|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 26, Part I, 8 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 26, Part I, 8 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 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 * YELTSIN TO MAKE UNEXPECTED APPEARANCE AT HUSSEIN'S FUNERAL * IMF LEAVES RUSSIA AGAIN WITHOUT AGREEMENT * ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION LAW xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN TO MAKE UNEXPECTED APPEARANCE AT HUSSEIN'S FUNERAL. Russian President Boris Yeltsin arrived in Amman, Jordan, on 8 February to attend the funeral of King Hussein. Film footage on Russian Public Television showed Yeltsin's wife, Naina, helping the president as he unsteadily made his way down the stairs of his plane. According to the president's press service, Yeltsin felt he had to go to Amman--against the advice of his doctors. Also attending the funeral are Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and members of the presidential administration. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov earlier sent a personal message to Hussein's family saying he "deeply grieves" the "death of a great statesman" and that numerous meetings with Hussein have "enriched" him and "played a great role" in his life, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC IMF LEAVES RUSSIA AGAIN WITHOUT AGREEMENT... IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus informed Prime Minister Primakov by letter that the fund will be withdrawing its mission from Moscow to return "no sooner than within two months," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 February. Interfax reported that Primakov had earlier asked Camdessus to extend the mission's visit until 15 February. But according to the newspaper, Camdessus thinks the government should submit a more realistic economic program first. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov remains optimistic, telling Russian Television that he expects the government to reach an agreement with the fund this month, which would then be considered by the IMF board of directors in late April or early May. Maslyukov's press spokesman told reporters that the mission would return in mid-February and that Camdessus had accepted Primakov's invitation to come to Moscow himself. JAC ...AS BUDGET PASSAGE MARKS GOVERNMENT'S 'FIRST POLITICAL VICTORY.' The State Duma on 5 February passed the 1999 budget in its fourth and final reading by a vote of 305 to 58 with six abstentions. The next day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov suggested that the parliament should immediately start drafting the 2000 budget. In past years, the budget has required several months to pass the legislature. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" called the Duma's strong support for the budget "the first political victory of the government of the parliamentary majority." JAC GOVERNMENT COLLECTS MORE TAXES AS INFLATION RISES... The good news is that Russia collected 17.6 percent more taxes than had been originally planned in January, Interfax reported on 5 February, citing the State Tax Service's press relations department. The service collected 20.35 billion rubles ($890 million) in January, with 92.3 percent of payments made in cash. The bad news is that the growth in taxes collected can be attributed primarily to Russia's growing inflation rate, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 February. "Tax income that disappeared after the mid-August economic crisis has been compensated for by inflation income," according to the daily. Another factor in the high rate of tax collection is the use of offsets, the practice by which companies reduce their tax payments using means other than paying in cash, according to the newspaper. JAC ...AT DIFFERENT RATES THROUGHOUT RUSSIA. According to the State Tax Service, two-thirds of all taxes in January came from two cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and two oblasts, Samara and Moscow. Moscow and St. Petersburg also experienced higher inflation than some regions, with 9.4 and 9.5 percent, respectively, registered in January, according to Prime Tass. Inflation was even higher in the Republics of Marii El and Buryatia, and the Sverdlovsk and Yaroslavl Oblasts, ranging from 11.9-12.2 percent, while in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, prices soared 16 percent. Inflation ranged between 3.6-4.8 percent in Kemerovo and Omsk Oblasts, the Khakassia Republic, Altai Krai, and the Koryak and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs. JAC SECURITY COUNCIL OKAYS 'PEACE TREATY.' The Security Council on 5 February adopted a statement that all branches of the government will not initiate unilateral changes in the constitution or decide on the dismissal of the cabinet without consulting one another, deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev told Russian Television on 7 February. The declaration was sent to the Duma and Federation Council, which will discuss it shortly, according to Sysuev. "Izvestiya" reported on 6 February that President Yeltsin did not attend the meeting but issued instructions to Primakov, who chaired it, not to give away any presidential powers. JAC CENTRAL BANKER RESPONDS TO ALLEGATIONS. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko has responded to allegations by former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov that the bank engaged in a variety of illegal activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). Gerashchenko told the Duma that a Jersey- based offshore firm had been handling Russia's hard-currency reserves because "the Central Bank technically could not handle these in the early 1990s on its own," the "Moscow Times" reported on 6 February. The Central Bank and one of its foreign subsidiaries had set up the firm to maximize profits from investments and to hide assets from the London and Paris Clubs. Gerashchenko told Russian Public Television (ORT) that the prosecutor's office is trying to ruin the bank's reputation with unsubstantiated accusations. The Duma voted on 5 February to appoint Coopers & Lybrand as the official auditor of the Central Bank. JAC MURDOCH SEEKING STAKE IN RUSSIAN MEDIA. Media baron Rupert Murdoch is reportedly negotiating with Boris Berezovskii to acquire a 20 percent stake in ORT from the influential businessman, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 February. In December, "Argumenty i Fakty" reported that the Russian government was preparing to sell 10 percent of the government's shares in the company to "a serious investor" and that Rupert Murdoch was allegedly interested in acquiring the stock so that he would possess a truly global network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1998). After hearing that talks with Murdoch were under way, Duma deputy and member of the Our Home Is Russia faction Gennadii Volkov drafted legislation that would bar foreigners from acquiring stakes in ORT, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. JAC RUSSIA NOT TO SEND PEACEKEEPERS TO KOSOVA? Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov told reporters on 7 February that no ground troops would be needed in Kosova to enforce a peace deal. He said if an agreement is accepted by both sides, then "I fail to see at this time what a ground force can do." He added that political, not military, assistance is more important. Citing anonymous Defense Ministry sources, Interfax reported on 4 February that Russia will not be able to send a "sizable military force" to Kosova in the event a decision is reached on Russian participation in an international peace-keeping operation. The reason, "Izvestiya" concluded on 6 February, "is not hard to guess-- lack of money." JAC CITIZEN MILITIAS FORMING IN STAVROPOL? First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov said on 6 February that he opposes the imposition of a state of emergency in oblasts neighboring Chechnya, because the situation is not critical enough, ITAR- TASS reported. Gustov was taking part in a behind-closed- doors meeting in Sochi on 6 February of the Association for Economic Development of the North Caucasus, convened to discuss how to deal with the situation along the borders of Chechnya. Earlier the Federation Council had recommended that a state of emergency be declared in Stavropol Oblast to assist local policemen in their fight against growing crime particularly in the area bordering Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1999). According to the Stavropol branch of the federal Interior Ministry, special detachments made up of local residents would roam border areas where small terrorists mobs can access via dirt roads, bypassing checkpoints, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. JAC RUSSIA'S TRADE SHRINKS WITH CHINA, JAPAN. Trade between Russia and China declined by 10 percent in 1998, totaling $5.5 billion, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 February. The two countries had agreed in April 1997 to increase bilateral trade to $20 billion by the year 2000. While that now seems unlikely, Aleksandr Karpich, head of the Russian Trade Ministry's department on trade and economic cooperation with countries in Asia, Africa, and South America, said that in the coming years, there "is potential for some growth" in trade with China. Also on 6 February, Japan's Ministry of Finance released a report showing that trade between Japan and Russia sunk by 16.7 percent last year, totaling 504.4 billion yen ($4 billion). Particularly hard-hit were Russian imports to Japan, which fell by 22 percent. BP CHECHEN PRESIDENT DISMISSES DEPUTY. Aslan Maskhadov abolished the post of vice president on 5 February, Reuters reported. Vakha Arsanov, who had occupied that post and was Maskhadov's running mate in the 1997 presidential elections, said on Chechen Television the same day that he intends to raise a personal "peacekeeping-force" numbering some 300 men. Arsanov has the reputation of being sympathetic to radical Islam. In a press conference on 7 February, Arsanov noted that the office of the president will also be abolished under Shariah law and that the country will be governed by an imam. Meanwhile, the Chechen parliament on 5 February issued a statement claiming that Maskhadov's imposition of Islamic law two days earlier violates the constitutional rights of the Chechen people. Maskhadov had also issued a decree stripping the parliament of its legislative powers, which lawmakers indicated on 6 February that they will ignore. LF/PG ARMED CLASH ON DAGESTAN-CHECHNYA BORDER. Three men were wounded in a clash on 7 February between Dagestani policemen and several car passengers at the Gerzel checkpoint, ITAR-Tass reported. The driver of the car had refused to allow the police to inspect his vehicle. PG TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION LAW. Deputies approved the new election code in the third and final reading on 5 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The opposition has repeatedly sought to increase the number of mandates allocated under the proportional system from the present 56 (out of a total of 131), arguing that the predominantly single-mandate constituencies in conducive to vote-rigging. Addressing tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in Yerevan later the same day, leading members of the opposition National Democratic Union, including chairman Vazgen Manukian, urged voters to prevent irregularities during the poll, tentatively scheduled for mid-May. LF KOCHARIAN THREATENS TO DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT. Speaking on Armenian Television on 6 February, President Robert Kocharian said he will dissolve the parliament if it continues to refuse to allow the arrest and prosecution of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian on murder charges, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. On 26 January, deputies refused to lift Siradeghian's immunity, but the former minister has since left the country. PG ARMENIAN MINISTER FACES LIBEL CHARGES. In what could prove a landmark case, the Yerevan newspaper "Oragir" is suing Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, a key ally of President Kocharian, for what it claims is defamation, chief editor Nikol Pashinian said on 6 February. On 30 January, Sarkisian told another newspaper that "everything published in 'Oragir' is slander." Pashinian told RFE/RL that a Yerevan court has agreed to begin hearing the case--the first of its kind in Armenia--on 16 March. No senior Armenian government official has been taken to court in Armenia. PG OUTMIGRATION FROM ARMENIA DETAILED. Armenian Statistics Minister Stepan Mnatsakanyan told ITAR-TASS on 6 February that some 600,000 people left his country between 1992 and 1998. As a result, Armenia's population stood at 3,798,200 on 1 January 1999. Mnatsakanyan also noted that because of a lack of funds, Yerevan has put off a census planned for later this year until 2001. PG AZERBAIJAN UNLIKELY TO JOIN CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY. Speaking in Bonn on 5 February, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov said that "it is unlikely that Azerbaijan will join the CIS Collective Security Treaty," ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijan has ratified the treaty but has not deposited the necessary ratification instruments. Zulfugarov said that the primary reason for this is Armenia's membership in the security grouping. In other comments, the Azerbaijani foreign minister called for reforming the CIS so that it would reflect the interests of all its members. He added that "integration into European and Trans-Atlantic institutions is Azerbaijan's undisputed priority," noting that he will meet with the foreign ministers of Georgia and Armenia in Luxembourg before the middle of 1999. PG GEORGIA TO BUILD THIRD PORT. State Minister Vazha Lordkipanidze told ITAR-TASS on 7 February that Tbilisi plans to build a new port at Anaklia. He said the project will be approved by the end of this year and that he hopes to attract nearly $1 billion in foreign and domestic investment. Construction is estimated to take at least seven-and-a-half years. PG HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH COMPLAINS TO ASHGABAT OVER DETAINED WORKER. The New York-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Turkmen government on 5 February complaining about the treatment of one of its workers in Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The letter noted that Turkmen state security agents "detained" Aleksandr Petrov in his hotel room, "accused him of breaking the law, and held him incognito refusing to allow him to notify his colleagues...that he was being forced out of the country." It added that "Turkmenistan has an open-door policy when it comes to receiving billions of dollars in U.S. investment but slams the door on any effort to bring to light its shameful human rights record." BP TURKMEN PRESIDENT AMNESTIES ANOTHER 3,000 PRISONERS. Under an amnesty declared by Saparmurat Niyazov, another 3,00 prisoners were released from jail on 6 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The amnesty is the fourth declared by Niyazov since the beginning of this year. Some 17,000 prisoners are expected to be freed or have their sentences reduced during 1999. Niyazov told a meeting of agricultural producers that the Turkmen state has "strengthened itself...in plans for developing democracy and the rights of the individual and today can allow itself to be humane in its relationship toward fellow citizens." BP TAJIK PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIA ONLY 'RELIABLE PARTNER.' At a meeting on 6 February, Police Day in Tajikistan, Imomali Rakhmonov said Russia "is the only reliable partner and [guarantor] of stability and security in Tajikistan," ITAR- TASS reported. Rakhmonov applauded Russia's role in Tajikistan "even though somebody does not quite like it," alluding to comments made by the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 3 February 1999). Rakhmonov also hinted that during his April visit to Moscow "very important documents for both countries" will be signed, but he did not elaborate. BP ...WHILE INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR ALL-OUT WAR ON ORGANIZED CRIME. At the same meeting, Tajik Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov said the police are geared to start a "total war" on criminal organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. Sharipov pointed to law-enforcement successes in 1998, saying more than 40 criminal groups were "neutralized." At the same time, he noted that the effectiveness of law-enforcement agencies remains "rather low." In 1997-1998, some 300 policemen were charged with a criminal offense and another 500 were relieved of their duties for violating the law. President Rakhmonov called on the police to step up their efforts to combat organized crime during 1999, which he called an especially important year. A referendum on changes to the constitution is planned later this year, as are parliamentary and presidential elections and the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid Dynasty--"the first Tajik state," according to Rakhmonov. BP NEW PARTY REGISTERED IN TAJIKISTAN. The Ministry of Justice on 8 February registered the Equality and Development Party, ITAR-TASS reported. Party chairman Rakhmatullo Zoirov said his group will seek to have its own candidate in the presidential elections and to win seats in the parliamentary elections. BP 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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