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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 14, Part II, 21 January 1999


________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 14, Part II, 21 January 1999

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

* POLISH COALITION SEEKS TO STAVE OFF CRISIS

* BELGRADE MAY COMPROMISE ON WALKER

* NANO RESIGNS AS LEADER OF ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS

End Note: ELECTION ALLIANCE BAN AND ESTONIAN POLITICS
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EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

KUCHMA FEARS REPERCUSSIONS OVER DEATH PENALTY. Oleksandr
Martynenko, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's
spokesman, said on 10 January that Kuchma fears the
parliament's refusal to abolish the death penalty in
Ukraine will force the Council of Europe to suspend
Ukraine's membership, Interfax and Reuters reported.
Kuchma introduced a moratorium on executions in 1997,
but referring to public support for the death penalty,
the parliament has rejected legislation abolishing the
death penalty. Ukrainian courts sentenced 146 people to
death in 1998 and 129 the previous year. Martynenko said
Kuchma thinks that the suspension of Ukraine's
membership in the Council of Europe would threaten
"Ukraine's status as a new European, democratic state."
JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET TRIMS PENSION, WAGE DEBT. According to
the State Statistics Committee, the Ukrainian government
last month slightly reduced wage and pension arrears.
Overdue pensions and other social security payments
amounted to 2.01 billion hryvni ($587 million) on 1
January, down by 207 million hryvni since 1 December
1998. Wage arrears amounted to 960 million hryvni, down
by 37 million hryvni over the same period. Last month,
President Kuchma ordered the government to pay its
entire debts to the population by 1 July 1999. JM

BELARUSIAN TRUCKS HELD UP AT RUSSIAN BORDER. Some 500
Belarusian trucks are being held up at the Belarusian-
Russian border, following new regulations introduced
unilaterally by the Russian Transport Ministry on 17
January, Belarusian Television reported on 20 January.
Under the regulations, Belarusian trucks must apply for
a permit to cross the Russian border if they are
carrying cargo from a third country. Belarusian
Television said the permit costs $250 and noted that the
Russian side has so far not supplied application forms
for the permits at border crossing points. Belarusian
Transport Minister Alyaksandr Lukashou admitted that
"some tension" exists at the Belarusian-Russian border
but said that Belarus does not intend to take reciprocal
measures. He said talks to resolve the deadlock are
being conducted at government level. JM

BLEGRADE SEEKS PERMANENT OBSERVER STATUS IN BELARUS-
RUSSIA UNION PARLIAMENT. A Belgrade parliamentary
delegation led by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav
Seselj arrived in Minsk on 20 January to take part in a
session of the Belarusian-Russian Parliamentary Assembly
scheduled to begin the next day, Belarusian Television
reported. The session will consider Yugoslavia's
application for the status of permanent observer at the
Belarusian-Russian legislature. The decision to seek
that status was adopted by the Yugoslav parliament last
month. JM

BELARUS WANTS IMF CREDIT TO STABILIZE RUBLE. Belarusian
National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich said on 20
January that Belarus is planning to stabilize its
currency and introduce a single exchange rate for the
Belarusian ruble in non-cash operations. He stressed
that the government hopes to obtain an IMF stabilization
credit to achieve that aim. "Unfortunately, the National
Bank reserves are very scanty, one can say, virtually
nil," he commented. He added that the National Bank
intends to reduce credit emissions in 1999 to 35
trillion Belarusian rubles ($275 million). JM

BELARUS REPORTS 181.7 PERCENT INFLATION IN 1998. The
Belarusian Ministry of Statistics has reported that the
1998 inflation rate in Belarus was 181.7 percent, up
from 63.1 percent in 1997 and far above the 27 percent
targeted for last year. The ministry blamed the Russian
financial crisis for the soaring inflation. It said that
prices rose only by 44 percent in January-August 1998,
while most of the increase was from September through
December, following Russia's financial collapse. JM

ESTONIA'S VEIDEMANN IN MOSCOW. Population Minister Andra
Veidemann met with Russian Nationality Affairs Minister
Ramazan Abdulatipov in Moscow on 20 January and signed a
memorandum on cooperation in ethnic policies, ETA
reported. The document foresees information exchanges on
the human rights situation and on ethnic minorities in
each country. The meeting took place in a "friendly and
business-like manner," according to both sides. At a
separate meeting with Veidemann, Russian Deputy Prime
Minister Vadim Gustov proposed a Russian-Estonian
dialogue on regional and cross-border cooperation,
according to BNS. Veidemann also promised Patriarch of
Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II to seek to bring the
two Estonian Orthodox Churches to the negotiating table
to resolve their dispute over property confiscated under
communism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). JC

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS MERGING
MINISTRIES. The cabinet on 19 January approved
amendments to the law on the government that foresee
merging the Ministry of Roads and Communications and the
Ministry of Economics by the end of this year, BNS
reported the next day. The new ministry would start
performing all the functions of the two ministries
beginning in 2000. The merger would save one-third of
the combined administrative costs of the two entities. A
government spokesman said it is hoped that the
parliament will the pass the amendments next month. JC

ULMANIS, TOO, STRESSES LATVIA REMAINS COMMITTED TO NATO
ENTRY. Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis met with Prime
Minister Kristopans on 20 January to discuss the recent
article in a Jamestown Foundation publication suggesting
that some Latvian politicians are seeking to revise the
country's security policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19
and 20 January 1999), "Diena" reported on 21 January,
citing the presidential press service. Rejecting the
assertions made in that article, Ulmanis said it is
imperative to show that Latvia is "consistently
realizing the goal of integration with NATO" by
increasing its defense budget to 1 percent of GDP. "This
way," Ulmanis said, "we will prove that Latvia is ready
to pay for its security." The 1999 draft budget
allocates 0.9 percent of GDP to defense. JC

LATVIAN OPPOSITION NOT TO SUPPORT DRAFT BUDGET... The
People's Party of former Prime Minister Andris Skele is
likely to vote against the 1999 draft budget in its
first reading, BNS quoted caucus head Gundars Berzins as
saying on 20 January. The draft, which the cabinet
approved last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January
1999), foresees revenues at 1.41 billion lats ($2.82
billion) and expenditures at 1.47 billion lats. It will
be put to two readings in the parliament. If lawmakers
fail to approve the draft, their rejection is considered
to constitute a vote of no confidence in the government,
requiring the cabinet to resign. JC

...WHILE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS STRESS CONDITIONS FOR
SUPPORTING GOVERNMENT. Egils Baldzens, leader of the
Social Democrats' caucus, told journalists on 20 January
that his party will sign an agreement on backing the
government only if the cabinet agrees to meet a number
of the Social Democrats' demands, BNS reported. Baldzens
was speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Vilis
Kristopans. Most of the Social Democrats' demands are
related to social problems, education, and the
privatization of large companies. Kristopans has ordered
Latvia's Way chairperson Kristiana Libane to draft an
agreement with the Social Democrats. JC

POLISH COALITION SEEKS TO STAVE OFF CRISIS. Solidarity
Electoral Action (AWS) and its coalition partner, the
Freedom Union (UW), have reached what AWS leader Marian
Krzaklewski said was "a breakthrough [and] a wise
compromise," Polish media reported on 20 January (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). The AWS has decided
to withdraw its controversial bill on distributing state
assets among all citizens. It is widely believed that
the dismissal of Deputy Health Minister Jacek Wutzow,
whom the UW blamed for the poorly prepared health
reform, has also contributed to healing coalition rifts.
But Health Minister Wojciech Maksymowicz commented that
Wutzow was released because he had successfully carried
out his main task of "making health service
establishments independent." Krzaklewski said the next
step in overcoming the coalition crisis will be to vote
down the opposition's motion of no confidence in
Maksymowicz. JM

BALCEROWICZ SLAMS GOVERNMENT FOR SLOW REFORMS. Deputy
Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz
criticized his government in the 20 January "Gazeta
wyborcza" for delaying promised economic reforms and
privatization. Balcerowicz said the delays pose a threat
to Poland's EU membership talks and might undermine the
social security reform launched this year. He commented
that he is particularly concerned about privatization,
noting that successful sales in the telecommunications
and banking sector were followed by "a virtual lack of
privatization in other areas." "There is a threat that
in 2000 and 2001 we will not have the revenues needed
for the pension reform," he wrote. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTIES POSTPONE SIGNING NEW AGREEMENT.
The signing of a new agreement between the four-party
opposition alliance, composed of the Christian Democrats
(KDU-CSL), the Freedom Union, and the extra-
parliamentary Civic Democratic Alliance and the
Democratic Union (DEU), will not take place on 27
January, as originally planned. KDU-CSL acting chairman
Jan Kasal told CTK that he sees "no need to put in
writing what is running normally." Freedom Union
chairman Jan Ruml said he is convinced that it is "only
a matter of time" before the DEU-proposed agreement is
signed. The Freedom Union insists on discussions among
the alliance's leaders before important parliamentary
debates, following the KDU-CSL's support in the
legislature for the deficit budget proposed by Milos
Zeman's cabinet. MS

SLOVAKIA ADAMANT ON URGENCY OF NATO ACCESSION. Defense
Minister Pavol Kanis on 20 January told his Austrian
counterpart, Werner Fasslabend, that Bratislava will
have "to react actively" to the admission of the Czech
Republic, Hungary, and Poland into NATO because that
step "will create problems in relations between
countries that have joined the alliance and those that
have not done so," CTK reported. Speaking before leaving
on a visit to the U.S, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan
told journalists the same day that the purpose of his
visit is to discuss not Slovak-U.S. relations but
Slovakia's integration into NATO. He said Slovak
diplomats consider NATO membership "a matter of months,
not years." MS

BUDAPEST TO CHANGE STRATEGY IN "HUNGARIAN-HUNGARIAN"
RELATIONS? Zsolt Nemeth, Foreign Ministry political
state secretary, told journalists in Uzhorod, western
Ukraine, on 20 January that Hungary intends to invite to
the forthcoming "Hungarian-Hungarian summit" only those
ethnic Hungarian parties from neighboring countries that
are represented in the respective countries'
parliaments. Bela Bugar, chairman of the Hungarian
Coalition Party of Slovakia, responded by saying that a
party's legitimacy should not be linked to parliamentary
representation, since many ethnic parties lack the
necessary number of supporters to ensure their
parliamentary representation. MSZ

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

BELGRADE MAY COMPROMISE ON WALKER... Newly appointed
Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic said on 20
January that Belgrade may be willing to compromise on
the expulsion order for William Walker, the head of the
OSCE's verification mission, Reuters reported. Draskovic
said the issue could be "solved through compromise" to
everyone's satisfaction. Draskovic said it would be
better to "present the truth" to Walker than to declare
him persona non grata. Serbian Deputy Premier Tomislav
Nikolic said Walker's departure "will be delayed" so
that he can be given the chance not to be thrown out but
to resign. Walker has until 5:00 p.m. local time on 21
January to leave the country or face expulsion (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). The OSCE, NATO, and
several Western governments have said Walker must stay
in Kosova. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr
Avdeev met with Draskovic and Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic in an effort to reverse the expulsion
order on Walker (see also Part I). Walker said "I'm
hereŠas long as the mission goes on." The chairman of
the OSCE, Knut Vollebaek, was expected in Belgrade on 21
January to try to prevent Walker's expulsion. PB

ŠWHILE ARBOUR AGAIN DENIED ENTRY. Louise Arbour, the
chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal at The
Hague, was again turned back by Yugoslav border guards
at the Macedonian border on instructions from Belgrade,
AP reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19
January 1999). Arbour said she will abandon her efforts
to enter Kosova and to investigate the deaths of the
ethnic Albanians at Recak. Belgrade said it does not
recognize Arbour's jurisdiction in Kosova. PB

FINNISH PATHOLOGIST ASKS SERBS TO WAIT. Forensic expert
Helena Ranta asked Serbian Justice Minister Dragoljub
Jankovic to order a halt to autopsies being performed by
Yugoslav officials in Prishtina on the 45 people alleged
to have been massacred by Serbian forces, AFP reported
on 21 January. Ranta said that X-ray equipment as well
as the presence of the full 17-member forensics team is
needed before autopsies begin. Yugoslav pathologists as
well as unnamed Belarusian officials have begun the
autopsies in the presence of some OSCE monitors (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). Jankovic told Renta
that the autopsies had to begin because there was a lack
of storage space for the bodies and because they had
been rotting outside for five days. Sandy Blyth, a
spokesman for the OSCE verification team, said the
autopsies had been sped up, despite Renta's request that
they wait for the Finns. PB

NATO PREPARES FOR STRIKES... NATO increased its
preparedness for military strikes in Kosova on 20
January as the alliance's secretary-general, Javier
Solana, warned that "if the only language that Milosevic
understands is the language of force, he will find
force," Reuters reported. NATO said it has increased the
air forces' readiness from 96 hours to 48 hours and has
repositioned battleships in the Adriatic to better
prepare for air strikes. In Copenhagen, Solana said that
if "the use of military force or the threat of military
force is necessary to bring about a political solution,
NATO is prepared to do it." Earlier in London, Solana
called on Milosevic to rescind his expulsion order on
Walker. PB

ŠAS FIGHTING CONTINUES. Sporadic mortar and machine-gun
fire could be heard in the area around Recak on 21
January as a UN relief agency brought aid to villagers
who left their homes after fighting erupted in the area,
Reuters reported. Two ethnic Albanians were killed in
the most recent fighting, while two others were injured
near Vraganica. Fighting was also reported in Shipolje
and Kosovska Mitrovica. PB

BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FEARS REFUGEES FROM KOSOVA.
Jadranko Prlic said in Sarajevo on 20 January that he is
concerned that the flare-up in fighting in Kosova will
unleash a new wave of refugees, Reuters reported. Prlic
said there are already between 10,000 and 20,000
Kosovars in Bosnia. He added that Bosnia backs
international efforts to end the crisis. In other news,
three Muslims convicted in December for their alleged
roles in killing four Serbs in 1996 were transferred
from Republika Srpska to a prison in the Muslim-Croatian
federation. In exchange, three Bosnian Serbs imprisoned
in Zenica were sent to Srpska. The conviction of the
Muslims was called a "judicial farce" by the UN
representative in Bosnia. PB

CROATIA, MONTENEGRO OPEN BORDER. Croatia and Montenegro
agreed on 20 January to open two border crossings that
have been closed for seven years, AP reported. The
Croatian Foreign Ministry said the action adds to the
"normalization of relations and easing of tensions." The
agreement will allow both people and goods to pass
through the border crossings. PB

TUDJMAN BLAMES FOREIGNERS, SPIES FOR PROBLEMS. Croatian
President Franjo Tudjman said during his state of the
nation address on 20 January that membership in the EU
and NATO remain "a strategic target of our foreign
policy," AP reported. But Tudjman said that foreign
powers are making accession to the two organizations
difficult with their "efforts to alter the political
landscape in Croatia and force us into undesirable
integrations." Tudjman added that Zagreb needs to
upgrade its intelligence services in order to combat the
increased number of "spy networks" in the country. He
said such networks threaten Croatia's independence.
Tudjman also blamed "certain countries" for trying to
fix Bosnian elections to the detriment of Bosnian
Croats. PB

NANO RESIGNS AS LEADER OF ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS. Former
Premier Fatos Nano resigned on 20 January as the leader
of the Socialist Party and said he will launch "an
emancipating movement" that will restore hope among his
countrymen, AP reported. In a speech to party officials,
Nano said his credo will be "no communism, no anti-
communism." Nano added that he was resigning because of
a lack of support from the party leadership, which, he
said, is no longer in touch with ordinary Albanians.
Nano, 45, resigned as premier in September after an
uprising by the main opposition party, the Democratic
Party of former President Sali Berisha. PB

ROMANIAN MINERS TURN DOWN GOVERNMENT OFFER. A spokesman
for the Jiu Valley miners on 21 January said the miners
have rejected the government's offer to send a
delegation of government officials headed by Labor and
Social Protection Minister Alexandru Athanasiu to
negotiate with them. The miners insist on Premier Radu
Vasile's presence at the negotiations. The miners'
spokesman said they are headed for Costesti, some 120
kilometers north of Bucharest, where large police forces
are deployed. On 20 January, some 10,000 miners
traveling in buses and cars reached the outskirts of
Horezu, near Costesti. President Emil Constantinescu the
next day convened an extraordinary session of the
parliament to debate the strike., RFE/RL's Bucharest
bureau reported. MS

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN SENATOR TO BE SUSPENDED FROM HOUSE
DEBATES? The Senate's Judiciary Commission on 20 January
recommended that Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the
extremist Greater Romania Party, be barred from
participating in house debates for 30 days for having
incited the miners to continue their strike and for
having offended President Constantinescu in a message
addressed to the miners on 7 January. The decision is
subject to approval by the Senate's Permanent Bureau. MS

ORGANIZATIONS PROTEST JOURNALISTS' SENTENCES. The
Romanian Press Club on 21 January protested the one-year
suspended sentences handed down by a Bucharest court to
two journalists from Iasi, who were found guilty of
libeling a police officer and a local judge. The two
were also ordered to pay "moral damages." The Bucharest
court commuted the sentences handed down by an Iasi
tribunal, whereby the two journalists were to have
served their sentences. Meanwhile, on 19 January,
Amnesty International protested the decision of a
Bistrita-Nasaud court to send back to prison Cornel
Sabou, a journalist from Baia Mare who was sentenced in
December 1997 to 10 months in prison for libeling a
judge. Sabou's sentence was suspended in October 1998
for family reasons, but he requested a continuation of
the suspension because he is suffering from
tuberculosis. The request was turned down on the grounds
that he can get adequate treatment in prison. MS

MOLDOVA'S ETHNIC BULGARIANS TO HOLD REFERENDUM.
Preparations for holding a referendum in the Taraclia
district on whether to join the newly established Cahul
County or opt for administrative independence have been
finalized, Infotag reported, quoting the chairman of the
local electoral commission. Voting will take place on 24
January. The Central Electoral Commission prohibited the
referendum, but the Taraclia authorities and the mostly
ethnic Bulgarian residents of the district view the ban
as "unjustified". In Sofia, a protest rally took place
outside the Moldovan Embassy on 17 January, a spokesman
for the Moldovan Foreign Ministry announced on 19
January. The protestors demanded that Taraclia retain
its status as a separate administrative unit.
Parliamentary Chairman Dumitru Diacov on 20 January
deplored the intention to hold the referendum, saying
everyone must respect the country's laws, Flux reported.
MS

BULGARIA TO PROSECUTE RFE/RL JOURNALIST? Reporters Sans
Frontieres, an independent organizations defending the
freedom of the press worldwide, on 19 January released a
statement protesting the decision of Prosecutor-General
Ivan Tatarchev to open an investigation into Tatiana
Vaksberg, a freelancer for RFE/RL's Sofia bureau. She is
accused of "insulting state authority" and of offending
the "[personal ] honor and dignity" of Tatarchev. In an
October 1998 broadcast, Vaksberg suggested that
Tatarchev was not doing enough to bring criminals to
justice and may himself be prosecuted for failure to
perform his duties. MS

NEW OIL SLICK ON RIVER DANUBE. For the third time within
a week, an oil slick has been reported floating
downstream on the River Danube, at the mouth of the
Timok River, which flows into the Danube along the
border with Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 20 January.
Bulgarian officials told the news agency that "all
measures have been taken to absorb and clean the new
slick" before it reaches the Kozloduy nuclear plant. MS

END NOTE

ELECTION ALLIANCE BAN AND ESTONIAN POLITICS

by Jan Cleave

	Since last November's ban on election alliances,
political parties in Estonia have been pondering how
best to prepare for the 7 March general elections. Some
have discussed mergers. Others have opted to run on the
list of another party, while still others have concluded
post-election cooperation agreements. It is unclear,
however, whether "more order" will be brought into
Estonia's political landscape in the near future.
President Lennart Meri expressed the hope for such a
development when he promulgated the ban two days after
its passage.
	As was the case in neighboring Latvia before last
fall's general elections, more than a dozen parties are
represented in Estonia's legislature. A number of those
parties entered the parliament in an election alliance
(because alone they would have failed to pass the 5
percent threshold to parliamentary representation) but
subsequently pursued their own political goals. The
ruling coalition, for example, having come to power in
1995 as an election alliance composed of the Coalition
Party and the Country People's Union, set up four
separate caucuses, which at times have bitterly opposed
one another. Not only has the large number of small and
medium-sized parties represented in the parliament
frequently encumbered that body's work; it has also
contributed to halting the consolidation of the
country's political forces.
	Proponents of prohibiting election alliances argued
that the bill would help promote such consolidation by
forcing smaller parties to merge with larger ones. Not
surprisingly, the ban was spearheaded by the leftist
Center Party, which, together with the rightist Reform
Party, was leading in opinion polls and was expected to
benefit from such a prohibition. It was also no surprise
that the Rural Union opposed the bill while the
Pensioners and Families Party and most Coalition Party
members chose not to vote, since those three parties had
been planning to renew their election alliance. The
fourth member of the ruling coalition, the Country
People's Party, voted in favor of the bill, thereby
finally distancing itself from its coalition partners.
	Almost immediately after the vote, the efficacy of
the election alliance ban was called into question when
the Coalition Party announced that the Rural Union and
the Pensioners and Families Party would run on its list
in the upcoming election. According to a survey
conducted last month by the Saar Polling Institute,
neither the Coalition Party nor the Rural Union would
pass the 5 percent threshold; but under current house
rules, each party would be able to form its own caucus
if it had at least six parliamentary deputies who had
run on one list. The announcement prompted a flurry of
criticism in the Estonian press that the ban had been
"half-finished" and that joint lists should also have
been prohibited to prevent parties with less than 5
percent support from wangling their way into the
parliament.
	In early December, the Center Party submitted a
bill to the parliament that would establish the
principle of "one list, one caucus" and thereby
eliminate what it called the "danger of the
disintegration of pseudo-election alliances." Under the
draft law, persons elected to the parliament on one
election list would be entitled to set up only one
caucus. If that principle were to be enforced before the
March ballot, only half dozen or so parties are likely
to be represented in the new parliament.
	According to last month's Saar poll, voter support
for the five front-runners is distributed more or less
evenly. The Center and Reform Parties remain ahead with
10.7 percent and 10.1 percent backing, respectively.
They are closely followed by the centrist Moderates (9.9
percent), the right-wing Fatherland Union (9.7 percent),
and the left-of-center Country People's Party (9.5
percent). The only other parties that would pass the 5
percent threshold are the rightist People's Party (6.2
percent), which has opted to run on the Moderates' list,
and the Pensioners and Families' Party (5.6 percent).
The ruling Coalition Party received just 4.8 percent
backing. (Two Russian-speaking parties, the United
People's Party and the Russian Unity Party, intend to
run on a joint list with the ex-communist Social
Democratic Labor Party, but their combined vote is
currently below 5 percent.)
	Recently, two loose blocs have been forged on the
basis of post-election cooperation agreements. On the
last day of 1998, the Reform Party, the Moderates, the
Fatherland Union, and the People's Party signed such an
agreement. Two weeks later, the Center Party and the
Country People's Party concluded a non-binding
"cooperation memorandum" aimed at paving the way for the
formation of a ruling coalition. According to the
December Saar poll, the combined vote for the center-
right bloc is 36 percent and for the leftist one 20
percent.
	There are doubts, however, as to whether either of
those blocs would be able to form a cohesive ruling
coalition. The four parties belonging to the center-
right bloc have worked together in the parliament as the
United Opposition since fall 1997, but ideological
differences exist within that grouping, particularly in
the economic and social spheres. The Center Party and
the Country People's Party have similar economic goals
but, with only 20 percent backing, would be forced to
seek other political forces with which to form a ruling
coalition. Center Party leader and former Prime Minister
Edgar Savisaar has refused to name any candidates for
such cooperation, commenting only that "Estonian
politics have become pragmatic to such an extent that
one is ready to work closely with everyone with whom an
agreement can be reached on the principles of a
political program."

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