS. Preliminary results from the local elections held on 18-19 December show that six out of the eight newly elected mayors of Slovakia's regional capitals are from the government coalition and two from the opposition, CTK reported. According to those results, the coalition parties will have 41 mayors and the opposition 11, while 9 new mayors are independent. Among the coalition government mayors are former Premier Josef Moravcik (Bratislava), Rudolf Schuster (Kosice), and Jan Kralik (Banska Bystrica). Jan Slota, leader of the opposition Slovak National Party, was re-elected mayor of Zilina. Final results are expected on 22 December. The head of the Central Electoral Commission, Eduard Barany, said it is s too early to estimate turnout figures, but Reuters reported that most districts in which votes have been counted had a turnout of between 35 and 45 percent. MS SLOVAK PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS. Michal Valo on 18 December resigned as of 1 January, following an agreement reached with parliamentary chairman Jozef Migas and leaders of the four parties represented in the ruling coalition. In his letter of resignation, Valo said he is quitting "in the interest of calming the tensions caused by the attempts to have me dismissed, which were accompanied by groundless attacks on the Prosecutor-General's Office and on me personally," CTK reported. Valo's critics argue he has tolerated violations of the law and defended the interests of the state against those of individuals. They say that without his consent, it would not have been possible to halt the first investigation launched into the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son and prevent the punishment of former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci for hindering the May 1998 referendum on entry to NATO and direct presidential elections. MS ORBAN ON RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBORS. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 18 December said Hungary's relations with Austria and Slovenia are "excellent," ties with Romania are "viable," and cooperation with Slovakia "holds out historical prospects" as a result of the recent elections in that country. He was speaking on Minorities' Day, while presenting awards to persons and institutions representing ethnic minorities. Orban also said the cabinet views ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary "not as a problem, but as a chance for creating stability in the region." And he noted that Budapest's goal is to see its neighbors admitted to the EU as soon as possible, Hungarian media reported. Also on 18 December, Slovak Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik told Minister without Portfolio Imre Boros in Budapest that ethnic Hungarian students will receive bilingual school reports this semester. And during a visit to Vojvodina, Agriculture Minister Jozef Torgyan said he is "personally dissatisfied" with the conditions of ethnic Hungarians in the region. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE KOSOVARS HOLD FUNERAL FOR 'MARTYRS' Some 5,000 ethnic Albanians attended the funeral at Pagarusha, near Malisheva, on 20 December of 33 members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) who died in a clash with Yugoslav forces near the Albanian border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998). The men were buried on a ridge that the UCK renamed the "Martyrs' Cemetery," VOA's Albanian Service reported. Rama Buja, whom AP described as "a top UCK commander," told the emotional gathering that "there is no better nor more honorable way to die than to die for one's fatherland." Meanwhile in Tirana, an unidentified Western diplomat told Reuters on 21 December that the "brutal,arrogant, [and] uncooperative" UCK has become a serious problem. The diplomat added: "I don't know who the hell they think they are or who they think they're dealing with, but for guys who haven't done anything on the battlefield but embarrass themselves they are incredibly arrogant." PM WHILE SERBS DEMAND PROTECTION. Unidentified gunmen killed a Serbian policeman in the Podujeva area on 21 December, dpa reported. The previous day, some 300 Serbs demonstrated in Prishtina to protest the murder of Zvonko Bojanic, the deputy mayor of Fushe Kosova. Speakers demanded the large-scale return of Serbian paramilitary police to the area even though that would violate the provisions of the two-month-old agreement between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke. On 19 December, UCK spokesman Adem Demaci denied that the guerrillas killed Bojanic. Demaci stressed that the UCK attacks only army or police targets. Several observers both inside and outside the region have suggested that the several dozen killings in Kosova over the past 10 days have made the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement a dead letter, VOA's Croatian Service reported on 21 December. PM MILOSEVIC AIDE BLASTS U.S. Zivorad Igic, who is a top aide to Milosevic, told state-run Tanjug news agency on 20 December that Washington is "supportive" of ethnic Albanian "terrorists" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1998). The previous day, three men appeared outside the Prishtina home of William Walker, the U.S. envoy who heads the civilian verification mission for Kosova. One policeman, who was drunk, pointed a pistol at Walker's house, "Danas" on 21 December quoted Walker as saying. One of Walker's unarmed ethnic Albanian bodyguards sought help from a Serbian policeman on duty near the house, but the man refused to leave his post and look into the incident. Walker noted that the Serbian authorities have refused to allow his bodyguards to carry weapons, the independent daily added. The diplomat concluded that the Serbian authorities are not doing enough for his security. PM OGATA FEARS NEW FIGHTING. Sadako Ogata, who is the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Prishtina on 21 December that she fears that full-scale fighting will break out in the province in early 1999 unless the two sides reach a political settlement soon. Ogata arrived in Kosova the previous day to assess the problems facing returning displaced persons and refugees during and after the winter. She said that she is interested in long-term solutions to the Kosovars' problems and not just stop-gap measures. Of the 250,000 people who fled their homes during the 1998 Serbian crackdown, some 75,000 have returned and 175,000 are staying in temporary housing or with friends and relatives. PM ALBANIA REPORTS NEW BORDER VIOLATION. The Albanian Interior Ministry said in a statement on 19 December that six federal Yugoslav soldiers crossed into Albania the previous day and fired shots into a village in the Tropoja region for about 45 minutes. Another 14 soldiers watched from Yugoslav territory. All Yugoslav soldiers subsequently withdrew from the frontier area. No one was injured in the incident. FS RAPID REACTION FORCE CONTINUE TO ARRIVE IN MACEDONIA. Some 1,200 troops out of a planned 1,700-strong NATO rapid reaction force have arrived in Macedonia, AP reported on 19 December. The remaining soldiers are due by the end of the first week in January. The force will rescue unarmed civilian monitors in Kosova should they run into danger. The soldiers are based in Kumanovo and Tetovo as well as at Skopje's Petrovec airport. PM FIRE DESTROYS BOSNIAN NEWS AGENCY'S OFFICES. A blaze destroyed the offices and equipment of the Onasa news agency in Sarajevo on 19 December. Fire Chief Mesud Jusufovic told "Dnevni Avaz" that the fire was "unprecedented" in its size and heat and that his men used 22 pieces of equipment to stop the blaze from spreading. Police are investigating the cause of the fire. Journalists at the agency appealed to colleagues elsewhere to help them relaunch their operation, which the daily "Oslobodjenje" began in 1994. PM TUDJMAN PRAISES TIES TO RUSSIA. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said in Zagreb on 19 December that his two-day trip to Russia does not "mean turning our back on the United States." He added, however, that U.S. Ambassador to Croatia William Montgomery's recent critical remarks of the president are "out of the framework of normal diplomatic relations[and constitute] far-fetched observations." Tudjman added that Croatia will not allow any country to "treat us like a colony." In Moscow on 18 December, Tudjman praised Russia's "constructive" role in international relations while his aides signed several agreements, including ones on arms purchases and defense. The independent daily "Jutarnji list" wrote on 21 December that Tudjman is promoting ties to Russia in the face of growing U.S. criticism of his policies in Bosnia and at home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998). The daily added that any effort to offset problems with Washington by flirting with Moscow is "unproductive" in the post-Cold War world. PM ALBANIA'S BERISHA WANTS PROSECUTOR REMOVED. Lawyers for opposition leader Sali Berisha on 18 December formally requested that Prosecutor Bujar Himci be removed from a criminal investigation into Berisha. Himci had signed a summons obliging Berisha to testify as a defendant in connection with his alleged involvement in organizing the coup attempt on 14 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1998). Berisha, however, refused to appear. His lawyers argue that Himci is biased, pointing out that the prosecutor earlier charged Berisha with inciting terrorism in an unrelated case. Unidentified persons had bombed Himci's private home on 22 September. Himci subsequently said that Berisha was politically responsible for that attack, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 20 December. FS ROMANIAN MINERS POSTPONE LABOR ACTION. Miners in the Jiu Valley has decided to postpone their strike until after the Christmas vacation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 19 December. They said labor action will be resumed on 4 January. On 18 December, Trade and Industry minister Radu Berceanu refused to receive miners' leader Miron Cozma and told his deputies the government is determined to go ahead with the closure of loss-making pits on 21 December. Cozma was briefly detained by the police because of a court ruling earlier this year banning him from entering the capital for two years. He was freed after court officials clarified that the sentence has been appealed. Meanwhile, miners at the Brad mines ended their hunger strike but continue to take other labor action. Miners at the Minvest copper, gold, and iron mines in the Apuseni Mountains have postponed a planned protest march on Bucharest until 23 December. MS MOLDOVAN PREMIER CONCLUDES GAS DELIVERY DEAL IN MOSCOW. Premier Ion Ciubuc signed in Moscow on 18 December an agreement with Gazprom for deliveries of gas supplies in 1999, Infotag and Flux reported. Moldova will pay $60 per 1,000 cubic meters instead of $58, as in this year. Gazprom agreed to increase deliveries from 2.4 to 3 million cubic meters. Chisinau will pay for half of these deliveries in Moldovan products and half in cash. Also on 18 December, Chisinau transferred $3 million to Gazprom toward settling its current debt to that company. The two sides agreed that by end of January 1999, Moldova will transfer $90 million state bonds to Gazprom, ahead of the establishment of a Russian- Moldovan gas company, in which Russia has a 51 percent stake. MS BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION SUCCESSFUL. "The mafia no longer sets the rules in the political and economic spheres," Ivan Kostov told the parliament on 18 December, according to BTA. He noted that the decreasing inflation means that borrowers among organized criminal groups can no longer "inflate away their debt to the state." Kostov said the government is powerful enough to deal with the remaining smuggling rings that "generate illegal profits" and were able in the past to bribe administration officials. On 20 December, AP reported that one of the purported leaders of the Bulgarian mafia, Ivo Karamanski, was killed at a villa near Sofia when a quarrel erupted among the guests at a party. Karamanski, a former national rowing champion who ran a prosperous insurance company, was sentenced in 1996 to two years in prison for fraud. MS 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. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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