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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 22, Part II, 2 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 22, Part II, 2 February 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 * SLOVAK GOVERNMENT WANTS TO INVESTIGATE MECIAR-ERA OFFICIALS * BELGRADE APPEALS TO UN * CROATIA FREES NADA SAKIC xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINIAN FARMERS IN DIRE NEED OF FUEL. The government's failure to deliver fuel to Ukrainian farmers means that crops may not be planted and this year's harvest will be threatened, the Ukrainian News agency reported on 2 February. Deputy Agriculture Minister Vasyl Shpak said the government is "lagging behind" and that farms in most regions will begin planting in "two or three weeks." The government pledged to supply some 2.2 million tons of fuel to farmers but has so far reportedly delivered only 2,750 tons. In other news, the government raised the monthly minimum wage from 55 hryvni ($16) to 74 hryvni, as stipulated by a bill approved by the parliament in December. The average monthly wage in Ukraine in December was 176 hryvni. PB SOCIALIST PARTY LEADER TOPS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL. Some 15 percent of respondents in a recent poll chose Natalia Vitrenko, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, as their favored presidential candidate, AP reported on 1 February. President Leonid Kuchma came in second with 13 percent, followed by Oleksandr Moroz of the Socialist Party and Communist Party head Petro Symonenko with 10 percent each. The election is scheduled for 31 October. The poll was conducted by Socis-Gallup. PB UKRAINE CRACKS DOWN ON ILLEGAL ALCOHOL PRODUCTION. Ukrainian tax police shut down 24 illegal alcohol plants in January, Interfax reported on 31 January. Ukrainian tax police chief Viktor Zhvaliuk said the crackdown is a continuation of a program begun last year, when police uncovered some 200 elicit alcohol production sites. More than 30,000 people have been poisoned by low-quality alcohol since 1997. Officials estimate that nearly 50 percent of cigarettes and one-quarter of alcohol sold in Ukraine is either smuggled or illegally produced. PB BELARUSIAN RUBLE GAINS AGAINST DOLLAR. The Belarusian ruble gained slightly against the dollar on 1 February after the government allowed commercial banks to trade in hard currencies, Belapan reported. The black market rate fell to 270,000-280,000 to $1, down from 290,000- 295,000 to $1 at the end of last week. The official rate at the National Bank of Belarus was 136,000 to $1. Observers believe that the government's move to allow commercial banks to exchange Western currencies is intended to please an IMF mission due to arrive in Minsk on 2 February. The mission will discuss granting a badly needed $100 million loan to Belarus. PB WORLD BANK PRAISES LATVIAN EFFORTS TO FIGHT CORRUPTION. Experts from the World Bank have praised Latvia's efforts to clamp down on corruption, BNS reported on 1 February. At a meeting with Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans, they praised Latvia's anti-corruption program and the work of the Corruption Elimination Council. They also discussed Kristopans's proposal that World Bank experts assist in the drafting of a new anti- corruption law. Last fall, the World Bank released a survey showing that corruption in Latvia remains widespread (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1998). JC VILNIUS ASKS MOSCOW TO EXPLAIN CRUDE OIL STOPPAGE. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has handed a diplomatic note to the Russian ambassador in Vilnius asking for an explanation as to why Russian supplies of crude oil have been halted. Lithuania's oil refinery Mazeikiai Nafta ceased operations on 30 January after crude deliveries had ceased. The government believes that LUKoil, which coordinates supplies of crude to Lithuania, and "some official Russian institutions" may be blocking those deliveries in a bid to put pressure on Vilnius over the privatization of the refinery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). A spokesman for Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius said that Mazeikiai Nafta needs at least 1.5 million tons of crude each quarter and has signed long- term contracts with Russia for those supplies. According to ELTA, the refinery is losing more than 1 million litas (some $250 million) a day owing to the stoppage. JC EUROSKEPTICS FOUND PARTY IN LITHUANIA. The Lithuanian National Democratic Party held its founding congress in Vilnius on 30 January, ELTA reported. Parliamentary deputy Rimantas Smetona was elected chairman of the party, which is opposed to Lithuania joining the EU and intends to pursue a policy of "moderate nationalism." ELTA quoted "Leituvos Rytas" as commenting that the new group would welcome Lithuanian membership in NATO as a means of preserving Lithuanian sovereignty. JC LANDSBERGIS IN BEIJING. Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis met with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in Beijing on 1 February, ELTA reported. At both meetings, Landsbergis stressed that Vilnius would like to develop relations with China, especially in the spheres of trade and investment. Qian asserted there are no barriers to strengthening bilateral relations, noting that Lithuanian and Chinese interests have never clashed. JC POLISH GOVERNMENT READY TO TALK TO FARMERS. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said on 1 February that he is eager to negotiate with striking farmers who have set up roadblocks throughout the country, PAP reported. Buzek, speaking after a meeting with government officials to discuss the issue, said he has four new proposals for the farmers, but he did not elaborate. Farmers are asking the government to purchase more agricultural products, declare an amnesty for protesters, and write off farmers' debts. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz said after the meeting that the government could no longer afford to tolerate the lawbreaking actions of the farmers. Some 25 main roads and many smaller ones are still being blockaded. Anesthetists are also on strike, and the Health Ministry said about 40 percent of the country's hospitals are lacking anesthetists, hundreds of whom quit on 1 February to protest low wages. PB POLAND NOT IGNORING RUSSIA. The Polish Foreign Ministry said on 1 February that it does not want to alienate Moscow as it prepares for NATO membership, AFP reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek does not want to "build a wall" between itself and Russia as it joins Western organizations. Geremek has invited Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov to visit Warsaw this year. PB CZECH GOVERNMENT REPORTS ON 'SICK COUNTRY'... The cabinet on 1 February completed a report on the state of the country, which it described as "sick" but not beyond hope, "Lidove noviny" reported. The study noted that the chief sources of problems are the lack of a complete legal framework for the transformation from communism, difficulties in enforcing laws, a high incidence of economic crime, the effects of the "failed attempt" at coupon privatization, and the increase in illicitly gained wealth relative to that acquired "by hard work." The study also concluded that the economy must grow by 5 percent annually if it is to reach EU levels. PM ...RULES THAT CHURCH HAS NO CLAIM TO ASSETS. Also on 1 February, the cabinet announced that the Roman Catholic Church has no legal claim to the restitution of any assets because it had not owned those assets in the first place. The government declared unconstitutional a 1996 ruling by Vaclav Klaus's cabinet that returned 700 properties to the Church. The government also proposed a package of five bills defining the legal status of soldiers and of the armed forces. The measures are slated to take effect on 1 October and will bring Czech legislation into line with NATO member countries' legislation. Military service will remain compulsory, "Mlada fronta dnes" reported. PM SLOVAK GOVERNMENT WANTS TO INVESTIGATE MECIAR-ERA OFFICIALS. Interior Ministry officials told a press conference in Bratislava on 1 February that they want the parliament to lift two deputies' immunity so that the ministry can "take legal action against" them for crimes they allegedly committed as high-ranking officials under former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. The officials said that they want to investigate former secret service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa for his role in the still unresolved 1995 kidnapping of the son of President Michal Kovac. The ministry also wants to look into former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci's "abuse of power" in regard to the 1997 referendum on NATO membership and direct elections to the presidency. The spokesmen added that they can "neither confirm nor exclude the possibility" that the ministry will investigate Meciar. Also on 1 February, police arrested two former SIS officials for alleged abuse of their positions, "Sme" reported. PM SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE BELGRADE APPEALS TO UN. The state-run news agency Tanjug carried a statement by the Yugoslav government on 1 February calling on the UN Security Council to prevent NATO from carrying out possible air strikes against Serbia. The government argued that "NATO's open threats jeopardize the chief principles of international relations, international peace and security, and the very foundations of international legal order. This is why the federal cabinet decided to call for a UN Security Council session to take adequate measures...to prevent armed aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." Reuters quoted political analysts in Belgrade as saying that the government of President Slobodan Milosevic issued the appeal in order to "make a mess, to buy some time." The Contact Group has set a 6 February deadline for Belgrade and the Kosovars to reply to its ultimatum to attend talks or face military action. The Security Council has endorsed the Contact Group's position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). PM SERBS, UCK DELAY RESPONSE TO ULTIMATUM. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 1 February that only the parliament, which meets on 4 February, has the authority to respond to the Contact Group. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic charged that "NATO is the weapon in the hands of one or two states, to whom the [NATO member states] are bowing." Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic argued that Serbia runs the risk of increased international isolation if it rejects the ultimatum. In Prishtina, Adem Demaci, who is the political spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said that the guerrillas will respond to the Contact Group on 3 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Nationalist politician Rexhep Qosja has agreed to attend the talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). PM HILL WARNS OF 'MAXIMUM STRAIN.' U.S. envoy for Kosova Chris Hill told Reuters in Prishtina on 2 February that the coming days and weeks are "going to be a period of maximum strain" regarding the crisis in Kosova. "There will be people on the ground trying to disrupt the talks. There has [also] been considerable concern, especially among the Europeans, about whether we have sufficient leverage on the [guerrillas], and there's been a lot of effort made to try to figure out what that leverage might be. Obviously it's going to be different from the leverage on the Serbs, and appropriately so. The Serbs have been threatened with punitive air strikes, and obviously that's not in the cards for the [UCK]. Other things can be done. Enough said." Hill nonetheless added: "I never like to use 'optimism' and 'Balkans' in the same sentence, but I believe we have a very good process ahead." PM CLINTON MEETS ADVISERS OVER KOSOVA. U.S. President Bill Clinton discussed Kosova with his top political and military advisers on 1 February. White House officials gave no comment as to whether Clinton and his aides decided whether to commit U.S. ground troops as part of an eventual settlement in the province. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who opposes deployment, said that a final decision will depend on the final settlement and on the role that the European allies are willing to assume for themselves. He stressed that the Europeans must "bear a substantial burden" of any military presence on the ground. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's spokesman said that "there is a need and an urgency for American leadership and determination" in Kosova. He added that the U.S. has "significant national interests at stake" in ending the crisis. PM ANNAN WARNS OF SPREADING CONFLICT. NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana noted in Berlin on 1 February that up to 30,000 ground troops might be required as part of an eventual settlement, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report to the Security Council that the Kosova conflict could become "an all-out civil war...that might have unpredictable repercussions" across the Balkans. PM CROATIA FREES NADA SAKIC. State Attorney Radovan Santek said in Zagreb on 1 February that he has stopped proceedings against 76-year-old Nada Sakic for war crimes in connection with her activities at concentration camps run by the pro-Axis Ustasha regime during World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 1998). He said that none of the 26 witnesses who have testified against her during the past three months could prove the charges against her. Sakic told reporters as she left prison that "justice has won." Serbian and Jewish spokesmen said her release proves that the Croatian government is not serious about prosecuting Ustasha war criminals. Sakic was extradited in November from Argentina, where she and her husband had lived since the end of World War II. Dinko Sakic still faces trial for war crimes in Croatia, to which Argentina extradited him last June. PM ALBANIAN PYRAMID MONEY IN SWISS BANKS. Albanian anti- mafia investigator Bujar Himci told "Shekulli" on 2 February that the Swiss authorities have discovered bank accounts belonging to the Albanian pyramid scheme owner Vehbi Alimucaj. Himci did not say how much is in the accounts but noted that the Swiss authorities last week handed over "a large file...that sheds light on Alimucaj's activities and transfers." He also commented that Ajdin Sejdia, a Kosovar Albanian businessman, was involved in Alimucaj's money laundering schemes. German police arrested Sejdia in November 1998 under a Swiss arrest warrant. A Swiss court had earlier sentenced Sejdia in absentia for fraud in connection with a failed hotel project in central Tirana. The construction of that hotel, which began in 1991, resulted only in a huge crater, which locals say epitomizes shady Kosovar business practices. FS ROUND-TABLE IN SOUTHERN ALBANIAN REBEL TOWN. Deputy Minister for Local Government Taulant Dedja and OSCE Ambassador to Albania Daan Everts met with local officials in Lazarat on 1 February to discuss problems in developing infrastructure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). Everts told "Koha Jone" of 2 February that he is "quite convinced" that the government is resolved to bring the town out of its isolation. Everts stressed the need to install telephones and improve water supply there. Local residents have repeatedly blocked the road linking Gjirokastra with Greece and have held up and robbed trucks. The town, which is a stronghold of the Democratic Party, became a no-go area for police last year following several armed clashes. FS ROMANIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR BETTER PROTECTION FOR THOSE LAID OFF. On the first day of the parliament's new session, 56 deputies from the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, the main opposition force, moved a non- binding motion calling for improved social protection for employees laid off because of industrial restructuring, Romanian media reported on 1 February. A spokesman for the party singled out the case of the Jiu Valley miners. In a separate development, the Hunedoara County court has retroactively declared the miners' strike from 4-22 January "illegal." It noted that the coal company could ask for damages. DI NO END TO ROMANIAN ECONOMIC WOES. According to data released by the National Statistical Board on 1 February, industrial production dropped by 17 percent in 1998 compared with the previous year. Grain production sank by slightly more than 30 percent. Inflation in December 1998 was up 40.6 percent on the December 1997 level. At the end of last year, the trade deficit exceeded $3 billion, while unemployment reached a new peak of some 1.3 million (10.3 percent of the work force). The average net wage in December 1998 was 1.36 million lei (some $115). DI MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL DIFFER OVER REASONS FOR CABINET CRISIS. Premier Ion Ciubuc, who handed in his resignation on 1 February, said he was unable to consolidate his cabinet because of its diverse composition. But one of the leaders of the Democratic Convention of Moldova, Iurie Rosca, said that the cabinet's malfunctioning had been the result of Ciubuc's "incompetence." The same day, President Petru Lucinschi announced that he has started consultations on appointing a new premier and hopes that the new cabinet can be formed in the next two weeks. The leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists, Vladimir Voronin, said his party is willing to participate in the new government provided it is based on "communist principles." DI GAZPROM HALVES GAS DELIVERIES TO MOLDOVA. The Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom has carried out its threats to halve its deliveries to Moldova because of the country's large debts to the company. According to the Flux agency on 1 February, that debt had reached $439 million by the beginning of the year, of which $304 million were owed by the Transdniester. Gazprom has insisted on hard currency payments and refused to accept Moldovan state bonds instead. DI xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 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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